Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The state of Israel

Is it me or has the Israeli government become the biggest long-term threat to Jews living in the Middle East?

Israel sponsored Hamas in the 1980's because it didn't want to negotiate with the secular PLO. Israeli strategy was premised on an acknowledgment that the powerful don't need to make concessions to the weak. However, in pursuing this line, Israel required a pretext for diplomatic purposes. This pretext was the idea that "there is no partner" for negotiations, because the "partners" are terrorists who want to destroy "the state of Israel." Israel then helped this along by giving aid to radical groups like Hamas who were, in fact, publicly committed to the end of Israel -- if transparently lacking the means to accomplish it.

Whatever consortium presently dominates the Israeli state apparently feels that the benefits derived from keeping the Palestinians in "the world's largest open-air prison" outweighs the inevitable harm that will likely come to the Jewish people as a result: more wars and increased hatred toward Jews. But then governments aren't really in the business of protecting their citizens -- as if this isn't obvious from 60 years of perpetual conflict over the concept that land and resources should be shared! At present, Israel's leaders appear prepared to send their youth into yet another bloodbath, the bombing of Palestinian neighborhoods not sufficiently murderous in their view. They will send Israel's children to their deaths in the probably futile attempt to overthrow the very forces they nurtured from infancy. If there are bigger anti-Semites left on the planet, I would like to see them.

Like it or not, Israel is the only actor with sufficient power to change the dynamic between itself and the Palestinians. This will happen only when Israeli policy is changed either by the Israeli citizenry taking control of their government for their own benefit, or when the US stops giving Israel carte blanche military support for its hopelessly self-destructive -- not to mention highly murderous -- campaigns. American citizens could play a critical role in the latter, and should work towards that end.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Change we can immaculately conceive in

Yes, friends, it would be a miracle if I could get some change around here. That said, I will settle for a ten, a five, and five ones. See you at the bar.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Iraq: Just not ready for shoes

The Iraqi government has condemned shoe throwing as a "barbaric and ignominious act" that may require another invasion to correct.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

-- Winston Churchill

It's true that I like to poke fun at capitalism from time to time, but, in all seriousness, Winston Churchill was right. "Democracy" -- which for most westerners means "democratic capitalism" -- has a compelling advantage over other systems: It is the only form of government which permits direct election of the people who don't represent you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Age of discovery

It is a design of the class system that the people who work the longest and hardest for the least compensation will have neither the resources nor the energy to rebel against their conditions when they are not at work. Under such conditions, it becomes incumbent upon them to rebel against their conditions while they are at work.

It was this understanding that presaged the modern labor movement.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The New York Times surveyed Iraqis about shoes and W.'s legacy, but as the sample group did not include anybody of the exploded persuasion, I did not find it wholly representative.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A reservation

I always suspected that Andy Stern's preference for running unions like a business held great career possibilities for Andy Stern. That said, it would not surprise me in the least if it also held great career possibilities for the many Milorad "Rod" Blagojeviches of America -- and let's not forget their spouses! But if Stern is not yet the power broker he portends, millions of nurses and janitors might still have their pensions, Bernie Madoff's spectacular financial fraud notwithstanding.

Increasingly, I wonder if there isn't cause for concern when it comes political devices like "card check" -- the Employee Free Choice Act, which would streamline union certification -- when you've got these big-box union wholesalers like SEIU and the Teamsters dominating the American scene, "organizing" by any means necessary because they basically see themselves as a business -- the corollary being that they see their members as "customers."

This is a world apart from the kind of organizing undertaken by syndicalist unions like the IWW, who don't even aspire to government recognition and are explicitly opposed to proxy unionism -- and perhaps for this reason barely exist. But their approach is much safer; when people are accustomed to acting for themselves, they are less susceptible to becoming suckers to somebody else.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Aristocrats of New England, Unite!

More of HBO's John Adams.

I must say I like this Thomas Jefferson fellow. It is pleasurable watching him spar with a man named Alexander Hamilton over questions of centralized power, especially regarding finance. I believe Jefferson may have been ahead of his time -- except that he owned slaves, expelled natives, and didn't adequately anticipate industrialism. Nonetheless, his philosophical affinity for anarchism stands out at a time when republicanism was still a heady trip. I suspect he eventually capitulates to the latter in practice -- he was president for crying out loud -- if not in philosophy.

What is lost in the constant obsessing over the founding fathers are the sort of people who got it right from the beginning. The problem is that very few were white, landholding males. This presents audiences with a choice: are you interested in historical figures who most share your contemporary values, or with white men who assumed authority and, by consequence, significance? If you think slavery was wrong, you may be surprised that many slaves shared this forward-thinking attitude. I am sure none of them thought "it had to be." The same goes for making native Americans extinct: they weren't explicitly opposed to sharing the continent, you know. But if our frame of reference is merely "what needed to happen to build the republic" with "the republic" being dominated by a European propertied class, then you end up with a bunch of historical necessities that were only "necessary" for a very small portion of the population.
All the shelter from the storm, and not an inch to retreat

Last week it was decreed that my shift would be assigned every unsheltered vehicle in the fleet, despite an idle abundance of closed-cab tractors, because somebody with an office and a college degree presumed to carve up what had previously been a "first come, first serve" distribution as practiced by employees. I tell you: if ever you should like to introduce inefficiencies into a system, just establish a hierarchy where decisions are made exclusively by those who are not affected by them -- especially when it means the difference between freezing one's ass off part of the time versus all of the time.

In this case, the cost to be paid was a shift full of pissed-off employees, who variously did not comply, cursed management, and plotted revenge. Unfortunately, as much as we may have "third-party" representation, we do not have a union: we are not in the practice of formulating our own responses to the day-to-day issues that may not be covered by contract language. Thus, we have bitch sessions and individuals acting out in ways that invite disciplinary action -- and of course the ever-ready threat of calling in our "shop steward," who just acts as messenger.

In this case, the shop steward successfully appealed to our immediate managers, who are seasoned enough to know their own self-interest when they see it. But they could easily have pursued a hard line, and punished dissenters with impunity, since I am confident they are free to allocate their equipment any which way they choose. As workers in their "employ" and on their property, our rights to fairness or even consideration are confined to whatever words are recorded in our collective bargaining agreements, or in workplace regulation -- and that is only if the government has any interest in enforcing them. As always, people are best served by learning to how to defend themselves directly.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

But will it get you dates, young lady?

In her own words:

"I first went to prison on September 23 and served 35 days. I am lucky, after 2 times in jail, I got a medical discharge, but I'm the only one. By the time you read this, many of my friends will be in prison too: in for three weeks, out for one, and then back in, over and over, until they are 21. The reason? We refuse to do military service for the Israeli army."
How to make a Somali pirate

What you will need:

One fisherman from a coastal community dependent on fishing

Too few fish due to overfishing and waste dumping by foreign operators

Omit the Somali Navy

Add guns to taste

How to unmake a Somali pirate

Two views:

1) Blow him up (favored by the commercial shipping industry, the defense industry, the private security industry, and "non-Somalis" generally)

2) Change the ingredients in the mix to include more fish and less dumping in Somali waters (favored by Somalis)

SO... which will approach will prevail? I can hardly wait to find out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Entrepreneur by another name

The governor of Illinois wanted to sell Obama's Senate seat so bad he couldn't help but talk up it's worth to potential buyers. "It's fucking golden... and I'm not going to give it up for fucking nothing," he declared.

His best efforts have since erupted in scandal, owing namely to how "fucking golden" the governorship of Illinois is to aspiring governors and the political parties of aspiring governors.

His crime is severalfold: One, he exposed politicians as corrupt and self-serving. Two, he antagonized other powerful groups by openly flouting agreed-upon protocols when "selling" something of political value: he got caught. Three, his failures may cast a negative light on others who are "in it" solely "for the money."

This leads me to conclude that if only Rodney Blagojevich had pursued a career in the private sector he could have made these kinds of deals with the protection of the law, and made a lot more money doing it, too. Offending the powerful is a crime, but denying kids with HIV antiretrovirals is a perfectly legal, patent-protected money maker? Often the biggest crimes aren't in violation of the law but in compliance with it.

