Posts tagged: Politics
Kevin Drum writes:
The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.
Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.
Two thoughts on this:
1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”
2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.
TechCrunch: You wrote this book before the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, but you’ve said that the Snowden revelations weren’t that surprising given the leaks that had come before. Did you have the NSA in mind when you wrote the book?
Suarez: Well, it’s funny that I showed them in the book as sort of hapless victims in a way of the BTC. There was something appealing of course about seeing the NSA being tapped and helpless, trying to figure out how to resist a technologically superior foe. I thought that that was an interesting way to look at things. It’s not just the NSA, but any unseen and unaccountable concentration of power that I’m trying to portray in this story. And right now that might be the NSA, but over time it might change. And I wouldn’t really put a specific nationality on it. It’s a story about progress and an effort to try to retain advantage.
So, yes, it was partly about the NSA but then it’s also partly about the broader issues — the broader issues of control and transparency.
TechCrunch: It feels like the power imbalance isn’t just a political power imbalance but it’s also the lack of understanding and awareness on the part of the public as to how these things work.
Suarez: And possibly interest. It’s been mildly infuriating to me to speak with even friends and people I know who shrug and say “Well, you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about surveillance?” And of course you and I would probably say well, actually, it’s not just people doing things wrong. For example somebody running for Congress 20 years from now I think is going to have a very detailed record to have to defend. “Why were you standing next to this person every day for five years and this person later turned out to be a criminal?”
I think that is why these revelations were powerful. I don’t think that many technology or IT people were surprised by this, but I think it became much more personal with Snowden. Now, it’s dying down again but I think there will be more revelations that hopefully wake people up. We can’t just be passive. Being a citizen in a democracy really does require some interest.
From Yasha Levine at Pando:
Remember Justine Tunney? The OWS-anarchist-turned-cultist-Google-employee who bashed my reporting on Google’s for-profit surveillance? Well, today she hit the big time.
Over the last few days, Tunney has been causing a Twitter outrage tsunami after she took full control of the main Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Twitter account, claimed to be the founder of OWS and then proceeded to tweet out stream of ridiculous anarcho-corporatist garbage. She railed against welfare, described the government as “just another corporation,” argued poverty was not a political problem but “an engineering problem” and told politicians to “get out of the way.” She also debunked what she thought was a misconception: people thought OWS activists were protesting against concentrated corporate power, and that, she claims, is simply not true.
Chase Madar wrote a good piece on the transformation of the U.S. into a police state. Many of the examples will be familiar to Technoccult readers, but it’s a useful and scary overview none the less:
f all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.
By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where “the War on Crime” and “the War on Drugs” are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko’s blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It’s also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter. […]
It will surprise no one that Americans are not all treated equally by the police. Law enforcement picks on kids more than adults, the queer more than straight, Muslims more than Methodists—Muslims a lot more than Methodists—antiwar activists more than the apolitical. Above all, our punitive state targets the poor more than the wealthy and Blacks and Latinos more than white people.
He didn’t really go into another scary element: the way that more and more people are expected to act as de-facto law enforcement. Financial services is one example. PayPal had to invested heavily in tools to detect money laundering and other illegal uses of its services. Competitors who couldn’t afford to do the same, or acted too slowly, were shut down by the feds.
And then there’s Alfred Anaya, a man who built secret compartments into cars, who was convicted of criminal conspiracy for not reporting that he had seen TK in cash in one of his client’s vehicles. Anaya never saw illegal drugs in the car, just cash. Prosecutors argued that he should have done something about it.
It’s of course reasonable to ask banks or other financial services company not to knowingly participate in illegal activity. But how much due dilligence is required? Just how far should Anaya have gone?
Imagine this being taken further: You’re arrested because your neighbors were caught selling drugs and you didn’t report them, even though you didn’t know for sure they were selling drugs. Your cousin commits murder and your whole family is convicted for not reporting that he seemed mentally unstable. Police cameras capture the license plates of not people who ran a red light, but everyone who may have witnessed the infraction, and send everyone tickets.
Todd Miller writes:
The police always put the checkpoint at the entrance to the mobile home park where María and Manuel live. A road barely two lanes wide leads through the park with its approximately sixty gray, white, and beige mobile homes tightly concentrated in a two-block area. Just in case, María and Manuel check to make sure the shiny black police cars and orange cones aren’t there. They decide to risk it and go to church.
Even though they are in South Carolina, María says the placement of the checkpoint makes it feel as if the U.S.-Mexico border were right at her doorstep. That’s saying something. María, though originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán, grew up in Naco, Mexico, right on the border. Although police checkpoints are often used throughout the state of South Carolina to find people driving under the influence, they are also there to make sure a driver’s residency status is in order.
“They put it in the entrance of the trailer park,” María tells me. “You have to go through the checkpoint.” There isn’t any other way to get in or out. The authorities at this particular checkpoint have already busted Manuel three times, each time for driving without a proper driver’s license. And this checkpoint has caused serious havoc for María’s neighbors, family, and co-workers, many of them non-citizens who have come into the area to work in the booming construction industry around the island of Hilton Head. Many are carpenters, landscapers, and construction workers who now live in the small town of Ridgeland. They are the people who have sculpted and landscaped gigantic gated communities built around golf courses and fake waterfalls. These modern subdivisions are now filled with mainly affluent white retirees, the majority from the Northeast and Midwest. Some places, like the ten-thousand-person town of Sun City, didn’t even exist fifteen years ago.
My latest column for TechCrunch looks at one of the weirdest political subcultures on the web:
Many of us yearn for a return to one golden age or another. But there’s a community of bloggers taking the idea to an extreme: they want to turn the dial way back to the days before the French Revolution.
Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.
