Another Stop Along the Road to Damascus

by matttbastard

The pullquote from one of David Frum’s latest eviscerations of contemporary USian conservative folly, a meditative riff on Susan Sontag’s infamous “Were our enemies right?” speech, was making the rounds yesterday (eventually getting linked by the subject of Frum’s counterfactual). And yeah, it’s sharply on point. However, a preceding passage also deserves to be highlighted; though directed towards conservatives, I think all who are generally concerned about ideology trumping pesky facts can relate to varying degrees:

When people tell me that I’ve changed my mind too much about too many things over the past four years, I can only point to the devastation wrought by this crisis and wonder: How closed must your thinking be if it isn’t affected by a disaster of such magnitude? And in fact, almost all of our thinking has been somehow affected: hence the drift of so many conservatives away from what used to be the mainstream market-oriented Washington Consensus toward Austrian economics and Ron Paul style hard-money libertarianism. The ground they and I used to occupy stands increasingly empty.

I know this is far from the first time that Frum has taken the contemporary GOP to task for marginalizing conservatives who aren’t down with the JBS and understand there’s a time/place for Keynesian stimulus. But still, it bears repeating, especially for a Canadian audience all too aware of Mr. Frum’s movement pedigree: Even David fucking Frum has watched his once-seemingly unbreakable bond with rigid right-wing ideology unravel in the wake of cataclysmic circumstance (ie, the biggest global economic downturn since the capitol-‘D’ Depression. That, and the GOP Big Tent collapsing under the weight of a steaming pile of Tea Party batshit.)

Now if only the White House weren’t seemingly joined at the hip with the status quo.

Image: Urban Sea Star, Flickr

Montreal Massacre: “Remember, then organize.”

by matttbastard

Record snowfall may have forced the cancellation of local commemorative events, but the memories of December 6th, 1989 remain fresh, regardless of where we wrestle with them. Though we take time today to reflect on the untimely murders of 18 women (for the heinous crime of being women), all-too-immediate events demand that we not simply remember the past, but also resolve to continue the fight for justice in the struggle for women’s equality. Eileen Morrow, coordinator, Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, notes in a Toronto Star op-ed how economic strife is intrinsically linked with violence against women, and how renewed calls for austerity measures in the wake of mounting debt could have even more of a negative impact:

During a recession, the fear is that violence against women will rise while meaningful action on the issue will fall. That worry is well-placed.

The media have already reported increasing calls by women to crisis lines and police. Catholic Family Services in Durham region reported a 24 per cent increase in referrals for domestic violence in the last three months of 2008. The Canadian Mental Health Association in London reported a rise in domestic violence in the spring of 2009. Brockville reported a 100 per cent increase in domestic violence calls to police during that period.

In the spring of 2009, stories about a stunning increase in calls to shelters in Calgary, where the recession hit hard, were reported in newspapers across Canada — a 200 per cent increase in one year; a 300 per cent increase in the month before the stories ran.

A spot survey just conducted by the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses bears out the continuing trend toward increasing calls for help, despite predictions that the economic outlook is positive and recovery has started.

A comparison of service delivery in the years 2007 and 2010 in 15 women’s shelters across the province shows that requests for support have increased, albeit not as dramatically has those of Alberta.

Crisis calls increased by almost 15 per cent between the two years; admissions of women and children increased by 20 per cent. Shelters had to “turn away” 44 per cent more women and children in 2010 than in 2007 because they were full. In smaller towns with fewer services, the shelters faced double the demand of larger cities.

Each year, the women’s shelter association gathers the names of women and children murdered in situations where an intimate partner is either charged or commits suicide. In 2008 and 2009, the total was 16 for each year. In 2010 (up to the present) it is 21.

Admittedly, the numbers are not scientific and cannot be decisively linked to the recession, but they are troubling. Still more troubling, however, is the possibility that governments will overlook the need to increase support for women rather than to freeze or lower to meet the demands of austerity.

Recent history only compounds concern about government overlooking the needs of women:

In the Mike Harris era of the mid-90s, cuts to women’s services and broad social programs such as social assistance and housing, forced many women to stay in abusive relationships. Murders of women increased in Canada, primarily in Ontario. Services in Ontario are still struggling to recover.

The mid-90s was a time of growing government restraint both federally and provincially, somewhat like today but far less acute. The global economy had not yet failed.

