Monday, February 28, 2011

The state

Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Nationalism and Culture:

All great periods of culture are periods of political decline. Whatever is great in a cultural sense is non-political, is even anti-political.

We can think of "the state," or the government, as politicians and their institutions; a professional class of "governors" who do the work of creating and enforcing the rules by which everyone else is expected to live. This is odd when you think about; why would one group within society be invested with the power to do this?

When I was growing up, the rationale given was that having professionals do the "political work" of society freed everyone else to "live their lives," so to speak. But we often notice that when people are obligated to act in a "political" capacity -- for example, to attend jury duty -- they are quick to defend the many obligations they have to their employer, unaccustomed as they are to deny these for any other purpose. "Living our lives" has come to take on a particular meaning in this respect!

Nietzsche puts "culture" in opposition to "politics" because where the former embodies the free creation of norms between people, the latter mandates them by force. What is "political" could be negotiated between people on their own terms; but without a specialized group "entrusted" with a monopoly of violence, such endeavors would merely be social, not political. This is what Nietzsche means when he says, "Whatever is great in a cultural sense is non-political, is even anti-political": the best things to come from human relations come freely, without one group presuming to set the terms for all others -- i.e. without power as an established principle; without "government" as an institution separate and distinct from the work of our everyday lives.

Anarchism has long recognized that what best makes a society democratic is not the "democratic credentials" of its ruling class -- not one political party that "better represents the people" than the rest -- but an end to the artificial machinery of "politics" altogether.

We can imagine life without government as entailing not the abolition of everything that government does -- like running schools or installing traffic lights -- but rather that the work of our everyday lives would change to include the many things that are now entrusted to permanent bureaucrats. But how can we take on extra responsibilities when we are already overworked as it is? The answer is: the structure of our work lives has to change. Our time would be devoted to producing what we want and need: part of the day would be devoted to the kind of economic work we do now, only its purpose would not be the enrichment of our bosses but the improvement of our communities; and the other part of the day would be comprised of relating to each other about what we want and how best to go about it. Such activity would then have the chance to develop as cultural practices amongst society as a whole.

We see that in a community of free individuals, what is "political" is superfluous; institutionalized power is only necessary when you want to preserve the rights of some against the needs of others. This is another important thing to know about the state: it has always attended the division of society into distinct and hostile classes. This is why anarchists have always identified the state as a necessary instrument of class rule.

It is important to reiterate the fact that what the state is shouldn't be conflated in every instance with what the state does. The fact that the state administers certain social programs or upholds certain laws is not proof that people wouldn't prefer similar services or "rules of the community" in a stateless society. The point is, it has to be determined what people want, and in some ways the state prevents this; but in other ways, people have forced the state to recognize what they want. So we mustn't confuse everything the state does with the underlying purpose for which it exists. Something that Marxists have been good to emphasize is the fact that the state is an important site of class conflict; for anarchists, the impulse to "smash the state" must take care not deny the importance of some things the state does which would need to be performed by communities in its absence.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Living to work

New York Times:

Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard, said he saw the hostility toward unions as a sign of decay in society. Some working-class people see so few possibilities for their lives that it is eroding the aspirational nature that has long been typical of Americans.

“It shows a hopelessness,” he said. “It used to be, ‘You have something I don’t have; I’ll go to my employer to get it, too. Now I don’t see any chance of getting it. I don’t want to be the lowest one on the totem pole, so I don’t want you to have it either.’ ”

An intrinsic feature of capitalism, compensating people for the work they do imposes costs on the profits necessary to sustain economic growth. In other words, your salary, benefits, and ability to retire; not to mention whatever communal goods like roads and bridges, schools and libraries -- these things will always exist in a state of potential conflict with the kind of concentrated wealth accumulation required by capitalism.

This is what we mean by class conflict: you would like to be compensated for your work by some standard appropriate to the productive capacity of your society; but your employer sees in your compensation an obstacle to their success. Accordingly, either you are persuaded by various means to accept their point of view, or you struggle to advance your own.

The standards by which any society regards itself are elastic. In the early industrial period, people (including children) regularly worked 16 hour days; by the mid-20th century, that standard was cut in half -- and yet people were compensated better. Those elements within US society that understood how this transpired sensibly proposed "a 4-hour day with no cut in pay." They did this by advocating the production of things that people needed as opposed to the production of wealth for an owning minority.

