Quote of the day

In Obama’s America, each day is Halloween. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) should be afraid, very afraid! Why? Uncle Sam is bankrupt. He lives merely on the kindness of strangers. Only painful actions can remedy this situation.

Uncle Sam, you see, has long suffered from Affluenza. While the condition is often mistaken for a state of healthy well-being, the illness can be terminal. There are limits. They need to be respected. Austerity looms. The open question before Americans today: What kind of austerity will we have? The common answer amounts to this: Uncle Sam’s Affluenza would be fatal but for the remedies which a public commitment to fiscal austerity can provide.

The medicine is harsh and drastic, but necessary.

Or, so it is often claimed by a large fraction of America’s political and economic elite. Bob Urie, on the other hand, points out that:

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed — ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Urie suggests that the rich have prevailed in the democratic class struggle and now wish to deepen and intensify their exploitation of the “lesser people,” using the federal state and its fiscal situation as their hammer:

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas — by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes (sic) a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Doomed? Yes….

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity — we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for — they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe.

Even the ‘gifts’ of income transfers, support for education and public transportation, Medicaid, subsidized housing, occupational training, works programs, etc. are not lacking in social benefits which directly and indirectly improve the quality of life enjoyed by every American. Every American would benefit from a fair and humane society, from a better standard of living. Such a society serves a common and public good. Who, after all, wants to watch the homeless die on the street for want of food and medical care? How might the United States compete with the emerging Asian economic powers when its education system, long the envy of the world at large, falters because of a lack of fiscal and political support? Who wants to bring children into the world when they will intimately know insecurity and want?

But the Nobel Laureate Americans just reelected wishes to create neither a fair nor humane society. He is a system politician who serves his various masters. The latter are cruel and greedy. Americans of the lesser kind along with the world at large deserve much better than Barack Obama. They truly need a man much better than him.

 

Recommended: In the Zone of the Homeles

Michael Doliner (his blog can be found here) wrote a restrained yet powerful essay describing the personal and social disasters which mark homelessness in Los Angeles. In his telling and my interpretation of it the homeless are homo sacer, beings present in society only as those excluded from its common practices, its typical places and from the law itself. Doliner does not use this term but the point of using it appears with clarity in the following passage:

Naturally, the police cruise the zone [in which the homeless live]. Almost always, along fifth street, one or even two cruisers sit at the curb. Beside them a couple of officers usually scold a homeless man or two. I wonder what, given their passivity, the homeless guys might have done? In any case the police seem only to talk to them, for what else can they do? Drag them in? Fine them? I have seen no real violence. It all seems rather routine. Clearly, a modus vivendi has developed.

In these districts a minor ironic reversal of privilege prevails. The homeless stagger about in the street, often down the center of the street with impunity. California has a no-jaywalking law the police gleefully enforce. The fine is $200. But the homeless are immune. Where are they going to get $200? Give them a summons and they are likely to use it for toilet paper. And what is the city going to do about it? Jail them? They might prefer it to the street. Recently, while in the fabric district just above an area particularly dense with the homeless, my friend, Liam, warned me that although the homeless were wandering about in the street it was not safe for me to do so. I looked like I could pay the fine, and the police would single me out among the jaywalkers.

The homeless are sacred and profane, legally controlled but autonomous, inside and outside society. They are the bad fate which can befall anyone who participates in a money-driven social order. And they are “superfluous,” as Doliner remarks. They cannot be rehabilitated or given a secure place in society. As such, they strongly structure the personal horizons of most Americans, for losing one’s home and becoming homo sacer is but a job loss away during the new Age of Austerity and Barbarism.

Doliner’s essay is worth reading.

V.J. Prashad interview on the Occupy Movement’s first anniversary

Quote of the day

Writing for TomDispatch, The inimitable Francis Fox Piven points to a few of the political achievements rightly attributable to the Occupy Movement:

We’ve been at war for decades now — not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but right here at home. Domestically, it’s been a war against the poor, but if you hadn’t noticed, that’s not surprising. You wouldn’t often have found the casualty figures from this particular conflict in your local newspaper or on the nightly TV news. Devastating as it’s been, the war against the poor has gone largely unnoticed — until now.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has already made the concentration of wealth at the top of this society a central issue in American politics. Now, it promises to do something similar when it comes to the realities of poverty in this country.

By making Wall Street its symbolic target, and branding itself as a movement of the 99%, OWS has redirected public attention to the issue of extreme inequality, which it has recast as, essentially, a moral problem. Only a short time ago, the “morals” issue in politics meant the propriety of sexual preferences, reproductive behavior, or the personal behavior of presidents. Economic policy, including tax cuts for the rich, subsidies and government protection for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and financial deregulation, was shrouded in clouds of propaganda or simply considered too complex for ordinary Americans to grasp.

Now, in what seems like no time at all, the fog has lifted and the topic on the table everywhere seems to be the morality of contemporary financial capitalism. The protestors have accomplished this mainly through the symbolic power of their actions: by naming Wall Street, the heartland of financial capitalism, as the enemy, and by welcoming the homeless and the down-and-out to their occupation sites. And of course, the slogan “We are the 99%” reiterated the message that almost all of us are suffering from the reckless profiteering of a tiny handful. (In fact, they aren’t far off: the increase in income of the top 1% over the past three decades about equals the losses of the bottom 80%.)

The movement’s moral call is reminiscent of earlier historical moments when popular uprisings invoked ideas of a “moral economy” to justify demands for bread or grain or wages — for, that is, a measure of economic justice. Historians usually attribute popular ideas of a moral economy to custom and tradition, as when the British historian E.P. Thompson traced the idea of a “just price” for basic foodstuffs invoked by eighteenth century English food rioters to then already centuries-old Elizabethan statutes.
But the rebellious poor have never simply been traditionalists. In the face of violations of what they considered to be their customary rights, they did not wait for the magistrates to act, but often took it upon themselves to enforce what they considered to be the foundation of a just moral economy.

Scumbags?

Yep.

The latest in agent provocateur technology

One of New York City's demoralized homeless persons

A recent news report (also see this) reveals the New York City Police Department has begun to direct a “contingent of lawbreakers and lowlifes” found in New York City’s public parks to take their party to Zuccotti Park! Divide et impera! By creating a status distinction within the occupied space, this handy tactic forces the Occupy Wall Street group to police its space, suffer drug sales and other crimes, secure its individual and collective possessions, restrict the food it supplies, etc. Worst of all, it might also create a social condition which New York City’s government can use to remove the Occupation.

That said, let us appreciate how quickly the city’s government and the NYPD abandoned broken windows policing when doing so suited its purposes! Indeed, if we assume that the lawful exercise of an American’s free speech rights is not at all disorderly and that the Occupy Wall Street group has not broken a legally rational law, it follows that the Bloomberg administration and the Police Department have generated the urban disorder one can find around the Occupation!

One way to criminalize poverty

As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out:

What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets — not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities” — that is, to build a latrine — cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”

It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter or restrooms for their indigent citizens.

Homelessness: A living death