25 August 2015

Who is Bernie Sanders Campaigning For?

Bernie is campaigning for a small child - I'll call her Hadiya - in Madison, Wisconsin who is not getting enough sleep.  Her thin, vulnerable frame covers the space of two seats on the bus that her mother relies on to take her to work or social service agencies or something else that is important in her life.  I feel a need to be particularly quiet when I sit near her lest I rob her of this precious recharging sleep time.

Hadiya is old enough to be going to school, perhaps first grade, and I wonder - well, I wonder a lot of things.  Does she have a stable home address?  If not, are there places she is spending the night that just do not afford her a safe space to sleep?  Is Hadiya's mother battling a drug addiction - smoking, maybe - that makes the expenses of mothering a low priority? 

When Hadiya turns 18, the year might be 2027.  Will the United States have attended to repairing and upgrading its vital infrastructure, improving mass transit in cities so that Hadiya does not need to buy a new car to have the mere potential for independent living?  Or will all of our national budget be swallowed by corporate welfare giveaways (to health insurance giants especially) and bloated military missions which involve frantically bombing Asian and African nations that are on the wrong side of our network of imperial alliances and hoping that this is "degrading the capabilities of terrorists?"

I can't say for sure that a President Scott Walker or Jeb Bush would spell certain disaster for Hadiya, in any direct sense.  The question here is - what kind of country are we going to leave to her in adult life?  Do we want, and want badly, a country that cares about its own citizens, even the poorest?  Or are we content with yet another crumbling jalopy empire [h/t], a siglo de oro USA where the gold is all immured in Phillip II's palace, and the masses push, shove, and claw for a crust of bread or clean water?

This is why Bernie Sanders is campaigning, and why I am supporting his candidacy.

19 July 2015

This is really a beautiful essay by Freddie deBoer.   I only want to comment on one issue he brings up:

One campus group I was in decided to institute a consensus-based decision making policy; they felt democracy was bourgeois and that voting failed to respect minority voices. So they advocated for a system based on universal assent. No decision could be made without perfect unanimity. I argued that this was a mistake. I felt that consensus could never work in groups with true diversity and that this was a tactic for richie liberal arts colleges where everybody was pretty much the same, not a working class commuter campus like ours. But I found myself outvoted, which would have been fine. Unfortunately, they wanted to adopt a consensus decision making process only through consensus itself, which didn’t really make any sense. Since I thought it was a bad idea, I did not consent. After two meetings of a standstill, I was quietly informed I had to leave the group. A change designed explicitly to defend the rights of minority voices had resulted in my expulsion for refusing to conform. Things were like that back then.
I also would have argued (at my richie liberal arts college, if I had been at all active in campus social justice groups) against this sort of policy change.  It seems this group wanted to reject bourgeois democracy in favor of aristocratic Polish-Lithuanian anarchy

I recently returned from the Socialism 2015 conference in Chicago, and there I saw a little bit of this same governance problem on display.  (I don't intend to slight the conference organizers -- they did a splendid job managing, I think, over a hundred sessions in the space of four days, while also pulling off a rocking party on the third night, which I did not attend but which seems to have been a success.)  In the Q&A period after panel discussions, conference policy stated that anyone in the room was welcome to speak (not necessarily with a question) for an amount of time to be determined by a session leader (one of the panelists).  This was always somewhere in the range of 2 - 3 minutes, if my memory serves.

It is a well-known peculiarity of the human brain that time seems to pass at varying rates depending on what one is doing.  And I suppose that is the most charitable response I can give to what were, in some cases, flagrant abuses of everyone's time.  (I must admit that it was only men whom I saw do this, so maybe I should blame the male brain specifically.)  It is, of course, kind of hard to put your foot down as a session leader and cut someone off when he's exceeded 4 minutes and is deeply involved in a story about how Dennis Kucinich killed the Green Party in 2004.  Some leaders were better at this than others. 

So my reflection on this is as follows:  when it comes to the world of politics and activism, it's almost as if we lived in an age before writing, when the sum total of human communication had to be expressed in speaking or gesturing to each other (of course even in those times there was visual art that conveyed messages, but political rhetoric, such as it was, was all oral and gestural).  Has the net effect of all our blogs and social media been simply to elevate the spoken-word artist, the oral performer?  This would at least partially explain the rise of politicians like Scott Walker, whose words and signals one day bear no relation to his words and signals of the previous day, but whom thousands rally behind because he smiles a lot, is comfortingly white, and uses the right tone of voice for every occasion.

