Jesse Jackson on poverty

Jackson recently wrote:

Public policy matters. We could eliminate poverty in this country with sensible policy. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage; empower workers to organize and negotiate a fair share of the profits they help to produce. Guarantee affordable health care for all. Provide affordable housing for all. Provide high-quality pre-K and quality education for all. Add a jobs guarantee, so that instead of forcing workers onto unemployment when the economy slows or their company goes belly up, they can move to a public job doing work that is necessary — from retrofitting buildings for solar heating to caring for our public parks to providing care for the elderly and more.

Let’s not fool ourselves. America has millions of people in poverty because Americans choose not to demand the policies that would lift them out of poverty. Because corporate CEOs choose profits and bonuses over fair pay for their workers. Because small-minded legislators are more responsive to those who pay for their party than those who are in need.

Poverty is an artefact of second nature. It involves intentions and choices. It is not inevitable.

Quote of the day

Alexander Keyssar wrote (2000 and 2009, xxi):

The history of suffrage in the United States was…shaped by forces that opposed or resisted a broader franchise, forces that at times succeeded in contracting the right to vote and often serviced to retard its expansion. Once again, most of these forces or factors have long been recognized: racist and sexist beliefs and attitudes, ethnic antagonisms, partisan interests, and political theories and ideological convictions that linked the health of the state to a narrow franchise.

One important factor, however, has received little or no attention: class tension. The concept of class has long carried heavy ideological freight and at times has been the great unspoken word in America’s officially classless society….A wide-angle look at the full span of suffrage history — considering all restrictions on voting rights throughout the nation — strongly suggests that class relations and apprehensions constituted the single most important obstacle to universal suffrage in the United States from the late eighteenth to the 1960s.

Voting and the ‘rule by law’

The PEI report for 2018 concluded:

The issue of voter suppression has been a major issue for debate where some new laws, focusing on voter identification and polling facilities, can be seen as suppressing the right of legitimate citizen voters to participate. Republican commentators, on the other hand, respond that election laws are needed to eliminate the risks of voter fraud. Several reforms to state electoral laws were litigated in the run up to the 2018 campaign. The score on ‘election laws’ was lowest in Wisconsin and Georgia. The legal framework was seen by experts as the second-worst aspect of election conduct over all in the US, after gerrymandered district boundaries (p. 10).

I use the term ‘rule by law’ to refer to laws enacted and enforced that lack democratic legitimacy and that also violate ‘rule of law norms.’ In the case of the restrictive electoral laws favored by some in the Republican Party, but not just members of that party, the goal is to remove actual and potential electoral challenges to Republican candidates. The goal, when achieved in practice, undermines the legitimacy provided by any election touched by such laws. Electoral legitimacy is diminished or eliminated because, as employed, these rules exclude some Americans from electoral participation because of the ascriptive categories directly and indirectly applied to them, categories such as race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, etc. and because apportionment schemes violate the one person, one vote rule and thus the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Thus, not only do these laws diminish the integrity of such elections, they also necessarily generate a legitimacy deficit for the governments thus elected. It follows that the laws cease to be artefacts produced by a self-governing people. They are components of illegitimate domination.

Wendy Brown on neoliberalism and democracy

Brown wrote (2019, 62-3):

Throttling democracy was fundamental, not incident al, to the broader neoliberal program. Democratic energies, the neoliberals believe, inherently engorges the political, which threatens freedom, spontaneous order, and development and at the extreme builds a redistributive administrative, overreaching state, and robust democratic activism both challenges moral authority and disrupts order from below. The exceptionally thin version of democracy that neoliberalism tolerates is thus detached from political freedom, political equality, and power sharing by citizens, from legislation aimed at the common good, from any notion of a public interest exceeding protection of individuals liberties and security, and from cultures of participation.

The neoliberals and their predecessors did not just oppose thick democracy. They meant to defend a predatory state, the empire and capital. They preferred system integration on the ground — sometimes known as fate — to social integration, of a colonized lifeworld to a vibrant society. They preferred a voiceless, faceless electorate, a void.

