Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some Noir, Ce Soir?

“Indian Country Noir,” edited by Sarah Cortez & Liz Martinez. Various Authors

Indian country noir seems a redundant phrase. White Earth or Pine Ridge reservations are not places of ‘blanc-itude.’ Nor has the history of American natives been anything but a long tale of misery – as one character says, ‘loss’ is the primary experience of life. These short stories bear this out, in their own way - alcohol, anger, crime, unemployment, PTSD and death form the sub-texts. White racism is a constant in the background, but the natives get their revenge. Of course, death is the sub-text of any kind of noir, even ‘Twin Cities Noir.’ Twin Cities noir seems a screaming contradiction in terms, but is also part of this Noir series by Akashic Books. This Native American collection is written by Native American and Anglo authors, set all over the country –including Puerto Rico, among the Taino.

The best stories deal with strangers or people who do not know each other well, suddenly ‘falling out’ – in a planned way. That new sexy, attractive man or woman who leads you down the garden path ... six feet under? Or the big dollars waved under your nose that end ... in a casket? You’d even be surprised at the number of native PI’s or cops there are. And they all seem to be physically adept and gigantic! Native character, street smarts or courage figure in each tale. The famous story of Pima Ira Hayes is included, who raised the flag on Suribachi on Iwo Jima, only to fall prey to PTSD and alcohol while touring for war bonds.

Some of these stories will stay with you for a long time, because of their grim extremity. They are short, and do not demand a 350-page attention span.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 12/11/10.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lonely Rebels in Rural America

“Red State Rebels – Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland,” Edited by Joshua Frank and Jeffrey St. Clair, 2008.

What is disappointing about this book is that the examples of rebellion in the ‘red states’ are mostly of individuals or small groups fighting against various environmental, ethnic or political crimes. It not really an optimistic book, though I’m sure it was intended to be one. Only two involve class directly – and one of those is an interview with and article by Joe Bageant, the ‘red-neck’ writer and left commentator. A good part of this book echoes St. Clair’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” about big Green and Democratic Party collaboration with environmental destruction. (Reviewed in the pages below.) The chapter on the racist railroading of the Jena 6 (Jena, Louisiana) involves the largest mass movement – 50,000 descended on that small town to protest the heavy charges and trials of 6 black teenagers accused of getting into a fist fight with some bigots. A rebellion of farmers in North Dakota against Monsanto seed policies involves a large group of farmers who echoed the Non-Partisan League, and beat Monsanto’s police-state approach to seeds. So does the community organizing in New Orleans after Katrina. But other than that, small groups and heroic individuals or pairs tell the tale. This echoes the somewhat anarchist slant of the authors, no doubt. The back of the book makes a point of saying “Marx would be confused” about what is happening in the ‘red states.’ I think not. Rebellion in rural and small-town America is really what this book is about. One story about pro-pot hippie libertarians even comes from Michigan, not traditionally seen as a ‘red state.’

The very phrase ‘red state’ plays into the Fox News narrative about whole states being right-wing…which of course the authors don’t believe.

Nearly all the stories set in the old south involve minorities, and minorities fighting against racism in its various forms, which figures. There are no white people except some peace activists in Alabama and Kentucky. So if you are looking for optimism in the south spreading beyond some black people, you will not find it here.

The best story is a deep history of Butte, Montana, and the vicious extractive economy run by Anaconda Copper for many years, crushing labor and environmentally destroying Butte. It is brutal in its clarity. A chapter on the rape of Western Shoshone lands by various gold mining companies, while the federal government stands by and demands the Native American’s sell their land for pennies an acre – in 2010 – is again shocking. The government refuses to pay the tribes money they were contractually obligated to pay. Nothing has changed as far as broken treaties are concerned, folks. The FBI blood circus at Ruby Ridge is detailed for all to see – the dead are incidental and the FBI killers free to shoot again. A story on a feminist and environmentalist shrimp-boat captain in Texas is surprising in its toughness, and contrasts well with the typical views of bourgeois feminism.

The book ends with a section on secessionist movements, irrespective of political intent. The right-wing Alaska independistas around the Palins, and various conservative or libertarian secessionist southerners (like Republicans in Texas), are lumped in with progressive secessionists like those in Vermont. I have favored the secession of Minnesota from the United States for many years. If Minnesota would see fit to join Canada, I'd be in favor of that. I'd be in favor of a socialist Minnesota, unlikely as that would be. But I would NOT favor secession if it resulted in a MORE reactionary state.

This is again a hard book to read. Too much has gone desperately wrong. Reading this, it is ever more evident that only a link-up of most of these forces in a nationwide, mass oppositional party can have a hope of beating the capitalist steamroller. The authors do detail the efforts of the western Green Party and other independent political formations, which unfortunately have not been successful. Lawsuits, civil disobedience and community organizing are the main tools being used here. The big gun - a progressive party - is still on the shelf.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/28/2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Audiences Will Sleep

“Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps,” by Oliver Stone, 2010

If you were expecting a sequel to the original film, 1987’s “Wall Street,” you’ll be disappointed. Yes, mentions are made of credit default swaps, derivatives, the real-estate bubble, short-selling, self-dealing, ‘too-big-to-fail’ and ‘moral hazard’ – but only briefly, and only to give the film an air of reality. Yes, a firm paralleling Goldman Sachs is the villain of the story, and a firm that looks like Lehman Brothers is the ‘tragic’ heroes of insolvency. But what this story really is, is the story of a sad daughter who hates Daddy Gekko. And the potential son-in-law who tries to bring them together. Gag.

The film is littered with unrealities. The daughter is a leftie blogger who takes up with a guy who works as an investment banker on Wall Street. Right. The rat-like investment banker seems to be only stuck on one investment and one product – fusion energy. Yet he’s considered some kind of investing genius since he was 12-years old. OK. Somehow grey-haired but charming Gordon figures out a way to get his potential son-in-law to wire him a $100,000,000. Right. Gekko spends 8 years in jail, instead of the actual 2 years that Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky really spent in jail. Right. The latter was the one who really said that ‘greed is healthy.’ Gordon Gekko gives speeches that sound more like Paul Krugman than Milken or Boesky. (Voicing Stone, no doubt.) The potential son-in-law gives up a lucrative job with Goldman’s stand-in because he thinks the head of the company is a nasty brute. Right. The head of the ersatz Lehman Brothers nobly commits suicide after the company goes belly-up. Right. It never happened. At the end, the leftie blogger, potential son-in-law and Gordon all agree to back the scientific oddity of fusion power, which brings this happy trio together. Right.

Michael Douglas plays Gekko in all the creepy vanity that Douglas can conjure. And yet ends up trying to be the good Dad by giving $100M to ‘fusion’ energy, which Gekko calls part of “the next bubble, right?” (The green bubble…) All just because he sees an ultrasound of his daughter’s baby. Gag.

The film does show the ridiculous amounts of money that investment bankers earn for their ‘pitches’ and hunches. Son-In-Law is given a 1.4M bonus by ersatz Lehman. They drink expensive champagne and party with models/hookers/gold-diggers. They buy expensive rings. They buy expensive cars and motorcycles. They live in expensive apartments and houses. They go to expensive fund-raisers and hob-nob with the rest of the ruling class. This should not be news to anyone except the intentionally dense.

The best scenes are the ones where an ersatz Hank Paulson summons the “Rockerfellerian” rulers of Wall Street to a long-table meeting in some ancient oak-paneled club hall. The ambiance of 'robber baron' hovers over it like a bad smell. Here the bankers and the government decide to save the banking system with a bail-out, and yet let Lehman go under. Truly a small peek at who rules America. The bigger the criminal, the more access they have to the government. And there is no real vote, except at this table. The rest is just details.

Skip this film unless you are a glutton for trivia.

Red Frog,
11/22/2010, the day the CIA and FBI killed John Kennedy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Duh! We Shuda Knowed!

