From Down With Tyranny:
Corey Robin, author of The Conservative Mind is one of the most credible scholars on the pathology of conservatism and neo-conservatism. In the introduction to that book, Robin wrote that "[w]hen the conservative, looks upon a democratic movement from below, this (and the exercise of agency) is what he sees: a terrible disturbance in the private life of power. Witnessing the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Theodore Sedgwick lamented, "The aristocracy of virtue is destroyed; personal influence is at an end."... Conservatism, then, is not a commitment to limited government and liberty - or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue. These may be byproducts of conservatism, one or more of its historically specific and ever-changing modes of expression. But they are not its animating purpose. Neither is conservatism a makeshift fusion of capitalists, Christians, and warriors, for that fusion is impelled by a more elemental force - the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere." Later in the book, he fleshed outer conservative mind more fully:
Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of the subordinate classes. It provides the most consistent and profound argument as to why the lower orders should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, agency, the prerogative of the elite.
Though it is often claimed that the left stands for equality while the right stands for freedom, this notion misstates the actual disagreement between right and left. Historically, the conservative has favored liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the lower orders. What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom, but its extension. For in that extension, he sees a loss of his own freedom. ... Such was the threat Edmund Burke saw in the French Revolution: not merely an expropriation of property or explosion of violence but an inversion of the obligations of deference and command. "The levellers," he claimed, "only change and pervert the natural order of things."
I always watch for his writings and this weekend he penned an essay on the presidential campaign for JacobinMag.com. Like many of us, he's worked up about how far the Clinton campaign is already swinging in dark, ugly directions and brought up the orchestrated smear campaign against Bernie, beginning with a few lines from Dan Roberts at The Guardian: "The dossier, prepared by opponents of Sanders and passed on to The Guardian by a source who would only agree to be identified as 'a Democrat,' alleges that Sanders 'sympathized with the USSR during the Cold War' because he went on a trip there to visit a twinned city while he was mayor of Burlington. Similar 'associations with communism' in Cuba are catalogued alongside a list of quotes about countries ranging from China to Nicaragua in a way that supporters regard as bordering on the McCarthyite rather than fairly reflecting his views.
This is becoming a straight-up rerun of the 1948 campaign against Henry Wallace. Except that Clinton is running well to the right of Truman and even, in some respects, Dewey. It seems as if Clinton is campaigning for the vote of my Grandpa Nat. There’s only one problem with this strategy: he’s been dead for nearly a quarter-century.
As was true of McCarthyism, it’s not really Sanders’s communism or his socialism that has got today’s McCarthyites in the Democratic Party worried; it’s actually his liberalism. As this article in the "NY Times" makes clear:
Some third party will say, ‘This is what the first ad of the general election is going to look like,’” said James Carville, the longtime Clinton adviser, envisioning a commercial savaging Mr. Sanders for supporting tax increases and single-payer health care. “Once you get the nomination, they are not going to play nice.”
A Sanders-led ticket generates two sets of fears among Clinton supporters: that other Democratic candidates could be linked to his staunchly liberal views, particularly his call to raise taxes, even on middle-class families, to help finance his universal health care plan; and that more mainstream Democrats would have to answer to voters uneasy about what it means to be a European-style social democrat.
Raising taxes to pay for popular social programs: that used to be the bread and butter of the Democratic Party liberalism. Now it’s socialism. And that - now it’s socialism - used to be the bread and butter of Republican Party revanchism. Now it’s Democratic Party liberalism.
Later in his essay he points to a Bloomberg poll for the "Des Moines Register" which hasn't gotten a lot of media attention but that shows 43% of likely Democratic caucus participants describe themselves as socialists, including 58% of Sanders’s supporters and about a third of Clinton’s. And it's not because so many Iowa families have roots in Scandinavia.
Senator Bernie Sanders’s speech on Thursday explaining his democratic socialist ideology carried little risk among supporters and other Democrats: A solid majority of them have a positive impression of socialism, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released this month.
Fifty-six percent of those Democratic primary voters questioned said they felt positive about socialism as a governing philosophy, versus 29 percent who took a negative view.
