Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Yes, grrr. My second computer disaster in less than a year temporarily crippled my online existence. After much frustration and trying every damn thing I could think of and a few I didn't, I managed to resuscitate the computer, which was a Very Good Thing because no way in hell could I afford the cost of a replacement.

The cost, however, was still considerable in another way: It required a clean reninstall of the OS - which means everything else is gone. All my files, all my programs, everything. Other than a couple of email addresses, nothing was vital; all of that sort of stuff is either safely stored somewhere else or recoverable elsewhere. But what was lost - other than time - includes all the news clips and other background stuff I use for posting. All the .pdf files I could use for reference material. That sort of stuff, while not vital to either this blog or real life, is still a definite loss.

So here I am, in a sense back to square one after an enforced absence, hoping to rebuild an audience way back up to its previous anemic levels.

For a brief time I thought about not coming back at all; I was that frustrated and depressed both by the world at large and my own meaningless corner of it. There never really was a chance of that, I suppose: I still have delusions of grandeur, imagining that I am deserving of reaching the elevated heights of averaging a hundred hits a day and maybe 50 regular readers. To do that, I know I have to be more consistent about posting, which was a New Year's resolution that events of this month have made hard to keep (although I had been doing better) but then again, as it seems to me I said not that long ago, at the end of the day you might as well just carry on because what else is there to do?

So this is me, carrying on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A sort of footnote to the preceding

In response to the previous post, commenter Graeme said, in part (i.e., this is edited):
When I was young I wanted nothing more than to be an American.

But after Vietnam and Nixon and Iran-Contra and a thousand other examples of a total misunderstanding of what life was all about, I began to doubt.

I have come to believe that America is the most dangerous nation in history and American arrogance will lead to our destruction.

Your common wisdom post is brilliant, heartfelt and utterly futile.

We are fucked.
(You can see the full, unedited, comment here.)

I started to write a response there but it started to get kinda long and it raised a point worth addressing, so I decided to make it a post.

I don't know if I necessarily would call the US "the most dangerous nation in history." As L. P. Hartley famously wrote (and historians have echoed), "The past is a foreign country" and as a friend once said to me, "history is a long time." Neither the Romans nor the Mongols, for two examples, were notable for either restraint of ambition or gentleness with enemies. However, if you're thinking in terms of the absolute, as opposed to the relative, destructive power available, the absolute total of the devastation that could be caused, coupled with the likelihood of it being used, then yes, the US is without doubt the most dangerous nation in history.

But that danger arises less because of our arrogance than because of our - and I will have to explain the word immediately after I use it - innocence. By that I mean our national social conviction, i.e., our cultural mythology, that we really are a good, moral, gentle, people who always act with the purest of motives and the highest of ideals and the multitude of examples to the contrary are individual aberrations, the exceptions that prove the rule - in much the same way that the right wing dismisses every reactionary scumball who guns down some leftist or government official as a "lone wacko" whose actions say nothing at all about the right's rhetoric and ideology, with the exception that in the case of our national mythology, it is something in which many many Americans genuinely believe even if they never think of it so directly.

Indeed, I have referred to this mythology of "American innocence" as the most dangerous of our national mythologies (yes, plural; every culture will have several) because it enables us to undertake and pursue the greatest follies, the greatest inanities, the greatest cruelties, the greatest acts of greed, selfishness, bigotry, and imperialism all the while telling ourselves we are doing a good or at least the least bad thing, which makes it more likely you will be prepared to undertake those follies and cruelties. (Parenthetically, I recognize that this sort of extreme self-confidence in your own purity can be considered a form of arrogance but I persist in regarding it as a matter less of consciously looking down on other nations and peoples and more one of being genuinely puzzled as to why they don't think more highly of us than they do.) Yes, it is a delusion, but it is one shared to at least a small degree by most of us as it is part of what defines being "an American."

What all this means is that we may well be fucked, we may well be headed for an ultimate destruction that will take a lot of others down with us, it's just that the reason isn't a national arrogance but the power of some who have learned how to manipulate our national myths for their own selfish short-term benefit. I certainly have said so myself more than once: I have, for example, used some variation of the phrase "We are so screwed" in no less than 35 posts and yes, I counted.

