Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Thomas Friedman, New York Times:

The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.

I blame America's bartender!  Does she even have a degree or what?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Harder, better, insolventer, quagmireder

Brian Domitrovic, Wall Street Journal:

In 2003, as the Iraq war got going, France complained that the U.S. was the world's "hyperpower." Yet France itself was partly responsible for this fate. Had France committed to achieving high GDP growth via free-market incentives as the U.S. had in the 1980s and 1990s, it would have been appreciably richer in the 21st century, and thus a greater force in international power politics.

 You know... like us!

I've always suspected straight men of being gay.  One example: sexually explicit conversations about women with other men.  No straight man would tolerate it.  Then there are urinals -- which brings up the whole subject of touching one's self; and, handily, never puts it down.
Propaganda by the deed

There is an expression I use at work, adapted from the music scene, which I first learned from lesbians: Clock out with your cock out!

Monday, September 28, 2009

G20 Pittsburgh


The people's uprising was a brief and hilarious failure, as I expected, although the sweet scent of tear gas now drifts over my garden, suggesting what might have been. It was mostly kids, and while charmingly earnest, they mostly didn't understand the most basic principles of protest or cooperative action, and so they were easily and swiftly dispersed by the police. We may lament the gaudy police state in which we live and chuckle ruefully at the loudspeaker warning, "This is an illegal assembly"--the fuzz no longer even bothers to change the constitutional language in propounding orders that directly contravene the rights that language is meant to guarantee. Puts a man in a mordant mood. Anyway, you know, a great deal more might have been demonstrated if they'd held hands, sat down, and sung spirituals. If you'll pardon me, their problem is just as much aesthetic as it is political. They are not compelling.

While I am not experienced in direct action standoffs with the state; and while I appreciate that there are other factors at play which may justify concealing one's identity under such circumstances; I've never been able to shake the feeling that dressing like a rebel Mexican peasant is not useful when attempting to communicate your concerns to a US audience.

It seems to me that if there are people in American actions who can "afford" simply to be themselves, and not draw so heavily from the "aesthetics" of the Spanish Civil War or the Zapatistas -- or the general predilection for appearing as bizarre as the shock troops they confront -- it might be a very good thing for public relations!

Also, "people's uprisings" -- people's anything, for that matter -- is usually a recipe for anti-climax. A much stronger claim might invoke the defense of constitutional rights, like freedom of speech and assembly. To this end, just holding ground is a real achievement.

For your consideration.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Crass analysis

Financial Times:

Save for a few small groups, Marxism has become a largely intellectual resource, invoked in the academy more for the study of culture, language and media than of economics. Some of Marx’s insights – as into the prime importance of the economic base of societies – remain, regarded now as common sense. But his own call to arms, as in the Communist Manifesto, is largely ignored.

I like to stick up for Marx if only because everyone who attacks him is indebted to him in the same breath. Only because so many of his ideas are "regarded now as common sense" can anyone pretend to dismiss him.

The fact that his most visible advocates are to be found pursuing careers in places where they can't easily be fired for their ideas is perhaps unsurprising in light of the fact that Marx's "call to arms" to overthrow the employing class tends to be frowned upon by employers.

And let's not forget that there was a 20th century less than ten years ago, and the problem certainly wasn't that Marx was ignored.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The story of my strife

Bertrand Russell, The Will to Doubt; 1958:

The amusements of modern populations tend more and more to be passive and collective, and to consist of inactive observation of the skilled activities of others.  Undoubtedly such amusements are much better than none, but they are not as good as would be those of a population which had, through education, a wider range of intelligent interests not connected with work.   Better economic organization, allowing mankind to benefit by the productivity of machines, should lead to a very great increase of leisure, and much leisure is apt to be tedious except to those who have considerable intelligent activities and interests.  If a leisured population is to be happy, it must be an educated population, and must be educated with a view to mental enjoyment as well as to the direct usefulness of technical knowledge.

That is all well and good -- but did you see that Family Guy episode!?
A prayer for the police officer

via Financial Times:

“You must leave the immediate vicinity regardless of your purpose,” police in full riot gear told protesters over bullhorns about an hour into the march.

