Man Dies, Wall Street Cheers!

There is nothing that demonstrates the fundamental immorality of capitalism better than this:

“The death of Argentina’s ex-President Nestor Kirchner has sparked a flood of….bullish investment notes!”

From the Wall Street Journal, natch.

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Let’s Blame the Worker!

David Brooks plays a game of Let’s Blame the Worker by attacking state workers’ pensions as the reason for state government insolvency.

This is of course absurd. One can point to many causes for problems within state governments–overflowing prison systems, poor lawmakers, the anti-tax mentality that has created budget shortfalls across the board.

Most of the problem revolves around tax revenues. And no one wants to talk about this. The general public knows that they are paying taxes and so pointing a finger at public employees makes a certain amount of sense. But of course, those who aren’t paying taxes are the wealthy, corporations, and other entities that have received tax breaks, writeoffs, incentives, and other corporate handouts that have impoverished states increasingly reliant upon sales and income taxes from a recession-plagued population that is working less, living in devalued homes, and spending less on consumer goods.

Of course, Brooks supports all of this. So, in the classic American conservative tradition, Brooks blames pubic sector workers. Lest we forget, public sector workers could almost universally make more money in the private sector. And they provide vital services that we need for a functioning society. A decent pension seems like a good pay-off for giving up so much income during the working years.

We all play Blame the Worker in discussions of school reform. Unfortunately, even Democratic politicians and writers (I’m looking at Yglesias here) play the game with teachers. Obviously, they say, the problem with public schools is teacher unions who don’t want test scores deciding their futures and who protect the worst teachers from being fired. Michelle Rhee’s resignation today as Schools Chancellor in Washington, D.C. is seen as a defeat for these reformers who want to cripple unions and force schools onto a business model.

I’m glad Rhee’s gone. As Richard Kahlenberg convincingly argues, teacher unions are leading reform efforts, not holding them back. They oppose testing partially because it takes away from the education (particularly for subjects like history) and because the reformers who want to tie testing to pay or employment completely ignore issues such as poverty, race, and educational background of parents in determining successful education. Rather, it’s a simple reliance on testing they want. And if tie employment to test schools, why would you choose to work in an impoverished inner-city school? To be unemployed in 2 years? That’s crazy. This just hurts kids’ education in the long run.

But of course, it’s always easier for Americans to blame the worker instead of fixing the structural problems plaguing our society. There’s little political cost to be paid, it rewards lazy thinking (thus attracting pundits), and doesn’t cost a lot.

Unfortunately, each time we blame the worker, we damage our institutions for the long-term, undermining public confidence in government, and telling young talented workers to avoid the public sector.

Why France Matters

Excellent post by Rick Wolff at Truthout about what the recent round of general strikes in France mean for that country, and why they should matter for those in the US too.

The French strikes and demonstrations are coalescing around some basic demands that go far beyond the rejection of Sarkozy’s demand for a two-year postponement of retirements for French workers. Contrary to so many US media reports, that particular issue was never what brought out millions of demonstrators and strikers; that was the bare tip of an iceberg. The issue that mobilizes the French is the basic question of who is to pay for (1) the collapse of global capitalism in 2008 and 2009, (2) the ongoing social and personal costs of high unemployment, loss of homes, reduction of job benefits, and the general assault on most citizens’ standards of living, and (3) the costs of ending the crisis. The French masses have already absorbed and suffered the costs of (1) and (2). They have drawn the line at (3). That they now refuse.

Instead, they demand that the costs of fixing capitalism’s crisis be borne chiefly by taxes on the banks, large corporations, and the wealthy. Those groups are declared to be (1) those most able to pay, (2) those who benefited most from speculations and stock market booms before the crisis began in 2007, (3) those whose investment and business activities were key causes of the crisis, and (4) those who got the biggest, earliest bailouts from governments subservient to them. As the Sarkozy government becomes increasingly isolated and reviled, the French capitalist elite — known there as the “patronat” — must begin to worry. That elite wants Sarkozy to preside effectively over a peaceful, docile, and profitable France, not one convulsed by such powerful oppositions.