At the last meeting this guy got up and told everyone how much they mean to him -- that the company was "like a family."

This time the guy is no longer with the company, and not to be mentioned.

This is one of the ways in which employers are not "like a family."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Don't tread on me patience

HBO's John Adams. Or, as colonial America's first revolutionary rapper, NoToryAss, hailed his full-length debut, John Blabbums and Abigail's Grab'ems. The hits are all here: "Nuthin But a Tea Thang," "Better Dead than Red (skinned, coated, whatevs)," and the plantation club hit "Spinnin in Yo Slave."

Pig vomit makes a fine founding father, though it is my opinion of modern entertainment that putting millions of dollars behind anybody who does not work a day job will permit them to do things the rest of us can't. Look at "Ashlee" Simpson -- or, for that matter, Sarah Palin. Just put an orchestral score behind my ass getting out of bed every morning and I promise it will bring you to tears! We are all stars, I say -- if only the world would listen! And patriots? Negro please! I haven't seen a single black face in the entire five hours of farce thus far! Did black people exist in colonial America or not? Was Morgan Freeman not available to reprise his role as the elder Barack Obama of America's pearly white soul? I trust HBO will come to these subjects in their own good time, not unlike the government they portray.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Help wanted -- in more ways than one

True to form, Wall Street cons the pros of government employment after single-handedly precipitating the global meltdown of "employment" period. Nobody wants to be associated with Hurricane Katrina or Pentagon-contracting scandals, right!?

Speaking for the many friends I know presently in a private sector holding pattern just to apply for a government job: Good luck with that, you bankrupt bastards.
Pragmatism we can believe in

Politicians are like barometers of how power is distributed at any given moment. Quite apart from being "leaders," they take their lead from whatever group or alliance of groups wields the greatest domestic power. This misconception about where power lies informs a lot of confusion over why politicians "say one thing but do another" when they are supposedly "in charge," free to pursue whatever course they desire. The corollary of this is that people wind up devoting all their time to the individual personalities of the political class -- i.e., what is promoted through party politics, and adopted wholesale by news media -- as if this reveals anything important about policy outcomes. A 14-page feature in The Atlantic or The New Yorker on Barack Obama's "character" may be informative, but that does not make it particularly useful in anticipating his decisions, themselves contingent on the choices which bigger forces will impose.

To illustrate the connection between politics and power, consider that Barack Obama won election to the presidency by campaigning on a progressive platform, none of which can be identified in the political history of anybody he is appointing to his cabinet. So, why the "betrayal," to use the word being thrown around among certain liberals? Well, under one set of circumstances -- electoral process -- power was surrendered temporarily to the general population, which required appealing to them on some level. That was called "change." Now that the process has ended, the public is out of the loop, and power returns to the institutional actors who shape day-to-day policy, which means a quick shift to "pragmatism" -- which is another way of saying that the ownership class must be appeased. Obama has no control over this, except to say that he is smart enough to acknowledge the reality: he does not need the editorial board of every major newspaper in the country to register their "grave concerns" about the direction his administration is headed before it even takes office.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hard power

There is no relationship that can be mended by one party signaling a desire to "restore [their] leadership" over another. Leadership is not arrived at through presumption; or, rather, when it is, it is little more than a euphemism for control.

Should any gentleman hope to test this theory, get together with an ex-girlfriend sometime and tell her of your sincerest intent to "restore [your] leadership" over her genitalia. You will not wait long before you have an answer.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bidnis skillz 101

Knowing how to take orders is an important part of being at the bottom of the corporate chain of command. However, knowing how to take orders and passing them on to those at the bottom is an important part of earning a much larger salary.

The advantages to earning a large salary should be self-evident; however, the advantages of earning jack shit are not to be overlooked. For one thing, you never have to order other people around, which makes interacting with them as pleasant as you choose -- especially in cases where you choose it to be infrequent, a luxury the manager does not have.

Also, don't forget that while taking orders is a crucial part of what makes your national economy tick, carrying them out is entirely up to you. Courteous agreement with superiors over methodology yields the most liberty to do things how you prefer -- or as a 60 year old Italian package handler once said, "I just nod my head when they talk and do what I want when they're gone."

Monday, December 01, 2008


Most man-made conflicts of the modern era pose a basic question. Should social wealth be owned and managed by particular groups, with everybody else assigned to an ancillary role, or should this responsibility be shared?

The first model offers unparalleled freedom and reward for whatever group or alliance of groups -- read: whatever class -- exercises this authority. Under various "communist" systems this has been executive officials in government; under the so-called "free-enterprise" or "democratic" regimes it is the domain of investors and managers within corporate institutions; while most of what is described as "socialist" involves a kind of middle ground between the two, with government controlling some industries and the private sector others.

All of these models claim to be "representative" in the sense that the governing class derives its authority, somehow, from the population it governs; and, moreover, that it governs in the best interests of all. For instance, in constitutional republics -- of which the above examples include -- there is a piece of paper which lays out the rights of the people and the responsibilities of the rulers, and this paper -- in addition to future bits of paper doodled by legislators -- will form the basis of that nation's "legal system," which can be summed up as an elaborate attempt to conceal power disparities by filtering them through a supposedly neutral institution known as "the judiciary." It is one example, along with elections and other devices, of how legitimacy is explained.

All of this can be very impressive in form, and yet it brings along with it many horrible dimensions, best observed when the people in charge fail to deliver a basic means of survival to the population. The ensuing desperation plays itself out in many different ways, with violent outbursts -- such as terror attacks on financial centers, or civil war -- coloring the most extreme -- you might say, "poverty-stricken" -- examples. Where people have food, and some means of stability -- as in the wealthier nations -- they may simply riot or partake in crime; where they are sufficiently affluent and educated, they may petition their government more politely, or seek to enter its ranks.

India is a hugely unequal society with a big domestic terror problem, whether linked to the most recent attacks or not. And like many modern societies, it is organized in a way which makes poverty for many the basis of incredible wealth for a few. Thus, that wealth becomes a big target, in various ways, by the many. It can continue to be the monopoly prize of competing groups, or it can be diffused to address basic needs. One guarantees more terror attacks; the other guarantees resistance from privileged groups who would rather bomb the world and all its inhabitants in a "war on terror" before ever relinquishing an inch of their privilege. We should never confuse their interests with our own.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


There are times when your only recourse is to congratulate people on the purchase of their portable touch-screen appliances before they will leave you alone.

However, if they also got a good deal on the item, forget it: you're screwed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The rich man's burden

I have read a series of articles detailing how poor people suffer when the very wealthy suddenly become less wealthy, principally because they have less wealth to with which to promote their own charitable foundations. Apparently, wealthy people do far more good with their wealth than poor people can ever do with their poverty; in fact, the amount of good done is directly proportional to the dollar amount that appears alongside their name in related news coverage.

If there's any question left as to whether poor people can possibly compete with the wealthy when it comes to selfless do-goodery, just tell me the last time you heard of a poor person parting with a million dollars in stock dividends in order to fund a cure for cancer? It is to laugh! Poor people suck, man! Let's worry about getting the wealthy back in the black so they can go on saving us all. Tax cuts all around!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Heels in low places

I would love to know by what argument American women were induced into walking on stilts so to affect a more "professional" appearance. "Make your legs appear longer, your breasts more available, be at all times slightly off-balance -- only then you will be taken seriously by your colleagues."

It would be easy to blame women for ever accepting this (at least if you share the view that high heels do not make sense as everyday footwear), but my guess is that the practice must have coincided with women's breakthrough into the workplace, and for this reason was not anticipated as a problem; or perhaps it was already so closely associated with the business world that it possessed an emancipatory appeal. Also, because the victory for women in the workplace did more to challenge the authority of the men at home than it did to challenge the authority men at work, it was in this respect quite limiting: men merely consolidated their authority over women in a new domain.

