Category Archives: Politics

in case

Activities this Friday Jan 20, 2017—also called inauguration day— UC Santa Cruz Students will join students and workers around the country to walk out and take a stand — against Trump, against racism, against misogyny, against terror, against hate, against inequality and exploitation.

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE (from Indymedia Santa Cruz):
— 11:00: March from UCSC (and various schools) to downtown
— 12-1:30: Gather at Clock Tower
— 1:30-2:30: Workshops/teach-ins 1
— 2:30-3:30: Workshops/teach-ins 2
— 3:30-4:00: The Wall on Pacific is knocked down
— 4:00-5:00: Workshops/teach-ins 3
— 5:00: General Assembly to discuss future steps; mobile signups for future neighborhood organizing

See the Indymedia page (with further links to movements in the Monterey area) or the general strike facebook page for more news.

general strike
general strike

capital

My first thought upon waking up these days is still the meaning of this November election, the feeling that little clicking wheels are going a little faster all around me. How can I explain this strong feeling of an abyss gaping below or ahead?

I start from what I think is the frightening ground. The reality of the global economy in our post-industrial nations is that automation and the search for cheaper labor will continue to develop. It means that well-paying jobs that have been lost since the seventies in highly industrialized nations are not coming back. Predictions by the government labor statistics bureau is that most jobs will be created in services over the ten coming years. Most are low-pay jobs. It also means that a consumption-driven economy is going to remain flat. Unless new forms of enforced consumption can be entertained and paid by hitherto hidden resources?

Major profits are being sought by corporations, shareholders, and their political allies. One way, as I said above, is to turn to cheap labor and automation. But with labor productivity and the consumption-driven economy remaining stuck at a low level (1.3% in nonfarm business sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the other way is to pick pockets directly. Much capital can still be skimmed off the lower and middle classes. Off their hopes for a future. This skimming could be presented as an economic success. Even if productivity stays stuck at below 1%, the economy might look good for a while, perhaps the US Treasury too, since money can be borrowed at such low interest… My temporary list of the skimming methods likely to be practiced by capitalist institutions, as enabled by Trump’s nominees, includes:

  • increased financial pressure on industry and service companies to concentrate activities and lower salaries at jobs with no minimum wage increases, no pension, no health plan.
  • in the health field, new rollout of predatory private health insurance for which the Affordable Health Act was apparently not sufficient—with due precaution of course—, continuation of big payouts to the pharmaceutical industry—continued absence of bidding by Medicare—, plus financial pressure on hospital chains and medical services to be more efficient. Hope of doing to Medicare what is being done to education, that is, replace it with vouchers and “local” state solutions.
  • education from K to university: vouchers, online education, increased tuition at public universities as a form of taxation on middle class. For most of the new generation of students, these education costs will hardly be repaid by participation in a low-growth economy.
  • pensions: there will be renewed attemps to privatize Social Security and force risky, private accounts (called personal accounts) on individuals, with the risk being shouldered entirely by them, in the name of freedom.
  • the military budget, which is a form of massive, forced consumption of useless products, will continue to be an enormously profitable jumble of industries and services for military purposes, intelligence gathering, prisons, drug policing, local police. Much of it is privatized. More of it will bring more war, less peace.
  • entertainment and gambling, à la Trump Enterprises, is a time-tried way of taxing wages, or money loaned against wages.

With Trump’s election and nominations, capitalism has dropped its thin moral and missionary disguises and wears its true face and colors. It is agressive and empty of concerns and ideas, except one, the inflation of the ego. Capitalism’s old face had been an ersatz of moralization on the right (abortion, gender politics) and liberal concerns on the left, as disguises for the market-based radical transformation of all virtues. Other masks have fallen or evolved: efficiency is still there but limited to monopolies, progress is invoked but only in the form of growth and quantifiable goals, freedom is reduced to that of self-expression via consumption, opportunity has become the grabbing of what you can get away with, patients and students have become clients, humans are resources, etc… Politics has become almost entirely subject to a narcissistic race of egos.

