Monday, October 21, 2013

On the Ghosts of Government Shutdowns, past, present and yet to come.

I am working on a play about President Clinton and the recent shutdown inspired me to go back to the Gingrich - Clinton standoff in the shutdown of 1995-1996 (a two part shutdown as this current one will do doubt be). Washington was thick with gossip and snow. Three feet fell on the 21st day of the shutdown, 6 January 1996 and it was like Winter's Tale. Bars emptying for snowball fights, cross country skiing past the White House, people falling in love in line at Safeway nabbing the last diet cokes. Rumors of epic stand-offs in the course of the negotiations.

Washington is bipolar. If you are good, your polar opposite is bad. All perception exists within this narrative. The narrative of being at war with the bad guys. Except the bad guys are not the bad guys. They are you.  We are all Americans. We all want to live in a prosperous and fair country. We all say we want peace. Yet all our human virtues, all the longings of our spirits, all the goodness in our vast expansive souls is crammed down into an identity as a Democrat or an identity as a Republican. And all that energy we get from our universe or our gods to express our love of justice - that is shrunken down to campaign donations.

The thing about the shutdowns is they are in some way, not even a conscious way, but in some way, they are a collusive distraction to the populace. Because we get concerned about a shut down without questioning the government that is being shut down. The list of agencies, councils, tribunals, marketing arms, commissions, subsidies - the list is equally bloated by both parties in the Faustian pact that is killing democracy.  Besides the courts, the state department and the armed forces (things expressly considered in the constitution) we have a huge list that essentially constitutes business or cultural subsidies to donors. Quid pro quos.

But everyone needs to get elected, and everyone needs donations, in fact, that is the first thing they tell someone interested in running for Congress - get out there and beg for money. It is a deeply ingrained culture of supplication to power. And so the power remains, and the Rs and the Ds carve up the districts in complicated deals (that involve creating more donor subsidies), and the system is in so much stasis, it is so glued down and unfree, purely the functionary of capital markets. The R's and the D's are like two identical massive nearly dead coral reefs next to each other in some vast sea, and when a tiny fish swims by, when an anemone pokes its head up, it is very exciting because even though it is just a tiny thing, at least it is some change, something to look at.  But the coral reefs don't change or move.

No one in Washington has the distance or the perspective (and many are too arrogant to listen to critical reasoning) to recognize the mass bipolar disorder. So who can bring balance? Can the voters bring balance? Not with pre-decided districts and purchased elections. And not with money. So many lovely people I know in Washington truly believe the answer is to give more money to their chosen democratic candidate. If I said that in the context of my individual bipolar - like, say, I need to barricade myself in a suite at George V and drink only vintage Champagne - they would make me take anti-psychotics. Yet that seems a perfectly normal thing to say.

There is no difference between the Rs and the Ds on perpetual war, on the bloated intelligence budget, on the subsidization of capital markets, on the rule of the banks, on the secret courts, on the surveillance of the populace. Neither party dares for any real districting reform. Both just want to afford a nice retirement in a post-Citizens United world. The insiders are very wealthy. Have you been to Washington lately? It is getting more and more like Capitol City in the Hunger Games.

Are the voters without power completely? Is the transfer to a plutocracy in service to capital markets complete? I fear it might be. I live in Europe. I don't know.  (At this point I am tempted to say please wake up, we are all living in police states but there is also an untreated American-Terrorist bipolarity that prevents me) But the next time the government is being shut down, just wonder if in fact you are being distracted. Distracted by the theater of an old West showdown with a winner and a loser. And ask yourself what you are being distracted from. Crippling wealth inequality, continuing environmental degradation, countries bankrupting themselves buying arms.  And try not to be distracted by the Great Distractors of American Politics, those topics that somehow have culturally consumed your love of justice, your love of virtue, your love of America, your passion. That great love has been condensed down into the sticky residue of abortion, gun control, health care: our flashpoints.  It does none of us any service to dwell in these flashpoints  - we have a government with a chronic, infectious mental disorder, and we must work together in new ways to rebalance our poor mad leaders.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on a New Political Party

Today in activist world I was thrilled to be invited to a meeting tomorrow of Cambridge Left Unity, a group of people exploring a new political party.

