From the monthly archives:

July 2016

Where now for the UK?

by Chris Bertram on July 15, 2016

I’ve been feeling an obligation to write something on the post-referendum UK here at CT, but little inclination to do so. The result came as a punch to the gut, and everything since then has been a weird combination of deeper depression and insane hilarity as the dreams of the Brexiteers unravel. Still, we have a new Prime Minister and a new government, the basic contours of which are becoming clear. Mrs May has been chosen as a grown up, charged with charting a course through the reefs and shallows of Brexit to the fabled open water beyond (reports of which are largely based on unreliable traveller’s tales). So what sort of government do we have? One that is markedly to the left of the Cameron-Osborne version on matters of economic policy and markedly to the right on individual rights and citizenship. We’ve had May giving speeches about inequality, class and opportunity that are indistinguishable from Ed Miliband’s election platform and Philip Hammond (the new Chancellor) saying that, given low interest rates, we can borrow to invest in infrastructure projects. On the other hand, May’s record at the Home Office is one of some who thinks that “citizenship is a privilege and not a right”, who has floated the idea of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, who doesn’t think the rule of law applies to foreigners, and who was reluctant to guarantee the position of existing EU national residents in the UK. The quasi-libertarians who believe in free-market economics and gay rights have been dumped, Osborne foremost among them, to be replaced by social authoritarians like the disgraced Liam Fox. More inclusive and cuddly for good native-born citizens, an iron fist for the rest. The only incongruous note in all this, and one that undermines somewhat May’s image of seriousness, is appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, a man who has insulted many world leaders personally (and entire countries) and who is know abroad for serial lying, adultery and getting stuck on a zip-wire wearing the Union Jack. Still, even that is of a piece with her tactic of putting Brexiteers (Johnson, Fox, Davis, Leadsom) in the places where the hard negotiating has to be done. They said leaving the EU would be a piece of cake, now they are expected to deliver.

Parris on the Brexiteers

by Harry on July 12, 2016

Here.

The day of the referendum result, I was waiting outside the tent where CNN were filming on College Green near Parliament. In front of the camera I saw two people shouting at each other and sensed the argument was out of control. Next up for interview, I sat down to watch. The interviewer was Christiane Amanpour, her interviewee the MEP Daniel Hannan.

I have never seen so violent an argument on TV. Nobody won but both lost their tempers. Amanpour indirectly* accused Hannan of trying to win the Leave campaign by inciting hatred of immigrants; Hannan insisted he had never done so, had never even argued against immigration, but simply for Britain to ‘take back control’. Shouting, he challenged Amanpour to cite any example of anti-immigrant language he had ever used.

I’m sure the record will bear Daniel out. I doubt he’s a racist or wants sharp reductions in immigration. He will have been fastidious in his language. But his rage was instructive. Beneath the furious denials and the angry demands for chapter and verse was the rage of a man in acute personal discomfort about the company he has kept and the currents in society whose cause it has become his lifetime’s work to champion, while carefully disavowing what drives them. Amanpour hardly landed a blow on Hannan because she did not put the most wounding charge: that he has ridden a tiger, and knows the tiger he rides. He — and I use him only as an eloquent example — raises his hands in repudiation of the destination he hears his followers bawl for, yet offers to take them halfway there.

and

I once asked Enoch Powell whether, no racist himself, he ever felt squeamish about some who cheered his speeches. He replied — to laughter from our audience — that in politics you take support from wherever it comes. The reply diminished him.

1.

A king who enjoins inhuman deeds
Will find enough retainers, who for grace and payment
Avidly accept half the anathema.
—Goethe, Iphigenia in Taurus

2.

In 1942, Albert Speer drafted a decree that made it a crime, punishable by death, to provide false information about raw materials, labor, machinery or products. Himmler thought it was too harsh.

3.

So contemptuous of bureaucracy and paperwork was Speer that he welcomed the Allied bombing raids on Berlin in November 1943, which partially destroyed his ministry’s offices. In a memo, he wrote:

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Sunday photoblogging: bee and borage

by Chris Bertram on July 10, 2016

Bee and borage

#asamother

by Maria on July 8, 2016

Andrea Leadsom, the Tory leadership candidate beloved of the people who brought you financial catastrophe and geopolitical Armageddon, has hit on why it is that she, and not chilly securocrat Theresa May, should be crowned the unelected Prime Minister of the UK. It is because Leadsom is a mother and May is not.

Leadsom, who began her every flaccid intervention in the final televised referendum debate – the one where the parties suddenly realised they should wheel out some women, and, ok-fine, one non-white guy – with ‘As a mother’, did yesterday concede in her front page interview with a paper of record wherein she developed the hell out of the theme she’d road-tested on national television, that she didn’t want this to be all “Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t”.