Clintonites, Republicans, Friedmanites, Reaganites, one progressive and a couple of innocuous clucks. Take a look at the Initial Obama Cabinet and Staff:

  1. Rahm Emmanuel - Managed fight for NAFTA, Likudnik, Goldman Sachs, Clintonista. Gone, but not forgotten.
  2. Robert Gibbs - Press Secretary. Was unknown, but now identified as a neo-liberal. Attacked ‘professional leftists.’
  3. John Podesta - Head of Transition Team (was Clinton chief of staff).
  4. Sam Nunn & Warren Christopher - State/Defense Transition, Clintonistas.
  5. Madeleine Albright, Economic Envoy to G20, a Clintonista.
  6. Eric Holder - Attorney General - Deputy Atty General, Clinton administration. Has now endorsed all Bush legal policies on Guantanamo, spying, detentions, etc.
  7. Tom Daschle - Health & Human Services - long term senator. Lobbyist of health care companies at his law firm.
  8. Hillary Clinton - Sec of State - Clinton's wife. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Dana Pelligrino - Dept of Homeland Security, recommended sending national guard troops to border – and did! AZ governor.
  10. Bill Richardson - Commerce Secretary, Clinton UN Ambassador, Energy Secretary, withdrew due to ‘conflicts of interest.’
  11. Judd Gregg, Republican #1, became Commerce Secretary
  12. Joe Liberman - Kept as head of key Senate Committee. VP on Gore Liberman ticket. Gore was Clinton's VP.
  13. Tim Geithner - Treasury Department, former Summers protege/Clinton period. Federal Reserve / Goldman insider.
  14. Larry Summers - Head of Financial Policy Board in cabinet, Clintonista and pro-deregulation.
  15. Christina Romer - Head of Counsel of Economic Advisors. A Friedmanite.
  16. Robert Gates - Secretary of Defense, was Bush Secretary of Defense. Republican, #2. Pro-surge in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  17. Susan Rice - UN Ambassador, Supported Invasion of Iraq. Former Clinton Sec of State officer.
  18. Arne Duncan - Sec of Education. Obama friend. Supports "No child left behind" , supported by the professional Republican centrist David Broder of NYT. Endorses charter schools and privatization.
  19. Lisa Jackson - EPA, career EPA official. And we know how the EPA has been doing.
  20. Carol Browner - Environmental coordinator, Clintonista.
  21. Ken Salazar - Dept of Interior - (Clintonista) Supported Republican Alberto Gonzalez. Did not close the Bureau of Mines Management as he promised, then changed it a bit after the BP oil spill. Timber/Mining/Ranchers like him. Clinton-like politics on environmentalism. Which means nice talk, pro-corporate acts.
  22. Tom Vilsack - Agriculture - Supporter of industrial agriculture, bio-tech, agribusiness, pro-ethanol, friend of Monsanto.
  23. Steven Chu - Energy Secretary. Scientist. However, got $500M from British Petroleum for bio-fuels research. Supports nuclear power.
  24. Hilda Solis - Dept of Labor, very pro-labor. Best pick of bunch. Totally quiet. Did not push “Free Choice Act.” Heard she is quietly strengthening OSHA.
  25. Mary Shapiro - SEC, former head of NASD/FINRA. A proponent of industry self-regulation. SEC appointee, by Reagan initially.
  26. James Jones - National Security Advisor - Hardline, Pro Vietnam War. Clintonite/McCainite. NATO and Afghan war-monger.
  27. Dennis Blair - Director of National Intelligence - 4 star admiral. Hmmmm.
  28. Roy Lahood, Transportation Secretary. Republican #3. 'Nuff said.
  29. Shaun Donovon- HUD, Clintonista.
  30. Ron Kirk - US Trade Representative - Attorney at Vinson & Elkins, African American. Dallas Mayor. Chamber of Commerce likes him. Supports 'free trade' and NAFTA.
  31. Dawn Johnsen - Office of Legal Counsel (former Clintonista) but hard critic of presidential overreaching. Was denied nomination, of course.
  32. Virginia Seitz – Office of Legal Counsel. Appreciated by Republicans. Hmmmm.
  33. Leon Panetta - CIA, Clintonista Chief of Staff, but not a prior spy.
  34. Jennifer Granholm - Called Free Choice Act - "Divisive." Obama Economic adviser.
  35. Steven Rattner - Car "Czar" - former Investment banker, knew nothing about the auto industry. Got bailout for GM/Chrysler, which resulted in plant closings and more off-shoring. Recently fined $$$ by SEC.
  36. Ben Bernanke - Chair of the Federal Reserve. Former head of the Fed under Bush too. Head of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Republican #4.
  37. Barack Obama – President. Initially was thought to be to the left of Hillary Clinton, but revealed to be solidly in the Clinton/neo-liberal camp. Obama won the election but Clinton and the Republicans won the war.
Red Frog
11/16/2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Overworked Readers Department:

Progressive Fiction – 1 Line Reviews:

In order to respond to the massive interest in shorter reviews, I give you a fiction roundup that might help pick a book for Solstice:

“The Road – Short Stories” – by Vasily Grossman. The Soviet Tolstoy proves that not everyone in the USSR spent every day in a labor camp.

“The White Tiger” – by Aravind Adiga. Killing your Indian boss is easier and more profitable if you plan it well.

“The Given Day” – Dennis Lehane. In 1919, abused Boston policeman decide to strike instead of breaking strikes.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo” – Stieg Larsson. Rich Swedes enjoy torturing women – but women who know computers and aren’t afraid of violence make it less enjoyable.

“Rage and Reason” – Michael Tobias. Will turn any man into a raging 'kill humans' vegetarian after one read.

“City of Thieves” – David Benioff. Getting eggs in Leningrad during the siege is hilarious hard work.

“Inherent Vice” – Thomas Pynchon. The Dude goes LA noir.

“The Left Left Behind” – Terry Bisson. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the born-again Christians would just get Raptured, and leave us alone?

“The Grass is Singing” – Doris Lessing. South African apartheid even ruins whites.

“Children of Men” – P.D. James. Welcome to the remarkably familiar future prison camps of Britain.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Witty Lightweight attacks Marxism -

“… or the Marxists, working to undermine our Constitution.” – Jon Stewart, Saturday, October 30 at the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/of Fear” in Washington, D.C.

This was part of Stewart’s speech about the people we should REALLY be afraid of – not the normal, everyday people, of course. If this sounds like something from a Republican Tea Party member, its not. Seems to Stewart the Marxists are outside the ‘big tent’ of reason in ‘America.’ Quelle surprise. Of course, this was after a song who’s chorus about the United States was, “The greatest, strongest country in the world.” And this was not irony.

Let’s look at the Constitution, Jon. There are several problems – maybe even many problems. I’ll just name some obvious ones:

#1 – The Senate. It is undemocratic. Large sparsely-populated states have as many votes as populous states. And because of this, thinly-settled states full of conservatives can block any real change - and they have. This was the way it was designed – to prevent the ‘rabble’ from ruling.
#2 – The Supreme Court. These people are in ‘for life.’ It was designed as the most conservative part of the government. Again, to insulate the law from the rabble. Enjoy your corporate Supreme Court until you die, Jon!
#3 – Personhood for corporations – The 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 14th amendments are now applied to corporations. And most recently, corporations gained the ‘right to free speech’ through the 1st amendment. A corporation, which never dies, now has eternal rights, and is no different than a human being. Except it cannot be thrown in jail, fired, executed or otherwise terminated – only fined piddling amounts. Do you have a problem with the Constitution, Jon?
#4 – Representative Democracy – Marxists are for the direct political AND economic rule of the majority of people, the working class, through work-site and geographic counsels. The Russians called them Soviets. We’d like to reduce the use of representative ‘democracy,’ mediated by millionaires and their media. Actually, the Marxist schema is MORE democratic than the bought-and-paid-for ‘representative’ democracy we have now.
#5 – The Electoral College. I don’t think even I have to explain this one. Undemocratic and built to be that way. You don’t actually elect the president. They do.
#6 – Lack of an “economic bill of rights.” Roosevelt wanted one. He wasn’t a Marxist, but he was to the left of Jon Stewart, who must think he was busily undermining the Constitution. A right to housing, food, a job and health care. Not really so radical, and a Marxist would agree. But we are outside the big tent of reason.
#7 - The anti-Federalists, like Jefferson, found many problems with the Constitution as written – mainly giving too much power to the federal government. Fear well-founded. As we see now, our federal government is now all powerful – it has the largest military, arms industry, spy force, prison system, intelligence technology and mercenary army in the world. States cannot secede from the United States legally, even for justified reasons. And the president, who was at one time one of 3 equal branches of government, now declares war on his own. He has become a ‘soft’ dictator if he wants to be.

Jon, these are just a few of the problems of the U.S. Constitution. I think I hit the ‘low’ points. I won’t talk about property relations, but that goes without saying. If you think allowing private corporations to own and control our water, oil, housing, land, health care and food supply, then you should not complain when the corporations exercise their RIGHTS to control these things.

In short, the Constitution undermines itself - or at least the majority of Americans. Sometimes keeping grandma's well-built but shaky parlor chair around for another 100 years might not make sense. It might just be time for a new chair.

Red Frog, 11/2/10

Monday, November 1, 2010

Know Your Enemy

“To Serve God and Wal-Mart – the Making of Christian Free-Enterprise,” by Bethany Moreton, 2009

Bethany Moreton, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, avoids the typical narrative about Wal-Mart, as depicted in the excellent documentary “The High Cost of Low Prices” or the damning “The Wal-Mart Effect – How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works.” She focuses instead on how Wal-Mart used regionalism, working-class feminism and Christianity to become the Bensonville Beast it is today. There is not a word about cheap Chinese labor, excessively cheap prices or cheaply-made products in the whole book.

In the process, Moreton reveals what was going on during the Reagan ‘80s in the Ozark triangle of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma – and how it shaped wider corporate America and the “new” Right. Essentially, the dynamics of local money and a rural culture produced an ideology that won over some working class people to ally with corporate America. It tries to answer Thomas Frank’s question, “What is the Matter with Kansas?” … by saying something other than - ‘they’re stupid.’

