Posts from September 2008

Not One Damned Dime

The good news is that latest plan to grab $700,000,000,000 out of tax victims’ wallets in the name of bail-out capitalism has failed, at least for the time being.

Part of what’s heartening about this, other than the basic fact, is how much public fury about all these past bail-outs, and this new rotten plan on top of it, has defeated the Pelosi-Bush coalition’s ambitions to ramrod this stinker through as quickly as possible. The obvious fury, combined with the sensitivity of an election season, hobbled the bipartisan Leadership gang in their abilities to whip other members into rank-and-file. This may be another sign of important cracks in the pillars that hold up the ruling coalition. It’s certainly an opportunity that we ought to seize.

The bad news is that the pols, even (or especially) those who did the most to scotch the deal, all have A Plan for a new and better deal to put in its place. And every plan is stupider than the last. Paulson is still demanding a plan that works, because We’ve got much work to do and this is much too important to simply let fail. Peter DeFazzio (D-Occupied Oregon) objected to the bail-out deal on the grounds that What we are considering today is still built on the Paulson-Bush premise that buying up Wall Street’s bad bets will solve the liquidity problem. But then he turns back around and suggests We can do better. We should start again on a new package, apparently because a new plan for buying up Wall Street’s bad bets at taxpayer expense will somehow improve on the old one. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who also voted against the bail-out bill, insists that Inaction has never been an option, but [Treasury chief Henry] Paulson’s plan should never have been our only option. Democratic and their Progressive enablers have repeatedly hinted that they’d be willing to accept a multibillion dollar bailout if it’s attached to partial nationalization of the firms being bailed out, or re-regulation of financial corporations, or new entitlement programs, or, even better, a combination of all three.

This is a losing approach — because there’s clarity in a simple demand of No–hell no! that you lose amidst the complicated details of everyone’s latest Great New Plan, once you start horse-trading and concede that it might be O.K. in principle to grab billions of dollars out of working people’s pockets and give it to a bunch of hat-in-hand robber barons begging to go on the government dole, if it can be tied to advancing your other political goals. It’s also the wrong approach, because no matter what strings you might manage to attach, there is no justification whatsoever for this massive act of robbery from working folks. If the things that Progressives want to get are really worth getting, then they should fight to get those things done on their own; there’s certainly nothing to be gained by hitching them up to this act of plunder. If they cannot practically be got except by conceding to this massive privateering raid, then they are not worth the cost of getting them, and we ought to talk about ways that we can get the things that we really want, outside of the stifling limitations of electoral politics.

There’s remarkably little I could say that wouldn’t just amount to copy-and-paste from what I’ve already said. The stupidity and evil of robbing $700,000,000,000 out of the pockets of working folks, use it to bail politically-connected financial corporations out of their ill-conceived high-risk investments and speculations, and to do so with the explicit purpose of using government force to artificially insulate and stabilize the economic status quo from market reality, should go without saying. So should the right response to make.

No bail-outs. No sweetheart loans. Under no condition. No excuses and no deals. Kill this bug dead, and replace it with nothing.

If the prevailing business model for high-stakes investment banking or mortgage-lending is really viable, then these guys can suck it up and get to work and make their way through this mess the same way that all of us who the government considers small enough to fail are doing. If, on the other hand, their business model can’t survive without having the government repeatedly come around and seize trillions of dollars from working folks who don’t have the money to give and then force them to cover the costs of the money-men’s own stupid mistakes, and to cushion the poor usurers from the reality that nobody really wants to keep buying what it is that they have to sell–well, then, let it die, for God’s sake. Don’t run around finding New Deals or Main Street Bail-outs or any other stupid gimmick to try to tie in along with some tweaked or polished version of Paulson’s Endangered Capitalists Act. We can talk about ways that we can work together to help ourselves and our neighbors and fellow workers make it through these tough times–through practicing radical solidarity, through building alternative institutions, and through organizing grassroots mutual aid. All without wasting billions or trillions more on propping up the dinosaurs of inflation-driven politically-connected go-go finance capital.

Let the robber barons clean up their own mess, or let them hang out to dry if they can’t hack it. Not one damned dime from workers’ pockets to Wall Street. Period. End of political program.

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Shameless Self-promotion Sunday #20

It’s Sunday Shameless Sunday today. Promote away.

I’m off to the park with vegan barbecue for the renewed Food Not Bombs Las Vegas. How about y’all? And what did you write about this week? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments.

