Friday, December 30, 2011

Casinos, capitalists and class struggle

The rush of Massachusetts to build casinos and other gambling dens makes me crazy.  The casinos are sold to us as a jobs program - this is almost a pure scam.  It is as if the 1% were to hire a small number of the 99% to construct, and then operate, a gigantic vacuum cleaner, the sole purpose of which was to suck money out of the pockets of the 99%, and deposit it in the bank accounts of the 1%.

Compare this with a genuine jobs bill - the Conyers bill, HR 870, which would tax the 1% (through a small financial transactions tax) and use the proceeds to hire some of the 99% to build and repair things (schools, roads, bridges) that belong to the 99%.

In today's political parlance, the second bill – the genuine jobs bill – is considered class warfare.  Casino construction, which employs some people to better exploit others, is not.  Essentially, "class warfare", for the punditry, is a term used to describe anything that acts effectively to the detriment of one specific class - the ruling class.

Even a casual student of Marx knows that the class struggle is not an option - something one chooses to engage in, or not.  It is an inevitable side effect of a class society.  As long as the economy is structured so that one particular class – feudal landowners, slave-owners, or capitalists – derives its income solely and explicitly by the exploitation of others (aka the workers), then you have a class society, one feature of which will be a struggle over the degree of exploitation.

A Keynesian analysis of a capitalist economy suggests there may be some "sweet spot" for the capitalist class, a level of wages that balances off increased demand and economic activity against a reduced profit margin, so as to maximize the capitalists' overall net income.  But there's no magic way to detect this "sweet spot", and the capitalists' greed is such that they will tend to overshoot when it comes to driving down wages.  Also, manipulating the overall wage rate in the economy, so as to manipulate demand, is beyond the power of most individual capitalists, or even cartels. 

At a given level of output and technology, the individual capitalist can only increase his income by increasing the level of exploitation - his profit.  Any such increase in profit comes directly out of the worker's wages.  So struggle is inevitable.  The only question is whether the workers resist low wages individually (in which case the majority of them are bound to lose), or collectively, through labor unions and political action, in which case they have a chance.  It is this latter form of collective struggle that the right wing insists on calling "class warfare".

A genuine jobs bill, like the Conyers bill, would strengthen the working class, lessen inequality, and make the 99% genuinely better off.  The casino alternative plays some in the working class against others, and its overall effect is to further the impoverishment of the 99% with respect to the 1%. 

Some with in the Occupy movement have started saying "They only call it 'class warfare' when we fight back."  I would add that they only call it "class warfare" when we adopt a strategy that might actually win results.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saoirse Craig Fitzgerald 6/1/2010 – 12/13/2011

My grandniece, Saoirse Craig Fitzgerald, the first of her generation, and the bravest little warrior I have ever known, died yesterday morning, December 13, 2011, only a little more than 18 months old, after battling nearly half her life against a horrible disease called malignant neuroblastoma. 

I spend a lot of my life struggling, in pitiful small ways, against various forms of injustice.  But sometimes the microcosm overwhelms the macrocosm.  This senseless tragedy visited upon my small family will limit, over the next days and weeks, my ability to be focused on and available for the struggle against more global injustices.  This is the nature of the human condition.  My friends and comrades will keep up the fight.  There is so much pain in the world that humans cannot do anything about, no matter how hard we try.  We must continue to battle against the human-created pains that can with courage and struggle, be cured.

I am an adoptive parent.  Before our adoptions, my then wife and I were trying very hard to conceive a child.  At one point, we had a very early miscarriage - so early that many women might not even have fully realized they were pregnant.  Our pain and loss, even at such an early loss, was enormous.  My mother's first child was stillborn; I am first born only by default.  I am also keenly aware of the pain my children’s biological parents must have been in, to have made such a difficult decision as to give up a child.  So much pain in all of our lives, in so many ways.  The thought sometimes comes, would it have been better if Saoirse and her parents had simply been spared theirs?  If her short span of months had simply never been?

My answer is an emphatic, No!  On a cosmic scale, the span of each of our lives is ludicrously short.  What, in fact, are any of our lives but a few brief strings of moments, some bright, some dark?  As Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to say, all we really have in life are those bright moments.  Every one is precious.  I would not have robbed Saoirse of a single one of hers.  And, for all the pain I feel now, I would not be free of it if the cost was never to have known her.

There have never been any better parents than my niece, Kezia and her husband Mike.  They devoted themselves, fully, completely, intelligently, proactively to that child, without holding anything back for themselves – even when Kezia was, herself, in treatment.  (Yes, for a while, mother and daughter were simultaneously cancer patients.)  And not only were Saoirse’s parents so devoted, but also my sister, Kristina, my brother-in-law Craig (Saoirse’s grandparents), my niece, Tabitha (Kezia’s sister), and Tabitha’s boyfriend, Scott.

The result of all that love and devotion was that every moment of Saoirse’s short life that could have been a bright moment, was one.  The dark moments in her life were all the inescapable ones, caused by that horrible disease.  Every moment that human love and care could possibly have rendered bright, was a bright moment.

That was the gift that my wonderful family gave to that child.