All Politics is Local – and Federal

This weekend I took the time to read several long-form NYT Magazine articles I’d been saving up, and I must admit I was disappointed.  I often look forward to the longer pieces from the paper’s magazine, but the two I focused on were a bit of a disappointment.  This biographical piece on Paul Ryan was informative, though I found the corresponding New Yorker article much more readable and illuminating.  More disappointing was Jonathan Mahler’s “Oakland, the Last Refuge of Radical America,” on the Occupy movement in Oakland, CA.  It was like Mahler was going out of his way to disparage the movement and deny that it had any relevance or legitimate purpose.  He treats Oakland’s occupiers like a bunch of crackpots and anachronisms who should really be seen as a footnote to other problems and processes of the city and the region: huge municipal budget deficits, a dysfunctional police department at risk of falling into federal receivership, and the ostensible inevitability of gentrification, to name the most important.

Many folks involved with Occupy Oakland in some way have penned responses to Mahler’s poor journalism, and of these I just read Darwin Bond-Graham’s “Oakland: Incubator for Meaningful Local Politics.”  Bond-Graham is a sociologist from Oakland, and he argues that Mahler’s piece ignores important pieces of Oakland’s radical history (most notably a Chicano movement rooted in the 1970s and the more recent “Oscar Grant Rebellion,” a response to the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police.  Bond-Graham thinks these omissions illustrate a sloppiness in Mahler’s piece and contribute to the latter’s ignorance of the movement as a powerful instance of and model for local politics:

Occupy Oakland was never about the boring liberal politics of advocating for change from the federal government or other distant forces that could only be appealed to with signs and slogans and moral suasion. For those who have taken part in it, Oakland’s most recent wave of protests was always about taking direct action to confront the immediate and real problems Oaklanders are facing, not just because of the financial crisis, but because of decades of disinvestment, police militarization, and austerity measures imposed by local politicians. Oaklanders were contesting the shut down schools, shuttered libraries, derelict parks, and the policies that have left much of the city in a state of disrepair.

He goes on to describe the recent rehabilitation of an abandoned building as the Victor Martinez People’s Library.  Despite a police crackdown, the library appears to be functioning still.

An older library produced by Occupy Oakland

These are powerful points, as Occupy Oakland’s strength seems to have been adapting protest to local conditions, but I think Bond-Graham’s viewpoint obscures something important as well.  He breezily dismisses the “boring liberal politics of advocating for change from the federal government or other distant forces,” but such a strategy is neither boring nor exclusively “liberal,” nor are its only tools “signs and slogans and moral suasion.”  Like it or not, the United States federal government is the most powerful player in the country, and its interventions in politics and society have a force and a staying power that nothing else does.  Besides producing an aversion to hierarchy and organization, the strong anarchist strains of the Occupy movement also seem to favor an emphasis on the local.  But if Occupy Oakland and similar movements truly aim to challenge, as they claim, transnational capital as well as corrupt local governments, their focus cannot be exclusively local.  Local conditions are, after all, determined by national and transnational forces, too, and the challenge to these forces must be mounted on all these levels.

American radical movements of all sorts have consistently leveraged the power of the federal government, directly or indirectly, to effect change in society.  Radical Republicans in Congress were largely responsible for Reconstruction in the South; left-wing forces in Depression-era America helped provided pressure that contributed to the establishment of the American welfare state under FDR; the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s were instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act and related legislation.  You could of course debate whether these outcomes were ideal or complete, lasting (the gains of Reconstruction were not), or even good.  But the fact remains that the federal government carries weight that nothing else does, and if the left hopes to truly change American politics and society for the better, it must not forget the importance of this central institution.

Photo by Oakland Local

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Tenure under threat at Wayne State

This would not be good:

Wayne State University in Detroit has proposed a new contract that would radically redefine the terms for eliminating faculty.

The school would be the first research university to effectively abolish tenure, said officials of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), opening the door for other campuses under pressure from cuts in public spending to try similar moves.

