Chris Partridge's blog

The Mantra of Privatization: What's in it for Me?

Government’s willingness to internalize and act upon free market myths has manifested a system overly-dependent on private industry. The privatization fetish, which began raising Republican boners in the Reagan-era, has since resulted in an economy which profits from suffering, death, imprisonment, debt and sickness. Our prisons, hospitals, even our wars are being viewed as opportunities to profit. And with so many social services now in the hands of corporations, the incentive ceases to lie in solving problems, but in exacerbating them—war without end, illness without cure, and life without parole.

That is the topic of Bill Maher’s article in July 23rd’s Huffington Post. An exasperated Maher wonders why everything must be convoluted through profit to be worth doing. Why can’t services just be services instead of service industries?

“How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are.”

Since the late 1970s (and arguably earlier), the U.S. has been transitioning from a production economy to a service economy. What is exemplified by the bursting housing bubble, the extraordinary amount of personal and national debt owed, and our overflowing prison populations is that America is now a predatory economy.

We have disconnected the means from the ends. If prison is intended to deter and rehabilitate, why then are astronomical recidivism rates acceptable? Why does this country spend more on health care, imprison more of its people than any other? Because many “efficient” and “competitive” businesses have more to gain from our perpetual suffering than our advancement.

We are so pre-occupied with trickle-down and rising tides that we have lost sight of what those privatized programs are attempting to correct. Whatever raises share prices and wealth for the owning class is taken as a perverse indicator of national well-being. Why can’t well-being be an indicator of well-being? It sounds insane, but why don’t we stop trying to figure out how we can make money by helping people and just help them? Because it is clear that corporations are always clever enough to circumvent helping people (it’s just too damn expensive!), while still garnering increasingly wide profit-margins. If you can cut down on expenditures (i.e. doing your job) and make the same amount in contracts, it’s better for the bottom line.

Social programs keep eyes affixed on solving problems,yet private contracted companies stand to gain from perpetuating the status quo, even diminishing the quality of life in America. And it is not just at home. The vampiric disease spreads wherever the host goes, or rather, invades. Not only have private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan been responsible for mind-boggling waste and corruption, but they have contributed directly to the suffering of our troops and local populations.

Capitalism embraces product which is addictive and cheap. And while Philip Morris is reviled for distributing a product that is chemically addictive, no one bats an eye at profiting from our dependence on health care. We are inevitably going to end up sick and dying at some point. Companies like Blue Cross exploit our built-in obsolescence, and when progressives suggest reforming that vicious system, the Right treats us like blasphemers.

I’m not anti-business; I’m pro-human. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but when companies like Halliburton-KBR, Blue Cross, and the Corrections Corporation of America place profits before people, we have to fight back. It is our money they inhale, our friends they imprison, and our kids they refuse to cover. And there’s plenty you can do about it.

The prison-industrial complex is perhaps one of the strongest forces in lobbying against sensible drug policy and in favor of tougher prison sentences. Critical Resistance is a grassroots organization that rejects prison as a panacea for social problems and works for reasonable rehabilitation. Check out their website here.

Support the courageous members of Congress fighting to reform our broken health care system and ensure coverage for all Americans. Sign NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s petition to include a not-for-profit public option in the health care plan.

There’s so much more you can do, but let’s hear from you. Comment below to plug your favorite causes and groups fighting for corporate accountability.

Listening Liberally: Episode 1

Check out the first episode of Living Liberally's new audio podcast, Listening Liberally, for events, chapter info, interviews, and a whole lot of love.

Episode 1 features clips from Laughing Liberally's "joint" author talk and comedy showcase, and excerpts from the panel discussion following Excuse Me, Mr. Speaker.


Buchanan's Racist Rhetoric Infects News

While the Sotomayor confirmation hearings are finally finished, a larger discussion regarding diversity on the Supreme Court and, more broadly, in America, is being by waged on cable news. Pat Buchanan, in his quest to retain some semblance of relevance, has been all over the 24-hour networks to advocate for “disempowered” white males.

Buchanan sees affirmative action as a policy “to increase diversity by discriminating against white males.” But he fails to realize white men have been the beneficiaries of preferential policy in America for hundreds of years.