There is little pretense now of keeping to a modicum of values. There are gestures, such as pretending respect for “national” ethos by cloaking it as brutal justice. Flag burners should lose their citizenship, no matter what the constitution and a very conservative Supreme Court say about freedom of expression. Or the keeping of 750 jobs as part of a ransom deal with Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, is expected to make people forget about the real forces at work in the job market.

I used to accept what I read in Badiou and other modern critics regarding the success of global capitalism. The first step of any critic of the modern situation was to recognize that global capitalism had won and eradicated any competitor on the political or economic stage. Strange to say, the election of Trump and his choices for cabinet positions make me feel that the signs of capitalism’s weakness are everywhere, against all appearances. This is little consolation. What are we going to replace it with?

demagoguery

Why does the demagoguery of the right and extreme right work so well in this US election? Many white and non-white middle or low earners have seen the vast majority of good jobs vanish. My last post mentioned Robert Reich’s book on labor and its conclusion that the middle class was losing traction at an accelerating pace. Without going into a discussion of ever-developing robotics and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is enough to look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections for jobs with the most growth expected between 2014 and 2024. There used to be plenty of jobs: technical, skilled and satisfying jobs that didn’t necessarily require a long and difficult education which led to better but not vastly superior benefits. Many middle and lower class people are being unwillingly pushed into menial jobs, as a walk along Woodward Avenue north of Detroit made me aware again this morning. White workers especially can be excused for questioning and even hating themselves for failing to live to an image they grew up with since at least the eighties. Longevity statistics of middle-aged white Americans have been discussed recently. This segment of the population is more inclined to substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide. For evidence and discussion, see these two recent articles: Death rates rising for middle-aged white Americans; and Why are white death rates rising? These new workers belong to a generation that had parents with better salaries, cheaper homes (mortgages are a most important barometer), a decent pension system and medicare. Not all of this is gone but it has become very fragile and much more difficult to acquire. Thirty-five year old skilled workers cannot raise a family like their parents did, buy a home, and hope their present jobs, let alone pension and health coverage, will be there next year. One would have to take into account also the pressure new communication systems put not only on socially-enforced consumption but even more on labor saving systems and productivity.

Non-whites presumably do not have the same self-image problem even though they are under even greater economic pressure. They know or assume that their parents and grand-parents had to struggle to ensure a minimum education and welfare for their children. They are continuing this struggle and perhaps are readier to accept the harshness of their lives in the hope they have for themselves and especially the next generation. But for many workers, especially white men and women, the hope in a better life and the trust placed in the nation, its government, and its economic institutions, have been sullied or shattered. They cannot admit they are angry at themselves, perhaps their parents’ generation, or those like themselves—with whom they identify—who had their fingers on the levers of power. The publicized and authorized anger at immigrants that is so easily mediatized, as well as a more coded hate of blacks, is directed at all those weaker and even more vulnerable than they are.

For the working class to adopt a broader analysis and look at their real historical condition rather than turning on each other seems hardly possible in the US. Or rather a whole new crop of rich and well-educated demagogues like a Trump, a Rubio, or a Cruz, systematically helped by the media, resorts to inflammatory words to temporarily unify and use or abuse as many of these electors as they can. With feelings of hate and contempt directed at those poorer than themselves, a large segment of the population is provided by the elites with a new escape from reasoned political analysis and action. In regard to such deception, there is no difference between Trump and a standard Republican establishment that proclaims its revulsion at his demagoguery. The whole party, helped by its paid political and media affiliates, has long played a divisive game in order to suppress any social and political analysis of the real situation of labor. Even worse, some of its leadership is actually beginning to say that Trump will not be so bad after all. No matter the dangers in terms of domestic peace and foreign policy, they seem willing to harvest what they sowed—or rather to have others harvest the storm. The mostly cost-free cultural values that have long been used to hide real bread and butter issues (no to abortion, prayer in school, anti-gay measures) become less important for the Republican party if the temporary unity that Trump or anyone else builds on anger and hate gathers sufficient votes and power politics as usual can then continue.

middle class?