Nationally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been clear that national priorities are fixed on cost-cutting and reducing the $45.4 billion federal deficit. The Province of Ontario also has an $18.7 billion dollar deficit to address.

Both federally and provincially, all political parties are in election campaign mode. The timing of the federal election is a guessing game; some are guessing spring of next year. The Ontario election is fixed for Oct. 6, 2011.

As a result, no one knows which political party will be responsible for ultimately guiding the country and the province back to economic stability. What is clear, however, is that right now is the time to raise issues of women’s human and equity rights, not when an election is finally called.

Judy Rebick notes that with programs dedicated to women’s issues once again in the sights of budget-cutters, the only way to truly stand up to the forces of austerity and push a truly progressive agenda of social and economic justice for women is to challenge the casual disregard of technocratic indifference. If we are to make a measurable impact, supporters of women’s liberation must once again mobilize:

Today the women’s movement in English Canada is a shadow of its former self and the women’s movement in Quebec is weaker too. I do not believe this has anything to do with the horror at Polytechnique but rather in part because of our success and the feeling of a younger generation that equality had been achieved and in part because of the impact of neo-liberalism and the individualism and consumerism that it promotes.

But while there is a societal consensus against male violence against women today, that violence goes on unabated particularly against marginalized women like those disappeared on the downtown east side or the hundreds of aboriginal women who are disappeared and murdered without much attention from police, or the virtual slavery of desperate women trafficked into prostitution on a global scale.

The best way to remember these 14 women is recommit ourselves, women and men, to the fight for women’s liberation and an end to violence against women. On Sunday there will once against be vigils across the country. Remember them and then organize.

“Remember them and then organize.”

We truly honour their legacy by refusing to give up the fight, even in the face of intimidation, be it from the barrel of a long gun or an autocratic prime minister’s far-right legislative agenda.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

61K Canadian Jobs Shed In March

by matttbastard

wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Another month, another round of massive job losses in Canada:

Canada is shedding jobs at a rate not seen since the deep recession of the early 1980s, as March saw another 61,300 workers join the ballooning ranks of the unemployed.

The loss brought Canada’s official unemployment rate to eight per cent, the worst in seven years.

Statistics Canada noted that since the peak in October, employment has fallen each month for a total of 357,000, representing 2.1 per cent of the work force. That is the most since 1982.

[...]

Economists had been expecting another poor jobs report with about 55,000 jobs lost.

But the reality was slightly worse, and much worse if the 18,200 jobs increase in part-time work were taken out.

Rising part-time work at a time of falling employment is usually an indicator that Canadians are settling for whatever jobs they can find. Among full-time workers, the contraction in employment was another outsized 79,500 in March.

So.  As Uncle Steve and the Harpercons sadly continue to lose their shit, the Canadian job market keeps hemorrhaging. And, waiting in the wings, we have Iggy and the Torie-lites, ready to save us all by doing, er, pretty much the same bullshit Harper and Co. have been doing, only with less asshattery, sweatervests and painfully-forced smiles.

We are so fucked.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Shock Doctrine 7: Sheep Farming in the Falklands (Or, The Revolution Will Not Be Monetized)

by matttbastard

Chapter 6: Saved by a War Thatcherism and its Useful Enemies

(Previous posts here, Sarah’s posts here.)

“Creating a useful crisis is part of what this will be about….[s]o the first bunch of communications that the public might hear might be more negative than I would be inclined to talk about (otherwise). Yeah, we need to invent a crisis and that’s not just an act of courage, there’s some skill involved”

- Former Ontario Education Minister John Snobelen

Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.

She’s presented by many as one of conservatism’s patron saints, a great leader who, through sheer force of will, pushed back against the excesses of the post-WWII British welfare state. Yet her sweeping program of Friedmanite deregulation and rollback of worker’s rights has also been dubbed by many commentators a ‘revolution’.  Though seemingly incongruous, the term is fitting; as the National Review famously declared in 1987, Thatcher’s ultimate goal was “nothing less than the reshaping of British political and economic life as that has been understood since 1945, by Labour and Tory alike. [emph. mine]“

Klein outlines in Chapter 6 how Thatcher used the political capital raised via the war in the Falklands to not only unite the nation, but to finance her radical neoliberal economic reform agenda, despite a previously skeptical public. Klein also notes that the controversial yet popular military endeavour coincided with the penning by Friedman of a passage that she says “best summarizes the Shock Doctrine: “Only a crisis–actual or perceived–produces real change.  When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.””

