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.)
Taibbi's discussion of how Wall Street avoided regulation is brutal and basic: it killed reform in the womb, sued, stalled, bullied, and installed loopholes. Pretty basic, pretty predictable, and definitely defeatable with sufficient political organization and will. But his conclusion goes in the opposite direction. It repeats the cliches complexity so as to eliminate political will altogether:
That's the underlying problem with cracking down on Wall Street: Our political-economic system has grown too knotted and unmanageable for democratic rule. While it's incredibly difficult to get a regulatory reform passed, it's far easier – and more profitable to politicians – to kill it. Creating legislation is a tough process. But watering down legislation? Strangling it with lawsuits and comment letters and blue-ribbon committees? Not so tough, it turns out.
You can't buy votes in a democracy, at least not directly, but our democracy is run through a bureaucracy. Human beings can cast a vote, or rally together during protests and elections, but real people – even committed professionals – get tired of running through mazes of motions and countermotions, or reading thousands of pages about swaps-execution facilities and NRSROs. They will fight through it for five days, or maybe even six, but on the seventh they will watch a baseball game, or Tanked, instead of diving into that morass of hellish acronyms one more time.
But money never gets tired. It never gets frustrated. And it thinks that drilling holes in Dodd-Frank is every bit as interesting as The Book of Mormon or Kate Upton naked. The system has become too complex for flesh-and-blood people, who make the mistake of thinking that passing a new law means the end of the discussion, when it's really just the beginning of a war.
Complexity is not the problem. It's the excuse, the way we displace responsibility from ourselves. Taibbi may well be right that the system is broken. But it's broken because of the power of capitalism, not because of complexity.
Murray Bookchin's 1995 book, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism is remarkably prescient.
Like it or not, thousands of self-styled anarchists have slowly surrendered the social core of anarchist ideas to the all-pervasive Yuppie and New Age personalism that marks this decadent, bourgeoisified era. In a very real sense, they are no longer socialists--the advocates of a communally oriented libertarian society--and they eschew any serious commitment to an organized, programmatically coherent social confrontation with the existing order. In growing numbers, they have followed the largely middle-class trend of the time into a decadent personalism in the name of their sovereign "autonomy," a queasy mysticism in the name of "intuitionism," and a prelapsarian vision of history in the name of "primitivism."
Today, intuitionism seems to take the form of emotionalism and experientialism, that is, an emphasis on the feelings and experiences of each as uncriticizable grounds for political positions. Similarly, primitivism seems to have become localism, a localism that privileges do-it-yourself and "small" as necessarily better than anything mass or large. What's interesting here is that emotionalism and localism characterize the campaign language of George W. Bush's compassionate conservativism, the way he depicted himself as speaking from his gut, the dominant culture's critique of intellectuals and rejection of science, the marketing language of organic, natural, and whole, the Chamber of Commerce's campaign on behalf of small business, and the racist anti-federalist politics of southern states who don't want the government telling them what to do. Back to Bookchin:
Indeed, capitalism itself has been mystified by many self-styled anarchists into an abstractly conceived "industrial society," and the various oppressions that it inflicts upon society have been grossly imputed to the impact of "technology," not the underlying social relationships between capital and labor, structured around an all-pervasive marketplace economy that has penetrated into very sphere of life, from culture to friendships and the family. The tendency of many anarchists to root the ills of society in "civilization" rather than in capital and hierarchy, in the "megamachine" rather than in the commodification of life, and in shadowy "simulations" rather than in the very tangible tyranny of material want and exploitation is not unlike bourgeois apologias for "downsizing" in modern corporations today as the product of "technological advances" rather than of the bourgeoisie's insatiable taste for profit.
I appreciate the connection Bookchin makes to downsizing; it seems to me that the language of downsizing amplifies ideas that small is better and then connects with ideological elements of leaner, faster, fitter, and flexible, all of which describe guerrilla warfare, ideal new economy corporations, and the healthy bodies of the active-lifestyle class of tri-atheletes and pink ribbon marathons.