Homeland of Populism?

Moreton oddly compares Wal-Mart’s rise in the Tri-State Ozark area to the inspiration from the populist traditions in the late 1880s. Indeed, Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma, and the socialist “Appeal to Reason” newspaper was published in Girard, Kansas. However, a casual look at WikiPedia shows the populists were strong among “hard-pressed wheat farmers in the plains states, especially Kansas and Nebraska” and “among poor white cotton farmers in the South (especially North Carolina, Alabama and Texas.” The Populist Party was formed in an alliance of small farmers and the Knights of Labor, and was not exclusively a farmer’s party. The Populists carried Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas and pieces of North Dakota and Oregon in the 1892 election. The Ozark area was carried by the Democrats in 1892. In 1896, a partial fusion with the Democrats in the South under William Jennings Bryan for all intents and purposes destroyed the Populist Party. (The Populists had success blocking with some Republicans in the South and some Democrats in the North prior to this.) Bryan’s big issue in 1896 was “free silver” – which would make it easier for debtors to pay their debts to the north-east bankers. Bryan did directly center his attacks on the big banks and Trusts in the 1908 election, long after the Populists were in their grave, jibing with Teddy Roosevelt and ‘progressivism.’ In that election, however, Bryan lost Missouri. Moreton focuses on the ‘anti-chain-store’ movement during the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the Ozarks, which represented a strand of progressivism. This movement supported local businesses, and opposed the large retail chains, mostly from the east, that were shuttering stores in the area. However, the anti-chain store movement was geographically wide - not limited to the Ozarks.

So Moreton’s evidence of the special strength of ‘populism’ as a political movement in the Tri-Ozarks is weak. Most of the South and parts of the West also voted for Bryan. Kansas always had special progressive history, given its role in the fight against slavery. But this is not Ozark territory. “Progressivism,” which became strong in the teens and 20s in the upper-Midwest, is a far more recent phenomenon and should naturally have influenced the alleged populism of the Ozark area. It lead to the rise of the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, William LaFollette in Wisconsin, the Progressive Party of Vermont, the Non-Partisan League in the Dakotas, etc. However, there is very little evidence that ‘progressivism’ was actually strong on the ground in the Ozarks, except in a few areas like mining. Even the leading populist of the 30s in the South, Huey Long, hailed from Louisiana. Nor did the union strike wave of the 30s and 40s affect this mostly rural area, full of small farms and small businesses. Nor was this area a center of activism in the 50s-60s – except among the black population, especially in … Little Rock. And for entirely different reasons - civil rights.

Most small businessmen have a built-in hostility to big banking and big corporations and their government IF they have felt the latter’s financial power. This is not unique to the Ozarks. I think Moreton confuses political ‘populism’ with a natural cultural form of small-town inclusiveness and solidarity, common among farmers and small towners, and a hostility to ‘outsiders’ – like black people and foreigners. This culture is also built upon rural frugality and hard work, both necessary to survive farm or small town life. From the beginning in 1962, Wal-Mart cultivated a regional, “localist” approach, which won them customers in a cultural sense, as customers viewed the store as growing from people like them. This is no different than the ‘buy local’ movement now. It also connects to the anti-chain store movement. In the 1970s it intentionally got funding to expand, not from Wall Street, but from investment bank Stephens Inc., centered in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wal-Mart was not hostile to ‘government’ at the time. Walton took advantage of many government projects and programs, even planning his stores in county seats because government employment brought in steady customers.

Various other Ozark-connected corporations make their appearance in this book – Tyson Foods, Wendys, Sun, Humble and Getty Oil, J.B. Hunt Transport, Halliburton, Am-Way and Holiday Inn, based in Memphis. People like Ross Perot, Sig Sigler, Milton Friedman, Fredrick Hayek, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton (Wal-Mart board member) and of course, Sam Walton himself put in an appearance.

A Bit of Working-class Feminism / Reproductive Labor

In the process of developing his chain, Walton learned lessons from the legions of working-class white women employed by the firm to check items, stock shelves and sell. The stores were clean, spartan, stocked with useful, inexpensive goods, and the staff was polite. However, to this basic mix, the women hired by Walton, according to Moreton, taught the managers a thing or two about loyalty and sales. These were mostly either farm wives looking for part-time income, or small town women with families, also looking for part-time income. The key here is that the most important thing to them were hours, not wages or benefits – not that the latter were irrelevant, of course. And hours were most important because the category of ‘reproductive labor’ – i.e. having and raising children – was the key issue to these women. Wal-Mart gradually understood this, and made sure schedules were tailored to the family issues that arose.

People who have yet to have children, or who have never had or taken care of children, might not understand this, but reproductive labor is uncompensated. Yet it is key to the survival of the class. The government does little for the reproductive labor issue until children enter the full-time school system in first grade. 6 years go by without any support except tax breaks for children. This small bit of compensation is not sufficient, of course, so families have to create schedules that will make sure someone is always with their kids. And since most families have more than one child, that 6 years can stretch into 15 or more. Daycare in the 60s and on was probably almost non-existent in the Ozarks, so Wal-Mart aided these women with more flexible hours. And of course, they were flexible for profit-reasons, but that is not what the workers saw.

“We don’t get paid much but we sure have a lot of fun.” One older guy I worked with told me this while I worked at Mail-Ex in Chicago (and it was very true – we had a freaking blast!). But this is a window into how a business can get by without paying on the bottom line. At first, Walton treated his workers like cogs, as most businessmen did at that time. But then the managers started to learn from their staff, as Morton puts it, in this new area of ‘retail white collar’ work. The women workers at Wal-Mart began to be recognized by management. Their personal issues, like family graduations or accomplishments, family sickness or deaths, were made important within the stores. The women were allowed a lot of leeway in how they did things – displays, ideas, etc. Some even contributed products. The stores were all in rural communities, and because of this, the women and customers knew each other well – unlike the big city. Because the stores became larger than most local stores, they gradually became the largest group of working people in some towns, and this social comraderie made for more pleasant working conditions. Absent local manufacturing or offices, or retail, “Wal-Mart” became the town’s ‘company store.’ Walmart’s practice - “the customer is always right’ - could be seen as an outgrowth of the attitude of the women working there, not just as a clever profit strategy.

The “Servant Leader” and Masculinity

Moreton links this method of staffing with a concept from evangelical Christianity and later business manuals, called the ‘servant leader.’ This concept, developed in the late 1970s, linked being a male Christian with being both the ‘boss’ and also the ‘servant’ to those who work for you, or who are in your family. Moreton explains that the retail ‘nation of clerks’ which was developing upon the industrial economy ‘emasculated’ men, forcing them into ugly ties, black pants and white shirts, and stuffing them behind desks at low-skilled jobs. And all the while their male contemporaries might be doing physical, assembly or skilled trades work. To counter the loss felt by the overwhelmingly male managers at these new retail establishments, the ‘servant leader’ role saw to it that they served their families, children and wife – while still being the ‘titular’ head of the family. This was later applied to retail management theory, with the staff as the ‘family.’ And this theory was adopted by Wal-Mart, through individuals like Jack Shewmaker, their second-in-command. Male Wal-Mart store managers worked extremely long hours, had to pay supportive attention to their female staff, and were moved from store to store, almost like members of the Socialist Workers Party! This particular Christian faith made serving as a Wal-Mart manager (or cashier) part of your religious life, ‘serving’ customers. “Soft” female relationship skills became valuable in this context, even to men.

Moreton ends the book with a paen to ‘servant leaders’ who fight for progressive causes, like fighting for a living wage in Athens, Georgia. Of course, I wonder how many white Pentecostal ministers have signed on to that campaign.

Christian Colleges / The “Entrepreneur”

As Wal-Mart grew, it realized it needed to recruit staff for its management teams. It looked around the Ozark area and found 3 small Christian/conservative schools that would create business departments concentrating on free enterprise, and partner with Wal-Mart in the process. At this time in the 1970s, conservatives and Christians began promoting or starting business schools in schools all over the country to counter the anti-corporate sentiment on most university campuses. Business became the number one major for many students in the early 80s, though these were not always the best students. Wal-Mart partnered with the College/University of the Ozarks; John E Brown College/University; and Harding College/University. Later they expanded into business ties with the University of Arkansas, Texas A&M, Brigham Young, James Madison, the University of South Carolina, Florida State and Purdue. This aggressive pursuit of academic ties was a precursor to many other corporations increasing their links with higher education, to the point where corporations have more influence than ever before in academic affairs and the pursuit of ‘truth.’

In the process, student organizations like the “Students in Free Enterprise” (SIFE) developed out of the anti-socialist, pro-free enterprise business schools. Wal-Mart adopted SIFE in the Reagan 1980s, and many other corporations followed. It is now in 40 countries. It disguised itself as an ‘educational’ program for elementary, junior and senior high school students, for college students, even for adults. It promoted education that was actually indoctrination, starting with a “Mr. Pencil” that visited children’s class-rooms, who proved that a free market was the best (and only) way to produce products.

