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Anarchism: Doing Intellectual Work for Conservatism

[ 225 ] September 13, 2013 |

There’s a new organization in Washington:

R Street is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization. It believes that freedom and free markets work better than the alternatives. R Street can fairly be described as “free market” or “libertarian.” Insofar as R Street looks to thinkers like John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James C. Scott as guides to good public policy, it might fairly be described as part of the political right. At the same time, R Street is concerned—passionately—with making sure government does its work in an efficient, effective manner. Above all, R Street is much more interested in solving problems and working with others than in winning political fights.

Ah, a libertarian think tank citing James Scott as an inspiration.

James Scott is a great writer and scholar. But I’m not surprised that he would also inspire conservatives. Anarchism does tremendous intellectual work for conservatism, especially at its libertarian end. Anarchism is ultimately a troubled ideology with no possibility of ever achieving meaningful change in society. The reason for that is that while everyday humans can create behavioral changes, it takes the state to codify and enforce those changes and always has. We might all think gays are the equal of heterosexuals in 2013. But it’s only in 13 or so states that our beliefs on that front have any legal meaning at all. I guess in an anarchist paradise we will all come to accept other people as they are. In the real world, hate and intolerance reign supreme and must be controlled through legal means.

The state is central to any functioning society and undercutting the state, whether by Scott or anyone else, ultimately serves a conservative project more effectively than any anarchist project because one has access to power and the other never will. So conservatives can point to Seeing Like a State and talk about state failures with all sorts of concrete examples. They can use that to reject state intervention anywhere they want. It’s high modernism! It’s state oppression! Look at the people killed in Soviet collectivization! Brasilia! Tanzanian villagization!

The book is brilliant and demonstrates the perils of the outer limits of state control over the citizenry. The downside of Seeing Like a State is that it’s highly incomplete as a critique of the state. Scott picks out the worst possible actions of centralized states and ignores the many necessary and wonderful things that states accomplish by serving as a way for citizens to change the structure of their society and have that backed up with the force of law. In other words, no state, no anti-lynching laws. This doesn’t mean the state is perfect. Obviously. But it does mean it is absolutely necessary to positive and concrete change that transforms society.

Of course conservatives are misreading Scott and taking from it what they want. But who cares? They don’t. Conservatives has intentionally misread Adam Smith and James Madison for 200 years. Why would they not intentionally misread James Scott?

One of the greatest fears I have about the modern age is the distrust of the state on both the right and the left. This vastly helps the right because it undermines the one effective institution that has created the most concrete positive change for progressives, racial minorities, women, and working-class people in history. Take that way and what do we have left? Farmers’ markets and bicycle repair collectives?

The Decline of DeNiro

[ 124 ] September 13, 2013 |

It seems to me that one of the tragedies of film in the last twenty years was Robert DeNiro deciding he still wanted to work a lot but he had no desire to try or push himself in his work. One could argue it’s the same for Pacino, but not only does DeNiro have a deeper catalog of great films than Pacino but I feel he’s just a better actor (although obviously Pacino’s top 5 films stack up with anyone’s in film history so you may disagree).

…..One piece of evidence here to DeNiro really not trying. Scorsese wanted to cast him as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York but DeNiro didn’t want to have to travel to Italy where the film was shot. While I guess I understand that, it’s pretty clear that he has no problem passing up roles for easy paychecks.

American Exceptionalism

[ 154 ] September 13, 2013 |

Another reason to have faith in America’s young people:

Just 32% of Millennials believe the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. That number progressively increases among the Gen X (48%), Boomer (50%) and Silent generations (64%). Millennials were also the most likely generation to say America is not the greatest country in the world (11%).

Millennials also are less likely than their elders to express patriotism. A majority of Millennials (70%) agreed with the statement “I am very patriotic.” But even larger percentages of Gen Xers (86%), Boomers (91%) and Silents (90%) said the same. This generational gap is consistent and has been identified in surveys dating back to 2003.

Putin’s all-time classic trolling of the United States in his Times op-ed did at least have the true statement that American exceptionalism is ridiculous.

You know what is exceptional about the United States?

Our belief in American exceptionalism.

And that’s about it.

The Story of Susie

[ 18 ] September 12, 2013 |

Country music will warn you about many things. Among them is to watch out for strangers with drugs.

Every drug known to man, she now knew them all.

Contracts

[ 62 ] September 12, 2013 |

Time to make an announcement that’s been in the works for awhile.

Today, I signed a contract with The New Press. The book is tentatively titled “Out of Sight: A Century of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe” and is a history of American corporate mobility that builds connections between current labor conditions in the developing world and corporations avoiding labor and environmental regulations by moving their sites of production around the planet. Bridging the 102 years between the Triangle Fire of 1911 and the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the book examines how corporations responded to effective regulations that made American workplaces safer and American air and water cleaner not by becoming good corporate citizens, but instead by moving production to recreate the dangerous work and unregulated pollution of the Gilded Age.

Hiding industrial production from American consumers has proven an incredibly effective corporate strategy. Citizens are no longer galvanized by the Triangle Fire to create reforms and corporations work with government officials to suppress the unions in overseas plants that could publicize the conditions of work. Clothes appear on hangers and meat in nicely wrapped packages without most Americans giving a second thought to how those products arrived at their fingertips. Chapters examine the history of exploiting female labor in the textile industry, strategies to hide meat production from consumers, the outsourcing of pollution to the world’s poor, and the effects of outsourcing on the long-term stability of the American working class. Finally it suggests ways American consumers and activists can work to ensure products are produced in environmentally sustainable and dignified conditions, using examples ranging from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which set minimum standards for working conditions aboard ships bringing goods to the United States, effectively creating a race to the top in that industry, to suggest workable paths to a better future for the planet and the global working class. Ultimately, we need internationally enforceable labor and environmental standards that allow workers to sue corporations in the corporate nation or origin or in international courts. Without making labor and environmental regulations as mobile as capital investment, we cannot stop the scourge of capital mobility’s exploitation of labor and nature.