Traditionally, tenured faculty could be removed only after undergoing an extended peer review or in cases where the university is facing extreme financial stress.

The contract language management proposed in late July, however, would effectively remove peer review and centralize the power to terminate faculty in administrators’ hands.

The article provides some context for this as well:

According to Shor, the assault on tenure is another step in the “corporatization of the university.” Recent decisions like the appointment of Gilmour, the first Wayne president with no academic background, and the elimination of the Interdisciplinary Studies program that primarily served working-class people of color, have little to do with the economic realities facing the university, Shor said, and more to do with “politically motivated decisions about who the university should be serving.”

Department closures, layoffs of non-academic staff, extreme increases in tuition, and increasing reliance on adjunct faculty all point toward a radical shift to what some union members have been calling a corporate model of higher education. The cost of attending Wayne State full-time has risen from $3,970 a year in 2000 to $10,188 a year now.

A Song of Voter Suppression

I’ll admit, I haven’t been paying as much attention to voter suppression as I should. I think it’s obviously a serious thing if even George R. R. Martin, an unabashed liberal whose primary profession isn’t related to politics, weighs in:

I am way too busy these days for long political rants.

But I would be remiss if I do not at least make passing mention of how depressed, disgusted, and, yes, angry I’ve become as I watch the ongoing attempts at voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, and other states where Republicans and their Teabagger allies control key seats of power.

It is one thing to attempt to win elections. But trying to do so by denying the most basic and important right of any American citizen to hundreds and thousands of people, on entirely spurious grounds… that goes beyond reprehensible. That is despicable.

It would really be nice if there were still some Republicans of conscience out there who would stand up and loudly denounce these efforts, a few men of honor and integrity for whom “win the election” does not “win the election at any cost.” There were once many Republicans I admired, even I disagreed with them: men like Everett Dirksen, Clifford Case, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton… yes, even Barry Goldwater, conservative as he is. I do not believe for a moment that Goldwater would have approved of this, any more than Robert A. Heinlein would have. They were conservatives, but they were not bigots, nor racists, nor corrupt. The Vote Suppressors have far more in common with Lester Maddox, George Wallace, John Stennis, and their ilk than they do with their distinguished GOP forebears.

The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters (the young, the old, the black, the brown) are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.

And don’t tell me they are libertarians either. No true libertarians would ever support a culture where citizens must “show their papers” to vote or travel. That’s a hallmark of a police state, not a free country.

(Image originally from The New Yorker.)

Bye Bye Cass

Cass Sunstein leaves the Obama administration with a not-so-great record [NYT]:

Few proposed rules escaped his gaze or his editor’s pen. Of the hundreds of regulations issued by the administration as of late last year, three-quarters were changed at OIRA, often at the urging of corporate interests, according to an analysis from the Center for Progressive Reform, a liberal-leaning group that monitors federal regulation. For rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, the figure was closer to 80 percent, the group found. In virtually every case, the rule was weakened, the group claimed.

Professor Steinzor cited Mr. Sunstein’s role in the killing of the E.P.A.’s proposed tightening of the standard for ozone pollution, the indefinite delay of rules governing coal ash disposal and the withdrawal earlier this year of a proposed update of child agricultural labor standards.

And here’s something you won’t hear often, even if it’s true:

Under Mr. Sunstein, the Obama administration has issued fewer regulations at this point in the president’s term than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton did. But compared with Mr. Bush’s first term, the Obama administration has finalized roughly 30 more “economically significant” regulations — those costing $100 million or more.

Climate Change as Alien Invasion

Climate change and green energy are interests of Juan Cole, if not his specialty, so I figured I’d repost this remark from his “The Collapse of the Climate Change Contrarians and the End of Coal“:

Ronald Reagan used to fantasize that an alien invasion could unite human beings across capitalist and communist systems. Well, Reaganites now have their chance: Climate Change is a kind of alien invasion, threatening the human species, and here is an opportunity to put aside differences and unite to meet the biggest challenge we have faced in our 150,000 years of existence as homo sapiens sapiens. And, yes, this is an issue and a research that could and should unite Arabs and Israelis, both of them among the peoples most endangered by climate change (Egypt’s delta and Tel Aviv won’t be there after a while if we go on like this).