Today we are witnessing a slide back toward the living standards preferred not by the average person but by those interests engaged in wealth maximization for themselves. After all, if we agree that a decent salary, health benefits, and a retirement you can live on -- like those presently retained only by unionized, public sector workers -- are "overly generous," what are we spending more and more of our lives working for, really?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The right to marry

Wall Street Journal:

One of the cases that prompted the [Obama administration's Defense of Marriage Act] shift was filed by Edith Windsor, who sued after the federal government refused to recognize her 2007 marriage to her partner, Thea Spyer. After Ms. Spyer's death, Ms. Windsor faced a $350,000 estate tax on her inheritance from her partner, a tax she wouldn't have incurred had her marriage been recognized by the federal government.

Because US history is to a large degree the story of very wealthy people asserting their rights as a group -- leaving everyone else to play catch up -- any attempt to discriminate against groups that include very wealthy people are often frustrated until that group can be reconstituted along class lines.

In the case of gay marriage, the stigma attached to homosexuality has until only recently proven itself superior to the appeals of upper class gays to take their rightful place amongst their wealthy counterparts -- to marry whomever they want.

If US history is any guide, we can expect that what is likely gained by all gays in the realm of marriage will not translate so well to other spheres, like health services, which can be delineated much more easily by the criteria of class. In other words, in the case of marriage, it will be hard to deny to poor people this right that is increasingly seen as inalienable for the rich -- but others will remain out of reach.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

About unions

A union is nothing more than the coordinated resistance of employees against employer rule. For example, if your boss tells you to do something unsafe, and one or more of your coworkers is willing to stand by you in your refusal to obey, whatever this may entail, that is a union. That is how unions began, and it is fundamentally what makes unions important.

Whether or not your challenge to the boss's authority has been preapproved by your employer's representatives in government is a whole other consideration. But it is worth mentioning that this what 90% of the discussion about "unions" amounts to in the United States. By this criteria, a "union" and its activities are legitimated and regulated by politicians, who in turn decide what kind of resistance will be tolerated by law. In a class society, we can imagine a scenario where politicians, influenced by the economic monopoly held by employers, end up restricting most of the types of activity that give employees and their communities real strength in the face of employers. Long story short, this explains a lot about why mainstream unions are deficient: in a word, they suck. But that has more to do with the profound disadvantage they sustain just as soon as they gain "legitimate" status in an employer-run society than it does with some special failing amongst labor leaders (i.e. the two happen in succession).

Most US unions are run on the employer-sanctioned "business union" model, which basically turns unions into businesses themselves. These unions serve as legal representation in relations between employers and employees. Employees pay dues, and the business union provides the "service" of talking to your boss when you have a problem, or negotiating what is called a "collective bargaining agreement" -- a contract which spells out raises and work rules, and so on, for a given period of time. Basically, you pay money, and your union representatives "represent" you.

In contrast to business unionism, there is something called solidarity unionism. Solidarity unionism is a model which seeks to advance the interests of all employees as a class. We know that when we talk about "class," we are talking about a very inclusive concept: the "working class" is everyone compelled by economic necessity to work for anybody else. Solidarity unionism sees unions as an outgrowth of community concerns which happen to find their expression in the workplace. In other words, unlike business or what is called "craft" unionism, solidarity unionism is opposed to the narrow pursuit of economic advantage for certain parts of the workforce vs. others. Traditionally, this orientation has worked to bring the conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable up to the standards of others in the labor market, while at the same time demanding an end to "wage slavery" altogether.

Because solidarity unionism is informed by a class perspective, it understands that the role of government in very unequal societies is to defend the wealth of the haves against the needs of the have nots. We see this playing out in particular splendor as of late: the bankers who wrecked the economy keep their contractually stipulated bonuses, while their political servants wail that school teachers are bankrupting the nation! Limited government, predictably, has meant limiting governmental utility for the working class, while at the same time increasing governmental aid to the nation's owners. For this reason, solidarity unions are reluctant to be drawn into legal contracts with employers, since a union's real strength lies not in governmental mediation, but in the original spirit of what unions are all about.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Concerning the various sins in Wisconsin

Financial Times:

It is easy for Republicans to point to Labour Department statistics that show benefits for unionised state and city public sector employees have increased 20 percentage points more than for private sector workers since 2001. Or that the relationship between unions and the Democratic party is a cosy one. (For example, more than $1m of contributions to Wisconsin’s Democrats came directly from unions last year, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.)