No doubt men sought common cause with the more parochial thread of feminism, which they viewed as manageable -- certainly preferable to the idea of women's equality overall -- and which granted them more extramarital options, besides. One might even view it as a net gain for professional men, if not for husbands: Women want to work? Sure, just create a distinct standard of "professionalism" for women, loaded with whatever men want -- less pay, upscale hooker wear, whatever. It's not by force; the women who want to succeed will know what to do.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Power makes anybody respectable. Give the terrorist an air force and he becomes a nation-builder.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The burdens of "private" property: A case study

The neighbors have a private garage in an area of Philadelphia where parking is scarce, and visitors frequent. What a luxury! They never have to look for a spot like the rest of us.

Now if only they could find the owner of the vehicle who has blocked their driveway on any given day. They knock on doors and check the bakery. They fret over what to do. They are nice people -- they'd rather not tow -- but they have things to do.

My spouse searches for a spot after working all day, and sometimes all night. But she has 150 or so potential spots to work with, often with reasonable success -- occasionally not. It can be annoying, but look at the bright side: she can leave whenever she wants. Moreover, she did not pay a premium for this freedom, bundled as it might have been into the cost of her housing. Compared with the amount of time and energy our neighbors spend trying to "enforce" access to their garage, I expect my wife spends considerably less just by parking on the street. What a luxury!


It is often the case that when perceived community rights -- for example, sufficient parking -- are subordinated to private property rights -- the right of individuals to purchase exemption from collective problems -- the community ends up winning one way or the other. This is inevitable in my view: No matter how many signs my neighbors post, without a broader solution to the parking problem, there will always be somebody who needs to just "pop out for a second" to grab something in the Italian Market. You can say that is wrong, or illegal, or whatever; but in practice, that does not count for very much: people still need to park.

If individuals have rights, then all individuals have rights, not particular individuals. This is widely misconceived in our society, premised as it is on the inviolability of private property rights. The fact that words are written on paper to insulate one group of individuals from the plight of a majority of individuals has never in history proven very persuasive to the majority, which is why riot police are necessary to make the point. Human groups that work through problems by consensus don't normally devolve into violence -- which is why nobody attempts to tear gas Grandma over the Thanksgiving turkey, even if they don't eat meat.

My neighbors, being the least influential of the "propertied" class -- i.e., mere homeowners -- may enjoy the benefit of an odd zoning officer lending a sympathetic ear to their troubles. Yes, it is a shame people have no respect for the law, he will tell them. But because they have no clout -- neither in property nor in numbers -- they will have to deal with the problem themselves; he will say this in so many words, if not explicitly: Not all property is created equal.

This is just one mundane example, but I believe the principle can be extrapolated generally -- to health care or the environment, for example, and many others in which private property claims exist in conflict with perceived public needs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Don't hate the player, hate the game

Business professionals must secretly love stories about "greedy executives," probably because the trend assigns culpability to individual, rather than "corporate," behavior.

Personally, I don't believe there is such a thing as a greedy executive. There are only "executives."

For example, nobody uses the term "corrupt mobster" because they understand what the mafia as an institution implies. Sadly, such "understanding" is too often precluded by a big enough salary, a claim to some reputation of importance, or the hope someday achieving these.

Having said all this, I nevertheless would like to point just how poorly old, white dudes fare on the more, how shall we say, "extreme" end of the executive continuum. Represent.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Worship by Southern Protestants and other evangelicals could face increased oversight by federal regulators should an Obama administration commitment to reduce CO2 emissions be realized, a spokesperson for the US Chamber of Commerce told the Wall Street Journal today.

Many business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose EPA regulation of CO2. "They're [EPA officials] willing to regulate everything from the industrial sector to warehouses, offices, schools and churches," says William Kovacs, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Congress vetoes Christmas; New rules deprive youngsters of their favorite lead-based toys

With the economy reeling, many Americans have scaled back their expectations this holiday season. But even the most modest consumers are making some allowance for the happiness of their children, particularly around Christmastime.

"My kids love Christmas," remarked Cassandra Wilson of Chicago, Illinois: "They can't get enough of it."

Getting enough of Christmas may prove difficult for some of America's smallest consumers this year, thanks to a controversial new ban on the sale of lead-based products in the US. Many retailers and manufacturers are lobbying to relax enforcement of the "Scrooge Act," which they say will dampen the enthusiasm of America's youth at a time of national crisis.

"The last thing you want to do in the middle of an economic downturn is tell kids that Santa Claus is being held hostage by communists," said Philip Blowery, president of the US Chamber of Commerce. "Hell, when I was kid, my brothers and I -- we practically ate lead toys for breakfast. After all, what's childhood without the smell of an action figure being cooked over an open flame? It's a sham, that's what."

Marlene Sparks of the National Association of Manufacturers agrees. "Look, nobody is telling the little tykes: you have to purchase toys with lead in them. All we are saying is, we have a large inventory of lead and non-lead based products, and the government shouldn't be making this choice for you."
Taylor was bipartisan

For liberals, a cautionary tale of science in the service of power. For conservatives, more proof their college-educated betters have the wrong "values."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Death with dishonor

Lest we think the Republican Party has been routed by Barack Obama's small donor fund-raising coup without taking the appropriate lesson: They are suing to overturn the ban on large donor contributions.

It is fair to say that the purpose of pursuing power is to eliminate competition, not to create it.

This is why when I hear George W. Bush defend "free-market enterprise" I can only conclude he likes these words so much that he has appropriated them to describe his economic philosophy, characterized as it is by government advocacy for his own concerns.

I imagine that when Hu Jintao does the same in China, he calls it "socialism."

So it is that the citizens who speak loudest become the voice of the nation. Everybody else can either fall in line or be baptised anti-American; "Americanism" is whatever the powerful have endorsed.

Without a committed examination of either power or class, Americans are often vulnerable to importing their priorities, prejudices and fears from those who "speak loudest" domestically. This leads to strange preoccupations among working people about topics as irrelevant to their daily existence as whether China will someday pose a challenge to US global supremacy. This cannot by any stretch of the imagination be the natural concern of an auto-worker or retail clerk who does not know if they will have a job tomorrow. These are concerns that arise solely within the ranks of a foreign policy apparatus whose mandate is to guarantee markets and resources for American investors abroad. The fact that they even enter into anybody else's head owes to the near-monopoly control that corporate ownership places over information in the United States. "If this is what the prominent figures of public life are concerned about, then it must be important" -- this is the effect that such power centralization produces in any society. One can hardly imagine it being very different for citizens in the former Soviet Union.

The concerns adopted by the average person which find their origins among elite constituencies span so many areas of human life that they deserve examination on a case-by-case basis. But just to illustrate the scope of the problem: consider the defining characteristics of female beauty in the United States, a wealthy society, versus those existing in poorer societies. In the United States, the prevailing "standard" of female beauty often approaches something not unlike malnourishment. But since this is what appeals to wealthy men, it is a standard which has a certain to "appeal" to us all: it puts us in closer proximity to rich men. On the other hand, in nations where food is scarce, a different preference among the affluent may be observed.

To come directly to my point, most of what we have come to accept as the elemental conflict when it comes to electoral politics is really just an imported feud between groups who presume the right to run the country on behalf of everyone else. The is summed up very well by the whole sordid "red state," "blue state" construct. First, let's recognize it for what it is: a carving up of the nation in the image of elite differences, as embodied by the Democratic and Republican parties. Either you are committed to "victory," or you feel the "true war" is in Pakistan -- not Iraq. Either you want to keep corporate taxes low, or you want to bribe specific corporations to keep jobs in the United States. You want the energy industry to "drill, baby, drill" or you want to pay the energy industry to not merely "drill, baby, drill" but also pursue a longer-term conversion to alternatives, which they will enjoy similar monopolization over. As Ralph Nader recently suggested on Real Time with Bill Maher, what wins is war, nativism, pollution, monopoly; what loses is public health, plurality, peace and democracy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


All of this has left us in a precarious place. With the Obama win, the technical experts will resume the roles they have traditionally held in the American executive branch since WWII, just as they occupy the executive positions of most contemporary US institutions. Under conditions of popular democracy, such expertise could be put in the service of addressing popular concerns: How do we make health care efficient and universal? How do we make schools safe and productive? How do we retool our energy infrastructure over the long-term to produce energy, not poison? How do we produce the things we need without becoming slaves to the process of producing things? How do we reasonably integrate raising children into the work/life balance? How do we take the deteriorating conditions of our communities, on the one hand, and the thousands of people without reliable work, on the other, and sensibly put the two together to create a common solution? How do we stop putting vast amounts of our national wealth into war projects that empirically make us less safe?

