Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Late Morning News -- March 17 2010

Everyone is talking about the NBC/WSJ poll showing 51% want a clean sweep of Congress, that most who want such a sweep don't care which party replaces which, and in fact respondents favor split government. The attending blogger on this at Daily Kos is right to say this isn't just about health care reform, pointing out that a slight majority actually favors the deeply flawed current version of this unstable construct called "the legislation." But certainly the gutlessness, cowardice, and callousness of Congress on the health care debacle has caused the public to see these elected representatives in a negative light across the board. The disapproval of Congress reflects waves of public realization concerning the way in which even self-professed politicians of the people can be bought and placed under overwhelming ideological control, to a degree that many Americans were hitherto unaware in a concrete sense.

For me, the far more surprising result of the survey was how overwhelmingly good Obama came out. His approval-disapproval spread is 12 points and he's the only entity in the survey who hits 50% approval. These results show that the past year has culminated in a slam-dunk for Obama. That seems weird to say, but 50% of the respondents like him, and no other individual or collective comes close to the love that's being showered on him. More evidence, perhaps, that the right wing backlash, however loud and volitile (and bordering on actual violence) is the sound and fury of maybe 25-30% of the public at most.

But to be surprised at Obama's resiliency is one thing. After reading too much Kos, I start to get tired of the cheerleading. Obama is interesting. The space surrounding his existence has some political potential. But his presidency occurs in a context of severe economic downturn and austerity, meaning that part of his job --part of what's gotten him that above-average approval rating-- is to convince people that we're all in this together. But we are not all in this together. We're all in this, but not together. Various authors at The World Socialist Web Site have consistently pointed out how the solutions of the Obama administration have essentially been corporatist in nature, which means not only that corporations are getting bailed out but that the working class is paying for it. This morning, the International Committee of the Fourth International released an analysis of the Greek debt crisis whose narrative begins with the Lehman Brothers collapse and culminates in global banking institutions "making an example" of Greece. The socialists believe that "it is patently obvious that the most powerful global banking institutions have strategically singled out Greece to set an example for the entire European working class. With its small economy—just over 2 percent of the European Union (EU)—and high indebtedness, it was an ideal target." In These Times' great "Working In These Times" blog often posts articles about working class resistance to these wealth transfers. The most recent is David Moberg's coverage from Tuesday of protests going on in 100 cities, organized by the AFL-CIO, challenging "the nation’s six biggest banks: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Morgan Stanley."
The federation’s 3 million-member community affiliate, Working America, will join in the protest by recruiting passersby at ATM machines of the big banks’ branches in 12 cities to pose for pictures with handmade signs–bearing messages like “where’s my bailout?”—that will be posted on a special website. The campaign—getting citizens to tell banks “I am not your ATM”—is part of the overall AFL-CIO effort to pressure banks to stop refusing to pay its share for job creation, to stop fighting financial reform, and to start lending in their communities to create jobs.
Moberg's article is sandwiched in between a post about the growing foreclosure crisis and the closing of Toyota's only unionized plant in America. If you juxtapose these stories of crisis and resistance to the way in which Obama has come out on top in a struggle to enact incredibly incremental, conservative, pro-corporate health care reform, all the while being shouted down as "socialist" by white people with guns and susceptability to absolutist violence, it's hard to escape the conclusion that we're driving through the fires.

For me, the picture that emerges is one that screams for pluralist, independent progressive thinking, a perspective that puts the needs of the dispossessed above, and blatantly above, the needs of those whose wealth-hoarding and reckless grabs have resulted in this latest wave of immiseration. With all due respect to the Democrats' (mostly) sincere attempt to convince the corporatocracy to take a deal, the Democratic leadership seems incapable of describing the social and moral vision of material justice. Obama seems completely unimaginative on the question, using circular arguments to dismiss alternatives to markets, thoroughly sold on a corporatist utopia containing an amorphous and unsupported social responsibility. He believes, and his fellow functionaries believe, that a solution can be forged that convinces the dispossessed, the working classes, the one-bad-day-away rank-and-file, to live with the inequalities, and disproportionate crisis impacts, of the present system. 

I am still intrigued by the Yes Magazine/Alternet piece by Fran Korten, with and on economic Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom.
Ostrom’s seminal book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, was published in 1990. But her research on common property goes back to the early 1960s, when she wrote her dissertation on groundwater in California. In 1973 she and her husband, Vincent Ostrom, founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. In the intervening years, the Workshop has produced hundreds of studies of the conditions in which communities self-organize to solve common problems. Ostrom currently serves as professor of political science at Indiana University and senior research director of the Workshop.
Particularly interesting is her gentle refutation of Hardin's thesis that the commons could not be efficiently managed.
People say I disproved him, and I come back and say “No, that’s not right. I’ve not disproved him. I’ve shown that his assertion that common property will always be degraded is wrong.” But he was addressing a problem of considerable significance that we need to take seriously. It’s just that he went too far. He said people could never manage the commons well.
Certainly a softer refutation than the one offered by Ian Angus, also worth a read. But Ostrom's genius, and her acclaim, should be important to us now because thinking about "the commons" figures so prominently in a more sustainable and egalitarian future. Professor Ostrom is studying genuinely shared economies and their accompanying political institutions. Such investigations are increasingly mainstream, and not just in academia.

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Is anyone else getting calls for bills that aren't yet due, bills that have already been payed, sometimes with fudged or trumped-up additional charges? I keep getting calls from a credit card account, my cell provider, and the cable company. The credit card account calls from several different numbers (with several different area codes) as if they're either really, really subcontracted to the point that they have different subs doing the same thing, or they are trying to confuse clients by calling from unrecognizable numbers, or both. On the rare occasions I do talk to agents on the phone, they want my payments early and often, or they inform me something hasn't been paid, until I point out to them that it has, at which point they don't so much apologize as act as if it's their job to harass me for making my payments on time. Are these companies desperate for cash infusions and/or fearful of defaults? Is it really profitable for them to have so many people making so many superfluous phone calls? Even their harassment of people behind on their payments can't be that profitable in recovering those payments, can it? An associate of mine completed a statistical and rhetorical analysis of harassment from collection agencies, which she has given me permission to publish at Shared Sacrifice, but her extremely valuable research is limited to collections, rather than this more recent, strange, proactive process that I'm on the receiving end of now. And seriously, I am getting more calls while _not_ behind on payments than I did when I was terminally in debt 10-15 years ago. Weird.

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