But having said that, then what? Sometimes, especially when the darkness moves across me, the world I see coming is likewise one of gray shadows and chilly drizzle: It's a world of vanishing personal privacy coupled with increasing government secrecy; a world of diminished political freedoms; a world suffering massive environmental degradation driven by global warming, leading to bloody wars as tens, no, scores of millions of environmental refugees spark fights over shares of diminished resources; and here at home, an economic structure resembling the days of Hell's Kitchen and Five Points and Robber Barons with aid programs and worker rights to match. I have more than once said that I am sometimes glad that I will not live to see that world I see coming.

So in light of all that, in light of the apparent, to adopt Graeme's word, utter futility of it all, why am I still here in this lonely corner of the blogosphere? Why do I still write letters, go to meetings, sign petitions, turn out on the streets when the opportunity arises? What, dammit, is the point?

The point, I suppose, is to "not go gentle into that good night" because, as I reflected once before, even when all that's left is the fall, still how you fall, how you fail, matters both for the future and for your own honor.

It is a frequent but rarely noted truth that even the harshest cynics among us quite often actually are, in their hearts, unregenerate romantics whose sharp words are honed on the irrational, inexplicable, unsupportable, but still unshakeable conviction that things not only should be but can be better than they are, a conviction that makes the too-obvious failings that much harder to take, their bitter taste upon entering the mouth generating the bile that comes out of it.

I count myself among those people, those, if you will, romantic cynics (or cynical romantics), those who despair, who predict doom, but who never quite give up hope. A while back I came to the conclusion that the only thing that keeps me going, the only thing that sustains that eternal flicker of hope, is the realization that while I can't guarantee that anything I do will do a damn bit of good, I can't guarantee that anything I do will help, I can guarantee that doing nothing, won't.

So I say "we're fucked, we're screwed, I despair at the present and fear for the future" and I keep saying how it's a dark time - but I do use the word "surviving" and so at some point I shrug and carry on as best as I can. Because, at the end of it all, what else is there to do?

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's common wisdom

Updated I haven't posted anything for a week now, but not for lack of trying. I have worked on this post literally for hours, rewriting it, reconstructing it, re-focusing it, each time finding it did not say what I meant or said what I meant but in such a garbled way as to be unintelligible, or it did not flow or it was too broad or too narrow or too something.

It's thus a good example of why I haven't written much lately: Every time I try I find myself at risk of being consumed by an inchoate rage that corrodes my self-control and leaves me quite literally wanting to scream out loud in frustrated fury. When I write I try, even when I am in full rant mode I try, to maintain a certain control, a certain rationality, a certain coherence, the better, I think, to give the words more power simply by virtue of a certain degree of rigor which that very control suggests.

Now, lord knows there is enough wrong with this country and its heritage - but dammit, there are some good things in that heritage, too. We have done much evil as a nation, but we have also done some good. There are ideals that we fail to live up to, fail on a daily basis, but they at least are there to strive for. There are rights and freedoms, the privileges and immunities of citizenship, that too often have been violated and transgressed, but they have survived and even in some ways - although it can be hard to see it at times - have been expanded over the course of our history.

But every day now, those ideals are under attack, those rights and freedoms are being shrunk and circumscribed, those privileges and immunities are being stripped away, shredded, discarded by people more interested in their personal perks and positions and their private power trips than in what we as a society are supposed to be, what we like to tell ourselves we are as a people and as a nation.

So right now I find that rigor, that control, hard to come by. Right now all I want to do is to screech and wail out a string of the vilest invectives I know, all directed at the foul, sleazy, lying, sub-human, grasping, cruel, utterly despicable, fascistic, goat-fuckers that surround us.

What we are seeing every day is sometimes done consciously and sometimes unconsciously (in the sense of being useful idiots), but still what we are seeing is a conspiracy against every notion of equality under the law. Against every notion of community responsibility. Against every notion of justice. Against every notion of decency and fairness.

What we are seeing, that is, is an unfolding pattern of betrayal of - no, that's not strong enough - we are seeing an unfolding pattern of treason against every decent part of our heritage as Americans.

The most obvious example because it's gotten the most attention, is Wisconsin, where Governor Walkalloveryou's assault on the rights of workers has generated mass opposition. But that's far from the only place such attacks are occurring. Writing in The Nation, Jane McAlevey notes that regressive, anti-worker (my description, not hers) so-called "right to work" laws already exist in 22 states and bills to create them have been filed in 12 more. A law essentially barring unions from being involved in election campaigns already exists in Alabama; bills to do the same have been introduced in four states and union organizers expect there will be a dozen more. Fifteen states are expected to see bills revoking prevailing wage laws.