We do not live, day to day, under conditions of popular democracy; we live under the conditions set for us by the investor and managerial classes, whose legally sanctioned object is to do what is best for themselves, regardless of what it does for anybody else. What it does for others is incidental. The "economy" is the name they give to themselves. When the economy is doing well, it does not mean you have a job; it means profit and market share have grown for investors, bonuses have increased for executives. Sometimes this happens by depriving you of work, sometimes not; either way, you are not in charge. The experts who monopolize wealth -- they are in charge. They offer you a dream, an American dream: one day you will be like them, giving orders, doing to others what has been done to you for so long.

Even when we elect a man -- so far, a man -- to the nation's "highest office" who is modestly committed to social justice, he is constrained by the economic straitjacket of private monopoly control. Any public project which takes from investors their daily bread, or from managers their just reward or total autonomy, without their consent, is an attack on the rights of the "individual" -- which is to say, that minority of individuals who have assumed the right to infringe on most basic requirements of all others. Insofar as this class owns the newspapers, the cable news networks, and employs the radio personalities, analysts, and entertainers; their grievances will clamor louder than every empty stomach in America. They will make the unreasonableness of a "populist" president the headline of every printed page in the republic.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The technocratic manager, being the face of economic monopoly, is a useful target for those who aspire to administrate on behalf of that monopoly. Even the most undereducated American understands that government does not represent his or her interests, and subsequently is receptive to explanations which explain why this is so. Of course, nobody interested in attaining power over others is going to attack the principle of monopoly on which their bid for "leadership" is premised: the problem, therefore, is not how power is distributed, but instead the "quality" of whatever minority wields it.

George Bush enjoyed eight years in office because the Republican Party successfully advanced the argument that the technical administrators of the nation -- the media elites, the academic community, the leaders in government and in the corporate class -- suffered from an affliction of "liberal values" which, by definition, compromises one's moral legitimacy. These people may be well-educated and knowledgeable, but they lack the kind of basic decency that can be found most of the American electorate; so the solution is to elect leaders who are more "like" the average person -- someone like George Bush, for example; and now, Sarah Palin.

Conversely, much of the reason why Barack Obama won this time around owes to the fact that the Democrats had eight years of anti-intellectualism on which to anchor the reintroduction of the technocratic ideal -- that "having smart people run things isn't such a bad idea, after all." In ways that mirror the right-wing attack on "liberalism," liberals predictably attacked the Sarah Palin crowd as intrinsically deficient by the measure of liberal standards; and this time around, the argument proved persuasive -- namely after Bush's two-term catastrophe.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We have seen before the dangers that lie ahead

The defeat of John McCain represents for many a triumph of educated secularism over the malign forces of parochialism and superstition. We are living in 21st century America, after all, not medieval Europe; and though most of us are not uncomfortable with some conception of god, at the very least let us use the fruits of human endeavor -- like science and reasoning -- to address our problems. Faith is fine in its place, and that is not the White House. Get some smart folks in there who've kept up on world affairs since the Bible and we are good to go. This characterizes a perspective which has held a number of disparate groups in alliance against a Republican victory this year.

It's a manifest tragedy that recent US history has only served to confirm this view. These are not lessons that should need revisiting, having been championed rather handily by the Enlightenment, and later weaved into the fabric of the American system, or so the story goes. But the Enlightenment went much further than merely advocating for rule by scholars or specialists -- in other words, by technocrats. It advocated rule by the subjects themselves. In other words, not "rule," but self-governance.

I'm fond of the idea that every victory poses a new set of problems, and this has informed much of my reaction to the defeat of superstition by technocracy. Technocracy is, frankly, a very dangerous thing. Because while knowledge and expertise may always trump ignorance and naiveté, power trumps them all. Remember that the Vietnam War was conceived and executed by the "best and the brightest": Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara hailed from the best universities and the biggest corporations. If this is meant to be what we are returning to, it should not be regarded with anything less than apprehension.

Rule by the educated and experienced, though different in form, is not itself a solution to rule by the idiot. The problem is "rule," not the personal quality of rulers. History knows no dearth of "exceptional" leaders who ground the powerless into a fine pulp when the occasion asked of it. This is why it is important to challenge the premise on which every "rulership" resides. It is quite often illegitimate in relation to the people it affects.

Perhaps a real life example can capture the concern best. A large portion of our time is taken up by submitting to the whims of one or another moron in order that we might afford the food we eat and the roof we keep. The process can take eight or more hours of the day; only if we are lucky do we find some modicum of satisfaction in the exchange. Mostly it is a time-consuming burden which almost invariably steals from our lives the chance to do what we would prefer to be doing, had we any choice in the matter. Thus we play the lottery, or smoke weed in the parking lot, or go so mind-bogglingly into debt that in several decades we may profit monetarily from the whole fucked-up situation that we refer affectionately to as a "career." Whatever the case, we are subjected to one or another variety of abuse, usually in the form of a superior who exercises authority over us, sometimes legitimately, but with little to no recourse in the event that they do not. We are told in response that we have the "freedom" to go elsewhere.

Are these social arrangements -- which nearly everyone dreams to escape, or at the very least aggressively solicits bribes to endure -- the result of GED aspirants chasing Jesus in executive suites? Or are they the rational product of an educated, secular class pursuing privilege and power for themselves? I submit that history has shown the phenomenon to be no safer when practiced in government than when utilized in the economy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Whenever you find yourself in mixed company, try not to draw too hard on the patriotism-pipe. Sure, it gets everybody high. But it can leave the uninitiated in a compromised state, more vulnerable to predatory suggestion.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't stand so close

It might be said of the Republican Party that one of the hazards of having too many resources while sporting an ideological straitjacket is that you're never really required to face the music if you don't want to.

As long as Barack Obama was the likely victor in the race for the presidency, the conservative intelligentsia was happy to anoint him the second-coming of Karl Marx. But now that he has won office, they have quickly reversed course and claimed a victory for Reaganism, which Obama's optimism and tax-cuttery -- "for just about everyone" -- allegedly invokes.

It would seem everybody wants a piece of Barack Obama these days. This is not unusual for a public figure with such widespread appeal -- if the KKK could only book him as keynote speaker for their annual white pride parade! But one wonders how long the honeymoon will last, and with which suitors. From this writer's perspective, it would only take a few steps towards easier unionization for the whole of corporate America (and their Republocrat allies) to launch what one observer has called "political World War III." Karl Marx may get his Republican due yet again.
The feel good fool of the year

Tom Friedman informs us:

America is surely the only nation that could — in the same decade — go to war against a president named Hussein (Saddam of Iraq)...and then elect its own president who’s middle-named Hussein.

Is this a great country or what?
America is surely the only nation that could -- in the same decade -- launch a cold war against a dictator named Joseph (Stalin of the USSR), and then elect a senator named Joseph (McCarthy of Wisconsin). What's more is that both received their Christian forename at birth!

Is this a great country or what?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hot investment opportunities for 2009

People always see me reading the business rags and then ask where the smart money goes from here. Here is my advice: Invest in the kind of person you want to become, because, in the end, everything else is funny money. Nobody likes hearing this.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

US says Taliban endangers civilians

The US military has accused Taliban insurgents of endangering civilians by operating in populated areas where airstrikes lack precision targeting. The official statement came after a wedding party was bombed in Afghanistan on Thursday.

The US account -- in this case, that the Taliban prevented civilians from escape -- deserves scrutiny for several reasons. The first is the fact that the military offered no argument or evidence to support it, and was short on details generally. This is not unusual in and of itself; but, then, neither is the time-honored practice of "making shit up" to deflect responsibility to an enemy in the event of war crimes -- like when you bomb villages in order to "get your man." It's worth noting that the US has done a lot of this lately, killing scores of civilians, though rarely offering commentary except in high-profile cases like the above; or in response to cumulative popular outrage among Afghanis via the Karzai government.

