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As I give it at least my dozenth try at getting the ol’ blogger legs back going, lets take a look at some highlights of life here in America, February of 2010 (grab a beer or a joint or a big mug of coffee, this is a long one):
Seems it was a very good year to be a Washington lobbyist- the best year ever, actually. The Center for Responsive Politics has looked into tens of thousands of disclosure findings and found that in 2009 special interests of every kind spent $3.47 billion lobbying the Federal government. “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines.” said CRP director Sheila Krumholz. Among those numbers, the dollars from your and my health care premiums (if you’re lucky enough to even have health insurance) spent ensuring Congress could not pass a meaningful overall of the health care system was $266.8 million (that amount spent by the pharmaceutical and health products industries represents a record for one sector). The report also notes- oddly- that this year saw a decline in the number of actual registered lobbyists, prompting speculation that in the face of tighter controls on lobbying from the Obama Administration some aspects of lobbying have moved under-ground; now there’s a welcome development: the seedy back-room world of those with power manipulating politicians for their personal gain moving into a closet in the back-room. “Democracy”? is that what you folks call this?
I’m decidedly excited about organized labor threatening to “stay out” of this year’s elections in protest over the way the Obama Administration and Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have failed to deliver much of anything for working people. Lets face it, the Republican Party is not even an option- in terms of political choice- for working class people (I know what you’re thinking about Tea Party-ers and rednecks and religious fundamentalists and the like, and I’ll get to them, but I’m referring here only to those who are at least partially aware of their class-standing, the existence of class society, and who reject in general the inherent good of wealth concentrated among the wealthy (even if some of these things happen far from even their own waking consciousness)). For years organized labor have leaned towards the Democratic Party knowing they’d at least get thrown some bread crust, and that that would always be better than the mere crumbs the Republicans may throw. But in the face of being so hopeful, so full of excitement and promise (and after spending serious money and donating serious volunteer time) to get Obama in and with majorities and everything, labor has gotten jack shit. Read the rest of this entry »
OK, Lou Dobbs is out at CNN. Part of the story is “who fucking cares?” But I think we’re capable of thinking clearer than that.
Apparently, CNN was so not into Lou Dobbs’ re-birth as an anti-immigrant xenophobe that they gladdly threw him $8 million to split ASAP rather than pay $12 million to keep him on their team for the next year and a half (the remaining length of his contract), decent ratings or not. And while Dobbs’ late career move to the racist, anti-immigrant right is generally what he’s known for (that and his willingness to use his prime time slot on CNN to give quasi-legitimacy to the ‘birther’ movement) I see a little bit more here, and I find it somewhat fascinating.
Dobbs moved, after all, from being a boisterous cheer-leader for free market capitalism and neo liberalism (with all its WTO, IMF, NAFTA, etc alphebet soup glory) to being decidedly on the side of “middle class America”- lamenting U.S. corporatism and cronyism, as well as the rising pay inequality and umemployment of post-industiral America. In so doing, Dobbs helps expose a dirty little trick of both the mainstream media and mainstream politicians: that the term “middle class” is code for “working white people”. In post modern (post-industrial) society class analysis is far more complicated that Marx’ original observations or simple notions of haves, have-nots, or working class vs ruling class. And it’s not enough, as has often been the case, to merely add in the middle class and call it an acurate breakdown of society. But Dobbs aimed for and nailed a crucial part of the U.S. electorate: the working white folks, who often see immigration and immigrants (largely) as a threat to their own livelihoods or security at best, or a scary, un-trustable, evil unknown at worst.
And perhaps the most important word in that last sentence is “electorate”; not only because it notes that segment of the population’s relative voter turn-out (or, at least, capability of), but- more so- in a more true display of what wields power in capitalist America, because it is that segment of the population most apt to frivolously spend their money on complete and utter bull shit which, whether on the retail, wholesale, distribution, development, or marketing end, is taking the hard-earned money of one person and lining the pockets of someone up the chain.
Dobbs may certainly be best known for his immigration stance, but his surprising switch from corporate, free market stooge to “defender of the middle class” is far more interesting- and telling- than I often see it talked about. “Middle class America” (i.e., working white people) is a substantial block- in terms of votes, but more importantly in terms of spending power. The danger that Dobbs perpetuates is in confusing racial issues into the mix, by making it “us from here” (not literally as in Native Americans of course, but Northern Europeans) versus “those from there”.