An even more extreme measure - which, oddly to me, has gotten less attention - is Michigan Governor Rick Snidley's bill for "financial martial law," under which any municipality in the state, in the event of a "fiscal crisis" with a definition so vague that even healthy communities could be found to be in such a "crisis," can be put under the control of an "emergency financial manager" appointed by the governor who could on their own authority cancel contracts (including labor contracts), slash services, fire city employees, and even dismiss elected officials. Such a manager would, in effect, be the lord of the manor.

These drives against labor and against democracy itself are of a piece with the moves, now so common as to almost be a cliché, of cuts in both state and federal taxes on the rich and corporations matched with cuts in services for, and increased taxes on, everyone else, both being justified as economic necessities, the former for "growth," the latter for "reducing deficits." But it's important, indeed I think it's vital, to realize that this is not really about unions per se or about cutting aid to the poor per se. It goes far beyond that. It is, as I said last week, about power. But while that is the why of the attack, what I want to raise here is the what.

That what, the something that is under attack, is sometimes called The Commons. I'm using the term here in a somewhat broader sense than its more usual economic understanding of referring to shared resources; rather, I'm thinking of a philosophical Commons, a social Commons, of the idea of a public sphere wherein all can participate, all have a stake, all have a part - and all have some responsibility. That space of socially shared and mutual duty, of what is or at least by rights should be equally available to all.

It's true that that sense of The Commons has always been under attack from the elites of our society; indeed, that is likely true of the elites of any society, who tend to care neither for the idea of all having a stake nor for the idea of they themselves having responsibilities to others other than those self-imposed ones of noblesse oblige, the true purpose of which is to demonstrate that elite's superiority. But the intensity and range of the attack we are seeing now is nearly if not totally unprecedented here.

The on-going, decades-long, and largely successful campaign to turn "government" and "taxes" into words to be spat out with unrestrained contempt is being broadened into an attack on the very concept of a public, that is, a whole-community, economic sphere. Put another way, what is being rejected is the very idea, the very root idea, of an economic Commons where there exists, at least philosophically, at least hypothetically, a notion that society as a whole and every member therein is required to have some measure of concern to see to it not only that none are left utterly destitute but that none may be bereft of the means to improve their economic condition.

Just consider as a simple example to illustrate the point: How long ago was it that someone dismissing public school teachers as just overpaid part-timers whose workday ends at 2pm and who are just ripping off taxpayers would have been greeted with hoots of derision? But now such deliberately demonizing denunciations are common currency even as teacher tenure is under attack in five states and laws to allow for, in effect, the privatization of public schools have been filed in eleven. That latter fact in particular reveals what is important here, the true underlying objection here, the unspoken desire here: The problem for those making the attacks lies not in the word "school" or the word "teachers" but in the word "public." The problem lies in the fact that it is done through government, that it's nature is that of a whole-community undertaking.

It's hard to underestimate the importance, the potential impact, of this broadened target yet at the same time it's hard to make crystal clear what the change is. This is perhaps the best I can do right now: This goes beyond the idea of "limited" or "small" government, beyond the notion of arguing if government involvement in this or that is a good thing or not, beyond even arguing if government properly should be involved in this or that, to being an attack on the very legitimacy of the idea of government as existing to serve the commonweal, the very legitimacy of the idea of a government "of, by, and for the people," the very legitimacy of the concept of government as an instrument of "We the People." Indeed, on the very concept of "We the People" itself.

It is the farthest reaches of libertarian daydreaming, souped up and mainstreamed by the powerful voices that stand to gain while simultaneously stripped of the comforting classic libertarian fantasy that voluntary private charity will deal with all the have-nots, stripped of it because even that implies some sort of social responsibility on the part of the haves - and it is that concept of responsibility that is being denied.

That idea, that denial of an economic Commons, is marching in lockstep with a denial of a political Commons, with moves being undertaken to restrict participation in the political life to the nation, even to restrictions on the franchise itself, even to calls to alter the 14th Amendment to change the understanding of just who is a citizen. On that latter point, historian Glenn LaFantasie declared in Salon on Sunday that concern over this is misplaced, citing the difficulty of amending the Constitution. While it would be comforting to dismiss the talk of changing or even rescinding the 14th as just empty rhetoric "in the political heat of an election year," as LaFantasie says, it would be unwise: He himself reminds us that Mitch "Fishface" McConnell promised hearings on the matter and opened his piece by saying
I never once contemplated that I would ever hear any American ... suggest that the 14th Amendment should be rescinded.
Which is really the point here: It's not that such dreams will be immediately fulfilled, it's that what not long ago would have been thought proof of madness is now considered to be within the bounds of reasonable discussion. The baseline concept of who is a citizen is coming under fire. That fire may not be - may it never be - withering, but that doesn't change the fact that it's there.