I don't think the rejection of technology applies, though (and I don't think it applied even in 1995 when Bookchin wrote this). Rather, personally networked communication devices are now part of lifestyle anarchism, crucial to the critique of institutions and bigness insofar as they enable connections that can be fantasized as fluid, horizontal, and voluntary. So rather than construing the enemy as industrial society, the enemy is "the state" as that which threatens networked communications. Danger comes from big government, but this danger can only be met by being small and lean, basically by running and hiding. Insurrection replaces revolution and seizing the state and making a better one is replaced by the momentary ecstasies of temporary autonomous zones (Bookchin has a scathing critique of Hakim Bey).
A last bit, for now, from Bookchin:
The bourgeoisie has nothing whatever to fear from such lifestyle declamations. With its aversion for institutions, mass-based organizations, its largely subcultural orientation, its moral decadence, its celebration of transcience, and its rejection of programs, this kind of narcissistic anarchism is socially innocuous, often merely a safety valve for discontent toward the prevailing social order. With the Bey, lifestyle anarchism takes flight from meaningful social activism and a steadfast commitment to lasting and creative projects by dissolving itself into kicks, postmodernist nihilism, and a dizzying Nietzschean sense of elitist superiority.
(h/t Doug Henwood; piece by the Occupy London economics working group, publishing in the Financial Times):
Fans of Friedrich von Hayek may be surprised to learn that the Austrian economist is the talk of Occupy London. Hayek’s observation that distributed intelligence in a voluntary co-operative is a hallmark of real economy rings true beneath the bells of St Paul’s. Occupy is often criticised for not having a single message but that misses the point: we are committed to incorporating different preferences before coming up with policies. In this sense, it could be said we work more like a market than the corporate boardroom or lobbyist-loaded politics – our ideas are radical but also just and democratically decided.
Occupy London is now over three months old. Our encampments have lasted much longer than those at Zuccotti Park in New York, but there is a clear continuity of thought between us and Occupy Wall Street, as there is with Spanish indignados and the other grassroots movements that spread throughout 2011.
The world faces an economic crisis and problems in our political system have prevented it from being tackled in ways that protect the interests of the majority of its population.
Across the developed world, higher levels of inequality are associated with social ills such as crime and mental illness. Ultimately, we believe that all of us fare better when wealth and income are more equal. We reject austerity as a route to economic recovery and call for genuinely transparent and effective regulation of the banking system so that its structural problems can be tackled once and for all.
This month we’ve had figures from across the political spectrum attest to the positive contribution Occupy London is making to the national discussion. Yet still we are accused of lacking substance. In fact, we can point to specific breaches of the social contract and how to fix them. Here are three examples.
First, tax avoidance is endemic in the UK. Companies use complicated structures to hide their earnings from HM Revenue & Customs. Individuals stash money abroad while enjoying all the benefits of living in this country. Tax havens are used by 98 of the FTSE 100 companies, according to Action Aid. Sir Philip Green was reported to have avoided about £285m in tax and still he became a government adviser. In calling for Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to disclose those with financial affairs on the islands, Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader, is moving towards our position.
Adopting a system of “formulary apportionment” could stop corporations avoiding tax. It would create a tax base for UK companies aligned with a level of activity that actually occurs in this country rather than relative tax advantages. If applied alongside a system of unitary taxation, whereby all a company’s subsidiaries are added together to produce a single whole, we could prevent companies shifting profits between different countries.
Second, housing is increasingly unaffordable and the social costs of homelessness are enormous. The Bank of England should use quantitative easing, not to buy gilts in the forlorn hope it will stimulate the economy but to fund housebuilding. This could serve the triple purpose of easing the housing problem, boosting construction and raising confidence in the economy.
Third, income inequality in the UK is growing faster than in any other rich country, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Unfairness at the top was highlighted this week by the business secretary Vince Cable’s proposals on executive pay. While we welcome the government’s focus on this issue, these proposals will not work. The metrics by which bonuses are calculated must be changed, not just in banking but across the corporate sector. As Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England has pointed out, if bankers’ pay were linked to return on assets it would be much closer to median household incomes than if based on return on equity. We are also looking at the feasibility of directly linking executive pay with average or minimum wages in the company, or even in the country as a whole.
