Starving the beasts

The Republicans want to pass a new farm bill without food stamps, the only way millions of poor Americans can get enough food to, well, not starve:

“So, that brings me to the Farm Bill. Which the fucking Republicans want to pass without Food Stamps. A lot of very intelligent commentary has been written on how the Farm Bill has always been a compromise bill, wherein Food Stamps are traded for support for agribusiness, and how this compromise is breaking down. But you know, I don’t feel intelligent or reasoned or informative on the topic. What I feel is fury and betrayal. I know, first hand, real live personal, how utterly and vastly important being able to eat can be.

As Charles Dickens put it, over a hundred and fifty years ago

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

Bring on the Jubilee

Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.


For every $1 donated, we are able to buy and abolish $20 worth of debt.

The Rolling Jubilee project is one of the cleverest, simplest direct action ideas I’ve ever seen, a way to short circuit the toxic relationships between debt and poverty that the economic crisis has made worse (and made worse the economic crisis). I’ve blogged about idea of a Jubilee before, but never thought of doing it like this.

There are some caveats of course; buying up debt like this does help, in the long run, to prop up the whole rotten banking and lending system, but in my opinion this is cancelled out by the good it does now. Besides, the system is propped up already by the tax payer and the working classes anyway and this way we actually receive some benefit from it.


London 2012:

Another perspective, more optimistic, same message:

Last Summer’s riots were a warning, but nobody has learned anything from it yet. I don’t think I ever thought I could get less optimistic than I was in 2002-2003 when I saw the world slide into war against Iraq, but my fear is that the only lesson the politicians took out of that debacle is that you can ignore popular discontent as long as you got parliament and the Westminster press bubble on your side. They’re wrong, but a lot of people are going to suffer before these fsckers get their just desserts.

Support Gary Friedrich

support Gary Friedrich

Capitalism is always exploitative, but the American comics industry has always been more aggressive and barefaced about exploiting their talent. The socalled Golden Age of the 1930ties to 1950ties was filled with mobbed-up distributors, shady businessmen and fly by night publishers and while after the fifties comics went respectable, the business methods remained. Sometimes it seems that just because comics are such penny ante operations compared to other media companies, that this explains the petty, spiteful and pennypinching ways in which publishers treat their workers. But then along comes Disney to show it takes a huge company to be truly spiteful.

Gary Friedrich is the creator of Ghostrider, which is a character that has been fairly succesful for Marvel/Disney, having had several series over the decades, as well as several movies in the last few years, the latest having just come out. Friedrich has not shared in this success as Marvel argues that he had signed over the rights to his creation when he signed the paycheck paying him for his writing work — the back of which had a rubberstamp agreement stating that signing it meant the loss of all rights. Friedrich obviously disagreed with this, opened a lawsuit against Marvel to claim his rights back and lost; leaving him having to recover the costs he made pursuing the case somehow. This wasn’t enough for Marvel however and they countersued him, claiming 17,000 dollars in damages for his “illegal” selling of Ghostrider merchandise — selling sketches at comics conventions. Oh, and they also want him to stop calling himself Ghostrider’s creator.

Petty, no? About the only way Friedrich (who can’t get any work for Marvel or another comics company) could make some money was by trading on his stature as the creator of Ghostrider and sell sketches and such of him, something that’s a longstanding perk for comics creators though theoretically is infringement on a Marvel or DC’s copyrights/trademarks. These companies have never sunk so low as to interfere with this trade, often the only way in which elder or retired comics artists can still make some money of their skills, but with Marvel now owned by Disney, a company never caring much for how it treats its workers, there obviously isn’t the same courtesy anymore.

This case should put the fear of god into any comics artists, because now the taboo has been broken, it may only be a matter of time before Marvel and DC go systemically after all “infringers”. Gary Friedrich therefore needs our support, not just out of ordinary human decency, but to stop this further landgrab in its tracks. If you want to help, you can donate a few bucks to him to help pay for his legal and other costs. As Tom Spurgeon put it:

It doesn’t really matter to me at this stage to come to some sort of merit-based appraisal of Gary Friedrich’s recent lawsuit against Marvel, let alone his entire professional life. I frankly never quite understood the former and I think engaging the latter invites madness and an appreciation of the trees when it’s the forest that’s maybe more important. Right now it just sounds to me like the guy could use a hand, and for whatever reason — justice, the timing of history, God’s will, stupidity, a lack of grace, boiling-cauldron evil, gremlins — the way that he was able to do his work in the comics industry was not rewarding to him in a way that would forestall such trouble. I’m willing to risk a few bucks in that I may be eventually proven wrong somehow in extending that very modest hand.

If the ballot can’t change anything all that remains is the bullet

Even the arch-technocratic Crooked Timber is a bit distraught at the European Central Bank’s policies:

I’ve spoken to people at the European Central Bank – they are very smart, and very sincerely believe that the best path to long term prosperity is through enforced austerity. They are also – by design – nearly completely insulated from democratic pressure. And despite claiming that they are apolitical, they are in fact playing a profoundly political role, dictating the kinds of domestic institutional reforms that states need to implement if they want to continue getting ECB support.

This means that ECB decision makers are under no very great obligation to think about why they might be wrong, up to the point where complete disaster occurs. And disaster is very likely, if the lessons of the gold standard in pre-World War II Europe tell us anything at all. Enforced austerity does not produce economic growth. What it does produce is political instability.

The people at the ECB may very well be smart — or at least middleclass and polite– but you will never convince them of any facts their paychecks depend on denying. They cannot be reasoned with, they can only be forced to abandon their neoliberal economic orthodoxies and since they cannot be forced through the ballot, it will have to be by the bullet. The radical austerity policies the ECB, IMF, EU and all the other parts of the alphabet soup are enforcing on Europe are pushed through not to benefit the voters, but the banks. Simplistic? Yes, but closer through the truth than what you read in respectable newspapers or hear explained on the news.

Politics and the mainstream media together form a closed system, where only limited deviancy from the orthodoxy is accepted and which has been carefully designed to give the impression of democratic control while making sure to limit any influence ordinary voters might have. Anybody who paid attention could see this in the runup to the War on Iraq: on a single day two million people marched in London alone, millions more across the world but it didn’t stop the war, didn’t even slow it down. It wasn’t an election year and therefore it was easy to ignore the voters: let them march, let them write letter to the editor that won’t be published, let them vent their outrage on Question Time or Any Questions, the smart people know it won’t matter. Give it a month or a year and the smart people can all pretend everybody was in favour of the war; well everybody who counted anyway.

Yeah, sure, Blair had to give up being prime minister a couple of years later, when the smart money was already shifting towards the Tories anyway, but he’s got millions in the banks thanks to cushy jobs given to him by his grateful friends in the private sector and all the respectable newspapers and televion newsshows still take him seriously as peace envoy to the Middle East. Some people might spit on him in the streets, but when was the last time Tony walked anywhere anyway?

Democracy has been made safe for capitalism again; voting won’t change anything important. And if voting doesn’t work, if the ballot is powerless, then the bullet remains…