Take this, sweetshop labor:
From the time Russell (Athletic) shut the factory (which fired 1200 workers in Honduras after they formed a union) last January, the anti-sweatshop coalition orchestrated a nationwide campaign against the company. Most important, the coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops, persuaded the administrations of Boston College, Columbia, Harvard, New York University, Stanford, Michigan, North Carolina and 89 other colleges and universities to sever or suspend their licensing agreements with Russell. The agreements – some yielding more than $1 million in sales – allowed Russell to put university logos on T-shirts, sweatshirts and fleeces.
Going beyond their campuses, student activists picketed the N.B.A. finals in Orlando and Los Angeles this year to protest the league’s licensing agreement with Russell. They distributed fliers inside Sports Authority sporting goods stores and sent Twitter messages to customers of Dick’s Sporting Goods to urge them to boycott Russell products.
The students even sent activists to knock on Warren Buffett’s door in Omaha because his company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns Fruit of the Loom, Russell’s parent company.
And climate change? pleeeeze. World-wide, people are mother-fucking ready for it; time to get on board, ruling class.
Speaking of the environment, I don’t frequent Z Magazine often enough:
A green energy expert once tried to convince me that even though rooftop micro wind turbines are useless or worse than useless in most situations, they’re still worth promoting because they encourage people to think about their emissions. It’s a bit like the argument used by anti-drugs campaigners: the soft stuff leads to the hard stuff.
I’ve never been convinced by this argument. In my experience, people use the soft stuff to justify their failure to engage with the hard stuff. Challenge someone about taking holiday flights six times a year and there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll say something along these lines:
I recycle everything and I re-use my plastic bags, so I’m really quite green.
Being a cynical old git, I have always been deeply suspicious of the grand claims made for consumer democracy: that we can change the world by changing our buying habits. There are several problems with this approach:
• In a consumer democracy, some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to change a system that has served them so well.
• A change in consumption habits is seldom effective unless it is backed up by government action. You can give up your car for a bicycle – and fair play to you – but unless the government is simultaneously reducing the available road space, the place you’ve vacated will just be taken by someone who drives a less efficient car than you would have driven (traffic expands to fill the available road-space). Our power comes from acting as citizens – demanding political change – not acting as consumers.
• We are very good at deceiving ourselves about our impacts. We remember the good things we do and forget the bad ones.
Anyways, there’s always a belligerent Israel to look to for activist failure.
Speaking of activism, wasn’t Obama supposed to be ‘our’ (your) man? WTF?
Anyway, this post is suposed to be about the success of activism, so Put The Fun Between Your Legs:
Ah yes, now I remember writing, and thinking, and pondering (and throwing my various opinions out at the world)… sorry ’bout that 8-month or so interruption. Life tends to get in the way of one’s best laid plans, I guess.
And when I left off, I was thinking a lot about- in fact, even working in my spare time on a book- the importance of integral theory to the political providence. Conversely, I was also thinking a lot about the many ways in which integral thinkers get politics all wrong. For instance, I just came across a new (to me) site by integral heavy-weight Corey W. deVos, a guy who I generally like (OK, I’ve never met him). This despite the fact that I have some serious disagreements with his take on “integral politics”. But it’s nothing personal against him, since the mistakes he makes are rampant throughout the integral community.
In particular, my attention was drawn to a post up on Mr. deVos’ site which is more or less a mini-manifesto on the wonders- the integral nature even- of green capitalism. As I’ve said before, I’ve found that in general the integral community is liberal (in the American popular sense, liberal to social democratic in the European political sense) and very, very defensive of capitalism. They like it. A lot. At the very best they’d like to see it look more like the capitalist-socialist hybrid that is popular through much of Europe. But the integral community is, from what I’ve seen, more or less 98% upper-middle class or better. Even those “without money” come from privilaged backgrounds (not surprisingly, there’s a high concentration of ‘whiteness’ too, since economic standing and racial make-up are so often related, though, again just from what I’ve seen, the racial mix of the integral community is a bit more diverse than the socio-economic mix).
And while I’m on this tangent (I will get to Mr DeVos’ post and my opinions of what’s wrong with it), a word about the integral community’s general economic background (and connected political leanings): it’s no coincidence at all that the integral community is by-and-large made up of individuals whose economic lot have enabled them to have a higher degree of education, and have afforded them the leisure time to ponder the sorts of bigger picture questions that might lead one to come to an integral vantage point of the world (Kosmos, whatever you’d like to call it). There are, in fact, little if any people (let alone currents) involved with integral theory (or practice or interests) from Harlem, East St Louis, or South Central LA. There are, however, hotbeds of integral activity in Boulder, Ashville, Burlington. Speaking in strictly political terms, people who benefit from a political (economic) system are going to be loath to embrace the destruction of that system, even if the destruction of that system were to bring about a net gain for the majority, or even the planet. Instinctually, we want security and safety, and if we have it, well, it becomes quite a thing to root for something else to take its place, no matter the pros or cons.