Robert Reich’s most recent book, Saving Capitalism (Knopf, 2015), presents a dark view of the social and political divisions in today’s capitalism. Twenty years ago, it was still possible for Reich and many others to believe that technological inventions and skills could spread widely and help the middle class survive if not deploy any further. The new book by Reich presents a sociological and statistical analysis of the last twenty years that leads to different conclusions. The middle class is not being lifted by education and is losing traction at an accelerating pace. Counterweights like unions are being marginalized in what is at heart a political refashioning of the US and the world. All the candidates to the US presidency are willing agents, except Sanders who strikes me as a bona fide FDR democrat, as he said in last night debate with Clinton. The political system has turned massively into such a willing servant of the exploitative machinery that FDR and even Eisenhower look like rabid socialists. Clinton presents herself as a genial, experienced tinkerer on the margins of this systematic, legally enforced spoliation of people. The various worthy liberal claims attached to her persona may be genuine—I do believe they are—as is her appeal to Jesus’ beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew. The enactment of these claims will cost almost nothing, however, compared to other needed transformations. Liberal claims are presently most useful in hiding the transfer of wealth and the speedy, scary weakening and fracturing of people’s dignity.

Badiou on terrorism

Alain Badiou has just published Notre mal vient de plus loin. Penser les tueries du 13 Novembre (Paris: Fayard, 72 pages, 2016). Maggiori and Vécrin of Libération give an interview of the author. What are the real causes of radicalization leading to the murderous attacks in Paris, Turkey, Lebanon, US, and other places? Are they social, economic, and religious? For Badiou, these mass murders are a symptom of the radicalization of worldwide capitalism. Badiou calls for an alternative. His analysis in the interview goes something like this:

  1. The collapse of progressive ideologies after the collapse of socialist states has left a big ideological hole. Part of the responsibility (especially in France) rests with intellectuals who were disappointed by the outcome of movements in the sixties and seventies and went to serve the state and elites. Another organization of economic and social forces is possible but hardly discussed.
  2. Global capitalism and the domination of states by oligarchies is near complete. Its victory is a fact. [I add to this: one can now speak of the servitude of any modern state, including the United States, whether under Democrats or Republicans, though here mystifications are still operative. For instance yesterday, Obama spent much energy glorifying the state and proposing a take-no-prisoner approach regarding the jihadists. Or see the latest paper by Edsall in the NYT about the inroads made by oligarchies and money interests in buying political and ideological power in most of the states. Edsall proposes that democrats do the same and not be content with exercising power over the federal government. The “progressive” aspects he notes at the federal level are really about consumption and moral issues, not about fundamental structural issues like finances and military. End of my bracketed comment.] Badiou says that no alternative is proposed or thought possible between consumerism and wild nihilism.
  3. In the case of the attacks in Paris: In January, targeted ideological and antisemitic attack, in November nihilistic mass murder. The ideological answer to the first: massive demonstration of unity of the nation, no other ideology present. Reaction to the second one in November: no demonstration, and the government immediately declaring war on the barbarians, plus defense à la Le Pen of “our values” (these values being now left unspecified, a very thin justification for war and radical decisions on immigration and the use of police or military force). How is one to avoid the murderers’ nihilism and the state’s police response?
  4. The murderers came from Islamic background, true, but the analysis shouldn’t begin with Islam. The attackers are caught inside a désir d’Occident opprimé ou impossible. The capitalism that uses Western states as its proxies proposes an inaccessible world for so many who live in it everywhere and cannot avoid its projections as most desirable. If the criteria for one’s dignity and suitability (fitness?) are money, comfort, consumption, what happens when this situation is unreachable (and often blocked socially as in France because of its history of colonization and racism, not only psychologically or as part of a broader phenomenon of inequality of incomes)?
  5. Religion is not the prime object of analysis for Badiou. The youth’s fascism—tempted by both ideological violence and suicidal nihilism—takes shape in religion, granted. Yet, it is fascism that precedes islam, not islam that precedes fascism.