I think that is good news. It looks union-supported, which could be good (although unions have their own issues). In some ways I hope it would not be a re-hash of Labour because of the stink of Blair and the fundamental slavery to the banks. But in some ways I hope it is an incarnation of the ideals of Labour. In part I hope this because people here do not change political party easily. It's not like America where many people I know have voted for different parties in different election. Here, it's like every element of your identity - it is kind of handed to you at birth. You are Labour. You are a Conservative.

One thing we know about all the political parties that have sway right now is that a core element of the identity of the leadership is upper class. Your socio-economic identity is important too. The network and consensus of Eton and Oxbridge cannot be overlooked.  The government is made up of people who really have very little idea of the responsibilities of managing day to day life in the working class or middle class. The government is made up of people who like most Americans believe that if you are poor, you just weren't trying very hard. The government is all made up of people who believe that every corporation is entitled to a share of the profits. This is their reality more than any compassion or mercy. The prisons are workhouses that line rich men's pockets. The buses run without schedules or maps, because that increases the profit to the CEO.  The Justice Ministry budget is cut by one-third between 2010 and 2015. One third. To me that is the worst statistic of them all. Without access to the courts, people have no access to the rule of law, and if people don't have access to the rule of law, they cannot challenge state decisions (imprisonment, deportation). The state has no accountability. That any government would commission a nuclear submarine at the cost of two billion dollars in favor of shaving the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT is simpy unbelievable.

And the Parliament itself is strangely powerless as well - although we did have that wonderful moment with the Syria vote. They are all colluding in these cuts.

I am thinking back to the hearings prior to the Leveson inquiry, when the MPs asked only safe questions to save the media empire and the police too much embarrassment (pure theatre). I am thinking about the arms industry, which fuels the UK's biggest export. I am thinking about the inability of government to force utilities into efficiency and against greed. I am thinking back to the multiple instances of police and Home Office misconduct and cover-ups  and possibly murders and how somehow, the MPs do not raise their voice. The Home Office does nothing to restrain the police, the police are governed by the IPCC which is an advocate for the police rather than a neutral judge. To me, reform of these fascist tendencies (no more apparent than in Occupy) it would be a welcome element of a new party platform.

Any new party would have to go in eyes wide open to the possibility that things are controlled by corporations much more than we have even considered.

Even the metrics are way, way off. We don't even know how bad it is. The Economist ran an article about the amazing vanishing crime rate in the UK. It was basically accusing the government of obscuring true statistics. And when Osborne says the Tories will run a budget surplus by 2020, hot damn, people, he is only saying that because he is confident he can completely manipulate the statistics.

I don't think anyone truly interested in ending austerity has much use for the mainstream media, but the information I get that is not from the mainstream media is that a lot of people in this country are hungry and in need. Ending hunger within Britain could be a unifying factor.

You will need a unifying factor. You could harness the spirit of revolution. The middle class needs to thrive and survive. I can say that it is actually pretty exhilarating to stand up for what you believe in.

Any new party would have to inspire people to change the habits of a lifetime in their party affiliation. But it could be done. I am from Occupy. I believe in the 99%. I think that it doesn't even need to be a Left party, it can be the 99%, a centrist party. Because the structural problems are as simple as the rule of law and the fundaments of fair taxation, and I think the 99% in Britain agree with the rule of law and fair taxation.  But considering how things have been going the last twenty years,I am not sure that any clear heir of Labour can even begin to bring in the outsider reform-minded strategy that would be the only hope.

One big hit piece of legislation, like making all banks non-profit, or legislating utility profit margins, or funding the courts (this is a big one), or reforming property taxes, or adopting a Green trade policy could very quickly generate a legitimate boost to the economy.

