Blames it on fate

29 07 2014

1. Victims are bad political actors.

To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.

This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.

He is lauded because what he did was so rare.

2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.

There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.

I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.

The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.

Politics offers the possibility of power.

A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.

Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.

Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.

3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.

One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.

Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.

If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.

You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.

If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.

If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.

~~~

n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.

~~~

*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.





Gotta keep bars on all our windows

27 07 2014

Israel is us or, shall I say, US, as told by Jon Snow:

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

It is accentuated by suddenly being within sumptuously appointed Israel. Accentuated by the absolute absence of anything that indicates that this bloody war rages a few miles away. A war that the UN stated yesterday has reduced 55 per cent of  Gaza’s diminutive land to a no-go area.

Go tell that to the children playing in the dusty streets or the families forced out of  shelters like the UN school compound, to forage for food beneath shells and missiles.

In and out of an Israeli transit hotel for a few hours in Ashkelon, an hour from the steel crossing-point from Gaza, there were three half-hearted air raid warnings. Some people run, but most just get on with what they are doing.

They are relatively safe today because  Israel is the most heavily fortified country on earth. The brilliant Israeli-invented, American-financed shield is all but fool-proof; the border fortifications, the intelligence, beyond anything else anywhere.

This brilliant people is devoting itself to a permanent and ever-intensifying expenditure to secure a circumstance in which there will never be a deal with the Palestinians. That’s what it looks like, that is what you see. It may not be true.

The pressure not to go on this way is both internationally and domestically a minority pursuit.

He notes the security demands and commands from behind windows and walls, disembodied voices demonstrating control over voiceless bodies:

“Feet apart!” they said. “Turn! No, not that way – the other!” Then, in the next of five steel security rooms I passed through – each with a red or green light to tell me to stop or go – a male security guard up in the same complex above me shouted “Take your shirt off – right off. Now throw it on the floor… Pick it up, now ring it like it was wet” (it was wet, soaked in sweat).

From entering the steel complex until I reach the final steel clearing room where I held the baby, I was never spoken to face to face, nor did I see another human beyond those who barked the commands through the bullet-proof windows high above me.

Is this not how we in the US approach the rest of the world? We send drones over deserts and bombs into buildings and we sit in our sumptuously appointed country pointedly ignoring what we do and how we are.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 2

22 07 2014

Ariella Cohen, on “poor doors”:

Extell, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side asked the city to approve a plan for a 33-story luxury condo with a separate entry for the tenants residing in the publicly subsidized rent-stabilized units, which will be segregated from the rest of the building into a section facing the street while the luxury units will face the Hudson River.

This address isn’t the only one with citizen-subsidized egress segregation, but the overall numbers remain low, if only because, as Cohen notes, it’s hard to retrofit old buildings with separate-because-unequal entrances.

Still, one gets the sense that if it were possible, it would be more popular among the penthouse set. David Von Spreckelsen, a poor-door developer, defends the tender sensibilities of the wealthy living in tax-subsidized mixed-income housing:

I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.

Take it away, Jean-Jacques:

[I]f one sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height of greatness and fortune while the mob grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former prize the things they enjoy only to the extent that the others are deprived of them, and because, without changing their position, they would cease to be happy, if the people ceased to be miserable.

~~~

It’s tempting to end on Rousseau, but Cohen makes an important point in her ending: such segregation is not inevitable. It was enabled by policy, and can be undone by policy.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 1

20 07 2014

Yeah, a new series! On the rationale and ravages of capitalism! Whoo-hoo!

Okay, most of the time it will just be quick hits, highlighting (mostly) where the pointy head of the stick pokes through the socio-economic skin and (sometimes) efforts to break that stick. And every one in a while I’ll try to stitch these bits together in an attempt to make my own sense of where we are and where we’re going.

Yep, there are others out there manifestly more qualified than I am, who’ve made long and deep study of political economy (and who I’ll crib from—with credit!—when I remember to look as needed), but I want to try to puzzle my way through this by thinking politically, not economically.

That’s some artificial line-drawin’ I’m doing there, I know, but I’m drawing in pencil, so it’s okay.

So: onward!

~~~

These two are pretty self-explanatory:

*Paul Carr: New San Francisco billboard warns workers they’ll be replaced by iPads if they demand a living wage

(h/t karoli, Crooks & Liars)

*David Ludwig, Obama Unveils New Initiative to Encourage Private Funding of Public Infrastructure

