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General political reading/viewing/listening thread

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:53 am 
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Thought it might be worth having a thread in which we can bung articles that don't really fit in anywhere else. Here's one - a really good piece on how charities are allowing themselves to be used as cover for cuts and corporate whitewashing.

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The relationship between charities, corporate partners and major donors (wealthy individuals) is a complex and, to my mind, deeply problematic one. Much of the time of any charity fundraising department is taken up in wooing these companies and individuals. They are invited to special events, intimate meetings, wined and dined and generally treated as a class apart from the members of the public whose main contact with some of these charities is likely to be having tins or clipboards waved at them in the street. It may be strictly true to say, as the CEO of Save the Children does, that “It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest our silence can be bought.” That’s not, however, because there’s absolutely nothing in the claims that the mission is ‘compromised’ but rather because positioning your charity to be ‘acceptable’ to big money is seen as perfectly ‘natural’. An organisation like British Gas generally wouldn’t have to demand that a charity dropped unfavourable references to them because very few of them would ever venture there in the first place.

In this way the CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility - programmes of big companies and the charitable activities of wealthy individuals serve a far more insidious purpose than just making them ‘look good’. They actively discourage criticism from some of the organisations which should be at the forefront of scrutinising their actions. We may for example read about the activities of the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms in aiding and abetting tax avoidance and other corporate misdemeanors but you’ll struggle to find a charity which links this to the issues they ostensibly work in - poverty, cuts to services, healthcare and research, international development and so on. This self-censorship is so internalised that it’s not even seen as a guilty secret - rather it’s viewed as ‘grown-up’ campaigning, the Realpolitik of charity work.

A perfect example (and one which has started to be picked up on in the past year) is the involvement of Gary Barlow with Children in Need (and indeed with other charities such as MENCAP.) The former “awards grants each year to organisations supporting disadvantaged children and young people in the UK” while the latter offers support ” to people with a learning disability and their families and carers”. It simply seems impossible for both organisations to separate their missions and values from Barlow’s tax avoidance and support for the Tories at the 2010 election. Both charities have found themselves more necessary than ever due to government cuts to services in recent years; MENCAP has even actively campaigned against government policies. It seems not only mendacious in the extreme but actually harmful to then present Barlow as an apolitical ‘good bloke’ doing his bit for charity. Doing his bit would be paying his taxes and being made to face the consequences of his political decisions.


http://howupsetting.tumblr.com/post/695 ... f-politics

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Last edited by new puritan on Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:51 pm 
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Good piece from Sam Gindin on art and neoliberal fatalism.

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Capitalism once promised material security, a lessening of inequalities, a deepening democracy and richer human lives. Such promises were central to its legitimation. The “American way” had a special status in all this; though attitudes in the rest of the world often reflected a love/hate relationship with the US, it was American production methods, patterns of consumption and popular culture that set the bar. But following the rebellions of the 1960s a historic shift occurred. Gains earlier presented as measures of progress were reformulated by elites as now representing barriers to success. Pressures mounted for the old promises to be abandoned.

Yet – and this is the disheartening paradox of the period since roughly the early 1980s — the reversal of capitalism’s promises led to no substantive crisis in its authority, and the neoliberal practices that brought us to the most recent economic crisis were subsequently not discarded but intensified. Moreover, for all the damage to the American model’s status as austerity was imposed on its working class, most countries nevertheless moved even closer to emulating the orientation of the United States. Germany, considered by many as the successor to Sweden and Japan in representing an alternative to the American variety of capitalism, now seems (in terms of its attachment to fiscal austerity at home and in its punishing demands on its neighbors) more American than America.

At a moment that should have led to the most serious discussions of alternatives to capitalism, such alternatives have in fact further receded from public deliberations. Capitalism’s defects are experienced as individual failures, and personal frustrations replace social critiques. This applies not only to “ordinary” citizens but also to intellectuals and activists who have too often believed that their broader perspectives would act as a protective shield against such a malaise.


https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/12/art- ... -fatalism/

The book Gindin recently co-authored with Leo Panitch, The Making of Global Capitalism, is very good.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 3:30 am 
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Another good piece here from Colin Leys on the British ruling class, its relation to other factions of the transnational capitalist class and its approach to the crisis of UK capitalism from the new Socialist Register. Think this passage is worth quoting in full:

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The way the British ruling class rules doesn’t differ in essentials from the methods used in any other post-industrial neoliberal democracy: shifting the tax burden to the working class, shifting from universal benefits to workfare, paring down social services, think-tank dominance of policy debate, constant and shameless government spin, populism, displacement (royal events, military parades, reality TV, gay marriage, women bishops, immigration, ‘Brussels’, foreign ‘wars of choice’). These, the consent-winning aspects of hegemony, are complemented by repressive surveillance (saturation cover of public space by CCTV, undercover policing of dissent) and coercion (heavyhanded policing of demonstrations), both justified as counter-terrorism. And the whole package is underpinned by the radical reshaping of society from one of producers to one of consumers.33 None of this is peculiarly British.