The more any new party tries to move away from the fundaments, the more trouble they are going to have. The central idea, the inspiring wave, the beautiful dream is that the people rise up and take back their own power, that the sacred ground of Runnymede is not forgotten. And while my generation has been greedy and myopic about their power and their rights, it is not too late. It is not too late for us to do right by our children. But we would have to ask our friends and families to get out of their ancient identities, to reach out across the ghettos.

I don't think Left Unity needs to put on any of the ridiculous garments of the previous parties. Reform the NHS, reform Ofsted, reform the FSA. That is noise, not signal. Those are diversions, and petty, destructive diversions at that. What parliament has done to the good people serving the ill and vulnerable is atrocious: consultants and fire sales. What parliament has done selling off a national security service that the Crown should provide its people in good times and in bad (Royal Mail) is atrocious. The taxes that the wealthy pay are atrocious. The taxes that corporations pay are atrocious. People have to opt for a better world and a lower profit margin. The people have to make them.

And as always I think that people should be invited under a new party umbrella how I saw the 99%.  all inclusive. Believing in the rising tide of the human spirit, fighting for the rule of law and mercy on the most vulnerable - that could be a left thing. But it is also a spiritual thing, it is also a core of people's political and nonpolitical idenity. Some would say that it is almost their religion. Justice and mercy are virtues. This is about being a good human being. It is about being an excellent human being, actually.

There are many of these excellent human beings on this island. Many. But in my experience they are too much in the box of their identity to be able to roll up their sleeves and work with the other 99%. Oh, I'm a socialist, I'm in a union, I'm with UK Uncut, I believe in direct action, I believe in punching the shit out of the EDL - we are all in our ghettoes. My Occupy Cambridge ghetto on Facebook I will attest is the loneliest ghetto of them all.

I hope the "unity" in Left Unity means that it will like Occupy inspire people to see that we are all massively the same in what we want and deserve from a just Government. Maybe I will see if my babysitter can come.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Scarecrow, Kaufman, Capitalism and Inspiration

So a friend of mine, a bright star of a friend, as in, she has been the speaker at a TED talk amazing, posted a viral marketing video for Chipotle, made in conjunction with a decision to locally source 2% of its vegetables. The video was a triumph of imagination, I was mesmerized by the animation and of course in tears with the tender message. It was about no less than the goodness of the earth, and the way humans had lost their way and parted from that goodness, but it was possible to reconnect with it through this burrito vendor, and say no to the gray existence our overwrought consumerism had forced upon us.

I gave her a hard time on her post, and posted in her timeline the spoof video about it made by Funny or Die. She took it to heart, and wrote a blog post about the experience and it really makes for good reading. I think it's so good because she is writing from the heart. This is a brave woman, willing to question anything and it inspired to respond. I mean, she calls me a cynic and that's a little wounding (she also called me one of the smartest people she knows, which was immediately retweeted by me with joyful abandon).

Her response is a defense of corporate responsibility as a real thing, and a good thing, and even, if you step back, a defense of capitalism. She comes from a place of knowledge, she has been at the forefront of change and innovation, she finds and sees the good in what comes of corporations.

In some ways she is preaching to the choir. The day I joined Facebook I said for political beliefs:

 Transparent Democracy, Civil Liberties and Capitalism is the way to go

And I still believe that. Let me just tell anyone reading this blog in the United States you have NO IDEA what it is like to believe in capitalism and be an activist who thinks the government should serve people and not banks. Holy god, the shit I take. But as my friend says in her post, the innovation and improvement in the lives of many people that capitalism creates is undeniable and powerful. People have to eat and they love eating. They have to sleep somewhere, wear something, get electricity - I don't think any other system has ever done more to meet these needs than capitalism - or at least a market economy.

And yet. And yet. Citizens United, my friends. The choking of democracy we see in Washington every day. These things are caused by corporations not being held to the rule of law as they should be. It costs a million dollars to run for Congress. I know. I got a little ways down that road. The only way to get that money is to start being beholden to private interests, which are largely corporate. Corporations decide what Universities investigate, how Sovereigns regulate the money supply, and how people forge their identity.

