Friday, December 14, 2007

Puzzling Evidence

Mike Wallace wants my body.
Elvis meets Nixon.
Tri-lateral commision.
Suburban soul-sucking.

The greatest movie ever made:

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The End is NIE


Well, the new NIE is certainly a revelation.  Now the neocons have to figure out another strategy for bombing Iran.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Creationists : Dinosaurs : Flagellation

I was thinking about Saint Mary Francis of the Five Wounds earlier today. Then I read about a mummified dinosaur currently being scanned in a giant CT scanner at Boeing here in Los Angeles. Art and life have a way of juxtaposing the strangest of phenomenons.

So now I'm trying to find the connection between these two disparate things: a self-flagellating lunatic and an immaculately preserved dinosaur (or immaculate deception and immaculate preservation). The only link I could find is that humans will now have even more DNA to prove yet again how insane the idea of creationism, of gods, of demons and the whole fundamentalist religion movement is.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Fragrant Monkey Tail

Elaboration on a comment...

I was over at "Election Central" this morning pre-coffee time and wrote

I guess I see this in a different light. The apparent contradiction between Larry C's lifestyle, voting record and party affiliation seems merely to be a surface phenomenon. In truth, the modern republican party gains its strength from men like Craig and others who have something to hide and the party has capitalized on these "dirty" secrets to make arm twisting a much more efficient mechanism. If a party thrives more on internal authority than coalition building, then that party can take advantage of secrets, lies and dirty laundry to ensure that business gets done. Starting with the president himself and going down, the power can be AND IS exerted through the skeletons in the closet. That is not to say that there is some central file cabinet with all the dirt (though, hey, that would be interesting!); rather, diffuse knowledge and constant surveillance of everyone by each other leads to internal social promotion the discipline of the republican village. Promote larry craig, he'll do what we say because...

Of course, there are plenty of people who get off from the very repression we see in the external tropes of republican behavior and those people are naturally attracted to an authoritarian party that makes their secrets all the more titillating. There are also plenty of men who will say they are not gay but who are quite happy with occasional man-on-man action. The latter are quite simply hypocrites. But let's not confuse hypocrisy and what has become a structural device for control, punishment and promotion within the "party of values."

I would add that the evidence for this is what I would call correlative but compelling: how do you explain the significant numbers of Larry Craigs or just gays in the party that hates gays? How do you explain the attraction of Bill O'Reilly's and Scooter Libby (both of whom having written quite explicit and sexually disturbing passages in their novels)*? How do you explain the fascination with authority? How do you explain the multiple porn stars who have met the president?

There is a connection, I think, between this behavior and the workings of the party and how power gets distributed. Ah, authority, uniforms, fascism! I think they think it's cute--really cute!


*I can't seem to find Bill's book. My loofah filter must be blocking it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Peace would be good.


Just a thought.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In the Entertainment Section

You have to love This is a screenshot of a recent page. Check out the entertainment section.

Monday, November 05, 2007


It is always interesting to read the comments in these stories. I sympathize with those who believe that Whites fled "danger" and disorganization cities back in the 50's, 60's and 70's. That is what we are told, but, of course, it is only a half-truth.

Let's start with that "truth." Yes, starting in the 50's, then especially for the next couple of decades, a massive de-industrialization of cities were taking place. Cities like New York, which had significant social safety nets thanks to the revenues of large industries, found themselves feeling and looking poorer and poorer as industry declined and people began moving (with the help of "suburban planning" and policy incentives) to the suburbs. So, yes, it is "true" that cities were in fairly bad shape, but this was not intrinsic to cities as a concept; this was a global economic process where jobs were shifted overseas. (This has been going on for a long time). Cities thus seemed to become the locales of joblessness rather than jobs. Meanwhile, new income, building and overall growth created an illusion that suburbs were a more viable economy, while they are actually much harder to sustain in terms of energy and social networking.

Yet while cities did suffer because of global and national economic policy shifts (think of G. Ford's comment "Ford to NY: Drop Dead"), it was rather quickly realized that suburbs were not all they were cracked up to be. The news industry, which ideologically springs from and targets both the wealthy elites (who never abandoned the city) and the various classes of suburban Whites, portrayed and continues to portray the suburbs as a sort of paradise even though just a little investigation shows this not to be true. Poll after poll shows that people who live in dense urban environments feel safer and HAPPIER than those who live in the suburbs. Anecdotally, we also know that almost all serial killers come from suburbs, not cities. Make Davis takes the example of the infamous Night Stalker in L.A. He seemed unstoppable and made his terrible reputation in rich gated communities. When he actually tried to kill someone in the poor, densely packed neighborhoods of East L.A., he was caught.

But let's also talk about rural vs. urban. The murder rate is much, much higher per capita in rural areas than it is in urban ones. It only seems the opposite because the concentration of media attention makes urban centers look less dangerous. Why is this? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that rural life ceased being rural. Sure, it takes place out in the country and in fields, but its reason for being is no longer rural. What do I mean? I mean that rural communities exist mostly to feed urban ones. Factory farms and giant shipping infrastructures are part of the rural landscape, but they are urban inventions. This is why farmers, on the whole, are far, far more stressed than their urban counterparts. They are at the bottom of the production cycle, and believe me, everyone I know who has a chicken business, for example, says they are not working for themselves but for Goldkist. Any wonder then that rural poverty and insecurity are plaguing our country and our countrysides? Of course, you won't find that in the media. Our rural areas have been taken over by CEO's. They are beginning to fight back, but it may be too late. Regardless, let's not hide the fact that much of what is taking place in the countryside now is actually an extension of urban markets and urban market ideologies into the farm belt. Changing cities (inner and suburban) for the better can only happen in concert with agricultural reforms.

We've got to overcome racism (white-black AND sub/urban-rural) to move ahead. This is both a raising of political and geographical consciousness.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Capitalist Tool


"Forbes, Capitalist Tool."

Who thinks these things up? It's hard to read, but on the bottom right of the advertisement (which I found some airline's magazine), you can see "Forbes, Capitalist Tool."  I've alway thought of the Forbes family as tools too, so I'm glad they agree.


Anyhow, comments on the ad?  Here the neoliberal capitalists exploit the tropes of early socialism, suggesting that the capitalist class is in need of solidarity.  I assume this is so that they can pursue a war on the poor.

Ah, yes, those poor, poor rich people.  They need help! They need to come together!  Poor people ahve too many lobbyists in Washington!

Actually, exploiting the culture of victimization, it's the rich and powerful way. Between monarchy, eugenics, country clubs, private schools, slavery, tax policy and just flat out cultural capital, I'm wondering how the rich could have any more solidarity.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Every time I complain about the lack of honest political discourse in the U.S., I need to remind myself that our "news" is 95% propaganda:

From Time:
The four most famous words of Ronald Reagan's Presidency almost were never uttered...

Honestly, is everyone in the the mainstream press a Republican? Do people think that the Soviet Union was not already imploding? Give me a break. I'm sick of mythmaking.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Disturbing News From Wall Street

Disturbing to me anyway. What Happens on Wall Street stays on Wall Street? (Unless you are one of the poor folks harmed by non-transparent financial systems and don't know where to trace it back to...)

From the WSJ:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ranks as the most profitable securities firm on Wall Street -- reflecting its mastery of trading on the world's public markets.

Now Goldman is turning that franchise on its head, creating its own private system to trade the stocks of companies that don't want the scrutiny and regulatory burdens of going public.

The new system, GS TRuE -- short for Goldman Sachs Tradable Unregistered Equity -- was announced two weeks ago and made its debut on Monday with an $880 million sale of a 15% stake in Oaktree Capital Management LLC, an alternative-investment manager.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Prisons or schools

With California poised to spend more on prisons than on schools for the first time in state history, I thought it a good time to debunk that old left-wing talking point about choosing between prisons or schools.

As the San Quentin website tells us, you can have prison and school. Indeed, here are just a few of the possible opportunities you will have once you enroll in its exciting combination of practical training with liberal arts (Religion, Languages) education:
  • PIA: Furniture manufacturing, mattress manufacturing.

  • Vocational: Dry cleaning, electrical, graphic arts and printing, landscaping, machine shop, plumbing, sheet metal.