The so-called ‘crisis hypothesis’ was utilized to great effect, at least in a political context, by Thatcher, according to Klein:

“Between 1084 and 1988, the [British] government privatized, among others, British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, British Airport Authority and British Steel, while it sold its shares in British Petroleum.

“Much as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, would take an unpopular president and hand him an opportunity to launch a massive privatization initiative (in Bush’s case, the privatization of security, warfare and reconstruction), Thatcher used her war to launch the first mass privatization auction in a Western democracy.”

As Sarah notes, despite their widely-accepted status as heroic conservative icons, pro-market radicals like Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan enacted their policies in direct opposition to conservatism.  A so-called ‘conservative’ brazenly utilized a crisis to enact revolutionary change–coopting political theory traditionally the domain of the far left.   In a post highlighting the days events at the ongoing G20 summit, Sarah points out that it was conservative leaders Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy who were pushing for stricter regulations of global financial markets, rather than left-of-centre leaders like Barack Obama or Gordon Brown:

For Sarkozy to call for giving capitalism a conscience–well, it underlines the difference between French conservatism and American, but it also points out that state regulation and control over capital markets is not actually a shocking, strange idea, and that the rapid deregulation was actually the revolutionary idea.

Rather than promoting pragmatic, prudent conservative economic platforms, Thatcher (and Reagan) instead grabbed hold of the most extreme of Milton Friedman’s theories and ran with them Jamaican sprinter style.  The fact that ‘socialists’ like Tony Blair eagerly took  the baton passed to them by purported ideological opponents and carried it over the finish line only serves to further illustrate the fact that adherence to radical free market economic theory transcends the traditional left-right political axis–and, ultimately, that Thatcher’s revolution was indeed sucessful beyond her wildest expectations.

Next–Chapter 7: The New Doctor Shock Economic Warfare Replaces Dictatorship

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Shock Doctrine 6: Crimes and Misdemeanors

by matttbastard

Chapter 5: “Entirely Unrelated” How an Ideology was Cleansed of its Crimes

(Previous posts here, Sarah’s posts here.)

Why is it that capitalism’s crimes are divorced from the ideology itself, while Marxism is joined at the hip to the atrocities of the USSR and Revolutionary China?

In Chapter 5, Klein examines how neoliberalism managed to wash itself of the many, many atrocities committed by its acolytes in the Southern Cone, ironically in the name of ‘cleansing’ polluted economic systems.  She contends that, by focusing on generalized ‘human rights violations’ rather than exploring the systemic and ideological foundations underneath, well-meaning organizations such as Amnesty International essentially played the role of useful idiots.  It wasn’t Friedman’s fault (much less neoliberalism’s)  that a few ‘bad apples’ went a bit too far with their security policies while trying to ‘reform’ their ‘impure’ economies.

So, the horrific human rights abuses perpetuated by the likes of Stalin and Mao are used to define and smear an entire political and economic school, while Pinochet or the Junta in Argentina are written off as isolated incidents, nothing to do with the drive to liberalize markets by any means necessary.

As the global economic crisis continues unabated, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we write off the current situation as the result of bad luck, incompetence, a few bad apples at AIG getting unearned taxpayer-funded bonuses, Bernie Madoff’s now-infamous Ponzi scheme? Or do we take the opportunity to honestly look at what REALLY brought us to this point?

Matt Taibbi believes we need to examine and come to terms with the deliberate, malicious systemic abuses and deficiencies that, for too many years, have allowed shady speculators to essentially roll the public, repeatedly:

So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. [...]

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they’re not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d’état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — “our partners in the government,” as [AIG CEO Edward] Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

In other words, what got us here is a feature, not a bug.  The rot won’t be quelled by purging the barrel of rotten fruit; the barrel itself is befouled and corrupted. We can’t afford to allow the same greedy, sociopathic assholes who helped erect the current neoliberal economic structure to build a new framework that will inevitably lead to another future collapse.

After too many years of evading responsibility, unregulated capitalism must be held accountable, once and for all.