Every once in a while I find some bit of news that’s not only good, but genuinely exciting; that’s really positive and makes me, well, hopeful. Today I stumbled on just such news. It came to me in the form of Tuesday’s announced partnership between the United Steelworkers (USW) and Mondragon Internacional. USW, of course, is the largest industrial union in the United States, representing over 1.2 million current and retired workers from a variety of sectors. But you might not have heard of Mondragon: they’re a behemoth corporation with over 260 separate entities under their purview- and every single aspect of Mondragon, from top to bottom, is collectively owned and run by their over 100,000 members. Mondragon originated in 1956 in the rural Basque region of Spain, and is actually Spain’s 7th largest corporation. Those 260 separate entities I mentioned operate in over 40 different countries around the world in an almost bizzarly diverse array of sectors, from industrial manufacturing to retail to financial services to construction and, seemingly, almost everything in between. And, yes, all of it collectively owned and managed by the workers themselves.
The partnership between USW and Mandragon is not only promising, but has the potential to completely re-shape economic recovery in the U.S.. From their joint statement about the collaboration:
“We see today’s agreement as a historic first step towards making union co-ops a viable business model that can create good jobs, empower workers, and support communities in the United States and Canada,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollowing out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants. We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”
Josu Ugarte, President of MONDGRAGON Internacional added: “What we are announcing today represents a historic first—combining the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative with one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking manufacturing unions to work together so that our combined know-how and complimentary visions can transform manufacturing practices in North America.”
Highlighting the differences between Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and union co-ops, Gerard said, “We have lots of experience with ESOPs, but have found that it doesn’t take long for the Wall Street types to push workers aside and take back control. We see Mondragon’s cooperative model with ‘one worker, one vote’ ownership as a means to re-empower workers and make business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.”
And in there is exactly the point: when businesses (be they manufacturing plants, construction companies, retail operations, financial services, whatever) are firmly rooted and invested in the people and places where they exist- not out of some abstract idea or feel-good community relations ploy, but because the “business” itself is the very people who are the community- then there is no question of moving jobs oversees, of outsourcing, of benefit cuts for the bottom and pay increases for the top. Businesses which are in fact the community, and not a bottom-line promoter for Wall Street, or a handful of profit-driven CEO’s are good employers, good neighbors, and good stewards of of the environment; because it’s themselves and their friends and family that they’re employing, it’s their actual neighbors, and their own environment which is all to be not only protected, but even enhanced by their actions. Win, win, win (for everyone except, well, Wall Street).
So cheers to this welcome development. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how they progress.
With behemoth health foods retailer Whole Foods marching ahead with plans for an out of scale (and, with the existence of so many local food co-ops, localy-based retailers, and yes, direct-from-the-farm markets, we could say wholly redundant and un-necessary) South Burlington location, faux-progressive and CEO John Mackey may well be getting a bit concerned. That’s because Vermonters in Pittsburgh to protest the G20 meetings have chosen to target a Whole Foods retailer there as part of their protest against the corporate elite’s pro-profit and anti-sustainability agenda.
A group of Vermont farmers and students blocked the entrance of a Pittsburgh Whole Foods around 10:00 Friday morning. They then build a raised-garden bed, complete with growing plants and vegetables, under their banners which read “Whole
Communities Not Whole Foods for ½ the people” and “ A Whole Lot of $$$$ GREEN $$$$$” as well as “Grow Gardens Not Corporations”.
From the activist’s press release:
One person joining them from Pittsburgh said “I’ve have watched Whole Foods
come in and cater to wealthier folks from outside this neighborhood with its
corporate green image while selling products that not only don’t contribute
to a local or sustainable food system but are totally unaffordable to most
folks that live here.”
Jean Marie Pearce left her farm in the Northeast Kingdom to participate in planting the garden. “We need to realize that Whole Foods is about growing profits not sustainability and the G20 is about growing capitalism not a healthy world. I want a world where food is grown for everyone, not the GDP for 20 countries! Examples like the dairy farm crisis right now prove the need for more inclusion around these policies. We can’t protect or control our economy when it is run by 20 people and their corporate friends.”