  • Academic: Adult Basic Education, High School/GED, Pre-Release, English as a Second Language, Literacy Program.

  • Other: Community Service Crews, Youth Diversion, Religious, Arts in Corrections, Victim Awareness, Drug Treatment/Diversion, Joint Venture, Computers for Schools, Eyeglass recycling, Bicycle repair.

San Quentin has some 5000 "students," each on an individually costumized track, and with some 2000 staff and adminstrators, you know that you will not be neglected.

I also see that Arnold is bringing out a new license plate with the DMV: "California: The Prison and Education State."

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with this state? (Answer: Republicans, Lobbyists, Media, Democrats--in that order.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Let it be known:

Let it be known that there is no nation so poor, so desperate, so direly in need of help that the United States cannot hinder its development.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Still more correlations...

The NBER, of whom I can be suspicious at times, has an interesting paper out:

Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime
Jessica Wolpaw Reyes NBER Working Paper No. 13097
Issued in May 2007

Abstract : Childhood lead exposure can lead to psychological deficits that are strongly associated with aggressive and criminal behavior. In the late 1970s in the United States, lead was removed from gasoline under the Clean Air Act. Using the sharp state-specific reductions in lead exposure resulting from this removal, this article finds that the reduction in childhood lead exposure in the late 1970s and early 1980s is responsible for significant declines in violent crime in the 1990s, and may cause further declines into the future. The elasticity of violent crime with respect to lead is estimated to be approximately 0.8.
If it is true, even partially, let's put one more nail in the coffin of "tough" law enforcement and high-incarceration rates of non-violent criminals as the cause for dropping crime rates. Like so many things, crime is a complex system with phyical and social environmental factors. Three-strike laws are easy sells, but they are hard to prove effective.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lou Dobbs and Cancer

Since spurious correlations have been on my mind this week, I thought I would bring up another one.

Lou Dobbs has made himself more popular these last two or three years by consistently bashing immigrants and telling people (while quoting only part of the statistical evidence) how much they are hurting the American worker. While most people don't see the wool being pulled over their eyes as this neo-liberal journalist diverts our eyes from real global trade issues, there can be no doubt that he is putting on a populist show that in the end always promotes an increased security apparatus for poor folk and increased liberty for the flow of goods and capital.

Anyway, right now he is quoting a completely debunked study about how Mexicans are bringing leprosy to the U.S. Just add it to the list of items he uses to manipulate the public into thinking he is a man of the people.

My own spurious but funny correlation, you ask. Well, last year my mother died of a brain tumor. She was a wonderful, generous person, generous to a fault, almost, and to say that she had more than a few friends would be an understatement. The number of people that she helped in her life cannot be counted, really. What's more, she was a Democrat and proud of it. That said, as she grew sicker and the cancer spread, she also gained an intense, cult-like interest in Lou Dobbs. His word became gold. For a while, I would quote statistics and argue with her. Eventually, I realized I was being silly: she was sick. I decided to just let her be and enjoy the last part of her life as she struggled to survive.

Now I would like to go on to say that maybe brain tumors cause you to put undue belief in jingoistic, unsubstantiated and hate-mongering punditry. Statistics would not bear me out here, though, as that would mean that nearly every Republican in America has a brain tumor. What I will say, metaphorically, is that we all suffer from the cancer that is 90% of CNN and 99.9% of Fox.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Republicans and Sunspots

Unlike the author of Freakonomics, gavin, over at realclimate, really knows the value of correlations: comic fun.

Here's a sampling:

We are forever being bombarded with apparently incredible correlations of various solar indices and climate. A number of them came up in the excoriable TGGWS mockumentary last month where they were mysteriously 'improved' in a number of underhand ways. But even without those improvements (which variously involved changing the axes, drawing in non-existent data, taking out data that would contradict the point etc.), the as-published correlations were superficially quite impressive. Why then are we not impressed?

To give you an idea, I'm going to go through the motions of constructing a new theory of political change using techniques that have been pioneered by a small subset of solar-climate researchers (references will of course be given). And to make it even more relevant, I'm going to take as my starting point research that Richard Lindzen has highlighted on his office door for many years:

Go give this a read! It's worth the time just to think about the stats.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sex scandal about to explode in Washington...

And look at this: another Al Qaeda person killed in Iraq.

Is is it me, or do these big "kills" always happen at a convenient time? It'll be interesting to see how many Dems are on the DC Madam's list, because there have to be some. Will they be blue dogs? Or will it be them thar librulz who are tearing at the country's moral fabric?

I'll dedicate this post to prostitutes: those who work in the government, and those who work under them.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

If drinking, fat food and sex don't kill you...

then what does? The answer here:

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Violence, in the U.S., is an institution unto itself. So I think we have to be careful not to let our grief for the victims become an inadvertent homage to the criminal act or the criminal actor. Our loathing of the perpetrator blinds us. We see madness--a complex condition with individual and social origins--and call it "evil." We see television and movies, and call them "fun." We see poverty, hunger, starvation, death, repression, and call them, alternatively, "business," "democracy" and "economics."

In a society in which the cult of the individual explains all, Americans too often come to the conclusion that the anecdote is more important than the trend. Because of the insanity of one person (to the degree to which such a thing exists), we will be told how violence is getting worse when in fact it is getting better:

New rule for journalism school: several courses in social statistics.

Meanwhile, how far has the gap between rich and poor grown? How many people have died trying to cross the border? How many Iraqi children are in their graves? How many American's are without insurance? The perpetrators of these crimes have no courts, except those for which they appoint the judges.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Quote du jour

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. Walter Benjamin. Thesis on the Philosophy of History (1940)

The Red and The Black: Regent Grads of the World, Unite!

Paul Krugman brings up an interesting point about the current attorney purge scandal: the widespread hiring of Regent U. (Pat Robertson's private university) grads to important positions in the Bush administration.

For God’s Sake, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In 1981, Gary North, a leader of the Christian Reconstructionist movement — the openly theocratic wing of the Christian right — suggested that the movement could achieve power by stealth. “Christians must begin to organize politically within the present party structure,” he wrote, “and they must begin to infiltrate the existing institutional order.”

Today, Regent University, founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson to provide “Christian leadership to change the world,” boasts that it has 150 graduates working in the Bush administration.

Unfortunately for the image of the school, ... the most famous of those graduates is Monica Goodling a product of the university’s law school... who appears central to the scandal of the fired U.S. attorneys...

The infiltration of the federal government by large numbers of people seeking to impose a religious agenda — which is very different from simply being people of faith — is one of the most important [and underreported] stories of the last six years... (h/t:

One of Krugmans important points is that last paragraph ("The infiltration of the federal government by large numbers of people seeking to impose a religious agenda — which is very different from simply being people of faith"). People of faith are not necessarily interested in power, though they may believe in a higher power, nor do they use--and I mean use in the basest way--their belief in a higher power to determine hiring practices and legal agendas.

So what makes this rather striking proclivity for the Bush administration to hire Regent U's grads so interesting?

To me it is not at all that many of the supposed "good Christians" sinned, lied and cheated; they are merely human after all. Rather, what I find interesting is something I have felt all along: that the Christian Right is less a movement based on faith, but faith in a movement--a movement that will allow you social mobility. In an administration that embues "faith-based" organizations with power and money (hiring practices from Ashcroft on down, posting Robertson's charity at the top of the list on FEMA's website following Katrina...), such institutions become important means to social promotion.

This has been happening increasingly since the College Republicans and the Christian Coalition of the 1980's began using a theocratic litmus test, and social promotion within those organizations have matured to the present day. How do we know that they have reached their maturity? Simple, we can see the fruits of the movement coming into positions of power. That these fruits are many times quite corrupt (Reed, Goodling, Ashcroft and many, many more) is just evidence that the "Christian" Right's movement is a tool for social promotion in which certain behaviors (quoting the Bible, for example) allow you in to the movement, while other behaviors (ruthless, cold, backstabbing Republican-party fidelity) get you promoted within it.