A substantial critique of government policy will become an ever more important task for Occupy London as the political debate moves in our direction. Our movement started in a group of tents in St Paul’s churchyard, but it will not end there – the issues that brought us together are still far from resolved. This year we will show that we cannot only pose questions but also have them answered.
Last week I had lunch with friend, Dominic. We talked about Steve Jobs and Apple. I tried to express the ambivalence of love for the beautiful gadgets, the fantastic design, the total pleasure of engaging with the machines. Dominic, rarely one to play at out-Bolshevization, was having none of it. Not only does good design a pathetic compensation for the atrocities of the Fox-Conn factories, but the design itself is part of the problem. Dominic sent me this link from Ballard's High Rise:
‘Reluctantly, he knew that he despised his fellow residents for the way in which they fitted so willingly into their appointed slots in the apartment building, for their over-developed sense of responsibility, and lack of flamboyance.
Above all, he looked down on them for their good taste. The building was a monument to good taste, to the well-designed kitchen, to sophisticated utensils and fabrics, to elegant and never ostentatious furnishings – in short, to that whole aesthetic sensibility which these well-educated professional people had inherited from all the schools of industrial design, all the award-winning schemes of interior decoration institutionalized by the last quarter of the twentieth century. Royal detested this orthodoxy of the intelligent. Visiting his neighbors’ apartments, he would find himself physically repelled by the contours of an award-winning coffee-pot, by the well-modulated color schemes, by the good taste and intelligence that, Midas-like, had transformed everything in these apartments into an ideal marriage of function and design. In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future.’ (80-81)
The Obama administration, state and local police, and the courts are carrying out an increasingly aggressive intervention on behalf of the telecommunications company Verizon against 45,000 striking workers in the Northeast US. The workers, now entering their second week on strike, are opposing $1 billion in concession demands by the company.
On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an agency of the Justice Department, announced that it was investigating as a “national security” issue unsubstantiated charges of sabotage leveled by Verizon against striking workers. FBI Special Agent Bryan Travers issued a provocative email connecting the alleged incidents to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“Because critical infrastructure has been affected, namely the telecommunications of both a hospital and a police department, the FBI is looking into this matter from a security standpoint as part of our security efforts leading up to the 9/11 anniversary,” the email stated.
A day later, the New York Post reported that New York City has begun deploying police officers, including members of an anti-terror unit, to escort strike-breakers across picket lines and monitor picketers.
According to the Post, police officers are “monitoring Verizon garages and following its trucks with cops from all over the city, including members of the Critical Response anti-terrorism units.” The newspaper quoted one police officer complaining, “We have to follow Verizon trucks all day.”
The government and police are seizing on the charges of sabotage to increase pressure on the workers, even as they ignore numerous instances of picketing workers being injured by managers or strike-breakers.
At least 30 workers have been hit by cars driven by Verizon management. Last Monday, a strike-breaker drove through a picket line in Getzville, New York, outside of Buffalo, sending several workers to the hospital. In Silver Spring, Maryland, picketers reported several attempts to hit strikers. Three workers went to the hospital Friday morning after being struck by cars.
There have been no reports of arrests in connection with these incidents.
Monday, August 15 is the 22nd anniversary of the death of Gerry Horgan, who was killed on a Communications Workers of America (CWA) picket line in New York in 1989, after being struck by a vehicle driven by a strike-breaker.
Verizon workers denounced the claims of sabotage, noting that service goes down all the time. Now there are no workers to fix the problems, so Verizon is blaming the strikers.
One Verizon worker on the picket line in Buffalo told the World Socialist Web Site, “They are blaming us for things that happen every day, like an animal chewing through a wire.”
Gladys, a technician in New York City, said, “I really don’t think vandalism or sabotage is happening in this strike. Management can say this. They have to fight back somehow. It is sad that the media is filled with stories like this because I cannot see any workers doing this.”