Bless The Times, though. They’ve unreeled all the rope the Dickensianly named candidate needs to hang herself (Leadsom invented hanging, you see. And also the Large Hadron Collider. All while acting as the Chief Investment Officer of Invesco Perpetual. OK, the assistant to him. Sorting out payroll. Same thing, really.) Interspersed with Leadsom’s damning quotes are snippets of May’s dignified sadness at her and her husband’s unwanted childlessness. And also a call, issued before Leadsom’s comments, that the campaign stay within the ‘acceptable’ limits of political debate.

I will draw an unusually capacious veil – a maternity wear issue, naturally – over what may now be imagined to comprise the acceptable limits of Britain’s national discussion.

Tonight, as the cover of tomorrow’s paper does the rounds of Twitter, Leadsom is getting her denial in early. She didn’t say any of that. Or maybe just some of it. Or maybe it was out of context. She must mean the bit where she said May might have nephews and nieces, but she, Leadsom, has children. And anyway, as Loathsome concern-trolled May, it must be ‘very sad’ for her not to have children. Sorry, Leadsom. Don’t know why that keeps happening.

(And hey, it’s not as if May is a friend to families, not to immigrant and asylum-seeking ones, anyway.)

The direct quotes have Leadsom arguing that having her own children gives her more of a stake in the future. And not just in the next one or two years, but the next ten, even. Astonished though many of us may be that someone who campaigned for Brexit was thinking even two weeks ahead, let alone beyond Christmas, let’s take the assertion on its merits.

Do parents have a bigger stake in a nation’s future? [click to continue…]

The Clinton campaign made a major announcement today:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will pursue a debt-free college for all policy, including a proposal to eliminate the cost of college tuition for a significant portion of the public.

Clinton’s new proposals move her beyond previous statements that she would try to make college “as debt-free as possible“ and toward making “debt-free college available to all.”

Clinton is adding three features to her plan for higher education policy, called the “New College Compact.“ They include eliminating tuition at in-state public universities for families making under $125,000 by 2021 and restoring year-round Pell Grant funding so students can take summer classes to finish school quicker.

The plan isn’t great. I think means-testing higher ed makes about as much sense as means-testing Social Security or elementary school (though, alas, we still do that in this country through local funding and property taxes). I would have preferred free higher ed for everyone.

That said, and assuming Clinton can get this plan through (a big assumption), this is still a big step forward. For three reasons.

First, lots of men and women—students and their families—will get this benefit, not in a far-off time, but soon. And make no mistake: whether you’re going to CUNY, where annual tuition is a little over $6000, or Berkeley or Michigan, where in-state tuition is about $13,000, this will come as welcome relief to a lot of people.

Second, and more important for the long term, I’ve been saying forever that the biggest challenge facing contemporary liberalism is that, from the point of view of the average taxpayer, it has so little to offer. Imagine you’re someone who lives in a house with the median household income of about $54,000 per year. You pay your taxes, but what do you concretely get for the taxes? Sure, I can point to the roads (which are often falling apart) or the schools (which are often not so good), or, down the line, to Social Security or Medicare (which, we’re often told, aren’t in great shape either, and in the case of Social Security, certainly can’t fund a retirement). But it’s hard to make the case to your average man or woman that taxes fund things that help you concretely and directly. Particularly when, at least going back to Mondale, the only message we’ve heard from Democrats on taxes is either: a) we’ll cut them; or b) we’ll increase them in order to cut the deficit and pay off the debt.

Way beyond anything between Clinton v. Sanders, this plan by Clinton is something that can, potentially, change the way people think about their taxes and what the state can do for them. It’s a step toward a political and ideological realignment.

That said, there’s this, too:

The new plan, announced by [Clinton’s] campaign Wednesday, incorporates a major plank of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) platform and is a direct result of the private meeting Clinton had with the Vermont senator in June, the campaign said.

Clinton’s embrace of one of the most popular parts of Sanders’ platform comes as she is trying to get his core supporters — including many young people worried about college debt — to enthusiastically support her candidacy in November.

Sanders gained huge support among young voters by pushing for tuition-free public colleges nationwide, and Clinton now says she would do that for families making less than $125,000.

Which brings me to my third reason.

At moments like this, you really need to get beyond the personal politics a lot of DC and media people want to make all politics into. Despite the fact that they accuse Bernie supporters of being a cult, of worshipping an ancient socialist patriarch, they’re the ones who often think of these electoral campaigns completely in terms of personality, of who’s winning and who’s losing. To my mind, this announcement today goes way beyond the Clinton/Sanders horserace or the Clinton/Trump race. If there is anyone to be celebrated here, it’s the millions of people—particularly young people—who pushed so hard during this campaign, and who have been slowly changing American politics outside the electoral realm.

