Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Month: April, 2014

Colonialism and sexuality

‘Since European contact Aboriginal people, such as myself, have been constructed as “straight”. This cultural default has contributed to the difficulty of proving so-called “real accounts” of sexual and gender diversity of Aboriginal people prior to European contact.

‘The sexual and gender diversity of Aboriginal peoples remains mostly absent in the recordings and interpretations of histories, and these absences reinforce a heterocentric reading of Aboriginal culture.’


A bit on the World Bank and neoliberalism

‘On a macro scale, international organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF have historically deferred to a similar list of policy prescriptions known as the Washington Consensus, a one-size-fits-all policy package of fiscal austerity, privatization of public institutions/industries, and market liberalization.

‘During his tenure at the World Bank in the late 1990s, Joseph Stiglitz saw the macro side firsthand; in his 2002 book, Globalization and Its Discontents, he observed that the institutions dictating measures to developing states “tended to ignore the problems” underlying their condition and — in every case where the state was not permitted to implement reforms itself — actually exacerbated that condition. In East Asia especially, states went from having practical economic management that encouraged saving, exports, and safety nets for the poor to a regional crisis where “the IMF itself had become a part of the countries’ problem rather than part of the solution.” Elsewhere around the globe, “[t]he transition from communism to a market economy [had] been so badly managed that, with the exception of China, Vietnam, and a few Eastern European countries, poverty has soared as incomes have plummeted.”

‘At its core, the Washington Consensus approach, as the policy manifestation of market fundamentalism, is about disruption. Its self-selection of jargon like “shock therapy” makes that clear. It makes available new markets, labor, and raw materials for the benefit of the world’s largest corporations, without assuming any responsibility when things go awry. In The White Man’s Burden, another well-known foreign aid and development treatise, former World Bank economist William Easterly’s own appellation for the type of change agent now engaging in disruption is “Planner,” one who “thinks he already knows the answers; he thinks of poverty as a technical engineering problem that his answers will solve.” Planners, according to Easterly, are “why dying poor children don’t get twelve-cent medicines, while healthy rich children do get Harry Potter.”’

‘Like a virus, neoliberalism has rapidly infected many aspects of civil society. It spreads by capitalizing on spheres of inequality, by redirecting capital flows from one side to the other with no regulation or regard for the consequences. Thus, instead of a public health care option subsidized by public funds for the public good, millions of Americans are being shunted into privatized insurance plans in one of the grandest moves to privatize civil society in a generation; public funds for public schools are being redirected to private charter schools and corporate curriculum- and test-makers, with many thanks to the great change agent of our day: Barack Obama.

‘Such acts of privatization have led to an unprecedented amassing of wealth by select individuals, turning some billionaires and corporate leaders into modern-day Phoebuses with the will, means, and lack of accountability to insinuate themselves into whatever circle of society they like, just because they can. As Oppenheimer notes, a primary cause behind public education’s ongoing tryst with privatization is chronic underfunding — especially in times of austerity such as now — that leaves school administrators beleaguered and open to exploring easy solutions pitched their way. The same can be argued for development efforts that backfire and reinforce the status quo of gross inequality abroad — the needy are left even needier and dependent on the wealthy.’


A bit on fair work, esp rejecting much of the ethic that keep us oppressed

‘the nature of a product is irrelevant to how we should theorize, legislate, or organize the labor involved in producing it. Workers are not socially accountable for whatever may come from their work. To accept otherwise encourages the over-identification with work that management finds so efficient in getting us to do more for less. It allows capital to extract not only time, but also ethical responsibility from workers.’


Continuing segregation and implications for social change

How to social change? Often changing bits of the system, like laws, doesn’t actually change the culture, so are activist energies best put into changing the culture, or is working on individual aspects still helpful etc. This article makes it seem like desegregation in the US did absolutely nothing:

‘And so, sixty years after Brown, it is clear that the notion of segregation as a discrete phenomenon, an evil that could be flipped, like a switch, from on to off, by judicial edict, was deeply naïve. The intervening decades have shown, in large measure, the limits of what political efforts directed at desegregation alone could achieve, and the crumbling of both elements of “separate but equal” has left us at an ambivalent juncture. To the extent that desegregation becomes, once again, a pressing concern—and even that may be too grand a hope—it will have to involve the tax code, the minimum wage, and other efforts to redress income inequality. For the tragedy of this moment is not that black students still go to overwhelmingly black schools, long after segregation was banished by law, but that they do so for so many of the same reasons as in the days before Brown.’


A class war only the rich are fighting

‘Across the world a class war is taking place. In most places, it’s only the rich fighting. Chile is one of the few countries where the un-moneyed masses are retaliating. Can we criticise their strategy when we have none of our own? Right now, we are sitting passively in a bus, letting someone else drive us towards a future designed by emotionally stunted economists. But what is the alternative? Do we jump out the window, into a war which we do not understand? I have no answer.