The second is the disparate accounts coming out of Afghanistan from civilian witnesses and others, who have not ascribed to the Taliban a definitive role in the casualties. The bomb crater, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward as material evidence; it is not a mystery to the victims where it came from.

As a general observation, it is the nature of guerrilla warfare that insurgents "immerse" themselves in civilian populations. This is well understood by anyone in the US command. To the extent that the US military attacks the Taliban with bombs, they are communicating either an inability or an unwillingness to pursue the Taliban in ways which would minimize civilian casualties: in other words, bombs aren't the way to go if people matter. (Personally, I would extrapolate the argument to say that war is not the way to go if innocent people matter, especially when other options exist. And that is because whatever it is that war may not accomplish -- quite a lot, normally -- it will readily make up for in widespread suffering among non-combatants.) Clearly, the military has a mission to pursue al-Qaeda and the Taliban; it's also become apparent that they have few ways to do this outside of air power at the present time. Presumably this is why president-elect Obama favors redeploying ground troops to Afghanistan: but this will only reduce civilian casualties at best.

A better option would be to abandon a military approach to Afghanistan altogether. It is not a region with a history of submitting to foreign power; it is better to draw the Taliban into some kind of political compromise rather than postpone that inevitability in a vain attempt to defeat them militarily. A military victory is unlikely, and what will be produced in the meantime is more civilian deaths and a heightened hatred of America.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cashing in on Joe the Baptist

To get anywhere in the international relations biz, it's helpful to know the basics.

First, when the United States pushes to create an expansive missile infrastructure on another continent, it does so in defense of its "strategic interests," by definition.

Second, when an affected country like Russia announces the internal redeployment of its own arsenal should the US project go through, this constitutes an unbearable provocation aimed squarely at the new president -- thus fulfilling the Joe Biden Prophecy, and so on and so forth.

Stick to this script and you can make a lot of money writing op-eds, dude.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Dude, Madeleine Albright is going to hate this. What's the point of having a military if we don't use it?
The Bradley defect

Well, that was a waste of news coverage.

But not to let a bad thing die, now we hear of the "reverse Bradley effect" in which voters don't admit to voting for candidates they don't like -- or something. Personally, any social theory premised on the notion that Americans would be bashful about airing "controversial" opinions to anonymous data collectors ignores a rather compelling body of evidence pointing to the contrary. Have these people never watched Jerry Springer?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama is not the poor

Barack Obama's electoral victory is hugely important on a symbolic level, and symbols matter, especially for the most vulnerable among us, who are routinely deprived even the most non-material of comforts. The significance of someone who 200 years ago would have been legally regarded as sub-human, the private property of another, now "running the country" surely cannot be overstated. The evidence for this is that the occasion has moved the world.

However, Barack Obama is one person, and symbols do not fill children's stomachs or keep them healthy, or give their parents the material means to raise them. Part of Obama's appeal has been his explicit commitment to address these kinds of issues, and it is reasonable to take him his at his word that he will try. But there is no guarantee that any of this will transpire; it will depend entirely on the level of public support for concrete policies aimed at confronting these issues.

This is very different from pledging allegiance to Obama as a politician, because politicians can and will be compromised. Wall Street, the defense and reconstruction firms, pharmaceutical companies, the energy industry -- these profit-driven concerns have all lobbied the Democratic Party intensely in the lead up to this election, and in many cases have openly embraced Obama as a competent and potentially malleable manager. It is not an exaggeration to say that these businesses are in "the business" of interfacing with government in order to shape policy around their concerns; they have more money, more technical expertise and more general knowledge of how "the system" works than most Americans -- a group that is likely to include Barack Obama himself.

Americans will able to advocate effectively on behalf of specific issues only if they remain loyal to specific issues, not to politicians or other individuals in power positions. To the extent that public officials support the things we care about, they deserve support; in the event they fall short, they deserve to be called on it. Politicians invariably shift their attention to whatever issues clamor loudest; rest assured, the profiteer is always clamoring, even if you, your friends, and your community are not. Anybody interested in "change" will have to identify the central institutions which thrive on established practice and attack them in ways that both expose and undermine their role in society. This usually means making a commitment to popular organizations which are designed for this purpose. Barack Obama's role should be viewed as marginal compared to our own; we control our own actions, not his; and even if he was not here we should be committing to the same things.
Is America post-nonsense?

Any society which logs hundreds of hours asking itself whether it has issues with a particular topic probably has some very serious issues with that topic.
Adding insult to comedy

If Al Franken unseats incumbent Republican Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race, it will be the funniest part he has ever played.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The shit: One day closer to hitting the fan

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Don't quit your bidet job

Companies are grappling with a new kind of systemic risk according to the Wall Street Journal: a younger generation of workers who aren't interested in climbing the corporate ladder.

A new study suggests Japanese firms have some of the least ambitious younger workers. These employees do not feel the added pay or "prestige" of promotion is worth the costs of working longer hours or juggling extra responsibilities.

This has nonplussed upper managers and labor consultancy groups, who rely on recruitment for the health of their firms. Some companies have even pursued legal grounds to fire employees who refuse advancement.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The liberal media

Conservatives complain that the media is biased in favor of Obama, and this bias is held up as further evidence that the nation's central institutions have been infiltrated by "liberals."

The major media are undoubtedly biased toward Obama, but this should not be a problem in itself. Every organization will exhibit some institutional bias reflecting its ownership and whatever operational mandate may fall into the hands of executives. In the case of major American news outlets, these consist of several large corporations, integrated into even larger conglomerates, which distribute information from centralized operations in New York or Washington, D.C. to the rest of the country. They take different positions on different issues like anybody else.

If conservatives want to take a principled stand on the harmful effects of media bias, they would oppose the centralization of news which inevitably leads to one or two perspectives being imposed on everyone, and inevitably arises from the deregulated corporate model. Short of making this argument, conservatives merely gripe that the quasi-monopolies which distribute news don't have a different bias -- namely, whatever conservatives endorse. But because American conservatism advances the corporate model as its ideal, it cannot make a principled argument in favor of fairness. Fairness would mean introducing a range of competing viewpoints into the "news format," something that does not happen under monopoly conditions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scary, Pt. 1

The Grand Poobress, leading the store meeting at my retail gig, this morning said: "If you're going to go through the trouble of being here, you might as well take the opportunity to participate." She took issue with the fact that nobody wanted assemble within earshot.

Two thoughts.

First: The meetings are mandated by the company, so "the trouble" can be laid squarely at their feet; nobody wants to get up at 4am so they can present themselves to their colleagues at 6am. I wake up at 5am, but I live four blocks from the store -- hardly the case for most.

Secondly, "participation" in this case amounts to little more than applauding at regular intervals and -- at least theoretically -- listening to what is being said by management. Personally, I can't help but immerse myself in the quality of daydreaming I crafted in my formative years of public education. To my knowledge, nobody of interest speaks unless presented an "award" by management -- something I have blessedly avoided thus far. And, for the record, it depresses the hell out me when interesting people speak, because they are forever thanking all the wonderful people around them. That's roughly my estimation as well: people are the coolest part of every shitty institution devised by people so far. It saddens me when what's cool about people is conflated with what's shitty about institutions.

This note brought to you by 2/3's bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz. Yellow Tail: "Yep, it's cheap."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In consideration of what really matters

If you look at politics as nothing more than a grudge match between two or more celebrity straw men, it is only natural that you won't want to look for very long. This is called "electoral politics," and it works by making people feel excluded at the same time it motions wildly for their support. It is a party hosted by some of the biggest frauds in the country, and it is moderated by some of the smallest minds. You will be bowled over by charts and graphs and mathematical formulae which capture the spirit of democracy all in numbers. The corpses of statesmen-past will be propped upright and paraded about the public mind, their droppings a delicacy among the pundit-caste. Every cable news anchor will clench and strain until they are quite literally filled with feces. By the time the polls close, you won't want to think about "politics" for a very long time; that is American democracy, by design.