In the case of attacks on the franchise, i.e., voting rights, I'm thinking here not so much of things like voter caging, which are often illegal and always sleazy, but rather on the increasing demands for increasingly specific forms of identification in order to be allowed to register and to vote. Some 27 states now require voters to present ID in order to cast a vote. (I do not regard casting a "provisional" ballot, which often winds up uncounted, as being able to vote.) In eight of those states, a photo ID is required. When the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's photo ID law in April 2008, it did so after oral arguments during which the Justices studiously avoided the 800-pound gorilla which Appeals Court had been forced to acknowledge, that "most people who don't have photo ID are low on the economic ladder" and the law would disproportionately affect the poor, the elderly, and the disabled.

Another group whose ability to vote is betting attacked is college students.
According to research by the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) and Campus Progress, in the past six years, seven states have enacted laws that disenfranchise students or make it more difficult for them to vote. This year, 18 additional states are considering similar laws....
In proposing a law to "tighten up the definition of a New Hampshire resident" in January, New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien decried what he claimed were "kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”

There is a clear and obvious immediate partisan interest behind these moves, as most of the groups most affected by such changes - the poor, minorities, youth - tend to skew Democratic, as even the Appeals Court openly acknowledged in the Indiana case. However, there is a broader point as well: While most notice of O'Brien's remark has focused on the "voting liberal" part, he also referred to "no life experience." Put another way, he was insisting that college students are just too young, too "inexperienced," to be trusted with the vote. It's not just that they vote "liberal," it's that they're young - and so, well, they just shouldn't vote. That type of voter should be discouraged, even hindered, from voting. More generally, there are certain types of people for who voting rights just aren't, in the eyes of the elite, as important as they are for others.

Writing at the Huffington Post last fall, Glenn Smith got it right. He was talking in partisan terms of attempts to influence elections by deterring certain voters, but he expressed the broader point:
In their narrow views, the right to vote belongs only to the "right" people -- that is, people that look like them, live in gated communities like they do, go to the same churches they do and follow whatever arbitrary and authoritarian rules are demanded of them.
And those people, those types of people, who can't be trusted to serve the will of the elites simply should not be allowed to vote at all. So it doesn't really matter if they are effectively disenfranchised by ID laws, because, the majority of the Appeal Court in the Indiana case found, for them the "benefits" of voting "are elusive." They just aren't important enough for concern.

At this point I have to note something extremely important, so pay close attention. While the attack on our economic Commons and these parts of our political Commons have been more - although by no means exclusively - connected with the right wing and the Republican Party than otherwise, we must always bear in mind the eternal fact that elites are not a matter of left and right but a matter of up and down. And another part of our political Commons is under unprecedented attack from those too many naively viewed as saviors.

To be specific, the Obama administration is, in the words of Mark Benjamin, writing in Time magazine about 10 days ago,
rapidly establishing a record as the most aggressive prosecutor of alleged government leakers in U.S. history. ...

If the Obama Administration were to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, it would be the sixth time the Administration has pressed charges against defendants suspected of leaking classified information. The government has only ever filed similar charges three times over the last 40 years.
This White House, which came into office pledging a new spirit of openness, has instead demonstrated that it is as egregiously obsessive about secrecy as any administration in memory, one that brooks no public disagreements. The O gang has aggressively and repeatedly employed the bogus "state secrets privilege" to shield government and in some cases corporate wrongdoing from prosecution and even just scrutiny. Despite some improvements from its first year, it still has a worse record on FOIA requests than any previous administration except - possibly - that of George Bush The Younger. Even in areas where the Obama administration can claim to be an improvement on openness, it came as the result of outside pressure and often came reluctantly after months or more of resistance and foot-dragging.

To make this clear, this is not to say that overall on "transparency" the Obama White House is worse than previous administrations - although in at least one way, pursuing whistleblowers, it clearly is - but that it is no better, that the prevailing pattern of, the trend toward a gradual increase in, over-classification, closed-door meetings, and "message control" that really means information control, continues.

So even as on the one hand our ability to act as part of the political Commons is being assaulted, on the other our ability to know, to obtain the information we need to act in the Commons, is likewise being restricted.

