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Posts Tagged ‘politics

“Ideology is strong exactly because it is no longer experienced as ideology”*…

 

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters argue in front of the White House while waiting for election results on November 9th, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Confirming previous research, [Dr.  Lilliana Mason of the University of Maryland] discovered that both liberals and conservatives “hold issues positions that are generally on the left-leaning end of the spectrum.” Liberals, not surprisingly, tended to support leftist policies, but conservatives failed to provide a mirror image. Instead, on hot-button policies, they were very close to the center of the scale—which means they held positions very different from those of today’s Congressional Republicans.

In other words, Hillary Clinton supporters were “consistently left-leaning,” while Donald Trump supporters were far less consistently right-leaning. “However,” Mason adds, “both groups of voters were equally attached to their ideological identity.” Being a liberal or a conservative helped define who they were—even if they were fuzzy on what those labels actually stood for.

The effects of this are felt far beyond the voting booth. Mason reports that—actual issue positions aside—the stronger you identify with an ideology, the more you prefer marrying, or being friends with, a fellow partisan.

“Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences,” Mason concludes. “It is the ‘otherness’ of ideological opponents, more than issue-based disagreement, that drives liberal-vs.-conservative rancor.”

“This is likely to lead to a less compromise-oriented electorate,” she adds. “After all, if policy outcomes are less important than team victory, a policy compromise is a useless concession to the enemy.”…

New research supports the conclusion that our attachment to political labels is based more on social identity than policy positions: “Ideology isn’t really about issues.”

* Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes

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As we rethink identity politics, we might send wonder-filled birthday greetings to Alice Pleasance Hargreaves (née Liddell); she was born on this date in 1852.  Ten years later, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a young Oxford mathematics don, took the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College– Alice Liddell and her sisters– on a boating picnic on the River Thames in Oxford.  To amuse the children he told them the story of a little girl, sitting, bored, by a riverbank, whose adventure begins when she tumbles down a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world called “Wonderland.”  The story so captivated the 10-year-old Alice that she begged him to write it down.  The result was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 under the pen name “Lewis Carroll,” with illustrations by John Tenniel.

Alice Liddell (photo by Charles Dodgson

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“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

As a partner in a corporate advisory firm and a professor of law and finance, we are true believers in free-market capitalism — hardly natural latter-day communists, let alone successors to Marx and Engels. But we do believe the time is ripe for a rewrite of their Manifesto. Like the inhabitants of mid-19th century Europe, we live, according to Oxford University’s Professor Alan Morrison, “in the wake of a calamitous financial crisis and in the midst of whirlwind social change, a popular distaste of financial capitalists, and widespread revolutionary activity”. We have imagined what Marx and Engels would have written in 2018, naming the new, updated version “The Activist Manifesto”…

So how did the two of us come to take on the renovation of the Manifesto? The answer, improbably perhaps, is our interest in a linchpin of modern free-market capitalism: shareholder activism. We have published academic studies on the phenomenon. We have advised many of the largest hedge funds as they take substantial stakes in hundreds of comp­anies, shaking up complacent boards and advocating for changes in corporate strategy and capital structure. And we have advised companies that themselves have pursued change. These activists may not be what Marx and Engels had in mind, but they are revolutionaries of a kind…

In our redrafting, we have had to go far beyond merely substituting “communism” with “activism”. The “Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies” and others in Marx’s and Engels’ sights have gone. We have introduced their modern counterparts: “the corporate Haves, the elites, the billionaires, the establishment politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties, Conservatives and Labour, the talking heads at Davos, the echo chambers of online media and fake news.” But we have kept much of the rhetoric along with Marx’s and Engels’ relentless focus on economic inequality. Two centuries after Marx’s birth, and however much communism has rightly been discredited, a great deal of the argument is as relevant now as it was then. The Manifesto’s theories about the problems of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production continue to be cited in critiques of unfettered markets, and the document’s historical analysis is cited by modern scholars and taught in universities today. Some historians have cited it as the most influential text of the 19th century. Its reverberations are still felt today…

