Tag Archives: economy

David Koch and the Limits of Tolerance

“I believe in gay marriage.” So, in an interview with Politico last week, GOP megadonor David Koch came out in support of marriage equality. His remarks were widely reported as a “break” from the official Republican party line and Mitt Romney’s position on gay marriage. But Koch “joins a near-majority of young Republicans under the age of 35 who support marriage equality,” according to Human Rights Campaign. Among libertarians, gay marriage tends to be a non-issue. There’s little reason to be surprised or scandalized.

The whole affair reminds me of an exchange that Peter Hallward had in an interview with Noam Chomsky a short while ago. Chomsky and Hallward are talking about gains in the areas of human and civil rights, Chomsky maintaining that “the country has become a lot more civilized” in the past forty or fifty years, since the 1960s.

“Elementary rights” – Chomsky mentions women’s rights and gay rights, and the repeal of anti-sodomy laws – “were more or less marginalized until pretty recently, but now we can almost take them for granted.” (My emphasis here would be on almost.) Hallward readily concedes that human and civil rights gains were “hard won,” but hastens to add that ultimately “they don’t conflict with class interests.” Chomsky concurs:

The ruling classes are able to accommodate civil and human rights, pretty easily. In fact if you look at the opinions of CEOs, you find that their social attitudes tend to be fairly liberal. These things don’t affect their position. When you start to touch on questions relating to authority and the concentration of power in the system you run into more challenging barriers. But still, the freedoms that exist elsewhere give you the opportunity to work against those barriers.

Along with his brother Charles, David Koch certainly represents a concentration of power in the system. So does Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who recently appeared in a Human Rights Campaign video advocating same-sex marriage. “America’s corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and is the right thing to do,” says Blankfein in the video, urging us to join him “and the majority of Americans who support marriage equality.” And there is no reason to doubt Blankfein means what he says here. The Goldman CEO has helped advance legislation for marriage equality in New York, and under his leadership Goldman has made it a policy to reimburse employees for the extra taxes they pay on domestic partner benefits. (And that’s a draw for talented people – a big plus for Goldman.)

All this might lend Goldman the aura of a “socially responsible” company. But it’s worth noting that this issue is a good distance from the space where Goldman operates. “If Mr. Blankfein was taking a radical stand on pay you could say wow, that’s big,” Paul Argenti said when asked to comment on Blankfein’s video appearance. “But [marriage] equality is simply not an issue you associate with Goldman.” Advocating for marriage equality likely won’t raise serious questions about the role Goldman plays in the system of global finance, or the influence the investment bank exercises over American economic policy. (Those issues, by the way, are the focus of a new documentary based on Marc Roche’s book The Bank: How Goldman Sachs Rules the World, set to air on tonight on the French-German Television channel, Arte.)

Of course it’s better to have business moguls and power brokers like Koch and Blankfein join hands with young Republicans on the side of marriage equality or civil and human rights. No doubt about it. But before we break out into a chorus of Kumbayah it’s important to consider the limits of their tolerance – which is essentially what Chomsky is asking us to do – and ask where they draw the line. That’s where they will come out to fight.

Rick Santorum, Etymologist

Words are not Rick Santorum’s friends. The Republican presidential candidate has the distinction of having had his own name turned against him. He pleaded — to no avail – with Google to cleanse the Internet of the “filth” associated with santorum.

Now Mr. Santorum has turned to etymology. In the most recent Republican debate, he argued that the real trouble with the economy is the breakdown of the American family. For advancing this view, he was predictably pilloried by the left and praised by the right. Both sides, however, seem to have given him a pass on one argument he advanced.

“The word ‘home’ in Greek is the basis of the word ‘economy.’ It is the foundation of our country,” Santorum said. “You can’t have limited government, you can’t have a limited government, if the family breaks down.

Technically, Santorum is correct: we derive our English word “economy” from oikos (household) and nomos (law); economy involves the ordering or dispensation of the household.

But the ancient Greek household – with its patriarchal order, its separate and unequal quarters and roles for men and women, and its slaves, who did the household chores and, on larger estates, worked the fields– is not the happy suburban home Santorum would like to associate himself with in his campaign for the presidency.

Who knows? Maybe there is a patriarchal, pro-slavery, plantation-owning constituency out there, waiting for someone to take a stand on its behalf.