The Catholic Church has long been this way, as have many other religious cults. Just read The Red and the Black. Julien Sorel could quote the Bible by heart--that's exactly how he works his way up the social ladder and into the beds of women (married to powerful men).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Le Pen approves of Sarko...thus the attacks

Le Pen, toujours plus bas dans ses attaques: "AU FIL DE LA CAMPAGNE • Pour la troisième fois depuis dimanche, le leader du FN revient sur le thème des origines hongroises de Sarkozy • Et estime que ce dernier ne devrait pas se présenter à la Présidence de la République française...."

I wonder if Le Pen is not doing this intentionally in order to make Sarkozy more popular precisely because he prefers Sarko to Ségo. His xenophobia make Sarko look so much more palatable, and it gives the UMP candidate more press to say "See, I'm not such a bad guy..."

Is Le Pen that cunning? Yes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Global Temp Agencies

I am no fan of most government immigration policies as anyone who reads this site probably knows. Obivously, building a wall is one of the worst solutions around: Mexico's demographics are changing and the initial shock of NAFTA is reaching its equilibrium point (that is, its low point). In such a scenario, wall-building will be an expensive process that gets a few contractors a lot of money for a decades-long process. Xenophobia will be reinforced and human rights will continue to suffer.

The only worse solution to government control of the border is privatizing the immigration process. Now this is already starting to happen in the policing of the border, but today's topic is not police state methods or the prison-industrial complex supported by the taxpayer. Rather, let's take a brief look at a proposal that came up in the WSJ yesterday:

Free Markets Need Free People, by Gordon H. Hanson, Commentary, WSJ: If there is one point of consensus in the fraught politics of immigration, it is that illegal immigration is bad. Yesterday, President Bush voiced his support for tough enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border and called on Congress to resolve the status of the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country. Last week, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R., Colo.) entered the presidential race, promising to make resentment of illegal immigrants a major campaign issue. And yet, from a purely economic perspective, illegal immigration is arguably preferable to legal immigration. Because Congress and the president refuse to see this, further reform this year could make a bad situation worse.

Illegal immigration is persistent because it has a strong economic rationale. Low-skilled workers are increasingly scarce in the U.S. while they are still abundant in Mexico, Central America and elsewhere. ...[I]mpeding illegal immigration, without creating other avenues for legal entry, would conflict with market forces that push labor from low-wage countries to the high-wage U.S. labor market. ...

Illegal immigration responds to economic signals in ways that legal immigration does not. Illegal migrants tend to arrive in larger numbers when the U.S. economy is booming and move to regions where job growth is strong. Legal immigration, in contrast, is subject to bureaucratic delays... The lengthy visa application process requires employers to plan their hiring far in advance. Once here, guest workers cannot easily move between jobs, limiting their benefit to the U.S. economy. ...

Congress should redesign temporary immigration from the ground up. Successful reform would have to mimic current beneficial aspects of illegal immigration. Employers would have to be able to hire the types of workers they desire, when they desire. One way to achieve this would be for the Department of Homeland Security to sanction the creation of global temp agencies...

Matching foreign workers to U.S. employers efficiently would require flexibility in the number of guest workers admitted -- and one way to make the number of visas sensitive to market signals would be to auction the right to hire a guest worker to U.S. employers. The auction price for visas that clears the market would reflect the supply of and demand for foreign guest workers. An increase in the auction price signals the need to expand the number of visas; a decline in the price indicates that the number of visas could be reduced. [...] (h/t Economist's View)

The article has some interesting points, and does indeed point to the shortcomings (human and economic) of current immigration. Of course, the author, seemingly compassionate about the fate of workers, is actually taking an overall neoliberal perspective in which access to labor resources becomes even more of a commodity than it currently is. Flows of human capital could be increased or decreased through a bureaucratic decision rather than passing through the messy political world. Adjusting the immigration algorithms to fit their needs, meat-packing, farming, and construction companies could increase immigration more or less at will in order to undercut current labor prices. While increased legality would bring some benefits to the immigrant worker, he or she would still maintain a second class status and lend further power to the corporations to be "flexible" (to hire and fire at will).

One question to be asked is how have temp agencies helped you, the worker? I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning and looked up the information on "employment services." Here is a graph of this industry's employment numbers since 1959:

Now, I haven't adjusted this for population or anything in making this graph, but to my eyes the chart is clear enough already. Beginning in the 70s with Nixon's liberalization of monetary policy, combined with decreased social spending, temp agencies have blossomed. Meanwhile, unionization dropped and income disparity has risen dramatically to levels unseen since the Gilded Age.

(I should say that I found employment through a temp agency once, and I will not deny that they offer some benefits to workers and employers seeking to find each other. While that may seem fine and dandy, what it means, ultimately, is that the relationship between employer and employee is mediated, creating further distance and less responsibility. While the job-seeker may very well be in search of a permanent position, the employer is more than likely using temp agencies to avoid long-term relationships and the social and economics bonds that such relationships create.)

What could motivate a move to privatize the border? Profits? Hmmm. Here's an article that recently appeared in Business Week:

One of the dominant themes emerging from Davos this year is the power of demographics. Population isn't exactly destiny, but it's a huge determinant in how nations, economies, and companies fare. And the demographics often reveal trends that, on the surface at least, contradict the general appearance of a nation's prosperity.

Take the case of Russia. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is harnessing its oil and gas reserves to reclaim its status as a power with which to contend. But at a dinner presentation on Wednesday night, demographer Nicholas Eberstadt painted a starkly different picture. Russia's mortality rate is catastrophic, its birth rate abysmal. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when Russia's depleted population will threaten the Kremlin's neo-imperialist designs.

So how do companies respond to these deep, slow-moving shifts? A talk with some of the top brass of Manpower (MAN) of Milwaukee is very revealing. In 2005, Manpower's network of temp services and human resources operations put 5 million people to work around the globe. With more than $17 billion in revenue, it ranks with Swiss-based Adecco (ADO) as the world-class provider of workers to the top corporations on the planet. Manpower's studies of global workforce trends are some of the best available. [Business Week]

Given that access to cheap labor is one of the fundamental goals of globalization, as evidenced by the policies discussed at Davos and the WTO, none of this is surprising. The question is, do we want to give up a lot of our political power to yet another corporation that will then pull the strings of immigration policy? As much as I despise people like Tancredo, at least I can fight to beat him at the ballot box. Having a voice in privatized immigration will be even harder.

The growth of temp agencies seems to be correlated with a lot of things I don't like: stagnant salaries, a weak NBLR, the breaking of social bonds between employer and employee, income disparity and overall precarity for the average laborer. Do we really want these companies, who are already global players, actually determing flows of human capital? As poorly as our democracy treats workers, do we want to give up the little power democratic representation gives us?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Republican/Lieberman High Horse

217. Let us be careful in dealing with those who attach great importance to being credited with moral tact and subtlety in moral discernment! They never forgive us if they have once made a mistake BEFORE us (or even with REGARD to us)--they inevitably
become our instinctive calumniators and detractors, even when they still remain our "friends."--Blessed are the forgetful: for they "get the better" even of their blunders. (Neitzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Crawford, TX: How Born Agains Interpret the Resurrection

Here are a few thoughts for Easter and what it portends:

Braving Cindy Sheehan and other heretics, George Bush crawled into his tomb at Crawford this week. Next week he will re-emerge, purified, God-like in the press. He will be a new man, ready to confront the final years of his presidency:

Bush's getaway in central Texas is just about everything Washington is not. There may be no better way to explain why he loves it so much. Life is remarkably different here for a president struggling through his second term. He can slip out of sight for days, as he has since he arrived Wednesday. The White House press corps is still around, ready to cover the most innocuous visit to the coffee shop, but there haven't been any. Bush is tucked away in his home away from home. And it's a long way from his black-gated compound on Pennsylvania Avenue. "Sometimes, you just have to be by yourself," said Bill Johnson, owner of the Yellow Rose souvenir shop at the one-light crossroads in Crawford. "You've got to get out of the rat race, get some peace and quiet. He can just go and sit by the lake and hear the owls." Nature couldn't have come through more for Bush this week. He showed up to springtime breezes and entire pastures covered with bluebonnets in bloom. On Saturday, a rare April snow sneaked up on Crawford, giving the place an even more tranquil feel. Even in the summer, when the heat is scorching, Bush wants to be outside. After morning security briefings, he spends hours riding his bike, chopping cedar, clearing brush and chatting with family — all in privacy. The visits add up. Bush has spent part or all of 409 days of his presidency on the 1,600-acre ranch, according to CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who keeps meticulous records of Bush's travel... ("On the Ranch, Bush has perfect escape")

Bush's villégiature at Crawford always signals rebirth and restoration, and, as the AP implies, it is meant to bring comfort to the American people ("entire pastures covered with bluebonnets in bloom. On Saturday, a rare April snow sneaked up on Crawford, giving the place an even more tranquil feel"). The rural setting is portrayed as a temple, as a retreat, as a monastery (albeit a monastery made for non-reflective behaviour) in which the elements seem to welcome the President and harmonize with his spirit. Indeed, "Nature couldn't have come through more," as the AP stenographer, Ben Feller, writes.