There is so much more to say on this, so much more to explore, but this is already much too long so I will make myself stop with two final, brief bits. One is to reiterate in a sentence what I have said here: What we are, what we have been, what we at our best can be, can become, as a people is under attack even as we are being stripped of the means to fight back, our economic and political Commons are being enclosed. It is, I confess it seems to me that yes it is, a dark time.

But the other bit is that still, somehow, I don't want to end on quite so baleful a note. Instead, I want to emphasize that while, again, the breadth of the attack on The Commons is perhaps unprecedented, the idea of such an attack is certainly not new - which is more encouraging than it sounds if you just bear in mind that we have made it through before and, I say again, have in some ways improved over the years. So yes, it is still a dark time - but we have seen such times and worse before (the Civil War, the days of child factory labor, the Palmer Raids, the Depression, McCarthyism, just to name those that immediately spring to mind) and we can survive and if we, to put a twist on Dylan Thomas, "rage, rage, against the dying of the light," we may yet find dawn rather than close of day. Don't give up and don't you dare let me make you give up. My woeful words are just not that important.

Updated just to say that if you read the earlier version, you might want to start from the beginning anyway because some things have been added, some paragraphs moved around, so forth and so on.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It ain't over 'til it's over, Part Three

Many both online and off have said that the scummy actions of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Walkalloveryou have now proven, as if proof was necessary, that this was never about the budget. Rather, it was always about breaking the unions.

But that last part is not quite right or more exactly, it is too narrow: This is not, strictly speaking, about breaking unions. That is merely the current expression, the present focus, of what this is about. Which some have recognized, arguing that the real purpose of attacking unions is to undermine financial support for the Democratic party, an assertion given considerable credence by the fact that Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told Faux News this:
If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.
But even that is too narrow. That still fits in the realm of tactics. When you cut through the tangle of stratagems, when you hack away the underbrush of claims that often contradict other claims depending on what is useful at the moment, when you chop and saw and dig until you get to the root, you find that this whole fight is not, ultimately, about unions. And it's not, ultimately, about Democrats because in the longer run unions are more dangerous to the real purpose than Democrats are. Rather, this is about what such fights are always about: power. Power and control and domination and the power to continue controlling and dominating.

This is about the on-going, the never-ending, the sometimes-retreating but sometimes-advancing (as now), drive by the elites in society to protect, maintain, and whenever possible expand their control.

It's vital to realize that this is not new. It extends back to and even before the existence of our nation and anything that could be called US society. The names and faces have of course changed over time and even a more exacting (more properly, less vague) conception of what is embraced in the term "elite" has not been a constant; specifically, while wealth has always been a factor, the degree to which "wealthy" and "elite" have been synonymous has varied.

But the idea, the basic idea, the driving idea, the central conviction among some that they are powerful because they are supposed to be powerful, that they are privileged because they are supposed to be privileged, that they truly are better than the lesser sorts such as the rest of us and their dominion over us is theirs by right, even by natural law, has been a constant, a constant whose culture-distorting effect has subsumed the thoughts even of those members of that elite who have thought themselves free of it.

On July 29, 1877, Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous preacher of the latter 1800s and a reformer who endorsed women's suffrage and Darwin's theory of evolution and had been an abolitionist, responded to the just-crushed Great Railroad Strike by attacking the workers as acting contrary to religion, to God's dominion, because they did not know their place: "God has intended the great to be great and the little to be little" and "Man cannot live by bread alone but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live." A week later he declared that if workers were being forced into poverty, they should just accept it - and then left for a two-month European vacation.

Almost exactly 100 years later, in July 1977, after a blackout in New York City sparked rioting and looting, then-President Jimmy Carter dismissed those who referred to poverty in explaining the outburst: “Life,” he said, “is unfair.” This sentiment, addressed to the poor blacks whose frustration drove them beyond the bounds of restraint, was not applied to the merchants and business people who clamored for - and got - federal relief for their losses.

Words spoken a century apart but expressing the same conviction: In the minds of our elite, it’s only the have-nots, never the haves, who are to quietly acquiesce in the “unfairness” of their condition.