Holy rage

In his penultimate NYT column, following the events of the 13th of November in Paris—not those in Pakistan, Mali, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria—, well-meaning Roger Cohen didn’t hesitate to throw oil on the fire and call for rage. The US president was too cerebral, not emotional enough, not in the holy rage that events demanded. Yesterday, he wrote another noise-and-fury column in the reminiscing mode. The rotting bodies of war, pockets made by battlefield thieves, the personal letters scattered, never to be read by their loved ones, all of this via Hemingway. It could have been Hugo’s Les misérables: “Après les vainqueurs viennent les voleurs”. One of the commentators, JL Albrecht, gives shape to what I thougt upon reading a column in which compassion for the victims of war struck me as  not paradoxical at all and continuing the thread of his previous column: passion and rage at the service of glorious causes. In the present column, compassion serves as excuse and mask for indulging an all-swallowing rage and fury. It does more than justify it, it  makes it holy and removes it from any critical discourse. That kind of passion is an engine that knows no left or right:

Mr. Cohen says the world needs the absence of bad luck to avoid death in combat. What I really think is a single non-printable word, but what I’ll write is that attitude is a huge dodge. Countries “go to war”, they don’t “appear at war”. Soldiers don’t just “show up” on battle fields. Someone sends them there.

It starts with politicians and pundits inflaming people, giving in to the common human failures of racism and xenophobia. Little men with little minds saying the only way to be strong is to wage war, as in Mr. Cohen’s last column. It ends with the Joneses next door losing their son, along with a lot of other families losing loved ones.

In sports we note that it is those that practice the most that have the most “luck” on the field. In politics and punditry it is the same. Practice humility, humanity, and equality; you’ll be amazed how much “luck” we’ll have avoiding war.

waste +

The site chosen for a waste recycling yard north of the UCSC farm (see my previous post) is at odds with the 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The Mitigated Negative Declaration of March 2015 purports to fit {“be tiered to”) the 2005 LRDP. It contradicts its letter and spirit.

Section 3.4 of this March 2015 Office of Physical Planning report (page 13) on the consistency of the recycling yard project with the 2005 LRDP begins by asserting that the addition of institutional support space by the project is within the scope of the plan. Soon, however, it recognizes the annoying fact that

The proposed 6.1-acre site for the Recycling Yard is designated Site Research and Support (SRS) (approximately 3.2 acres) and Protected Landscape (PL) (approximately 2.9 acres). The proposed recycling yard is not consistent with either of these land use designations.

It then breezily contends that

A minor LRDP amendment to change the land use designation of 3.7 acres of the site to Campus Support would be required. This would include 1.6 acre of PL lands and 2.1 acres of SRS lands. The remainder of the 6.1 acre site would be used for a new access road and storm water detention areas, which are consistent with the PL and SRS land use designations. The potential environmental effects of the LRDP amendment are analyzed in this Initial Study in Section 6.10, Land Use and Planning. Existing and proposed LRDP land use designations for the Project sites are shown in Figures 3-3 and 3-4.

This is not a minor LRDP amendment. On the contrary, it is a major break with the spirit and the letter of the LRDP. The 2005 LRDP, carrying on a unique vision of the founders of the campus that continues to have a great positive impact on everyone’s life at UCSC, made a crystal clear decision not to allow any building in any Protected Landscape area, and above all in the Great Meadow, which the map below indicates goes right to the Farm and the Arboretum. Here is the key passage from page 69 of the 2005-2020 LRDP document:

PROTECTED LANDSCAPE (PL)

The natural landscape of UC Santa Cruz has been recognized from the campus’s inception as a unique asset that distinguishes UCSC from other universities. In addition to the 420 acres in the CNR, approximately 505 acres of land have been designated in this LRDP as Protected Landscape in order to maintain special campus landscapes for their scenic value and to maintain special vegetation and wildlife continuity zones. To the extent feasible, Protected Landscape will be retained in an undeveloped state as the campus grows. Any development within Protected Landscape will not impinge on its overall character.