But that does not mean that collective bargaining caused Wisconsin’s projected $3.6bn deficit over the next two years or that ending it will fix the Badger State’s fiscal woes. Unions have already agreed to the necessary cuts in pension and heath benefits. Any debate for or against collective bargaining should be held well away from the heat of a fiscal crisis; the topic is a complex and well-researched one, deserving careful consideration.

There are a couple different groups to watch for in the course of our national budget cutting extravaganza. Let's start with the ruling class, which includes our nation's industrial and financial proprietors, as well as their "public" servants in government: Whether in Congress or on the job, you know them 'cos they make the rules! Then you have the working class, which includes private and public sector employees and their communities.

These classes aren't strictly separate from one another -- there is some overlap. One of the most important places where there is way too much overlap in interests is the mainstream US labor movement, which has surrendered most of its effectiveness vis-a-vis employers in exchange for a place at the table of the ruling class. This has produced a lot of contradictory dimensions to the US labor movement as a whole, and opens it up to criticism at many levels, which are in turn used by the ruling class to discredit not only its place at their table, but its right to exist at all. It is a perennial lament of working class advocates that US labor leaders insist on walking into this trap again and again by channeling resources to political parties of the ruling class.

One of the difficulties for any political party enjoined to safeguard the prerogatives of a tiny portion of the total population is to appeal to everyone else in a persuasive way. This is what the Republican Party has tried to do by making the national deficit their #1 issue. I see bumper stickers to the effect of, "My family can balance its budget, why can't Congress balance theirs?" But a family knows that if they are in debt to pay for a child's schooling, the answer is not to discard the child in order to balance their budget. In some cases it may not be practical to balance a budget or reduce a debt load right away. But because the idea that the government spends too much is a popular one, Republicans hope this can be used to enact "reforms" that will reduce the public obligation of the owners of America to its workers.

Political systems persist in large part by being so universally corrupt that individual parties can legitimately call each other out on their corruption forever. In this case, Republicans can get a lot of traction out of the above-stated relationship between the Democratic Party and public-sector unions. Aspects of "right-to-work" legislation are also buoyed by legitimate concerns, as when individual employees object to contributing union dues as a condition of their employment.

In navigating the conflict in Wisconsin and elsewhere, it is useful to separate the different groups by their fundamental class interests first, political allegiances second. This means putting the profit-seeking owners and their political agents on one side, and private and public sector employees and their communities on the other. The Democratic Party should not be seen as "standing up for working communities" when the only union model they endorse is one that funnels cash their way on the backs of even unwilling union members, leaving the broader movement vulnerable to resentment from their own communities.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Intellectual history of anarchism

Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism:

Anarchism has in common with Liberalism the idea that the happiness and prosperity of the individual must be the standard of all social matters. And, in common with the great representatives of Liberal thought, it has also the idea of limiting the functions of government to a minimum. Its supporters have followed this thought to its ultimate logical consequences, and wish to eliminate every institution of political power from the life of society. When Jefferson clothes the basic concept of Liberalism in the words: "that government is best which governs least," then Anarchists say with Thoreau: "That government is best which governs not at all."

In common with the founders of socialism, Anarchists demand the abolition of all economic monopolies and the common ownership of the soil and all other means of production, the use of which must be available for all without distinction; for personal and social freedom is conceivable only on the basis of equal economic advantages for everybody. Within the socialist movement itself the Anarchists represent the viewpoint that the war against capitalism must be at the same time a war against all institutions of political power, for in history economic exploitation has always gone hand in hand with political and social oppression. The exploitation of man by man and the dominion of man over man are inseparable, and each is the condition of the other.

"Liberalism" in this case refers to classical liberalism, which is the 18th century political philosophy out of which both of today's "liberal" and "conservative" camps were sprung. We still find in conservatism this preoccupation with limited government; and, in liberalism, a certain conception of rights guaranteed or respected by the state.