One of the biggest challenges facing democracy—as opposed to liberalism—and democratic ways of thinking and doing things, is the sense, among a lot of citizens, that political action, whether in the electoral realm or the streets, doesn’t matter. That sense is not delusion; there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that on some fundamentals, it doesn’t matter, at least not yet. But you don’t change that common sense by repeating it over and over to people. Sometimes, we on the left do that. We forget that when we do, we’re not telling the average citizen anything she doesn’t already know. We’re merely repeating what she does know. And reinforcing her sense that there’s really no point in even trying to do anything, whether at the voting booth or in the streets.

It’s way too soon to say what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it anyway: If this plan of Clinton’s does come to pass—again, a big if—it could help, ever so slightly (I stress that ever so slightly), change our sense, if we claim this victory as our own (not as a beneficent handout of an elite neoliberal politician but as a response to real pressure from citizens, particularly younger citizens who have been active in so many social movements these last few years), it could help change our sense of where power lies. It could help more people see what the good activist and the smart organizer already sees: that if we could just possibly get our shit together, we might, sometimes, find power elsewhere. Not power in the abstract, but power to change the concrete terms and conditions of our daily lives.

So here’s my new (really, hardly new at all, and actually not mine) political slogan, as we enter a season of (I hope) increasing, if ultimately finite, concessions from the neoliberal state: Take this, demand more, seize all.

Update (6:45 pm)

A hepful Vox piece reports on three other elements of the Clinton college plan that we should not be thrilled about.

What you need to remember—and I had forgotten—is that today’s plan builds off the previous plans Clinton has announced. Those plans featured three elements, which, according to this article, will remain in play and will apply to the tuition-free plan:

First, the funding for the tuition-free plan will follow the Obamacare Medicaid expansion model, which—thanks to the Supreme Court—states can refuse to participate in. That’s exactly what happened with Republican states. So even within the less than $125k range, this isn’t guaranteed to be a universal benefit.

Second, students have to work ten hours a week to get the benefit. That seems like a huge boondoggle of free labor either to the university (which might wind up firing workers) or to local employers (which could do the same). Not to mention that the whole point of taxpayer-financed benefits like this is that you deserve them as a right of citizenship—and pay for them as a taxpayer—and not because you’re earning them as a worker.

John Protevi pointed out to me that in her famous Daily News interview, Clinton gave us a sense of what she had in mind:

Okay, so you’ve got the states, you’ve got the institutions and you’ve got the families, and then students who want to take advantage of debt-free tuition have to agree to work 10 hours a week. It’s work-study at the college or university, because a couple of public institutions — Arizona State University being a prime example — have lowered their costs by using students for a lot of the work. Yes, it’s free. It’s in effect in exchange for lower tuition. So I want that to be part of the deal.

And here is a nice primer on what that Arizona State program looks like in practice:

Education at Work (EAW) begins expansion outside Cincinnati, where it was founded, at Arizona State University in an innovative three-way partnership with worldwide online payments system company PayPal. Students working at the non-profit contact center will have the opportunity to earn up to $6,000 a year in GPA-based tax-free tuition assistance in addition to an hourly wage. The students will work as part-time employees in a fast-paced, collaborative contact center environment responding to social media and email inquiries.

Go PayPal!

Third, colleges and universities have to “work to lower the cost of actually providing the education — by, for instance, experimenting with technology to lower the cost of administration.” A link in the piece takes us to an article that elaborates thus:

It’s not yet clear what colleges would be required to do about costs in order to participate in the grants, but the adviser mentioned keeping spending on administration in check and using technology to lower the cost of education — for example, making it easier for some students to fulfill some requirements online. (Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, a provider of free online courses, was one of the advisers on Clinton’s plan, according to the campaign.)

The neoliberal state giveth. And the neoliberal taketh—and taketh.

 

Anti-militarism

by John Quiggin on July 4, 2016

100 years after the Battle of the Somme, it’s hard to see that much has been learned from the catastrophe of the Great War and the decades of slaughter that followed it. Rather than get bogged down (yet again) in specifics that invariably decline into arguments about who know more of the historical detail, I’m going to try a different approach, looking at the militarist ideology that gave us the War, and trying to articulate an anti-militarist alternative. Wikipedia offers a definition of militarism which, with the deletion of a single weasel word, seems to be entirely satisfactory and also seems to describe the dominant view of the political class, and much of the population in nearly every country in the world.

Militarism is the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively[^1] to defend or promote national interests

Wikipedia isn’t as satisfactory (to me) on anti-militarism, so I’ll essentially reverse the definition above, and offer the following provisional definition

Anti-militarism is the belief or desire that a military expenditure should held to the minimum required to protect a country against armed attack and that, with the exception of self-defense, military power should not be used to promote national interests

I’d want to qualify this a bit, but it seems like a good starting point.

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My Resistance to Elie Wiesel

by Corey Robin on July 3, 2016

Trigger Warning: This post may upset you. [click to continue…]

Austrian presidential elections: why not a recount?