SIFE lionized the entrepreneur – even the entrepreneur that was now a billionaire. SIFE ignored the difference between small business and corporations – instead uniting all under the flag of free enterprise and the market. Never noting that ‘free’ enterprise leads to the rule of large enterprises, or that the ‘market’ is controlled by those same enterprises after awhile. Like Wal-Mart, which dictates price and quality to its suppliers, and regularly runs little Sam Walton’s out of business every day. The entrepreneur ends up a monopolist.

International Expansion

After the orgy of patriotism that was the First Gulf War, the regionalist Wal-Mart started to look outside the United States regarding educational programs. Their first international penetration into Latin America was to be through Mexico. Initially, they started an international student program in Panama, bringing ‘all classes’ of students to the campuses in the Ozarks for international exchange programs in business education. This program was meant to give them the same education that conservative and Christian American students were getting, providing an educated elite to combat the Marxists on many public Latin American campuses. Later they used these students to work as managers at Wal-Marts to be opened in Mexico and Central America.

The first large Wal-Mart Supercenter to open outside the United States was in Mexico City, in the suburb of Xtapalapa. This was exactly during the 1993 fight for ratification of the NAFTA treaty. At the time, most Americans and most congressman were against NAFTA, even in spite of Clinton and the Republican leadership’s support. The opening of this Wal-Mart was a propaganda gold mine because it showed Mexicans buying American products. Congressman and the press fell over themselves in praise. According to Moreton, this event turned the tide in the debate over NAFTA. Al Gore went on Larry King and debated Ross Perot, and used the Wal-Mart opening to hammer Perot, who was against NAFTA. And, as they say, the rest is history.

The 'folksie' Sam Walton is dead. The Walton family are now some of the richest individuals in the world. Wal-Mart is no longer a regional corporation. The homey, country-music store is now ensconsed in big cities, northern cities and areas, and now all across the globe, where 'homey' and 'country' means something quite different. Barbara Ehrenreich has reported that the Minnesota Wal-Mart she worked at was anything but friendly. Wal-Mart has been the target of the largest lawsuit over job discrimination against women in history. Wal-Mart is a big board stock quoted on the NASDAQ. The fundamentalist Christian movement, of which Wal-Mart is part, has become an influential pillar of the Republican Party. Today, Target donates to Republicans like Tom Emmer too.

Hopefully, reading Moreton’s book will illustrate just how smart that Arkansas ‘entrepreneur’ was. Because Wal-Mart conquered America.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/1/2010

Historical perspective

Some historical perspective from Doug Henwood:

http://lbo-news.com/2010/10/31/taking-the-measure-of-rot/

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mayday Discussion Forum

Thanks to all who came to our discussion of Marta Harnecker's article Latin America & Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes! Twenty people attended.

We are planning to have more discussions in the future and would love your input in the comments. Some ideas already floated:

• Articles in Monthly Review (a month after they publish)
• State and Revolution by Lenin
• The ABCs of the Economic Crisis by Fred Magdoff and Michael D. Yates
• The Great Ecnomic Crisis by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff

Next event will probably be after the new year. Please add comments below.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Electric Dialectic -

Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord, 1967, re-issued 2005.

This thin philosophical classic was written by Debord, a Marxist ‘situationist’ living in France. It is in two main parts – one, on the ‘society of the spectacle,’ which is really about the all-compassing alienation brought about by bourgeois culture; and stuck in the middle, a criticism of Leninism, Trotskyism, Lukacs, structuralism, anarchism and Stalinism from a ‘Councilist’ and also a 3rd Camp perspective, similar to CLR James.

What is most striking is that Debord writes in an epigrammatic and dialectical form which is enjoyable to read, though not always so easy to understand. It initiates surprised pondering and stuns the reader into thinking. To do this, as Feurbach and Marx did, Debord many times replaces the subject with the predicate. While Debord is against quotations, or as he might put it: “Quoting is the death of the quotation,” I will do it anyway. Here is one example from section #72, which shows his dialectical method of thought:

“The unreal unity proclaimed by the spectacle masks the class division on which the real unity of the capitalist mode of production rests. What obliges the producers to participate in the construction of the world is also what separates them from it. What brings together men liberated from their local and national boundaries is also what pulls them apart. What requires a more profound rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchic exploitation and repression. What creates the abstract power of society creates its concrete un-freedom.”

The dialectic realizes that within every process is its negation, which is the heart of historical movement. Nothing is fixed. Capital, on the other hand, requires everything to seem eternal.

According to Dubord, Situationism believes in the ‘supersession’ of art – not its realization, as in Surrealism, or its suppression, as in Dadism (#191). It was most powerful in France during the worker-student strike wave in May-June 1968. The Situationists developed ‘unitary urbanism’ and ‘psycho-geography’ as fields of study, combining Marxism with non-alienating architecture and urban planning. They disbanded in 1972.

Dubord’s main point is that during the early phases of capitalist accumulation, the proletarian is only seen as a cog, receiving the minimum compensation for his contribution. However, as the society becomes more abundant, what is also required of the worker is ‘collaboration.’ Hence arises the ‘humanism of the commodity’ (#43) – the bourgeoisie finds it necessary and also profitable to take over the workers whole cultural existence. And the “society of the spectacle” is born. As Dubord puts it: “The real consumer is a consumer of illusions.” (#47) Gramsci understood the necessity of a proletarian cultural politics for this same reason.

Dubord identifies the ‘spectacle’ as not just religions, or sports, but every non-physical ideological commodity - tourism, celebrity worship, television (and now, the internet…), pseudo-festivals, the disappearance of history, credit, the service economy selling ‘experiences,’ art as a ‘collection of souvenirs,’ – perhaps even dating services, outdoor adventure trips and sites like Facebook.

Many ideas within this book show up later in the works of other writers. The commodification of dissent (#59) leads directly to Thomas Frank’s “The Conquest of Cool” and many articles in the Baffler. The ‘dictatorship of the automobile’ (#174) and the fake ruralism of suburbia (#177) show up in James Kunstler’s analysis of the suburbs, “The Geography of Nowhere.” Even Dubord's comments on the bourgeoisie’s belief and promotion of cyclical time can be seen as a criticism of writers like James Joyce, who posited the ‘endless return.’

The Revolutionary Organization:

Dubord’s ideas on the events in the USSR and other former and present workers’ states regarding third-campism are nothing new. The opposition of the ruling class to the bureaucratically-run states was part of their ‘bourgeois spectacle,’if you may. However, I am becoming more and more convinced that the Party, or the revolutionary organization, should ‘wither away’ itself. And it should wither away before the workers state.

Lukacs, in his 1924 book, “Lenin, a Study of the Unity of His Thought,” fresh from his own participation in the Budapest Soviet, wrote: “…had a relatively quiet period of prosperity and of the slow spread of democracy ensued …the professional revolutionaries would have necessarily remained stranded in sectarianism or become mere propaganda clubs. The party … is conceived as an instrument of class struggle in a revolutionary period.” If a highly ‘centralized’ party (Lukacs words) is not fit for time of ‘relative quiet,’ according to a Leninist like Lukacs, than why would it be fit to control the state after the working class takes power? In other words, if actual power is held by proletarian Soviets /workers councils, a party (or parties) is redundant. It/they should slowly relinquish it/their role(s), as the working class, through the councils, matures in its running of society. The Leninist idea of the party, or a single party, or any revolutionary organization, is really a ‘raft’ for revolution. And the raft, like the state, needs to wither away, not to exist eternally. Otherwise the party becomes (and did become, and still is) the vehicle for rule by a new bureaucracy. Of course, this bureaucracy is also made possible by the continued world dominance of capital. As such, another guarantee against bureaucratism is the extension of the revolution.

The Intellectual Commodity:

Debord reminds us that the development of late capitalism is not just about increasing financialization. Intellectual property and intellectual services have become a larger and larger segment of ‘production’ in the US and other advanced capitalist societies. This is in the form of films, inventions, software, music, graphics, television, etc. Intellectual services like legal work, engineering, drafting, academic theses, etc., and the paper/electronic ‘products’ of that labor, are also a larger part of the economy. They do not just play the role of 'spectacle' but also a role in profitability. As such, Marxists have to develop a clear analysis of intellectual property, and the nature of intellectual/cultural labor and its role in political economy.

Dubord's book is a delight, and if Craig has any copies left, grab one. It is certainly not for sale anywhere else in town.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, October 17, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Class war, pure and simple

A piece at Globalresearch:

In his intransigence, the Spanish leader is following the lead of other European governments. In France, despite three recent massive protests against pension reform, President Sarkozy repeated that he would not change the law. In Greece, six general strikes in as many months against the austerity measures had no effect on Prime Minister Yorgos Papandreu.