(h/t Paul Constant, The Stranger)

~~~

A bit of comment:

*Joe Pinsker, The ‘Facebook Cop’ and the Implications of Privatized Policing

Pinsker is apparently an optimist, because he concludes In all likelihood, the cop Facebook is funding will likely exert a positive force on the area, checking in on wayward kids and improving emergency evacuation procedures.

Which is an odd conclusion, given that immediately following this he notes private entities whose objectives diverge from the public’s can apply the law as they see fit. Who does Facebook’s security team pay attention to? Who do they ignore?

And I would add: What of our rights against their actions?

*Brendan Kiley, In Addition to Those 14,000 Layoffs, Microsoft is Tightening the Screws on Its Vendors and A Note from the Trenches of Microsoft Vendors and Permatemps

Temporary nation! Whoo-hoo! As a worker-mercenary myself, I can only confirm the delights of livin’ the free labor life—tho’ I must admit that I’m not completely free, union-bound as I am.

*Megan Rose Dickey, How Much Uber Drivers Really Make

Surprise: not as much as promised.

The real reason, tho’, that I picked this one out, is that the phrase “sharing economy” makes my teeth itch.

When Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and TaskRabbit are all grouped into some kind of happy-clappy “sharing economy”—sharing! it’s good! didn’t your mother teach you to share?—what is oh-so-gracefully elided is that these are really examples of the fee-for-service brokerage economy.

Uber, et. al., are brokers: they broker the relationship between provider and client/customer and take a fee for that service.

One the one, capitalist, hand, this isn’t bad: people are getting paid; on the other, socialist, one, these kinds of services demonstrate how far capitalist relations have penetrated and commodified human relations.

~~~

Deserving much comment, which I may or may not eventually get around to providing:

Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe and Sheila Bapat, What Do the Recent Supreme Court Decisions Mean for Women’s Economic Security?

Esther Kaplan, Losing Sparta

~~~

How to fight back: Together! Solidarity!

Ansel Herz, Anti-Foreclosure Protesters Block Sheriff’s Eviction of Disabled Veteran in West Seattle

He will probably end up losing his home, because the law favors the house.

Still, it’s good to fight back, if only to remind ourselves we can fight back.





The Revolution is just a t-shirt away

15 07 2014

Now this is a real shocker:

pewquizgraphic

I know, I know, it was only twenty-three questions and hardly captures all of my views about policy and politics, but would the result be much different were there fifty questions? a hundred?

Yeaaahh, no.





Are we not men

2 07 2014

I freaked out about Hobby Lobby a few months ago, so while I was pissed at the ruling, by the time it arrived I was all freaked-out.

There’s a shit-ton of good (and lousy) commentary out there about the ruling—which means I’ma gonna pass on Fisking Alito’s decision (which, by the way, Supreme Bad-Ass Ruth Bader-Ginsburg does just fine in her opinion, beg. on p. 60) and tick off a few hits:

1. This decision is terrible for equal protection of the law, offering an out from laws of general applicability, based on the sincerely? insincerely? held beliefs of those seeking the out.

Yes, Alito & Kennedy say, No, no, that’s not what we really mean, but whether or not they are sincere in their meanings, that will be the practical effect.

2. It is difficult to see how the courts and the Court can avoid favoritism in choosing to exempt contraception-banners but not transfusion- or psychiatry-banners. [see point 3, pp. 5-6]

Which means they either engage in favoritism, allow Congress to engage in favoritism, or allow the exemptions.

3. It is not at all difficult to see why contraception was singled out as exempt-worthy but transfusions and psychiatry might not be.

Guess! Guess!

4. Given how weird and not-wonderful our politics has become, this ruling may actually work against religious conservatives, and will be used (likely to some effect) in campaigns against Republicans.

Religious conservatives have done a pretty good job of complaining how wee and woebegone they all are, under assault from the gay agenda and atheist meanies and a hostile Obama administration—which complaints, however ginned up, did form out of a juniper seed of fact: a majority of the country now accepts gay marriage, some atheists are mean, and Obama has pushed hard on protections for LGBT folk.

So, religious folks on sexual matters: on the defensive.

Now, however, those same religious folks may lose their “underdog” status and may—may—be seen less as bullied than bullies, or at least as above the law.

Which, y’know, they are.

5. This decision really is bad for women, not just because it makes it easier for employers to deny contraceptive coverage to them, but because it further segregates “sexual health” from “health”.

And no, I’m not even going to begin to link to all of the idiots who think sex is dirty or nasty or not somehow an integral part of human being.

6. This decision, combined with the Harris v. Quinn decision chipping away at public sector unions, is bad for everyone.

As Sarah Jaffe noted,

Attacks on all workers’ rights often come first through attacks on those deemed less important workers. When we decide that birth control isn’t a pivotal issue because it only affects some workers, or that homecare workers’ loss is not a loss for us all, we leave the door open for the next attack.

7. From another angle, it is difficult to see how an expansion of the rights of the corporate person is good for corporeal persons.

This last point deserves more thought, thought which I don’t have right now. Let’s just say that it seems that as the rights of one expands, the other contracts.

~~~

h/t Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money for the Jaffe link





Get up, stand up

25 06 2014

I look forward to SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES John Boehner filing a lawsuit against President Obama for, uh, presidenting.