Classical liberalism was important at the time because it was the first western attempt to locate rights at the level of the individual. For a long time, kings ruled under a presumed legitimacy granted to them by God. Then, around the same time, you had the development of both classical liberal and democratic ideas. As we have said, Liberalism pushed this idea of individual rights, a private sphere that could not be transgressed by the government. Democracy on the other hand, at least in Rousseau's formulation, served as a powerful indictment of monarchy; but his "general will" proved extremely dangerous as an absolute formula with no space for Liberalism's "private sphere."

Socialism developed in response to the centralizing tendencies of industrial capitalism, which relocated Liberalism's privacy for individuals into an abstract legal construct known as the corporation. Socialism intended to put whatever was productive under the democratic control of communities; but it fell into many of the same traps of the earlier democratic era: it eliminated all private life in its attempt to cull only one. Put differently, whatever began as genuinely socialist was quickly subsumed by the state.

This brings us to Rocker's passage above. Among the many different strands of contemporary western thought, Anarchism remains truest to the classical liberal ideal; it might best be described, to paraphrase Chomsky, as classical liberalism adapted to the modern era. The important point is that it is comprised of a combination of things; and you can find in it even a relationship to modern conservative thought -- a useful thing when we want to propagate our values amongst the Tea Party-types.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Failed states

Guy Debord; Society of the Spectacle, 107:

Stalinism was a reign of terror within the bureaucratic class. The terror on which the bureaucracy's power was founded was bound to strike the class itself, because this class had no legal basis, no juridical status as a property-owning class that could be extended to each of its members individually.

When ruling classes say that communism failed, what they mean is that it failed them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Democratic states

Guy Debord; Society of the Spectacle, 134:

To reflect upon history is also, inextricably, to reflect upon power. Greece was that moment when power and changes in power were first debated and understood. This occurred under a democracy of society's masters, a system diametrically opposed to that of the despotic State, where power settled accounts only with itself, in the impenetrable obscurity of its densest point, by means of palace revolutions whose outcome, whether success or failure, invariably placed the event itself beyond discussion.

To hear the politician tell it, "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." So the devil himself quotes scripture! And more than this, he is sincere by his own terms: what he means is a "democracy of society's masters" -- the liberty of the ruling class -- "a system diametrically opposed to that of the despotic State, where power settled accounts only with itself," and which left individual elites unprotected against the collective whole.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love in exchange

Continuation of an interview with Jaded Sixteen, contributor at Oi With The Poodles Already.

Do you think Bronte saw love as a "space" where power becomes what we choose?

JS: Short answer: Yes and No

Long Answer: If this book was written some 120 years later, and you replace 'love' with merit, then you have All The Works That Ever Came Out Of Ayn Rand's Rectum. But I digress.

Slightly Longer Answer: While the narrative does believe in some twisted way that there can be a 'freedom' and equality in choosing and creating this space where 'love' is more-or-less like a utopia, open and available to all, the protagonists 'Catherine-Heathcliff' or 'Heathcliff-Catherine' are still caught in the bigger, imperial war of possessing-fighting-claiming each other and by extension themselves. Quite similar to the Marxist vision and its outcome, isn't it?

Bronte uses 'love' as an object, that is pawned off, gambled, re-bought many times in the narrative. Going by this reading alone, one can read Wuthering Heights like a stock market assessment and plot it on a graph even -- and they say ladies don't know economics. Heh. -- until we remember who is writing and what her epidermal tissue embodies and carries as an emblem.

Quite predictably it's Heathcliff (the 'gypsy') who has to 'earn' status and class, for being 'an outsider' means class-status can be bought; as for Catherine, Edgar and Hindley, their dwindling class-statuses aren't as big a challenge as it was for Heathcliff, because their Skin affords them more power than Heatcliff can ever 'earn'. Catherine's daughter who is set to marry the 'servant boy' Hareton, is not seen as a person transgressing any boundaries, while Heathcliff was reprimanded for doing the same thing. Insert quip about colonialism here.

The 'love' between Nelly and Catherine can also be seen as an empowering space, only till we see that Nelly (whose real name is Ellen) is a Creole, and she speaks as a narrator only and not the interpreter. Much like Margaret Mitchell's Mammy, Nelly too is the loyal-overbearing-servant-animal-slave who keeps up the order, reprimands Hareton for showing affection for his 'superior' Catherine, and probably whistles praises of her 'masters' while being bogged down by servitude.