Robin's poem, "First They Came For...," indicates a certain dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party establishment that is echoed from coast to coast:
First they came for the Revolution
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Revolution.
Then they came for the Parliamentary Socialism
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Parliamentary Socialism.
Then they came for the Third Party
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Third Party.
Then they came for the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.
Then they came for the Green Lantern
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Green Lantern.
Then they came for me
but that was cool
because I’m a Democrat.
Jan. 23 2016
AMONG CRITICS OF TECHNOLOGICAL SURVEILLANCE there are two allusions so commonplace they have crossed into the realm of cliché. One, as you have probably already guessed, is George Orwell’s Big Brother, from 1984. The other is Michel Foucault’s panopticon — a vision, adapted from Jeremy Bentham, of a prison in which captives cannot tell if or when they are being watched. Today, both of these touchstones are considered chillingly prophetic. But in Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age, Bernard Harcourt has another suggestion: Both of them are insufficient.
1984, Harcourt acknowledges, was an astoundingly farsighted text, but Orwell failed to anticipate the role pleasure would come to play in our culture of surveillance — specifically, the way it could be harnessed, as opposed to suppressed, by powerful interests. Oceania’s “Hate Week” is nowhere to be found; instead, we live in a world of likes, favorites, and friending. Foucault’s panopticon, in turn, needs a similar update; mass incarceration aside, the panopticon — for the rest of us — has become participatory, more of an amusement park or shopping mall than a penal institution. Rather than being coerced to reveal secrets, today we seem to enjoy self-exposure, giving away “our most intimate information and whereabouts so willingly and passionately — so voluntarily.”_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Exposed is a welcome addition to the current spate of books about technology and surveillance. While it covers familiar ground — it opens with brief accounts of Facebook’s methods of tracking users, USAID’s establishment of ZunZuneo (a Twitter-like social network) in Cuba, and Edward Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s PRISM program — Harcourt’s contribution is uniquely indebted to critical theory.
Riffing on the work of another French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, and his evocative 1992 fragment “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Harcourt settles upon the phrase “Expository Society” to describe our current situation, one in which we “have become dulled to the perils of digital transparence” and enamored of exposure. This new form of expository power, Harcourt explains, “embeds punitive transparence into our hedonist indulgences and inserts the power to punish in our daily pleasures.”
The expository society has been long in the making. Its roots are in ancient Greece and Rome, where the “age of the spectacle” commenced and began its evolution. It is worth quoting Harcourt’s summary of this history at length:
To render something public was expensive, and so the ancients would gather together, amass themselves to watch, to share, to partake in a public act of entertainment. There was no replay button, nor were there any video feeds and no mechanical arts of reproduction. The modern era of surveillance, on the other hand, gave proof of the cost of security. To render secure was expensive, and so the moderns discovered ways to surveil more efficiently, to see everyone from a single gaze, to turn the arena inside out, to imagine the panopticon. In the digital age today, publicity has become virtually costless and surveillance practically free of charge.
And yet, while spectacles and surveillance may be “costless” and “practically free,” the expository society is fundamentally about profit. On the corporate side, the business models of companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Uber, and Amazon are based on the principle of user enjoyment. Social media, we all know from experience, is addictive; our pleasure is habit-forming by design.
This is the first crux of Harcourt’s argument: The expository society exploits, rather than represses, our desires. The second crux is his observation that government and commercial surveillance infrastructures have wholly merged.
One of the book’s more important chapters takes on the seemingly self-evident nature of the term “surveillance state,” which Harcourt argues is misleading. What we have, instead, is an “amalgam of the intelligence community, retailers, Silicon Valley, military interests, social media, the Inner Beltway, multinational corporations, midtown Manhattan, and Wall Street” that “forms an oligarchic concentration that defies any such reductionism.” Citing Glenn Greenwald, he notes that 70 percent of the United States’ national intelligence budget is spent on the private sector. “Whatever it is that is surveilling us, then, is not simply ‘the state,’” he writes. A more accurate image, he suggests, is a “tenticular oligarchy” — a “large oligopolistic octopus” enveloping the world, neither fully public nor fully private but both.
