Saturday, March 21, 2009

Outrage is not enough!

Maybe you've heard the phrase, "Outrage is all the rage," describing how ticked off the American people are about the toxic economy and our feckless government. Quite right, too. Of course, we aren't pissed off enough until we're pissed off enough to do something about it.

It's not bad enough that the bastards who've been lowering wages and shipping jobs overseas for 30 years, all the time claiming - with economists as Greek chorus - that big business "knows best" so we should just lie back and let them run things, are the ones we're bailing out now.

It's not bad enough that they've stolen billions from us over the years by underpaying us for our work, and then shifting the tax burden to ordinary working folks away from the richest people in the frakking world, and now they come to us for help!

No, it's not bad enough that the chief instrument of our international economic policy (besides the military), the International Monetary Fund, has been extorting "reforms" in other countries when their economies are in trouble that our economic managers refuse to accept here - like nationalizing the banks. (By the way, most of the usual IMF demands - like privatization and cutting social services - are about the opposite of what just about any country needs.)

But the bloodsuckers like AIG used our money to give millions in bonuses? Let us get our hands on them! Or at the very least on the money.

On "Talk of the Nation" invited pundit Marc Ambinder tells us Congress allowed the AIG bonuses because of some "sense of the sanctity of contracts"- which the host rightly points out wasn't their take on UAW contracts.

But to ask whether it's "fair" to tax the money back, as another pundit on NPR did, that's not even funny. Is it "fair" that we - and future generations burdened by the debt - should pay for this monstrous ripoff? Absolutely not.

And to say, as NPR's select pundits did last night, that "the average American" just "doesn't understand" the complexities involved! It's enough to start riots, or ought to be.

But neither taxing, nor rioting is going to be enough. And in the long run, neither is nationalizing the banks and other companies. Yes, we should tax them, and yes, we should riot. And yes, we should nationalize them - and then clean the bums out, and then reorganize them completely: break them up, divide the assets among not just a half-dozen regions of the country but dozens of smaller, not-for-profit co-ops - and re-regulate (properly this time), and take the shackles off the credit unions, let them grow and compete with the for-profit entities, let them flourish unencumbered by the monopolizing lobbyist-inspired political thumb of corporate banking.

It's a decent formula for the rest of the economy, too: bailouts are, or should be, in-roads to government buyouts, yes, takeovers, housecleaning and reorganization on populist social principles: massive break-ups and reorganizations into worker-owned co-operative businesses in every sector of the economy impacted by the current cancer.

Because the problem isn't just mismanagement. It isn't just deregulation. The banks and mortgage companies, credit card companies, car loan financing schemers, etc., lent to everyone who could realistically afford their rates. Then they lent to a whole class of people who couldn't really afford the usury, and the rest is history why? Greed? No, not even close. Greed was there, of course. But the competitive drive to maximize profits, and control markets, demanded it. They had to expand or lose.

And they will have to again, even if the private clowns who run them now are replaced by the government clowns who deregulated them in the first place, and their newer apprentices - no, nationalization is far from enough. The reorganization we require must be carried out on a completely different agenda than the one our government has been working off, a people's agenda. A Social Monetary Fund agenda, if you ask me.

That's the short term solution at least.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Salvadoran people win!

Congratulations to the poor people of El Salvador on their recent election defeat of the evil rightwing ARENA that held power for so long. Bizarrely enough the new US Administration is welcoming the FMLN government, quite a change from the millions of US dollars that that used to pour into the country to try to crush them.

It remains to be seen what the FMLN will mean to the brave people of El Salvador, as varieties of Bolivarian socialism or other left-populist movements win elections - and re-elections! - in one Latin American government after another in the "new world order" of only one superpower, and that one in economic crisis - at the center of a world economic crisis.

Some of the signs between San Salvador and Washington might suggest a danger of cooptation.

On the other hand there have been encouraging efforts among the new left governments of Latin America to cement their own bonds of solidarity, including welcoming Cuba back into the fold (there's a can of worms in and of itself!) and support for Bolivian President Evo Morales in last year's showdown with the US.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Same Song, Different Day

Can you name the song?

ere's another observation similar to mine about Texas below, this one from the University of Mississippi, where I went to school - and used to write about "Neo-Confederates" in the student paper once upon a time.