‘I stand as timid and hesitant as anyone else before this broken looking glass.


White racial satire

‘Some people have suggested that The Colbert Report is fighting racism…somehow. That by taking on the persona of a conservative a-hole, Colbert is calling attention to how ridiculous they are. Yes. Ok. But calling attention to whom, and for what purpose? The fans who have responded angrily to #CancelColbert have either been liberals who believe they are in on the joke already or tweeting lunatics who seem to just get pleasure from hearing and hurling racial slurs. Where are these theoretical people who were racist until they watched Colbert, or SNL, orChelsea Lately, or any other show that uses white racial satire, and had their racist minds changed? Do we really believe these people exist? Do we really believe there were hella people watching Colbert’s skit about Dan Snyder’s awful foundation who had their minds changed about it as soon as Asian slurs were thrown into the mix?  Do we really think folks who defend that team’s name despite of all the harm it’s caused to Native people are sensitive to the stereotyping of Asian people? You’re telling me these folks exist?

‘And, you know what, even if they did, why is their “education-in-the-form-of-racist-jokes-that-are-satirical-so-it’s-okay” more important than the people we know for sure exist who are harmed by these jokes?

‘I reject the idea that we “need” white racial satire. That it’s helping us somehow. That it’s so powerful a tool against oppression that without it we can never end racism. That POC should be grateful for it, because these white people making “ching chong” jokes, in the case of Colbert, and jokes about black men’s penises, in the case of Chelsea Handler, are on our side and somehow making our lives better with their humor. That’s some especially convoluted white savior nonsense. And really, if the white savior narrative had any validity at all (which it doesn’t), it wouldn’t have it in the form of Chelsea Handler, ok?

‘Consider for a moment, folks, that The Colbert Report isn’t the best we can hope for. That it isn’t the best we can do. That we don’tneed it. And that it’s white supremacy (with a heaping helping of patriarchy and male privilege) that tries to convince us otherwise, that tells us that anything white people do to us is okay, as long as they say they’re helping.

‘We don’t need white racial satire. Let’s invest in something else.’


Coal aggravates poverty, it doesn’t alleviate it

‘COAL DOES NOT alleviate poverty, it aggravates it.’ – because of direct health effects, plus the effects of climate change.

Also because ‘Coal is mired in deep social inequities. Travel to any major coal belt in India and the people living around a coal plant face regular power outages. This cruel irony is explained by the fact that the power generated is often for the cities, the energy guzzlers, while the negative residual impacts of coal are to be borne by those living next to it. The industry is often set up on the pretext of providing jobs, greater compensation for land and adequate rehabilitation and resettlement for displaced communities. None of these promises have ever been satisfied and the coal belts of India stand testimony to that fact.’

Also because ‘Coal and corruption are synonymous.’

‘coal is not the solution but in fact the reason that 300 million odd Indians continue to live in darkness.

:The need of the hour therefore is a decentralised, democratically owned renewable energy deployment to fight energy poverty. Glimpses of its success and reliability are already being felt across the world. Decentralised renewable energy is a safer, cleaner and viable source of energy for the rapidly evolving societies of the coming decades.’


Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – some philosophical implications and historical oppressive applications

Article could be questionable in its understand of econ. Nevertheless interesting, especially for implications and applications to power and oppression. Very interesting anyway, particularly as it may apply to history, class, colonialism and revolution or at least deep reform. Tempting to quote the entire article, but will try to restrain myself.

(Interview with one of the founders of MMT, in which he is sceptical of the kind of philosophical thinking MMT inspires: http://hir.harvard.edu/debt-deficits-and-modern-monetary-theory Outlines some of the basics of MMT).

Provides a caveat for its own position: ‘For those seeking a grand, unifying sociopolitical economic theory, MMT will disappoint. But as an analytic tool, MMT clarifies who holds genuine power—sovereignty—within society, and how they organize the money system to serve their interests. Unsurprisingly, this is often a story of tremendous cruelty and exploitation.’

‘the revelation that the rules of money are not immutable laws of nature but are instead created and constantly modified by people opens up possibilities beyond the scope of our current political imagination. The questions become: What sort of society do we want? Do we have the physical resources to support that society? And finally, how the hell do we muster the political will to get there?

‘First, we must understand the source of modern ­money’s value—and contend with the violence of its origins. Imagine you have just invaded an island. The populace leads a leisurely life of hunting and subsistence farming, and natural abundance ensures nobody needs to work too hard. But beneath the fertile soil are precious minerals that will make you very rich—provided you can get the people of the island to do the backbreaking work of mining for you.