And I guess I want to raise something else up for "problematizing" (urggh) in deBoer's essay.  He alludes to Audre Lorde's well-known saying "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."  It's easy to treat this very literally and assume that Lorde was opposed to using any kind of political tactic or organizing principle that oppressors used.  However, I strongly doubt that was the case.  Audre Lorde was really big on confronting internal demons and she emphasized the point that for activists to succeed in coalition-building they must first confront the fear of difference inside themselves, and that this process will look different for everyone.  Vide plenum"I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

11 July 2015

A Breakdown of the Presidential Election Campaign So Far (for the edification of foreign observers, and anyone who prefers neutral reporting)

On the Democratic side, we have self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders surging with a populist message against inequality.  His poll numbers are beginning to alarm the campaign of self-styled moderate liberal Hillary Clinton, who has hitherto been coasting to her party's nomination with weak opposition from self-styled centrist Lincoln Chafee and self-declared gun-control advocate Martin O'Malley.

On the Republican side, we are seeing self-styled conservative Jeb Bush raking in much money, with a bevy of challenges from self-declared Christian Rick Santorum, self-anointed successor to Reagan Scott Walker, and self-styled champion of African-Americans Ben Carson (to name just a few in the crowded field).  Self-styled business conservative Donald Trump has been much in the spotlight recently after comments he made regarding the sexual proclivities of Mexican-American men.

13 May 2015

Adam Smith would have loathed Trade Promotion Authority:

The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order [of self-interested merchants and manufacturers], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention.

 Not that I expect any American libertarians to care, or anything:  they all seem to have collectively decided that Adam Smith was not Adam Smith, but John D. Rockefeller (or perhaps the CEO of Comcast).

08 April 2015

Eulogia ("palabra buena") para Chuy Garcia

Dijeron que una escorrentia fue imposible;
En el New York Times los secuazes del alcalde
hacian escarnio de los liberales de Rogers Park,
y los capitanes del partido hablaron
solamente de una coronación.

Pero como las estaciones cambian --
como un invierno polar dio paso
a una primavera, como la tierra y el pueblo
parpadeaban con vida nueva --

una voz se escucho, cuarto millón de veces,
diciendo:  la sociedad importa!
Y los secuazes nunca sintieron la misma.

06 April 2015

Alan Talaga is right to call for better benefits for Madison city council members.  But this is not a matter of rewarding good "customer service" on behalf of the city, as he suggests.  Council members are not the first point of contact to confused and needy citizens -- police officers fill that role. 

Our elected representatives, at all levels of government, play a vital part in keeping democracy functional.  In the past few decades our political system has more and more come to resemble that of early 19th-century Britain:  we have a set of nominally free, democratic institutions that are virtually inaccessible to candidates without piles of money or aristocratic connections.  The struggle to secure a salary for members of Parliament (one of the demands of the People's Charter) was one of the key components of Britain's democratization and the rise of a politically assertive middle class. 

This issue is fundamentally about the value we place in political representation, and whether we can take a just pride in our city's approach to government.

06 March 2015

Oh, Slate, please.  This is not "a new low" for the NRA.

If liberals want sensible gun control measures to pass in this nation, they have got to stop dancing around the truth:  the NRA is a right-wing terrorist organization that has repeatedly called for violent revolution against the federal government and has literally no moral scruple when it comes to putting weapons of mass murder in the hands of white people (yes, its racial notions are pretty flipping obvious).

I'm a little puzzled why the Southern Poverty Law Center hasn't put it on its list of hate groups.

In the 2013 CPAC convention, Rep. Carolyn Mccarthy, who lost her husband to gun violence and sponsored a bill to prevent similar tragedies, was mocked as a stupid liberal elitist.

If there's one thing Democrats who care about gun control should take away from this latest feces-slinging from the NRA, it's that "reaching out" to Wayne LaPierre[1], Mitch McConnell, et al.  is pointless.  It'd be one thing if you had any common moral ground with these monsters, but no matter how you try to be conciliatory toward the gun industry and preach "responsibility, not control," they will turn right around and plunge the dagger into your back to a cheering crowd of extremists and total idiots who just want a free duffel bag.

These bullies do not want to cooperate with you.  Indeed, their business model requires them not to.  The only shooting victims the NRA cares about are imaginary (white) victims of imaginary (almost certainly black or Latino) killers.

[1] Who still publicly denies that Obama is a legitimately elected president.