Two general points should be noted, however. On the one hand many elements in the mix are under strain, especially since the onset of the financial crisis. For example, as austerity pushes more people into poverty, income inequality and tax avoidance and evasion have become public issues which have seriously eroded the ruling class’s legitimacy. Austerity has also made consumerism problematic (young people can’t afford housing, old people can’t afford adequate heating, 350,000 are using food banks). Cuts in police spending have also upset the normally close relationship between the police and the ruling class. The drive to downsize the state has led to a series of major policy fiascos (the West Coast train line franchise, the 111 health phone help line, the Stafford Hospital disaster). And so on.

On the other hand inherited pre-modern aspects of the British state still insulate the ruling class from challenge. Archaic institutions such as the monarchy (marketed as ‘the royal family’) and the House of Lords (protected by titles and ermine from being seen as the unaccountable collection of political cronies it is) still underpin its rule. The plurality or ‘first past the post’ electoral system discriminates strongly against new parties and secures the Labour Party in place as an alternative instrument of ruling-class control (the two major parties have jointly seen off all proposals to change it). The so-called unwritten constitution makes much executive action the exercise of ‘royal prerogative’, unaccountable to parliament – a feature accentuated by the arrival of ‘e-politics’: ‘servers suck in and store the imprints of dissent and protest so that liquid modern politics can roll on unaffected and unabated – substituting soundbites and photo opportunities for confrontation and argument… Bush and Blair could go to war under false pretences with no dearth of websites calling their bluff’.34

The combination of these factors allows the electoral process to be disconnected from the reality of rule with remarkably little penalty. Democracy is not just ‘thin’; party politics have become a parallel political universe to the realities of rule. In the 2010 election most of the really important problems confronting the country were barely discussed, or were barely mentioned: the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, the causes of terrorism, regulating the financial sector, the scandalously regressive tax system, not to mention the impending environmental catastrophe. The reason was that these are issues for the global ruling class, not the British electorate – as City commentators in the aftermath of the election, when negotiations over the formation of a coalition were still ongoing, didn’t hesitate to point out:

Investors favour a government that focuses on cutting the budget deficit, paying back the country’s debts in full and on time… The newgovernment will have to follow the market’s guidelines, investors warn. 'The bond market will rule the UK whoever’s prime minister’, said Gary Jenkins, a credit analyst at Evolution Securities.35

Analysts at BILLIONP Paribas reckoned that a ‘Lib-Lab government is the least liked option by markets and would almost guarantee a downgrade of the UK sovereign debt’… Analysts at Morgan Stanley reckoned that the pound could have fallen to $1.35 – from around $1.50 yesterday – if a Lab-Lib coalition had been formed.36

No mainstream media figure challenged this. By 2010 the initial furious public anger against the authors of the financial crisis seemed to have been overcome.37 But by 2013, as politicians of all parties talked less and less of recovery, and more and more of a permanent future of austerity, the mood shifted again, and Britain’s underlying economic predicament came under public scrutiny once more. In confronting this problem three distinctive features of the context deserve particular emphasis: the exceptional role of the financial sector, the problematic nature of the EU as a regional expression of global capital and the radical transformation that successive governments have wreaked in the British state.


http://socialistregister.com/index.php/ ... rT9P_RdVWx

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 24, 2013 2:57 pm 
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Excellent essay from James Meek on the rank stupidity that is UK housing policy. Really a must-read imo.

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A housing shortage that has been building up for the past thirty years is reaching the point of crisis. The party in power, whose late 20th-century figurehead, Margaret Thatcher, did so much to create the problem, is responding by separating off the economically least powerful and squeezing them into the smallest, meanest, most insecure possible living space. In effect, if not in explicit intention, it is a let-the-poor-be-poor crusade, a Campaign for Real Poverty. The government has stopped short of explicitly declaring war on the poor. But how different would the situation be if it had?


http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n01/james-meek ... ll-we-live

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 03, 2014 10:57 am 
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Pilger on India.

