Posts tagged Progressives

Progressive Politics: Send in all your private phone records to me, Al Franken, Washington, DC.

Via Sheldon Richman on Facebook, comes this story about political Progressivism.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) emerged as one of the most notable progressive defenders of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance programs on Monday when he expressed a “high level of confidence” that the federal government’s collection of phone and Internet data has been effective in thwarting terrorism.

I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people, Franken told Minneapolis-based CBS affiliate WCCO. The junior Minnesota senator, who’s only been in the Senate since 2009, said he was was very well aware of the surveillance programs and was not surprised by a recent slate of bombshell reports by both The Guardian and The Washington Post.

I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism, Franken said.

— Tom Kludt, Al Franken Defends NSA Surveillance: It’s Not Spying, They’re Protecting Us
in TPMLiveWire (Tuesday, June 11, 2013)

Of course he has. Because he is privileged to be part of the us that is being protected, not the us that is being spied on. The reactions of many political Progressives to this scandal — including many political Progressives who had presented themselves for years as civil libertarians — are outrageous; but they should not be even a little bit surprising. They are yet another illustration of why serious social change can never come about through electoral politics; because the only mechanism that electoral politics has for change is to make a different party into the governing party. But when a party becomes the governing party, the party that they belong to has always proved to be of far less practical significance than the fact that they are, or see themselves as, governing. Their first and last loyalty will never be to a professed set of principles or a party platform, but rather to the uninterrupted continuity of government, and the successful management of the core structures of state power. The first and last loyalty of the party in power in America will always be to power, both for their party and for the American government — not to the causes or the principles or the people that they claim to speak for.

Also.

Yes, please.

I was going to post this the other day, but I had to wait until after Monday, because the author really is perfectly serious about it. Alex Seiz-Wald, at Salon, has recently discovered the chatter in gun-enthusiast and gun-rights circles around the fear of back-door gun-control legislation — by means of restrictions or prohibitions on ammunition sales, if new controls on guns themselves prove not to be politically viable. And so he picks up on some anecdotal Data-less Trend Stories about panic buying of ammunition in response. So, we get this story, from a putatively liberal political commentator:

With gun nuts hoarding bullets, will cops be disarmed?

Gun owners terrified of nonexistent plans to restrict ammo are hoarding bullets. Now police are running out.

. . . And there are plenty of members of Congress making hyperbolic claims about gun control, and a right-wing media eager to heighten and repeat the warnings. Not to mention the NRA, the most powerful voice on guns in the country and the market leader on paranoid gun rhetoric for decades.

But what those rushing to stockpile guns and ammo seem to miss is that their actions have consequences on the people whose job it is to keep us safe.

— Alex Seitz Wald, in Salon (27 March 2013) (emphasis added)

Now I have no really strong convictions about what those rushing to stockpile guns and ammo think about or don’t think about. Maybe if you want to know that, rather than to speculate about the mind of the intra-cultural Other, you could ask some people who are doing that, instead of spending the entire article interviewing self-serving budget-hungry police chiefs. But I do know that many people would be much safer if police were unable to buy any bullets at all. Did police bullets keep Kimani Gray safe? Emma Hernandez? Angel Alvarez and Luis Soto? Alonzo Heyward? Sean Bell? Amadou Diallo? Who seriously believes that keep[ing] us safe is what heavily-armed police do? Who is the us that they have in mind when they think that?

In all seriousness, this is really nothing more than another Data-less Trend Story but if it were true, it would be the best thing I’d heard all year about NRA fans. I don’t even own any guns, and don’t have any plans to get into them, but if the story is true that just makes me wish I had the money to run out and buy up boxes of ammunition right now. Because I have no use for it, but the cops do. And that’s precisely the problem with the cops.

Disarm your local police.

Also.

Toward A Really Social Safety Net

These are consolidated from a pair of comments that I made in a thread back around last November on Thaddeus Russell’s Facebook wall. The thread was originally about some silly noise that comes up about once every four years, but it branched out into some interesting discussions about the left, individualist and libertarian perspectives, and so on. My interlocutor’s questions unfortunately seem to have disappeared from the thread, and I hate leaving writing locked up in a web silo, especially in the middle of a big, gradually composting discussion thread, so I’ve tried to condense it into a post here.