I always said my hatred of capitalism should make me some money. And amazingly, it now has.

Your Republican Party–Too Extreme To Accept Company Unions

[ 143 ] September 12, 2013 |

Volkswagen has a plant in Chattanooga. It is used to its company unionism of Germany and wants to recreate that in the United States, in part because labor representatives in Germany see the company’s expansion into non-union plants in the U.S. as a threat. But company unions are illegal in the U.S. So Volkswagen has invited the United Auto Workers in to organize the workers into a union that the two parties have agreed will be run on the German company union lines.

I have pretty mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, company unions are rife with problems and those very deep problems are why they are illegal. On the other hand, any UAW representation is going to be better for workers than what they now have and future adjustments to the arrangement are always possible that could result from the militancy of empowered workers. Plus this is an example of unions adjusting to the new reality of organized labor’s demise and thinking in new ways about how they can represent workers.

What’s more remarkable is the anger and outrage from Tennessee Republican leaders, especially Bob Corker and Bill Haslam. They can’t believe Volkswagen would invite Satan into their plants? Are they crazy? Evidently! After all, these guys built their careers on demonizing organized labor and inviting companies to their states because exploitation of labor was possible. Reading what Corker and Haslam are saying, one feels that they would rather lose the factory entirely than accede to the devilish union, even if that union is severely limited in what it can do.

And this gets at why I constantly talk about the Gilded Age as the template for the modern Republican Party. It’s not 1927 and Calvin Coolidge because that was the era of company unionism. At that time, business leaders and conservative politicians saw company unions as a benefit that would buy off just enough of the worker anger that had led to the radicalism of the 1880-1920 period to keep production running and real unions out. It was the cost of doing business.

Today’s Republicans have no interest in this. They see the complete crushing of organized labor and the full power of corporation to exploit workers as the goal. They actively want to recreate the conditions of the Gilded Age, whether in the U.S. or abroad, and keep the money flowing to the vampire plutocrats living off the blood of workers job creators. Recreating the 1920s is an outrage because Corker and Haslam are so committed to the 1890s as a model.

The Brilliance of Chip Kelly

[ 84 ] September 12, 2013 |

Bill Barnwell on the true brilliance of Chip Kelly, where he creates so many options that defenses actually forget about Michael Vick being able to run, opening up gigantic holes for someone defenses have made their primary focus for a decade.

I also demand more formations with the tackles lined up wide with the receivers and then running it up the middle with a 3-man line for 10 yards.

Of course, I don’t know why everyone’s making a big deal about Chip Kelly defeating Washington. He did that every year while coaching Oregon.

A Happy Return

[ 70 ] September 11, 2013 |

David Neiwert has restarted Orcinus. This is great news.

Identity Politics

[ 191 ] September 11, 2013 |

I’d call Emily Douglas’ response to DeBlasio’s victory over Christine Quinn in yesterday’s New York City mayoral primary a bit unfortunate, if understandable to an extent. Even though it’s pretty clear she’s not herself comfortable with her entire argument, Douglas’ response basically comes down to the fact that it was time for a woman and a lesbian to be mayor and that women like Quinn or Hillary Clinton in 2008 can’t win over men because they had to play a careful game throughout their careers because they are women.

I’m going to offer this image as a counterargument to Douglas:

That’s not to say that women don’t face serious disadvantages in politics, even in 2013. It’s far easier for a man to have a long political career and rise to the top today, partly because those men started when the barriers were higher to women and partly because of still existent gender inequality.

The LGBT community voted DeBlasio over Quinn 47-34 because he is far more politically progressive than Quinn. At best Quinn was the 3rd most progressive candidate and was probably 4th. Why would progressives vote for her? To continue Bloomberg’s dream of turning New York into a playground for the world’s billionaires? The multimillionaires will have to settle for Brooklyn. To continue stop and frisk? Also, are all gays and lesbians white? Could non-white gays and lesbians be voting racial identity over sexual identity, especially if they see a greater threat to their bodies over the former? Of course.

We know more about why Hillary Clinton lost the primary in 2008. Although there was absolutely a sexist element to the coverage of the race, Clinton lost because she had over-imbibed in the centrist southern DLC politics of her husband and advisers rather than reading the state of the Democratic electorate desperate to overturn the policies of the Bush Administration and create a progressive nation (and hey, look how that turned out!). Christine Quinn doomed herself by being too close to the unpopular policies of a mayor who they could no longer tolerate. Hillary Clinton doomed herself by not being distant enough from policies that the Democratic base now rejected.

A women and possibly a lesbian will be elected mayor of New York when she provides the policy choices the voters are looking for. It’s never anyone’s turn. Except for the person who is the most politically progressive. In this case it might have been DeBlasio and it might have been Liu but it most certainly was not Quinn. Democrats voted on this basis.

Good Timing

[ 27 ] September 11, 2013 |

John Kerry’s bumbling tenure as Secretary of State continues, as he spends the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet coup talking to Henry Kissinger this afternoon.

Rescue Dogs

[ 22 ] September 11, 2013 |

A gallery of the last twelve surviving rescue dogs who worked the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse.

The Perpetrators of 9/11

[ 61 ] September 11, 2013 |

Augusto Pinochet

Richard Nixon

Henry Kissinger

If you need context, see here and for more detail here.