The new issue of Perspectives on Politics (the editor is Jeffrey Isaac) has some great pieces focusing on neoliberalism, privatization, and cities. Hearing media today about the overlap between the Republican convention and a hurricane heading toward the Gulf Coast, I couldn't help but note the pertinence of the issue -- this isn't the dismal political science of wanna-be economists. It matters. Take a look. Here's an excerpt from Isaac's introduction:
Post-Katrina New Orleans seemed like an obvious theme around which to organize this issue, because New Orleans is the site of this year's APSA Meeting, which occasions our tenth anniversary celebration; because the New Orleans siting has itself been the source of some significant and productive controversy within our discipline; and because “New Orleans” broadly encapsulates some very important themes in the study of politics, from power and inequality to urban crisis to post-disaster reconstruction and development to the complex intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality. This special issue contains terrific pieces that explore these issues, and its diverse combination of pieces and perspectives demonstrates our capacity as political science scholars and as intellectuals to constructively speak to and with each other across conventional subfield and methodological divides within our profession.
Mitt Romney's $250 million fortune is largely a black hole: Aside from the meager and vague disclosures he has filed under federal and Massachusetts laws, and the two years of partial tax returns (one filed and another provisional) he has released, there is almost no data on precisely what his vast holdings consist of, or what vehicles he has used to escape taxes on his income. Gawker has obtained a massive cache of confidential financial documents that shed a great deal of light on those finances, and on the tax-dodging tricks available to the hyper-rich that he has used to keep his effective tax rate at roughly 13% over the last decade.
Today, we are publishing more than 950 pages of internal audits, financial statements, and private investor letters for 21 cryptically named entities in which Romney had invested—at minimum—more than $10 million as of 2011 (that number is based on the low end of ranges he has disclosed—the true number is almost certainly significantly higher). Almost all of them are affiliated with Bain Capital, the secretive private equity firm Romney co-founded in 1984 and ran until his departure in 1999 (or 2002, depending on whom you ask). Many of them are offshore funds based in the Cayman Islands. Together, they reveal the mind-numbing, maze-like, and deeply opaque complexity with which Romney has handled his wealth, the exotic tax-avoidance schemes available only to the preposterously wealthy that benefit him, the unlikely (for a right-wing religious Mormon) places that his money has ended up, and the deeply hypocritical distance between his own criticisms of Obama's fiscal approach and his money managers' embrace of those same policies. They also show that some of the investments that Romney has always described as part of his retirement package at Bain weren't made until years after he left the company.
Bain isn't a company so much as an intricate suite of steadily proliferating inter-related holding companies and limited partnerships, some based in Delaware and others in the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and elsewhere, designed to collectively house roughly $66 billion in wealth in its many crevices and chambers. When Romney left in 1999, he and his wife retained significant investments in many of those Bain vehicles—he claims they are "passive investments" and that they are managed in a blind trust (though the trustee isn't blind enough to meet federal standards of independence). But aside from disparate snippets of information contained in his federal and Massachusetts financial disclosure forms, his 2010 tax returns, and SEC filings, the nature of those investments has been obfuscated by design.
Last week, Mitt Romney committed himself to picking a Federal Reserve Board chairman that will try to keep workers' wages down, likely costing them tens of thousands of dollars over the next decade. You remember reading the front page news stories on this pronouncement?
Of course you didn't read them, because the media largely ignored President Romney's statement about his choice of Fed chairs. And all of them ignored its implications for people's wages and living standards. The media would much rather focus on the ongoing debate over President Obama's birth certificate or, when we are lucky, tax policy decisions that might in the extreme case make $1,000-$2,000 a year in difference to the typical family. The much more important policy decisions that allow people like Mitt Romney to be incredibly wealthy and the rest of the country to be struggling are totally off the media's radar screen.
Romney's statement about the Fed fits in the latter category because he said that he would pick a chair who supports a "strong dollar." The implication is that he wants the Fed to run policies that keep the dollar overvalued relative to other currencies, making US goods uncompetitive in international markets.
The arithmetic on this is fairly simple. If the dollar is 20 percent above its proper value, then it means that prices of goods produced in the United States are effectively 20 percent higher relative to the goods produced in other countries. This strong dollar effectively makes imports 20 percent cheaper relative to goods produced in the United States. That naturally means that we will purchase more goods produced in Mexico, China, and other countries and fewer goods produced in the United States.
On the flip side, this strong dollar means that our exports are 20 percent more expensive to people in other countries than would otherwise be the case. This is equivalent to putting a 20 percent tariff on everything that we export. Needless to say, this will seriously depress our exports to the rest of the world.
The overvalued dollar is by far the main reason that we have a $600 billion dollar (4 percent of GDP) deficit with the rest of the world. This deficit implies a loss of more than six million jobs, the vast majority of which would be in manufacturing.
It is July 5 and I just have arrived in Thessaloniki full of questions concerning the political situation in Greece. My trusted and knowledgeable friend meets me at the airport. In response to my impatient questions he immediately begins the tale of what happened in Greece and in Thessaloniki in particular over the last year, as he drives us into the city.
Some of the story I knew from the media reports and my conversations with family members in Greece. It is the official economic story. Incomes for most working class families are down 40% while prices (for gasoline and electricity) are increasing by 30% or more, old taxes are increased, new taxes are being imposed and unemployment is at 1930s Depression levels.