I’ve often been asked — by friendly-but-skeptical leftists, and even sometimes by fellow anti-capitalist anarchists — why market libertarians — who may be opposed to the government war machine, police, prisons, and all the other obviously destructive and repressive and regressive things done by the state, for fairly obvious reasons — are also so opposed to, and so hard on, social programs, like TANF, food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, Social Security, etcetera. (The question is usually posed in terms of contrasting government programs that hurt and kill people with government programs that, at least in principle, are supposed to be helping people.) And there are different ways to think about this. To a great extent, left-wing market anarchists don’t spend a lot of time focusing on social programs, and generally insist on prioritizing the core state violence and primary interventions of war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, and bail-outs as categorically more important than, say, opposing Medicaid or complaining about government spending on food stamps. And as a matter of strategic priorities, I agree — opposing the crowbars will always be more important to my idea of liberation than imposing the crutches. But I don’t think that means that there is nothing to say about problems that are inherent to the welfare state and government social programs, or that they ought to be considered as neutral or benign. Left-wing market anarchists have important reasons to oppose them — reasons to oppose governmental social programs, not from the economic Right, but from the radical Left.

So when I am asked, what I can say is that this doesn’t have all of the reasons, but it does have some of them:

. . . The key to an understanding of relief-giving is in the functions it serves for the larger economic and political order, for relief is a secondary and supportive institution. Historical evidence suggests that relief arrangements are initiated or expanded during the occasional outbreaks of civil disorder produced by mass unemployment, and are then abolished or contracted when political stability is restored. We shall argue that expansive relief policies are designed to mute civil disorder, and restrictive ones to reinforce work norms. In other words, relief policies are cyclical—liberal or restrictive depending on the problems of regulation in the larger society with which government must contend. Since this view clearly belies the popular supposition that government social policies, including relief policies, are becoming progressively more responsible, humane, and generous, a few words about this popular supposition and its applicability to relief are in order.

There is no gainsaying that the role of government has expanded in those domestic matters called social welfare. One has only to look at the steadily increasing expenditures by local, state, and national governments for programs in housing, health care, education, and the like. . . . But most such social welfare activity has not greatly aided the poor, precisely because the poor ordinarily have little influence on government. Indeed, social welfare programs designed for other groups frequently ride roughshod over the poor, as when New Deal agricultural subsidies resulted in the displacement of great numbers of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, or when urban renewal schemes deprived blacks of their urban neighborhoods. . . . As for relief programs themselves, the historical pattern is clearly not one of progressive liberalization; it is rather a record of periodically expanding and contracting relief rolls as the system performs its two main functions: maintaining civil order and enforcing work. . . . But much more should be understood of this mechanism than merely that it reinforces work norms. It also goes far toward defining and enforcing the terms on which different classes of people are made to do different kinds of work; relief arrangements, in other words, have a great deal to do with maintaining social and economic inequities. The indignities and cruelties of the dole are no deterrent to indolence among the rich; but for the poor person, the specter of ending up on the welfare or in the poorhouse makes any job at any wage a preferable alternative. And so the issue is not the relative merit of work itself; it is rather how some people are made to do the harshest work for the least reward.

— Francis Fox Piven & Richard A. Clower (1970)
Introduction to Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare

The left-wing market anarchist addition to this leftist analysis is, first, to point out the extent to which the forms of structural poverty, deprivation, marginalization, concentrations of wealth and ultimately the desperation and civil unrest that social programs are designed to mute, are not simple or inevitable offshoots of market profit-taking, but rather themselves manufactured by the political entrenchment of capitalism and constantly reinforced and sustained through precisely the core state violence and primary interventions — the war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, bail-outs, military-industrial complex, monopolies, and other regressive and repressive functions of government — that we prioritize. (On which, see Markets Not Capitalism, etc.) And, second, to insist on the essential importance of positive grassroots, community-based alternatives rather than trying to save or liberalize institutionalized government programs.

Social programs administered by government are a weak and alienating substitute for the grassroots, working-class institutions of mutual aid, labor solidarity and fighting unions that they were largely designed to crowd out, replace, or domesticate. Grassroots social movements aimed to provide relief and person-to-person solidarity by creating alternative institutions that would be in the hands of workers themselves, so that they could better take control of the conditions of their own lives and labor. Government social programs have systematically aimed to monopolize the relief while abandoning any effort at worker control, instead transferring power into the hands of a politically appointed bureaucracy, and largely leaving working folks’ interests at the mercy of party politics. See, for examples, David Beito’s From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State and Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business, or, more recently, scott crow’s Black Flags and Windmills or Occupy Sandy, etc.