The original Manifesto’s top 10 “pretty generally applicable” proposals wouldn’t get a passing grade today in any setting. Left and right alike reject its arguments on labour and property. Even leaders of so-called communist states embrace markets and decentralisation. Take North Korea, the country that has most resisted capitalism: since 2012, it has started to encourage entrepreneurship and a formal (if reluctant) acceptance of brand-led marketplaces. However, one aspect of the original still resonates: the document was, fundamentally, an attack on inequality. We think it is obvious that Marx and Engels would be appalled by the present-day distribution of wealth. We imagine they would write something like this. “By the start of our 21st century, we are faced with the extraordinary fact that the top one per cent of the world’s population own the same resources as the remaining 99 per cent. Those at the bottom are less upwardly mobile than in previous generations; entrance to wealthy gated communities is blocked, not only by private security forces, but also by the increasingly prohibitive costs of healthcare, technology and education. There is the dominant force of mass incarceration, with millions of poor, minorities and powerless walled off from the rulers they might threaten. The Haves have never in history held so much advantage over the Have-Nots.”…

Two champions of capitalism, Rupert Younger (co-author of The Reputation Game and director of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation) and Frank Partnoy (a writer and professor of law and finance who is joining the faculty at UC Berkeley this summer) explain their redrafting: “What would Karl Marx write today?

Read their revised manifesto in full (and use the “rollover” function to compare it to the original) at activistmanifesto.org.

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Chapter One of The Communist Manifesto  (also the title of a wonderful book by Marshall Berman)

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As we reckon with revolution, we might send Hobbesian birthday greetings to Franz Oppenheimer; he was born on this date in 1864.  An economist and sociologist, we wrote prolifically (40 books and 400 essays) and influentially on political organization and the idea of the nation.   His best-known work is probably Der Staat (The State) which reflected his rejection of the concept of the “social contract” and his “conquest theory of the state.”  Like Marx, Oppenheimer considered capitalism a system of exploitation, and capital revenues the gain of that exploitation; he saw the state as the original creator of inequality.  So not surprisingly, his thinking has been influential among libertarians, communitarians, and anarchists.

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Written by LW

March 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does”*…

 

Late 19th-century Americans loved railroads, which seemed to eradicate time and space, moving goods and people more cheaply and more conveniently than ever before. And they feared railroads because in most of the country it was impossible to do business without them.

Businesses, and the republic itself, seemed to be at the mercy of the monopoly power of railroad corporations. American farmers, businessmen and consumers thought of competition as a way to ensure fairness in the marketplace. But with no real competitors over many routes, railroads could charge different rates to different customers. This power to decide economic winners and losers threatened not only individual businesses but also the conditions that sustained the republic.

That may sound familiar. As a historian of that first Gilded Age, I see parallels between the power of the railroads and today’s internet giants like Verizon and Comcast. The current regulators – the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority – and many of its critics both embrace a solution that 19th-century Americans tried and dismissed: market competition…

The current controversy about the monopolistic power of internet service providers echoes those concerns from the first Gilded Age. As anti-monopolists did in the 19th century, advocates of an open internet argue that regulation will advance competition by creating a level playing field for all comers, big and small, resulting in more innovation and better products. (There was even a radical, if short-lived, proposal to nationalize high-speed wireless service.)

However, no proposed regulations for an open internet address the existing power of either the service providers or the “Big Five” internet giants: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Like Standard Oil, they have the power to wring enormous advantages from the internet service providers, to the detriment of smaller competitors.

The most important element of the debate – both then and now – is not the particular regulations that are or are not enacted. What’s crucial is the wider concerns about the effects on society. The Gilded Age’s anti-monopolists had political and moral concerns, not economic ones. They believed, as many in the U.S. still do, that a democracy’s economy should be judged not only – nor even primarily – by its financial output. Rather, success is how well it sustains the ideals, values and engaged citizenship on which free societies depend.