Who’s up for ALLiance in the U.K., SoCal, the midwest, or down in the Dirty South?

Alliance of the Libertarian Left Ad Hoc Global Organizing Committee

ALLies,

Are you yourself, or do you know anybody who is, an individualist anarchist, agorist, mutualist, left-Rothbardian, or otherwise on the libertarian left, who happens to live in or nearby any of the following metropolitan areas?

Are you yourself, or is the ALLy that you know, interested in meeting like-minded people and getting (more) involved in local activism and organizing? If so, please drop me a line with your or their contact information. I have some requests from prospective local organizers who are looking for people to start locals for the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I would love to be able to put interested ALLies in contact with each other.

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The Archives of Tomorrow

A few days ago, Roderick mentioned one of the sillier complaints that’s usually directed against Tom Tomorrow and his cartoon This Modern World: that he allegedly only satirizes the Right and never the Left. (By Left, the person making this criticism usually means corporate liberalism, or, really, just Democrats.) There’s plenty of blind spots or confusions that you could criticize Tom Tomorow for, but this one I don’t get. I don’t know exactly why a political cartoonist with very decided views is expected to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine in the topics that he chooses, but anyway, the complaint is just empirically false, and nobody who actually read more than two or three installments of the comic would think that it’s true. Just recently, there’s comics like Obama phenomena, but it’s especially clear if you spent any time reading the comic back during its glory days in the 1990s — since there was a Democratic president at the time, not surprisingly, Tomorrow spent more time writing about Democrats than he does now (and also, at times, the real Left — see, for example, Mumia or Chomsky). Roderick mentioned a particular comic:

But I seem to recall one This Modern World strip in which someone accidentally drops a lit match and then quickly steps on it to extinguish it –- while the punditocracy immediately goes into overdrive, speculating on how, if the match hadn’t been snuffed out, it might have caused forest fires that would devastate whole cities; they conclude: I think this shows the need for more regulation. Anyone know of a link to that?

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2008-09-16): Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Took me a while, but I found it. The comic is Dan Rather (1992).

The work took a bit of digging, but it was good fun, since it gave me the opportunity to go back and remind myself of how weird and funny This Modern World used to be back in the 1990s. (Not that it’s bad now; but I appreciated the Bay Area absurdism of something like Citizens Beware or Car Alarm, and Tom Tomorrow has himself said that the comic has gotten less sharp during the Bush years than it was in the 1990s — because the targets for parody have become so damn obvious that there’s no real room for subtlety anymore.) Anyway, along the way I was also happy to be reminded of Terrorists (1995), the response to Bill Clinton’s omnibus anti-terrorism surveillance bill:

As well as Love (1990):

And In Perspective (1990):

You can catch up with more of the last decade through Tom Tomorrow’s online carton archive.

Metropolitan secession

(Via Serf City 2008-01-31.)

Here’s something I mentioned some time back during a conversation about secession, decentralism, and decoupling the revolutionary doctrine of secession from the noxious notion of states’ rights:

I mean, one kind of decentralist politics that you might endorse would be to advocate the secession of urban centers from the surrounding states and a decentralist order that’s partly based on people forming a network of poleis around these urban centers. Certainly there are a number of cities (New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Austin, Atlanta …) where enough people are disgusted enough with their state governments that this kind of idea might have some real traction. After all, the power of suburban and exurban and rural counties to lord it over cities through majoritarian control of the state government is, or at least ought to be, just as much a concern for decentralists as the reverse.

So it’s interesting to read that Peter Vallone, a City Council rep from Queens, was proposing something like that earlier this year–stressing, in particular, the way that Albany’s tax-eaters parasitically exploit the wealth that the City produces, and the futility of trying to make your voice heard in a majoritarian regime where you’re outnumbered and have no right of exit:

Emboldened by Mayor Bloomberg’s testimony in Albany this week that the city’s taxpayers pay the state $11 billion a year more than they get back, a City Council member is offering legislation that would begin the process of having New York City secede from New York State.

Peter Vallone Jr., a Democrat who represents Queens, is pushing the idea, and the Council plans to hold a hearing on the possibility of making New York City the 51st state.

I think secession’s time has definitely come again, Mr. Vallone, who spearheaded a similar push in 2003, told The New York Sun yesterday. If not secession, somebody please tell me what other options we have if the state is going to continue to take billions from us and give us back pennies. Should we raise taxes some more? Should we cut services some more? Or should we consider seriously going out on our own?