So (as a left-wing market anarchist) I am all for social programs and a social safety net — but I should like them to be really genuinely social, rather than governmental. So in my view, a libertarian view on markets needn’t, and shouldn’t, have anything to do with economic Rightism or corporate power; it can just as easily mean advocating militant industrial unions, strikes, sit-ins, Food Not Bombs, neighborhood mutual aid, lodge practice contracts, Panther breakfasts, women’s self-help clinics, Common Ground, Occupy Sandy, etc. as models of grassroots social change. And — holding that these are models that are preferable to the politically-controlled, professional-class-dominated and highly paternalistic bureaucracies — OSHA, TANF, WIC, EEOC, Medicare, PPACA, FEMA, etc. — that political progressives are too often inclined to treat as the non-negotiable defining commitments of the economic Left.

* * *

In the original conversation that inspired this note, a friendly-but-skeptical progressive said that she appreciated the focus on grassroots, community-based forms of mutual aid, labor solidarity, and participatory safety nets; but wanted to know whether government programs might have a role to play given that grassroots organizing is always going to demand a very high level of social participation, and sometimes people might be looking for institutions that can handle some problems without everyone in the community constantly having to be constantly involved in everything that anyone might need. It was a good question, and I definitely understand the desire to be able to take a step back in some cases. (It’s certainly something I’ve often felt, as I’m sure anyone who’s ever done a lot of participating in a community effort or an activist project eventually does feel.) But what I’d want to say is that the important thing about grassroots, non-governmental group is not so much the fact of constant participation (I sure hope I don’t have to do that!) as the constant possibility of participation. And the possibility of withdrawal is if anything just as important (so if the local Food Not Bombs or Common Ground clinic becomes completely dysfunctional you can always leave and start devoting your efforts to something else more worthwhile. But if a county social-services office becomes completely dysfunctional, they typically stay paid regardless, since you don’t have any way to redirect how your personal tax dollars are allocated. That’s controlled by a political process and a fairly elaborate set of rules for evaluating civil-service performance, which are an awful lot of degrees removed from the people most aware of and directly affected by the dysfunction.)

In any case, as far as participation goes, sometimes you want to take a step back and let others do a lot of the work, and of course that can happen. (The lodges had officers and divided up organizational work among the members, Panther breakfasts and FNBs and free clinics served a lot of people in the community, some of whom volunteered to help out, lots of whom didn’t, and lots of whom would spend some time on and some time off.) But all of this is an important difference from the politically controlled programs, where there’s no opportunity to step up and take a participatory role, even if you want to; where if they are seriously underserving or misserving or treating their clients in manipulative or exploitative ways, there isn’t any real remedy because they hold all the power in the relationship and the only voice you have in the proceedings, if any at all, are the incredibly attenuated processes of trying to vote in different political parties, etc.

I don’t know how much that answered the question, in the end; but I hope it at least points in a fruitful direction for thinking about what an answer would look like.

Also.

Sectional Education

You know, I live in Alabama and I spent about a decade of my life in Alabama state schools. I hate that the current state code includes a provision requiring high-school sex-ed classes to include stigmatizing, bigoted and false anti-gay content. And I’m glad to see that there’s a bill pending in the state legislature that would just delete that entire section and all the minimum content requirements along with it.[1] I’ve lived in Alabama for much of my life and I’ve often tried to take a hand in changing local culture and building more positive alternatives in my community. But when I see a liberal freethought blog linking to a story about this, and (1) the very first comment, and (2) over half of the comments that follow it, are from comfortable progressives cracking jokes about incest or marrying cousins or having sex with farm animals,[2] I— well, actually I just don’t get the feeling that y’all are really on our side, somehow. Or that you are quite as un-bigoted as you might have thought that you were.

  1. [1] Of course there is no right way for government to do sex education, or any kind of education, or to run schools at all; so the best thing to do is simply to get rid of all government control over education, period. In the meantime, when state laws specifically require schools to insert content into lessons which is harmful and false, I’ll be happy to see those specific requirements get axed.
  2. [2] See, it’s funny because poor people living in rural areas have often been socially marginalized and ridiculed with broad stereotypes about their supposed deviant sex practices. Ho, ho.

Progressive President

So here’s the National & World News page, from this morning’s edition of the Opelika-Auburn News.

Obama signs $633B defense bill

New tax law packed with breaks for business

American missiles kill senior Taliban militant in Pakistan

Progressives and social-justice voters can be thankful — thank goodness we re-elected a Progressive Democrat as President. Just imagine if some Right-wing corporate warmonger got into office. Good God, just imagine what he’d be doing now.