But at least the European proles know they're in a class war, and that the only means of combating the sinister powers-that-be is on the streets -- and not through the farce of formal elections, which are rigged from the get-go.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Essay on the FBI raids by Lydia Howell

An essay by Lydia Howell, published today at Commondreams:

"President Bill Clinton’s 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act made “material aid" a crime, was expanded under George W. Bush’s PATRIOT Act and is broadening to Orwellian vagueness under President Obama."

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Masters of ... No Strategy

Part II - “Liquidated – An Ethnography of Wall Street,” by Karen Ho. 2009

Ho continues her analysis of 1990’s Wall Street by finally getting to THE brass tack – compensation. People do not go into Wall Street for intellectual stimulation. Or the privilege of sucking up to rich or powerful people. The main preoccupation is money. So while the ideology of ‘shareholder value’ is what is transmitted to clients, or even the shareholders of their own firms, individual cash is the point of each and ever deal, trade or sale. Compensation on Wall Street has soared since the 80s. Average bonuses (the bulk of compensation) in 1986 were $13,950. In 2006, it was $190,000. In the 1990s, a first-year associate would make in the $100,000 range. In the second year, with an MBA, you could make $200,000-$300,000. The recent bull market, which ended in 2007, saw investment banking associates out of business school making $220,000-$330,000 in their first year. First year vice-presidents salaries were around $200,000, which is LESS than their bonus. In 2000, most investment banking and senior vice presidents were making $1M a year. Managing directors received multi-million dollar bonuses. In 2000, the average salary for a director was $240,000, with a $4M bonus – a 33% increase from 1999 (2000 was the final year of the tech boom and crash…) At the top, Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein made a record bonus of $53.4M in cash, stocks and stock options in 2006. Ho points out that the bigger the bonuses, the closer Wall Street is to crashing.

Ho’s interviewees claim that the insecurity of Wall Street is the price for the high compensation. Being a ‘liquid’ employee is the human commodity equivalent of the booms and busts on Wall Street. Although not as liquid, of course, as the day laborer who vies for jobs on the street, and is paid in daily cash if he is lucky enough to get one. She also notes that because most compensation is done through bonuses, which are more difficult to track by law, discrimination in compensation is far easier. In one academic survey, women in investment banking were compensated at 60.5% the rate of men. The average gender difference was around $223,368. (!!) And it is not insignificant to point out that Wall Street does deals for corporations – not for the benefit of the corporation’s shareholders, but their own. And sometimes, only for the individuals WITHIN the investment bank. 50% of all money earned in investment banking is doled out in compensation to bankers, NOT to shareholders. A massive wealth transfer away from the public, the taxpayer, the corporations and smaller businesses into the coffers of finance capital’s employees is really what is going on.

Capital on Wall Street moves from one ‘product’ to another at lightening speed. If a financial ‘product’ is invented, and becomes successful, every bank tries to move in on this new market immediately. If a product fails, the desks are shut down, and everyone is out of a job. Because Wall Street is only after the ‘new’ buck, the new boom, they, in essence, never plan anything – unlike even an ordinary corporation or retail company. This is why Ho claims that Wall Street’s temporal strategy is ‘no strategy’ at all. Sort of the ‘short attention span theatre’ of finance. The corollary of this is that built into every boom is a bust. Even though this is common knowledge in that business, the point is to’ ride the wave’ until it breaks on the beach, and make as much money as possible while doing so. Since these are mostly speculative products unconnected to the real world or real world production, they have little to no actual use value. Which would give them some permanence. Like making shoes, for instance. They only have exchange value – a value which can easily fall because of a glut, a change in tax policy or government policy, over-leveraging, etc.

Her last anthropological point is that the emphasis on the rhetoric of ‘globalism’ within every investment bank is sometimes a necessary sham, and sometimes a capitalist reality. In reality it reflects each banks attempt to have a ‘global reach,’ necessary to doing business, not in Kinshasa, Zaire of course, but in bringing banking deals from Sydney, Australia to customers in the rich parts of the world. The bank that can sell privatized shares of Australia Telecom, for instance, to some rich client in Russia, is the bank that will be able to garner more business. Because the local market for shares in Australia might be insufficient for the size of the deal, which are getting much bigger. The sham part Ho discovered was that many banks maintain virtually empty offices in some locations because they do not really have any business in a certain country or city, but might at some point. She points out that not one investment bank truly has a fine or global network of offices, even in countries like Japan. Merrill Lynch attempted to bring their broker, M&A and sales and trading businesses to Japan in the late 1990s– and eventually pulled out in the early 2000s. While McDonalds still sells hamburgers there in many cities.

Ho’s main thesis, as is common in anthropology, seems to be that the cultural habits of the Wall Street ‘tribe’ – the ‘corporate culture’ - determine how business is done on Wall Street. ‘Smartness,’ hard work, high compensation, temporality, job insecurity and globalism on Wall Street create the booms and the busts – not anything in the underlying economy. This essentially idealist view of Wall Street masks the actual financial roles of labor exploitation, surplus value, use value, exchange value, overproduction, the falling rate of profit and debt in the growth of financialization. Wall Street's cultural habits play an important ideological role in promoting finance capital, of course. Defending and hiding an exploitative financial relationship cannot be done simply. A Marxist would say that the cultural habits of Wall Street reflect how money is made there – i.e. they are perfectly adapted to finance capital at this time in late capitalism. That is not to say that these cultural habits do not sometimes heavily influence and refine the financial basis of life on the Street. But they do not determine it.

They key here is that corporations go to Wall Street to 'raise capital.' Evidently, raising capital the old-fashioned way, by exploiting labor through surplus value, is not sufficient any longer. They must dip into the pool of OTHER people's capital - both the working classes through pensions and 401Ks/Roths, or other capitalists and petit-capitalists, who have stolen that money from the working class too. Some of this borrowed capital is used for M&A activity. I.E. the firm itself cannot grow normally without borrowing to ... buy other firms. I think this fits quite nicely with the thesis of capitalist stagnation and the falling rate of profit ... which is partly what the triumph of finance capital represents.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog, 10/4/10

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Labor militancy in Europe, and the conspicuous lack of such in the USA

An essay at Commondreams:

The greater challenge looming over the One Nation campaign isn't just the optics—it's defining a weakened movement in an increasingly unstable political arena. And it's tapping into the public outrage that the right has shrewdly exploited in galvanizing new constituencies. So the groups carrying the “One Nation” banner might want to focus a bit less on projecting an aura of middle-class liberal harmony, and instead learn from the mass appeal of European union militancy.

We're running into one of the most dangerous aspects of the myth of American Exceptionalism: the concept that American workers somehow operate outside historical class antagoisms. Folks are lulled into the belief that deep social crisis can and should be resolved by individual upward mobility and by negotiating within establishment institutions (like Election Day or corporate-controlled collective bargaining).

But as the ITUC's new report starkly reveals, America's labor crises often put its people in the same quagmire as their peers in other economies. So when workers around the world are roused to action—organized, passionate, and not afraid to get a little dirty—why should American labor be any exception?


To be fair, comparing American labor to European labor is analogous to comparing apples to oranges. There's a sense of both history and class consciousness embedded in the collective psyche of European labor, which is conspicuous by its absence in the more heterogenous USA. And because of the way the US neo-feudal and plantation economy has evolved, the dice -- legal, political, cultural -- are loaded against American labor in a way not to be seen in most West European countries.

It's a disheartening state of affairs in the USA and arguably comparisons should really not be made since the terrain differs so much. American labor will have to make its own individual destiny.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Justice" Department Brings Back Hoover

Legal “Logic” Behind Raids

As we’re all aware by now, members and friends of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), the Anti-War Committee (AWC) and the AWC itself were recently visited by suit-wearing thugs from the FBI, who seized their paper files, cell phones and computers in various cities. The FBI has been the political police in the United States since Hoover led the Palmer Raids back in the 1919s. So this is no surprise.

It has been difficult to discover the FBI and Justice Department’s legal ‘logic’ to this process - but given some digging, anything is possible. It is clear that Obama’s Justice Department has decided to prosecute these activists. Given the continuing legality of Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, rendition, the secrets act, wiretapping innovations, the RNC indictments, and other Bush ‘era’ laws and practices that have now become permanent or semi-permanent under Obama and Eric Holder, it was only a matter of time that they came calling on parts of the socialist and anti-war movements.

According to Colleen Rowley, in the 1996 “Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” material aid to terrorism was defined as what you would expect – giving guns, money or recruits to an organization that was engaged in indiscriminate violence. By “terrorist” it is meant anyone on the “Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO)” list, as established by the US State Department. This list has existed for many years, being established in Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. It was recently defended by Hillary Clinton, as the present Secretary of State is in charge of the FTO list. There are 47 organizations on the list presently – all using violence in various ways – some defensible, some not.

Right now this list is limited to foreign organizations. But there is no reason why it could not be extended to domestic organizations.

