‘Accountability’ isn’t enough [some angry language]

Not a great day for those of us who spend many of our waking hours fighting against various aspects of neo-liberal hegemony.

It looks like sometime today, both houses of Congress will pass a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling; in that bill is also a radical realignment of our budgetary and social priorities, tilting our economic structure in more sharply towards the ultra wealthy. The poor, working, middle classes will wind up paying more for less, while the rich pay less for more AND suck up more of other people’s money for themselves. This outcome of the new policy is clear and well-documented.

What troubles me the most about it is that it will devastate working and living conditions the huge majority of the country. On that level, it’s a clear betrayal of all that’s good and right about our country.

After that, what troubles me most is the utter shamelessness of the Republican Party, which serves nobody but the ultra-elite (although it’s exploits the ever-living fuck of Evangelicals, racists, and anybody else who will listen to their madness). Other than the occasional token effort to make this effort sound like it was about anything other than vacuuming up more power and resources for themselves, they have made almost no effort even to pretend like there’s any agenda here other than real one. That is, like the moment in 1984 when O’Brien admits to Winston that the Party only does what it does because it can, the GOP is steadily revealing its true agenda–or trying to hide it less.

You’d think with the recent exposure of the Koch brothers’ machinations, the influence of the shady group ALEC, example after example of radical right-wing leaders sucking at the government teat while they decry government programs–and then not really even trying to explain themselves because they don’t really have to)… You’d think all those things would make conservatives act a little more cautiously as the (mostly) men behind the curtain are revealed to be what they are–selfish, greedy, inhumane pieces of subhuman shit.

Instead, the opposite has happened. As the conservative machine becomes more visible, it becomes even more brazen. As the institutions you’d expect to stop (at least resist) them continue to fail us–you know, the Democratic Party, the law, the voters–I suppose there’s no reason for them even to pretend to be anything other than what they are.

And that, activist friends, helps me focus on what I’ve been increasingly see as the heart of the matter for the last year, maybe more: how to excise the political, economic and social poison these subhuman scum have injected into the system for nothing but their own gain. Lots of us have adopted, adapted the terminology of “accountability,” which is close to right–how do we hold these monsters ‘accountable’ for what they’re doing? But I’m increasingly sensing that the discourse of accountability makes it too easy to let these criminals off the hook. Elected officials are held accountable at the ballot box, if ever. That’s not enough.

We’re starting to see some movement in the right direction, I think, and I’m currently hanging my hopes on:

The recall elections happening in Wisconsin  When elected officials do the opposite of what you elected them to do, grab them by the backs of their necks and throw them on the scrap heap. There’s no reason to wait two years to vote them out.

The ballot initiative in OH to overturn SB5  When your legislative apparatus passes legislation that the huge majority of citizens reject, override the vote.

I’m all in favor of conventional kinds of activism and organizing. Although I’m not terribly impressed with the Coffee Party leadership (the rhetoric of the organization sounds like a thousand other people who suddenly got political and don’t yet understand that they’re not the first people to have thought about this stuff, but maybe that’ll wear down soon), the general idea of a citizen movement acting responsibly and demanding same is hard to argue with. As a union member and leader-of-sorts, of course I’m committed to labor activism and unions as strategies and modes of organizing.

But what we’re seeing in Wisconsin and Ohio right now is something else. Yes, it’s reactionary in the sense that it’s about undoing damage that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. But more important, I think, is that it’s directly responding to the problems. It’s not waiting for Election Day to trade people who did bad things for other people who will probably do bad things–it’s attacking the problems NOW.

If there’s any chance of salvaging our current form of government (if, in fact, that’s even a good idea–but I’ll set that aside for now), I believe we have to start here. Punch the assholes in their faces for being assholes. Yank them out of office when they violate the will of the people. Organize against laws that nobody wanted passed in the first place.

This is, by the way, exactly what the Tea Party says it does. It’s also exactly what the mainstream corporate media reports the Tea Party doing. Two things about that: (1) No, they don’t. The Tea Party is nothing but a tool of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey-and-friends, and is about as authentic a grassroots movement as ‘Americans for Prosperity.’ (2) Even if that’s not true (or getting less true–some analysts believe the Tea Party is getting out from under the control of its masters), there aren’t very many of them. Reports of the Tea Party’s mass-movement-ness have been greatly exaggerated.

If the Tea Partiers and progressives want to have an actual grassroots battle for the soul of the nation, count me in. When you Tea Partiers tell the Kochs and the Armeys and their friends to take their resources and shove them up their asses, when you tell your mouthpieces of Fox News you don’t need their corporate support–that is, when you practice anything you actually preach–then we’ll have an interesting situation on our hands.