Of course, the harmony is only a fleeting reflection of surface movement. Note the contradiction that nature welcomed Bush, but that he spends all summer cutting it down. It is alternately Bush's cathedral and his punching bag. Nature: ineffably pretty, and totally at Bush's mercy.

Such articles must reassure the masses. Bush, master of the territory, developer of the land, overcomer of weeds (read: Democrats), is always busy cutting nature down, yet always welcomed by nature's bounty.

All this seems like a contradiction, but it is actually a paradox, a dialectic of modernity in which incessant gestures of control hide our dependance on natural resources.

Mark Slouka lines out why this is such a vital image in our repertory of thoughts about who we are. In this wonderful Harper's article he writes:

Leisure is permissible, we understand, because it costs money; idleness is not, because it doesn't. Leisure is focused; whatever thinking it requires is absorbed by a certain task: sinking that putt, making that cast, watching that flat-screen TV. Idleness is unconstrained, anarchic. Leisure-particularly if it involves some kind of high-priced technology-is as American as a Fourth of July barbecue. Idleness, on the other hand, has a bad attitude. It doesn't shave; it's not a member of the team; it doesn't play well with others. It thinks too much, as my high school coach used to say. So it has to be ostracized. [...]

[In June of 1913], Marinetti explained that Futurism was about the "acceleration of life to today's swift pace." It was about the "dread of the old and the known ... of quiet living." The new age, he wrote, would require the "negation of distances and nostalgic solitudes." It would "ridicule ... the 'holy green silence' and the ineffable landscape." It would be, instead, an age enamored of "the passion, art, and idealism of Business." This shift from slowness to speed, from the solitary individual to the crowd excited by work, would in turn force other adjustments. The worship of speed and business would require a new patriotism, "a heroic idealization of the commercial, industrial, and artistic solidarity of a people"; it would require "a modification in the idea of war," in order to make it "the necessary and bloody test of a people's force." As if this weren't enough, as if the parallel were not yet sufficiently clear, there was this: The new man, Marinetti wrote...would communicate by "brutalty destroying the syntax of his speech. He wastes no time in building sentences. Punctuation and the right adjectives will mean nothing to him. He will despise subtleties and nuances of language." All of his thinking, moreover, would be marked by a "dread of slowness, pettiness, analysis, and detailed explanations. Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary, 'Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!'" (Mark Slouka, in Harper's:

Man, as epitomized as George W. Bush, is reborn as pure individualism, pure action, pure machine. "Solidarity," is not communal, but a technical force of individuals acting in concert, in rythm, like the gears of a motor. The logical undergirding of the AP article says it all: nature may be pretty, but ultimately it should be subjugated by Man, and Man, as Slouka writes, is more and more a machine. As opposed to idleness, leisure and retreat are no longer walks in the wilderness, they are times to reconsolidate power and reaffirm dominion while embracing what George Bush would call human destiny, freedom, patriotism, war and a "business-friendly environment." Crawford is not a temple of nature, but a temple for Bush, for exploitation of the land. It is not the king's place to praise nature, but nature's place to praise the king. Such is the state of things in a simplistic born-again world.

And so George Bush will be reborn again, given the benefit of the doubt, a fresh start for springtime.

Meanwhile, what would Jesus do? Maybe nothing. Maybe he would be idle and sit and contemplate the wilderness.

Yet, as Bush well knows, this truth is hidden deep within the syntax, within the language (of nature, of speech) that he works so diligently to break down, clearing the brush, as it were.*


*Read Slouka's article. He makes the point much more elegantly than I.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Concentration Camping!

As you all knew, the Bush administration has been concentrating on concentration--conentration camps, that is.

From the comments section of Latina Lista:
Forbes Magazine
Monday, January 8, 2007
The Best Of The Best

Business Services & Supplies

Corrections Corp. Of America

Crime pays. At least for John Ferguson, chief of $1.3 billion (sales) Corrections Corporation of America (nyse: CXW - news - people ), the nation's largest privatized prison operator. If there's one thing Ferguson can rely on, it's that criminals are never in short supply and there aren't enough bars to put them behind. Ferguson's 23-year-old firm, in Nashville, Tenn., is the oldest company of its kind. And it has cells to spare. "We have seen this percolating demand for many years that we didn't sense other people saw," he says. "This company has prepared itself." Earnings per share are up 130% over the last 12 months.

Ferguson insists on staying ahead of demand, even if that means the occasional empty cell block. A strong balance sheet and steady cash flow buttressed $120 million in 2006 spending to expand existing slammers and build new ones. One 1,600-occupant prison opened this year in Arizona; as many as 10,000 beds are planned for the next year and a half. "[Its] business development pipeline continues to amaze us," says Jefferies & Co. analyst Anton Hie. Bring on the bad guys: These big houses have plenty of room.
This comes on the heels of reports like this one from Latina Lista...

Privatized Immigrant Detention Facilities for Families Revealed to be Modern-Day Concentration Camps

One of the more disturbing stories that surfaced after the Swift meat plant raids was how too many children were left without a parent and/or farmed out to friends and families with no immediate word on how they will be reconnected with their mami and papi.

But if news filtering out of one of the newly designated immigrant detention centers for families is any indication, no undocumented parent is going to open their mouth and claim their children if the whole family is going to be subjected to what is becoming known as the first known concentration camp on American soil in the 21st Century.

The T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas (on the outskirts of Austin, Texas) is a private detention facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America. It and a smaller center in Pennsylvania are the only two facilities in the country that are authorized to hold non-Mexican immigrant families and children on noncriminal charges.

What does this mean?

It means that at the Taylor facility of the 400 people "held" there, 200 are children. And all are families that can be held there for whatever length of time without due process conducted in a timely manner.

To top it off, as long as the men, women and children are held there, the facility's operator draws a daily profit - per person.

Quote du jour

Because somebody made me feel guilty for neglecting my blog....

While there is no end of ways to consider the parallels of economy and theology--especially the ways in which economic belief systems have replaced verifiable economic theory--I found this particular quote interesting:

At their core, theologies address the problem of evil and why God doesn't do something about it. Political economy grapples with the the question of how a social and historical process as creative, fruitful, and intriguing as capitalism can give rise to so many stubborn and ugly problems (and what we might do about these problems, if anything). (215)

The source: Foley, Duncan. Adam's Fallacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism Part III (Conclusion)

Here ends my "brief" summary of Harvey's work. Of course, understanding neoliberalism and developing a countering vocabulary are among my top interests, so...

Go to PART I or go to PART II

Neoliberal's First Examples

Harvey points often to the case of Chile, where the "little September 11th" of 1973 brought Pinochet to power, and right along side of him were a group of neoliberal economists trained mostly at the University of Chicago under the tutelage of Milton Friedman. (Hayek too saw Chile as a positive example.) There is indeed much to be said about that regime and the brutal repression it used to implement the supposed "freedoms" of neoliberalism, but Harvey comes back time and again to the example of New York City. The reason he does, I think, is because what was of particular interest initially to the Neoliberals--even more than bringing about regime change in places like Chile--was implementing change at home. The financial troubles of New York City in the 70s, became this opportunity for transformation while also becoming a model for neoliberal conquest within U.S. borders.