Atkins is absolutely on the money that, "The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry -- with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind -- made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests."

And, "Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the U.S. House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called "card check" union elections nationwide."

These guys are completely unreconstructed in essence. I remember a study a friend of mine at Mississippi did of proposals for economic development in the Delta region: the big land-owners opposed it, even though they themselves would have profited as much as - actually much more than - the sharecroppers and reserve army of the barely employed. Why? Because it would have brought increased social mobility for the local downtrodden, who might begin to entertain some crazy notions of going to school or running off to Memphis, or Chicago... or just that there might be other options for them than modern serfdom.Excellent point.

And to wit, Atkins says, "In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation's poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?

"Why weren't these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants."

Excellent point - that only a commie pinko would make - like his others. Keep an eye on these clowns in the Southern caucus, they're up to serious skulduggery.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Texas secedes again

Fifth time's a charm?

n 1822 a bunch of white Americans from the Southeast, proto-Texans, left the US and crossed the Mississippi River and essentially re-introduced the institution of slavery into northern Mexico. In 1829 Mexico outlawed slavery, but gave the white slavers in the state of Coahuila y Tejas special dispensation until 1830. (The abolition movement was growing around the world, and slavery was abolished in the French Revolution - although Napoleon brought it back briefly - was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833, and so on.) Against this worldwide trend, early Texans seceded from Mexico in the so-called "Texas Revolution" (more accurately a Reaction) in 1835-6. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Sam Houston are still revered in the US as heroes of that war for slavery.

The American ex-pats of the Texan Republic soon joined the US - no shocker there - but a generation later left the US again in 1861. It was over slavery again (which wasn't strictly under threat in the US at the time, but slave states felt challenged by the election of Abe Lincoln, a moderate in that he opposed expansion of slavery - the slavers' bluff had been called, essentially).

After the war, black and Latino Texans faced regular atrocities from the Ku Klux Klan and the revered Texas Rangers (not much like the Lone Ranger), as well as Jim Crow laws and so on. In 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education banned racial segregation in public schools, the governor called out the Rangers to impede black students. Racist resistance continued through the 1970s - a kind of running secession from the trend toward civil rights and equality that was sweeping the world. "White flight" from cities in Texas - as elsewhere - represents one facet of this subtler, but no less racist neo-secession.

There's a connection here to anti-immigration movements, like the Minute Men (a kind of continuum between US Border Patrol and American Nazis - but that's for another time.

Now yesterday, with the recession growing and the threat of federal "expansion" of officially-defined unemployed (most people who aren't working don't count, rather conveniently) Texas governor Rick Perry turned down $555 million to bailout the state's sinking unemployment fund - which the state's own Workforce Commission chair says could be in the red in seven months.

"During these tough times," he says, "Texas employers are working harder than ever..." blah, blah, blah (my emphasis). What about Texas workers, being canned by the hundreds of thousands every week?

Perry's not alone, of course, which is what suggests there's a new wave of genuine neo-secessionism in the birthing here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Internationally networked injustice

We've been hearing for a few years about the brutal massacres, rapes, and kidnappings associated with mining coltan and other metals for computers and cell phones in the Congo Wars, similar to the blood diamond horrors further north. A collection of recent work also exposes brutal labor conditions on down the production line in Chinese factories.

Anybody want to tell me again how great the global economy is? How "third world people" just love to get those jobs? (One commenter on another blog argued correctly: "It's amazing how even so many ordinary Americans have internalized the right-wing framing of 'the economy' as little more than 'executive compensation packages'. I'm always amused by those who complain about Norway's 'high wages' and praise India's 'competitiveness'... while failing to produce any evidence of Norwegians desperately lining up to get Indian work visas."

Executive assassination ring

As usual Seymour Hersch reveals more than we really want to hear, but always credibly and non-trivially.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Butterflies caused the financial collapse

They just can't bring themselves to say the word: deregulation. Zachary Roth finds the obnoxious tip of an obscene iceberg at McGraw-Hill. Or maybe the metaphor is upside down: propaganda like this aimed at kids must be the lowest dung in the proverbial hill.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Keeping up with health care reform

As the national pudding of health care reform begins to near the legislative eating there are some half-fulls and some half-empties, but incredibly neither faction says what we need is more hanging out, playing "Guitar Hero." Except the mainstream media and the corporate world it lives in, that is.