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In five-star hotels on Mumbai's seafront, children of the rich squeal joyfully as they play hide and seek. Nearby, at the National Theatre for the Performing Arts, people arrive for the Mumbai Literary Festival: famous authors and notables drawn from India's Raj class. They step deftly over a woman lying across the pavement, her birch brooms laid out for sale, her two children silhouettes in a banyan tree that is their home.

It is Children's Day in India. On page nine of the Times of India, a study reports that every second child is malnourished. Nearly two million children under the age of five die every year from preventable illness as common as diarrhoea. Of those who survive, half are stunted due to a lack of nutrients. The national school dropout rate is 40 per cent. Statistics like these flow like a river permanently in flood. No other country comes close. The small thin legs dangling in a banyan tree are poignant evidence.


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There was no tiger economy for them. The hype about a high-tech India storming the barricades of the first world was largely a myth. This is not to deny India's rise in pre-eminence in computer technology and engineering, but the new urban technocratic class is relatively tiny and the impact of its gains on the fortunes of the majority is negligible.

When the national grid collapsed in 2012, leaving 700 million people powerless, almost half had so little electricity, they "barely noticed", wrote one observer. On my last two visits, the front pages boasted that India had "gatecrashed the super-exclusive ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) club" and launched its "largest ever" aircraft carrier and sent a rocket to Mars: the latter lauded by the government as "a historic moment for all of us to cheer".

The cheering was inaudible in the rows of tarpaper shacks you see as you land at Mumbai international airport and in myriad villages denied basic technology, such as light and safe water. Here, land is life and the enemy is a rampant "free market". Foreign multinationals' dominance of food grains, genetically modified seed, fertilisers and pesticides has sucked small farmers into a ruthless global market and led to debt and destitution. More than 250,000 farmers have killed themselves since the mid-1990s - a figure that may be a fraction of the truth as local authorities wilfully misreport "accidental" deaths.


http://johnpilger.com/articles/in-india ... nce-coming

Also a good piece here from Tom Mills on neoliberalism's inherent anti-democratic impulses.

Quote:
Whilst the neoliberals did not wholly embrace Hobbes’s Leviathan,[4] there are clearly echoes of this reactionary conception of freedom in the neoliberal worldview, which despite its populist gloss is at root an anti-democratic vision. This impulse has been most comprehensively exposed by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine and is most starkly illustrated by the neoliberals’ collaboration with the Pinochet regime in Chile. In a 1982 letter to Hayek, Thatcher wrote, ‘I am sure you will agree that, in Britain with our democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent, some of the measures adopted in Chile are quite unacceptable.’ Yet the same authoritarian tendencies were also present in Thatcherism, which Andrew Gamble influentially characterised as ‘the free economy and the strong state’; a marriage which, like the Pinochet collaboration, only seems ironic if the neoliberal rhetoric of freedom is left unexamined. Consider, for example, Nigel Lawson’s remark that democracy is a ‘greatly over-hyped blessing’ and ‘clearly less important than freedom, the rule of law and constitutional government.’ For Lawson, the ‘strong government’ of which he was a part was necessary to impose ‘unpopular policies,’ and its ‘contempt for consensus was at that time both important and fully justified.’ Lawson is here clearly influenced by the emphasis placed by public choice theorists, and the German neoliberals, on a strong legal framework to support ‘free enterprise.’ It is an unusually honest expression from a key protagonist of the true dynamic of neoliberal governance, which, as Alasdair Roberts details in The Logic of Discipline, was built upon a ‘deep scepticism about the merits of conventional methods of democratic governance.’ Public choice theorists and conservative political scientists like Samuel Huntington, Roberts notes, thought democracy tended ‘to produce policies that are short-sighted, unstable, or designed to satisfy the selfish concerns of powerful voting blocs, well-organized special interests, and the bureaucracy itself.[5] Their proposed solution was to ‘transfer authority to new groups of technocratic guardians,’ an obvious example being the granting of ‘independence’ to Central Banks.[6] In reality though, ‘the logic of discipline’ led not so much to the rise of a new technocratic elite, but the near total dominance of policy making by big business, from monetary policy to infrastructure development and art and culture. Moreover, realising the ‘free society’ required not just the dismantling of the partially democratised functions of the state, but also the, often violent, disciplining of populations into the new arrangements. Hence why for all the rhetoric about freedom, neoliberal governments have in practice overseen a strengthening of repressive state apparatuses, including an expansion of police powers beyond the classic liberal democratic framework and the increased, and racialised, incarceration of the urban poor.


http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php ... _leviathan

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2014 1:19 pm 
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Another good article from Gindin, this time on the nature of the post-2008 crisis.