Read the rest!

Howdy, as socialists say in Texas

Wanted to thank Sarah for asking me join this here deal. I’ll be posting here occasionally and hopefully more often than that. I’m an environmental and labor historian of the United States and will focus on these issues here, as well as ideas of activism more broadly. These days I’m particularly interested in the state of activism in America as we try to move forward from the 20 year long period of capitalist realism, between the fall of the Soviet Union and the economic collapse. Can we create a revived socialism to challenge capitalist domination over our hearts and minds? What can we learn from the past to help us organize in the presence, including from the failures of totalitarian socialism as well as extremist capitalism? I can’t guarantee any good answers, but hopefully I can throw a few thought-provoking points out there.

Any Colour, So Long As It’s Green: Race, Class, and the Environmental Movement

Originally published at this ain’t livin’.

The environmental movement has some serious housekeeping to do, and it’s always kind of amazing to me that it is, technically, a branch of the social justice movement, because, well, the environment is a social justice issue, but the environmental movement has a lot of work to do on its handling of social justice. The future of the environment has serious implications for us as a society and many of those implications are deeply tied with social justice issues, from the exploitation of immigrant labour to the communities that are mostly likely to suffer the immediate consequences of environmental damage.

There are so many -isms in the environmental movement, it’s kind of hard to know where to begin. Vicious fat hatred, for one thing. Ableism, with leading lights of the movement suggesting that people with disabilities are a waste of resources and we should just die, already, or not be born. Sexism, as members of the movement reinforce binary gender roles and attitudes about gender. Classism, and the closely entangled racism. Janani Balasubramanian wrote at Racialicious last year about the race and class issues entangled with the food movement, and these issues are still very much present, and still very much preventing the movement from making some important and meaningful changes.

This is a pretty classic example of why intersectionalism is important. It is not enough to say that the environment is broken because of our actions and we need to fix it. Both of these things are true and they are important, but the way we deal with it needs to take place in context. Some injustices involved in the current way we approach things like food production and environmental policy are explicitly social justice concerns; race and class injustice are closely tied with things like who is exploited to produce our cheap food, and who winds up in neighbourhoods used as dumps for our unwanted toxic waste.

In these cases, it’s not just the environment that matters. It is the tangled relationship between environment, race, and class. If we drop race and class out of the equation, and if we ignore the reasons race and class are so bound up with each other, we are not only failing to address these issues, we are not going to fix the fundamental problem. Thus, the environmental movement needs to be thinking about these issues if it wants to meet the stated goal of creating change.

Likewise, cultural contexts also need to be considered in the development and evaluation of plans for addressing environmental issues. For example, people who discuss food politics and want people to eat more fresh food need to find ways to make that food more accessible. That means addressing food deserts, addressing overwork that limits the time people have to prepare food, addressing cultural differences in the way people approach the preparation, handling, and sharing of food. It’s not as simple as announcing that everyone should eat more fresh food.

Very real barriers are simply ignored because they don’t fit in with the desired narrative. Class creates true situational barriers, making it impossible for people to do things, even if they think those things are the right thing to do, even if they want to do those things. The exchange of information is also all one way, with people being lectured by the environmental movement, but the environmental movement not really taking lessons from the people it is lecturing. Maybe if it did, it would learn about things that disadvantaged communities are doing to help the environment and it would do something other than figuring out how to monetise those things. How much cheap plastic crap is made to do things people in impoverished communities have already been doing themselves for decades?

The environmental movement acts surprised when people don’t universally embrace it, conveniently ignoring the history of embedded -isms, many of which are openly espoused by people prominent in the movement to this day. It’s kind of hard to take a movement seriously when it says rather bigoted things about people like you and fails to consider, at all, the context in which it is occurring. The environment is not a vacuum, and acting as though things like sexism and racism are ok in the environmental movement because it’s for a greater cause misses two fundamental truths.