Jed Lewison, writing over at the DailyKos, has done some fact-checking and spin-alysis on Buchanan’s regressive rhetoric. He writes:

“Buchanan ignores the massive contributions of non-whites to America's development. He offers no recognition to the slaves whose labor was essential for such a long period of time and he fails to address contributions made by other immigrant groups such as Chinese-Americans who helped build the rail system, or Latinos who are an important part of the agricultural economy today. Perhaps the real problem with Pat Buchanan's narrative of America is that he views everything through a racial and ethnic filter.”

Check out Lewison’s full article here.

Sotomayor Subtext: The Myth of Judicial Objectivity

The Sotomayor confirmation hearings have elicited many reactions these past few days. From not-so-veiled sexism, to condescending racism in the guise of anti-discrimination, to extensive questioning about the right to nunchucks, the potentially dull interrogation has now become center stage for exposing Senatorial insanity. Sotomayor’s testimony, on the other hand, has been admirably patient and articulate over the past days. Clearly, Sotomayor has been prepped rigorously as to not tip her hand too much, but her comments regarding race and the myth of objectivity have been surprisingly candid.

Watch Sonia Sotomayor answer her critics.

She is not naïve enough to suggest she has no biases, but instead acknowledges that various predilections necessarily arise from our upbringing and life experiences. Our families, teachers, communities, friends, role models, and others close to us shape our views about the world in unique ways. We are not objects, and our perspectives are shaped heavily by outside influences and access to opportunities.

It is a fallacy to believe there exists some impartial judge completely insulated from media, history, social movements, and pre-conception. We should not be alarmed by the notion that our judges have opinions. Effective judges require open, critical minds with which to analyze each case and its unique intricacies. The law is not a pure formula, and the Supreme Court not a machine which processes cases in a hermetically-sealed bubble.

Our judges are human and all the better for it. The idea that compassion and empathy are corrosive to judicial objectivity is itself objectionable. Justice often requires more than a narrow ethic of justice, and compassion is compatible with equal consideration.

Consumer Guilt Not Enough to Clear Corporate Conscience

One of the greatest myths of the free-marketeers has been to place an inordinate share of responsibility on consumers, while insulating corporations from “risk” (that is to say, consumer dissatisfaction). But the truth is that municipal consumption and waste is only a small fraction of the whole. Instead, industry deserves the lion’s share of blame when it comes to resource scarcity and climate change.

So while Joe Odwalla Six-pack is off taking reusable bags to the grocery and separating his recycling, his share is even smaller than he thinks. These individual contributions are efficacious and indeed moral imperatives, but they cannot match the rabid consumption and waste of obese corporations.

This is the lesson of Derrick Jensen’s recent article in Orion Magazine. While Jensen’s anti-industrial sentiment may be a bit overzealous, his demands for corporate accountability could not resonate more clearly. He argues,

“Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance.”

Check out Jensen’s full article here.

We cannot prevent climate change alone; we need to have business on board. And that means top-down accountability from government. It is up to us, not as consumers but as citizens, to constrain the ubiquitous corporate growth-urge. If there’s anything the economic downturn should have taught us, it’s that “regulation” isn’t a dirty word. In fact, it may be just the gun-to-the-head industry needs to stop its sociopathic, unsustainable gorging. When industry becomes too big to fail, it becomes perfectly apt to fail the planet.

For more on what you can do to help stop climate change and restore environmental accountability, check out the advice of Ken Cloke over at Huffington Post.

Excuse Me, Mr. Speaker Ignites the Fire of Accountability

Wednesday, The Tank was filled to capacity with liberal agitators for a screening of Justin Sullivan’s new documentary, Excuse Me, Mr. Speaker. The intimate film follows Paul Newell’s 2008 campaign for state assembly against 32-year incumbent and assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver. Sullivan brings to the screen a palpable, often endearing portrait of a man, of a campaign resisting the seemingly indomitable momentum of incumbency. The film is a tireless, close piece of cinema, but also offers a window into the state of the current progressive movement, one which is bound to leave audiences (as the one Wednesday) inspired to organize, act, and work for real change.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion stocked with some of New York’s most impassioned rising progressives. Paul Newell, filmmaker Justin Sullivan, and Paul’s fiery campaign manager, Evan Hutchison, fielded questions about the film and the Newell campaign’s historic blasphemies. City Council candidates Yetta Kurland and Pete Gleason were also on-hand to provide insights about challenging the daunting inertia of incumbency.

