‘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.


Another open letter to Governor Scott Walker

February 28, 2011

[The first one of these I posted, last week, wasn’t really an open-letter–it was just a blog post acting like a letter.  This is the letter I just sent to Governor Walker, at govgeneral@wisconsin.us.  Send one too!]

Governor Walker:

As a resident of another state (PA), I understand that your concern
with outsiders’ perception may be minimal.  However, it’s important to
many of us around the country that you understand our response to your
budget repair bill, and our support for the protests happening around
the Capitol Building.

In short, it’s become abundantly clear to all of us, despite your
attempts to argue differently, that the budget problems are simply a
pretext for busting the unions.  We know this based on two items.
First, the unions have publicly agreed to your budget demands, and you
refuse even to acknowledge, much less negotiate, much less accept
their concessions.  As a result, it’s clear as day that you have no
real interest in resolving the short-term budget problem.  Second,
while I don’t approve of Ian Murphy’s prank phone-call tactic, the
results of that call make very clear that you, as a collaborator with
the very publicly, very virulently anti-union Koch Brothers, intend to
break the unions–even though you say out loud that your intention is
different.

You’re the Governor, obviously.  You have some legal authority to make
some decisions, and you have some responsibility to the voters who
elected you; we all understand that.  However, the citizens of your
state, and those of us around the country who are watching, are
becoming more and more skeptical of your motives.  Every time you
repeat the canard that the budget problem demands flexibility, while
at the same time you refuse to accept the exact concessions that would
fix the problem, it makes you look bad.  Every time you repeat the
canard that you’re not trying to bust the unions, even though most of
the relevant sections of the bill have absolutely nothing to do with
economic issues, it makes you look bad.  Every time you tell a Koch
brother, real or fictional, that you only decided not to provoke riots
in Madison because you thought it might make you look bad, you look
bad.

Do the right thing, Governor.  Negotiate with the unions.  It’s very,
very simple.  And as an academic, I rarely believe anything is simple.

Seth Kahn
West Chester, PA


Who Does That Help (redux)

February 22, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post contending that our faculty union ask the question, “Who does that help?” in response to every management initiative that seems to benefit nobody in any clear way.  The point is to remind management that beyond the spreadsheets, formulae, and policies are actual human lives that count for something–including their own! 

The events in Wisconsin, that is, the proposal that state employees lose collective bargaining rights so that the Governor can balance the budget (a claim that’s nonsense on its face), invite the same question.

If public employees in Wisconsin give up their right to bargain anything other than salary, who does that help?  It helps the insurance companies that can change fees and coverages willy-nilly because they’re not negotiable anymore; it benefits school system managers who can make and enforce absurd curricular and other working conditions demands; it benefits employees NOT AT ALL.  And neither does it solve a single penny of the budget “crisis.”

If the public employees accept the requirement that they have recertify their unions every year, who does that help?  It helps opponents of unions who get much more frequent opportunities to intervene in organizing efforts.  While some people might contend, “Well, that’s just democracy,” the fact that unions all have had certification elections in the first place (and could vote to decertify any time they wanted) makes that claim ancillary if not dishonest.  That is, for those of you who like to shout “Elections have consequences,” yes, they do! 

If public employees agree that non-union-members don’t have to pay fair share, who does that help?  It helps the employees who then ditch their union membership but still benefit from the work the unions do–unless the unions then decide not to represent those workers.  The reptilian part of my brain is OK with the idea that people could bail on their union memberships–if they then chose to negotiate their own salaries and benefits; if they never filed any grievances; if they never accepted any of the workplace protections the unions won for them; and so on.  No, I wouldn’t really want to see that. 

The short version is this: Governor Walker’s proposal helps the public-sector workers of Wisconsin NOT AT ALL.  It helps the working people of Wisconsin NOT AT ALL.  It helps wealthy private interests who want to bust unions.  It helps one political party that hates unions.  That is, it concedes huge amounts of political power to people whose ethics are already so questionable that to give them even more power is, at best, utterly and completely foolhardy. 

And who does THAT help?


An Open Letter to Governor Scott Walker (R-WI)

February 21, 2011

Dear Governor Walker:

In interview after interview, you keep saying that Wisconsin public employees “owe it to the taxpayers” to accede to your demands, even the non-financial ones that have nothing to do with fixing the budget shortfall you caused.

Others have responded to the myriad logical problems (read: lies) in your rhetoric, except for this one obvious point I haven’t yet seen anybody else make.

Wisconsin public employees pay taxes too.  Lots of taxes.  If you’re right that they get paid too well, then they also correspondingly pay too much in taxes.

Stop dividing  the citizens of your state for your own political gain.  You’re the governor (unfortunately), not the owner (thank God).

Sincerely (more than you could possibly imagine, if your lack of honesty is any indication),

Seth Kahn

West Chester, PA


Where’s Hilda?

February 19, 2011

[Two quick points about this post: (1) It’s inspired by a Facebook friend who can self-identify if she chooses; and (2) I’m only putting it on the blog because I’ve dedicated my FB status for the day already and this needs to go somewhere!]

A friend posted on FB this morning wondering where the Department of Labor has been for the last week–hasn’t said a damn word about what’s happening in Wisconsin.

As soon as I had time to pursue it, I went looking for any evidence that the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, had said a word in public about the situation.  Not a peep, as far as I can tell, although I wasn’t super-diligent about it.

I won’t speculate about why; there are already dozens of articles talking about the “delicate balance” Obama “has to strike” between labor and, well, whoever is opposed to working people.  Anywho….

Instead, I just have to make the point: those of you idiots (and until you demonstrate otherwise, I’ve changed my mind against giving you the benefit of the doubt) who argued that Hilda Solis was too radical (whatever THAT means) for a Cabinet position couldn’t have been more wrong.

There hasn’t been a moment where an injustice has so loudly screamed for a response from the nation’s leading labor advocate without drawing anything but deafening silence.

Add another FAIL to the Labor Department’s increasingly disappointing record.  WAKE THE HELL UP!