Image by >Rooners

On “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America”

I just read Kiese Laymon’s essay on growing up black in central Mississippi.  It opens with this:

I’ve had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies — once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the leftovers of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I’ve helped many folks say yes to life but I’ve definitely aided in few folks dying slowly in America, all without the aid of a gun.

Check it out.  Really, really check it out.  If only for this reason:

This isn’t an essay or simply a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at remembering the contours of slow death and life in America for one black American teenager under Central Mississippi skies. I wish I could get my Yoda on right now and surmise all this shit into a clean sociopolitical pull-quote that shows supreme knowledge and absolute emotional transformation, but I don’t want to lie.

I want to say and mean that remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really ask nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again.

And if you want a little more, here are Ta-Nehisi’s comments, which are excellent, as usual.

Gun Control: Japan vs. USA

Japan has incredibly strict gun control laws–and an incredibly low firearm-related homicide rate to boot:

In 2008, the U.S. had over12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.

Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.

Shotguns and air rifles are the only guns citizens can own legally, and they have to go through a serious application and vetting process to get them:

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Check out the whole thing!

Wage Labor Update

Be sure to check out Sociological Images‘ post on “Low-Wage Work in the U.S.,” which aggregates some good statistics about that topic.

Perhaps the most interesting part:

Finally, over at the Economic Policy Institute blog, David Cooper posted a table that provides an overview of the demographics of those who would be affected if Congress passed Senator Tom Harkin’s proposed bill that would raised the minimum wage to $9.80/hour:

Any legislation in Congress that has even a snowball’s chance in hell of helping the working class economically is almost certainly not going to pass.  But a minimum wage hike looks to me to have a better chance than most bills, and if it helped almost 30 million individuals, even just a little bit, that could be a huge victory given the constraints of the current legislative climate.  Better yet would be a bill that indexed that minimum wage to inflation or the cost of living, but these days even that seems a bit too much to hope for.

Footnotes

This is going to be a long one. Special thanks to Aaron for holding down the fort these past few days.

  • Enter Big Soda, guns aimed at the New York soda ban. [Mother Jones]
  • Scotland is set to legalize same-sex marriage. [The Guardian]
  • BMW is letting you buy their electric car over the internet. [Bloomberg]
  • What Star Trek got right on mobile devices. [The Atlantic]
  • Dan Harmon and Fox are finalizing a deal to produce a new t.v. show. [New York]
  • Sandy Weill wants to break up the biggest banks. [Dealbook]
  • Also, the coolest map I’ve seen in a while:

Oil Dialectics

Optimistic as always about the rise of renewable energy, Juan Cole provides a new list of developments in this arena under the name of “Top Ten Reasons Fracking won’t Last Long.”  All intriguing, but I was most intrigued by #7:

Algeria wants to go solar, aiming for 650 megawatts of solar energy by 2015 and a massive 22 gigawatts by 2030. The Desertec Foundation has big projects in Egypt and Morocco, and Algeria, an oil producer, has decided to join in. Theoretically, a small portion of the Saharan desert could power the entire world. Desertec plans to turn North Africa into a clean electricity-producing zone that could meet nearly a fifth of Europe’s energy needs. Algeria is eager to turn to renewables because its rapidly growing population is using more an more of its petroleum production, which is declining.

Cole has pointed out the same of other big oil producers like Saudi Arabia and even Iran.  He argues that Iran is most likely pushing forward with refining its nuclear capacities not to make a bomb (though more on that, perhaps, another time) but to have an alternate source of energy so its own growing economy doesn’t suck up all its oil.  Perhaps a strange byproduct of the world’s addiction to oil really will be a stronger move toward renewables, at least in some parts of the world.

Photo by now picnic