The 2001 Patriot Act established a new, added definition for material aid – giving ‘professional advice’ or ‘training’ or ‘services’ or ‘personnel’ to terrorists. Now the terms ‘professional advice’ could mean – “I think you should do this or that.” Jimmy Carter has met with Hamas – a group officially on the “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTO) list – and suggested they make peace with Israel or with the PLO. Now you could consider this ‘giving professional advice’ to terrorists. There are US-backed charities in Afghanistan that negotiate with the local Taliban in order to survive and prosper. And you might also consider this ‘giving professional advice’ to terrorists. (I.E. “don’t attack us…we’re just trying to help.”) Neither of these examples have been prosecuted – just as military negotiators with the Taliban right now are not prosecuted.

Prosecution is reserved for those outside the government orbit, or those who are more powerless.

David Cole and the Humanitarian Law Project decided to challenge this Patriot Act law in 2009, in a case called “Holder v Humanitarian Law Project.” The Humanitarian Law Project was a religious group interested in aiding PKK refugees in and out of Turkey, based on humanitarian grounds. The PKK – the Kurdistan Workers Party – is on the FTO list. Part of their aid was to encourage the PKK to use peaceful means to pursue their goals. On June 21, 2010, in a 7 to 2 decision, the conservative Supreme Court majority plus 1 ‘liberal’ voted against the Humanitarian Law Project. The logic was that even ‘speech’ about a ‘terrorist organization’ might legitimize that organization. (!!) Lower courts had declared these provisions in the Patriot Act about freedom of speech invalid. Pacifists like the Humanitarian Law Project could be sentenced to 15 years for suggesting militant organizations pursue peaceful methods. The Supreme Court overruled the lower courts – and the Obama administration and the Bush appointees all appeared on the same page. (Queue visit to constitutional attorney Glenn Greenwald site…at Salon.com)

The government (and Holder) in this case was represented by Elena Kagan, who recently joined the court. If you don’t find this significant, I’ve got some smelling salts for you. The June 2010 ‘Holder v Humanitarian Law Project’ decision basically shut down any freedom-of-speech for social activists to, with or regarding militant or violent organizations – 5 months after, in ‘Citizens United,’ the same Supreme Court gave corporations the right to all the free speech their disembodied money could buy. Could this decision even intimidate journalists into not talking to militant organizations, because they are 'legitimizing' them?

Evidently, FRSO and Anti-War Committee members went to the Middle East or to Columbia to meet with the FARC, PFLP and Hezbollah – all on the FTO list. The FSP published laudatory articles on these organizations in their newspaper, Fight Back. The facts in each matter might legally exonerate certain FRSO and Anti-War Committee members. For instance, just meeting with people, and not writing about them, might be a significant fact. In addition, this case will test whether ‘journalism’ and ‘advocacy journalism’ is covered under the Patriot Act. It also explains the 'why now?' about these raids. The 'green light' was given in June.

At any rate, this part of the Patriot Act is ‘settled law,’ due to the Supreme Court decision. Claiming a freedom-of-speech defense, based on support of the goals and methods of specific organizations on the FTO list, is sure to be more difficult than the position of the Humanitarian Law Project. Which is why facts are the only detail that might mitigate the prosecution, at least on legal grounds. Of course, I am not an attorney. And I welcome any input.

The real legal issue here is the FTO list and ultimately the Patriot Act itself. The related no-fly “Terrorist Watch List’ now has nearly a million names on it (do you think there are a million ‘terrorist’ supporters in the US?!!). The odds that the Supreme Court will rule against themselves are zero. The odds that the Republican/Democrat government will reject provisions in the Patriot Act, or over-rule the Supreme Court, are almost nil. Will the so-called ‘liberal’ Obama administration back-peddle on their own Justice Department and drop or plea bargain? As they say in the ‘biz’, asked and answered.

Red Frog
9/27/10

Friday, September 24, 2010

Masters of the Universe

“Liquidated – an Ethnography of Wall Street” – Karen Ho, 2009 (Part I)

Karen Ho is a former anthropology student from the U of Minnesota that worked on Wall Street until she was downsized, then followed up with further research into the denizens of that strange New York tribe. Like anthropologists who investigate the ‘primitive’ peoples of the Amazon, Ho instead spent time with the ‘masters of the universe’ – the employees of investment banks on Manhattan.

She worked in the 1990s, and so this book is a nice follow-up to “Den of Thieves,” which covered the triumph of financialization in the 1980s. (see review below) Ho has the ability to chart what that decade did to the Street in the ‘go-go’ 90s of Bill Clinton. As one Democrat once asked me about Clinton, “What do you have against prosperity?” Of course, I answered, ‘Whose?’

This book is unusual in that it combines economic with anthropological/cultural analyses. Ho’s first anthropological point is that the people in investment banking and Wall Street generally see themselves as ‘smart’ – maybe even geniuses. The firms mostly recruit from Harvard, Princeton and to a lesser extent, Yale. If you are a graduate of those schools, the Street does not think you even need an MBA. They do hire MBA’s from lesser schools on the east coast, but merely graduating from Harvard or Princeton guarantees you a place in the pantheon – er, the corporate finance department of a Goldman Sachs or a Morgan Stanley. Ever since Mommy put them in a private nursery school, and told them they were ‘exceptional’, until the day they graduate from Princeton, they believe it. The Wall Street firms, who recruit in these school constantly, tell them the same thing, all the while lavishing them with high-class food, cocktails and trips. The young idealist who enters Harvard thinking about ‘saving the world’ is soon turned into the investment banker thinking about getting rich. Up to 40% of the graduating classes of these schools enter Wall Street – the highest proportion of any ‘discipline.’ So the cream of the bourgeois crop is soon – sour. Ho went to Princeton, and lived to tell the tale.

Ho’s second anthropological point is that ‘work’ becomes a value that knows no peer. First and second year employees of the investment banks work 6-7 day weeks, 12-15 hours a day, eat catered food at work, and are driven home by chauffered limos if they stay that long. They grind out Power-Point and Excel spreadsheets if they are on the technical end, or shmooze corporate CEO’s if they are on the ‘relationship’ end. Thye lose friends, they drop relationships, they do nothing but work. The 40-hour-a-week worker is to them a ‘chump’ – lazy, unambitious, weak and beneath respect. That, of course, includes the admins, the back-office, the assistants, and all the staff of the banks. Since investment bankers in whatever area are amazingly legally “exempt’ from overtime rules – syndicate, research, corporate finance, sales, trading - they work all the time. Bringing a brown bag, wearing tennis shoes to work, helping an admin, or even socializing with staff is a sign that the ‘master of the universe’ is not one. Class, anyone?

Ho’s third anthropological point is that Wall Street itself is subject to the ruthless downsizing, ‘right-sizing,’ asset stripping and mergers that they advocate for corporate America. Wall Street firms have constant turnover – most people never stay in the same firm for long. The reason is they have the planning outlook of a 4 year old. Short term internal and market trends combine to make them hire and fire constantly, in small layoffs mostly. While they blame the market, it is really the short-term focus of the street that enforces their employment policies, as even in good times, they lay-off. Of course, having a golden parachute, or have packed big money away, or having ‘connections’ or a Harvard pedigree is somewhat different from the loading dock worker who loses his job at Amazon.com. But that doesn’t stop them, because working-class America is invisible to these people, except as a bunch of rubes.

Ho’s point is that these attitudes gained at work carry over into the ideology of Wall Street. I’m smart, I work hard, I get fired, so I have the right to ‘advise’ you because I’ve been there and I’ve lived it, and I know better.

Ho’s fourth point is the most important, from the economic point of view. She neatly analyzes the conflict within capital between corporate capital and finance capital – essentially giving a very good history lesson on the development of this relationship since the early days of the modern corporation in the early 1900s. The conflict between ‘managerial’ capitalism and ‘shareholder’ capitalism came to a head in the 80s, when the ‘shareholder’ group won the battle, and Wall Street took command of the economy. Ho very carefully points out that this was the FIRST time that financial capital had dominated so severely, unlike the ‘neo-classical fable’, as she puts it, that postulates an early ‘idyllic’ time when the shareholder dominated. The shareholder never did.

Essentially it boils down to whether the corporation is an entity responsible to many parties – suppliers, employees, shareholders, the environment, the society, the community in which it is located, the country – or just one – the shareholder. After World War II, and with the long lingering effects of the 30s still on everyone’s mind, ‘welfare’ capitalism was ascendant. 90% of all financing of corporate growth was done internally, through exploitation of labor. The rest was through corporate bond offerings – i.e. debt. Equity offerings – i.e. stock – was rare and only a third possibility. The ‘ownership’ society – defined as owning stock – was limited to a very small part of the population.

Adam Smith, in his “Wealth of Nations,” actually based his vision of capital on the sole entrepreneur, the independent businessman – not the corporation, or Trust as it was called then. Smith said the Trust would fail because it did not involve personal considerations of profitability. Capitalist classicists and neo-classicists have had difficulty trying to reconcile the modern corporation with their seminal theory, or actually, seminal fantasy. Modern capitalism started as the ideology of the local shoe-store owner.