The harm of a capitalist system is that we have found ourselves puffed up with consumerism. As another wise friend of mine says with regard to the obesity problem, we have become human storage receptacles for surplus corn. But we also in America hinge our worth as humans by how wealthy we are, which is lethal to the soul. And we define ourselves by how we spend, not by who we are without reference to money.

That was a big point of my friend's defense, though, that she could define herself by her spending and make the world she wanted to from her consumer choices. My problem with that is that is ends with Kim Kardashian, who is only famous for her consumer choices. Other virtues are obscured. Other realities are unattended. The definition of self through spending choices has an odd tyranny, as if no other definitions of selves had substance. Your identity is what you have bought for yourself. I feel like the consumer part of our identity should be shrunk, should be shrunk like the number of legal derivative trades, down to a very low level. So that the genius and innovation and goodness of supply can shine through, but the people who are being supplied have spiritual and physical identities that are not shaped by marketing campaigns.

My friend said that I was a cynic, which means I believe people only act out of self-interest. I know that to be false. But corporations act for profit, and I know that to be true. So call me a corporate cynic. I align with every corporate law professor in the Western world.

But do I want corporations to go? No,  I think capitalism -a market economy populated by limited liability companies - is the most successful means to distribute goods and services humans have yet devised. I guess I want people to be bigger than corporations. I want people to be supremely cynical and skeptical of the profit motive.  It is a pretty base desire. The desire to better the world, to meet needs, to create a delicious food - those desires co-exist with the profit motive. But they need not be completely co-dependent on the profit motive. My friend defended capitalism with the argument that many business networks help people in need. That is true. But it is the people helping, not the corporations.

And as for Apple, I just think of that net they had to put up to slow down the rate of suicides at Foxconn.

Here is what Charlie Kaufman had to say on this point in the context of screenwriting:

It’s also equally ludicrous to believe that – at the very least – this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’

And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this. And we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.

What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be that. But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me and I have to keep rediscovering it. It has profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.
End of quote.

Behind every corporation is some group of people, and people are the real magic. And people defined without reference to consumerism are the most magical people of them all.

During my work with Occupy I kept envisioning the hyperconsumerism of our time as some kind of swelling, something that needed to be cooled and stilled. If it could be, I think that people would be more interested in the non-consumer aspects of their identity. Their relationship to the State, to humankind, to their God, to their family. If they weren't so busy amassing the payments on their chronic debt, they could do amazing things.If the rule of law could reign in the systemic damage corporations have done to democracy and sovereignty, then that would be amazing too.

Just to say thank you my friend for taking my crank post seriously and therefore inspiring me to think on this more.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Runnymede is sacred ground

So I never liked the idea of a direct action in the first place, the idea of a road block, annoying busy people, didn't have much to do with what we were protesting. And it seemed that we were alienating the very people who should be the most disconcerted with the cuts to the Ministry of Justice budget, which was, in the end, the reason we were there.

And I didn't like the chants of "We Hate The Tories" that came in at the end. I really enjoyed "Save our legal aid!" and I could have gone all day with "Law and Justice for the Masses, Not Just For the Ruling Classes" But when they start with we hate the Tories I just get discouraged that people aren't seeing the bigger picture. If you think there is a real difference between Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, you are kidding yourselves. What economic or policy decision would have been substantively different under any other party? There's no point in these negative emotions. I don't stand in the streets against anyone. I stand for something. I stand for justice. Standing against something diminishes me because I become defined as its opposite. I am a sacred miracle of life, as are you, and I do not want to be diminished.

What I really loved was going to the Man on The Moon pub after, which has become a squat, a sort of free pub. I have no objection to these kinds of places but I find the protocol baffling. Do we just get up and make ourselves some tea? Is a particularly poignantly placed drop in the donations box likely to be taken as an order? Dare I hope? Forgive me.