7 Responses to ‘Accountability’ isn’t enough [some angry language]

  1. Bill says:

    You can say how the Koch Brothers and all of those evil corporate puppet masters control the tea party but the truth is that the left has an even worse situation with the unions. The unholy alliance between union lords and the Democrat Party creates a situation that screws the middle class a lot more than the tea party and any corporate interest connections. The Democrat Party is against workers having the right whether or not to join unions as a working condition and they are against workers having a secret ballot election to decide whether to unionize their workplace or not. This is most certainly the bigger problem.

  2. sethkahn says:


    Two quick points. First, unions are very public about who they give money/support to and why, unlike the Koch Brothers, ALEC, etc who bend over backwards to hide their influence. This is indisputable. You can defend them on First Amendment grounds, thanks to Citizens United, but there’s no question that conservative power-centers are much less interested in being public than unions are.

    Second, the sad old song about people being forced to join unions is simply untrue. Yes, there are closed shops. And have you ever thought about who closes them? MANAGEMENT. Why? Because MANAGEMENT MAKES THE RULES. And they do the hiring.

    • Bill says:

      If there is some kind of unholy scheme going on with the right then there is definitely one with the left. The unions are hardly forthright about their intentions. They lie to the workers to get them all riled up about stuff. Wisconsin is a great example of this. Misinformation, hatred, and fear seem to be the modus oeprandi of leftist/union operatives these days.

      Do you support right to work legislation? How about secret ballots? These are very important questions that many on the left will answer “no” thus revealing that they care not about the workers but about the unions. And unions have become exploiters themselves too. Workers’ rights need to be structured differently so that they keep more of their money without having to give it to mafia-like overlords.

      I wrote about the unions in this blog post: http://youngconservativeblog.com/blog/2011/06/20/the-government-assault-on-boeing/

      • sethkahn says:

        I don’t know even know how to start untangling this nonsense.

        Let’s start with this. Your first post attacked me, without answering a word I said, by accusing unions of being ‘worse.’ I responded to that, in detail, with an explanation of why that’s not true. Instead of answering any of that, you just lob the same empty accusations back at me, that unions are worse.

        Do I support Right to Work legislation? Absolutely not. It’s the most Orwellian phrase in the English language. There’s already a right to work. You conservatives are awfully fond of asserting that anybody who wants a job should go get one, aren’t you? All Right to Work legislation, at least every single example of it I’ve seen (mostly written by your buddies at ALEC), is designed to kill unions, and that’s all. It does nothing at all to help workers. It barely even pretends to anymore.

        There are already secret ballots in EVERY UNION ELECTION. It’s a flat-out lie to assert that there aren’t. There is a stage in the organizing process at which people sign interest cards, and those aren’t anonymous (otherwise there’s not much point in signing it).

        The facts of the Boeing case are abundantly clear, no matter how much you and other conservatives pretend they’re not. The ownership at Boeing explicitly, directly confessed that they’re violating the law. End of story.

        The rest of the post is just empty provocation, so…

  3. Bill says:

    First of all, I didn’t attack you, I attacked the issue. There are plenty of real personal attacks going on these days that we don’t need to fabricate them.

    If you want an example of Orwellian legislation look up the “Employee Free Choice Act.” It is an example of liberals being against the secret ballot. Right to work empowers the worker to choose whether or not they want to belong to a union and they cannot be forced one way or another as a condition of getting a job. If right to work kills unions that’s because unions these days suck and don’t care about the welfare of workers any more than the employer. If unions were so great for workers the left would support workers having a choice, because they would almost always choose to be in the union anyway.

    As for the Boeing ordeal, yes the facts certainly are clear. That’s why I am puzzled that any person can come to the conclusion that the NLRB is in the right. Did you read that blog post of mine. I believe I address your assertion of a “direct confession” that they are violating the law. Of course there was no such “confession” in the first place but I think I know what you are spinning that off of.

    Under Boeing’s plan no jobs are to be moved from Washington to South Carolina. The jobs in South Carolina are brand new jobs. Therefore, what retaliation against what worker could possibly be occurring? Can you answer that? Can you show me a Boeing worker in Washington who is adversely affected by Boeing’s decision. Of course not because there aren’t any.

    The comment by the Boeing executive that I believe you are referring to admitted no legal violations. Constant strikes are bad for business and therefore, avoiding said strikes, if possible, is a rational economic choice. I know that some liberals are under the impression that corporate executives spend all of their time hatching evil schemes to screw people. But, like so many other liberal beliefs, that is just not the case.

    So, anyway, how’s the semester going for you so far? I just picked up a philosophy major (I’m keeping my political science one too of course) and I am looking forward to that. Should be a good semester.