After all, what other options does the SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES  have in dealing with a president?

Sure, it’s possible that some incompetent bastard who slid thru the confirmation process might allow the suit to go forward, but it is far more likely that the judge, after s/he stops laughing, would gavel down the suit and yell at the SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES to get out of her/his courtroom, quit wasting everyone’s time,  go back to Congress and do his job.

Hell, I’d pay five bucks for a seat in the courtroom to see that happen.





Just gonna have to be a different man

17 06 2014

I am admittedly ambivalent on the prospects of Hillary Clinton running for president.

I’d dearly love to see a woman president, but if I thought Russ Feingold had half a chance in Hades of becoming prez, I’d vote for him in a New York minute.

She’s just too. . . conservative for me to get hepped up about her.

(That said, if she’s the nominee, you can be damned sure I’ll vote for her over Ted Cruz or Rick Perry or Scott Walker: “voting while sighing” is preferable to “smashing an icepick thru my eye socket”.)

In any case, she’s received a fair amount of (mostly negative) press on her tetchiness with Terry Gross, and, honestly, her inability to give a decent answer to mildly skeptical questions about her “evolution” on gay marriage is ridiculous. She changed her mind, it’s clear she changed her mind, and yet this woman who had adopted a wonderfully FuckIt attitude while Secretary of State somehow froze up when confronted with that known aggressor Gross.

Not that it’ll matter. She might get some grief about it in the primary, but chances are her opponents will also have “evolved” on the issue and will be unwilling to press her too hard. If she makes it to the general, it won’t matter at all: many Americans who today favor same-sex marriage probably had the same views about the issue in the 1990s as Clinton did, and thus won’t hold her changing views against her.

Hell, they might even feel reassured by her vagueness about exactly when and why her views changed, not least because the course of their own change is similarly vague.

Those of who pay attention to politics often want some kind of consistency or thru-line in their candidates and politicians; we want, in some weird kind of way, for them to be better than us—or, vainly, for them to be good enough to deserve our support.

But we’re not normal—most people don’t pay attention to politics—and it’s not at all clear that the characteristics we prize or deplore in politicians matters much to the folks who don’t tune in to the race before that last Labor Day before the election.

And for better and for worse, they’re the ones who’ll have the final say on who the next president is.





Stand up for your rights

10 06 2014

All professors hate grading.

Okay, I know, I shouldn’t presume to speak for all professors everywhere, especially since I’m just a punk adjunct and lack the tenure Real Professors™ have, but on this issue, I’m pretty confident that I speak for every professor everywhere ever.*

(*Except for the sadists who see grading as an opportunity to inflict pain, and those who think grading provides an excellent opportunity for students to lea—no, wait, the latter are graduate students and ABDs who’ve yet to have their pedagogy snapped into reality.)

Anyway. I hate grading, and while I try very hard to grade in a thoughtful and conscientious manner, with every paper I pick up I have to fight the impulse to rush through and offer some bullshit “whatever” comment before dashing off the only thing most students care about: the grade.

Except, this summer, this session, I might actually enjoy reading my students’ papers.

Well, maybe “enjoy” is too strong of a word, but it’s possible that it won’t entirely suck.

I’m teaching a course I’ve taught once before—women and politics—but instead of having them write papers anchored in the required readings as I did the last time out, this time they’re writing one short and two longer papers on, yep, a woman in politics.

The first paper is a short bio, pretty much straight-up description. The second paper focuses on the movement or party in which the woman worked, and the third, an analysis of her role in that movement and her/its impact on society.

My students have picked Jeannette Rankin, Ruth First, Yuri Kochiyama, Aun San Suu Kyi, Denise Oliver, and the Mirabel sisters.

Awesome.

Yes, it helps that this is a very small class, but this is a Murderer’s Row lineup.

Well done, students. Well done.





Bring him back home

4 06 2014

Enough fucking around.

That was how I began an editorial advocating for the release of hostages held in Lebanon. A year or so later the arms-for-hostages story—otherwise known as the Iran-Contra affair—broke.

I claim no responsibility for the colossal fuck-up that was the Reagan administration’s attempts to free those hostages—for some reason, I doubt anyone in DC was paying attention to a 20-year-old editorialist for the leftist Daily Cardinal—and I was as righteous in my denunciation of that colossal fuck-up as any righteous leftist editorialist.

However. I am responsible for my words and advocacy. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I was pretty clearly in favor of robust action to get those hostages home.

And I was wrong wrong wrong.

Not wrong in wanting these men released, but wrong in thinking that no one in Washington was paying attention, that it was a simple matter, and that their release mattered more than anything else.

Wrong wrong wrong.

So, no, I have no opinion about the release of Sgt. Bowe Berghahl. I am glad, for he and his family, that he is home, and am not opposed in principle to notion of prisoner swaps—but beyond that, I got nothin’.








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