It's tough being a cop. It's particularly tough being a cop in any community with a lot of inequality. This is because property can be heavily concentrated in the hands of a few owners, and yet the police officer's job -- indeed, the government's job -- is to defend property rights. Under conditions of great inequality, this puts law enforcement in the unenviable position of policing distressed communities in the name of "law and order" -- which inevitably means the ordering of the many under the law of the few.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Surrendering our freedoms, an American tradition

I spoke with a colleague today about "defending our preferred way of life," which he described vaguely in terms of rights and freedoms. I asked whether he preferred working eight hours a day under the conditions set by our employer, several more under conditions served up by another; and, in either case, surrendering his constitutional rights by doing so!

On closer inspection, it was revealed that my colleague actually devotes very little time to practicing his "preferred way of life," and the better part of it to securing somebody else's. In fact, most of his waking hours are spent in forfeit of his cherished rights completely!

I left him with the time-honored working class motto: As long as you need permission to pee, you are not the one who's free.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Under my (ARM)borella ella ella, eh eh eh

The story of USA Inc. has been to take the constitutional protections of the private citizen, extend them to the enterprise of private citizens, and then watch the protections of the former evaporate as soon as they step onto the property of, or otherwise enter into legal agreement with, the latter.
Entrepreneurial America asks: What is a "union?"

The real question here is: how does one make an effective argument without an advertising budget?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I am not an entrepreneur

The language of inequality is filled with words like "freedom" and "prosperity," but they always describe the prerogatives of the speaker.

The rest of us just use the language: a retired neighbor calls me a "young entrepreneur" when in fact much of the value I "create" is pocketed by my employers; whatever I "innovate" is theirs to keep as well; and with no further obligation to my welfare whatsoever!

So it is the equivalent of calling me a sucker, even if it is intended to hold me in esteem with the very class of scoundrels that rob me daily.

How to communicate this in the course of polite conversation would be a wonderful thing to resolve: "I am not an entrepreneur" are the truest words never said by most of us, because they cannot be understood without a language that accurately describes our lives.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Late nights

Whenever I watch television, I'm struck by the resources behind America's favorite "personalities." For instance, I find Jay Leno wholly unpersuasive as an entertainer. What I suspect is that the man exists -- but what really works in his favor are the generous production budgets and national distribution agreements. Jay Leno could be an avatar and America would not care; he could be a different person entirely and people would like him better.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Take it easy, but take it!

As I retire to the New Jersey shore for a week of off-season splendor, I would like to recommend the Staughton Lynd title, Wobblies & Zapatistas, for anyone interested in further reading on the relationship between Marx, anarchism, and "doing something."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Politics and class

Even if power is intrinsic to every relation, "politics" under capitalism is a role assigned specifically to the state: it is the pursuit of state power by competing groups. In keeping with this technical definition, everything outside the realm of government cannot be "politics," but something else -- "economics," "culture," "science," and so on.

Interpreting the world through the prism of "politics" means seeing things from the vantage point of the political classes. This is the simplest explanation as to why "politics" is an alienating subject for most people, since it proceeds from the self-interested assumptions of a specialized class, not the experiences of ordinary Americans.

As Marx might note, seeing the world through a "political" lens, narrowly defined, produces advantages and disadvantages which are themselves political in the broader sense of the term. For one thing, it preferences the class interests of politicians over the class interests of, say, people who work for a living. These are two totally different groups, with distinct interests; and it's worth noting that they have completely different relations to the employer class, which gives generously to one while taking away from the other -- in fact, for the very purpose of taking away from the other. Under such a scenario, working people are at a huge disadvantage to the extent that their concerns are framed by the prerogatives of a hostile class.

If we interpret this weekend's march on Washington as a "conservative" event, we foreclose the possibility of seeing it as a working class event which has been sponsored by corporate advocates. By and large, these are working people with grievances stemming from economic hardship, who feel that government is too large and unresponsive, and otherwise fails to represent them. They have been organized to confront Obama on behalf of the same corporate concerns that pay Glenn Beck's salary and own his network. They articulate a general dissatisfaction with government in addressing their needs, then carp about "socialism" -- perhaps the natural enemy of the pro-business entertainer; not so much the average American trying to find a job.