Moreover, my friend describes the classic scenario of structural adjustment, the state is forcing workers to pay more in taxes while not paying its own bills to its providers and contractors. The University of Thessaloniki has, for example, refused (until further notice) to pay its contractors for work already done and it is not paying approved expenses of the faculty. This brought me back to my time in Nigeria in the mid-1980s when I was working as a professor of philosophy there during the first round of structural adjustment! I would follow my paycheck from office to office hoping to get it and cash it before it bounced.
This is hardly an environment for generating “growth” but it can be one that attracts investors looking for bargains…or, at least, the government is rumored to be on the verge of selling everything it is now committed to operating from schools to hospitals to transit systems to water distribution, if it can find a buyer.
All this is being done with the finesse of a psychological warfare team from the IMF (trained to impose structural adjustment programs around the world since the mid-1980s). The present scenario is that at first the population is terrorized (with massive cuts that look like they will drive you into penury, shame and absolute disaster), then there is a moment of holding back, so the cuts can be absorbed and normalized a bit (after all, there is often some extra, unreported income circulating around a family that can be netted in the moments of emergency), and, in the meantime, finding likely scapegoats and cracks of division among potentially threatening social forces.
You have to understand that this isn’t just about finding a place to live; it’s about fixing up the neighborhood, making jobs, changing the whole idea of housing. And then you have to pass the knowledge on: another house, another family.
In short, you have to join.
A housing liberation movement is brewing in Chicago. The idea is simple: Tens of thousands — possibly hundreds of thousands — of vacant, bank-owned homes are a large part of what is making the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago into semi-forsaken tracts ridden with crime and blight. These houses are so bad that Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced that he’d spend $4 million just to tear some down. Meanwhile, there are more than 20,000 homeless adults and tens of thousands of additional homeless youth in the city fighting through life as capitalism’s refugees. (They aren’t receiving any additional mayoral funding.) The supposed truism of supply and demand seems to have gone haywire. Many no longer recognize the banks’ claim to ownership. The only definition of these so-called assets that makes sense is their immediate capacity to serve as homes for families.
“This is how we can house the city of Chicago,” said Thomas Turner, who has worked with Occupy Chicago and was homeless before he liberated and renovated four homes since the summer began. When a local property owner saw what Turner was during, she donated three more.
“You know this economic situation isn’t getting any better,” he continued. “So just like Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, MLK — all the people that stepped in and made our lives better today, we’re working for — how do you say it? Our living aspects of life. It’s a domino effect — and when it all falls down, we’re going to have a big beautiful design.”
The liberation movement is organized into a loosely connected network of cells that collaborate — and compete — to see how many houses they can free from bank control and open for homeless families, particularly single women with children. There’s no official count of liberated houses in Chicago to date, but there are well over 25, maybe more than 50. The majority of organizers are themselves currently or formerly homeless, working under a variety of banners, including the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a group that grew out of the Cabrini Green housing project, and Take Back the Land, a national network centered on making housing a human right. Other groups choose to operate under the radar of media attention (a choice I have respected by keeping participants and their actions anonymous). Some hold no organizational affiliation; they are just members of the community who see this work as the best hope to save their city.
OUR HAUS focuses on contemporary positions and practices on the topic of housing and public space.
For the duration of the exhibition (which runs through August 26), nine New York-based organizations, associations, interest groups, and activists who deal with issues of housing and the urban built environment were chosen to use the ACFNY Gallery space for one week each. From August 20 to August 26, Not An Alternative will be the WochenKlausur "NPO-in-residence"at the ACFNY.
For this event, the art/activism collective Not an Alternative will be hosting a research discussion centering on Occupy Wall Street, the movement that occupied mainstream media headlines via a question: what do they want, what are their demands? Philosopher Slavoj Zizek, pushed the question further when he enjoined occupiers not to be afraid to want what they desire - suggesting a gap between conscious want and unconscious desire. In effect, his injunction was for occupiers to occupy their desire; for us to occupy our desire.
Inspired by this, Occupy Their Desire is a research discussion with art/activism collective Not An Alternative, political theorist Jodi Dean, and OWS organizer Matthew Smucker that investigates and inquires into the desires expressed by and repressed in Occupy Wall Street.
The discussion will explore questions such as:
How is the expression of desire a necessary element in building a movement?
Where has Occupy succeeded and failed in this task?
How might we contrast the movement’s expression of desire with that of the 2004 Obama campaign (Hope!), or traditional Left / progressive politics?
What role does representation play in the expression of desire -- and relatedly, how do the disciplines of art, advertising and psychoanalysis inform this inquiry?
Not An Alternative is a hybrid arts collective and non-profit organization with a mission to affect popular understandings of events, symbols, and history. The group curates and produces interventions on immaterial and material space, leveraging the tools of architecture, exhibit design, branding, and public relations.
Let’s go back to post World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The Liberal Arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late fifties into the sixties — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the 60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.
I suspect that, given the opportunity, those groups would have liked nothing more than to shut down the universities. Destroy them outright. But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities. That would reveal something about that country which would not support the image they are determined to portray – that of a country of freedom, justice, opportunity for all. So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? As a child growing up during the Cold War, I was taught that the communist countries in the first half of the 20th Century put their scholars, intellectuals and artists into prison camps, called “re-education camps”. What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that American corporatism despises those same individuals as much as we were told communism did. But instead of doing anything so obvious as throwing them into prison, here those same people are thrown into dire poverty. The outcome is the same. Desperate poverty controls and ultimately breaks people as effectively as prison…..and some research says that it works even MORE powerfully.
So: here is the recipe for killing universities, and you tell ME if what I’m describing isn’t exactly what is at the root of all the problems of our country’s system of higher education. (Because what I’m saying has more recently been applied to K-12 public education as well.)