Power and control. That's what it's about. That's what it always about. That's what we - all of us - are educated in, what we - all of us - are steeped in, what we - all of us - are socially trained to believe, its what we as a people are even as we vociferously deny it: a class-oriented society where wealth equals power and power justifies more wealth. That's why it can be said with a straight face that a teacher making 50k a year is an overpaid featherbedder ripping off taxpayers with a part-time job while a Wall Street greedhead making 10 times that much would be shockingly underpaid. That's why Bank of America is still open for business, why a whole gaggle of corporate CEOs are not in prison, why the foreclosure mills have not been shuttered by the sheer volume of public outrage, while some poor loser caught with an ounce of crack cocaine gets a minimum of five years in the slammer. (And that's the improvement: A year ago, less than one-fifth that amount got that minimum sentence.)

And until we learn to think of it in those terms, until we learn to think of it in terms of the desire, the drive, for power and control on the part of those who truly if bizarrely believe in their own inherent, God-given superiority, until we learn to think radically even as we design social strategies for applying political tactics, until we learn to keep our eyes on the prize even as it's a single step at a time, "left foot, peg foot, travelling on," we will forever be fighting as if wearing blinders in a boxing match, always thinking about the last punch to hit us rather than the one coming and with limited view of where the opponent is: We may win some rounds that way but we'll never put the other down for the count. And a knockout is exactly what we need if justice is to be ultimately won.

Footnote: Beecher's line about "the great" and "the little" comes from The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat.

It ain't over 'til it's over, Part Two

News coverage surrounding this whole issue has been poor. For an obvious example, reports on the bill's "passage" referred to the GOPpers "breaking the stalemate," to Walkalloveryou's "victory," to, in a particularly hyperventilating description, labor's "epic defeat." Overwhelmingly, mass media treated it as if the issue was now concluded and all that was worth discussing related to it was future election campaigns. It was hard to find a single reference to the potential court challenge or to the movement for recalls. (This is one of the few I found and that covered each issue in one sentence in the 10th graph). References to the possibility of a public worker strike or even a more general strike were rarer than reporters at press conferences calling the governor a liar.

An equally grave failing on the part of the media was allowing the reactionaries and their allies to frame the debate as "a battle over the pay and benefits of government workers compared with those in industry." Which, of course, is exactly the ground the rightwingers wanted to fight on. They knew stripping away rights was unpopular, so their only option was to demonize public workers by trying to sow jealousy among members of the general public, which they set about doing. Even worse, the media often assisted them to that end, quoting the claim that public workers make higher pay while generally ignoring all the necessary caveats about qualifications and responsibilities.

Even when they did address some of those qualifiers, they screwed it up because of their underlying assumptions. Case in point is a New York Times sidebar titled "Are State and Local Government Employees Paid Too Much?" The answer it gives, in short, is "it depends." Depends, that is, on just what comparisons you make, what the basis of comparison is.

Yeah, fine, whatever. "It depends." It reminds me of the old joke about narrowing all the world's wisdom into a single word, which turned out to be "maybe." What really got me about the whole exercise, though, what really brought the failings into focus, was the section titled "Public workers quit less often and are fired less often," which contained this paragraph:
But there are other issues. The rate at which state and local workers voluntarily quit is very low. Some economists argue that this confirms that they are overpaid and that private workers leave for better pay.
Note first that that is the entire discussion of that particular point. Then leave aside - no, really, just put it down and step away - the typical, squishy, "some say" argument. Note, rather, how the conclusion, the only conclusion offered, does not follow from the evidence. Public workers staying at their jobs longer "confirms" that they are overpaid? What the hell? That same fact could be taken as "confirming" that public employees are dedicated to their jobs and feel what they do is important. It could also be taken as explaining at least some of the supposedly better pay and benefits public employees get: By staying in their jobs longer, they accrue more seniority and seniority tends to result in improved pay and bennies.

But here's the kicker: It "confirms" that public workers are "overpaid?" Why in the goddam flaming hell doesn't it instead prove that private industry workers are underpaid? I refer back to the quote from David Sirota I cited about two weeks ago. He said, comparing the demonization of public employees to the failed attempt to limit CEO pay as part of the bailout of the bankers, that in the corporatist-government view,
$500,000 isn't nearly enough taxpayer cash to retain government-funded bankers, but $48,000 ... is too much to pay educators.
Why, why why? Why is it that whenever the media talks about the rich, the powerful, the privileged, why is it that whenever the prerogatives of the plutocrats come up for discussion, attention revolves around "are they getting enough" but when it comes to the middle class, especially when it comes to unionized workers, and especially especially when it comes to the poor, it's always about "are they getting too much?" Why? Why is the question here "Are state employees getting paid too much?" rather than "Are private industry employees getting paid too little?" Why at a time when for those private industry workers pensions are disappearing, real pay is stagnating, benefits are declining, all as the rich are getting richer, why isn't "private industry workers are underpaid" the real story here?

