Recall the Wisconsin 8

For those who’ve been following it, the situation in Wisconsin reached a new stage last night, with the “Ash Wednesday Ambush” from Republicans passing a law suspending collective bargaining rights in dubiously legal circumstances.  From Firedoglake:

the Wisconsin State Senate rushed through and passed a bill that strips collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The vote in the State Senate, entirely composed of Republicans, was 18-1; only moderate Dale Schultz voted no. The budget repair bill was split at the last minute, cleaving the “non-fiscal” anti-union piece from the fiscal components of the bill. The non-fiscal piece did not require a quorum, so the Senate was able to pass it.

I’m sure the protests in Madison will be huge, and there’s things those of us outside the country (or outside in the US entirely) can do to show support.  Governor Walker is not eligible for recall until January next year, but already efforts are underway to recall the 8 Republicans eligible for it. If you’re in Wisconsin obviously you should visit the staging stations set up for the recall effort, but even if you’re not, please donate to support.  This is looking to be a crucial battle for worker’s rights, so spread, disseminate.

The Wisconsin Democrats have, unlike their national counterparts, shown solidarity with their base and deserve the support.  As E.J Dionne points out at the Washington Post, Washington could learn from Wisconsin.

Lastly, at Global Comment Erik makes the compelling case for a general strike.  Labour in the US has very little to lose at this point, with dodgy laws being passed against the clear will of the people.

Solidarity innit.

Zombie economics

From the New York Times:

When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.

How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?

The Missing Centre

While we’re plugging Grit-TV, I should also note Thomas Frank’s recent appearance was a really on-point rebuttal of the half-arsed centrism of the media classes.  In this clip, he says:

Right, ok we’re shifting gears here to the political science conversation, which is that the centre is what always prevails in American politics.  Where if a party gets too far to the right or too far to the left, they get smacked back to the middle and the median voter sits in judgment on all things great and small, right?  This is always the logic used to excommunicate the left wing of the Democratic party.  But, a very curious thing has happened in the last couple years.  The Republican party which got smacked around pretty badly in 06 and 08 and instead of scampering back the middle, what did they do?  You had John Boehner, the mastermind of the whole situation, move really sharply to the right.  Instead of embracing the moderates, they excommunicated them, they kicked them out of the party, they primary them, and what happened?  They just won.  They just won, Laura Flanders.  It’s a political philosophy embraced by political science professors and Washington Post columnists and those people, it turns out, don’t win elections for you.

I think this is so key.  The mythical centre (sorry I can’t use the US spelling, it is just wrong) doesn’t have anything at stake, doesn’t need anything but the status quo.  By appealing to the “centre”, you forget that the class interests of the many lie to the Left, that people need better working conditions, better pay.  What they don’t need is to live in the Magic Wish Land of the Right, where the middle-class still exists and a 205k-a-year salary is somehow being oppressed…  and that is where centrism leads us, by legitimising the utter bullshit of the Right and moderating it a tad.  In essence, it accepts the false framing, the false forced choices.  The “there is no alternative” to neo-liberalism line.

As a parallel, the “centrist” positions on abortion takes the impossible position that there is a median between having a choice and not having a choice by accepting that so we should therefore limit some forms of abortion–thus accepting the very presumption that women cannot (always) be relied upon to make their own choices.  This centrist move unwittingly (or wittingly) forms a part of the broader “chip chip chip” anti-choice strategy as Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has called it.

No, Thomas Frank is quite right, centrism is a dead end for the Left as well as the Right.  The very field of struggle needs to be transformed, so that the universal, the equitable, the just, the social, become not just lipservice but actually politically viable options.

“The invisible hand belongs to a thief”

Melissa at Shakesville in reference to this New York Times story:

The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or non-inflation-adjusted terms.

Corporate profits have been going gangbusters for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history.

Trickle down works!  Even though it doesn’t!  At all!  Work!  So yes, whatever the ruling economic/politico/media class have to say, this has nothing to do with there not being profits – no, it’s about screwing workers further, exacting more productivity from an ever-decreasing amount of workers.

Consider that in relation to the ever-increasing number of people in prison or the military, mostly from the US’s poorest communities of colour, and it becomes clear: multinational state-supported capitalism doesn’t need us as workers, at least not workers paid enough for a living wage.  The contradiction signaled by the NYT’s first line – “The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever” – shows that “austerity” is a fundamentally false, constructed problem.

Tax those who are making such outrageous profits, propped up the rest of us, and the public coffers would be just fine.  And then put the money back into public works (and hence public employment), because it is clear the private sector has no need for workers.

Wall Street executives back at the trough

From the WSWS:

Annual bonuses rose by 11 percent for executives at the 450 largest US corporations last fiscal year, according to a new survey published by the Wall Street Journal. Overall, median compensation—including salaries, bonuses, stocks, options and other incentives—rose by three percent to $7.3 million in 2009.