This way doth dictatorship lie

Mr. Wolf, Acting DHS Secretary, declared:

Due to a lack of action throughout the summer, Portland and its law-abiding residents continue to suffer from large-scale looting, arson, and vandalism — even killing. Businesses remain shuttered and Portlanders are held hostage by the daily violence that has gripped the city with no end in sight. This is precisely why President Trump has — and continues to — offer federal law enforcement assistance to Portland. And that is why I, in my capacity as the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, was not only authorized, but statutorily obligated, to protect federal property and persons on that property.

To be sure, the Trump Crime Syndicate has not bothered to curtail its criminal enterprises during this time of crisis….

Quote of the day

Not long ago Frank Snowden wrote:

The hypothesis [of his book] is that epidemics are not an esoteric subfield for the interested specialist but instead are a major part of the ‘big picture’ of historical change and development. Infectious diseases, in other words, are as important to understanding societal development as economic crises, wars, revolutions and demographic change (Snowden, 2020, 2).

Indeed.

Quote of the Day: Fictitious Capital

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Cédric Durand wrote:

The return of the political is thus paradoxical. The hegemony of finance — the most fetishized form of wealth — is only maintained through the public authorities’ unconditional support. Left to itself, fictitious capital would collapse; and yet that would also pull down the whole of economies in its wake. In truth, finance is a master blackmailer. Financial hegemony dresses up in the liberal trappings of the market, yet captures the old sovereignty of the state all the better to squeeze the social body to feed its own profits [emphasis added].

Durand wrote his book in response to the Crash of 2008-9. We are unfortunate that the crisis before us might prove to be far worse, especially since the next collapse will reflect the workings of the plague on the economy. In both instances, the crisis reflected and will reflect the political character of the neoliberal project. That character included the use of state power to impose laissez faire market norms on the labor market, of decoupling welfare and well-being from the state. Despite their rhetoric, neoliberals never offered the anti-statist, anti-political program its promoters claimed for it. The neoliberal state was active. It defended the prerogatives of capital and those capitalists who captured part of the state. Neoliberals was, in fact, a form of authoritarian liberalism. The extremism it practiced (Goldwater) produced a viciously narrow form of individualism. The rich and powerful take whatever they can, the weak and poor suffer whatever comes their way.

When Washington embraces one purpose

 

For a moment, the plague brought together our supposed representatives, who typically are befuddled by gridlock and acrimony. Robert Brenner wrote:

There has been, and will be, no serious challenge to the corporate bailout [the CARES Act, Pub L 116-118] because the Democratic Party, no less than the Republican, strongly supports it. The rescue should not be particularly associated with the Trump Administration, though the President of course pushed hard for it. The top leaders and chief funders of both the two main political parties strongly identified with the handout, and overwhelming majorities of their followers in Congress went along more or less enthusiastically.

For Congressional Democrats, being gutless has its costs. Brenner continued:

The strategy of the dp’s top leaders appears to have been to allow the Republicans to take chief credit for the bailout, while quietly ensuring its ratification, as it was a top priority of their most important allies, ‘the donors’ — viz., their corporate backers—and was supported by the great majority of the Party’s elected officials in Congress. They apparently hoped that, with the victorious corporations’ spectacular gains grabbing the headlines, they could pry compensatory concessions from the Republicans for their other constituencies — on unemployment insurance, medical equipment and health care, and for supplementary or substitute salaries, as well as support for small businesses. But the fatal flaw of this approach was that, by allowing the Republican Senate to shape the legislation, the Democrats gave up their major source of political leverage, which lay in their House majority. Once the cares Act was approved, Schumer and Pelosi were obliged to admit, implicitly, how far they had fallen short by announcing, immediately upon its ratification, that they would call for a new expanded version of it.