The expository society is indeed a paradoxical beast. Punishment and pleasure have fused, and commerce and surveillance are now one and the same (the convenience of GrubHub, Lyft, Paypal, Instagram, and AT&T is irresistible despite the troubling data-trails). Still, Exposed occasionally collapses categories and situations that are, despite their similarities, crucially distinct. For example, at multiple points Harcourt compares the Apple Watch to an ankle bracelet used for monitoring parolees: “The Apple Watch begins to function as the ankle bracelet.
All is seen, all can be seen, all can be monitored — inside or out, where we are, free or supervised, we are permanently surveilled.” It may be true that these tracking devices exist on a data-collection continuum. But the experiences of their respective users could not be more different — and this matters. A person wearing an Apple Watch may be transmitting information, including heart rate and location, that should give them pause, but they are not subjected to the same punitive gaze as a parolee or a prisoner under correctional supervision — or, for that matter, a laborer whose every movement on the job is tracked, or a welfare recipient whose purchases are assessed by a prying social worker. “Privacy,” Harcourt himself writes, “has been privatized.” It is becoming a luxury good, available only to those who can afford it.
Harcourt’s analysis hinges on desire: We want to participate, we are impelled to do so, and we like it. But it seems to me we are as much compelled as we are impelled. In my own work on new media, I have described this as a shift from the old model of “manufacturing consent,” where traditional broadcasters molded public opinion from on high, to one of “manufacturing compulsion,” where we are, at least superficially, in charge of our media destinies, clicking on whatever we choose.
In reality things aren’t so simple: Recommendation algorithms, advertising, and addictive interfaces all chip away at our autonomy in different manners. What’s more, we are forced to participate in online life in myriad ways. Students are advised to manage their social media profiles so they can get into a good college; adults are compelled to groom their LinkedIn profiles in order to secure employment; journalists and other creative professionals are told they must join Twitter to promote their work; and so on. Credit scores are a prime example of this logic of compulsion. We don’t manage our scores for fun but under threat of penalty, in the form of higher interest rates or fees. With a bevy of start-ups innovating new modes of consumer scoring — many of which use information from data brokers in ways that shrewdly bypass inadequate consumer protections — we may soon be induced to adapt our online behavior to accommodate them (for example, by not being “friends” with people the algorithms deem credit risks).
Understanding the degree to which we are compelled to participate, as opposed to lamenting the degree to which we desire our own oppression, is important if we want to devise strategies for resistance. Movements derive more energy from tapping into people’s grievances than chastising them for complacency.
The challenge — and this brings us to the book’s concluding section — is how the “disobedience” of Harcourt’s subtitle can effectively push back against expository power. Exposed closes on a hopeful note, pointing to pockets of resistance and successful rebels, all people worth celebrating: Chelsea Manning and "WikiLeaks," artists like Trevor Paglen and Laura Poitras, free software advocates such as Eben Moglen. But Harcourt’s proposed solutions are not entirely satisfying. He considers boycotting Facebook a radical act, and I disagree. If our goal is to build a robust movement capable of taking on the new power structure he describes, we will have to meet people, at least initially, where they are. More than 1 billion of them are on Facebook. A movement made up only of those savvy enough to congregate on more obscure and secure corners of the internet is destined to remain small. Mass mobilization is an important component of any serious strategy for social change.
On the final page of the book, Harcourt praises "Occupy Wall Street," not for its mission but for its supposedly leaderless form. (Some of us who were involved in Occupy might challenge that characterization.) The better lesson to take from Occupy is not its approach, which was imperfectly implemented and produced mixed results, but its willingness to challenge capitalism and inequality directly. Ultimately, the society of exposure that Harcourt criticizes is a symptom of the oligarchy’s escalating attack on democracy. The best solution may not be to combat surveillance directly, but to attack the disease: the arrangements that have allowed an unaccountable political and economic elite to emerge.
