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

August 1, 2011

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.

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Labor Activism at 4C

April 2, 2011

[This is the same message I’ve posted to the WPA, H-Rhetor, and Rhetoricians for Peace listserv.  Wanted to put it here so I could update it and/or point people to it.]

Sorry for cross-postings, but I’m trying to spread this as quickly and widely as possible.   –Seth

**************

On behalf of the CCCC Labor Caucus

 

Anybody in Atlanta Wed afternoon for 4Cs who wants to fight against the attacks on labor (organized and otherwise) across the country right now:

 

It’s not hyperbolic to say that organized labor, and working people more generally, are under assault right now. You know the litany: Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Michigan, rumbles in lots of other places, all facing dangerous and heavy-handed efforts to hurt working people (academics and teachers at all levels included). While there are huge efforts underway in all these places to respond, we can’t let pass the opportunity to claim an organized space and time at CCCC for collaborating and collectivizing our efforts.

 

With the blessing of the Labor Caucus and CCCC, the group hosting the Pre-Convention Workshop “Labor Organizing in Hard Times” has decided to change our agenda for the day and to throw open the doors of the meeting at 3 pm to everybody who wants to join in the fight. Our decision to do this is based on the sense that it’s simply incumbent on us, as a Labor Caucus, to do as much of this work as we can together with as many CCCC attendees as we can find who share our commitments–or even come close.

 

Vitals:

Wednesday, April 6

3 PM-5 PM (Later if people want to stay and we don’t get booted out of the room)

Location: I don’t have an actual program yet, but we’re W.1 (Labor Organizing in Hard Times) in the program

 

It’ll be an open door, so there’s no need to RSVP. However, if there’s an issue you know you want to work on and want to make sure somebody else knows about it, feel free to let me, Seth, know (via e-mail is probably best: skahn@wcupa.edu).

 

I can’t say I hope to see you there because I hate that we have to talk about this. But we need to gather as many people as we can who care about labor across the country and put all these years of rhetoric training, all these years of activist experience, all the commitment we have to fairness and equity, to work.

 


[Self] Pep Talk

March 10, 2011

[WARNING: the “pep talk” part of this takes a while to get to…and it’s probably not all that peppy, but headed in the right direction I think…]

Hard to watch or read any news for the last few weeks and not feel a growing sense of doom for those of us who strongly support labor–not just “working people” or “the middle class” (which are categories so diffuse that they don’t capture much anymore), but Labor, as a movement.

Yesterday we took hits in Wisconsin, which most of us know about, and Michigan, which took me by surprise.  The day before, PA’s new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, offered up a budget proposal that slashes state funding for public universities (already hovering just over 30% of our operating budgets) in half; demanding salary and benefits givebacks from public unions (at least he said it directly); and so on.  We know about the passage of SB5 in Ohio, which will likely pass the House and be signed into law soon.  Idaho legislators have voted to strip K-12 teachers of collective bargaining rights.

And this is, as we all know, just the beginning.  Actually, no it isn’t.  The effort to kill labor has been growing, steadily, for a long time now.  Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers’ union is a more (but still not entirely accurate) marker of the onset of this strategy.  We can leave it to the labor historians to duke out dates, but the point is that what we’re seeing right now isn’t new; it’s more frontal and more public than we’ve seen–as far as I know, we haven’t seen this level of attack on organized labor since about the 1940s)–but it hasn’t popped up from nowhere.

A lot of my liberal friends will disagree with me here (although a lot will agree, too), but one of the major enablers of the current attacks on labor is the national Democratic Party, which has taken Labor for granted for a very long time now.  And that’s partly Labor’s fault, too, for living in an “At least they’re not Republicans” paradigm.  Dems know Labor won’t desert them, so they vacuum up campaign contributions and organizing/mobilizing energy during elections and then do nothing to support Labor in between.  The Dems could have passed EFCA quite easily had they wanted to, instead of just sweeping it under the rug.  The Dems could have told the Republicans to shove the Bush tax cuts up their bums because we need that money to pay things that actual human beings need.  But they haven’t, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in any future I can imagine.

So where does that leave the actual working people, the people on whose labor this country depends, to turn for support?  All that’s really left, it seems, is each other.  There are millions of us.  We don’t have the cash that Waltons and Kochs and Gateses and Soroses have on hand.  We don’t have the weapons that wingnut militias have lying around.  We don’t have legislatures in our pockets like our self-appointed neo-liberal corporate masters have.

And you know what?  I’m finding myself less and less troubled about those problems as every minute goes by.  Why?  Because the institutions they ru[i]n only continue to work as long as we the people continue to support them.

Whose money are the rich stealing?  Ours!  How do we stop that from happening?  Don’t spend money on stupid crap; buy from union shops; tell the bad guys that you’re boycotting them; make a stink in every setting where people are giving money to culprits of exploitation.