Back during the Reagan years, when the reactionary calls for cutting taxes on the rich and cutting services for the poor and middle class were gaining traction, John Kenneth Galbraith sliced the logical pretenses of their program to shreds in one line: "Their argument," he said as nearly as I can quote from memory, "is that the poor don't work because they have too much and the rich don't work because they have too little."

It's still true. It's still true. That is exactly the argument being bandied about now, that is exactly what underlies the claims and charges, and it is exactly what underlies the New York Times' arguments about public employees. It is the filthy underbelly of the entire enterprise: The assumption, the unspoken conviction in the media, that whenever there is a difference between one part of the middle class and another part, even when those differences are utterly dwarfed by the difference between any of them and their economic overlords, just 400 of who have more wealth than not just half but 60% of US households combined, whenever such differences among the middle class are addressed, it is never because one of those middle-class parties has too little, it's always because the other has "too much." Is "overpaid." Is a "featherbedder." The people who try to teach your brats something worth knowing, the people who run into the burning buildings everyone else is running to get out of because some asshole was smoking in bed, the people who clean up the shit you throw out, all lazy bums who don't deserve whatever it is that they are getting.

Or so you are supposed to think. And to a very important degree, so the elite does think.

Which brings me to that final point and part three of this.

Footnote: The Galbraith quote always brings to mind another favorite quote whose author I do not recall: "The problem with welfare is not that welfare pays too much, it's that working pays too little."

It ain't over 'til it's over, Part One

So Governor Walkalloveryou has gotten what he wanted - for the moment, anyway, it's important to note. In a surprise and quite possibly illegal maneuver, the Wisconsin GOPpers rammed through a bill stripping virtually all collective bargaining rights from state employee unions, along with hampering their ability to collect dues and subjecting them to yearly re-certification elections. There are a whole bunch of different things I want to say in response. As usual, the one that I think is the most important will come last.

The first thing to say is that the illegality I mentioned is one part of why I say "for the moment." What the GOPpers did was to take the "budget" bill, strip out everything except the parts aimed at crippling unions and cutting benefits, and pass it at a conference committee meeting called on two hours notice - calling the roll even as state Assemblyman Peter Braca was still speaking. The problem for the GOPers is that there simply is no question but that the meeting violated the state's open meetings law, which requires at least 24 hours notice. This, bluntly, is open and shut: The meeting broke the law. There is no rational argument to the contrary. Which should mean that any action taken there was likewise illegal and thus invalid. Which should in turn mean that any court willing to apply what is clearly the law should be ready to issue an at least preliminary injunction barring the invalid "kill the unions" law from going into effect. Such a legal challenge appears to be a certainty and it's hard to see what a legal justification for rejecting it would be.

The problem, of course, is that it remains to be seen if the courts are as prepared to ignore the law as the GOPpers were.

Another thing I thought worthy of comment was Walkalloveryou saying he applauded what the legislature did. It's odd - not surprising in this case but still odd - to see a governor applauding a blatant violation of law, but never mind. Rather, I wanted to describe a fantasy I had of someone during his presser asking this question: "Governor, I need you to help me understand something. This bill stripping away bargaining rights either is budget-related, in which case the Senate could not have passed it because it didn't have a quorum, or it's not budget-related, in which case you were lying for weeks when you insisted it was. There is no third option here. So which is it? Did the Senate act illegally or a you a liar?" Of course, a fantasy because no one in the press corps was going to ask that, being either brainwashed or gutless. Or brainwashed into being gutless.

Which in turn serves to point up yet again again again how poorly served we are by our news media, especially our national news media. That will be part two of this.

Footnote: There are two other questions I'd like to see Walkalloveryou asked but which he won't be. One is, "If these givebacks and rights-strippings are so necessary because of a budget crisis, why did you exempt police and firefighter unions, which have among the highest pay and benefits? What is the connection between that exemption and the fact that those unions were the ones that endorsed you in the election?"

The other is, "Um, Governor, the argument is that this bill could be passed by the state Senate because all the budget-related items had been stripped out. If that's true, why are you still calling it 'the budget repair bill' as you just did in your statement?"

Yeah, yeah, I know

Okay, already. So the weekend turned into the week. BFD. Nobody reads this anyway. I just keep it up to let out my frustrations until I'm in a position to do something more constructive.