It is true, as Harcourt writes, that the “customary lines between politics, economics, and society are rapidly vanishing and melding into one”; it is true that the state has merged with corporate interests. But it is also true that the state remains one of the public’s most powerful weapons. If compelled by a powerful social movement, the state could aggressively enforce anti-trust regulations, pass a baseline cross-sector privacy law, enforce labor rights for employees of digital disruptors such as Uber, rein in the financial apparatus that has abetted the latest tech bubble with its massively inflated start-up valuations, and invest in public options such as municipal broadband (paid for, perhaps, with the taxes tech companies are currently dodging by sheltering assets overseas). Instead of merely hiding from the oligopolistic octopus, we should strive to free ourselves from its grip.
This article was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
That other egomaniac Manhattan billionaire with delusions of political grandeur, Mike Bloomberg, is talking seriously about running for president, "The New York Times," reports, even though it's clearly an exercise in futility:
Michael R. Bloomberg has instructed advisers to draw up plans for a potential independent campaign in this year’s presidential race. His advisers and associates said he was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side.
Keep reading - with regard to Hillary, it's not just about "stumbles."
... Mr. Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he would be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans.
... Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a poll in December to see how he might fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, and he intends to conduct another round of polling after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 to gauge whether there is indeed an opening for him, according to two people familiar with his intentions.
I wish I remembered which political journalist on Twitter pointed out that Bloomberg never actually released the results of that polling, or even leaked bits of what the poll uncovered - which means, this journalist noted, that the poll must have contained nothing to indicate that Bloomberg has a chance of winning.
Oh, but here's my favorite part of the "Times" story:
Mr. Bloomberg’s aides have sketched out one version of a campaign plan that would have the former mayor, a low-key and cerebral personality, deliver a series of detailed policy speeches, backed by an intense television advertising campaign that would introduce him to voters around the country as a technocratic problem-solver....Yeah, that's really what America wants this year, isn't it?
Beyond that? Bloomberg is uncharismatic. He's Jewish. He's not very tall. He has a (female) domestic partner whom he's never married. He's East Coast in a boring (Kerry/Dukakis) way rather than a pugnacious (Trump) way.
So what's this all about, besides Bloomberg's ego? Well, in part it's about the extremism, and alleged unelectability, of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the two front-runners on the GOP side. But beyond that, it's about ... leftist barbarians at the gates. And no, Bloomberg doesn't just mean Bernie Sanders:
If Republicans were to nominate Mr. Trump or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a hard-line conservative, and Democrats were to pick Mr. Sanders, Mr. Bloomberg ... has told allies he would be likely to run....
At the same time, these associates said, he has grown more frustrated with what he sees a race gone haywire. A longtime critic of partisan primary elections, Mr. Bloomberg has lamented what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s lurch to the left in her contest against Mr. Sanders, especially her criticism of charter schools and other education reforms that he pushed as mayor and has continued to support since leaving office.
With regard to Hillary, I don't think it's just the charter schools. She's made economic-left noises in this campaign, and Bloomberg doesn't like that sort of thing. Recall that he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but turned on the president not long afterward because the president was being mean to his precious Wall Streeters:
New York mayor Mike Bloomberg is outraged by Washington's attack on his city's primary source of tax revenue. And he has lobbed in a tit-for-tat plan to hold Congress accountable, too.Early polling doesn't tell us much about how Bloomberg would do, but there are hints in this Morning Consult poll:
Marcia Kramer, WCBS TV:
..."The mayor was so upset about the move ... he responded with a proposal of his own for members of Congress.
"Maybe we should hold back their salaries for a decade or so and see whether the laws they pass work out," Bloomberg said.
When pitted in a three-way race with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump gets 37 percent of voters, Democrat leader Hillary Clinton gets 36 percent and Bloomberg, an independent, gets 13 percent....So Bloomberg's presence in the race takes it from a Clinton victory to a Trump victory, although the margins are small. Cruz-Clinton-Bloomberg and Rubio-Clinton-Bloomberg are also surveyed, and we're told that "Clinton’s lead solidifies" with Bloomberg in the race, though we don't see the two-way results for comparison.
In a two-way race, Clinton edges out Trump by a 44 to 42 percent margin....