These are people who understand election fraud occurs long before faulty voting machines and roll purges. The real charade is perpetrated by not having legitimate alternatives to the static machinations in Albany, Washington, and beyond. Candidates like Pete and Yetta threaten the stalled complacency of incumbent candidates.

And even when insurgents like Paul Newell don’t get the most votes, they accomplish their goals. Paul’s candidacy, as the film showed, was about more than kicking out Sheldon Silver. It was about making politicians earn their re-election, showing we won’t stand for unresponsive, non-transparent politics as usual. Campaigns like Paul’s, Yetta’s, and Pete’s harness the collective discontent of the progressive movement. Our representatives, as Yetta so passionately reminded, are accountable to us; they exist to serve the people and are by no means entitled to re-election. By fielding and supporting insurgent candidates, we light a fire under the asses of incumbents everywhere. We remind them, “You have to earn it.”

In closing, I feel compelled to mention one scene in the film I cannot get out of my head. Perhaps the most glowing moment in Excuse Me, Mr. Speaker comes when things are at their bleakest. After delivering his concession speech to a room full of disheartened supporters, Paul quietly consoles a volunteer, “It matters.” In that moment, Newell is speaking to all of us, to the cynical urges that make us want to give up resisting the machine. Thanks, Paul for reminding all of us that success doesn’t have to mean electoral victory. Win or lose, it matters.

Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid?

If you only read one story about the economic crisis, I beg you, make it Rolling Stone columnist, Matt Taibbi’s exposé on Goldman Sachs, “The Great American Bubble Machine.”

“The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Taibbi is not only an adept wordsmith, as evidenced above, but one of the finest journalistic talents working today. In “The Great American Bubble Machine,” Taibbi reveals the misleading ruse the banking system has become, using deception and outright fraud to inflate confidence in the world’s largest investment banks.

Paraphrasing the article would only serve as an exercise in injustice, so check out the entire work here.

Thank You, Ralph Nader (No, Seriously!)

“Am I sorry that against all odds, with no money, no experience, a ragtag team, and an embryonic Green Party, we put an alternative choice in front of the American people? Hell no. I would do it all again. And did. In 2004, I helped run the only major antiwar candidate for the general election when the Democrats lost their collective nerve and let George W. Bush march the United States into Iraq.”
--Theresa Amato, former Nader campaign manager

Perhaps the most vitriolic slur one can level against an opponent in a political campaign is to call him “Ralph Nader”. A “Ralph Nader” is a vote-splitting gadfly that helps a bumbling pretend cowboy get elected president. But after reading excerpts from Green Party organizer, Theresa Amato’s new book, you realize the rabble-rousing perennial third-party candidate might not be to blame for election woes of the past decade. Instead, the problem is much larger, stemming from a winner-take-all electoral system which disenfranchises thousands of voices and pits the two major parties against one another in a race to the bottom.

Amato argues in today’s New Press:

“[Election reform] tends to focus on the mechanics of registering to vote, keeping accurate lists, and having votes counted by machines of better-than-dubious programming or security. Less concern is directed to the far more disenfranchising systemic problems of having a “winner-take-all” system that results in uncompetitive elections in most congressional and local races. Nor is there a widespread movement toward choice maximizing voting systems, or just better competition by structuring campaign finance systems to encourage participation for more than our millionaires or those who have access to them.”

Yet I still find myself a bit irked with Nader. While he did split the progressive vote which permitted the election of W. in 2000 and 2004, this is perhaps too narrow a focus. Nader and other third party candidates challenge the two-party status quo that could greatly benefit from a plurality of voices. If the “marketplace of ideas” truly operates in American politics, why then are so many candidates blocked out of the discussion? Think of how hard Ron Paul had to fight to be included in his own party’s debates.

The winner-take-all system in American elections propagates the notion that it is permissible to ignore 49% of a district’s voters because of the will of the other 51. Instead, we should welcome a system that considers a great variety of perspectives, introducing shades of gray to a black-and-white system. And this is what third-party candidates offer.