“I don’t understand why the FBI has to get involved in investigating everything,” she added. “Even when there isn’t a strike, lines go down at police stations and hospitals.”
Verizon has also obtained court orders or injunctions limiting picketing in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, and an injunction is pending in Massachusetts. At locations throughout the Northeast, workers report an increased police presence, with cops enforcing the orders restricting the number of picketers allowed at a given entrance and outlawing any efforts to halt the business operations of the company.
Several workers have been arrested, including six outside a Baltimore, Maryland facility last week. On Thursday, police arrested two women in Salisbury, Maryland for blocking the road and trying to prevent strike-breakers from entering. They were charged with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order—charges that carry penalties of up to 60 days in jail.
Jeanine, a call center customer service representative in Albany, explained: “The injunction is allowing everyone to walk through the door because we are fenced in and they are given a clear path to the doorway. We are supposed to stay within the fencing, which means we cannot reach the scabs. They have the fencing out in the road because they say we have to be 15 feet from the building. So they put us in the road.”
“There are three entrances to our building, and they are limiting the pickets to 30 at each entrance,” Jeanine added. “There were hundreds of pickets here before this injunction. We were keeping scabs out and slowing them down. At one point, the scabs barreled through us and knocked people down with their shoulders and elbows. We reported these assaults to the police. They talked to the union, and they now have an injunction against us.”
Pam, another Verizon worker in Albany, felt picketers could be arrested if they tried to block the scabs. A video on the web site of the CWA showed how a worker was knocked down the day before by a management official who accelerated his car as he approached the picket line.
“It does look like they could make a police state for the corporations. Look how they have us penned in,” Pam said.
The refusal of the two unions involved in the strike, the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), to oppose the scabbing or defy the strike-breaking injunctions only encourages the Obama administration and state and local governments to step up their repression and intimidation of striking workers. The AFL-CIO, by virtually ignoring one of the largest US strikes years, provides critical de facto support to the strike-breaking operation.
These unions are allied to the Democratic Party and are preparing to pour millions of dollars into the reelection campaign of Obama, who is pursuing a right-wing, pro-corporate policy of bailouts and tax cuts for big business and austerity for the working class—a policy that in all essentials coincides with that of the Republicans.
The ability of Verizon workers to defeat the attacks of the government and the corporation depends on the mobilization of broader sections of the working class. The Verizon strike must become the starting point for a general mobilization of all workers against the attack on jobs, wages, social programs and democratic rights.
The AFL-CIO is opposed to any such mobilization and is working, with the collaboration of the CWA and IBEW leadership, to isolate and betray the strike. On Sunday evening there was no mention of Verizon on the front page of the AFL-CIO web site.
Verizon is carrying out the Obama administration's policy, supported by all sections of the political establishment, of using the economic crisis as an opportunity to slash labor costs. Obama set the tone for such actions in the forced bankruptcy of the General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, carried out with the assistance of the United Auto Workers.
The intervention of the state—FBI, police and courts—underscores that in defending their rights the Verizon workers face a political struggle against the two-party capitalist system. For all its talk of advancing “democracy” abroad, the American ruling class denies American workers their basic rights whenever the exercise of those rights impinges on corporate profits. The US state will use all the instruments of repression at its disposal to put down resistance by the working class to the dictates of the corporate elite.
Two surveys released this week show that CEO compensation at major US corporations for 2010 topped the levels reached in 2007, prior to the financial meltdown and global recession.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday published its review of 350 companies listed in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, concluding that the median value of salaries, bonuses and long-term incentive awards for their CEOs rose 11 percent over 2009 to $9.3 million.
In 2010, the average annual pay of US workers was $40,500. Thus, according to the Journal’s survey, the typical CEO at a major US corporation took in the equivalent of the combined salaries of 230 American workers.
A separate analysis by the Associated Press, based on a survey of 334 firms in the S&P 500 index, concluded that CEO pay rose 24 percent in 2010 over the previous year, with the typical pay package coming in at $9 million. AP reported that the 10 highest-paid CEOs made $440 million in 2010, a third more than the top 10 made in 2009. These 10 individuals took in the equivalent of the earnings of more than 11,000 US workers.