From a class perspective, the interests of working people deserve to be consolidated and advanced by working people as a class. This means that people without work or without health care, or anyone vulnerable in this regard, have more important things in common than who they vote for, what God they worship, or whether or not they would have an abortion. After all, one does not go bankrupt and lose their home owing to their party affiliation, but thanks to a different set of relations entirely.

This is an argument that needs to be presented to people suffering from economic problems. It is also a counterargument that can easily undermine the irrationality of corporate populism, were activists inclined to break with the priorities of the Democratic Party in favor of their own.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Rudolf Rocker, Nationalism and Culture:

Every power presupposes some form of human slavery, for the division of society into higher and lower classes is one of the first conditions of its existence. The separation of [women and] men into castes, orders and classes occurring in every power structure corresponds to an inner necessity for the separation of the possessors of privilege from the people. Legend and tradition provide the means of nourishing and deepening in the concepts of [women and] men the belief in the inevitability of the separation. A young rising power can end the dominion of old privileged classes, but it can only do so by creating a new privileged class fitted for the execution of its plans. Thus, the founders of the so-called "dictatorship of the Proletariat" in Russia had to call into being the aristocracy of the Commissars, which is as distinguishable from the great masses of the working population as are the privileged classes of the population of any other country.

As I like to say, the communists are always the first to go -- this holds as true under fascism as it does under liberal democracy as it does under "communism." Anyone advocating equality of power, particularly in the economic sphere -- which is what communism means -- is second only to the anarchist as persona non grata, since the anarchist generalizes equality of power to every sphere of human experience.

For the purposes of power, the two are taken together, since anarchists, as much as they contest various Marxist interpretations, accept communism or some variant as appropriate for economic relations. The important distinction lies in whether control is exercised by the population directly or by some political entity which claims to act on their behalf.
Fulfilling the promise of poverty

Financial Times:

The US poverty rate jumped from 12.5 per cent in 2007 to 13.2 per cent last year, with 39.8m people in poverty. Poverty is defined as an individual with an annual income of less than $11,200 or a family of four earning less than $22,200.

I lived in poverty for several years. Mostly what I took from it was gum disease and narcolepsy; also, a healthy indebtedness to credit card companies, who I ultimately relied on for necessary and unforeseen expenses. Now that I have entered into conjugal partnership those issues stand resolved, but I still err on the side of hoarding food that has not gone obviously bad under an "innocent until proven guilty" clause.

I met the government's standard of "poverty" by working part-time in an entry-level position after college. Suffice it to say, my strongest interests -- learning music and reading books -- were not well-suited to a respectable career, which, experience had counseled, can too quickly become all-consuming. So I worked as little as possible, to reasonably good effect, an aching jaw and occasional loss of consciousness notwithstanding.

Socially, this was alienating -- it is hilarious explaining to friends, all the more family, that you don't want full-time work when the alternative is akin to non-existence; not having money makes social relationships nigh impossible: there is almost no modern recreation that occurs without paying a third party to supply or grant access to the experience. The concept is even more alien when you say it's because you want to do something you love. If fact, whatever you do, don't say that. There isn't a place big enough for "what you love" in corporate culture -- except, of course, if "what you love" is also extremely profitable. Given those not-so-good odds, it's probably easier to chase what is extremely profitable in the hopes it will someday become what you love. Well, good luck with that.

With all the advantages of a privileged upbringing, it is impossible to characterize my experience as poverty except in a strict material sense; and even then I had the advantages of public resources which attend most developed societies. It should also be said that I had excellent health care, thanks only to a union-negotiated labor contract. The reality is more likely that I was not living in poverty at all, since health insurance probably doubled my total compensation. Still, I would not describe it as any kind of life, except insofar as I enjoyed freer range to pursue what interested me.