So this 'commodity' love becomes a viable medium to 'free' spaces only if we assume everyone is either

• The Default Human i.e. a White Male (Edgar Linton, Hindley Earnshaw)

• The Default Human and Half i.e. White Female (Both Catherine's)

Now, if you're neither of these people -- Heathcliff, Nelly, Zillah, Me (a dusty lady) -- then the narrative pretty much roars "Backlash!"

I have to admit, I feel like I'm out of my element -- but that is something I appreciate about your writing. It is beautiful and challenging at the same time. How much unqualified support for your writing do you get from men as an audience, and men in your life?

JS: I'm not too sure how much 'support' I get from men as an audience, considering about 70% of my trolls are right-wing Indian dudes, unhappy with the idea that someone from India is 'tainting' the 'image' of India. Especially when I speak out something against nationalism or 'national heroes'. This is the most recent troll and probably the least threatening. The remaining troll-ratio is filled with (generally) White dudes who are 'angry' the way only White dudes can be, the moment they see WOC speaking out of the pecking order. Surely, I have had good comments and e-mails from men too, but those are few and far between. Generally women write in and offer support, many feel 'safer' writing e-mails than having their comments out.

Going to the men in my life, my father and uncles see this as a 'silly' hobby that I have -- as we all know Blogging isn't Real Writing. The day I did write in a newspaper under my name, and stated some reverse-capitalist views, "Shit got real" if I were to use Americanese to describe that episode.

What was their response?

JS: Multiple responses. Denial: Most people won't even know who this is so it's not a Big Deal; Anger: that their kid wrote something anti-State and critical of Obama in a leftist newspaper -- and people recognized whose kid I was; and Acceptance: that they can't control what I write whether they like it or not. Mild Annoyance: that I had such 'anti' views to begin with.

I find this whole process amusing because they assumed they did have a say in my opinion or writing in the first place so I'm generally laughing at this presumption. Somehow, they don't like it very much.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On being a force for goods

Wall Street Journal:

Companies may not want to be lapdogs to dictators. But they also don't want to tick off their chief customer. It's a balancing act, one that inevitably leads to a policy of corporate discretion: Best to stay off the radar screen.

Reflecting on Mr. Ghonim's extracurricular activities, an executive at one big U.S. manufacturer operating abroad was adamant: "Anything that affects the brand -- we hate that," he said. "It wouldn't be allowed." Mr. Ghonim can be admired for his considerable contribution to civil liberties in Egypt, but also shunned as too great a liability to business.

Let's put it this way: You might not believe in dictatorship, but if your employer is "cool" with it because they perceive some benefit, and you spend most of your waking hours doing what they say; then for all practical purposes you are "cool" with it too, at least most of the time.

What I would ask you to do at this point is to substitute for "dictatorship" any other social malady of your choosing -- pollution, poverty, war, animal suffering -- and see whether you are any better positioned to respond as you might like; taking into account this prior obligation that forms the basis of your daily life!

So it is said that all that evil needs to thrive is for good people to do nothing. I say: All that is required for good people to do nothing is to spend their lives working for people whose fortune is made by doing the same!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Democracy in Egypt

Financial Times:

As the Obama administration has scrambled to respond to the unfolding drama in Egypt, political leaders and activists across the spectrum in Washington have split over how the US should handle the crisis.

On the right, Egypt has provoked sharp clashes, largely over whether by default the US should support democracy movements. Those who say it should are ranged against pragmatic advocates of US power more willing to back autocratic allies.

The political debate over "whether the US should support democracy" is best understood in relation to the class character of American democracy. Democracy in the US is not a completely fraudulent idea, as it would be under monarchy or totalitarian dictatorship. Democracy, equality, the rule of law -- all of these things apply, but their scope is restricted to the propertied classes. If two corporations go to court, they are better served by "equality before the law" and a crack team of lawyers than they are by trying to out-bribe some random official whom they can't prepare for. The legal system is helpful for rich people insofar as it establishes a kind of fairness between themselves, without extending it to anyone else.

Whenever US politicians sing praises about democracy, they have this "ruling class democracy" in mind. It's one of the reasons why "freedom" and "free-markets" are so often paired together, when the former just implies the ability to choose, while the latter is in fact a choice. Given the ability to choose, people may very well not choose "free-markets" (i.e., they may place restrictions on how wealth is accumulated and deployed) -- this brings us to source of our ruler's trepidation!