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The 2008 crisis needs to be understood primarily as a financial crisis. The financial system had experienced stunning growth as its role within capitalism took on new features, but this also brought especially destabilizing contradictions. The roots of the explosion in financial growth, originating in the US and subsequently exported abroad, go back to at least the 1950s and ’60s with the growth of mortgages and private pension plans at home alongside support for the acceleration of foreign direct investment, especially in Europe. That financial growth was given a further boost with the end of fixed exchange rates and the scramble on the part of international business to find ways to deal with the uncertainties of exchange rates. The restoration of corporate profits under neoliberalism reduced corporate requirements for normal borrowing at the same time as the stagnation of worker incomes created new lending opportunities — workers came to depend heavily on their homes as collateral for borrowings to sustain their consumption patterns (household debt soon surpassed each of corporate and government debts).

These factors led to financial institutions providing new services to both business and consumers. Especially important, as money flowed in from abroad, it reinforced low US interest rates and increased competitive pressures among financial institutions to find ways to protect and raise their profits. With the acquiescence of the American state, finance very significantly increased its “leverage” (loaned ever more on their limited base of borrowed assets) and developed new products to radically extend their “risk boundaries” (expanded loans to very vulnerable borrowers or projects for higher premiums). As mortgages were bundled into new securities to be sold across financial markets, the “low finance” of workers and the increasingly complex “high finance” of Wall Street (Bay Street in Canada) became inextricably linked.

When the housing bubble burst, it directly affected the economy (construction, furniture, appliances, and the impact on demand of the destroyed value of workers’ main asset). This would normally have meant a significant downturn. But given the degree to which overstretched financial companies were now vulnerable to disruptions in the flow of capital, and the extent to which each of these companies was integrated with other companies, what capitalism faced was a financial wildfire. That wildfire stopped the economy in its tracks.

It is crucial to recognize that to insist on the centrality of finance is not to explain the crisis in terms of predatory speculation (though much speculation did of course take place). While finance is a distinct part of the economy in terms of its institutions and role, it isn’t separate from the rest of the economy. That workers had become so dependent on credit was linked to the weakening of unions and the decline or slow growth in wages. That finance grew exponentially and had become so fundamental to the functioning of the economy, in spite of high profits seemingly making credit less important, was tied to finance providing the special funds and services for capitalist restructuring, such as advice and funds for mergers and venture funds, and instruments like derivatives and hedge funds that supported managing risks central to operating in a global environment.


https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/clar ... he-crisis/

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:47 pm 
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Keep these coming, NP.

I'm reading a biography of Hogarth. I'll crow bar in any politics, but in the main I'm going to be dependent on you for my political thought.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:30 pm 
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Decent review of Peter Mair's Ruling the Void, on the hollowing-out of political institutions under neoliberalism. Pretty good book - unfortunately the author died before he could finish it properly.

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The tendency towards post-democracy is obvious, even if, like the ailments which affect bee colonies, it is not always clear exactly which combination of factors is truly to blame. Mair, one of the most articulate theorists looking at such questions in recent years, identifies the collapse of Soviet communism in the late 1980s as a key milestone. It marked the point, he argues, where 'democracy' became ubiquitous and capitalism triumphant, masking the increasingly questionable ways that ‘democracy’ was manipulated and degraded during the Cold War in the course of geopolitical competition. The collapse of communism highlighted how little academic attention had been devoted to study of the practical workings of democracy, and diverted attention from studying how capitalism was able to survive and even flourish in such environments as Pinochet’s authoritarian, laissez-faire Chile.

