Christopher Hitchens — dead (1949-2011)

Iraq— devastated

Bridges — burnt to a crisp

Quote of the day

Janie Lober of Roll Call reported that:

A planned meeting today between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Occupy Wall Street activists was scuttled late Tuesday after Roll Call inquired about it, highlighting increasing tensions between Democrats and the movement.

While Democrats are adopting the movement’s “99 percent” language, they are increasingly retreating from the protesters themselves and their anti-capitalist rhetoric. Some in the party view the Occupy activists — camped out in grubby tent cities around the country — as a potential liability in 2012.

“Democrats should reject Occupy Wall Street as the spokesmen for the 99 percent,” said Kelly Bingel, who served as former Sen. Blanche Lincoln‘s (D-Ark.) chief of staff until 2005 and is now a partner with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. “The chance of those guys going out and voting or encouraging anyone else to vote is very low.”

Another Democratic lobbyist and early supporter of President Barack Obama agreed. “I think Democrats need to stay away from embracing OWS. We can acknowledge their frustrations without embracing their movement,” he said. “They are too fringe-y and don’t play well in middle America. Let the Republicans be the party of the angry right. We need to be the party where moderates feel welcomed.”

That tension was on display Tuesday as an attempt to bring Occupy activists together with lawmakers devolved into a controversy over who was using whom for a public relations ploy. The meeting between members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and 10 protesters from New York City was canceled late Tuesday afternoon.

To be sure, lobbyists have every reason to despise the Occupy Movement. Whereas the Occupy Movement promotes democratic and public accountability, a rational lobbyist will oppose any political entity which diminishes her influence. She will oppose it because, as a lobbyist, she sell private access and private accountability to those who can pay for it.

Quote of the day

Serge Halami of Le Monde Diplomatique appropriately compared the recent European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (“the troika”) intervention in Greece’s affairs to the Soviet Union’s termination of the Prague Spring:

For people in countries suffering under austerity measures, the history of Europe provides some outstanding examples. In some ways, recent events in Athens recall Czechoslovakia in 1968: the crushing of the Prague Spring and the removal of the Communist leader Alexander Dubcek. The troika has played the same part in reducing Greece to a protectorate as the Warsaw Pact did in Czechoslovakia, with Papandreou in the role of Dubcek, but a Dubcek who would never have dared to resist. The doctrine of limited sovereignty has been applied, though admittedly it is preferable and less immediately lethal to have its parameters set by rating agencies rather than by Russian tanks rolling over the borders.

Having crushed Greece and Italy, the EU and the IMF have now set their sights on Hungary and Spain.

Both interventions were intended to undermine democratic accountability in a peripheral state. Both, by the way, were successful.

Quote of the day

Michael Hudson wrote:

The easiest way to understand Europe’s financial crisis is to look at the solutions being proposed to resolve it. They are a banker’s dream, a grab bag of giveaways that few voters would be likely to approve in a democratic referendum. Bank strategists learned not to risk submitting their plans to democratic vote after Icelanders twice refused in 2010-11 to approve their government’s capitulation to pay Britain and the Netherlands for losses run up by badly regulated Icelandic banks operating abroad. Lacking such a referendum, mass demonstrations were the only way for Greek voters to register their opposition to the €50 billion in privatization sell-offs demanded by the European Central Bank (ECB) in autumn 2011.

Hudson follows this passage by making a case for the euthanasia of the rentier class (Keynes) and for fiat money. To be sure, his solutions are as politically improbable as they are humanly necessary.

Believing in a promise land

I recently managed to gain full-time employment, thereby leaving behind a life given over mostly to study and political writing, but also a life punctuated by bouts of paid labor and a durable fear of becoming destitute. Despite my fear, which was realistic, I preferred the mode of living I have just left behind. It’s what I would do if I were wholly free to choose. But I’m not that free or, when better put, I’m not free in that abstract and unlimited way.

I should feel grateful for my new job. After all, the real unemployment rate easily exceeds 20%. I do need the money. But I’m ungrateful. Why, I ask myself, should I feel grateful for having an opportunity to submit to a kind of social necessity? How might I appreciate my lack of autonomy while on the job? My subordination to others? My fatigue? My numb leg and aching back? My elemental need for money? I do feel grateful for being alive but I won’t live just to perform labor for pay. I sell my labor only because others depend upon me, upon my ability to earn a wage and my actually earning a wage. Heteronomy, as we know, passes into autonomy whenever one chooses for sound reasons to carry burdens which compromise one’s freedoms.

It’s a privilege to have the time and means to read and write. That is, only a few have the opportunity to devote their lives to this kind of work. It’s rewarding to those individuals who care about such things. The typical path to making good use of this opportunity requires years of study and a mastery of the relevant puberty rituals. One might, if one is lucky, find a job teaching at a university, as a holder of a tenured position with the time needed to do original research. Some, on the other hand, can live from their writing. But this is difficult. It too requires one to submit to social necessity. And making a living as a writer is especially improbable if one is a left critic. Even self-avowed liberals work at the margin. Leftwingers are mostly outcastes.

I am writing this short essay in order to remind whoever reads it that it takes considerable time and effort to develop a defensible position on matters of public importance. Most lack that time. They also are unaware that they need to make the effort to learn about the world. They have friends and family, jobs and homes. These are, for most, decisive constraints. They occupy time and often occlude the larger issues which make life what it is. It is easy to denigrate the many for their comparative lack of political sophistication, for voting Republican (or Democrat), for falling prey to authoritarian and fascist rhetoric, for believing nonsense economics, for devoting their lives to sectarian religions, etc. But, many of these acts and beliefs are just “havens in a heartless world,” to paraphrase and expand Marx’s critique of religion and everyday life. They give meaning to the various ways in which people suffer, meanings that are also ephemeral and even deadly in their effects. It is good to remember how difficult it is to live a fully human life.

But I’ll not think about these matters tomorrow, for I’ll be at work, earning a non-living wage, performing tasks which just about anyone can do, directly participating in a system which I would change if I could.

First posted at Fire Dog Lake

RIP David Montgomery, 1927-2011

David Montgomery died yesterday. Montgomery was an historian of the first rank who specialized in American labor history, an original voice of the New Labor History and the author or co-editor of the following major books:

Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872

Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles

The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925

Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market during the Nineteenth Century

Black Workers’ Struggle for Equality in Birmingham

His voice will be missed.

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