The Autonomist
Just Another Snowbunny Rockin' The East Bay

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The Autonomist: Gymnast, Revolutionary, Youth Counselor

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Saturday, January 17, 2004

"Let me study how you ride the beat, you big freak"

Hehe, That's the title of a journal entry from Conflict Girl,
a sociology major, blogger, ex-punk rocker, and Midwesterner approaching 30, just like your friend. Earlier I was debating whether to list her website in the political section, or what some consider to be the stigmatizing "Other" section, since it is so personal. But considering the personal is political, at least for political junkies, I went with the former. One example is a recent post about increasing alienation from blue collar family and friends since she has taken an academic path that has changed everything, even her worldview. Now subtleties can cause a stir, as when she brought a bottle of wine to a dinner instead of Budweiser.

Me, I just might take either, if they're free. More on the downwardly-mobile-vegan-underclass in a future post.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Shit Government, Shit Food

from Molly Ivins:

As Lou Dubose and I conclude, if you must eat while Republicans control both the White House and Congress, you may want to consider becoming a vegetarian. I am especially fond of the USDA inspection memo we uncovered that drew the following reaction from the Government Accountability Project: "Feces is feces whether it's fibrous or not. ... The USDA is abandoning the zero-tolerance standard for fecal contamination and replacing it with a new standard: 'wholesome unless there is gross contamination.' It's impossible for this standard to coexist with the agency's claim that it makes decisions based on science. 'Gross' is an inherently subjective standard."

Reading this, hearing from meat packers during the Clinton years about about the horrors of their job, makes me wonder how is this industry different now than 100 years ago when Upton Sinclair was doing research for his famous book?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Socialist KKK???

It's been a long while since an essay caught me by surprise as this one has. The author of "Rank-and-File Radicalism Within the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s" claims that the popular conception of The Klan today has little to do with the reality of it 80 years ago: predominantly northern, urban, and class conscious, with some local chapters actively supporting multiracial labor unions in conflicts with capital. Progressive causes listed as popular among the-rank-and file (but not necessarily the national leadership) were birth control, public healthcare, womens suffrage, and increased federal aid for education.

The paper could be laughed off if its author was known for Coulterite research, or racist sympathies. But neither is true of John Zerzan, a writer known for controversial views on civilization, but not for shoddy research. If anyone would like to shoot some holes in this paper, I'd be glad to post replies here.

Bikes & Cars: Like Oil & Water

Bicycle Commuting Now is probably the quintessential blog for the spiritual bicyclist. News items about biking in cold Pennsylvania weather, new parts purchased for Frank's bike, rude motorists, and more Frank opinion fill the page of this website. Having lived in rural, urban and suburban areas, one post I found interesting was on urban sprawl:

Sprawl affects bicycling and commuting in numerous ways too. The bigger highways mentioned above are often too fast and unsafe for bicycle commuters to traverse, and the spaces they connect get farther and farther away making it harder for citizens to access the shopping, living and working spaces they need without the use of motor vehicles.

That's true but there also can be major problems for bicyclists in cities with urban density. I know. I spent 10 months in Los Angeles with a $20 bicycle and a bus pass for transportation.

If you haven't been there recently, you might be surprised that this city, famous for suburban sprawl and a perennial prize winner for the worst traffic jams in the US, actually has some very high population density in the sub-minimum wage barios. Not that it was intentioned that way by its urban planners, if there were any. But with rents going through the roof, many people are living 3 or 4 or 5 to a 1 bedroom apartment. Here are some of the problems for bicyclists living and biking in Hollywood, Koreatown, and MacArthur Park:

-worrying about side doors coming open as you ride past a critical mass of traffic jammed cars on Santa Monica Boulevard during rush hour.

-breathing the carcinogenic fumes from this critical mass

-all parking spaces on the sidestreet taken up, leaving a narrow space for you and the moving cars using it, and worrying about side doors coming open from parked cars

-hauling your bike up to your 3rd floor studio, easier if you have a lighter (more expensive ) model, and aren't afflicted with arthritis in your knees.

-where to put the bike in the studio you are sharing with 2 or 3 others, your absurd roommate screaming at you because he thinks you bent his wheel out of tru (circle shape) by leaning yours up against his

Having said that, I still favor urban density for ecological reasons, as well as the ones stated by the blogger for BCN. Yet I think it is a mistake for cyclists to simply join the high urban density coalition. We also need to advocate for policies that would make it easier for people to stop using cars:

-comprehensive, heavily subsidized public transit with bike racks on all the buses, bikes allowed on the subways at all hours

-higher taxes on gasoline, and other sources of air pollution, contributed to the public transit system

-mixed-use zoning so that you can walk downstairs, or down the block to do some of your shopping , instead of a cross town commute to the business district

-dedicated bike lanes, and a non-governmental program to key all the wide-ass Hummers taking up the parking space and half the bike lane.

