Category Archives: Politics

fascism?

Trump got a hearty welcome two days ago in Phoenix from an audience that had been selected among his most fervent supporters. It was a strange campaign event, with the president fanning hate of the elites, news media (whom he seeks for broadcasting), duly elected Republicans, and above all immigrants. Build a wall, a transparent one, a see-through wall! Two political representatives were on hand. Trump wanted to have them on stage. One got up, shook hands, while the other remained seated for a while then got up, awkwardly. Worried about shaking hands with someone who can turn against them, worried about the 2018 elections? Whom do they represent? Many middle-class people retire in Phoenix. The city has a big share of expansive suburbs, apartment complexes, retirement homes, entertainment venues. How many retirees in this audience? They are not threatened by emigrants, at least economically. If anything, they are served by them. Yet, they choose to be led by feelings of hate rather than thought and, gasp, reason. Trump has been using the fascist playbook all during his campaign and resorts to it everytime he needs consolidation of his “base.” He tried it with the boy-scouts and got some results. The appeal to the gut works. Are we on our way to a new form of fascism? I would like to safely believe that the passion of a football-like event will die soon enough and cannot compete with the draw of sofas and Fox watching. And yet, I also know full bellies and guts can rage the more they silence hearts and heads.

net neutrality & FCC

Here is how to file an opinion with the FCC re their plans to destroy net
neutrality. The deadline to file is this month. Let the FCC know that you want them to back off and continue to enforce net neutrality.

Go to gofccyourself.com. It will take you directly to the fcc website, bypassing a lot of unnecessary fluff.

When you get there, click on “+ express” in the right field, Fill in the resulting form, with your name, address, etc, along with your comment. For instance, “I support strong net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISP’s.” Mine was more verbose: “Net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISP’s is a fundamental right. The main tools for net creation and expansion were created by universities, physics research institutes, and the army, all with public funds. I strongly support the continuation of net neutrality.”

They’ll send you a confirmation. Circulate.

trust and hope

Macron and his friends are going to face great difficulties in building a workable coalition in the house of representatives in June (= Chambre des députés). He has to co-opt ex-socialists from the center and left and beg them to run for and with him. And at the same time he has to find center and center-right incumbents or people he can work with. In other words, he has to woo many people still defined by their party’s machines and echo chambers. I’m not familiar enough with the inner workings of the parties and regional politics to venture a prediction but I think the window of opportunity Macron has right now (the large numbers that voted for him) will close quickly. He is quite aware of it and said so on Friday night before the final run.

The larger issues are economic and cultural. Trust within institutions like schools and health system, corporations, and political groups, was maintained according to a mix of religious and political makeup of France until the eighties. Even more important, probably, was the heritage of the “trente glorieuses” (post-WWII thirty years) that had brought significant economic development to French people, right into the seventies. Superficial perhaps but mappable and vouchers of stability. This trust and hope are under considerable pressure, including among immigrant communities. Systems of rationality inherited from the Enlightenment, reinforced by a top down education system (Sciences-Po or ENA, after Polytechnique et al) that shapes Macron and other elites, cannot generate trust or fidelity and hope, or at least I don’t see how they can. Religions and political systems (various -isms, a phenomenon often analyzed especially since the so-called fall of communist political entities) have become very marginal. However, rather than creating enthusiasm, the faith placed in social calculus fosters suspicion. The description of the sober reality of migratory flows, for instance—as in Hervé Le Bars’ L’âge des migrations (Paris: Autrement, 2017)—doesn’t make a dent into the emotions poured out over the topic. Once more, emotions are in danger of replacing political analysis and commitment.

I think about those matters with my very recent experience of the French health system and end-of-life apparatus in mind. My older brother passed away in April. He was in a medicalized unit for which he paid about 2,000€/month on top of the payments by the national health system, in a very complicated situation in which one is left to wonder not so much who owns but who profits and how much. For example, special bedding is sub-contracted to private companies or mixed (national/private) companies. It seemed very murky to me, in spite of the regulations for which France is famous in the US. As for death: the mechanics of funerals and the contracting with private companies that sell an ersatz of dignity for very high sums of money have become ubiquitous. There was also a Catholic funeral mass in this case. It was celebrated by two priests in their eighties, helped by two able older women. The cost was small, 180€. I should mention that all through this process, from hospital to the cemetery, the people we met (nurses, doctors, insurance agents, Catholic priests and lay workers) were helpful, supportive, and trustworthy. Nevertheless, I have a sense of drift in which human lives, characterized in the case of my brother by fidelity, steadfastness, judgment, and strenuous work or social involvement, have become near-pure matter for the maw of financial and production systems that escape rational judgment even while justifying themselves as rational. It is especially grating to consider that my brother’s values, not simply his work and productivity, could be relied upon by such partial systems and turned into financial advantage and power over others (he was a site supervisor, working on big concrete sites).

My sense of where all of this is going to go is rather somber, in spite of the high score by Macron (66.1% vs 33.9% for Le Pen). I did see some genuine signs of hope, that is, people working indefatigably to repair the fractures that are so prominent in French society. Macron is well aware of those fractures and repeatedly mentions their healing as the first order of business. I hope people of good will manage to come together to create a more just, peaceful, and integrative political program, while keeping at bay the powerful forces of neo-liberalism.

Macron / Le Pen

Good news tonight. A large poll—Ipsos—with possible margin error of 1.3% (polls have been quite close in France for the first run) done on about 8200 people, with 5331 sure to vote, shows that more voters for Melenchon (communist) and Fillon (right) have decided to vote for Macron since Wednesday’s debate. It looks tonight as if Macron strengthened his advantage and might get 63% of the votes, against Le Pen’s 37%. The voting intentions have solidified (at about 92%). This is in spite of the larger than usual abstentions: it is estimated that 76% of possible voters will vote (vs the usual 82-83%).

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.