Why do corrupt quasi-representative government institutions continue to sell us down the river?  Because we let them–by voting, or not voting, and then pretending like we’ve discharged our duty as citizens until the next Election Day.  We have to make demands and fight for them.  We have to confront lawmakers and executives face-to-face.  We have to demand that the self-annointed answer hard questions in public, and lambaste their empty answers.

On Facebook yesterday, two of my friends started calling for a General Strike, and quite honestly I think we have to start thinking about that.  If Labor, as a movement, is going to mean anything in this country, it’s time for its proponents to think really hard about throwing down the gauntlet.  For too long, our culture has subscribed to the “What’s good for _____ [fill in the blank with corporate quasi-capitalist behemoth] is good for America” logic, and it’s proven time and again to be a lie.  Why not, “What’s good for American workers is good for America?”

What’s so damn hard about that?

Or put another way:  We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as a “special interest” for too long.  What could be less “special interest” than the basic economic security of the huge majority of the population?  There is only a small cabal (the real “special interests”) to whom our basic economic security doesn’t matter.  We can no longer wait around for those very elite, wealthy, selfish, solipsistic, inhumane people to come to their senses, to wake up, to have an epiphany, to see the Lord (or Karl Marx, or Lech Walesa, or whoever).  We can do this without them.

 


Let’s talk about sacrifice

March 6, 2011

So the buzzword of the year so far is “shared sacrifice.”  Scott Walker says he can only balance the Wisconsin budget if those greedy public employees would just be willing to sacrifice a little.  John Kasich of Ohio says the same–at the same time he and his legislature define university professors as managers so they can’t belong to unions, but anyway…  Democrats and Republicans in Washington spew the same line of crap, that in hard times we all have to sacrifice together.

I see people on the left resist this, not stridently enough, by reminding audiences that “sacrifice” is happening largely on the backs of the poor, working and middle classes.  And it is.  But maybe we can make a little better version of the point by asking a slightly different question.

What are the rich sacrificing in any of the current budget proposals?

Nothing.  They get: more tax cuts, tax incentives, tax breaks.  They get: reduced labor costs via union busting, decreased safety and environmental regulations by defunding regulatory agencies.  They get: bailouts when they mismanage their businesses into the ground.  They get: nearly exclusive access to the mechanisms of power because they have all the money they’ve stolen and the leisure time to use it since they don’t do anything useful with their time.

Name one thing that any of this budget voodoo costs the rich.  One.  And then ask yourself who’s making the policies.  And then ask yourself who’s paying the price.  And then ask yourself why we aren’t burning these people out of their houses (Because we’re more ethical than they are?  Apparently).  And then, finally, ask yourself how long you’re willing to continue putting up with a situation in which every single decision coming from a conservative-dominated system hurts YOU and EVERYBODY YOU KNOW, unless you’re one of the wealthy.

The talking heads like to talk about having to make “hard decisions” in difficult times.  Well, for those of us who are actual human beings, who are sick of seeing our humanity and dignity spat on every day by rich people who don’t care whether anybody else lives or dies, we have to ask ourselves a hard question too–how long do we wait?

 


Where were the Tea Partiers when…

January 7, 2011

This list flies around e-mail distribution lists from time to time.  A debate I was having on Facebook last night with a high school friend who’s very conservative made me think about it; I’m glad I saved it the last time I received it.

Subject: YOU FINALLY GOT MAD…

You didn’t get mad
when the Supreme Court stopped a legal
recount and appointed a President.

You didn’t get mad
when Cheney allowed Energy company
officials to dictate Energy policy and push us to invade Iraq.

You didn’t get mad
when a covert CIA operative got outed.

You didn’t get mad
when the Patriot Act got passed.

You didn’t get mad
when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.

You didn’t get mad
when we spent over 800 billion (and counting) on said illegal war.

You didn’t get mad
when Bush borrowed more money from
foreign sources than the previous 42 Presidents combined.

You didn’t get mad
when over 10 billion dollars in cash just disappeared in Iraq.

You didn’t get mad
when you found out we were torturing people.

You didn’t get mad
when Bush embraced trade and outsourcing
policies that shipped 6 million American jobs out of the country.

You didn’t get mad
when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans.

You didn’t get mad
when we didn’t catch Bin Laden.
You didn’t get mad
when Bush rang up 10 trillion dollars in combined budget and current account deficits.

You didn’t get mad
when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn’t get mad
when we let a major US city, New Orleans, drown.

You didn’t get mad
when we gave people who had more money
than they could spend, the filthy rich, over a trillion
dollars in tax breaks.

You didn’t get mad
with the worst 8 years of job creations in several decades.

You didn’t get mad
when over 200,000 US Citizens lost their
lives because they had no health insurance.

You didn’t get mad
when lack of oversight and regulations
from the Bush Administration caused US Citizens to lose 12
trillion dollars in investments, retirement, and home values.

You finally got mad


when a black man was elected President
and decided that people in America deserved the right
to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption,
torture, job losses by the millions, stealing your tax dollars to make the
rich richer, and the worst economic disaster since 1929 were all okay with
you,
but helping fellow Americans who are sick…Oh, Hell No!!