When monopoly threatens something as fundamental as the free circulation of information and the equal access of citizens to technologies central to their daily life, the issues are no longer economic.

Stanford historian Richard White unpacks an important historical analogue; read it in full at “For tech giants, a cautionary tale from 19th century railroads on the limits of competition.”

[Image above: source]

* Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things

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As we wonder if The Invisible Hand is giving us the finger, we might recall that it was on this date in 1852 that Henry Wells and William G. Fargo joined with several other investors to launch their eponymously-named cross-country freight business.  The California gold rush had created an explosive new need, which Wells, Fargo and other “pony express” and stage lines leapt to meet.  It was after the Civil War, in 1866, when Wells, Fargo acquired many of their competitors, that it became the dominant supplier.  (Ever flexible, they adapted again three years later, when the transcontinental railroad was finished.)

From it’s earliest days, it also functioned as a bank, factoring the shipments of gold that it carried.  Indeed, when Wells, Fargo exited the freight business as a result of government nationalization of freight during World War I, the bank (which merged with Nevada National in the first of a series of “transformative transactions”) continued to operate as “Wells, Fargo,” as indeed it does (albeit under unrecognizably evolved ownership) today.

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Written by LW

March 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”*…

 

Louisiana Senator Huey Long announcing his presidential candidacy to members of the press in 1935

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the reality that corporations in the U.S. are afforded the same rights as individuals (even if they do not have the same responsibilities) has been on the minds of many.  But corporate personhood has a much longer history.  It began to take shape in that late 19th century when one of the drafters of the 14th Amendment convinced that courts that the Amendment is not limited to natural persons.

Then, as Adam Winkler explains, the “endowment” of corporations caught fire in the 1930s– perhaps ironically, when newspaper publishers had to sue a politician to protect freedom of the press…

When the Supreme Court first began to breathe life into the First Amendment in the early twentieth century, the speakers who inspired the newfound protections were politically persecuted minorities: socialists, anarchists, radicals, and labor agitators. Today, however, in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations have the same right as individuals to influence elections, the First Amendment is used by wealthy and powerful business interests seeking to overturn food-labeling laws, securities disclosure laws, and campaign finance regulations. Yet the seeds of this transformation were planted decades ago in a different Supreme Court case—though one eerily evocative of the Trump era—involving a blustery, dough-faced politician who railed against “fake news.”

Huey Long was Trump before Trump. The fiery populist governor elected on the eve of the Great Depression had an aggressive agenda to make Louisiana great again—and little tolerance for dissent. Long set up a state board to censor newsreels and another to decide which newspapers would be allowed to print profitable government notices. When the student paper at Louisiana State University published an unflattering editorial about him, an outraged Long—referring to himself, as autocrats often do, in the third person—sent in the state police to seize copies, saying he wasn’t “going to stand for any students criticizing Huey Long.”

After Louisiana’s larger daily newspapers came out against him, “the Kingfish” declared war. “The daily newspapers have been against every progressive step in the state,” Long said, “and the only way for the people of Louisiana to get ahead is to stomp them flat.” To do so, in 1934 Long’s allies enacted a 2 percent tax on the advertising revenue of the state’s largest-circulation newspapers. Long said the tax “should be called a tax on lying, two cents per lie.”

Led by the Capital City Press, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, the newspaper companies challenged the advertising tax in court. They claimed the tax was an effort to silence those who questioned Long’s policies. Long had said as much, promising he was “going to help these newspapers by hitting them in their pocketbooks. Maybe then they’ll try to clean up.” As an editorial in the Morning Advocate warned, if the government can impose special taxes on newspapers that oppose the party in power then “the guarantee of a free press, written in the Constitution of the United States, is at an end.”

One problem for the newspaper companies, however, was that they were newspaper companies. They were corporations, and it was not at all clear that for-profit business corporations had free speech rights. Indeed, the prevailing law was on Long’s side…

The fascinating story in full at: “How ‘the Kingfish’ Turned Corporations into People” (excerpted from Winkler’s new book).