New York City, like many major cities, was undergoing hard times during the 1970s. Suffering from an exodus of the middle class to the suburbs and from deindustrialization, the city had a diminishing and shifting financial base. Compounding this, the Nixon administration declared, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that "urban crises" were over in America and subsequently cut funding. The post-oil-embargo recession thus gathered steam and New Yorkers, used to some of the most progressive spending in the country, were literally left out in the cold. The situation only got worse as the years passed. The financial elite of the New York, primarily Walter Wriston of Citibank, led the way in putting the city on the spot by refusing to allow city loans to roll over to the next year. New York was faced with either bankruptcy or tremendous budget cuts. "The bail-out that followed entailed the construction of new institutions that took over management of the city budget," Harvey writes. He pursues this line of thought:

They had first claim on the city tax revenue in order to first pay of bondholders...the effect was to curb the aspirations of the city's powerful municipal unions, to implement wage freezes...the final indignity was the requirement that municipal unions should invest their pension funds in city bonds. Unions then either moderated their demands or faced the prospect of losing their pension funds through city bankruptcy.

This amounted to a coup by the financial institutions against the democratically elected government of New York City... (45)

Of course, fiscal discipline is important, but forces inside and outside of the city in effect created a situation of bankruptcy where it could have been avoided. Ford's secretary of treasury, a proponent of neoliberal "reforms" in Chile, convinced Ford not to help the city and said that the terms of any bailout should be " punitive...that no city, no political subdivision would ever be tempted to go down the same road" (Harvey 46).

The financial leaders of New York, successful in demoralizing and defunding many of the social infrastructures the working class had built over many years, leaned in harder to "create a good business climate. [...] Corporate welfare substituted for people welfare" (Harvey 47). As poorer sections of New York's populace found themselves with a social support network, they turned to underground economies and crime. And, as crack cocaine and AIDS took on increasingly epidemic proportions, whole sections of the population were intentionally stigmatized. "The victims were blamed, and Giuliani was to claim fame by taking revenge [on them]" (Harvey 48).

Harvey summarizes the city's role in becoming an exemplar:

The management of the New York fiscal crisis pioneered the way for neoliberal practices both domestically under Reagan and internationally through the IMF in the 1980s. It established the principle that in the vent of a conflict between the integrity of the financial institutions and the bondholders returns, on the one hand, and the well-being of the citizens on the other, the former was to be privileged. It emphasized that the role of government was to create a good business climate rather than look to the needs and the well-being of the population at large. (48)

During this time, Manhattan was reinforced, after struggles with unions, with increases in the police force and firefighters. A publicity campaign was launched to sell NY ("I love NY"). Indeed, the island of manhattan would become a playground,of shopping and arts, but one mostly limited to those who could afford it. The Bronx, Brooklyn and the periphery would not reap the benefits of Manhattan's revival in Wall Street's image.

Creating Consent

Besides bringing a city (or a country) to the brink of bankruptcy as a innovative coercive measure, Reagan used his power to appoint people in key positions that would dismantle government regulations. Over 40% of the Nat. Labor Relations Board's 1970s regulations were overturned in just six months during 1983 (Harvey 52). Conversely, industry was rapidly being relieved of its attachments to the public trust. Labor was also brought under control. The air traffic controller's strike was handled without mercy by the Reagan administration, and no protectors were to be found anywhere in the government thanks to Regan's appointments. Work that had formerly been unionized labor was transferred to southern states or out of the country. Here again, neoliberal policy and philosophy had appeal that the Left at the time could not match:

The unions' rigid rules and bureaucratic structures made them vulnerable to attack. The lack of flexibility was often as much a disadvantage for individual laborers as it was for capital. The virtuous claims for flexible specialization in labour processes and and for flexible time arrangements could become part of the neoliberal rhetoric that could be persuasive to individual laborers, particularly those who had been excluded from the monopoly benefits that strong unionization sometimes conferred. Greater freedom and liberty of action in the labour market could be touted as a virtue for labour and capital alike [and easily became] the 'common sense' of much of the workforce (53)

While this process--that has indeed caused our notions of 'common sense' to trump our notions of common good--happened more easily in the already highly individualistic U.S., Thatcher faced much greater resistance to her policies in Britain, especially from cities such as Liverpool, and thus had to take more extreme measures to counter them: jailing council members, abolishing councils, etc. Her poll tax ultimately failed though it remains a symbolic piece of neoliberal distrust of popular democracy. Both Reagan and Thatcher also turned to populism and nationalism to motivate their publics even though those represent in many ways the antithesis of neoliberal ideas and the goals of global capital.

Go to PART I or go to PART II

The Neoliberal State

Though, as Harvey correctly asserts, the real implementations of neoliberalism almost always diverge from theory and though it thrives because of some of it contradictory practices, there are some easily definable features of neoliberalism that allow for a general understanding of the neoliberal state.

Neoliberals are particularly assiduous in seeking the privatization of assets. The absence of clear private property seen as one of the greatest of all institutional barriers to economic development and the improvement of human welfare. Enclosure and the assignment of private property rights is considered the best way to protect against the so-called 'tragedy of the commons' (the tendency for individuals irresponsibly super-exploit common property) [...] Sectors formerly run by the state must be turned over to the private sphere and deregulated. [...] Privatization and deregulation combined with competition, it is claimed, eliminate bureaucratic red tape, increase efficiency and productivity, improve quality, and reduce costs, both directly to the consumer through cheaper commodities and services and indirectly through reduction of the tax burden [...] While personal and individual freedom in the marketplace is guaranteed, each individual is held responsible and accountable for his or her own actions or well-being. This principle extends into the realms of welfare, education, health care, and even pensions. (Harvey 65)

In practice, of course, the neoliberal state is more complicated and more contradictory. What can be said, though, is that the above represents the strongest and most central tendencies of neoliberal regimes. It can also be noted that neoliberal states tend to prefer rule by elites and distrust popular democracy, hence, these states often bureaucratize governments in specific ways in order to reinforce their outlook while they opt to use legal decisions and methods to achieve their goals, as this allows them to bypass legislatures and elections. (The fissures in this systems are beginning to show in the U.S., though the institutionalization is nearly complete.) Courts and key departments of government thus become firewalls to popular democratic action because access to courts is limited largely by financial barriers and the selective appointments of key positions within the judiciary. The sway of the Federalist society in the U.S. provides numerous examples of this, as does the packing of certain federal disctrict courts to contain pro-corporate lawyers willing to put the rights of the corporate "individual" over those of common people.

Harvey underlines some of the main grey areas of neoliberal practice as well: competition almost inevitably leads to monopoly and therefore requires state intervention. Electricity, water, gas, rail and other infrastructures work better when they are monopolistic and regulated. Indeed, deregulation can have disastrous consequences (California power crisis in 2002, British rail). Another major contradiction is market failure. This arises when markets themselves are imperfect, as is the case where pollution is not calculated as a cost and corporations can therefore externalize their responsibilities and charges. It is also assumed that all players in a market have access to the same information, allowing them to make the best decisions and therefore allow society to reap the benefits of the wisdom of the marketplace. There are, however, great asymmetries among even large corporations, which then lead to even greater inequalities. Intellectual property rights and "rent-taking" enforcement of these "rights" also leads to monopolistic power and a subversion of the marketplace of ideas. "The neoliberal assumption of perfect information and a level playing field for competition appears as either innocently utopian or a deliberate obfuscation of processes that will lead to the concentration of wealth and, therefore, the restoration of class power" (Harvey 68).

