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.