It is good to encourage "democracy" in other lands if it amounts to expanded rights for the rich. But if you can't guarantee that outcome, better to have a dictator who can at least keep a lid on expanded rights for the population, also known as "labor costs." "Democracy for everyone" is the absolute worst outcome, because "everyone" tends to have different priorities than 0.1% of the population.

So the debate here is essentially between one part of the ruling class which believes the events in Egypt will evolve naturally into an expansion of rights for local elites and western investors in Egypt, while the other is afraid that the democracy could undermine this -- they say because the Muslim Brotherhood will take over and impose Sharia law; but equally bad, if invariably unmentioned, is the not impossible prospect that a legitimate democracy would take root that simply puts its own priorities above those of the super-rich. And that is something our so-called "liberal democracy" thus far cannot abide!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Feudalism's feminist

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Financial Times:

The problem with political Islam was something identified by Elias Canetti in his classic Crowds and Power. “Believers,” he says, “yearn for God’s force; His power alone does not satisfy them; it is too distant and leaves them too free. The state of continuous expectation of command, to which, early in life, they surrender themselves for good and all, marks them deeply and also has a momentous effect on their attitude to other people.”
But is it realistic to have a leaderless revolution? In my view it is not. In the absence of leadership -- which means not just one man but a legitimate command structure, as well as some kind of explicit manifesto -- these protests will never achieve the truly revolutionary changes we saw in Europe in 1989.

Hirsi Ali is one of those commentators plucked from an oppressive feudal background whose career is secured in the West by selectively "speaking out" against the crimes committed by her host country's villain-du-jour: She attributes to "Islam" everything that is wrong with pre-capitalist or insufficiently capitalist regimes in the East, in order to promote the crimes of capitalism; even excusing them in places where the two clearly intersect, as with US aid to Mubarak and other Arab tyrants ("It is easy to blame the Zionists and America." Not for you, my dear; your paycheck would record the hardship!).

In this case, Hirsi Ali's utility as an apostate Muslim far exceeds her ability to produce an argument: She says the "Islamic world" harbors the "continuous expectation of command," only to reproach the Egyptians for rejecting "a legitimate command structure, as well as some kind of explicit manifesto" in favor of a leaderless uprising! Rather than ditching the whole pointless endeavor, she lets the very absence of authority prove her point that a much worse authority lies in wait -- if only because Muslims are involved.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Wall Street Journal:

Newly trained women doctors are being paid significantly lower salaries -- about $17,000 less -- than their male counterparts, found a new study published in the February issue of Health Affairs. The disparity exists even after the researchers accounted for factors such as medical specialty, hours worked and practice type. Women had lower starting salaries than men in nearly all specialties.
Anthony Lo Sasso, the study's lead researcher, and a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the pay gap may exist because women doctors are seeking greater flexibility and family-friendly benefits, such as not being on call after certain hours.

Meanwhile, the "pay gap" for women starting at the minimum wage, who seek greater flexibility and family-friendly benefits will be realized either as part-time hours, or no hours at all: It is to the employer's advantage that "greater flexibility" is always made inversely proportional to the "family-friendly benefit" of satisfying one's material needs.

Monday, February 07, 2011

An ever-expanding "smaller government"

Wall Street Journal:

Governors around the U.S. are proposing to balance their states' budgets with a long list of cuts and almost no new taxes, reflecting a goal by politicians from both parties to erase deficits chiefly by shrinking government.
"I do recognize some low-income Iowans can't afford to pay for preschool, but even they can pay something, maybe just $10 a month," says Mr. Branstad, who took office last month and who had previously served four terms as Iowa governor.

It suffices to say that politicians don't want to shrink the government. They want to shrink only that portion of government that helps low-income Americans afford preschool; in fact, they want to increase "taxes" -- i.e. actual living expenses -- for the poor by reducing the public obligations of the rich. But make no mistake that government is ever-expanding into areas that benefit the rich; this is why it never really gets smaller over time, even under conservative rule.