‘Guns will work for this purpose, but slavery has fallen out of social acceptability. What if, instead of each day forcing workers into your mines at gunpoint, you created your own money system? You could print your face on a bunch of plastic tokens and pay miners with them, while imposing a mandatory token tax at the end of each month. To avoid imprisonment or death, they will have to make sure they work enough to have tokens at the end of the month. Now you need to take out your gun only once a month, when you go door to door demanding your token. The natives remain ostensibly “free.” But the mining still gets done.

‘A sovereign (you, in this scenario) becomes a money creator not by figuring out how to carve their faces into a coin, but by having the strength to enforce taxes denominated in their own coins. As the economist Hyman Minksy famously said, “Anyone can create money—the problem is getting it accepted.”

‘Your tokens would be totally worthless without your threat of violence, but with it, they become an overriding factor in your subjects’ lives. Subjects must refocus their society around earning and holding tokens. Some people will work in your mines; others will perhaps sell goods and services to those with jobs. You, in the meantime, will have transformed an entire economy for your profit, with only the periodic use of force.

‘Forcing people to pay their taxes in a money that is otherwise worthless creates demand for money and gives it its value. This idea, called chartalism, is one of the core building blocks of Modern Monetary Theory. “Modern money” is fiat money, state-issued currency not backed by precious metals or any other commodity.

‘Variations of the modern-money narrative are found repeatedly throughout history. The levying of monetary ­taxes to create waged labor was “a nearly universal experience throughout Africa” in the colonial era, explains economist Randall Wray. Hut taxes, coupled with extreme violence and racial segregation, forced unwilling migrant laborers into the gold and diamond mines of South Africa. Bernard Magubane, an anthropologist, described the purpose of these taxes as being to “increase the economic pressure on the African peasants” to force them into waged work.

‘Christine Desan, whose research overturns the mythical “barter” story of introductory economics textbooks that claims money was invented only after trading became complex. According to Desan, “money is created when a stakeholder uses his or her singular location at the hub of a community to mark the disparate contributions of individuals in a common way”

‘Desan’s explanation of money’s origins reminds me of the points system used in the student co-ops I lived in during college. We enjoyed a home-cooked meal each night, and the houses only rarely succumbed to squalor—­despite their inhabitants’ tendency for heavy loads of ­c­ourses and drugs—because the points system imposed work on us. Points could be earned by doing household chores (the more time-consuming the task, the more points you earned), and every member of our co-op owed the house 30 points per week. Point balances were kept on a paper chart or online spreadsheet (no one’s face was minted on any point tokens), and if your point deficit exceeded a certain threshold, you risked getting kicked out.

‘It’s not a huge leap to imagine a co-op choosing to run a deficit by issuing more points than it collects and permitting them to be traded. This would allow individuals to save points to exchange on private markets for tutoring, homegrown, or whatever else co-opers have the means and inclination to produce. A local farm might even be willing to sell food for points, provided they could use the points to employ co-opers during the harvest. Like colonially imposed money, points would have value as long as co-opers needed them to fulfill their obligation to the house, and the house had punitive means at its disposal to enforce it.

‘The point, like the token, is an arbitrary unit that has value because of an imposed debt burden. But the resemblance suggests that the logic of modern money can also be put in the service of collective, as opposed to exploitative, political aims.

‘Sovereigns create money as a tool to obtain the labor and other resources they need to fulfill their political goals. The sovereign steers the ship, at least initially, not some money god. If sovereignty lies with the people, money can be used to serve the common good. If people lack formal political power, more democratic layers of sovereignty may be possible in the shadow of the official sovereign, provided the means of production exists within a community.

‘Money scarcity is basically a political decision, as with Congress’s imposition of an arbitrary limit, the “debt ceiling,” on the amount of money that the federal government “borrows.” It’s largely motivated by those who would like to keep wealth concentrated in the hands of a few (who can personally benefit from the metaphorical printing press via government spending or direct access to the Fed).

‘This is not to say there are no other constraints on public spending. Inflation is a real constraint. If the government spends dollars into existence faster than the private demand for holding money, prices will rise. Savings will lose value, while debt burdens become less onerous. If workers wages fail to keep pace with other prices, they will suffer.

‘Luckily, the sovereign has tools other than arbitrary debt limits for managing demand for money: taxes. Raising taxes makes money more scarce and in demand. But if the private sector loses too much spending power because the government taxes too much (or spends too little), commerce freezes up.

‘How do we know when to tax, who to tax, and how? This is as much a question of political values as macroeconomics, but MMT helps us weigh our choices. The prescriptive side of MMT typically focuses on achieving the dual goals of maintaining full employment and price stability (incidentally the same two goals the Fed is supposed to uphold). Rather than focusing on economic “growth” as a good in and of itself, MMT directly seeks the promised outcome of such growth: that everyone who wants a job can find one, and that goods and services remain affordable in relationship to income.