Anyway, I met some of the Cambridge Socialists and it was so refreshing to spend time talking to people who take as a given the failure of constitutional democracy when it is clogged by monetary interests. Honestly, I am so inspired by libertarians and anarchists these days, and people with the integrity to maintain and work on their understanding of their relationship with the state, and what they want and believe. It was fascinating that almost everyone I talked to had this view of Anonymous as a bunch of questionable, possibly criminal characters. Since I entered the world of activism from Occupy and only from Occupy, I hold in very high estimation Anonymous and UK Uncut both, not only for their positions but for the quality of character in their leaders. This anarchist worldview is like some kind of new Stoicism. It requires rigorous analysis of the justice of all your own actions. Anyway, I kind of dig it especially as I watch what is happening in my country, the approval ratings of Congress, the state of the European economy, the endless oppressions in the Middle East. The model of governance we have relied on is dysfunctional and outdated. It is time to think of a new thing. It is time to gather under the umbrella of the 99%. Or at least I think.

The police were delightful today, how I thought police should be, standing away and not getting too involved, communicative and friendly with the protesters. I thought they were good. Of course they were good, in part, because the organizers did whatever they said. It kind of undermined the power of the protest in a way, but I didn't love the roadblock anyway, so I'm not going to worry about it. It is a tremendous thing to be relieved in some small way of my paranoia. And while my system crashes and Finfisher issues and phone problems still are unrelieved and spell to me "police state" I was mostly encouraged. I was mostly encouraged because these guys were definitely going to let us get our point across and I appreciated it.

I don't think we really worked up our point as much as we could have. Big picture, everyone. While people were debating the minutiae of the proposed budget cuts, I brooded on a forest/trees issue. The noise on the particulars is not good, but the sound is the chop, the point is the one third cut in the Ministry of Justice budget between 2010 and 2016. That is an assault of a fact. It is a real fuck you to the populace. It is removing recourse to the rule of law (to people like prisoners and immigrants). It is fulfilling Mussolini's definition of fascism. It is removing resistance to the state. If you want the state (hand in hand with the 1%, because the state just follows the dictates of bankers) to be unaccountable - if you want there to be no way to question or stand against the decisions of the state, then by all means be silent on these budget cuts. By all means jettison the rule of law. Man, so many cars were full of angry faces because our brief roadblocks were cutting short their shopping time. We are so poisoned by consumerism. We don't even see it. Identity is so much what you have and how you look here. Anxiety about meeting or god forbid missing social norms fuels debt creation. And we were standing in their way with a stupid road block.

There was a good spirit of camaraderie although, you know, there is nothing more horribly grating on the ears of the British than my braying East Coast Dora the Explorer American accent. I watched them visibly shrink at all my stereotypical American can-do, big smile, bull-by-the-horns attitude. It was a lot for the poor students to take, and I thank them. I really couldn't believe it though when just 70 minutes in people were saying they were fatigued and needed to go for a sit down. I got one word for you people: cardio.

No matter if you are an anarchist, libertarian, union member, socialist  - anyone who believes that the government should not have more rights than the individual - believes in the rule of law and needs the courts to make the ability of those most manipulated by the State to stand against the state. And the rule of law, I am telling you, that is the answer to all of the problems. The rule of law is to me a sacred thing. Courtrooms are sacred space. There is something that is a triumph of the human spirit to debate the truth in a courtroom or on a street, and in so doing, declare to the world that the State does not decide, in the end we decide, there is no justice, just us. Christians, take heed, where were you today?

So everyone who showed up to the Crown Court is to me some kind of hero, however imperfect, a hero. Because those people took the fight for that sacred space to the streets. And I don't care how we are different, I only care how we are the same.  We stand against the unjust power of the state. That is a sacred place to be.

Update - no arrests

No arrests, mostly because the 25 protesters did what the police told them to do, which was to go ahead with the road block but stop every three minutes or so to let traffic past.  It was strangely disempowering to be following the directions of the police but at least there was no kettling or, as I said, arrests.