In the words of Rudolf Rocker, "The state is capable only of protecting old privileges and creating new ones; in that its whole significance is exhausted." Who is protected by the state? is the main question for participants at any given moment in the broader class war. The owning classes are protected by default, the general population is not; they have to win whatever rights they have, and fight to maintain them, through struggle.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

See no evil


As the Mubarak regime’s patron and armourer, the Americans have had a tricky balance to strike. They could not be seen to abandon a longstanding ally at the first whiff of tear-gas. That would scare other loyal Arab allies, such as the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and risk ruining relations with Egypt if Mr Mubarak were somehow to hang on. Nor, though, could Mr Obama be seen to take the dictator’s side against the people. That would offend American principles and hurt relations with a successor regime if the people prevailed.

As the Mubarak regime’s patron and armorer, Mr. Obama could not be seen to take the dictator's side against the people -- this would offend American principles!

This is significant in light of the fact that for 30 years the United States acted as the Mubarak regime's patron and armorer, but was not "seen" to take the dictator's side against the people by the standards of liberal US commentary.

Only by authoring the headlines themselves could Egyptians temporarily relieve Western editors of the responsibility for recording what has for three decades been plainly in front of their face, but that they refused to "see."

Friday, February 04, 2011

American values in Egypt

Timothy Egan, New York Times:

Egypt gets $1.3 billion a year in United States tax dollars to behave in a certain way. It’s an easy relationship when it’s all about tanks and fighter jets. But when pressed by its own people for a thimble of self-respect, the leadership sends out goon squads to crack the heads of journalists and everyday citizens practicing the most powerful of American values.

The most powerful of American values are no doubt communicated to everyday Egyptians when the weaponry used against them bears the label "Made in the USA."

And they tell me The Daily Show is funny

Edward N. Luttack, Wall Street Journal:

... Egyptian democrats should not be denied eight months to build viable opposition parties before the next election.

It is wrong to deny Egyptians the opposite of their demands. Remember that you heard it from the Wall Street Journal first.

The trouble in north Africa, and the Arab world in general

Paul Betts, Financial Times:

The trouble is that in north Africa and the Arab world in general, western governments and their corporate champions have indulged in cultural relativism whereby the local context determines the moral values you apply. Companies cannot really be blamed for this. If anyone is to blame, it is their governments for encouraging them to engage with these regimes and helping keep them in power. The public and shareholders, too, must share the blame for keeping quiet and not complaining.

Oh, yes: If anyone is to blame for commercial immorality, it is the government, which of course by Mr. Betts' estimation includes "the public": We are all, each and every one of us, to blame! After all, pretty much anybody can get their hands on the terms of contract between a multinational firm and an African police state, for review at one's leisure.

But note how unlikely the formula becomes in the case of praise: "If anyone is to thank, it is government, as directed by the public, for encouraging businesses to create popular products and services in compliance with community standards. Companies cannot really take credit for this."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Dress for success

Wall Street Journal:

Sarah Whittaker, a Savannah, Ga., image consultant, looks at workplace clothing as battle dress, which should be strategically planned. "There are penalties in everyday work environments," she says. "If someone wears the wrong tie, you may not think they're worthy of working with you on a project."
Purple, she notes, is a power color. And in most professions, the ultimate question is how powerful you look. "Set a standard for yourself," says Ms. Whittaker, "and decide what sort of authority you want to have."


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Marx on agriculture

Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 3:

The moral of the tale, which can also be extracted from other discussions of agriculture, is that the capitalist system runs counter to a rational agriculture, or that a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system (even if the latter promotes technical development in agriculture) and needs either small farmers working for themselves or the control of the associated producers.

So "rational agriculture" requires either "small farmers working for themselves" or "the control of the associated producers."

We see where this puts Marx in relation to pre-industrial figures, like Jefferson*, in the first case; while his criteria for evaluating large-scale agriculture as it has developed since can be found in the second. What is the common principle between examples?

*It should be said, in principle.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The dark art of freedom

Ronen Bergman, Wall Street Journal:

Past experience suggests that if Mr. Mubarak's regime is toppled, not only will American interests suffer, but the cause of freedom in Egypt could be set back dramatically.

The author is credited as "currently working on a book about the Mossad and the art of assassination."

Our boy, Roger

Roger Cohen, New York Times:

The big shift is in the captive Arab mind. It is an immense journey from a culture of victimhood to one of self-empowerment, from a culture of conspiracy to one of construction. It is a long road from rage to responsibility, from humiliation to action.

Roger Cohen, reporting on location, inside the Arab mind.