The meadows south of the developed center of the campus will be maintained as undisturbed grassland. In these meadows, no building will be allowed. Agricultural research that maintains the visual quality of the lower meadows may be allowed.

It wouldn’t be a minor amendment to build the recycling yard facility in that part of the Great Meadow. Below, the land-use map for the campus up to 2020, from page 66 of the revised edition of the 2005 LRDP. The whole Great Meadow is designated Protected Landscape (PL). The “Village”, farm, Arboretum + are designated SRS (Site Research and Support).

2005LRDP_rev_20060907_page66

The Great Meadow, including its southern reaches, should not be used for a waste recycling facility. If this facility needs to be built—absent a large, scaled up facility for the whole region—another site must be found (Campus Support area?).

To sum up: the notion of building a waste recycling facility in the Great Meadow (a 20,000gsf+ building and road) contradicts the 2005 LRDP plan and the original spirit of the place as defined by the original builders. As recognized by the LRDP, the farm and the arboretum are of a different nature entirely, especially the farm with its light wood buildings.

Additional note: on my daily passages near the site, I have noticed there are now more containers than a few months ago. Is this part of a “degrading” and physical as well as psychological preparation of the site for construction? I append a picture taken on April 24, 2015, of the site where this large facility is planned (nearly 20,000gsf and 35′ high in part):

zero waste @ UCSC

This summer, to meet its 2020 goal of zero waste, UCSC plans to begin building a recycling yard north of the farm to compost organic matter and sort waste. The project is detailed in the March 9, 2015 Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared by the Office of Physical Planning & Construction. The deadline given for public comments is confusing. Page 6 of the document says that comments must be made by 5:00PM on Friday, April 9, 2015. But April 9, 2015 is a Thursday. Does it mean Friday April 10? The local Sentinel paper had a short article on March 27, 2015. An informative essay on the regional aspects of this question was published in a March 2014 article by Good Times.

I have two questions. The main one is about UCSC’s rush to build a relatively small and expensive facility in 2016 to meet a 2020 deadline of zero waste (meaning 95% diversion), when a more effective, cooperative, scaled up, and less costly solution could be a regional facility for the region from Santa Cruz to Watsonville?

The basic facts as I understand them are:

  1. 40% of landfill waste, both at UCSC and in the region facilities, is organic waste (food debris + green waste). When it is dumped in a landfill, it becomes a major emitter of green house gases, especially methane. It is important to separate it, techniques and machines exist to do that efficiently and produce clean, rich compost rapidly, and there is a market for the end product.
  2. The goal of zero waste by 2020 (95% diversion) given by UCSC and UCOP is the same as that of California’s AB 32. This bill has the effect of urging the city of Santa Cruz, the county, Watsonville, and other local agencies, to look for a regional solution together because of scale and cost. One of the main reasons for the push, as I wrote above, is the considerable emission of methane in unsorted landfill.
  3. The cost for the UCSC project would be $5 million. According to the Good Times article, the public works operations manager for the city of Santa Cruz, Mary Arman, speaks of a minimum project cost of $1.5 million and makes it clear that for treatment of organic debris, the cost would be high and volume is critical.

The region therefore is working on the same issue that UCSC faces. Since a solution is being discussed actively regionally, it would behoove UCSC to explore the options in cooperation with local agencies rather than go solo on this project. I would prefer to see the regional options discussed and factored in. It is possible that a future composting facility in the region would not suit UCSC’s need because of its distance, and incurred costs, including transportation. Still, it makes sense to see UCSC get or remain involved in a full deliberation of the regional possibilities. For water, another essential good, UCSC could have developed its own water system, yet decided to rely on the city’s facilities. Can’t it continue to do the same for waste?

My second reaction concerns the location of the UCSC project. It is at the bottom of a beautiful meadow used by many cyclists and walkers. It is right north of the CASFS Farm, with its appropriate small buildings, and near the Arboretum. The pictures taken in the 3/2015 Draft Initial Study are taken from far and do not give me a good sense of the impact this road, yard and building(s?) would have on visitors and bicycle users. The project is judged to have little aesthetic impact (page 26 of the Draft Initial Study document). On the contrary, it seems to me that the project will have a major negative scenic impact.