I don't love road blocks, I realize there is a history, but people seemed mostly annoyed, and it is not really the point. I like standing in the streets being for something, not against something. But it was good to meet the kindred spirits also willing to stand. I felt like I couldn't really tell anyone that I wasn't against capitalism, but never you mind. All is well. Off to second birthday party now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts on Tomorrow

First of all, I don't see how these sweet students coming to the protest planning on blocking the streets tomorrow end up anything other than arrested and charged. There hasn't been a protest in Cambridge since the brief occupation of Lady Somebody Hall and I don't think the latest police state shenanigans have really filtered into their collective consciousness. The minute they block traffic tomorrow I expect them to be arrested and the whole thing to end badly. Recent police reaction to Occupy Sussex and the Antifascist protester kettling shows that there is a whole lot to worry about. Never have I so fervently hoped that my paranoia was misplaced. I will write a dancing, weeping repentance of my cynicism in 24 hours if I was wrong, and the right to protest was respected. No one will be happier than me if that happens. But I've seen what I've seen, and I fear the worst.

Second, I am sweating in advance the multitude of logistical challenges facing us  on that most fateful of days, Saturday the 5th of October.. Theoretically, our middle class schedule tomorrow involves Ballet, Family Yoga, Kung Fu, Drum Lesson as well as two birthday parties. We have jettisoned large portions of the regular schedule so that birthday parties and protests may be attended. But we plan an evening out because my husband is playing guitar in a charity event jam at some pub on Mill Road. I feel academic papers could be written on the levels of logistical complexity tomorrow presents. Luckily, I have been tweeting my favorite Indian delivery place - the amazing Inders Kitchen - and they say they will deliver to jail tomorrow night.

Third, damned if I don't feel compelled to invite every person of faith that I know. What is my problem? I met up with a law school roommate on Tuesday who was in from NY and I was trying to explain to her about what it was like living in the UK. I really started zinging along when I mined the vein of "as if I haven't experienced enough rejection in my life, I feel I need to try to forge an alliance between Occupy and Christianity . . ." - it's a joke, right, how I keep trying. But I am right. If you are not visiting people in prison as Jesus asked you to, the least you can do is ensure they have access to the rule of law. And it's not just Christianity. The fire of Spirit of God is not in the temples or the mosques or the churches (that is where the Pharisees and Sadducees lived)  it is in the street with the wounded sinful outcasts. It is standing for the most vulnerable, the weakest, it is meeting their needs, it is calming their fears.

So of course in my Kantian pizza night manner I posit for all mankind the dictates of my soul - I say come! Come to East Road! Let's see how bad the police state is! Let's show the government that a few of us will stand for the rule of law. Or at least bear witness to their response to people who exercise their right to assemble.

Protest Tomorrow Cambridge Crown Court East Road Noon

5th October 2013Cambridge Crown Court – Support statement
People are gathered here to protest the cuts in legal aid that are part of an assault on the Ministry of Justice budget, which under the current government is slated to be cut by one-third between 2010 and 2016. ( 5 September 2013)
As a result, the most vulnerable people in our society: prisoners, immigrants, the working poor will not be able to secure legal aid. Sir James Munby, the Judge in charge of the Family Division of the Courts called the cuts “disconcerting” and said from the bench that “something should be done”. (
The rights and liberties of the populace has seen an unprecedented assault in the last fifteen years. Our rights to protest and to privacy, to stand against the iniquities of the government at all have been eroded consistently, and now the ability of the poorest to protect their most fundamental rights is being diminished for cost savings, savings that most think are illusory. (See, e.g., Transforming Legal Aid, Civil and Prison Law Proposals: Justice at Risk? The Law Society, June 2013)
The economic collapse caused by the banks has stretched the middle class and the working class to the breaking point. It has made it more and more difficult to make a living, and we are all hard-pressed to find time to love and enjoy our families, let alone help right the wrongs in our country.  But the rule of law is fundamental. When it is only for the rich, our country is in danger of fascism. This is not a fringe issue. Access to the courts was the main demand at Runnymede. We need it still.
Please write to Minister Grayling and tell him you oppose these cuts. You can email him at
Standing against the legal aid cuts is a way of standing up for the people with mental health problems in prison, the people with learning disabilities among the marginal poor, the people who the Crown seeks to arrest who have no one to defend them, the people known, in Christianity at least, as “the least of these my brethren”.