Post-democratic degeneration can be seen with particular clarity in the changing roles of political parties. Mair identifies an increasing tendency for parties to abandon their role in civil society as advocates for sectoral interests, in favour of an executive role as administrators and governors. These developments are analogous to the way that politics is now perceived as an occupation for a type of person, rather than an activity interwoven into the everyday lives of citizens. He documents the homogenisation of the UK Labour Party, as it has transitioned from being a dispersed federal organisation, to a centralised operation that has consistently discarded those grassroots resolutions with which the leadership disagrees—on pensions, defence policy, the social ownership of railways, and much else besides. Such confrontations at the party's annual conference have served as markers for the shift away from representative party democracy, towards the idea of the party as a piece of state apparatus, a 'spin machine' for an embedded regime.


http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php ... g_the_void

Also an interesting interview here with Wang Hui on labour unrest in China.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 4:14 pm 
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Leo Panitch on the state of the centre-left and the old reform vs revolution dichotomy.

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There is an old debate on the left about reform v revolution. But it has become outmoded, not only because of the extremely limited prospects and forces for revolutionary change. The current meaning of the word "reform" contrasts sharply with the way it was used by Europe's social democrats around a century ago. Whether or not the incremental reforms that went under the rubric of gradualism would achieve social transformation without subjecting society to the pain of revolution, they were designed to promote social solidarity against the market.

Perhaps the greatest illusion of 20th-century social democrats was their belief that once reforms were won they would be won for good. In fact, we can now see how far the old reforms were subject to erosion by expanding capitalist competition on a global scale. They have been so undermined by the logic of competitiveness that it now seems very difficult to see how state protections against markets could be secured in our time without additional measures that would be seen as revolutionary.

The idea that doing anything to undermine private investment is unacceptable has become incredibly powerful. It is precisely this that makes social democratic politicians so timid in our time. And there can be little doubt that to sustain reforms in the old progressive meaning of the word, today a government would need to implement extensive controls to prevent an outflow of capital, and probably have to socialise financial institutions in order to get the necessary room for manoeuvre.


http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfre ... ts-reforms

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2014 1:00 am 
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Reading Hugo Young's This Blessed Plot about Britain and the EU.

Quite interesting about the early days.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:50 am 
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Some interesting stuff in this article on the neoliberalisation of the Nordic social-democratic welfare state (if you overlook the crowing and clearly approving tone of the piece).

http://www.newsdaily.com/europe/a65950f ... wn-to-size

Quote:
In the wake of a banking crisis in the early nineties, Stockholm scrapped housing subsidies, reformed the pension system and slashed the healthcare budget.

A voucher-based system that allows for-profit schools to compete with state schools was introduced, and has drawn attention from right-wing politicians elsewhere, including Britain's Conservative Party.

In 2006, conservative Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's government accelerated the pace of reform, tightening the criteria for unemployment benefits and sick pay while lowering taxes.

Income tax in Sweden is now lower than in France, Belgium and Denmark, and public spending as a share of GDP has declined from a record 71.0 percent in 1993 to 53.3 percent last year.


Hmm, a banking crisis - sorry, 'economic necessity' - being used as cover for swingeing cuts to social services. Why does that ring a bell?

Quote:
If Sweden is the Nordic country to have gone the furthest in shrinking its welfare state, Denmark has moved the fastest. Denmark also seems to be sliding rapidly in the same direction:

When her Social Democratic government took power in 2011, there was little to suggest Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt would make any dramatic changes to the country's cherished welfare state -- funded by the world's highest tax burden.

After a centre-right government had raised the retirement age and reduced the unemployment benefits period from four to two years, "Gucci Helle" -- as she is known among her detractors -- went on to cut corporate taxes to 22 percent from 25 percent.


Also, this discussion on the madness that is UK housing policy (following on from an excellent recent LRB essay from James Meek) is well worth a listen:

http://novaramedia.com/2014/01/where-will-we-live/

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 21, 2014 1:52 pm 
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That 71% in 1993 followed a banking crisis too.

A friend of mine described Swedish conservatives as being "The Economist".


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:25 am 
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Just watching the last couple of episodes of The Death of Yugoslavia from 1995. Fascinating series featuring interviews with all the major players involved in the conflict.













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PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:03 pm 
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Some good stuff in the new Jacobin. Pankaj Mehta on the revival of biological determinism (hello, Dominic Cummings):

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/ther ... -for-that/

Alyssa Battistoni on environmental sustainability, consumption and universal basic income:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/aliv ... -sunshine/

and probably the best of the lot, Miya Tokimitsu on 'do what you love' workplace mythology:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:26 pm 
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Interesting, that last article (Do What You Love). It's always worth remembering that in any organisation structure (but moreso in the private sector) there's an invisible line. Above it, you're an asset. Below it, a cost.

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