The neoliberal state also harbors some fundamentally antithetical political practices:

A contradiction arises between a seductive but alienating possessive individualism on the one hand and the desire for a meaningful collective life on the other. While individuals are free to chose, they are not supposed to choose to construct strong collective institutions (such as trade unions) as opposed to weak voluntary associations (like charitable organizations). They most certainly should not choose to associate to create political parties with the aim of forcing the state to intervene in or eliminate the market., [...] Faced with social movements that seek collective interventions, therefore, the neoliberal state is itself forced to intervene, sometimes repressively, thus denying the very freedoms it is supposed to uphold. (Harvey 69)

Harvey then goes on to list a series of major contradictory elements inside the neoliberal fold. "All is not well," he writes, "and it is for this reason that [the neoliberal state] appears to be a transitional or unstable political form":

  1. On the one hand the neoliberal state is expected to take a back seat and simply set the stage for market functions, but on the other it is supposed to be activist in creating a good business climate and to behave as a competitive entity in global politics. In its latter role it has to work as a collective corporation, and this poses the problem of how to ensure citizen loyalty. Nation­alism is an obvious answer, but this is profoundly antagonistic to the neoliberal agenda. This was Margaret Thatcher's dilemma, for it was only through playing the nationalism card in the Falklands/Malvinas war and, even more significantly, in the campaign against economic integration with Europe, that she could win re-election and promote further neoliberal reforms internally. Again and again, be it within the European Union, in Mercosur (where Brazilian and Argentine nationalisms inhibit integration), in NAFTA, or in ASEAN, the nationalism required for the state to function effectively as a corporate and competitive entity in the world market gets in the way of market freedoms more generally.

  2. Authoritarianism in market enforcement sits uneasily with ideals of individual freedoms. The more neoliberalism veers towards the former, the harder it becomes to maintain its legitmacy with respect to the latter and the more it has to reveal its anti-democratic colours. This contradiction is paralleled by a growing lack of symmetry in the power relation between corporations and individuals such as you and me. If 'corporate power steals your personal freedom' then the promise of neoliberalism comes to nothing. This applies to individuals in the workplace as well as in the living space. It is one thing to maintain, for example, that my health-care status is my personal choice and responsibility, but quite another when the only way I can satisfy my needs in the market is through paying exorbitant [80 begins] premiums to inefficient, gargantuan, highly bureaucratized but also highly profitable insurance companies. When these companies even have the power to define new categories of illness to match new drugs coming on the market then something is clearly wrong. Under such circumstances, maintaining legitimacy and consent, as we saw in Chapter 2, becomes an even more difficult balancing act that can easily topple over when things start to go wrong.

  3. While it may be crucial to preserve the integrity of the financial system, the irresponsible and self-aggrandizing individualism of operators within it produces speculative volatility, financial scandals, and chronic instability. The Wall Street and accounting scandals of recent years have undermined confidence and posed regulatory authorities with serious problems of how and when to intervene, internationally as well as nationally. International free trade requires some global rules of the game, and that calls forth the need for some kind of global governance (for example by the WTO). Deregulation of the financial system facilitates behaviours that call for re-regulation if crisis is to be avoided. 17.

  4. While the virtues of competition are placed up front, the reality is the increasing consolidation of oligopolistic, monopoly, and transnational power within a few centralized multinational corporations: the world of soft-drinks competition is reduced to Coca Cola versus Pepsi, the energy industry is reduced to five huge transnational corporations, and a few media magnates control most of the flow of news, much of which then becomes pure propaganda.

  5. At the popular level, the drive towards market freedoms and the commodification of everything can all too easily run amok and produce social incoherence. The destruction of forms of social solidarity and even, as Thatcher suggested, of the very idea of society itself, leaves a gaping hole in the social order. It then becomes peculiarly difficult to combat anomie and control the resultant anti-social behaviours such as criminality, pornography, or the virtual enslavement of others. The reduction of 'freedom' to 'freedom of enterprise' unleashes all those 'negative freedoms' that Polanyi saw as inextricably tied in with the [81 begins] positive freedoms. The inevitable response is to reconstruct social solidarities, albeit along different lines-hence the revival of interest in religion and morality, in new forms of associationism (around questions of rights and citizenship, for example) and even the revival of older political forms (fascism, nationalism, localism, and the like). Neoliberalism in its pure form has always threatened to conjure up its own nemesis in varieties of authoritarian populism and nationalism. As Schwab and Smadja, organizers of the once purely celebratory neoliberal annual jamboree at Davos, warned as early as 1996:

'Economic globalization has entered a new phase. A mounting backlash against its effects, especially in the industrial democracies, is threatening a disruptive impact on economic activity and social stability in many countries. The mood in these democracies is one of helplessness and anxiety, which helps explain the rise of a new brand of populist politicians. This can easily turn into revolt.' (Harvey 79-81)

One of the most disturbing trends and contradictions of neoliberalism is its turn toward authoritarian morality based on supposed national "values." This can be seen in the theocratic tendencies in the U.S., in China's emphasis on "personal responsibility," in Putin's Russia. Nationalism and "national values," though in direct competition with neoliberalism's globalizing tendencies, often provides governments with tools to appeal to populist sentiment. They use these tools to maintain power and unite their publics, distracting attention away from the very problems caused by neoliberal policy.

The examples of neoliberal failure are numerous. Chile's economy, far from self-sustaining, crashed in 1982 as speculative capital dried up. Argentina, which became a destination for "vulture capital," has likewise suffered one tremendous crisis after another related to neoliberal adjustments through the IMF (an organization they are currently distancing themselves from--successfully for the time being). One of the most interesting readings of recent financial history refers to Asia in 1997-98. Harvey quotes Stiglitz's Globalization and its discontents:

As the crisis progressed, unemployment soared, GDP plummeted, banks closed. The unemployment rate was up fourfold in Korea, threefold in Thailand, tenfold in Indonesia. In Indonesia almost 15 percent of males working in 1997 had lost their jobs by August 1998, and the economic devastation was even worse in the urban areas of the main island, Java. In South Korea, urban poverty almost tripled, with almost a quarter of the population falling into poverty; in Indonesia, poverty doubled... In 1998, GDP in Indonesia fell by 13.1 percent, in Korea by 6.7 percent, and in Thailand, by 10.8 percent. Three years after the crisis, Indonesia's GDP was still below that before the crisis, Thailand's 2.3 per cent lower. (Harvey 96)

Harvey then goes on to narrate the neoliberal approach to these crises:

As Indonesia's GDP fell and unemployment surged, the IMF stepped in to mandate austerity by abolishing subsidies on food and kerosene. The riots that followed 'tore the country's social fabric' apart. The capitalist classes, mainly ethnic Chinese, were widely blamed for the debacle. While the wealthiest Chinese business elite decamped to Singapore, a wave of revenge killings and attacks on property engulfed the rest of the Chinese minority...The standard IMF/US Treasury explanation for the crisis was too much state intervention and corrupt relationships between state and business ('crony capitalism'). Further neoliberalization was the answer. The Treasury and the IMF acted accordingly, with disastrous consequences. The alternative view of the crisis was the impetuous financial deregulation and the failure to construct adequate regulatory controls over unruly and speculative portfolio investments lay at the heart of the problem. The evidence for the latter view is substantial: those countries that had not liberated capital markets--Singapore, Taiwan, and China--were far less affected than those countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Phillippines, that had. Furthermore, the one country that ignored the IMF and imposed capital controls--Malaysia--recovered faster. After South Korea likewise rejected IMF advice on industrial and financial restructuring, it also staged a faster recovery. (96-97)

Harvey then goes on to explore the possibly nefarious roles of hedge funds in all of this. Yet the main point here is that capitalism has had far more trials during the last thirty years than most in the West realize. Japan, partly due to U.S. currency manipulation, has remained in economic doldrums for the last 20 years. While Wall Street and London have profited, important social unrest has made regular appearances in all Western countries, from the Rodney King revolts to the poll-tax riots in Britain. Social programming continues to suffer due to neoliberal choices to divert government funds to the Rich and to the military. (As always, the need to "balance the budget" is quoted when it is time to justify cuts in education and social programs.) Throughout all of Harvey's examples, a central tendency towards social inequality and a revitalization of the class system become apparent. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of China, a country to which Harvey devotes a fascinating chapter. Again, what is apparent in China is what is happening in all countries where neoliberalism has appeared: increasingly large disparities between rich and poor, a tearing down of social fabrics which is often replaced by fundamentalist religion (Falon Gong), and the need for the state to maintain tight oversight and outright oppression of the society in spite of the freedom the opening of markets supposedly entails.