During a visit to Albany this week, Mr. Bloomberg called on lawmakers to give the city its fair share of tax revenue and said that the state took in $11 billion more from New York City than was returned in the state budget. Mr. Vallone says that the state’s demands on the city in worsening economic times now make it necessary to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them.

Not only is it about self-determination and self-rule, but it’s about fairness, Mr. Vallone said. It’s something we see every year in the budget. They take $11 billion from us and give us back a mere pittance and they make it seem like they’re doing us a favor to give that pittance back. Somehow they missed the point that that is New York City’s own tax money and we deserve it.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

Of course, Vallone is an elected Democrat, and like any politician, he takes a perfectly good radical idea and waters it down with stupid concessions to power: immediately after decrying the way majoritarian state government swindles people in New York City and denies them control over the fruits of their own labor, he goes on to propose that New York City ought to fix it by seceding from New York State, and then subordinating itself directly to the majoritarian rule of the United States federal government as the 51st state. I suppose there’s something to be said for cutting out the middle-man, but if you think that’s going to stop you from having billions taken from you and getting a pittance back, well, I have a fine bridge in the autonomous city-state of Brooklyn that you might be interested in buying.

And, like a politician, he proposes a stupid means to his stated ends:

Mr. Vallone’s legislation would create a commission to study the issue and then recommend whether to put it to a referendum. Since secession would have to be approved by the Albany legislators, its passage would be unlikely.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

The idea of holding a direct referendum is fine; but making that referendum contingent on a politically-appointed council of Experts is a waste of time and energy. If you want New York City to be free, begging Albany to let your people go isn’t about to work. You’ve got to just start talking with your people about getting up and leaving, whether Albany likes it or not. I mean, Christ. Supposing that you talked it up and got it organized and actually had enough people in New York City behind you, what are they going to do about it? Boycott Manhattan? Invade the South Bronx? Why wait on their permission?

The answer, of course, is that this is most likely half-sincere at best, and in large part an act of pointless political grandstanding by Vallone, which he would not be attempting but for the fact hat he can be sure it won’t go anywhere. But even if his plan won’t, it’s very interesting, and worth the attention of genuine secessionists and real revolutionaries, that a party hack from Queens figures there’s enough of that kind of sentiment in his neighborhood that he can exploit it for an applause line. And that other dissident city council members would be willing to endorse the same logic in the course of public political debate:

Another to council member, Simcha Felder, who chairs the Governmental Operations committee, said the bill will be considered this year.

It certainly has merit, Mr. Felder said of the proposal. Why in the world should New York City be held hostage to the state? It just doesn’t make sense.

Mr. Felder acknowledged that the bill would face many hurdles, but said it deserved a debate.

I think the people in New York City are very interested for the most part in it. The question is the people outside New York City in New York State who have been eating the fruits of our labor for all this time. They aren’t going to be ready to just say forget about it.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

So don’t give them the opportunity. Why choose a strategy that requires you to wait on them to get ready for your freedom? If the people in New York City really are very interested, then do what every successful independence movement in history has done: stop worrying about what the people who oppress and exploit you will say about it. Get talking, get organized, declare independence and then, if the state keeps trying to issue you orders, act like you mean it — by ignoring those orders and treating the people who issue them the same way you’d treat any other lunatic who thinks he’s Napoleon. Of course, a strategy like that is hard. Of course, it’s likely to fail. (Lots of independence movements have.) Of course, it will take years to organize and win even if it doesn’t fail. But it is a strategy that might possibly succeed, which puts it ahead of plans for having the city government petition the state legislature. And it’s also a strategy we can start talking about now. And talking about that may start a lot of other conversations that are worth having, about taxes, war, empire, and the rest.

New York City ALLies: how many people do you know who are very interested in the idea of an independent New York City, which is no longer held hostage to the state? Remember that interest and sympathy and idle wishes are enough to start with: conviction and solidarity and organization are things that you can build by getting people to take the idea seriously, by educating them about it, by dispelling their ars, and by showing them that another City is possible. So, are there possibilities in doing anti-imperialist education, outreach, and, ultimately, organizing to free Occupied New York from the Empire State?

If so, let’s talk about how to do it. Maybe we can start in the comments here. Free the New York 8,274,527, and all political prisoners!

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