“I hope third parties and independents of every stripe will run again and again and again. It doesn’t matter if I don’t agree with a word of what they say. Just like exotic animals I would never make an effort to see, I want third parties and independents to run because I fear for their extinction.”

Check out the full excerpts from Amato’s book, Grand Illusion, here.

But you don't have to wait till 2012 to get involved with insurgent candidates. Check out Screening Liberally's presentation of Excuse Me, Mr. Speaker Wednesday 8PM at The Tank. The film follows Paul Newell's gutsy 2008 campaign against 32 year state assembly incumbent, Sheldon Silver.

After the film, Paul and filmmaker Justin Sullivan will be on hand to answer questions and explain how you can disrupt the cycle of politics as usual.

America's Peaceful Warriors

Tuesday, the United States officially began scaling back troops in Iraq, but many soldiers are not headed home. They have instead been redirected to augment efforts in the “good war”--Afghanistan. President Obama’s position on Afghanistan has taken quite a bit of flack (and not just from progressives at home and abroad). Resistance is germinating within members of the armed services.

As Dahr Jamail discusses in The Nation, soldiers are exercising creative noncompliance techniques while stationed in the Middle East to avert the use of violence and keep themselves out of danger. It is not merely a dip in morale that keeps their fingers off the trigger, but a serious moral opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan.

For more on the ways soldiers are expressing dissent, check out Jamail’s full article.

Correcting Subtle Racism Requires Keen Eye, Creative Solutions

Last Month Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor caught the brunt of conservative criticism for certain comments made regarding race and how it factors into a judge’s decision-making. Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Then Monday the Supreme Court ruled white firefighters in the New Haven Fire Department were victims of reverse discrimination when the city threw out a promotion exam after minority candidates categorically tested poorly. The measure was intended to promote diversity in the workplace. The Supreme Court overturned the decision previously upheld by Sotomayor and two other judges on a panel to determine the legitimacy of New Haven’s policy.

A quick read through our headlines shows desperate need for a new understanding of bias. The Right’s stubborn faith in the myth of the American meritocracy depends on an outmoded conception on how discrimination is exercised. They argue that because official channels of slavery and segregation ended generations ago, the field is level. But only rarely is racism explicit these days.

More frequently, racism continues to be exerted through inherited disadvantage, and conversely, inherited privilege. In order to counteract racial inertia, many liberals argue the need for corrective measures which temporarily give favor to minority candidates in the workplace/schools/etc. in service of long-term equality.

It is a common myth that after Brown v. Board of Education everyone was equal. While all became supposedly “equal” under the law, whites had a head-start--better-funded schools, inherited wealth, 200 years control of government--not to mention the failure of many states to comply with desegregation.

In yesterday’s Huffington Post, Mitchell Kapor, Freada Kapor Klein, and Martha Tae-Shin Kim address the need for creativity when it comes to deracinating institutionalized and structural discrimination.

“The [New Haven] case itself, while raising complex questions about workplace bias, involved civil rights law fashioned in an era that saw far more blatant discrimination. Back then, the urgency of segregation and widespread, institutional racism did not allow for a thoughtful undertaking of more nuanced forms of bias. Now, subtle bias has become more insidious.”

Check out the full article here.

This is an issue steeped in nuance and requires compassion for all parties involved. White firefighters don’t want to be discriminated against for their race any more than black, Hispanic, or Asian firefighters for theirs. No one wants to feel indicted for something they didn’t choose. But affirmative action is not about blame. It is about starting to amend past injustices that echo still today. It is not enough to eliminate the barriers; true equality requires a cathartic process of diminishing white privilege and providing access to beneficial social programs.

Now how do we make that a reality?
Groups like Racial Justice 911, the ACLU, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice are all currently involved in projects to counteract economic and social discrimination. For ways you can get involved in the fight against racism, sexism, and class antagonism, check out their websites.

Anyone with suggestions about involvement, links to groups that do anti-discrimination work, policy ideas, here’s your chance to sound off. I’m sure you liberals out there in the grassroots, netroots, and beyond have your fingers on the pulse of some great organizations. Let’s get a list going in the comments section.

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