Out of the Revolution…

Here the Senate Republicans are, standing over the embers of their failed project that began in 1995, and they don’t even seem phased. Unions are their bull’s eye, and if a large chunk of the US manufacturing sector goes under to get at them—well who cares? You at least have to give them points for continuity. These are basically the same bunch that instigated a government shut down and blanketed the national agenda with an impeachment process to get at Clinton. Lord knows what they’ll do over the next four to eight years to undermine Obama.

Lo and behold, it turns out that cries over the union as the source of Detroit’s woes are way overblown. The so called $74 dollar hourly wage that conservatives are wailing about counts the payments to past retirees (Detroit simply has more of them than its rivals who entered the game later). In any case, reducing labor costs to the levels of its competitors would only amount to a small gain for US auto, according to Times columnist David Leonhardt.

In short, the basis for the current union bashing is purely ideological, just like everything else the GOP has done since the Republican revolution of ‘94. Case in point: There is an e-mail circulating among Senate Republicans saying that the vote against big auto would “take their first shot against organized labor.” The moral: You can take the Republican out of the revolution, but you can’t take the revolution of the Republican.

Detroit update

Levin says he’s unsure whether they’ll get to 60, the new bill will feature an oversight board to ensure “drastic restructuring.”  In short, it seems that getting to 60 will require the blood of the UAW.

Krugman thinks the auto industry in the Detroit environs will likely disappear (see his NYTimes blog, he doesn’t really elaborate though).

Detroit part 2, reply to Ocho Cinco

The last question in your post Josh asks, why are Dem’s pushing for layoffs in the middle of a recession?  My answer:  it isn’t just any jobs that will be cut, it’s the jobs worked by members of the UAW, the most powerful union body in the country today.  The death or wounding of the Michigan UAW would be an incredible catch for the minority party.  The Democratic rhetoric stems from filibuster worries in the Senate, and this is the way they will convince 4-5 Republican senators of voting for a bailout.  There are few strong union Democrats in the Senate, the party is willing to allow the union to take the hit.  Note that the Democrats have made no concerted effort to protect the workers.  Even more, the UAW itself has been complicit with the job-cut, wage-reduction, benefit-reduction rhetoric.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the representative body of the workers is fighting to make their condition of employment worse.

Not surprisingly, the other side of the aisle sees any auto bailout as a gift from the Democratic Congress to the unions.  Apparently these commentators don’t realize that unions without employees aren’t unions.

Even more ridiculous (and sinister) to me was something I heard on TV this week:  that lawmakers are resistant to a bailout for the automakers because it would be “throwing good money after the bad.”  This is a startling quote for two reasons, 1) that the commentator would call this “good money” and 2) that we could make any statement about the “bad” now, after the billions of dollars given to banks so that they could hide it away in their treasury chest at the Fed.  The “good money” is that being printed off the press or debt sold to foreign banks.  The “bad money” is manufacturing infrastructure, and hundreds of thousands of jobs.  As opposed to the financial industry, the so called “circulatory sytem” of the economy, who was given money to circulate, but instead plunked it at the Fed, where it earns them a safe 1.5% return on their principal.  We can pump money to the banks so that they can sit on it and bilk us for interest, but we can’t send money to Detroit to keep one of the most depressed areas of the county afloat.

God bless the USA.

Obama, Detroit, and Pink Slips

The pundit gears are churning and even amidst all the chicanery—like private “advisors” sucking away big portions of the federal bailout money—the main question is what kind of administration Obama will run. As I see it there are two big schools of thought. Some, like Alexander Cockburn, expect Clintonesque right-of-center compromises. Others predict forceful progressive reform. Okay, maybe his appointments answered that question. But some still predict that Obama will put the reigns on, say, deregulators like Larry Summers or friendly hawks like Robert Gates.

I have to admit he does show a domineering presence. So far he’s run his transition team with military discipline. But that doesn’t tell us much. What does is his attitude toward Detroit’s meltdown. Obama looks favorably on Detroit’s euphemistic “restructuring” proposals as conditions for a bailout. That means massive layoffs, factory closings and benefit cuts. Leaders in Congress hope these drastic measures will assure the long term viability of the listing big three.