However, there's this:
Bloomberg’s favorability rating is +13 among Democrats (33 percent favorable, 20 percent unfavorable), +6 among independents (32 percent favorable, 26 percent unfavorable) and -9 among Republicans (26 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable).Those negative numbers among Republicans are the real problem. Republicans who follow politics closely don't care that he sticks up for big business, or that he presided over a decade of stop-and-frisk policing. They know two things about him: he's a passionate gun-control advocate and he wanted to take away everyone's Big Gulps. I don't care how much money he has, or how centrist his campaign is -- by November, GOP propaganda will make him as hated on the right as Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. They don't do "Bloomberg gun giveaways" in heartland America for nothing.
So Donald Trump is probably right:
... in an interview with ABC News that aired last weekend, Mr. Trump said he would welcome a presidential campaign by Mr. Bloomberg, whom he called “a friend” and “a great guy.”*****
Mr. Bloomberg, he predicted, would “take a lot of votes away from Hillary.”
But the fact that Bloomberg is far more likely to run if the race is Sanders-Trump or Sanders-Cruz (would he run if it were Sanders-Rubio?) tells me that Bernie would have a hell of a time winning a general election, in part because of Democrats, and people like Bloomberg who've voted Democratic in the past. There's an awful quote from Ed Rendell in the Times article:
In a three-way race featuring Mr. Sanders and Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Rendell said he might back the moderate former New York mayor.There's a lot of talk out there about a plot by centrist Democrats to deny Sanders the nomination. I'm less worried about that than I am about the possibility -- the likelihood? -- that influential Democrats and left-centrist pundits would reject Sanders in a general election, the way many rejected George McGovern in the 1972 presidential race and Ned Lamont in his 2006 Senate race against Joe Lieberman.
“As a lifelong Democrat, as a former party chairman, it would be very hard for me to do that,” he said. “But I would certainly take a look at it -- absolutely.”
Here's some fretting in an MSNBC story:
“I don’t know how you run a campaign in a southern or red state with a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket,” said the campaign manager for one red state Democrat. “It becomes near impossible to separate yourself enough to win over the conservative independents you need to win.”Here's Joe Klein writing for "Time:"
It’s a similar warning to the one raised this week by Clinton allies Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Rep. Steve Cohen – and people on the ground and in the trenches working to elect Democrats have an even more tactical view.
“I think it would be a nightmare, plain and simple,” said one former Blue Dog staffer current working on a statewide campaign in a state Obama did not win. “It’s something that’s starting to come up in conversation with decent regularly. People are concerned about what affect it would have on the entire rest of the ballot from state legislators to gubernatorial and Senate races.”
It is still far more likely that Clinton wins the Democratic nomination than Sanders -- but even Bernie should worry about his party strolling into the general election unwilling to distinguish itself from socialism. Indeed, the Democrats should worry about their attachment to big government, which, in America, has come to mean more unaccountable bureaucracy, like the Department of Veterans Affairs; more inefficiency, like the weird tangle of federal job-training programs, each more irrelevant than the last; and more perverse incentives, like welfare programs that ask for nothing–no personal responsibility–in return from their recipients. Big government is the way I was treated at the post office this afternoon.That reads as if it's intended to be a Bloomberg-for-president manifesto, even though the former mayor's name isn't mentioned once.
So we have this strange election: Republicans race toward know-nothing nativism, and Democrats stumble toward socialism. Both are reactionary, discredited ideas. I want my country back!
If Sanders is nominated and Bloomberg runs, "Morning Joe" and the Sunday talk shows are going to be given over to endless denunciations of socialism from the likes of Bob Kerry, Joe Manchin, Joe Lieberman, and Harold Ford. I'd love to think that Democratic voters wouldn't be swayed by all that, but an awful lot of rank-and-file Dems regard themselves as moderates. We know that's the case because our presidential elections skew Democratic even though Gallup regularly finds that far more Americans say they're conservatives than say they're liberals.
No, Bloomberg won't win. But he might gift-wrap the presidency for the GOP, with corporatist Democrats' help.