politics is to want something

mandag, oktober 31, 2005

norwegian socialism exposed!

It is the duty of all men of good will to resist the spread of tyranny and injustice whenever and wherever it seeks to enslave us. Thank God we have the internet. Blogs provide the perfect forum for such truth speaking. In cyberspace, lonely but heroic defenders of freedom can call attention to their plights, calling needed international attention to grievous violations of human rights that the mainstream media simply ignores. I have found one such website.

In a small country beset by oppressive conditions of social equality, technological development and environmental stewardship (whales excepted), a brave and strident voice calls out into the darkness. The Norwegian Socialism blog, written by an anonymous champion of freedom, chronicles the bloodless repression of Norway’s new center-left government. The author, no doubt keeping his name secret for fear of reprisals from the Norwegian secret police, is gloriously detailed in his listing of the sins of social responsibility run amok. He even writes in English, so that the whole world might know the truth about his beleaguered nation. Everyone knows about the evils of Saddam Hussein, but who will stand up to the wicked alliance between socialists, social democrats and farmers brutalizing poor Norway?

For American progressives, it is fun to read someone denouncing the “Labour Union controlled” newspapers and decrying the fact that it is now official government aid policy that Norwegian tax money won’t go to programs which mandate privatization or liberalization in developing countries. Official. Government. Aid. Policy. Chew on that for a while. It’s a reminder that the hegemony of radical free-market logic is not absolutely complete. I must confess my glee at this earnest, if paranoid, conservative’s feelings of encirclement and loss. I awoke this morning to read about Republican determination to use Katrina as an excuse to cut everything from student aid to funding for child support enforcement in order to finance the ethnic cleansing of the Gulf region. Its nice to know that somewhere, somebody is feeling the pinch from the other side.

As a bonus, the muckraking author of the blog uncovered the plot by Culture Minister Trond Giske, who once called me a Trotskyist, to corruptly place the new Norwegian Rock and Roll Museum in his home town, bringing tens of dollars in pork to his constituents. When, alas, will the madness end?!

new playmobile set- the unemployed

To celebrate the return to power of the Christian Democrats in Germany, Playmobile has issued a new collection of figures- "the unemployed". Now kids can act out scenarios with this increasingly important (and permanent) fixture of German society. There's Kristofer, the kindly alcoholic former Steelworker, Beate, the spunky junkie, and Klaus, the young neonazi from the rural East who blames immigrants for destroying his fatherland. Collect the whole set! De-industrialized suburban wasteland play setting sold seperately.

søndag, oktober 23, 2005


So, the most over-rated president in American history meets the singer of the most over-rated band in the history of popular music. A fine pair.
Their meeting, and Bono's ever-increasing ego, reminded me of an old Chumbawamba album called "Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records". A fantastic skewering of the boom of "Live Aid" style records in the 1980's, the album was full of songs pointing out that starvation is systemic, political and rooted in histories of colonialism. It also pointed to the fact that while a couple of million dollars was generated for famine relief by "We Are The World", it was jut a fraction of Michael Jackson's take-home pay.
The latest incarnation of Live-Aid is more political, and has focused on changing aid (and trade) policy. This is a departure from the 80's version which was purely an appeal for consumers to buy things that would benefit relief efforts. What is ironic, however, is that it is also far more overtly corporate-connected than ever before, with tech companies scrambling to attach themselves to the feel-goodness of it all. By all means, let's raise awareness about poverty and starvation in Africa. And kudos to Geldof for beginning to target governments and not just consumers. Let's just not forget to vote.

onsdag, oktober 19, 2005

labor and november eighth

Are liberals abandoning labor? The editorial boards of stalwart liberal publications like the Los Angeles Times and the Santa Cruz Sentinel have editorialized in favor of proposition 75, the initiative which would hamstring public employee unions in their ability to influence public policy. Citing “out of control” power of public-sector unions and “members’ rights” to control their dues money, our erstwhile friends are working to hand the Governor and his corporate friends a huge victory. This is a huge disappointment. Two facts should be enough for every liberal to work hard to defeat proposition 75:

-Corporations outspend unions 24 to 1 nationally.

-Union leaders are democratically elected by members.

There is an obvious affinity between the cause of labor and the cause of liberalism, though the link isn’t as organic as some might think. American liberalism is, despite its social-democratic inflections, essentially an individualistic philosophy. The big liberal tent includes those who understand broad issues of power in our society, and those who simply do not. For the more “mealy-mouthed” of our liberal friends, proposition 75 makes a sort of dumb sense. Democracy is about choice, and so people should be given the choice of opting in or out of their union’s political agenda.

This is, of course, a very thin understanding of democracy. Reforming the labor movement to more directly involve members is an ongoing and important task. The same is true for advocacy organizations, political parties and the state itself. However, unions are already more democratic, more member-driven and accountable than most other actors in the political sphere. Simply giving people the option of opting in or out of monetary contributions isn’t democracy, and some liberals forgets that.