  4. sethkahn says:

    OK, an interesting moment that might seem like a tangent, but I’ll pursue it anyway.

    This is the second time an exchange between us has gotten pointed enough that I’ve reacted as if it were personal and you’ve indicated that wasn’t your sense of it. I believe that you didn’t intend it that way–why would you? So I started thinking about why I take it that way.

    I imagine it has something to do with the visceral political commitment I made many years ago when I started doing actual activism. I won’t tell the whole story here unless you want to hear it, but I spent an afternoon hanging out in a Greenpeace office (summer of 1989) figuring I’d get some yuks out of laughing at the hippies and then go find a real summer job (this was the summer before my senior year of college). When I saw what they actually did and how, and what the commitments actually looked like somewhere besides the silly news coverage, it all clicked for me.

    Anyway, all that’s to say you can’t do the kind of activism I’ve been doing for more than 20 years without making a very, very deep personal commitment to the work, but also to the positions you advocate. It’s almost impossible to keep going in the face of the kinds of opposition you run into if you don’t very deeply believe in what you’re doing and saying.

    OK, now back to the show. You could well be right about the statement from the Boeing exec. That’s why they’re having hearings. That’s why a result that Boeing doesn’t like will end up in court. You’re right that Boeing isn’t retaliating against specific employees, but that’s not the charge. The charge is that they’re retaliating against the union. We’ll see how it plays out. I imagine as a conservative you feel secure knowing that the Supreme Court is likely to see things your way these days.

    About the EFCA: Have you ever actually read the bill? I have; I’ve given presentations on it and understand its provisions very well. It simply does not do what you say it does. It’s main provisions are these. First (and the one that should have passed regardless of the election provisions you’re talking about) it exacts heavy penalties against managers who break the laws against intimidating workers during union organizing efforts. If you believe in democracy like you say you do, management shouldn’t be able to intimidate workers any more than you accuse unions of doing. That’s a no-brainer.

    Second, EFCA doesn’t call for the *elimination* of secret ballots. It contends that once a majority of workers has signed commitment cards (which is a precursor to elections in the current system), it makes the elections redundant. Once a majority of eligible employees has publicly indicated its commitment to a union, what does the secret ballot add?

    Because I’ve had this debate two or three hundred times (not exaggerating), I’m guessing your response will be something like, it’s a lot easier to intimidate workers into signing cards than to guarantee how they’ll vote when they can do it in secret. Two points about that:

    1. Not a scintilla of evidence to prove it. There’s very little statistical difference between the rates of workers who sign commitment cards and who vote to unionize. So the system you’re claiming ‘protects democracy’ is really only adding a layer of bureaucracy (which conservatives are supposed to hate, aren’t you?) that delays the outcomes.

    2. Truth be told, as anybody who’s been a subject of intimidation might tell you, making your commitment and support very public can actually protect you from intimidation and retaliation. By making your support public, you create a paper trail that would make very visible if you get targeted.

    Two+ years into a Democratic presidency, I’m annoyed that EFCA didn’t pass, but that’s about all. We have other, much bigger things to worry about.

    Oh, and thanks for the good wishes for the new semester and same to you. I’ve met all of my classes at least once, and at least once in each class meeting, somebody has said something fascinating and provocative enough to stop me dead in my tracks. Those are the best moments in any teacher’s worklife, so these groups have already set a very high bar.

  5. Bill says:

    EFCA would eliminate the right to a secret ballot. That’s called a fact. Then we can debate whether that’s good or bad. I really don’t see why you are so against secret ballot election being required. That way both sides have time to present the reasons why they think it would be best for the workers to vote one way or another. Neither side would be able to intimidate the workers. But you are upset that this way of doing things has not been overturned in favor of just “card check” under which employers can be intimidated and may not be exposed to arguments other than the union propaganda.

    As for the Boeing charge, there is no need to see how it “plays out.” We can examine the facts right here, right now. Did you read my op-ed? There is one FACT that you ought to be aware of here: Boeing’s plan involves creating 1,000 NEW jobs in South Carolina and eliminating none in Washington. Zero. Nada. What don’t you get about that? Furthermore, Boeing is still hiring in Washington state and has recently hired about 2,000 new workers who are automatically unionized and not able to choose for themselves whether they want to be in a union or not thanks to the left. This should make you elated.

    Clearly the facts are on the side of Boeing. I find it hard to believe that a smart guy like you really believes a conclusion (Boeing is retaliating against the union or its workers and thus is in violation of labor law) that the facts make impossible to be true. This is almost as clean as 2+2=4. Come on!

    I’m glad your semester is off to a good start. Good luck with your classes. I can tell you love to teach and really care about your students. I almost wish I was in one of your classes!

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