The increased payouts were the result of soaring profits at top companies, which doubled from a year earlier, leading to a 29 percent increase in total shareholder returns. This, in turn, was the direct result of the offensive that corporate America has waged against the working class, with the full backing of the Obama administration and both big business parties. Over the course of the last two years companies have slashed payrolls, wages and benefits, replaced full-time workers with temporary and casual workers earning poverty level wages and ratcheted up productivity.

Cost-cutting and streamlining were the principal pursuits of all the CEOs pocketing large pay packages last year. The top five were: (1) Gregory B. Maffei of Liberty Media Corp., who got $87.1 million in compensation last year, four times his 2008 package; (2) Larry Ellison, Oracle’s billionaire founder, who received $68.6 million; (3) Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum Corp., who got $52.2 million; (4) Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, who took in $44.6 million; and (5) Leslie Moonves from CBS, who got $39 million.

With the S&P 500 Index up 7.5 percent so far this year, top executives are expected to see even bigger compensation packages in 2010. “Many companies are beating earnings expectations, stock prices are up and performance is good, so bonuses will be good,” Mark Reilly, a partner with the Chicago-based Compensation Consulting Consortium LLC, told the Journal.

I love a jobless recovery, me.

A Business Plan For Every Human Activity

Great piece by John Pilger in the New Statesman over the weekend.  He argues the utter moral bankruptcy of the recent UK “austerity” cuts and its devastation of the welfare state.

Born of the “never again” spirit of 1945, social democracy has surrendered to an extreme political cult of money worship. This reached its apogee when £1trn of public money was handed unconditionally to corrupt banks by a Labour government whose leader, Gordon Brown, had previously described “financiers” as the nation’s “great example” and his personal “inspiration”.

This is not to say parliamentary politics is meaningless. It has one meaning now: the replacement of democracy with a business plan for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope, every child born. [italics added]

This is the sheer mundanity of neo-liberalism in its quotidian form, the becoming-business of everything from the social sphere to the psyche itself–and the reason why bohemia, the sheer dream of an outside not determined by the capitalistic–is itself vitally necessary.  As Nina Power has pointed out recently, the very idea of higher education has been itself sidelined as a useless pursuit , “predicated on the idea that three years is a very long time, especially doing subjects that are a ‘waste’” [that is, the humanities and social sciences which have been decimated by the Osborne review].  But as Powers rightly notes, the raising of the pension age means 45 years of wage earning, compared to the mere three spent at college or university.  What a waste of time, eh?  But there is no outside to the business rationale in public discourse from which to argue that knowledge (not to mention art and culture) is valuable in and of itself. Yes, even for the plebs not attending the country’s upper echelon of universities.

Yet as the UK struggles to come to terms with this dour new regime of misery, Pilger points out how blatantly untruthful the idea of false scarcity really is:

The theft of £83bn in jobs and services matches almost exactly the amount of tax legally avoided by piratical corporations. Without fanfare, the super-rich have been assured they can dodge up to £40bn in tax payments in the secrecy of Swiss banks. The day this was sewn up, Osborne attacked those who “cheat” the welfare system. He omitted the real amount lost, a minuscule £0.5bn, and that £10.5bn in benefit payments was not claimed at all. Labour is his silent partner.

Welfare cheats are the phantoms of contemporary discourse, the imaginary figure that allow us to focus all of our rage on this rort and not the larger, more damning picture in which it is the rich who caused the crisis who are committing welfare scams on an unheard-of scale – being forgiven their sins, while the rest suffer.  The super-rich have been the stealing of the very possibility of social welfare from the population itself.

And of course, to build on what I was talking about recently here, the language around the attacks on disability benefits suggest that disability is being figured as a form of welfare cheating itself, a burden which the public simply cannot shoulder (unlike the tax dodges of the super-rich).

It is here that the foundations for a collective struggle against the cuts must be found- those who are feeling the pain must band together, because they must.  Because the government has betrayed almost everyone, in the name of supporting a few wealthy and the appalling ideological agenda of the ruling class.

The BA workers, the firefighters, the council workers, the post office workers, the NHS workers, the London Underground staff, the teachers, the lecturers, the students can more than match the French if they are resolute and imaginative, forging, with the wider social justice movement, potentially the greatest popular resistance ever. Look at the web; listen to the public’s support at fire stations. There is no other way now. Direct action. Civil disobedience. Unerring. Read Shelley and do it.

Midterm Elections

At some point, I may have something deep and meaningful to say about the midterm election clusterf*ck that we just saw other than whimpering about Russ Feingold.

Right now, though, I think this pretty much says it all: Graph of the election results by income levels.

That’s right–58% of people whose income was less than $30,000 a year voted Democrat, 36% of people whose income was over $200,000 a year voted Democrat. And each income bracket as you go up was less and less Democratic.

Ladies and gentlemen, your class war.

(From the Wall Street Journal, which predictably titles the page “Democratic Coalition Crumbles.” Also they wrote an entire op-ed cheering Feingold’s presumed defeat the day before the election, so I hate giving them the clicks–but the age graph is worth looking at as well.)