The main point is that almost everyone is only one layoff or one injury away from poverty, regardless of their background. Most of us are just one misfortune away from losing our residences as well. This doesn't even take into account the fact that our parents will require assistance as they age, or that raising children is expensive; each step of the way, we pay for life's natural progression in ways we can't afford, securing a dependency on others who in turn control us. Never mind that we once had personal ambitions for ourselves!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Marxist Mondays (belated)

Capital is a process of wealth accumulation derived from the unequal relations between employers and employees. Employees may perform the necessary work of production, but because they enter into relationships with employers at a disadvantage, what they receive in return is only a fraction of the value of what they have produced; the "surplus-value," as Marx called it, becomes the property of the employer.

Capitalist economics says this is morally inconsequential: after all, the relationship is voluntary; in a word, "free." Nobody is forcing you to work for this or that employer, whereas in previous economic systems they were. Marx's innovation was to remain unimpressed, never divorcing economic relations from their social meaning -- a meaning that is contested politically between competing groups: employers and employees.
Living in a materialist world, and I am a materialist girl

Thomas Frank, Wall Street Journal:

According to the time-honored rhetoric of the right, elite liberal intellectuals are supposed to control the newspapers, the movies, and academia regardless of who sits in the White House.

You say "elite liberal intellectuals," I say corporation!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What's good for the goose is good for my dander

Financial Times:

The prospect of a government-run health insurance plan in the US appeared to be losing support on Tuesday as senators charged with formulating a bipartisan healthcare reform bill met to hammer out a compromise deal and Democratic leaders emphasised areas of agreement.

If only the senators charged with formulating a bipartisan healthcare reform bill didn't already enjoy their own government-run health insurance plan, prospects for "the US" might be looking up!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Kill the messenger

New York Times:

Were there 1,000 angry people with guns outside the town halls, or just one angry guy we saw 1,000 times?

Yesterday, some parent was interviewed on television saying he didn't want Obama turning his school-aged children into "little community organizers."

Which is only scary insofar as it produces greater intolerance toward the misinformed and greater fidelity to whatever portion of state power will keep them in check.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Culture wars

The relationship between our esteemed business parties is symbiotic. It's important to never lose sight of this fact. They draw working people in to opposing camps, appealing to them on the grounds that corporate structures have thrust liberal New York executives into every modern transaction with one hand, while facilitating the careers of populist charlatans who "expose" this amoral conspiracy with the other. In either case, the rewards are captured by Wall St. while the costs, inevitably, are paid by the party faithful.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A simple prop to occupy our time

New York Times:

“I don’t think businesses will hire back anytime soon, because it doesn’t pay for them to do that,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics. “Companies are rewarded by the stock markets for not hiring and keeping their costs down. We will see another jobless recovery.”

Companies are rewarded by the stock markets for not hiring and keeping their costs down; profits in the face human suffering are rewarded by social revolt.
Less labor, more days

The neverending story

Wall Street Journal:

While the U.S. appears to be headed out of one of the steepest recessions in decades, companies are playing hardball with unions and even entire cities in an effort to cut costs, improve efficiency and push through changes that will help them perform better over the long term.

This reminds me of the good times before the recession, when companies played hardball with employees -- and even entire communities! -- in an effort to cut costs, improve efficiency and push through changes that would help them perform better over the long term.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Best laid scams

Financial Times:

Mr Calderón took a swipe at some of the behemoths of the Mexican economy, criticised state monopolies and called for increased competition in telecommunications to reduce costs to consumers.

Alas, the Mexican president's proposal was summarily struck down by a Carlos Slim margin.

University of Maryland, Program on International Policy Attitudes:

At least three-quarters of Americans say the "US government should be responsible for ensuring that its citizens can meet their basic needs" for education (83%), healthcare (77%), and food (74%).


Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Financial Times:

Venezuela was one of the world’s top coffee exporters in the early 20th century. But for the first time last month the country was forced by looming shortages to import coffee from Brazil, even though locals say it is no match for the local quality Arabica beans.

Guatemala is one of the world's top coffee exporters in the early 21st century. But the country will soon be forced by looming shortages to import children from American malls, adapted to life on Starbucks; though locals say they are no match for the local quality of malnutrition, as featured by the Economist.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


David Brooks, New York Times:

[P]ublic opposition to health care reform is now steady and stable.

Yeah, you can pretty much ask anybody: America does health care right!