Let's just say it's been a hard week and leave it at that, okay?

Saturday, March 05, 2011


More or less. (I always liked the calendars I saw in the UK where rather than the week being displayed from Sunday to Saturday, as is common in the US, it was from Monday to Sunday, thus making Saturday and Sunday literally the weekend.)

For these past two days I have been taking a mental vacation, one in which the whole goddam fucking world can go fuck itself in its own fucking ass and just leave me the fuck alone. I have read no news, read no blogs, paid no attention. I got all the news I needed on the weather report. And I damn well will not and do not feel the least bit guilty about it.

Back late tonight or maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Reuters is no DFH

I've mentioned before that one of the ways Western mass media news outlets prove that they are not DFH's is by demonizing Hugo Chavez, the eternal "becoming-an-authoritarian" president of Venezuela even though he somehow never actually gets there. A dispatch for March 3 proves that Reuters knows how to play the game.

Here, for example, is the very first sentence:
Venezuela pushed a vague peace plan for Libya on Thursday, saying President Hugo Chavez's friend Muammar Gaddafi was in favor of foreign mediation.
Okay. First, in such news coverage, pro-US governments always present the "ouline" of a plan or the "principles" of a plan. Chavez, however, presents a "vague" plan, one, we are told further down, has "few concrete details." Now, that may well be true, but when such "vague" - excuse me, "outlined" - proposals come from pro-US governments, the attitude is "let's see what develops" rather than the dismissive "analysts are skeptical."

Beyond that and more importantly, again in the very first sentence we get "Chavez's friend Muammar Gaddafi," the adjective being a wholly irrelevant reference but a damning one for most Americans. Just out of curiousity, can anyone point me to a Reuters article (or an AP article, a CNN report, whatever) which opened with a reference to George Bush's "friends and former business associates," the royal family of Saudi Arabia? Or merely even to Bush's (and Obama's) "friend" Tony Blair as if that was a central issue?

There are several more irrelevant-except-to-be-damning references, such as referring to Chavez's "mentor, Fidel Castro of Cuba" and the assertion that Chavez "has won plaudits in the Arab world for his condemnation of Israel." It also referred to "fellow left-wingers" and described the ALBA bloc of Latin American nations as "left-wing." How many times have you seen pro-US governments, no matter their policies or practices, anywhere in the world called "right-wing" in major media? How many times have you seen any American government official so described?

All of this was in the space of a little over 500 words.

Chavez is no angel and I have previously questioned whether he is able to separate himself from the causes he promotes, that is, if he can envision those causes continuing to be advanced if Hugo Chavez is no longer on the scene. Both he and his supporters must be able to do that in both philosophical and practical ways; it is the failure to do so, it is the identification of the benefit of a particular individual with the benefit of cause as a whole, that has lead, as I wrote a good number of years ago, to "so many sets of high hopes being shot down by so many 'New Orders.'" Again as I have said before, Venezuela is not at that point by any means but the possibility is not over the horizon.

Hugo Chavez is not beyond criticism - but his continued, almost routine now, demonization is more likely than anything else to lead to that increasing identification of him with, even as, the cause and all the dangers that entails. I'm not a conspiracist, really I'm not, but that premise, that conviction that constant demonization most often leads to repression, not liberty, that idea is so obvious and so well-documented over the course of history that I can't help but wonder if at least some of the demonizers intend precisely that result, the better to discredit any moves toward socialist answers to the woes created by capitalism.

Footnote: Another quote was
"Chavez's credibility does not fly very high," said Olivier Jakob of think-tank Petromatrix.
I was going to ask when was the last time you heard the credibility of any US official being dismissed without rebuttal or counter-claim in mainstream media - but then I realized you can hear it frequently, provided it's some right-winger dismssing someone anywhere to their left. Which does tend to confirm the overall thesis.

Oh, and by the way, Jakob added that "the only value of such a proposal is if it offers some honorable way out for the Gaddafi clan." That is, if it provided a way for Qaddafi to back out without looking like he's backing down, and for that reason more likely to be accepted. Other than a potential feather in Chavez's cap, that would be a bad thing precisely how?

Another Footnote: Reuters had a sidebar article entitled "Analyst View: How serious is the Chavez Libya peace plan?" It turns out that all of them were analysts for the energy industry. Among that truncated grouping was Olivier Jakob, whose connection to industry was not mentioned in the main article.
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