What we saw in March was political theatre meant to serve as a legitimation device for what amounts to the removal of trillions of dollars by the already wealthy and some well-connected corporations. The plague that is killing thousands provided a pretext for this remorseless wealth-taking without pride. The commoners, on the other hand, were provided with a one-time payment of $1,200, a meager month of minimum wage income; expanded unemployment insurance, set to expire soon; and a limited rent holiday. Each of these provided only a starting point for supporting the well-being of most Americans. What was needed was debt forgiveness, jobs, income maintenance, health insurance, etc. What was provided was hardly sufficient to fend off the disaster. Unemployment remains high while the GDP has plummeted and remains negative, according to Shadow Stats. The money used to fund this orgy showed that the federal government has always had the capacity to generate the money needed to pay for programs, services and items most Americans need. Single-payer health care anyone? Jobs for all?

Most Americans will pay the costs incurred on their behalf by their representatives. Deficit hawks The wealthy and influential, on the other hand, were protected from the consequences of this event.

The self-cancelation of militant tolerance

 

I finally read the Harper’s Letter and can report that I was satisfied by what I found. What did I find satisfying in a missive that has annoyed so many critics? Consider the following passage:

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.

This passage might seem suitable and proper for most liberals who read it. Only a disturbed individual, a sadist, would embrace intolerance, who would shame and ostracize others based on a spurious moral certainty. Nevertheless, I find the passage very improper since the writers reveal themselves as deaf to the performative contradiction that defines the Letter as a whole. As a performative, an act that attempts to alter the world. It counsels the audience that reads it to never censor, shame or ostracize those who hold opposite positions. The letter asserts a norm. It seeks to prohibit actions meant to achieve certain results. It seeks to interdict the range of actions for its intended audience. Yet the Letter as written contradicts the norm asserted by the performative since it would censor, shame or tacitly ostracize those individuals who read (or hear it) but who also disagree with the norm or its applicability to the current situation. The Harper’s letter thus offers a self-excepting argument. It excludes the writers from the normative requirements it prescribes for others. The writers-signers of the letter stand apart from the public debates in which they want to intervene. They act as judges certain of their judgment. But not as participants in a debate.

The signees of the Letter can choose this position if they want. That is their right. But we might wonder what makes them so special that they need not observe the norm they prescribe for others? A God might enjoy this authority, but humans are fated to stand with other humans, and should address them as such.

Now consider the following: What if the current social and political moment requires decisive and timely action which liberality in practice would undermine? What if eggs need to be broken, lines in the sand drawn and defended, enemies and friends identified? If, today, a social and political revolution might be a remote possibility, a pipe dream or artifact of an acid trip, that makes a revolutionary event no less desirable given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Hope is given for the sake of the hopeless, as Walter Benjamin once averred. We must look towards hope since it is not as though really-existing-liberalism currently provides us with feasible options, a path we can take without strain, meant to address the ecological crisis; the emerging depression; 500 years of genocide, ethnic cleansing and racism; war-making without end; the rapid emergence of an active authoritarian regime in the United States (which might replace the inverted totalitarian system now in place); the waning of nature’s bounty due to the super-exploitation of the planet; etc. In fact, liberal modernity is complicit in each of these harms. Why, for instance, should a self-aware left reject a political project that ends with the utter defeat of its political opponents? Because that project would be intolerant? What do we owe the Gates and Bezos, the Saudis, the Trumps and Bibis of the world? Should we concern ourselves with scoundrels like Obama and the Clintons, Biden and Gore, Pelosi and Schumer? What morally defensible claims do these men and women have on the wealth and power they hold? Why reject radical action (be it reform or revolution) when the political opponents of the left seek (and have achieved) the utter defeat of the left and who willfully participate in the endgame of human civilization, a goal in which they are joined by erstwhile leftists who offer compliance in place of a counter-liberal, anti-systemic project? I found reading the Harper’s Letter satisfying because it delivered what I expected: Bunk in defense of the status quo. As such, it is irrelevant when evaluating what is possible. The Letter was that predictable that I could have written it myself even though I would not endorse its content. I would counsel others to be clear about our current situation, which is dire. For once, the wolf is at the door, pounding loudly. We ought to answer in kind.

Trump. He’s famous, you know

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A photo taken at a parade in Düsseldorf