Next–Chapter 6: Saved by a War Thatcherism and its Useful Enemies

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Specter to American Workers: “Drop Dead!”

by matttbastard

Well, so much for Arlen Specter’s emancipated testicles:

In June 2007, the vote on the Employee Free Choice Act was virtually monolithic: 50 Senators, Democrats, voted for cloture and 48 Republicans against.  I was the only Republican to vote for cloture.  The prospects for the next cloture vote are virtually the same.  No Democratic Senator has spoken out against cloture.  Republican Senators are outspoken in favor of a filibuster.  With the prospects of a Democratic win in Minnesota, yet uncertain, it appears that 59 Democrats will vote to proceed with 40 Republicans in opposition.  If so, the decisive vote would be mine.  In a highly polarized Senate, many decisive votes are left to a small group who are willing to listen, reject ideological dogmatism, disagree with the party line and make an independent judgment. It is an anguishing position, but we play the cards we are dealt.

[...]

The problems of the recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses.   If efforts are unsuccessful to give Labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the NLRA, then I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.

I am announcing my decision now because I have consulted with a very large number of interested parties on both sides and I have made up my mind.  Knowing that I will not support cloture on this bill, Senators may choose to move on and amend the NRLA as I have suggested or otherwise. This announcement should end the rumor mill that I have made some deal for my political advantage.  I have not traded my vote in the past and I would not do so now.

Fucking  hell — yet AGAIN Specter yanks progressive chains before finally–and after MUCH agony–deciding to vote the fucking GOP party line. Um, yeah.  The worst economic downturn since the motherfucking Great Depression is, like, totally the wrong time to do something that might benefit, um, American workers.

Yeah.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney isn’t swallowing Specter’s bullshit sammich:

Today’s announcement by Sen. Specter — a sponsor of the original Employee Free Choice Act who voted for cloture in 2007 — is frankly a disappointment and a rebuke to working people, to his own constituents in Pennsylvania and working families around the country.

Or, as Sarah puts it (via tweet):

[T]he problem with the economy is a crisis of demand. You create demand by paying workers well. [emph. mine]“

Take action: Contact Arlen Specter (snail-mail, phone and fax here; email form here) and (politely but firmly) let the good Senator from PA know how you feel about his “agonizing” decision to give the finger to working families by rolling over on EFCA.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

F*ck Me with a Freshly Sharpened Pitchfork.

by matttbastard

Update 03/23: Make sure to check out Sarah’s post on Spitzer, populism, and The Experts.

On today’s episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS, an ‘expert panel’ was convened to discuss ‘populist’ outrage in the wake of AIG and other recent scandals related to the global economic crisis. Via email, I bet Sarah a dinner at IHOP (because we be keepin’ it real like that in this economy) that the ‘expert panel’ would be tilted towards the Washington media elite–y’know, Broder,  Friedman, maybe some latte-sipping ‘even the’ liberal from TNR.  Sarah very astutely declined to take me up on that bet.

Good thing, too–I knew it was going to be bad, but this so-called ‘expert panel’ went beyond even the previously charted borders of EPIC ESTABLISHMENT FAIL .

I mean, was that ‘expert panel’ on ‘populist rage’ a joke?  Let’s see: a glibertarian blogger, a former Goldman Sachs greed peddler, and a tainted ex-Merril Lynch exec.

Seriously?

How about next time try featuring some actual, y’know, populists–labour reps, or writers like Barbara Ehrenreich or Bill Fletcher, Jr–people who aren’t stuck in the bubble of establishment Washington, who don’t purse their lips at such vulgar concepts as ‘populism’,  ‘nationalization’ or even (gasp!) ‘socialism.’   Or, as Sarah suggested, someone like our homie Erik Loomis, a Gilded Age historian whose focus is labor history and has studied in depth populist movements in the US. In other words, REAL experts on the matter of ‘populist rage’, not smug apologists for the very system that has PROVOKED the white-hot ire of the general public.

At the end of the segment, Zakaria guilelessly requested that viewers write in if they felt the panel didn’t contain enough populist outrage “and we’ll see what we can do to correct that”. Dude, there was NO populist outrage–period.  Jesus fucking wept — talk about a glib cocktail party sneer from the woefully-out-of-touch establishment.

Pitchforks. Pikes. Tumbrils.

Take action: Contact Fareed Zakaria GPS and (politely but firmly) let them know that you want to see REAL experts on populism represented in any purportedly ‘expert’ panel.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers