Archive for September, 2008

Not socialism for the rich

September 24, 2008

I keep hearing this phrase used to describe the current economic meltdown and the Bush Administration’s solution to the tune of close to a trillion dollars of the nation’s wealth to prop up “the economy”: Socialism for the rich. The term bugs me because of its inaccuracy in a number of ways.


First the overall situation reminds me of a time when my first wife wanted to loan money we didn’t really have to a friend of hers. You see, her friend had gotten herself into a little jam. She had gambled away in Reno, Nevada, her mother’s life savings for retirement and needed a little seed money so she could win it back. All she needed was one good day on the market, oops, I mean the roulette wheel, and she would not have to tell her mother the bad news.


Every citizen is being asked to come up with roughly $3,000 seed money so the gamblers (and those who entrusted our wealth with them) don’t have to face what they have done (are you listening Phil Gramm?). We are all being asked to trust that a “good day at the table” is just around the corner. Does this sound like socialism to you?


There used to be more support for a concept that came out of the Great Depression Era called public pooled risk. This is the foundation of the Federal Social Security Insurance public safety net. If all of us put in a little then we can socialize the risk so none of us loses big and ends up with nothing. There are those who have been telling us slow and steady does not win the race. You have to take chances to make it big. Well, they happened to be in power for the last 30 or so years and we are now reaping the wisdom, such as it is, of their ideas. This is in fact the very opposite of socialism. And I like to remind people that Darwin himself was against the idea of “social Darwinism.”


So how do we describe better what is going on? We could call it the Great Republican Engineered Economic Disaster, or GREED for short, but we would have to ignore bipartisan culpability. Perhaps a better description would be crony capitalist pathological gambling syndrome. If that is too awkward for you, try “lemon-socialism,” which is defined as: if it makes money, it’s private; if it loses money, it’s public. (A good example of this would be the many “superfund” cleanup sites in the country. These are places where “private” industry turned their profit and left the toxic cleanup to the public. There are many examples, especially in the daily headlines.)


As you can plainly see, the root of socialism is the word “social” as in public. Behind that is the idea that there is an overall “public good.” Classical theory of government says the goal of all good government is to find this ideal and strive to support it over other competing interests, what the founders referred to as the inevitable “factions” that divide nations. What we are witnessing is the culmination of leadership that does not believe there is a public good, that in fact, the way to a healthy society is through the private, self-interested acts of individuals alone, “free” of government regulation and “politically correct” restraints. Believe me, if we continue to follow the ideas that got us into this mess we will continue to fall apart, and socialism is not on the table, especially for the rich.


It really is a crime of history that the examples of socialism and their demise are understood to be proof of a failed idea. The Soviet Union had strong elements of state capitalism (not to mention totalitarianism) that made calling it socialist questionable (as does China today). Their failure to liberate humanity, to put it simply, stems from a lack of commitment to democracy. Our nation is facing the same risk. Don’t be distracted by false claims of “socialism,” anti-democratic capitalism will be back, with a vengeance. 


To learn more about what’s really going on, read Namoni Kline’s “The Shock Doctrine” and Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew, How Conservatives Rule”


SF State President Corrigan, comment on 20 years at the helm

September 21, 2008

An SF State journalism student called asking me what I thought of President Robert A. Corrigan’s running of SF State for 20 years. Here is what I wrote.


I have the experience of seeing Dr. Corrigan from a number of perspectives over the last 14 or so years. As a student I often wondered where he was when I attended various events on campus. It seemed to me that he was better known off campus, even nationally where he was doing commendable work, than here at home. (I heard rumors that the university did have a president, and a friend in journalism used to joke about doing a headline in the Golden Gator announcing a “Corrigan sighting” on campus.) Later, as an employee of the university, where Dr. Corrigan was essentially my boss but insulated with many layers of middle managers, my perception of him and awareness of his direction of the university slowly grew. As I developed professionally with increasing responsibilities I had sparse direct contact but was learning what was important to him. (For example, a successful commencement “makes the boss happy,” and it’s nice to get his acknowledgement each year for a job well done — SF State has an awesome campus-wide team headed by Norma Siani, who has been here more than 50 years.) For the past 10 years, as a union leader on campus, I have dealt directly with his manager-representatives always wondering how much their positions were informed by his wishes. Again, not having any direct contact and certainly never meeting with him to discuss staff issues like I understand the faculty do regularly and other non-faculty staff leaders do on other campuses in the CSU.



In the last few months, with the growth of the Alliance for the CSU, I’ve had more direct contact with him than all the previous years combined. We lobbied state elected officials together and shared the stage to rally the campus behind the effort to get the CSU adequately funded and to stop the student fee increases in the state budget battle. Now, he regularly calls upon me for my staff-informed perspective when I attend the University Budget Committee meetings as a concerned bystander. I’ve always enjoyed his writings and speeches and I sometimes feel that the rest of campus should know about them. But you have to seek them out. His last two convocation speeches were very moving. He spoke personally and passionately about his own experiences in academia and how the Civil Rights Movement shaped his life. But the listeners were primarily new faculty and administrators. For the most part, the rest of the campus has no idea who he is and what makes him tick.


On some crucial questions I can only surmise where he stands. Where is he on the major issues facing all universities: the corporate takeover of America and universities being relegated to “serving the master” producing cogs to fit corporate wheels rather than turning out informed, critical-thinking citizens in our quasi-democratic experiment with nationhood? The expansive growth of the development office in the last ten years could be merely an indication of necessity and expediency; are there any attendant concerns for the integrity of the institution? I can only hope. From my experience there is a marked disconnect between the administration of the university and the legacy of SF State as a part of the 1960-era questioning of the status quo. True, we have the only college-level ethnic studies department but maybe it should be an ethnicity and worker studies college. How are the lowest among us treated and how do the intersections with race and gender play out right under our noses every day?


In the end it comes down to this. A university structure is the last vestige of feudalism and Corrigan is the lord of the manor. However, even Corrigan himself is still but a worker (true, a very privileged one with lots of say over his own and other’s lives comparative to say a janitor), but a worker with less job security than I have because he is an at-will employee and I have collective bargaining protections. Ultimately, even he, as powerful as he may seem, has to answer to the king.