1. No, they are not ok. They are not ok because they are unilaterally not ok, period. And because many people think they are not ok, including the victims of those -isms, tolerating these things in the movement and sometimes actively promoting them will result in alienating people. People will tune out and not be interested in following or engaging with the movement because they have been given no reason to think that the movement would welcome them.

2. Ignoring -isms in the movement also means that the movement is ignoring underlying intersectional -isms leading to environmental problems. Even if you have no problem alienating people by telling them they don’t matter and aren’t human beings, if your stated goal is addressing environmental problems, you need to actually address those problems. That includes looking at the ways that social attitudes contribute to environmental problems. Just for example, viewing people with brown skin as a source of disposable labour contributes to environmental degradation caused by the agriculture industry.

Can the environmental movement clean up its act? I certainly hope so, because I think the environment is important, and I think it’s telling that there are a number of splinter groups working outside the environmental movement on environmental issues because they don’t feel comfortable in the movement. When people feel strongly enough about your ‘movement’ that while they are working towards the same goal, they don’t want to be associated with you, I think you have a pretty serious problem.

attacking the already vulnerable

via FWD/Feminists With Disabilities

In the UK, people with disabilities have been among the hardest hit by the recent Thatcher 2.0 ConDem cuts of the Osborne Review.  The employment support allowance (ESA) which was previously able to be claimed until the person finds a job has now been set with a limit of one year.  I’m sure that’ll be of great comfort to people, cos disabilities also expire after year amiright?

This will hit hardest people who are already vulnerable – Mute magazine reports that 75% of people with disabilities and 70% of people with disabilities are already living in poverty in the UK.  Taken in context with cuts to housing and education, and the future looks bleak.  As Mute rightly points out, these cuts will kill.

Natacha Kennedy recently wrote a post arguing that cuts to housing where single people under 35 won’t qualify for housing will disproportionately affect young trans people.  Young trans people are frequently kicked out of their homes, and are placed further at risk with transphobic sex segregated youth shelters.  We already have high rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness (further compounded by survival sex work and its associated dangers, most notably the astronomical HIV infection rates for trans sex workers) and the lack of governmental support for under 35s to get housing will only make things much, much worse.

Paul Krugman recently pointed out in the New York Times that there is no real reason for this comprehensive axe-swinging–the job cuts will almost certainly depress the economy even further.  He rightly points out that all the historical precedent is against austerity measures, and in particular those are Krugman draws the obvious conclusion – funding cuts are part of a pre-existing neoliberalist desire to do away with the welfare state:

It would cut government employment by 490,000 workers — the equivalent of almost three million layoffs in the United States — at a time when the private sector is in no position to provide alternative employment. It would slash spending at a time when private demand isn’t at all ready to take up the slack.

Why is the British government doing this? The real reason has a lot to do with ideology: the Tories are using the deficit as an excuse to downsize the welfare state. But the official rationale is that there is no alternative.

It is worth pointing out in the light of this that the fact that austerity measures will most affect vulnerable communities is not a bug, it is a feature.  It is no accident that the poorest and most vulnerable are being hit hardest, emerging as Laurie Penny suggested recently, from the “the ugly Conservative conviction that poverty is a moral failing.”  Indeed, the disparity between the attacks on the poor and the treatment of the rich is rather stark given the recent news that Vodafone had been waived 6 billion pounds of outstanding taxes – something people rightfully protested in London today.

One rule for us, another for them.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh.

Class war: Sneaky or just stupid?

It’s true, however, that they are very, very touchy about the idea that the rubes don’t appreciate being told to eat cake. When I wrote metaphorically that I was going to “sharpen my pitchfork” you could hear the frightened calls for smelling salts all over the blogosphere. So maybe they are really afraid the people are going to storm the barricades.

Whatever their excuses, it comes down to the same thing we’ve been seeing in all areas of our society the last few years. They wealthy simply don’t believe they should be required to be held liable for anything they do and certainly not by the common folk. So they are banding together to rig the game in secret.

No one does class war like Digby does class war.