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…

To be honest, the freaky sex toys are less scary

And here I thought the most disgusting thing I’d on the internet all day would be the Rule 34 confirming Scary Sextoy Friday blog (very NSFW sample) but the New York Times proves me wrong with a much more mainstream piece of filth:

Beyond any of that, though, the wedding was probably the first in the city to be held as a kind of TED conference. After the ceremony, in which chants were chanted and vows, written by the couple’s friends, were exchanged, guests sat down to a series of talks, with PowerPoint presentations, on subjects of interest to the couple — ecological efficiency, neuroscience, holistic healing. Those who did not care to listen wandered about eating dumplings and popcorn, which made up the entire nuptial meal.

The evening’s keynote speaker, more or less, was Graham Hill, a TED alumnus — Technology, Entertainment, Design, that is — the founder of the Web site Treehugger, and Mr. Friedlander’s employer at LifeEdited, where the groom works in marketing and communications. LifeEdited is a commercial enterprise and a movement, one that aims to get people to rid themselves of many of the excesses that industrial living has caused. Mr. Hill gave a talk about the importance of personal downsizing, which was largely a talk about his life.


When he moved to New York he settled into a small apartment. Soon he will move into 420 square feet of sleek, economically designed space in SoHo with a Murphy bed and movable walls. The purpose of LifeEdited is to develop more apartments and buildings like his and to get people to live with fewer things of higher quality. The motto of the movement is “the luxury of less.” (Mr. Hill did not seem aware of how unnerving it can be to hear rich people talk about the pleasures of not spending money.)

The rich are different from you and I — more obnoxious for a start.

The mask slips: the real reason for insisting on budget discipline

Politicians and socalled objective media both have been pushing hard the idea that the Euro crisis can only be solved by spending cuts and spending discipline, but luckily there’s the Washington Post to spell out the real reasons behind this:

“If adopted by other nations in the union, the deal would mean drastic cuts in European budgets. It would also spell the end of three decades of overspending that helped finance a cozy social protection system envied by much of the world.”

It has nothing to do with solving the crisis, it’s needed to destroy what remains of social democracy in the EU, by attempting to take away the power to set budgets from elected national politicians through hard spending limits and fines if these are breached. There already are some such agreements in place amongst the countries who have the Euro as their currency, but in practise these turned out to be not as hard as they were supposed to be in theory, especially not when you’re called France or Germany. The proposed plan would make it difficult to “blow the budget” even for those countries, but it will of course still be the weaker countries that will suffer more under these plans. Introduction therefore would inevitably lead to more spending cuts and more structural budget cuts even in the richer countries.

But what it doesn’t do is solving the current crisis, as Alex at A Fistful of Euros explains through examining what would’ve happened had it been in place already:

It would have been much easier to sanction the decade’s violators of the Stability & Growth Pact – Germany and France. Of course they got sanctioned anyway, but perhaps they would have had to pay a fine. Let’s be charitable for a moment and assume that this would indeed have caused them to run a lower public sector deficit. This would have changed what, precisely? Had it depressed internal demand in Germany, all other things being equal, it would have caused Germany to increase its trade surplus. A bigger trade surplus implies a bigger deficit elsewhere, and it also implies that German and French banks would have lent the private sector “elsewhere” the money they needed to buy the additional exports. An additional problem might have been that, had German bonds been in shorter supply, investors would have sought other AAA-rated assets and piled up even more bubbly mortgage-backed securities, which the banks would have been delighted to sell them.


But one thing this proposal would categorically not have done is to stop Italy or Spain or Ireland running up more public debt. Public debt fell in these countries from 1995 to 2007. Even Portugal and Greece didn’t exactly explode. Ireland would still have a budget surplus if it hadn’t massacred itself to save the banks (in part because the ECB wouldn’t help). Greece, well, perhaps, but it seems to be clear that just yelling at the Greeks is insufficient to fix Greece’s problems.

What causes government debt in the four largest EU countries

Meanwhile the chart above (From ToUCstone) shows what really drove up government debt in the four largest EU economies and it ain’t “a cozy social protection system”.