Neoliberalism on Trial

Harvey's critiques of neoliberal policy and practice are both implicit and explicity within his book. However, in a latter chapter, the turns to a more overt form of critique that not only questions some of the dubious pretenses of neoliberalism, but to the very dangerous implications of its consequences--past, present and future:

The two economic engines that have powered the world through the global recession that set in after 2001 have been the United States and China. The irony is that both have been behaving like Keynesian states in a world supposedly governed by neoliberal rules. The US has resorted to massive deficit-financing of its militarism and its consumerism, while China has debt-financed with non-performing bank loans massive infrastructural and fixed capital investments. True blue neoliberals will doubtless claim that the recession is a sign of insufficient or imperfect neoliberalization, and they could well point to the operations of the IMF and the army of well-paid lobbyists in Washington that regularly pervert the US budgetary process for their special-interest ends as evidence for their case. But their claims are impossible to verify, and, in making them, they merely follow in the footsteps of a long line of eminent economic theorists who argue that all would be well with the world if only everyone behaved according to the precepts of their textbooks. .

But there is a more sinister interpretation of this paradox. If we lay aside, as I believe we must, the claim that neoliberalization is merely an example of erroneous theory gone wild (pace the economist Stiglitz) or a case of senseless pursuit of a false utopia (pace the conservative political philosopher John Gray), then we are left with a tension between sustaining capitalism, on the one hand, and the restoration/reconstitution of ruling class power on the other. If we are at a point of outright contradiction between these two objectives, then there can be no doubt as to which side the current Bush administration is leaning, given its avid pursuit of tax cuts for the corporations and the rich. Furthermore, a global financial crisis in part provoked by its own reckless economic policies would permit the US government to finally rid itself of any obligation whatsoever to provide for the welfare of its citizens except for the ratcheting up of that military and police power that might be needed to quell social unrest and compel global discipline. Saner voices within the capitalist class, having listened carefully to the warnings of the likes of Paul Volcker that there is a high probability of a serious financial crisis in the next five years, may prevail. But this will mean rolling back some of the privileges and power that have over the last thirty years been accumulating in the upper echelons of the capitalist class. Previous phases of capitalist history-one thinks of 1873 or the 1920s-when a similarly stark choice arose, do not augur well. The upper classes, insisting on the sacrosanct nature of their property rights, preferred to crash the system rather than surrender any of their privileges and power. In so doing they were not oblivious of their own interest, for if they position themselves aright they can, like good bankruptcy lawyers, profit from a collapse while the rest of us are caught most horribly in the deluge. (Harvey 152-53)

Even a cursory glance at the environmental degradation of the planet, the increasing disparities between Rich and Poor, and the growing unease with the downsides of the economic "freedoms" of neoliberalism, should lead anyone to question whether its benefits outweigh its costs. Harvey clearly wonders whether neoliberalism can provide anything other than short-term financial growth and whether it is sustainable without means of socio-political coercion.

I cannot convince anyone by philosophical argument that the neoliberal regime of rights is unjust. But the objection to this regime of rights is quite simple: to accept it is to accept that we have no alternative except to live under a regime of endless capital accumulation and economic growth no matter what the social, ecological or political consequences. Reciprocally, endless capital accumulation implies that the neoliberal regime of rights must be geographically expanded across the globe by violence (as in Chile and Iraq), by imperialist practices (such as those of the World Trade Organization, the IMF, and the World Bank) or through primitive accumulation (as in China and Russia) if necessary. By hook or by crook, the inalienable rights of private property and the profit rate will be universally established. This is precisely what Bush means when he says the US dedicates itself to extend the sphere of freedom across the globe.

But these are not the only inalienable rights available to us....there are also entirely different rights to which we may appeal--of access to the global commons or to basic food security, for example. 'Between equal rights, force decides.' Political struggles over the proper conception of rights, and even of freedom itself, move center stage in the search for alternatives. (Harvey 181-182)

There is much more to Harvey's book than what is outlined and quoted above. One important thing to note is that, while serious and at times extremely worrying in his analysis, Harvey refuses to believe that all hope is lost. He delineates numerous possibilities for realigning and reaffirming the rights of people as more important than those of corporations and nation states.

Go to PART I or go to PART II

x-listed at Progressive Historians


Friday, March 23, 2007

Jacques Brel

Bodies and politics

A Quote:

[The body] is a concrete physical space of flesh and bone, of chemistries and electricities; it is a highly mediated space, a space transformed by cultural interpretations and representations...

Body and the body politic, body and the social body, body and the city, body and the citizen body, are intimately linked productions.... The practice of using the individual body as a metaphor for the social body, of deploying it as a sign of the health or disease of the social body, develops in the Athenian polis with ideas of democracy and reason and continues into the present. Body and city are the persistent subjects of a social/civic discourse, of an imaginary obsessed with the fear of unruly and dangerous elements and the equally obsessive desire to bring them under control: fears of pollution, contagions, disease, things out of place [for the ancient Greeks, the definition of 'pollution']; desires for controlling and mastering that [become] the spatial practice of enclosing unruly elements with carefully guarded spaces. These acts of differentiation, separation, and enclosure involve material symbolic and lived spaces....bodies and cities and tests...and are practiced as a politics of difference, as segregation and separation. (Hooper quoted in Soja 114) [Soja, Edward. (1996) Thirdspace. Malden, MA: Blackwell Press.]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Scientist Accuses White House of "Nazi" Tactics

Ah, yes, Darrell "Bush macht frei" Issa knows a lot about science, truth and professionalism. He's a reall thinker:

Scientist Accuses White House of "Nazi" Tactics: "Scientist Accuses White House of 'Nazi' Tactics
By Joel Havemann
The Los Angeles Times

Monday 19 March 2007

Washington - A government scientist, under sharp questioning by a federal panel for his outspoken views on global warming, stood by his view today that the Bush administration's information policies smacked of Nazi Germany.

James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, took particular issue with the administration's rule that a government information officer listen in on his interviews with reporters and its refusal to allow him to be interviewed by National Public Radio.

'This is the United States,' Hansen told the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee. 'We do have freedom of speech here.'

But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) said it was reasonable for Hansen's employer to ask him not to state views publicly that contradicted administration policy"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

To be a Leftist...

CORNEL WEST: What does it really mean to be a leftist in the early part of the 21st century? What are we really talking about? And I can just be very candid with you. It means to have a certain kind of temperament, to make certain kinds of political and ethical choices, and to exercise certain analytical focuses in targeting on the catastrophic and the monstrous, the scandalous, the traumatic, that are often hidden and concealed in the deodorized and manicured discourses of the mainstream. That's what it means to be a leftist. So let's just be clear about it.

So that if you are concerned about structural violence, if you're concerned about exploitation at the workplace, if you're concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, if you're concerned about organized hatred against peoples of color, if you're concerned about a subordination of women, that's not cheap PC chitchat; that is a calling that you're willing to fight against and try to understand the sources of that social misery at the structural and institutional level and at the existential and the personal level. That's what it means, in part, to be a leftist. [Source]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

French Elections

The Conseil Constitutionnel has finished and the official nominees are out. You can read all about them here:;sid=2007/3/19/12453/9251

And, of course, in any French newspaper (,

And for your viewing pleasure, the sad state of affairs at the PS. This is unfortunate, but so is their centrism à la Clinton.

If anybody is wondering, je déteste Sarkozy autant (presque) que je déteste Bush.

A Brief History of Neoliberalism: cont.

I've been rolling out the whole series on Harvey over at You can view it here:

Note that Part I and II here are only part I there...

Monday, March 19, 2007

More Harvey Coming, Palestine

More of Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism is on its way. I'm rolling it out over at, where there will be additions every other day or so. The next part will probably come tomorrow.

Until then, this, from the NYT:

JERUSALEM, March 13 — An up-to-date Israeli government register shows that 32.4 percent of the property held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is private, according to the advocacy group that sued the government to obtain the data.

The group, Peace Now, prepared an earlier report in November, also provided to The New York Times, based on a 2004 version of the Israeli government database that had been provided by an official who wanted the information published. Those figures showed that 38.8 percent of the land on which Israeli settlements were built was listed as private Palestinian land.