On the other hand, if you look at politics as a glass half-full of Trappist ale, then there just might be enough left for you to get pissed and stay pissed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Howard Zinn: Taxes!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The loudest sound

Do you want to know the noise business makes when Americans ask that they commit to the health of the nation?


Turn on talk radio in the next two weeks and you will find the echo deafening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Welfare-states boast greatest income equality, social mobility

Income inequality has grown substantially in many developed nations in the last 20 years despite continued economic growth, a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found. Denmark and Sweden registered the smallest disparities in national income wealth, while the United States recorded among the largest (see graph, bottom) in the 30-country survey.

Reasons for the widening gulf between rich and poor include "changes in the labour market" which have eroded the quality of employment opportunities for low-skilled workers. Wealth redistribution via taxation has helped defray living costs associated with necessities, but may not be adequate as a substitute for good jobs. The OECD suggests that "welfare-in-work" programs -- receiving an income subsidy while working crap jobs -- could help make up the difference between what employers are willing to pay and what is required to mitigate poverty, at least in the interim before adequate employment is realized.
Howard Zinn on "change"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Of Human Energy

When you think about it, commuters, oil executives, seagulls -- we're all people. People just trying to get by in this topsy-turvy game called "climate change." Sure, maybe we've had one too many babies. And maybe we've bought one too many petroleum-powered entertainment systems, or, the con-artist formerly known as "SUV." But let's not play the blame game or point fingers, because, after all, we're in this together. Help us help you to not be fuck-ups anymore.

Yours truly,

The Oil and Gas Lobby
Chomsky on the economy

Monday, October 20, 2008

A note about managers

The constraints that managerial divisions place on people often make it very difficult for individuals to "do the right thing" toward each other. That holds true in any institution where the individual is expendable: when the demands of power lean one way, and ethical necessity another, you put your own safety and security in jeopardy by doing what's right.

Good managers -- in the ethical sense -- will know enough about how their organization works to be able to maximize opportunities for supporting others without unduly exposing themselves to risk. But ultimately they do take a risk -- substantially more so than the people around them who merely "do what they're told." On the other hand, the "followers" are usually least prepared when the moral bankruptcy of their enterprise is exposed (this is actually happening all the time, but only occasionally on a scale that makes it obvious to all), and that is because by following they have denied themselves the defensive benefit of independent thought and ethical awareness.

It's worth noting that there are many popular allegories for this that come from other systems, like Schindler's List, concerning Nazi Germany; or The Lives of Others, a new film about secret police activity in the former East Germany. These films are important in what they reveal about the systems they describe, but they are universally relevant in depicting the moral challenges individuals face in all hierarchies of power, especially when the individual is entrusted in some way with the maintenance of that hierarchy. Naturally, the fact that the stakes were so high in Nazi Germany or the former GDR only contributes to dramatic impact, but there is no reason why analogous stories could not come from contemporary corporate offices -- less extreme by degree but equally objectionable; and, unlike abuses elsewhere, they are things that impact our everyday lives.
Noam Chomsky on voting

Are you down with OCD?

Last week one of my middle-management betters approached me with a bit of constructive criticism with regard to one part of my job performance. I was in wholehearted agreement with him, and immediately replied with, "Yes, I agree."

He then restated himself two or three times, evidently for lack of anything else to say; or perhaps because repeating oneself from a position of authority paves the way toward consensus, in contemporary business theory. Arguments from superiors aren't meant to be sound; they are meant to remind everyone where power resides.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fun factoids

this from Wikipedia:

Labor, i.e., human work, is considered to be an economic factor of production, alongside capital, land (including raw materials) and entrepreneurship. That is, reducing the cost of the resource contributes to the corporation's net income.

Ah, human work. What other purpose might it serve if not wholly dedicated to "the corporation's net income?" Personally, I would like give back some of my income just to see the corporation do better. Oh wait, I guess that is my stock plan. But, really, I would like forfeit some of my recent raises. I am not greedy. It is just my union that coerced me to go from $8.50 per hour to over $16 in 9 years. I wish I had been in a non-union company all along, where instead of $1 raises each year you get a beautifully choreographed song and dance -- and "pride" in being a "stakeholder" in the company. That is nice.
Rolling Stone: Embedded with the Taliban

Here is a picture of some our enemies in Afghanistan. It is hard to bomb them without killing the neighbors, but perhaps that is the price of freedom.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The anti-union tool kit

Learn the ABC's of surveilling your employees, controlling their movements and conversations, and serving up the "straight scoop" on unions with the informational video available here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking the fight to Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has instructed US commanders in Afghanistan to offer apologies and compensation to the relatives of civilians killed by US actions there. The move came after intensified US and NATO airstrikes on suspected targets resulted in growing numbers of civilian dead over the past few months. US military officials have stressed that the air campaign strategy, which utilizes pilotless drones as well as conventional air power, is necessary without an increased commitment of ground troops in the region. Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has condemned the airstrikes, and suggested that the resulting civilian casualties undermine popular support against the Taliban.
Attacks on Colombian labor leaders

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spreading the wealth around

That some issues don't receive the attention they deserve at the executive level within institutions owes mainly to the fact that institutions are designed in the interests of their designers -- not so much anybody else. If you cannot count yourself part of the former group, you will have to think creatively about how your concerns can "coincide" with the concerns of executive power.

For example, "poverty" was not mentioned in last night's presidential debate for several reasons. The first is that the United States government was not designed by poor people to address their needs. It was designed by European aristocrats to protect their property claims against 90% of the population, who weren't allowed a role in government based on criteria including race, gender and whether they owned any property in the first place. While the demographic scope of the electorate has since expanded, economic power has narrowed correspondingly, leaving huge parts of policy deliberation outside the public arena altogether (e.g., why we haven't adopted anything more efficient than the internal combustion engine in over 100 years of technological innovation.)

Secondly, poor people abstain from electoral politics in disproportionate numbers -- and they are further discouraged from voting in the event they should become curious. In Philadelphia, this takes the form of papering neighborhoods with "notices" that any outstanding parking tickets, fines, utility payments, or criminal history will be subject to official scrutiny, which in turn presupposes the possession of a government-issued photo ID -- something which poor people are more likely to live without.

But perhaps even more fundamentally, poor people, like most Americans, only "vote" every several years, whereas large economic actors like corporations -- the "owners" of our day -- exist in perpetual dialogue with government: they vote every minute of the day with dollars and influence.

So it is not surprising that public concerns regularly lose out, including morally urgent problems like poverty. People who spend most of their time chasing paychecks in order to survive tend not to have the time or the money to petition their representatives. This is how the system is designed, and we can each ask ourselves whether it is for our benefit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In consideration of the McPalin mob

A recent spate of McCain fans behaving badly evokes sympathy on my part, because they are among those who have paid the highest price for the country's Republicanism of recent years. The great transfer of wealth from public budgets to private bank accounts under the guise of "less government" has pushed many working Americans into varying degrees of indebtedness, in order that they might have access to necessities like food, housing, transportation and fuel -- or what business commentators, in the wake of financial implosion, now like to call "living beyond your means." Add to this the export of industrial sector jobs which propped up the "blue-collar middle class" and drop child or two in the old Mesopotamian grist mill, and the full contours of rural, white agony are thrown into sharper relief.

So the anger is real and justified. The targets are merely the scoundrels-du-jour of the Republican Party mercenary media branch; the kind of local talk radio hosts who make their living by delivering rural audiences to business advertisers, or FOX News programmers who do the same at a national level. It's worth remembering that John McCain was the scoundrel that incurred the wrath of his party and its conservative base until it became clear he was the last man standing in line for the presidency. Four years ago it was gay marriage and "the French"; now it is ACORN and Bill Ayers, and, of course, Barack Obama. The villains change daily. But they aren't the inventions of John McCain or rural communities.