See also: “How Corporate America Won Its Civil Rights” and “‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie.”

* Robert Reich

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As we contemplate unintended consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1818 that Mary Shelley’s epoch-making tale of a man-made monster, Frankenstein, was published.  Shelley had begun writing the story two years earlier, when she was 18 and on vacation near Geneva with her husband (the poet Percy) and their friend Lord Byron.  The house party set itself the task of each writing a gothic story; only Mary finished hers.  The first edition was published anonymously; Shelley was first publicly identified as the author on the title page of the 1823 second edition.

The work has, as Brian Aldiss argues, a strong claim to being the first true science fiction novel.  As the sub-title– “The Modern Prometheus”– suggests (and like all great sci fi), it treats the philosophical, cultural, and psychological ramifications of scientific and technological progress.

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“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*…

 

Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

(Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

* newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

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As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)

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Written by LW

March 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie”*…

 

Internet censorship is a growing phenomenon around the world (c.f., here), perhaps the most severe form of which is the “disconnection” of a country from the global internet altogether…

In January 2011, what was arguably the first significant disconnection of an entire country from the Internet took place when routes to Egyptian networks disappeared from the Internet’s global routing table, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. It was followed in short order by nationwide disruptions in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. These outages took place during what became known as the Arab Spring, highlighting the role that the Internet had come to play in political protest, and heralding the wider use of national Internet shutdowns as a means of control…

After these events, and another significant Internet outage in Syria, this question led a blog post published in November 2012 by former Dyn Chief Scientist Jim Cowie that examined the risk of Internet disconnection for countries around the world, based on the number of Internet connections at their international border. “You can think of this, to [a] first approximation,” Cowie wrote, “as the number of phone calls (or legal writs, or infrastructure attacks) that would have to be performed in order to decouple the domestic Internet from the global Internet.”

Based on our aggregated view of the global Internet routing table at the time, we identified the set of border providersin each country: domestic network providers (autonomous systems, in BGP parlance) who have direct connections, visible in routing, to international (foreign) providers. From that data set, four tiers were defined to classify a country’s risk of Internet disconnection…

Read ’em and weep at “The Migration of Political Internet Shutdowns.”

* Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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As opt for open, we might recall that today is Bill of Rights Day: on this date in 1791, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified and came into effect.

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Written by LW

December 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

The end of ‘The End of History’ arrived together with the end of belief in reality. The Cold War world was a world of warring ideologies; in the twenty-first century, both American capitalism and post-Soviet oligarchy employ the same public relations specialists catering to gangsters with political ambitions. As Peter Pomerantsev described in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, in the Russia of the 2000s, distinguishing between truth and lies became passé. In this world of enlightened, postmodern people, ‘everything is PR’.

Reality television has rendered obsolete the boundary between the fictional and the real. Truth is a constraint that has been overcome; ‘post-truth’ has been declared ‘word of the year.’ In Washington, the White House shamelessly defends its ‘alternative facts.’ At the beginning, American journalists were taken off-guard: they had been trained to confirm individual pieces of information, not to confront a brazen untethering from empirical reality. The New Yorker captured the desperation with a satire about the fact-checker who passed out from exhaustion after the Republican debate. He had to be hospitalized; apparently no one replaced him…

Postmodernism was conceived largely by the Left as a safeguard against totalizing ideologies. Yet today, it has been appropriated on behalf of an encroaching neo-totalitarianism of the Right. Is French literary theory to blame? And can a philosophy of dissent developed in communist eastern Europe offer an antidote?…

(Some of) the ironic roots of the situation that we’re in: “A pre-history of post-truth, East and West.”

* Karl Marx

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As we consult the Wayback Machine, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955, at J & M Studio in New Orleans, that Richard Wayne Penniman– better known as Little Richard– recorded the song (that he co-wrote with Dorothy LaBostrie) that became his first hit: “Tutti Frutti.”

A wop bop alu bop, a wop bam boom!

 

Written by LW

September 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

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