‘Conventional economics considers full employment to be inflationary, because when labor markets are tight, workers can demand a bigger share of the wealth they create. A “reserve army of the unemployed” keeps labor cheap. The unemployed serve as a “buffer stock” to anchor prices, or as Randall Wray puts it, to “fight inflation through their desperation as they try to bid jobs away from the employed by offering to work at miserable wages.”

‘MMT, however, argues that prices can be anchored not through the misery of the unemployed but through  the government offering a job to anyone unemployed who wants to work. 

‘Many MMT advocates see the job guarantee as a transitional program to keep workers productive and skilled until the private sector finds a place for them. But a job that serves the public good, provides ample leisure time, and supports a low-consumption lifestyle is itself appealing. For those that value strong community and a healthy environment, the job guarantee could be a chance to opt out of the “work hard, consume hard” lifestyle to do much needed public service, while keeping the private sector open for those with heavier ambitions and appetites.

‘MMT encourages us to conceive of money as a claim on the resources of society, a promise that entitles one to a bit of whatever resources are for sale. The money system is then an imperfect sort of scoreboard for keeping track of claims on resources. Money only matters to the extent that it can be redeemed for “real” wealth.

‘Government deficits, the money supply, and GDP are abstractions that obscure the issues of power and distribution of wealth that are the consequence of a given political system. These abstractions make no sense as ends in themselves. A public deficit just means that a sovereign has spent money into the economy that it hasn’t taxed back. It doesn’t say whether that money was spent on bombs or schools or pure graft. A country can have a high GDP because a small subset of the population sells tons of luxury goods and financial instruments to each other while everyone else starves. Ultimately, what matters is the quality and distribution of resources.

‘Those at the very tip of our economic pyramid understand that fiat money is unlimited, but most everyone below believes it to be scarce. We live under austerity and debt. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The idea that we don’t have the “money” to supply essential public goods to everyone is a pernicious myth that can only be maintained so long as we remain ignorant of how money actually functions. But this myth is merely justification for power structures that are ultimately backed by guns and the vastly unequal distribution of our finite planet’s resources. Knowledge is no substitute for political power. It is merely somewhere to start.’


A less hierarchical environmentalism, not just for the privileged who can visit ‘real’ nature

‘I had been thoroughly convinced that sunset horizons on large expanses of safari, tall snow-peaked mountains, and boreal forests in northern lands epitomized what qualified as nature worthy of notice. I had wrongly come to believe that to care about nature, I had to feel romantic energy toward these often legislatively conquered, dominated spaces.

‘Domination and neo-colonialism aside, none of these spaces are inherently bad; they are extraordinary features of our world, worthy of notice and definitely worthy of maintaining. The problem is these spaces live within a hierarchical structure. These dominated spaces are often mostly accessible to those of more means and are seen as more deserving of awe than the overgrown block in the middle of inner-city Baltimore. We have come to be numb to the ecosystems that exist around us. We are numb to the raccoon that makes its way through the trash for food and label it a pest. We are numb to the trail of ants that make their way from the outside, and we set death traps around the perimeters of our home.

‘We trap ourselves in an idea of nature that all too often divorces us from the nature in our day-to day-lives, a notion that sets up our urban jungles or suburban islands as places devoid of thriving ecosystems.  In the end, we are left believing that we are separate from nature and, thus, unable to connect with it. Ultimately, we embody the toxic narratives that leave us blind to the beautiful and magnificent things we should be connecting with every day.

‘I have come to realize what rejecting these forms of toxic narratives can mean for us as queer and brown bodies. To see around us is to, ultimately, see us. To be blind to the world around us is to, ultimately, give credence to a world that discredits the bodies moving within these spaces; it is to allow for the consistent injustice against our bodies, our homes, and our communities. In the years I have come to be involved in the environmental justice movement, I have seen countless examples of communities of color who’s environments arepolluted and destroyed by corporations. In these cases, where is the legislation that protects these environments, that protects our lives and families? These environments have not been viewed as deserving of protection or care, and we have too often bought into this.’


Social policies, social discriminations, and environmental injustice

e.g. living near toxic sites like oil refineries in the US:

‘The Richmond Housing Authority, in 1941, was told by the federal government to provide low-cost housing to the shipyard workers who swelled Richmond to a city five times its earlier size. But by 1952, no African American had lived in any of Richmond’s permanent low-rent housing. There was nothing in rentals or sales available to blacks in the central city.

‘Nonwhites were pushed to unincorporated North Richmond and other neighborhoods dominated by the refinery, chemical companies, highways, rail yards and ports.

‘”It was the only land available to them when they wanted to purchase property. People don’t put themselves in harm’s way intentionally,” said Betty Reid Soskin, 93, who moved to the Bay Area with her family when she was eight. She lectures on the African American experience in World War II at the National Historical Park’s Rosie the Riveter project in Richmond. “Real estate developers could determine where you lived. The local banker could determine who could get mortgages.”’