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 2, 2016

Yesterday, Austria’s constitutional court annulled the presidential elections that were held on May 22nd. These elections led – with a mere 0,6% difference – to a victory for the Green Party-backed independent candidate Alexander van der Bellen over the populist right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer. If Hofer had won, it would have been the first time that a populist right-wing politician would become the President of Austria, which many (including me) see as a worrying sign of the way European politics has been developing (and this was all pre-Brexit!).

I’ve been dealing with an inner-ear infection and haven’t had the energy to read very widely on the web, but am struggling with a question to which I couldn’t find the answer. So let me ask that question here, since our readers who are knowledgable about Austrian politics may be able to enlighten me. [click to continue…]

I originally ran this post on my blog as two posts. I hope it works here as one. Or perhaps as one, but in two parts. Here goes…

Part 1: On Judith Butler as a Public Intellectual

I’m a bit late to the party on this article in New York about Judith Butler, which was making the rounds last week. But it’s got me thinking, again, about public intellectuals and their style of writing, a topic I addressed earlier this year in The Chronicle Review.

Now, I should confess at the outset that I’m a rank amateur when it comes to queer theory and gender studies. I read, and know, about it from a distance: from friends like Paisley Currah, from my students, and from colleagues in real life and on social media. So forgive me—and happily correct me—if what I am about to say is wrong.

The premise of the New York profile is that Butler was/is the theoretician of our contemporary politics (and culture) of sex and gender, even as that politics and culture have surpassed her in certain ways.

Taking into account that there were many writers and theoreticians who have contributed to our contemporary sensibilities and mores around sex and gender; acknowledging that none of these theories would have become remotely actual were it not for the millions of people, activists and non-activists alike, who worked to make the world more hospitable to the claims of the non-gender-conforming—the article still presumes that much in our world today would be inconceivable were it not for Butler’s original intervention in Gender Trouble. That’s the premise of the article I take to be true.

I don’t mean that to sound as if I don’t believe it to be true, though I recognize that it presumes a problematic narrative of the “Hero Theorist” who makes the world what it is. I just mean that for my purposes, it’s a necessary premise for what I really want to argue.

What struck me in reading the New York piece is that for much of the 1990s, Gender Trouble led a second, or shadow, life in the republic of letters. Where it was received, often nastily, less as a document in our ongoing arguments about sex and gender and more as an instance of Bad Writing. The article references that controversy over Butler’s writing style—a style that could be characterized as strenuous, I think it’s fair to say—but it doesn’t quite capture how heated and vicious the controversy often was. [click to continue…]

Summer Reading for a Rainy Day

by Maria on July 2, 2016

If food is the only dependable pleasure, then reading is the one true consolation, offering both immediate escape and a longer narrative arc that suggests how today’s shocks and swerves ultimately become the story. Also, on the whole, fiction has as its meat human characters – or artful approximations of them, anyway – and so little patience for ideas of perfectibility or progress.

That said, I hope to go straight from anger over the referendum to grim acceptance, bypassing grief and sorrow. But here is something from someone with his emotions less defensively expressed, a former infantry officer shocked not just by the result but the depth of his sadness at it:

“Security is not police, soldiers and border checks. It is social cohesion, education and equality – our society is global now and stepping away from that can only be damaging to the things that deliver long-term security.”

Here are some of the books I’ve read in the past six months that I unreservedly recommend for summer-reading. And they’re not even all fiction.

The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig
For those who haven’t already read this classic memoir of a Jewish Viennese intellectual who lost everything – family, home, culture, books, hope – in World War II, it feels like the book of our own historic moment. Zweig describes what it is to grow up comfortable, refined and secure and then be expelled by fascism and war from everything you know and love. Yes, war happens to clever middle class people, too.

Zweig’s father and grandfather “lived their lives in a single, direct way … spent all their days in the same country, the same city, usually even in the same house.” Such wars as they experienced were short or far away. But Zweig’s generation, born at the end of the nineteenth century “lived through everything without ever returning to our former lives, nothing was left of them, nothing was restored. It was for our generation to experience, to the highest degree, events that history usually bestows sparingly on a single land over a whole century.”

History is something we like to read about but would prefer to experience as little as possible of. So it is just a little sickening that we in the still-peaceful countries must now actively coach ourselves to not consign those whose homelands have been incinerated to some frightening, plague-like category of ‘other’.

So be it. If all a book does is hammer into our core the realisation that ‘this could be me’, then it’s almost enough. What it can’t do is direct or encourage what we do with that knowledge. That is up to us. Read Zweig. Then think about what is called for.
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Friday Comics!

by John Holbo on July 1, 2016

It’s what you have been waiting for! Two more pages of On Beyond Zarathustra! (When oh when will Z stop talking already? Not soon, it seems!)

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