Freedom isn’t free, especially not free markets

December 26, 2010

Thomas Friedman’s column in this morning’s (12/26) New York Times reminded me I’ve been meaning to rant about this for a while.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/opinion/26friedman.html?ref=opinion

About 1/3 of the way through, Friedman repeats a common neoliberal talking point–that the government has to address its debt/deficit problems before “the market” does, which is another way of saying that the government can’t afford to upset corporate big spenders by enacting bad fiscal policy.

There’s only one problem with this argument in my opinion; it’s utterly ass-backwards.  Two ways of thinking about this.

First, if you actually believe in free market economics policy, then you should also believe that it is NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S JOB TO MAKE POLICY THAT’S FRIENDLY TO YOU.  We lefties have a term for this: corporate welfare.  When you (rich people, owner class) suck government money and benefits out of the system, you should have to submit to every single regulation we can think of.  Or, if you want to be unregulated, you’re not entitled to any government support whatsoever.  Either of those stances is principled; anything in between should cost you your free market street cred.

The other way of putting the problem is this: when Friedman and other neo-liberals predict how markets will react to government policies, essentially what they’re doing is feeding ownership language and propaganda for fighting policies they don’t like.  Or maybe I should put it this way.  They’re speaking for ownership in a way that gets ownership off the hook from having to violate the principle above.  Or maybe I should put it this way: they’re doing owership’s dirty work by making government policy subservient to the “needs” of the market when in fact what they’re doing is asserting the *preferences* of ownership to maximize their profits at government, public, and consumer (read: everybody else’s) expense.

Friedman’s hardly the only person to fall into this trap, and he’s an easy strawman version of a neo-liberal dressed in progressive clothing.  At the same time, his bully-pulpit at the NY Times makes him seem much more reasonable than he actually is.  Those of us who study, or even notice, the rhetoric of neo-liberalism find people like Friedman really troubling.  And this column is exactly why.


Tax cuts and unemployment benefits

July 13, 2010

I reposted this from Huffpost on Facebook yesterday, but I’m not done ranting about it yet.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/12/jon-kyl-extend-bush-tax-c_n_642862.html?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=071210&utm_medium=email&utm_content=NewsEntry

If you don’t feel like reading it, the short version is this: John Kyl (R-AZ), along with much of the Republican leadership in Congress, is angry that Democrats aren’t rushing to extend the Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, cuts which are set to expire soon.  At the same time, acting (and I can’t overemphasize how much of a smokescreen this is) like the deficit is the worst thing since, well worse than anything that’s ever happened in human history, those same Congressional Republicans refuse to extend unemployment benefits because doing so would add to the deficit.

It’s hard to begin answering this position because it doesn’t even rise to the level of nonsense.  Well, OK, it does, but only given a very specific worldview.  In that worldview, what wealthy people want is all that matters.  Even if they’re endangering their own wealth, maybe even their own lives, it doesn’t matter.  If rich people want lower taxes, they get lower taxes.  If they don’t care how many working class people are losing their homes, going hungry, dying because they can’t get medical care (other than visiting the emergency room, which often occurs too late to help them), sending their kids to crumbling schools, and so on, nobody is going to fight them.

I don’t get it.  As I said on Facebook when I posted this link yesterday, why are we giving tax breaks to people who need them least while withholding unemployment benefits from the people who need them most?

Yes, I know the conservative answers to that question.

The wealthy need tax breaks because tax breaks lead to job creation.  Except that the Bush tax breaks have been in place for 5+ years now, and employment levels have plummeted.  I can hear my Republican friends howling about how much that’s the fault of the Clinton administration (he hasn’t been President for 10 years now, y’all).  And because in the entire history of capitalism, there still isn’t one scintilla of evidence that “trickle down” has EVER worked.

Unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work.  I’m a pacifist, but I really want to punch people who say this.  Only someone who never has to worry about their livelihood could believe it.  Much like the “welfare queen” trope of the Reagan era, Republicans have found a way to frame this issue, based on a handful of anecdotes, in order to make anybody who struggles to stay alive look pathological.  Lovely.

Unemployment benefits are too expensive.  Bullshit.  The extension current proposed in Congress would cost about $30 billion.  Not only is that a tiny fraction of the overall budget, but what do they think is going to happen with that money?  Do they not understand that just about every penny of it will get spent?  That is, reinjected right back into the economy, often right into the pockets of their owner class friends?  Whatever it gets spent on, it’s getting spent!  I don’t think too many unemployed folks are taking their $300/mo. benefit checks and stashing them in IRAs, right?

On the blog GinandTacos, the writer, Ed, says quite bluntly, and I agree, that conservatives who take this stance do so because, one, they hate poor people, and, two, the owner class benefits from a worker pool that’s desperate.  I couldn’t agree more.

Why it is that voters don’t show these monsters the same contempt they show voters is beyond me.  If I could figure it out, I’d be rich and fam… oh, wait…