What is interesting here is that the ‘welfare’ corporation is coming very close, in form, to a socialist ‘corporation’ – or co-operation. Marx pointed out that the forms of capitalism would burst at some point, and the hidden, but pre-existing social relations of production would become dominant. So this battle between corporate ‘welfare capitalism’ and Wall Street ‘shareholder capitalism’ also marks an ideological battle between finance capital and the hidden forms of social capital – socialism –within the capitalist shell. And the advocates of shareholder capital know it well, whether they can verbalize it or not. Of course, what Ho misses, as she is not a Marxist, is that there is a reason why formerly profitable companies have to go to the Street to raise – capital. What happened in the 1980s was not just an ideological fight, but also has to do with falling rates of profit by corporate capital – and their need for another source of funds. And also as an outlook for investment – as productive investment no longer seems desirable. Enter the ‘equity’ market. As I call it, ‘the only game in town.’

There is more to the book, and I will add that in Part II.

And I bought it at Mayday Books.
Red Frog, September 24, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Manufacturing dissent

At some level of my being I've always understood that American dissent, protest, "progressivism," and activism are a load of steaming horse manure. But I've never quite been able to articulate the inchoate feeling about why it has always struck such a false note with me. Partly, perhaps, it has had to do with the nature of the people to be found in these "movements" (I use the term rashly): ill-educated, ill-dressed, ill-spoken, and generally uncouth. I wouldn't trust them to change a light bulb, let alone successfully orchestrate meaningful change. In part, perhaps, because there has never been a program for change -- it's mostly been ill-articulated rhetoric with no grounding in action, with no basis in active confrontation with the powers-that-be. Michel Chossudovsky takes this attitude of mine a bit further and argues in this essay that the reason there's been no plausible program for change is that they've been orchestrated from on high by the very powers they're supposed to have been opposed to:

Under contemporary capitalism, the illusion of democracy must prevail. It is in the interest of the corporate elites to accept dissent and protest as a feature of the system inasmuch as they do not constitute a threat to the established social order. The purpose is not to repress dissent, but, on the contrary, to shape and mould the protest movement, to set the outer limits of dissent.

To maintain their legitimacy, the economic elites favor limited and controlled forms of opposition, with a view to preventing the development of radical forms of protest, which might shake the very foundations and institutions of global capitalism. In other words, "manufacturing dissent" acts as a "safety valve", which protects and sustains the New World Order.

To be effective, however, the process of "manufacturing dissent" must be carefully regulated and monitored by those who are the object of the protest movement.

The mechanisms of "manufacturing dissent" require a manipulative environment, a process of arm-twisting and subtle cooptation of individuals within progressive organizations, including anti-war coalitions, environmentalists and the anti-globalization movement.

Whereas the mainstream media "manufactures consent", the complex network of NGOs (including segments of the alternative media) are used by the corporate elites to mould and manipulate the protest movement.

The objective of the corporate elites has been to fragment the people's movement into a vast "do it yourself" mosaic. War and globalization are no longer in the forefront of civil society activism. Activism tends to be piecemeal. There is no integrated anti-globalization anti-war movement. The economic crisis is not seen as having a relationship to the US led war.

Dissent has been compartmentalized. Separate "issue oriented" protest movements (e.g. environment, anti-globalization, peace, women's rights, climate change) are encouraged and generously funded as opposed to a cohesive mass movement. This mosaic was already prevalent in the counter G7 summits and People's Summits of the 1990s.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Imperialism and Global Political Economy

A couple of weeks back I was trying to persuade Red Frog to read "Imperialism and Global Political Economy" by Alex Callinicos, a copy of which can be found in Mayday (where indeed I bought my own copy last year). Here is an ISR review of the book. As I told Red Frog, this is a book written by an academic: careful arguments buttressed by facts and figures.

If -- big if -- a book club is ever resurrected in the Twin Cities, then this book by Callinicos, as well as books by Harvey and Brenner, should be on the reading list. Dare one hope?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Labor Day?

Notes on the 9/9/10 Meeting at Mayday on a Party of Labor –

I attended the forum given by the “Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor” (whew) and made some notes. It was a full house, with Greens, some Socialists and many independent progressives in the house. The main initial issue, of course, is ‘why’ a labor party? After all, other organizations have run. The Greens, independents like Henry Wallace and Jesse Ventura, and some radical African-American politicians have run or attempted to run candidates. Dennis Kucinich, who carried many of the south-side precincts in Minneapolis, has announced he would not break with the Democrats, according to one attendee, so a split right now of the Democrats is not in the offing. He will not run away from his Party. And so why not labor?

As panel-member David Riehle ably pointed out, Minnesota and the Midwest have a history of successful Labor Party – specifically “Farmer-Labor” activism - which continued from the late teens to the early 50s.

In the present period, the first issue everyone questions is the role of the labor leadership. What wasn’t noted by anyone is that Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIo, actually initiated and lead a demonstration of 10,000 workers to Wall Street itself, protesting against the bailout of the investment banking industry right outside the NY Stock Exchange. The bailout of GM and Chrysler from declaring bankruptcy, ‘cash for clunkers’ program and the ‘house-buyer’ tax break were a relatively small part of the stimulus, and bailouts. Much of the ‘relief’ money is going to projects and states with no relation to future growth or actual need. Most went to bailout investment banks. Trillions in free money is being made available to the banks to loan to us at 6% and back to the government at higher rates than the Fed charges. (!) The AFL-CIO made the point in a mass way. Who else has summoned that many to Wall Street? Rage Against the Machine? Trumka also initiated a mass demonstration in Chicago against the banking industry that moved right into the bank lobbies and shut them down. Of course, Trumka has also sweat bullets on TV when asked by Bill Moyers why he continues to uncritically support the Democrats.

Why labor? Questions from the floor suggested the word ‘labor’ was a bit archaic. The difference of a ‘labor’ or ‘workers’ or ‘working families’ or whatever you want to call it, party, is that it represents the most numerous class in the US. By nature, a labor party is the most ‘democratic’ party – really a word that should not be owned by the people that misuse that word, the “Democrats.” The Democratic Party is run by rich people from finance, communications, high-tech and advertising companies, who use labor as voting cattle. It cannot be said to be a “democratic” party at heart.

Why labor? Labor, by being the most numerous class in the US, is also by its very nature able to shut down the functioning of the whole society if it chose to. While investment bankers ‘toil’ away on their computer screens, it is the material world of brokerage back-offices, tech support, subways, communications, electricity and food that keep these people in business. Of course in the long run, who made their three-piece suits, their computers, their Beemers, transported their steaks, generated their electricity and heat, and mixed their martinis? Not them, that is for sure. They’d be naked without the working class.

One of the questioners asked about the role of some trade union leaders, who are only concerned with jobs for their little bargaining unit. A response from one speaker was that ‘some labor unions would make gas chambers’ if it got members jobs. This seemed to be an intentionally over-the-top comment to point out that some unions do not care what they build, or make, as long as they make it. The nature of a Labor Party is that it breaks unions and union members out of ‘small group’ thinking and gets them to look at what is good for society as a whole. And enables them to work towards doing something other than building stadiums for private enterprise, for instance, or weapons, or any other useless or anti-social product. After all, you are somewhat trapped in a job, no matter what they do.

For instance, converting the old Ford plant to making wind turbines and equipment would be a socially and environmentally progressive thing to do, but Ford is not interested in doing it. However, the local UAW thinks it is a good idea. I might add, perhaps better than continuing to build F-150s. The UAW in Fremont California is working with Tesla to manufacture an all-electric car in the old Saturn plant closed by GM. This too shows the UAW is not as asleep as GM is.

As panel-member Greg Gibbs pointed out, many Labor Party activists from the 1996 “Labor Party” became activists for Ralph Nader and the Greens in 2000 when the Labor Party failed to run candidates, or show any interest in running candidates. The Green Party still exists in town, and has made a gallant attempt to change the dynamics in Minneapolis - creating a situation where the battle is not between Democrats and Republicans in the city, but between Democrats and Greens. However, recent events are showing the Greens are running out of ‘fuel’ – organizationally, ideologically, etc. The recent mayoral campaign that eschewed a Green Party label, and ran John Kolstad as an ‘independent’ with support from the Ron Paulites, on a ‘small business’ platform, is indicative of this. And there is a reason why – especially during a massive recession/initial depression like we have now. The Green Party does not have a proletarian orientation, to put it bluntly.

Another astute question from the floor was questioning the typical labor program of higher wages and more production, irrespective of environmental issues. This is certainly a timely question. The exact labor approach to this question is still being worked out, but the ‘green jobs’ initiative is a start. Converting the economy from a non-sustainable to a sustainable one, while helping workers not loose jobs, is probably one of the main tasks faced by labor.

Gibbs pointed out that Tony Mazzochi, who founded the Labor Party in 1996 and Labor Party Advocates in 1984, was the first chair of Earth Day. We also mustn’t forget that in Seattle in 1999 at the protests against the World Trade Organization, unions and greens formed a block. Labor may have to prioritize fundamental issues – creating a full employment economy, single-payer health care, sustainable food and sustainable jobs, job democracy - and not just getting the highest wages possible. The material fundamentals of life have to be seen as more important than simple high wages.