Meanwhile back in the Beltway, there is actually reason to believe that the process could even respond to pressure ... for better ... or worse. Maybe that's why the media would rather we butt out.

At least the Clintons aren't in charge of this one.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recovery, who gets it

Here's a useful piece of work.

I like that it's balanced, rational. Points out opportunities for grassroots pressure as well as problems (e.g. the money is dispersed, not overseen by - say - a Social Monetary Fund.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Buy American what?

This month's issue of Labor Notes carries a letter to the editor from Detroit's UAW Local 235 member Diane Feeley criticizing a rally she recently attended with the theme "Buy America," presumably supposed to be a clever take on the old slogan, "Buy American," which Feeney says she also never supported. "...and I certainly don't consider GM, Ford, Chrysler, or American Axle as 'American' companies." Good for her. The last Ford I owned was assembled from parts manufactured in about a dozen different countries, and more importantly most of the countries of origin had abysmal labor records - like Mexico*.

Feeney's letter appears under the headline, "'Buy America' won't solve economic crisis," which is as close to the jist of her letter as you could hope for in one line, I guess. But here's the part I liked best: "If the government is going to help out the Big 3 with our money, it should do it by making them develop fuel-efficient cars and mass transit. We could retool plants and produce green technologies - such as light rail, wind turbines, and solar panels."

So, there you have it, right from a UAW member: a Social Monetary Fund by any other name...

(*The history of Mexican auto workers' unions is complex. Basically, they've fought long and hard, and they deserve a lot more support than the UAW has given them. For now, I'll leave it at this: atthe time the car in question was made, Mexican auto workers offered to turn down jobs being shipped there from the US if the UAW would support their own efforts. The UAW refused. More on that another time.)

Demographic war

As 'genocide' was euphemized into 'ethnic cleansing' so now 'ethnic cleansing' has apparently become 'demographic war'! I suppose it could be a useful term, though. Is the aftermath of Katrina a "demographic war"? The collapse of Detroit?

And if you haven't read Matt's recent blog post about NPR and Clinton's 'strong support' for the Palestinians, check it out.

Zombie banks, zombie cars

When the AFL-CIO gets behind nationalizing banks, you know it's past due.

Some crazy radicals have even suggested a similar strategy for the auto industry. I mean, where's that "value" for our public bucks otherwise?

But critics of nationalization have a point that 'there are no guarantees.' And Fmr-Transport Sec. Barnum's off-base: we don't need "slimmed down" corporations, just the reverse. We need an expanded, social vision for them.

It's the original idea behind corporate charters, updated. The king/parliament, then Congress, used to grant charters to corporations in order to serve a particular function, assumed to be a good (for them). What we need is control over that purpose. Social Monetary Fund, folks, I'm tellin' ya!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Diversify or die

In today’s news there’s another stark reminder of the need for a Social Monetary Fund, which would push the economy in general and bailout recipients in particular toward a new, social kind of diversification. The worse the economy gets, the more people hold onto their old cars, and the more people hold onto their old cars, the more we need to convert some of that capital that’s frozen up now in making cars that people aren’t buying into some more useful purpose (more useful to us chickens, that is).

I heard someone on the radio the other day mention Zipcars, and the speaker raised the following I think very timely question: Will the business of Ford, Toyota, whoever, be selling more cars to people [whether they need them or not – ed.] or will it be providing the means for people to get from one place to another?

But the stimulus money being released now, though it may have been necessary to get the ball rolling in the very shortest of runs, is not what we’re looking for. Building more roads and bridges, willy-nilly, is ultimately self-defeating. It’s not “sustainable(as we say these days), laying more pavement and concrete we can’t afford to maintain for cars people are driving less and less to jobs they are losing more and more.

How much money do we have to spend to create every 60 jobs? That’s a drop in the unemployment bucket – especially since the workers who need these jobs the most aren’t getting them.

Clearly there are some profound needs that are being addressed by the stimulus discussion. But there are also colossal needs being missed, some that have been metastasizing for more than a generation, screwing up the federal poverty numbers, etc. The point is, there is a much better way.