Should distressed populations know better than to trust the people who seek them out, affirm their anger, and identify the culprits as liberal elites? Should they fact check Rush Limbaugh's sources after working three part-time jobs in one day? Naturally, they should; the reality is, they won't anymore than you or I will fact check everything we hear on CNN or read in the New York Times after working all day. And we have those fuckers to thank for Iraq, among other jaw-dropping lapses of journalism. So the job of countering fiction with fact is left open to us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Americans can't afford Christopher Columbus

This may be a day late and a penny short, but the best thing I can say about Christopher Columbus is that he was Italian. I like Italians.

One of my grandmother's closest friends is a Hungarian woman who escaped Nazi capture when an officer's dog yielded to her affections. To this day, she loves animals but is deeply skeptical of humanity. Also, nobody can say a bad word to her about the United States.

The story goes that Hitler had a strong affinity for the US government's policy toward native Americans, whom he felt occupied a space analogous to the "Jewish question" in Europe. These communities could not be reconciled with the demands that the "national progress" spelled out; as such, they were deemed obstacles to be removed, in either case. But while the United States was constrained only by distant oceans as its borders, Germany was beset with hostile neighbors on all sides, and suffered for want of "Lebensraum" -- or, "living space." As such, the Jews could not be left to rot in a corner, as the native Americans were so ably undone by the industrious Americans, but required a "creative" solution unique to the particulars of Europe at that time.

The good news is that my grandmother's friend, the survivor, will talk about it all -- quite openly -- to anyone who will listen. The bad news is that she doesn't find many takers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Noam Chomsky: Anti-democratic nature of US capitalism is being exposed

from the Irish Times:

[T]he US treasury now regards free capital mobility as a "fundamental right", unlike such alleged "rights" as those guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: health, education, decent employment, security and other rights that the Reagan and Bush administrations have dismissed as "letters to Santa Claus", "preposterous", mere "myths".

The conception of the inalienable right of wealth to do as it pleases, without any obligation or debt to the society from whence it came, is forever being repackaged for consumption by the average American. It is a very old song, a lullaby set to induce the kind of intellectual coma required to believe that owning a car or home creates an economic kinship with the conglomerate legal entities which effectively own the nation -- its industry, its resources, and its government. It's one of the clearest examples of how the whole concept of "private property" confuses endlessly what should be a transparent demarcation of interests: owning personal property does not threaten to infringe on the basic ability of others to survive; but owning productive property -- like factories and farm land and the resources they require -- can ultimately affect everybody in a society, thus warranting some manner of "shared" ownership.

Similarly on the subject of taxation, "cutting taxes" for lower-income workers gives them a few hundred extra dollars back -- naturally helpful -- but pitifully insufficient to buy their own health care plans, their own road maintenance, their own fire department and police services, their own libraries, or their own private schools. What across-the-board tax cuts get them is $1000 back on which they are expected to meet every basic human need imaginable. This is why the very godfather of "free markets", the Scottish economist Adam Smith, would be slandered as a communist if American business programs ever taught his actual views, including the moral necessity of progressive taxation. The tax which supports the maintenance of democratic governance was, in Smith's words, "a badge of liberty" -- evidently a sentiment lost on the McCain campaign, which ridiculed Joe Biden for the suggestion that paying taxes might constitute a "badge of patriotism."

Enjoy the show.
Making banks a public utility

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pining for the day when America becomes France

Something we're all going to hear a lot more about in the event of an Obama win is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). For the American business community, it is probably one of the most significant bills to come along in the past 30 years, because it would make unionization a much simpler process, with less opportunity for employer interference.

From the employer's perspective, "America will become France," in the words of Home Depot founder, Bernie Marcus. France happens to have paid maternity leave, however; and I hear that's cool if you want to, like, raise your kids and feed them at the same time. It's one of the benefits people enjoy when their tax money is spent on basic public needs -- as opposed to merely making things go kablooey in far distant lands, or ensuring that the have-mores can play the stock market when they aren't cockblocking wages via executive compensation and shareholder payouts. (Just to be kind, we'll omit the kinds of public outlays required in the event of a wholesale financial Armageddon -- which happens every once in a while, too -- and restrict our criticisms to the normal, healthy functioning of a pro-business economy.)

American business is always in an awkward position when it comes to discussing its basic motivations. You will never hear any high-level executive or government hireling say: "Fuck man, we need more cash-money for bitches and bling!" You will only hear them say: "Shit dude, we're only trying to create jobs up in this piece!" And yet, no company creates jobs without an implicit guarantee (or, at the very least, expectation) of profits derived from that expenditure. In practice, the shittier the job created, the greater the profits derived. This is why unions suck from a business perspective: they impose limits on the shittiness of jobs created. In the early 20th century, this meant being able to work in a meat processing plant while enjoying a much reduced probability being processed as meat yourself. Today it might mean having some variety of health insurance for your family, even though you didn't go to college and don't deserve it -- at least from an employer's perspective.

True to form, business is framing their argument against the EFCA as a defense of workers' fundamental rights -- in this case without even disclosing their identity or self-interest in the legislation:

The deceptively titled Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) threatens to shake loose one of the cornerstones of democracy: the private-ballot vote.
For over 70 years, workers have exercised this fundamental right to privacy in deciding whether to unionize. EFCA seeks to disrupt the private ballot and use in its place a public system in which a worker's vote will be anything but private. Under EFCA, workers could be required to publicly declare their vote in front of union leaders, fellow employees, and management. This invasion of privacy is not only unfair, it is just plain un-American-and it opens the door for coercion and intimidation from both sides.
Anybody who has ever "done time" in a place of employment can tell you how long anything told in confidence to one co-worker will last before it becomes the common intellectual property of all. There is no "private option" at work unless you express nothing that you want kept private.

The same is true of union organizing drives -- especially true since perks and privileges can be distributed by managers to their subordinates in exchange for info on pro-union employees. These employees can then be sacked on whatever pretense required; and they can be sacked before the private ballot process ever begins. This is why the private ballot option is so useful to employers: organizing simply can't be done in private, and the more time employers have to disrupt the process, the better. EFCA addresses this disadvantage by establishing union legitimacy through a simple collection of signatures, or, "card check."

But if anything is evidence of an unwillingness among business concerns to negotiate with employees in good faith, it is the kind of treatment, like above, which purposefully aims at deceiving the public as to where workers stand on this issue.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


In China as it is in India:

Rural land disputes, usually with local officials and their corporate allies and stemming from the ambiguous legal position of peasants' rights, have been identified by the government as a leading cause of social instability and riots.

Yeah, it's funny about republican, representative-styles of government -- especially when it comes to putting words on paper that are to be the "rules" we all live by. It's almost as if certain people are more "represented" than others, by virtue of qualities that aren't supposed to be political, at least in theory. Equality under the law is equality under the law, right?

It's really a universal phenomenon. In the old communist bloc republics, it was sardonically captured in the expression, "Some citizens are more equal than others." That one never goes out of style among the casuists at the Wall Street Journal -- who of course are guilty of exactly the same thing. If bullshit was a condiment it would be spread evenly over the breakfast bagels of every capital city in the world.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Propatainment & Infoganda

A local talk radio program asked listeners whether health care is a "right" or a "responsibility," invoking a question from last night's debate. The verdict seemed to be that health care is a "responsibility" which one meets by saving money to cover medical expenses. One caller said she had done this to address a tooth ache since "it's not government's job" to do, I was left to presume, anything people might reasonably expect of it.

The hosts welcomed the consensus. After all, in Canada people have to "wait" before they can receive free care. And look at France's stagnant economy! Why, people even come from far away lands just to receive unrivaled American care.

It struck me how consistently the callers seemed to articulate only the preoccupations of the very rich. It's inconvenient to wait for a service when you have the money to buy it, or an insurance plan which covers it, for example; and whatever will become of our gross national product!? And this from the same folks who borrow themselves into bankruptcy when their "health savings account" is put in the ring with a more serious contender than tooth decay.

It's generous that people would risk their health for the consumer prerogative of a privileged few, but I wonder how many realize just how generous these attitudes really are. They may be giving up more than they know, and for the comfort of those who are not themselves.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is moved by "a Reaganesque belief in low taxes, small government and free markets."