Of course, as many liberals and feminists are rightly concerned about labor’s relative silence on reproductive choice issues, or it’s reluctance to take on “noneconomic” issues in a meaningful way. This is a conundrum, given the fact that it is precisely when unions strike out on such territory that cynical conservatives trumpet efforts like Proposition 75. However, a truly progressive politics can both support labor, as it is and not merely as we would want it to be, while also fighting for progress on fronts that labor is unwilling or unable to lead in. It’s in everyone’s interests- a weakened labor movement is not good news for middle-class feminists, just as the rise of fundamentalist politics has hurt labor. We’re in it together and its time we started acting like it.

The pro-75 side, has certainly done it’s homework. A mailer which went to union households, and which was financed by employers and Republican donors, features rank-and-file workers complaining about their dues money being used to fund candidates and issues they don’t agree with. It is clearly-argued and reassures its audience that “Prop 75 does not restrict public employee unions from undertaking all the activites they currently do.” It simply requires that unions ask members’ permission to do so. What’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong with it is that unions would be required to seek such permission every year, an onerous and unique burden. Corporate stockholders aren’t similarly asked, and neither are NRA, Sierra Club or National Right to Life Committee members. People have a choice about joining a union, even where agency-shop agreements require that everyone covered by a union contract pay a service fee to the union. They have the constitutionally-guaranteed right to opt out of the portion of their dues used for political advocacy. Furthermore, campaign-finance laws place heavy restrictions on what unions can use dues money for. Federal races cannot be financed with union dues. Most unions raise special, voluntary, earmarked funds to give to candidates or run political ads. Prop 75 would require annual permission even to use money on lobbying or to do internal political education, two functions that public-sector unions carry out in order to win victories on bread and butter issues like wages, pensions and working hours. Ultimately, the government is our employer. We should have every right to influence its decisions.

The pro-75 lobby is also cynically using rifts in labor to its advantage. If it weren’t abundantly clear that the SEIU-led split in the AFL-CIO was both ill-advised and ill-timed, consider this quote in the abovementioned mailer from “SEIU member and Healthcare Worker” Wanda Ferra: “I want my dues money to go for more organizing, not for some politician. It’s my union and my money. It should be my choice and Proposition 75 will give me that choice.” For the most part, California labor has hung together in fighting the Governor’s agenda. However, this is not the first time that some of Andy Stern’s sloppy rhetoric about “working with management” or moving the focus off of electoral politics has been used against the overall interests of the labor movement.

So, labor has an uphill battle, and it may not be able to count on its liberal friends at this crucial juncture. All the more reason that the focus should be on internal mobilization. A similar initiative in the early 1990’s went down largely due to a last-minute swing in union members’ resolve. A heavy union turnout against 75, especially given the low-turnout expected this year, should put us over the top.

If you are reading this, and are a union member in California, you need to get your ass to a phonebank. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

torsdag, oktober 13, 2005

the philosophy of poverty

To be published in the upcoming Santa Barbara Independent:

Hurricane Katrina laid bare the deep divisions which continue to plague American society. For days on end, we saw the faces of those left behind in New Orleans—the dispossessed, the forgotten. The visibility of their plight underscored the existence of an underclass in America. Let us hope that in the coming years the question of poverty will regain a foothold in public consciousness. The tragedy of New Orleans was only partially a story of levees and poor planning. It was also the story of how disproportionately such events affect the affluent and the poor. Preventing future disasters means getting serious about fighting poverty.

Like New Orleans, Santa Barbara is home to a large and growing underclass. Our underclass works long hours for low pay, comes disproportionately from communities of color, and relies on public services to fulfill basic needs. Santa Barbara, like New Orleans, is a tourist city, built on a low-wage service sector. At the core of that sector is a stratum of workers who are paid poverty wages, and are often forced to take on more than one job to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, some in our community believe it’s a good thing that Santa Barbara boasts a sizable underclass. They protest loudly whenever anyone suggests that something be done to better people’s living conditions. They oppose increased funding for public transportation, are slow to increase the supply of affordable housing, and most recently, oppose adopting a Living Wage ordinance. This is the philosophy of poverty at work. It’s the idea that our economy should be built on a permanent underclass, a group of people doing the work upon which we all depend. Take, for example, the argument that the Living Wage ordinance will price low-skilled workers out of the market. Implicit in this assertion is the notion that if “the market” dictates poverty wages, workers should be happy to receive them. It goes without saying that it is more expensive for an employer to pay decent wages than to pay next to nothing. The question is, how far do we take this logic? No doubt Nike can hire far more Indonesian workers at one dollar per day than at above-poverty wages. This should not be the framework around which we build our communities.

Radical conservatives and irresponsible employers have used these arguments for decades to fight against minimum wages, health and safety standards, and environmental protection. Raising the bar will cost people jobs, they say, so let’s keep the bar nice and low. In California, these forces have successfully blocked increases in the state minimum wage, which, as a result, has lost 31% of its buying power since 1968. For 22 of the past 31 years, there has been no increase. A recently-released report from the California Budget Project estimates that a working family in California needs to earn more than three times the state minimum wage in order to make ends meet. Governor Schwarzenegger just vetoed a proposed increase.