Pay for workers grew by only three percent in 2010, barely keeping pace with inflation. The average wage was less than one-half of one percent of the amount awarded to the typical CEO.
According to AP, median compensation in 2007 was $8.4 million. In 2008, following the Wall Street crash, it fell to $7.6 million. In 2009, when the stock market hit its post-crash low point, CEO pay dropped again to $7.2 million. The $9 million median figure for 2010 is the highest since AP began tracking CEO pay in 2006.
AP reported that the biggest gains came in cash bonuses, with the typical CEO bonus reaching $2 million, up 39 percent from 2009. Two-thirds of executives got a bigger bonus than they received the previous year, some more than three times as big.
The Wall Street Journal, using a somewhat different sampling of companies, also concluded that cash bonuses rose faster than any other component of pay. It set the increase over 2009 at 19.7 percent.
According to the Journal, median CEO pay in oil and gas was $13.7 million; in telecom, $12.5 million; in financials, $10.9 million; in consumer goods, $10.7 million, in health care, $10.6 million; in technology, $9.7 million.
The newspaper listed the five highest-paid CEOs as Phillippe Dauman of Viacom ($84.3 million, an increase of 150 percent), Lawrence Ellison of Oracle ($68.6 million, a 17 percent decline), Leslie Moonves of CBS ($53.9 million, a rise of 38 percent), Martin Franklin of Jarden ($45.2 million, up 143 percent) and Michael White of Directv ($32.6 million in his first year as CEO).
Among those in the top 20 were Alan Mulally of Ford ($25.8 million) and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase ($23 million).
The Journal’s computation for 2010 compensation did not include payouts on long-term incentives, the vesting of restricted stock or the exercising of stock options. The result is a significant underestimation of the amounts actually taken in by CEOs. Mulally, for example, received a stock bonus of $56.6 million, bringing his total take for the year to more than $83 million.
Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum received $70 million in 2010 from such incentives; Thomas Ryan of CVS Caremark received $50 million.
Last month the AFL-CIO published its annual Executive Pay Watch, showing an even more massive windfall for CEOs. It reported that the CEOs at 299 US companies took in $3.4 billion combined in executive compensation in 2010, with the average CEO pay coming in at $11.4 million.
This represented a 23 percent increase from the prior year. The sum of the salaries of those 299 CEOs equaled, the report concluded, the combined average earnings of more than 100,000 workers in their respective companies.
These staggering sums coincide with soaring corporate profits and stock prices on the one hand, and near-Depression levels of unemployment, record long-term joblessness, rampant wage-cutting, millions of home foreclosures and growing poverty, on the other. S&P 500 companies saw their profits rise 47 percent last year, and major stock indexes have nearly doubled from their 2009 lows.
This bonanza for the corporate elite is almost entirely derived not from expanded production and hiring, but rather from ruthless cost-cutting. Revenues at S&P 500 firms rose by only 7 percent last year.
The Obama administration, acting in behalf of the financial aristocracy, has utilized the economic crisis to fundamentally and permanently alter class relations in America. Its central preoccupation has been to protect the wealth of the parasitic financial elite and ensure its ability to continue plundering the country’s resources.
No one has been held accountable for the wild speculation and outright criminal practices that precipitated the crisis. No measures have been taken to reclaim the ill-gotten wealth or rein in the banks and corporations. To the contrary, everything has been done to shield the perpetrators and make them richer than ever.
It is essentially in pursuit of this aim, concealed behind homilies on the need to reduce the deficit, that jobs, wages, unemployment benefits, schools, health care, pensions and social programs upon which tens of millions of people depend are being gutted.
The deliberate policy of keeping unemployment high, in order to weaken the resistance of workers to pay cuts and speedup, is reflected in the record cash hoard of nearly $2 trillion held by US corporations, the result of their refusal to use their bumper profits to significantly increase hiring.
The surge in CEO pay underscores the fact that the American capitalist class and its political representatives, beginning with the Obama administration, are pursuing a policy of class war.