Nothing changes

Cartoon from The Ruling Clawss by A. Redfield

From the heart of the first Great Depression comes this cartoon from A. Redfield’s The Ruling Clawss, a collection of cartoons he did for the communist newspaper The Daily Worker. Excerpts from this book have been uploaded to Flickr by Michael Kupperman. Redfield was a pseudonym for Syd Hoff, a New Yorker cartoonist. Philip Nel has a short profile of Hoff and his work as Redfield up on his blog.

All found via Metafilter.

It neatly shows how little has changed in the past seventyfive years, doesn’t it? You can find the same attitudes Redfield documents only thinly disguised in government policy and “market” attitudes all over.

Holland is getting more and more shitty to live in

The last ten years have been a very disappointing decade for the Netherlands, politics wise. We started the decade with a clapped out coalition of neoliberal technocrats completely failing to respond to the rise of the first charismastic, populist, Islamophobic demagogue the country was blessed with. He promptly got shot, the backlash catapulted his party into government but their incompetence doomed them almost immediately. Their legacy lasted much longer however, collapsing the vote of the traditional big parties, with a large part of the electorate becoming swinging voters, going for the party that most satisfied their gut instincts this election, opening up space for more populist parties. In itself this was not a bad thing, was it not fueled as much by a healthy dose of xenophobia as a visceral hatred of politics as usual, with various politicians trying to make lightning strike twice. This is not without dangers, as a national firebrand is stabbed to death for his views on Muslims

Fast forward a few years and governments and we’re back into a much worse economic crisis and an even worsely fractured political landscape. We’re now ruled by a rightwing minority coalition of neoliberal technocrats who use this crisis as an excuse to sell of everything the state owns not yet sold by previous governments, as well as ram through all the ideologically driven spending cuts it had been wanting to see through for years. To do so, it has to depend on a racist party, throwing them a bone every now and again, which doesn’t help make the country any nicer to live in. Both developments on their own are bad enough, but acting in concert as they do makes them incredibly dangerous.

Several stories coming out this week underscore how bad things are getting. First, there’s the ongoing saga of the ban on ritual slaughter of non-stunned animals, which has now been passed by parliament, which uses the guise of animal welfare to taunt religious Jews and Muslims. Then there was the minister of interior affairs who stated that the multicultural society was finished and would no longer be subsidised, followed by a colleague of his own party saying yesterday that “the fear of many Dutch people for foreigners is justified”, followed by the xenophobes overtaking him on the right by stating that third generation immigrants, the grandchildren of the people who actually immigrate to Holland, are still dirty foreigners and not to be trusted. Meanwhile the first wave of spending cuts have moved effortlessly through parliament, as arts funding is slashed and the public broadcasters see massive budget cuts as well.

It all doesn’t make for a nicer country to live in.

Bruce Sterling reports on the Dutch War on Culture

Bruce Sterling comments on the philistinism of the current Dutch government’s arts policies:

“There are absolutely no policy reasons for the €200 million of cutbacks. This deal was struck with the PVV in exchange for its support in parliament of the minority cabinet. The intention is to inflict irreparable damage on an entire profession. Zijlstra is striving to decimate and eliminate this professional group’s creative, innovative and critical potential. Not a single member of his own party (VVD), or anyone from its coalition partner, the CDA (Christian Democratic Party) has opposed him. As far as they are concerned, traditional art is merely the superfluous ornamentation of a society. Contemporary art is labelled as alienating, and even, although no one actually says it out loud, as ‘degenerate art’.

The notion of “entarte kunst” does fit in well with the rightwing “populism” of the PVV and Wilders, as I also noted yesterday, but as Bruce Sterling indicates, the betrayal of the art by the supposedly respectable CDA and VVD is just as nihilistic. This is something that would not have been possible twenty or even ten years ago, but a decade of relentless rightwing philistinism in which everything had to be reappraised solely for its commercial potential has eroded the sense of social responsibility these parties used to hold. Obviously, there have alwas been disagreements over the arts and funding thereof; what’s new is the idea that they shouldn’t be funded at all, apart from very respectable high culture institutes like the Rijksmuseum or Concertgebouw. This is an ideologically driven attack, one that wants to make art safe for the rich and only aimed at their tastes.