While state and federal governments turn their backs on the problem of poverty, we have a chance to do something about it locally: pass a Living Wage ordinance. Our proposal is predicated on a basic idea: tax dollars should not subsidize employers who profit from poverty. By allowing contractors to exploit workers, taxpayers pay twice—once for the contract, and again for the services needed to sustain workers making poverty wages. More than social programs or hand-outs, people need and deserve the dignity and opportunities that come with decent wages.

While the Living Wage is not a panacea, similar ordinances have generated proven results at lifting people out of poverty. It’s effective and inexpensive. Living Wage opponents, including News Press pundit Travis Armstrong and Council candidate Loretta Redd, contend that the Living Wage will cost the City millions. This assertion is based on inaccurate conjecture. The real-life experience of cities with a Living Wage ordinance suggests otherwise. According to a comprehensive report by Andrew Elmore, such ordinances have raised contract costs by 0%-0.079% in 14 governmental agencies surveyed. Based on these numbers, the worst-case scenario increases for Santa Barbara’s contract costs would be about $150,000. A city with $70 million in savings can certainly afford that.

Unfortunately, instead of looking to real numbers from other communities, city staff has used bad methodology, fueling fear about the Living Wage financial impact. They are using surveys on what employers would like to charge the City for a living wage, and not taking into account hard evidence that contractors, through the competitive bidding process, absorb most of the increased costs of the Living Wage ordinance. Setting a wage floor for contractors also creates a level playing field for smaller businesses, increasing the pool of potential service contractors.

Instead of the philosophy of poverty, Santa Barbara should seek a higher road. We should regard those who provide vital services—our janitors, roofers, painters, and waste collectors—as integral parts of our community, with every right to demand decent living conditions. The proposed Living Wage level of $12.40 with benefits is barely enough to keep one’s head above water. It is disappointing to see so many city officials and opinion-makers balk at such a commonsense reform. Santa Barbara deserves better.

onsdag, oktober 12, 2005

god hates sweden

Hej svensk gris!- Gud hater deg.

you just can't please these people

The Virginia Governor's race is not only hot, it's surreal. The Republican candidate is attacking the Catholic Democratic candidate for listening to his religion's proscriptions on the Death Penalty. In response, the Democrat is busy convincing people that, don't worry, he'll ignore the Vatican on the death penalty...

What is amazing about this is that after years of reconstructing the political order such that proclaiming loyalty to biblical or canonical law is a prerequisite for seeking public office, conservatives are now attacking a Catholic for being faithful. You don't need to be Antonio Gramsci to see that this dynamic gives the lie to conservative "christian" rhetoric. You have to be a good Christian in their eyes, so long as doesn't interfere with being a good Conservative.


We weren’t supposed to notice this election. It was supposed to slip by, in an off-year, while nobody was paying attention. Progressives and working families were expected to stay home while the business interests and ultra-conservatives mobilized their base. Just as the governor came to power in an off-year, low-turnout special election, he has called another one to push forward his failed legislative agenda. The election on November 8th will be a referendum on the Governor himself, and a crucial test for California progressives.

There’s a hell of a lot on the line. The initiatives on the ballot itself are all body-blows to progressive hopes for the state. In addition, a slate of recent vetoes by the governor bring even more to the table. The initiatives themselves cover issues ranging from abortion rights to union political power to health care to energy management. In recent weeks, however, the governor has vetoed bills on gay marriage, raising the minimum wage and providing drivers licenses for undocumented workers.

In order to beat the Governator, we have to assemble a voter-coalition that includes all the disparate communities affected by his full-court assault.

Today, I had a nice view of what that coalition could look like. As part of a statewide tour, Arnold swept into Santa Barbara for the day, holding an invitation-only “townhall meeting” at a local garbage processing center. He was met by 250 protesters: teachers, firefighters, Democratic activists, latino community activists, feminists, students and sundry progressives. There were only about 100 people at his event.

It says a lot that in order to hold events, he has to meet in secret. Today’s event was essentially a republican rave, with the time and place only released to invited guests after they RSVP’d. Everywhere he goes, people are making noise.

Now, we have to make sure that we can translate that noise into an electoral turnout that can overcome the clockwork voting behavior of his conservative base.

If you are reading this and live in California, you should be knocking doors or making phone calls a couple of times per week. This election is of awesome importance. Giving the governor a line-item veto on the budget is scary, but hamstringing unions, the main source of energy, people-power and funding for progressive causes in our state is even scarier.

Californians! Defend your state.

lørdag, oktober 01, 2005

freedom of information act

Want to know what the FBI found about the Doors, or SNCC, or Walt Disney, or your mother? Check out their handy Freedom of Information Act webpage.