The data shows a pattern of illegal seizure of private land that the Israeli government has been reluctant to acknowledge or to prosecute, according to the Peace Now report. Israel has long asserted that it fully respects Palestinian private property in the West Bank and takes land there only legally or, for security reasons, temporarily. That large sections of those settlements are now confirmed by official data to be privately held land is bound to create embarrassment for Israel and further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated peace.

I don't know if the link below is a picture of seized private or seized public land. Either way, here it is:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Harvey's "History of Neoliberalism" Part II: Class Power Reborn

I continue here a summary of David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism.

For part I, click here.

To skip to part III: An Overview of A Brief History of Neoliberalism Part III

Class Power Reborn

The revival and strengthening of the upper class since Reagan and Thatcher is easily demonstrable by charting the trends of distribution of wealth, the tremendous rise in CEO compensation and the shape and size of tax laws over the last few decades. That rewarding the rich with even more power and wealth through the weakening of financial rules and tax responsibilities has become so commonplace is testament to the influence of neoliberalism on a global scale, but also as way of thinking that has invaded the public's self-image. Harvey thus relates that societies that seem to be acting with neoliberal “common sense” are not always acting for the common good. In fact, privatization on both a grand scale and at the molecular level of “personal responsibility” saps energy from the idea of common and communal good by lending credence to the idea that what is good for the individual must also be good for the community.

By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interests could hope to protect and even restore their position...But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. (42-43)

Of course, this individual libertarianism has created contradictions in neoliberalism itself as the very real breakdown of old social orders has also liberated marginalized groups (Gays and Lesbians for example). Not surprisingly, this has led to the desire of many on the Right to replace newly won personal freedoms with authoritarianism and populist “morality.”

“Left movements,” he writes, “failed to recognize or confront, let alone transcend, the inherent tension between the quest for individual freedoms and social justice” (43). On the right, however, there was both a conscious and subconscious awareness that, in the 1970's, the tectonic cultural shifts from the left and the rising power of the finance economy begun under Nixon could be absorbed through the prism of neoliberal philosophy and economics. Neoliberals saw, in the Left's “prescriptivism,” an opportunity to gain influence by promising liberation. They thus set out to take advantage of this situation through long-term planning and concerted effort. Harvey cites the growth and influence of organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Bureau of Economic Research and many other think tanks that quickly began to gain influence in Washington, in universities and in the press. Quoting Blyth, Harvey determines that by the end of the decade, “[b]usiness was learning to spend as a class” (44).

The multiple economic crises of the 1970's were, in fact, the result of capitalism being unable to provide markets for its surplus gains (there seemed to be nowhere to invest). The oil embargo of course played a role too. The U.S. agreed not to invade or harass Saudi Arabi following the OPEC rise in power provided that the Saudis would turn right back around and reinvest the petrodollars in Wall Street. The funneling of a huge amount of dollars into U.S. markets from Saudi Arabia following the oil crisis brought with it some problems. The U.S. economy was doing poorly and therefore not ripe for investment. What to do with the surplus—and surplus income always brings the danger of inflation or stagnation—became a major issue. The answer came, over the next few years, in the form of a reconstituting of international monetary policy in the World Bank and IMF. This process took several years and was the result of multiple processes and examples, and it essentially led to re-investment of the petrodollars in the form of loans to third-world nations, with Wall Street reaping enormous benefits as the middlemen. The monetary crises would also mean a great deal of restructuring at home, but in a very different form than had been practiced since the New Deal's keynsian social pact. This time the confluence of investment money would join with the allure of individualism preached by neoliberal institutions and politicians such as Reagan and Thatcher.

As stated above, the Left should be blamed for failing to counter-argue the neoliberal narrative and demonstrate the repercussions of the rise of a new class of wealthy elite. Harvey points out as well the flexibility of neoliberalism to insert itself into divergent political economic systems such as Britain and the U.S. Notions of class have always been fluid in the U.S., but in Britain they have long been associated with the aristocracy and aristocratic institutions. Thatcher's neoliberalism thus represented not a restoration of the old aristocracy, but the creation of a new one, of the London City-based financier, and in that sense did indeed liberalize England (if not Great Britain).

End of Part II.

An Overview of A Brief History of Neoliberalism Part I

An Overview of A Brief History of Neoliberalism Part III

Friday, March 16, 2007

I guess I'm back

I got tired of blogging for a while. But I'm back. In the next few days I'll be "reviewing"/summarizing David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Here's something to get you started:

David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism makes for compelling reading for those interested in the political economy of the last thirty-odd years. Or should I say thirty odd years.

Of particular interest is not only the historical sweep of the book, or its relative clarity compared to other works by Harvey, but the prism the author gives the reader to understand the present contradictions of globalism comprehensively, from economic, political and, yes, even moral points of view.

The book's foundation stands on Harvey's ability to weave the global aspects of international capital into case studies of countries who have tried neoliberalism (voluntarily or not) to varying degrees, from Britain to Chile, Argentina, Mexico, China and, of course, the U.S. From his analyses, Harvey steps naturally and logically out of history and into an investigation of the current state of neoliberalism and its possible futures. As Harvey points out, citing visionary thinking of Polanyi, neoliberalism, in both philosophy and practice, is fraught with contradictions and ambiguities that lend it strength while undermining its central tenets. In a word, there is much to be afraid of, but there is also space for hope.

Understanding neoliberalism requires an introduction to the basic tenets of 'freedom' as laid out by the Mont Pélerin Society shortly after World War II. Led by political philosopher Friederich van Hayek, the society set out to combat what they saw as the primary “dangers” facing the Occident:

The central values of civilization are in danger...even that most precious possession of Western Man, freedom of thought and expression, is threatened by the spread of creeds, only to establish a position of power in which they can suppress and obliterate all views but their own.
The group holds that these developments have been fostered by the growth of a view of history which denies all absolute moral standards and by the growth of theories which question the desirability of the rule of law. It holds further that they have been fostered by a decline of belief in private property and the competitive market; for with the diffused power and initiative associated with these institutions it is difficult to imagine a society in which freedom may be preserved. (Harvey 20)

Hence, as Harvey points out, freedom bcomes the result of private property and a competitive market. Relying on neoclassical economics and the rational actor, neoliberalism showed a great distrust of certain types of government intervention such as centralized control of the economy as predicated in the Keynsian tradition coming out of the Great Depression and especially in the dirigiste form found in countries like France and Mexico. The founding Neoliberals believed that no government had enough access to economic information to accurately plan an economy and that only the invisible hand of the market could make such decisions.

“The scientific rigor of its neoclassical economics does not,” writes Harvey, “sit well with its political ideas of freedom, nor does its supposed distrust of state power for a strong and if necessary coercive state that will defend the rights of private property, individual liberty and entrepreneurial freedoms” (21). Indeed, the contradictions between personal and entrepreneurial freedom become rapidly apparent as one neoliberal state after another paradoxically increases state power over the individual to ensure freedoms for that other individual, the corporate enterprise. This seems to prove the thinker Polayni uncannily prescient:

Planning and control are being attacked as a denial of freedom. Free enterprise and private ownership are declared to be essentials of freedom. No society built on other foundations is said to deserve to be called free. The freedom that regulation creates is denounced as unfreedom; the justice liberty and welfare it offers are described as a camouflage of slavery. (Harvey 37)

Besides these obvious contradictions, neoliberalism is also blind to power within the system. (Perhaps this is intentional.) Because no market is free from the influence of power, there is a tendency in them to move towards monopolistic or oligopolistic forms of enterprise. While there are some exceptions, this has proven true in almost every mature market, whether it is a question of car manufacturers or, in particular and most dangerously, mass media. Mirroring the establishment of giant enterprises is the revival of a self-reinforcing and growing elite using wealth to increase power and vice versa. The result, as Harvey notes, means that the top 358 fortunes of 1996 equaled the combined wealth of the bottom 2.3 billion, that is, the bottom 45% of the world's population (34-35). In other words, neoliberalism has meant a revival of class power, and this too has implications for freedom, since the voices of many poor and middle-class citizens remain unheard or weakened under the strains of the supposedly democratic neoliberal state.

End of part I. More to follow tomorrow.

An Overview of A Brief History of Neoliberalism Part II

An Overview of A Brief History of Neoliberalism Part III