Anyway, just notes on the discussion at Mayday.

Red Frog
9/12/10

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why millions march in France but not the US

Rick Wolff examines why millions march in France (and other European countries), while no-one marches in the USA. The difference between Europe and the US is interesting to those like me who have lived in both places. The degree of brainwashing is less in Europe, and there has historically been more heightened social and political awareness and more mass mobilisation. Or to put it briefly, more class consciousness -- with all that that entails of understanding who's the oppressor, who the oppressed, what the various subtle mechanisms of oppression that are being employed, and how to fight back on a collective basis.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Fire Next Time -

"Fire on the Mountain" - by Terry Bisson, 1992, republished 2009

This rare and legendary science fiction book is about the triumph of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, and how it sparked a slave uprising in the South to create the independent black nation of Nova-Africa. The nation started by Brown and Harriet Tubman, and joined by Frederick Douglass, eventually spreads to the north, where a revolution in the 1940s extends Nova Africa's socialism across north America – forming the USSA – the United Socialist States of America.

Against a background of visits to Mars, hydrogen and plasma-drive dirigible airships and cars, porcelain engines and a ‘living’ pair of shoes, Bisson tells a story of deep history – a what-if Brown had not been surrounded and hung. The story starts in the present as a black woman communist, Yasmin, comes north from Charleston to visit her dead husband’s mother, get her daughter Harriet, and deliver the journal of a long-dead relative who joined Brown. Bisson weaves a powerful story combining 3 sources. The first is a diary narrative of that relative, a black boy that becomes "Mr. Abraham," who eventually joins Brown and Tubman’s army “up the mountain.” The second are letters from a southern Tidewater doctor who turns against slavery, and meets the black boy, becoming one of the Army of the North Star’s doctors, and training Abraham to be a doctor himself. The third is the present-day story of the boy’s modern relatives, Yasmin and Harriet.

Of course this never happened. Bisson makes it seem real. The key here is that Tubman was not sick and instead joined Brown, and made the correct tactical decision to blow up the bridge that Lee’s troops would use to cross the river, and so evade capture in Harper’s Ferry. (Bisson points out that Brown was not so good at tactics.) The rebels instead escaped up the mountain next to town, along the present-day path of the Appalachian Trail, which Bisson here re-christens the “The North Star Trail.” At the top, they start the first “fire on the mountain’ for all the slaves to see – a sign of deliverance.

Brown, Tubman and Kagi eventually use the tactics of guerilla and political warfare up and down the Shenandoah Valley, the Cumberlands, the Smokies and other ranges to confuse and militarily defeat Robert E Lee, who resorts to terror and hanging of suspect blacks. Male slaves start to join the army in droves as it begins to evade capture and win battles. The war then becomes internationalized, sort of a Spain of the 1860s. Garibaldi’s Italian revolutionaries arrive through Mexico to fight the ‘Mericans who had seized it from Mexico, backed by Mexican republicans, then move north. A Haitian mule cavalry brigade from Toussaint L’Overture’s free Haiti land surreptitiously in the south. German volunteers from the 1948 Commune; a brigade from London organized by Marx; Molly Maquires from the Appalachian coal-fields and Cherokee Indian allies filter into the mountains to help the North Star Army fight Lee. Irish dockers lend a hand against English supply to the slave states. Independence for California is declared by Chinese and Irish railroad workers and an uprising in New Orleans against slavery succeeds. Philadelphia becomes the early Barcelona of the Americas; Whitman joins Brown in the mountains; Emerson and Thoreau argue about the ‘Cause.’ And the “Cause’ succeeds, through guts, blood and fire - not through speeches alone.

Bisson includes a hilarious aside about a book kept by an old white lady who lives near Harper’s Ferry, who gives it to Yasmin as an insult. It is called “John Brown’s Body.” It is a right-wing fantasy about Brown’s defeat at Harper’s Ferry, and his hanging. In this book, the war eventually starts, but it is not for an independent black nation, but to keep the South in the Union. After the war, the ex-slaves are treated like chattel and denied all their rights. The ex-slave owners keep all the land and political power. There is no socialist revolution in the North - the world continues to be run by the same ruling class of people. Yasmin is appalled by this white-supremacist fantasy. She eventually throws the book out the window of the car.

‘Fire on the Mountain’ can be seen as a counter-point to Newt Gingrich’s book on Gettysburg – a reactionary fantasy about Lee winning at Gettysburg. Instead, in ‘Fire’, Lincoln leads a failed Whig invasion of Nova-Africa, and is celebrated by Copperheads and slavery advocates, not the slaves. The Bible is described as being loved by ‘bloodthirsty crackers’ for being an ‘encyclopedia of torments’ - a phrase I love. Bisson, a former member of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, specializes in progressive science-fiction. He has many other sci-fi novels to his credit, and this certainly augurs well for the others.

And I bought it at Mayday Books.
Red Frog, 9/6/10, Labor Day (Because American Labor didn’t want to celebrate May Day.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

William Upski Wimmsatt, Author visit

Monday, September 6 (Labor Day) · 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Location Mayday Bookstore, 301 Cedar Ave, West Bank, Minneapolis (enter down stairs at side of building)





IN PLEASE DON'T BOMB THE SUBURBS, Wimsatt weaves a first-person tour of America's cultural and political movements from 1985-2010. It's a story about love, growing up, a generation coming of age, and a vision for the movement young people will create in the new decade. With humor, storytelling, and historical insight, Wimsatt lays out a provocative vision for the next twenty-five years of personal and historical transformation. Never heard of Billy Wimsatt before? Your life just got better.

Akashic Books site: http://www.akashicbooks.com/pleasedont.htm

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Social networking sites

I was talking earlier today to the mysterious "Red Frog," whose true identity -- like the Phantom -- remains shrouded in mystery. He expressed surprise that I use a social networking site like Faceboook to discuss politics. But there's no injunction against using it for this purpose; among my Facebook "friends" I have people like Alex Callinicos, Doug Henwood, Michael Yates, Norman Solomon, and Gopal Balakrishnan, scattered on four continents. We can trade information, stories and discussions almost instantly. This is a link I posted a couple of hours ago on Facebook, which has been subsequently picked up and reposted by at least three other people; an excerpt below:

"The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al Qaida. And any informed intelligence officer knows this. But there is a propaganda campaign to make the public believe in the presence of an identified entity representing the 'devil' only in order to drive the 'TV watcher' to accept a unified international leadership for a war against terrorism. The country behind this propaganda is the US and the lobbyists for the US war on terrorism are only interested in making money." (Robin Cook, ex-British foreign secretary)

Survival +

One book I'd warmly recommend -- based on both the excerpts available on Amazon and the author's online essays -- is Charles Hugh Smith's "Survival +." This is the kind of book Mayday tends to stock and Craig should definitely look at acquiring at least half a dozen copies. The author maintains his own site.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rasmus's "Epic Recession"

Mayday has in stock Jack Rasmus's "The Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression" (I bought my own copy at Mayday). For some weeks I've been thinking of writing my own amateurish and bungling review of this important book but have been saved from the effort by this one here, written by Suzi Weissman, which is far superior to any pathetic effort on my part. As a caveat, the book is heavy going and not for the faint of heart. I may yet write something on another important book along (roughly) the same lines: "The Great Credit Crash," edited by Martijn Konings, with contributions, inter alia, from the likes of Peter Gowan, Thomas Ferguson, Michael Hudson, Walden Bello, and Leo Panitch. This, too, I bought at Mayday. And this, too, is a taxing book that makes demands on the reader. In defence of the two books above it has to be said that economic and political reality is complex, and to acquire perspective and insight -- historical or otherwise -- into the present quagmire takes careful study.

An excerpt from Weissman's review:

Rasmus recognizes the theoretical debt he owes to three economic thinkers: John Maynard Keynes, whose work is more about how to recover than what produced the crisis; Irving Fischer, who identified debt and deflation as the main mechanisms that drive a downturn into a depression; and Hyman Minsky, the theorist who wrote about the role of speculative investment, showing how the accumulation of debt can destabilize the entire financial system and provoke the kind of financial meltdown we have just experienced. Although Minsky died in 1996, his thinking is so pertinent to the crises of 2007-10 that financial journalists and academics have called it a "Minsky moment."

Rasmus tries to take the work of these theorists further in order to understand the nature of the current crisis and he pledges to do this more fully in subsequent volumes as this crisis unfolds. His analysis is also aided by a thorough grounding in Marxist economic theory. Missing in Keynes, Fischer, and Minsky, he writes, is "...the consideration of the price for labor and its relationship to product and asset pieces: how wage deflation is related to product and asset deflation."


It's a pity there's no book club in the Twin Cities to discuss worthwhile books like this. There was a Marxist book club, organised by Dean Gunderson; that, however, seemingly folded about a year or so back.