You may have seen them crop-up on tech hangouts like Hacker News and Less Wrong, having cryptic conversations about “Moldbug” and “the Cathedral.” And though neoreactionaries aren’t exactly rampant in the tech industry, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas, and Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been influenced by neoreactionary thought. It may be a small, minority world view, but it’s one that I think shines some light on the psyche of contemporary tech culture.
Previously: Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism
Steven Attewell writes:
Steve Rogers doesn’t represent a genericized America but rather a very specific time and place – 1930’s New York City. We know he was born July 4, 1920 (not kidding about the 4th of July) to a working-class family of Irish Catholic immigrants who lived in New York’s Lower East Side. This biographical detail has political meaning: given the era he was born in and his class and religious/ethnic background, there is no way in hell Steve Rogers didn’t grow up as a Democrat, and a New Deal Democrat at that, complete with a picture of FDR on the wall.
Steve Rogers grew up poor in the Great Depression, the son of a single mother who insisted he stayed in school despite the trend of the time (his father died when he was a child; in some versions, his father is a brave WWI veteran, in others an alcoholic, either or both of which would be appropriate given what happened to WWI veterans in the Great Depression) and then orphaned in his late teens when his mother died of TB. And he came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the “Double V” campaign.
Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.
And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.
I just came across this interview with hacker and activist Eleanor Saitta from last year:
I think we’re going to (necessarily) see a shift over the next fifty years in the kinds of energy interdependencies that we see in the world. We must; the old way will not hold. One way or another, we must anticipate a lower-energy future with little or no fossil fuel movement.
Finance, is composed of one part politics, one part extortion and violence, and one part coordination. The network does coordination and politics very differently, in ways that make more sense for it. While I’m not talking about some kind of mythical post-monetary future, I do think the territory there will change just as much in energy. We may not have (mass) global energy flows, but we will have global trade, global coordination, and global politics, in the service of the network whole. What the violence of finance means in a network context is still to be determined; we have some hints, though.
There will be resistance to this shift from those empowered by the old order. There is already resistance, and it will only get worse. However, the past has already lost its war with the future; it doesn’t understand this yet, but it will learn. Now, what remains to be seen is whether or not this network future is any kind of improvement for actual human lives caught in the middle. Some good changes will likely happen, and there is a vast potential, but it’s unclear if that potential will become real.
[…] I joke that my ten year stretch goal is to kill the nation state, but really, I don’t think that’s particularly necessary. There will always be territorial organizational structures, but they’re only one possible structure among many that can interact. I favor building up new alternatives, starting now. If we somehow magically did manage to destroy the nation state before there was anything to replace it, we’d all, quite frankly, be fucked. I’m a road fetishist. I really like roads. And power. And food. Those are all currently mostly provided by or coordinated through the state. Kill the state now, and life looks grim.
That said, waiting until you’ve got a fully functional alternative before taking any kind of political action aimed at common emancipation is equally dumb, as is investing more effort in actively hostile systems when you can’t actually change them. I’m a realist, in the end. I want less suffering, for everyone, in both the short and long term, and that doesn’t come out of the barrel of any one ideology, just as surely as it isn’t going to come by sticking to the straight and narrow of our status quo handbasket.
My latest for Wired:
What many people fail to realize is that Change.org isn’t a non-profit organization. Though anyone can set up a petition for free, the company makes an awful lot of money from all the data it collects about its online petitions and the people who sign them. It’s not just a path to The People. It’s a Google-like Big Data play.
In amassing data from its 45 million users and the 660,000 petitions they’ve created and signed, the company has unprecedented insight into the habits of online activists. If you sign one animal rights petition, the company says, you’re 2.29 times more likely to sign a criminal justice petition. And if you sign a criminal justice petition, you’re 6.3 times more likely to sign an economic justice petition. And 4.4 times more likely to sign an immigrant rights petition. And four times more likely to sign an education petition. And so on.
Change.org uses this data to serve you petitions you’re more likely to be interested in. And, in many cases, it also uses the stuff as a way of pairing you with paying sponsors you’re more likely to give money to.
It’s an intriguing business, and as it turns out, a rather lucrative one. But for some, it also toes an ethical line. “We’ve sort of created an email industrial complex where we’ll do anything to get people’s email address,” says Clay Johnson, a Presidential Innovation Fellow who, in 2004, co-founded Blue State Digital, a for-profit consulting company that helped develop the Obama campaign’s finely targeted fundraising system.
A good take on certain types of political violence:
It is usually exciting to see reports on insurrectionary attacks on capitalist structures in the news; for example, the recent torching of a fancy-pants car dealership in Melbourne, Australia. An unidentified anarchist cell (unidentified by the corporate media, anyway) has claimed responsibility, although the police are expressing their skepticism that the fire wasn’t an accident.
There is an argument to be made that such actions can inspire and educate the general population, and drive them to take up revolutionary struggle. This notion is encompassed in the idea of the “propaganda of the deed“, a philosophy that emphasizes actions over words, and is usually cited as justification for assassinations, bombings, arson, street battles, and other acts of sabotage and violence.
I’m not going to deny that I am not emotionally roused by such actions, especially when they take place in the West. The dearth of radical political action in the United States makes it very easy to want to cheerlead violent actions by clandestine groups. However, we must keep a cool and logical head when it comes to theorizing and practicing radical politics, and analyze specific tactics from an empirical and historical standpoint is crucial. History shows that the propaganda of the deed has typically failed to drive any kind of real emancipatory struggle. From the Weather Underground in the US to the MEK in Iran, insurrectionary actions devoid of any mass organizational politics has always failed to rouse the general population to revolution.
(I’ll henceforth refer to this phenomena of militancy without the masses as “adventurism”, a somewhat pejorative term that was popularized by Lenin to distinguish individual acts of violence from actions taken by a popular organization or community).