So maybe all is not lost. Santorum can probably find fodder for his family-values argument in the observation that Greek lawmakers took an interest in promoting marriage, the main object of which was perpetuation of the oikos through child-bearing and child-rearing. That regressive view of the household and of women’s place in the world might not win him the women’s vote; but he wasn’t going to win that anyway.

Is Occupy Wall Street the Real Values Voter Summit?

If it accomplishes nothing else, Occupy Wall Street creates an extraordinary opportunity for a conversation about American values. This became clear to me yesterday morning as I was reading about the Values Voter Summit and tweeted:

#OWS 99% are value voters, too. #vvs

My thoughts had drifted from Values Voters to voters’ values, from the “Premier Conservative Event of 2011” at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC to Zuccotti Park, where people have been gathering to protest a whole multitude of outrages. Some are ridiculous and confused; some are dead serious. All, however, are pretty unanimous in their denunciation of greed – which is as good a place as any to start a conversation about the values we need to promote, embrace, recognize and celebrate in order to prosper. This is, I believe, a conversation we need to start now, and continue long after all the protestors have left Zuccotti Park.

Minutes after my tweet, someone named Dan Gainor (who, I have since learned, is a right-wing flack) shot back:

@lvgaldieri #OWS supports the WRONGvalues. #OWS #VVS

And that’s how the conversation started. When I asked what values he thought were being promoted by the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gainor said the protestors were intent on “crushing Wall St. and wrecking capitalism”:

@dangainor well how do you suppose they are going to accomplish that? And capitalism regularly wrecks itself without much help, doesn’t it?

@lvgaldieri Well Anonymous has vowed an attack on stock exchange. So perhaps they intend terrorist acts. Ask them.

Huh?

so for @dangainor, OWS = Anonymous =Terrorists? Have you informed DHS yet?

@lvgaldieri I think they know already.And yes, making threats against the US economy and govt are acts of terrorists.

Had I previously heard of Gainor, I might not have been surprised by this exchange. Instead, I found myself heading down a rabbit hole, and through the right-wing looking glass. On the one side, American capitalists; on the other, the terrorists: which side are you on?

In playing the terrorism card, Gainor was referring to unconfirmed reports that Anonymous plans to take down the New York Stock Exchange today, October 10th. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the group has even been using Twitter “to solicit ideologically dissatisfied, sympathetic employees from within institutions in the financial sector.” But, a BusinessWeek report is quick to add, they haven’t found any: everyone within the financial sector is, I guess, ideologically satisfied.

A posting on Anonnews.org says the NYSE takedown, which surfaced in a Department of Homeland Security memo, “may or may not be a false flag operation initiated by authorities in order to discredit Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street”; as of this posting, a fire in a Mahwah, New Jersey data center seems to be the only source of technical trouble on the NYSE – a fire without ideological affiliation, I presume.

A few minutes after my initial exchange with Gainor, when some others had joined the fray and started exchanging insults, I tried to re-set: “no need for all the profanity. My original point: we should be having a conversation about values.” No reply.

I can’t say for certain, but I suspect that Gainor may not be terribly interested in pursuing that topic outside the confines of the Values Voter Summit – where people have the right values. I have come to think that he is a hacker in his own right, a social hacker, out to sabotage civility — in this case by making lots of noise around Occupy Wall Street, and tarring all the protestors with the terrorist brush.

Why? Perhaps because he thinks of himself as a great defender of the American way, but more likely because he wants to prevent or undermine any genuine, thoughtful conversation about values that we might have — in the street, in our living rooms, in bars and in offices, in malls and barbershops and coffee shops.

And this is, unfortunately, a tack others have taken, and on much grander scale. The major news media continue to wonder what Occupy Wall Street is really all about. What could be the trouble? The Wall Street Journal dismissed the protestors as a bunch of “ne’er do wells.” Cries of class warfare and ominous warnings from the likes of Representative Peter King have only compounded the fault.

Those who demonize or mock the Occupy Wall Street protestors for some of the more naïve-sounding and inchoate demands issuing from their midst– or for the sheer lack of demands – do us all a disservice.

The demonstrations on Wall Street and in cities around the country – like those in cities around the world — are a distress signal. SOS. We ignore it at our peril.