Reagan believed in small governments so much he tried to start his own all through Central America. They believed in low taxes, too; that is, unless you count being strung from a tree a kind of "tax." And doesn't it take putting a heckufalotta folks in jail before markets can truly be free? Yes, bringing democracy to others isn't easy, but it's a lot safer than letting people practice it themselves.

Sound familiar, Bibi?

Monday, October 06, 2008

News digest

This courtesy The Angry Arab News Service:

Trying to save her from herself, Fox News interviewed Palin again...to allow her to answer (or recite memorized answers) to questions that she could not answer on CBS last week. Among her answers, she said that she read the Economist. I believe that. And Bush reads Hegel every night before he goes to sleep. It shows on both of those two. In French presidential elections, they have debates. In the US, they have theatre and gimmicks. In the last presidential election in France, they asked both candidates during a debate this question: what is the percentage of energy that France receives from nuclear reactors? Can you imagine such questions in US "debates"?

Also brought to my attention was a NYT review of Thomas Friedman's new book, which included the suggestion that someone "remind Friedman that the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data.'" I second that revulsion.
Problems of modern management: when people resist

Here is a flavor of what the multinational corporation brings to the developing world, as summarized by today's Financial Times, and now myself; in this case relating to India:

An automobile manufacturer cuts a deal with local government in India to build a plant on land that is owned and cultivated by small farmers. The government offers the farmers compensation for their land, but many farmers refuse, either because the compensation is not agreeable, or because farming is their traditional livelihood and they don't want to give it up for factory work.

Eager to push forward with the "democratic development" of their domain, the government confiscates the farmers' land on the corporation's behalf. This prompts an unhappy reaction from the farmers, who stage large protests. The government blames the unrest on left-wing, middle-class interlopers who do not have the farmer's interests at heart: they merely harbor a reflexive animosity towards big business.

Western press outlets cover the story for weeks, marveling at the notion that simple farmers would not jump at the chance for wage-work in a modern industrial facility producing an innovative new vehicle.

The protests succeed and the company backs down. The farmers have their land but it is not the same, having already been developed for industrial use.

Western observers lament the tragic consequences the Indian farmers have surely brought upon themselves. If only they had not had a mind to question the high aspirations their corporate and government betters held for them! Now they will amount to little more than simple farmers on damaged land, rather than proud auto-company employees with a taste for consumption -- or so the story goes.

All this and more, in Asia's "greatest democracy."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Sarah Palin means

The liberal problem with somebody like Sarah Palin ultimately comes down to class. The Democratic Party is not a convincingly working class party. Moreover, they are so unconvincingly working class Republicans can literally pluck a woman with children from the seat of local government and invent a conservative national hero out of thin air. It is a testament to the political alienation felt by poor, white rural communities that by simply acknowledging them, no matter how cheaply, you gain their loyalty.

The Democratic Party solicits this important constituency through economic policy, but insofar as unionization has declined throughout the country, there is no effective mechanism for getting this message out: there is no space on CNN for in-depth reporting on the merits of progressive taxation, for example, like there was in the labor publications which existed 100 years ago. Simply put, the labor movement is the progressive working class, or least is the best hope for it; and losing independent labor unions has always precipitated losing the working class to the narrow appeals of racism, bigotry and jingoism that the owners of industry are always dangling before them, in standard divide-and-conquer fashion.

As labor union strength has declined, the Democratic Party has turned increasingly toward big business to make up the difference, with a corresponding shift in policy commitments. Democratic Party culture has merged more completely with corporate culture, with its premise of educated managerialism, wherein those with the most education and experience are conferred with executive authority over everybody else. In essence, it is the same idea that underpins many Americans' conception of the office of the Presidency, leading to the kinds of squabbles that existed between the Obama and Clinton camps; and having more recently erupted around the selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President, who is "merely" representative of much of rural America -- and thus inadequate in any significant leadership role -- as this philosophy of power would hold.

Meanwhile the Republican Party apparatus speaks to the white lower classes everyday, primarily through talk radio, and it makes guns and immigration and national defense and gay marriage and abortion and religion and every other position that induces apoplexy among American liberals the starting point of every conversation. In other words, it leads with their concerns and interests as they stand now, and in doing so acknowledges them, rather than writing them off as a lost cause, deserving of their lot because they have not taken the necessary steps to "improve themselves" with an education they likely can't afford, or otherwise must risk their lives in a combat zone to acquire, so that someday they might not be mere hillbillies with little to offer society -- and subsequently permitted to ascend to some enviable position of power over others.

Naturally, people from this group take a different view, believing they have positive attributes in spite of whatever might be beyond their immediate reach; and many of them see these positives in Sarah Palin. Their counterargument to educated managerialism is values-based leadership -- "values" being something a person can have regardless of whether they have a master's degree, and, from a religious perspective (namely, theirs), is probably more important anyway. The Republican Party has found common cause with this perspective insofar as it helps mask their economic agenda, which is explicitly geared toward redistributing wealth to top income-earners by fleecing everyone else. The Democratic Party, however, is still too mired in its own class affiliations to know how to approach the white, rural working class except, ironically, at the level of policy, which they have no way of explaining except through their union go-betweens, who may reside at the blue-collar level but not in sufficient numbers. The Democrats may want to manage "on behalf" of lower income people, but that is only a further example of their "elitism," as the Republican-sponsored narrative goes. Barring a complete economic catastrophe -- the likes of which Obama presently enjoys -- the Republicans are winning these arguments, and will continue to do so in the future, until either the labor movement is sufficiently revived or the Democratic Party culture otherwise shifts in such a way that is not so rigidly constrained by class prejudice.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A sober reaction

Nice work by Sarah Palin. She was strong, confident, quirky and cute. She winked and smiled and used endearing colloquialisms. She made the audience laugh when she gave "shout-outs" to third graders, and crap like that. Most importantly, she managed to do it for over an hour, without really saying anything about policy. Ultimately, that was all she needed to claim success; and she did it with the combined power of her strange bouffant-bang-mullet headpiece.

Joe Biden is a pretty uninteresting, old-school politician. It does not help that the man has no color whatsoever, reminding me of Jack Nicholson finally reposed in The Shining. He should dye his eyebrows or something.

Biden was able to say more about policy, but most of it was terrifying to me personally. Bombing Bosnia was not my idea of a humanitarian intervention, and the fact that we aren't sinking billions of dollars into Afghanistan like we are in Iraq strikes me as a good thing. Finally the man mentioned LIHEAT, kitchen tables and so forth, to good effect.

People like who they like, and tend not to look generously at the other side. In principle, I like neither, so there is no similar conflict. I think Palin did more to rally her side than Biden, mainly because she held her own against a veteran and was less conventional in her deliveries. Biden, for his part, did not embarrass himself or his party, a big accomplishment. I don't know that either would have had a big impact on independents or undecideds. Some would have been drawn to Biden's "substance" and others to Palin's "charisma."

Not at all what I was expecting from Palin, and I must credit her for that.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

La fin du monde

A neighborhood watering hole is rumored to feature the Vice Presidential debate this evening. Whether the occasion proves itself high-entertainment or a turgid bore, it will not matter very much because I intend to be drink-soaked.

I'm going into the charade with some sympathy for Sarah Palin. The woman is clearly not seasoned in national-stage shystery, and may well be approaching some order of mental illness, as her flailing party's shock therapists press ever more determinedly down into her small-town psyche. Frustrations reportedly abound: toward her handlers, for not letting her "be herself"; toward herself, for not being sufficiently malleable as clay; toward the party leadership, who regard her family as a nuisance and a distraction, keeping them at bay. And then there are the high-level dissenters who perceived her as a liability from the beginning. If any of this is accurate, I hardly see how Palin will be anything other than a tightly-wound ball of terror, especially in light the humiliation doled on her in casual conversation with Katie Couric. But this is why I feel generously towards her: the price we pay on the road to power is not often understood in advance, often to our regret.

And then we have Joe Biden, the Mt. Vesuvius of misspeak. Here's hoping for hilarity all around. Cheers.