Are the majority of Americans up to the challenge of creating cities based essentially on a European model? Certainly LA led me to believe some of us aren't, even when there's a crisis on the roads.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

"A Mighty Wind"

The creators of Spinal Tap, the classic parody of heavy metal superstardom, are back with a new target: tree hugging folk singers. With a title like "A Mighty Wind", one can almost imagine a subversive duo infiltrating a Kindergarden class to slip in some anti-capitalist sing along songs before nap time.

The article from The Independent provides a history of folk and country on both sides of the pond, even mentioning one of my favorite bands, The Sadies, which prove that just cause its country, doesn't mean you'll be traumatized.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Boo-hoo: Ted Nugent in chainsaw accident, 40 stitches needed

You don't know how saddened I was to hear this story about an upstanding member of our nation accidentally slashing his leg with a chainsaw. Well, who am I kidding. Here's a quote I'll remember Nugent by:

"I contribute to the dead of winter and the moans of silence, blood trails are music to my ears. I'm a gut pile addict. The pig didn't know I was there. It's my kick. I love shafting animals. It's rock 'n'roll power."

-Ted Nugent
Bowhunter Magazine
May 1990

What Would Ricardo Do?

One of the more respected theorists of capitalism is David Ricardo. In his book, "On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation", he brings us the theory of "comparative advantage" -a sacred cow in schools of classical economics.

As with all holy books, interesting interpretations are inevitable as the powers that be selectively search for self-justifying quotes. This one is no exception. In Chapter 7 he assumes that, for his theory to work, capital needs to be immobile. In one paragraph Ricardo states:

"Experience, however, shews...with the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connexions, ....checks the emigration of capital. These feelings, which I should be sorry to see weakened, induce most men of property to be satisfied with a low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations."

The reason Ricardo would be "sorry" to introduce capital mobility into his story of Portugal and England is because it would mess things up. Bilateral trade would be destroyed.

With true capital mobility, money goes wherever the highest rate of profits are. If Portugal can produce wine much cheaper than England, and can produce most everything else slightly cheaper than England, England would soon have no comparative advantages and its its economy would be hollowed out. Rather than devoting its energies solely to the production of wine, (as it would theoretically in a situation of capital immobility), Portugal would also focus on every other industry where it has a slightly higher rate of profit.

The author of "False Dawn: Delusions of Global Capitalism", states it another way with the modern context:

"When capital is mobile it will seek its absolute advantage by migrating to countries where the environmental and social costs of enterprises are lowest and profits are highest. Both in theory and practice the effect of global capital mobility is to nullify the Ricardian doctrine of comparative advantage. Yet is on that flimsy foundation that the edifice of unregulated global free trade still stands.”

"Export Development Canada" reports that in the year 2000 foreign direct investment reached a flow of $US 1.3 trillion. Much of it must have gone to the modern country A, India (reported on yesterday), and out of country B, the United States.

Clearly, if one of the fathers of capitalist theory were to come back to life, he would be deeply saddened by the economic picture of the world today, all the more that his students have misunderstood him. But then again, many of them are probably too drunk off profits from A, to care about the long-term well-being of their own B.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Where's the Recovery, Awol?

A few days ago the stock market was jolted by some very unexpected news. A rapidly expanding economy produced 1,000 new jobs for December, about 150,000 less than expected. Due to our increasing population, 150,000 is also about the number needed to keep the unemployment rate steady. Yet the official unemployment rate dropped 2/10ths of a percent. What's the deal?

Perhaps an easier way to explain the drop in the U.S. government's unemployment rate is that to be considered in the labor force you need to either have a job or be unemployed AND looking for one.

A lot of people, like me, have given up looking. This group has only a couple places to go: back home if you have supportive family, or if you're not so lucky, onto the street.

Yesterday I was watching a C-SPAN discussion on corporate globalization and Senator Schumer was saying in the past he had a mixed record on trade. Now he's more cynical about the globalization drive. In the few years after NAFTA it was only the low-end manufacturing jobs that disappeared, which wasn't a problem, he said. Now it's the high-end jobs too.

In other words, his neighbors, his friends, his class is now being hit. He's concerned.

Also last night, 60 Minutes did a piece on these high-end jobs going to India. Radiology work is being sent there where it can be done for a quarter of the price. Even U.S. tax forms are being done there. Most of all, telecommunications is being shipped there-jobs that a disabled person like me used to be able to do.

I think in the short-term we need to reclaim the word "protection" as something positive, just as it is for the environment. Why not jobs? In the long term, unions need to radicalize and gain the strength necessary to take control of company decisions on investment and other "management perogatives". Only then will we have real job security. Only then will labor be in control of the wealth it has created.

Some might respond with, "What about the poor Indians?" I would recommend that they do what the US did when it was lagging behind in the industrial revolution. Protect itself with tariffs and other preferences for domestically based corporations. After all, they have a billion people. That should lure some capitalists to set up shop inside the country. It worked for us. It'll work for them. As Chomsky has noted, "competition", "free trade" are always the buzz words for those that have the edge in the market.

Workers in the western industrialized nations have few if any advantages in the global market for labor. Instead of lowering our labor and environmental standards, we should raise and protect those standards. Making a quarter of what we do now is no way to live.