Documents

  1. 3/2015 Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration;
  2. A page from the UCSC sustainability office: 7/31/2012 Landfill & Solid Waste Task Force Report;
  3. The short article from the Sentinel, 3/27/15;
  4. The longer article on composting solutions for the Santa Cruz area from Good Times, 3/2014.

Iran-Israel

Israeli PM Netanyahu came and went. He spoke to AIPAC and to a sycophantic Congress. He was invited by Boehner et al. Both could see many immediate advantages in snubbing the White House.  More disturbingly, many in Washington and Israel have chosen the war path regarding Iran and the Palestinians, who are the big unspoken part of this recent hoopla. Ever since Obama, at the beginning of his first mandate, exhibited some signs of being serious about negotiations toward final resolution talks with Palestinians on the basis of UN resolution 242, there was no love lost between the administration in Washington and the Israeli right. The PM’s short-term goal is to exploit the Israeli very conservative and understandable feeling regarding security and defense of the country. He will continue the same policy he has been elected to do. The advantages of this short-term policy include above all the freeze of any kind of negotiations with Palestinians, who are lumped together with what he portrays as the barbaric enemies in the neighborhood. There are good reasons for the fear, if not for the fear-mongering, as Iran has been a declared enemy since 1979 (an undeclared one since WW II) and can be easily portrayed as fanatically opposed to Israel. PM Netanyahu is tapping into this broadly shared concern.

The long-term goal for Israel’s present government is to delay the normalization of US relations with Iran. The problem is that it is very difficult to imagine any semblance of order, let alone peaceful resolution of festering conflicts, occur in the region without a normalization of relations with Iran. The US and Iran in fact share many interests and have good reason to cooperate with each other regarding Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq (especially about the jihadist and sunni militancy and territorial gains), Turkey (the Kurdish question), and especially Syria and Lebanon, as well as the Persian Gulf. Nothing in these areas can be done without Iran. In effect, and for quite a while, Iran has been helping the US with the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance in the present attempt by the Iraqi government to recover control of territory in the north and northeast of the country. Yet, the sanctions against Iran have been just short of all-out war. The recent theatrics in Washington show how difficult it is to attempt to find some diplomatic path once the logic of war is on, no matter the obvious costs in the past.

This recalculation of US interests in the region is deeply unsettling to the present government of Israel. In 2002-3, the government led by Sharon was happy to be on the side of those in and out of the US government who were successful in pushing for the Iraq war .  The net effect of that on-going, undefined war (war on terrorism) was to dismember and weaken Iraq to such a point that its direct enemy and competitor, Iran, could simply sit and wait to become by default the most important state in the region. Seen from the Israeli government’s point of view, this very negative consequence of a terrible mistake it applauded at the time can only be corrected by more war against Iran. Economic and military war to slow down and cripple at all costs the obvious demographic, political, and military power of that country. In fact, it is likely that a non-theocratic, democratic Iran would continue to claim the right to enrich nuclear fuel for civil needs. It is not in the short- or long-term interests of the US to go along with the war logic that the Israeli PM and his de facto allies in Washington would like to pursue no matter the consequences. It doesn’t seem to be in the long-term interests of Israel either. The leadership of Israel must know it when they talk to Chinese or Indian leaders who surely have a very different take on the future role of Iran in the region if only because of their rapidly increasing needs for oil and gas.

On the rhetoric ploys: they are becoming dangerously thin even for Washington, and the tactical advantage PM Netanyahu is drawing from the present Washington’s landscape risks creating more division. It will increase the number of people for whom the Israeli PM’s claim regarding the cruel history of Jews as ground for today’s policies is wearing thin. This history can hardly continue to justify Israel’s silently tolerated nuclear-weapon status (non signatory to the NPT), its bullying of the Palestinians, its refusal to have any kind of significant negotiations with them, and now its interference in US affairs.