Compare that to France, which is now fighting to save its own auto stalwarts like Renault. Sarkozy said recently that bailouts would come on the condition that the companies not outsource more jobs. Why isn’t Obama saying that? Why do Democratic leaders appear to be encouraging more layoffs in the middle of a recession?

Adorno and tact

For Theodor Adorno, tact emerges as the bourgeoise individual frees himself of moral absolutism (the doctrine of whole rights and whole wrongs).  I assume the freedom from absolutism, for Adorno, represents the historical entrance of the liberal, egotistical individual and the making of society for him.  This individual knows no whole rights and wrongs, for everything is simultaneously justified and condemned by that person’s self interest.  Acting in one’s self interest is necessary, and yet selfish and violent towards one’s peers.  Tact is the historical remnant of this now impossible absolutism, the left-over.  It is found in the trappings of hierarchical placements and considerations, and it makes “living together within privileged groups bearable.”  But for Adorno, tact breaks down as it becomes transparent.  Adorno, Minima Moralia, aphorism 16: “Thus individuals begin, not without reason, to react antagonistically to tact: a certain kind of politeness, for example, gives them less the feeling of being addressed as human beings, than an inkling of their inhuman conditions.”  The transparency of the connection between the social convention “tact” and the inhuman conditions of living (and competing) in a liberal, market society makes tact something to be reviled, for it brings into light the animalistic, savage nature of such a society.  The presence of tact only further reinforces one’s awareness of living in subhuman conditions.  Tact is a cultural form that “demanded the reconciliation – actually impossible – between the unauthorized claims of convention and the unruly ones of the individual.”  As such, it is a futile mission.

But is it, nevertheless, a useful one. “That the abolition of this caricature of tact in the rib-digging camaraderie of our time, a mockery of freedom, nevertheless makes existence still more unbearable, is merely a further indication of how impossible it has become for people to co-exist under present conditions.”  Adorno, writing in 1944 at the height of WWII, as a historical witness to the Holocaust and Fascism, justifiably sees society as broken and culture as a veil.  That tact makes this situation slightly more bearable is a demonstration of the debasement of man, for man ought not require such aristocratic and baseless social conventions to keep from killing one another.

Versus the convention of tact is the convention that has us interact with one another “without preamble.”  But this convention is dangerous, for…

“behind the pseudo-democratic dismantling of ceremony, of old-fashioned courtesy, of the useless conversation suspected, not even unjustly, of being idle gossip, behind the seeming clarification and transparency of human relations that no longer admit anything undefined, naked brutality is ushered in.  The direct statement …that gives the other the facts full in the face, already has the form and timbre of the command issued under Fascism by the dumb to the silent. Matter-of-factness between people, doing away with all ideological ornamentation between them, has already itself become an ideology for treating people as things” (emphasis added, MM aphorism 20).

In the competition between social conventions, one being an remnant of aristocracy and the other a byproduct of capitalism, no one wins.  Social interactions without “ornamentation” simply reflect the fact that human beings have been turned into commodities.  That vestige of moral absolutism, tact, cannot cover up this arrangement.  As it cedes ground to “time as money” and “matter-of-factness,” the reality of the human condition (its material basis) becomes all-too-apparent.  In aphorism 22, Adorno stresses the danger of reducing all human relations to their material basis, which functions as both a critique of capitalism, and as a compelling caution against those (e.g. worker’s organizations) who isolate this material basis as the basis for a politics of change.  Doing so limits the imagination of a “nobler” existence, it forces the unity of theory and practice to the detriment of the former (MM, aphorism 22).  Adorno wants to leave open a door to Utopia, at the historical moment of its opposite.

The question to ask at this point is: how to escape from this predicament?  Can freeing theory from practice enable us to overcome the materialist basis of society, and thus realize a society which no longer needs the trappings of tact in order to be bearable?  What would “theory” mean without an attending role for practice?