Once these Vermont activists return from Pittsburgh, we can only imagine what they have in-store for the developers who hope to build a Whole Foods in South Burlington. It’s a safe bet that Whole Foods and those developers are working on trying to imagine that very thing right this moment.
I have two separate but equally effective proposals to make that will drastically and surely make Vermont a much, much better place for all of us. OK, not for all of us, ’cause there are a handful of people that gain from the backwards, nonsensical world that Governor Douglas and his corporate stooges have built and continue to weasel us towards. These status-quo capitalists, as many of us are now familiar, have a simple program of claiming corporate greed and profiteering as “freedom” and simultaneously decrying the collective action of the people to take care of ourselves- for ourselves as well as our most vulnerable and downtrodden neighbors- as anti-freedom, socialistic (which somehow means “bad”) coming-of-the-anti-christ evil. But for the vast majority of us, these two suggestions would be net positives. As a result of my first proposal, farming on the scale that fits the Vermont landscape and social climate (i.e., relatively “small scale” farming, at least as compared to the big ag of the Midwest and California) would be a sustainable enterprise, as far and the financial field of view is concerned. Dairy farms would no longer be servants to out of control processing conglomerates who make record profits while the farms who supply their milk fold or file for bankruptcy at the steady pace of ‘taps’ on the funeral drum. As a result of my second proposal, the social services and safety net which takes care of our most needy friends and family, which as well provides and nurtures a great many of the finer aspects of life in Vermont which we’ve come to enjoy (not to mention the ordinary aspects of life, like going to the DMV), would be not only saved from the pillaging efforts of the Douglas Administration, but would possibly even thrive and grow to be better, more efficient, and more outstanding.
My first suggestion is for the diary farmers of Vermont to dump obscene quantities of milk into Lake champlain. Seriously. French dairy farmers, facing conditions quite similar to Vermont dairy farmers, recently decided to dump obscene amounts of milk into a well-known, public and touristy waterway, and not only did their action garner international attention (I read about it in the Times-Argus) but I’d be willing to bet that it helps lead to a resolution of their grievance. Elsewhere in France, as well as in the Netherlands and Germany, dairy farmers have been on strike- refusing to deliver their milk- in protest of the low amount they’re being paid (bellow the cost of production) and while some have chosen to collectively dump their milk (cows have to be milked, whether you’re on strike or not) in high-profile places, others still throughout Europe have been donating their milk to neighbors and the needy, while yet others have taken the direct action of raiding grocery stores and giving their product away free to shoppers.
And I promise that if Vermont’s dairy farmers did the same, their woes (and ours, in fact) would be largely over.
OK, these actions won’t end all of society’s ills. But between mega-conglomerate producers like Dean Foods and the political elites who must put the best face of “taking care of the little guy” forward in order to keep their jobs, to the myriad of economic interests wrapped-up in not only dairy farming but agriculture in general, I assure you that the powers that be will act quickly to ensure that Vermont dairy farmers get whatever it is they demand in order to stop dumping (or giving away for free) their milk. This will greatly effect the rest of us (who don’t milk cows for a living): for starters, the continued existence of dairy farmers throughout Vermont ensures the survival of open space and preservation of our majestic hillsides and valleys. The environment (and “environmentalists”, who I guess are defined as people who like having a clean, healthy place to live) would obviously benefit as the micro-ecological zones of Vermont would continue to allow for an abundance of wildlife both big and small to flourish free of the cancer of mindless development. This, of course, effects our incredibly important (like it or not) (and I don’t) tourist industry and the billions of dollars which we live off because people from somewhere else want to see our wilderness and farm-scapes and rolling hills, etc. Which, of course, keeps many of us employed in restaurants and hotels, and ski resorts and building condos, etc, etc. Plus, the rest of the Vermont farming community (who aren’t in the traditional dairy business) would be expected to be inspired, excited by the power of the diary farmer’s victory and perhaps even begin taking collective action for their needs and conditions- suddenly the whole State could be in an uproar about food security and availability and affordability and sustainability! It would be Scott Nearing’s goddamn utopia around here!
A bit more seriously though, the economic as well as social interests in Vermont which would not be willing to stand for such bad PR- to say nothing of the heated political climate- would act quickly to ensure, in whatever way they can, that our dairy farmers get paid a fair, livable wage for their milk. Everyone, except for the processing conglomerates and the political hacks like Douglas who support their free-market hubaloo, would win. Read the rest of this entry »