Tag Archives: War

Bill Henderson – The Decline of the PeopleLaw Sector (037)

Link to an article by Bill Henderson:

“The Decline of the PeopleLaw Sector (037)”

 

This article conveys some useful factual information, but the commentary is troublingly limited.  The article states, “Our legal system as it pertains to ordinary people is unraveling.  *** No amount of tinkering at the edges is going to fix or reverse these trends. Instead, we need a series of fundamental redesigns.”  It then proceeds to suggest…tinkering at the edges.  The fundamental problem with the article is that it depoliticizes a fundamentally political issue, and then proceeds to suggest at most technocratic fixes at the edges that don’t touch the underlying political question.  That question?  Well, anti-labor, pro-business and pro-finance policies are at the heart of the so-called neo-liberal political project, inaugurated by things like the Trilateral Commission’s report warning about an “excess of democracy” or the infamous Powell Memo.  The decline of what Henderson calls the “PeopleLaw Sector” is just a small corollary to the intended political policies of neoliberalism, which tends to be just a financialized version of the exclusionary logic of liberalism — which has always promoted economic polarization.  Anyway, the root problem is the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of corporations and a small plutocratic elite.  Lawyers (like so many others!) generally follow the money, and also seek prestige, and most lawyers won’t be swayed by exhortations and moral chiding to forego money and prestige.  And frankly, the economic base for them to do so is shaky and limited without changes to the economy that are only possible in the realm of politics.  Henderson links to an article by Deborah Merritt, which further emphasizes minor technocratic fixes, mostly surrounding law school education.  Neither article addresses the problem of decreasing public funding for schools, including law schools, which has the (intended) effect of pushing lawyers to accept corporate jobs to pay off the staggering tuition costs (increasingly pushed away from the state and onto students). Pierre Bourdieu usefully developed the metaphor of the left hand and the right hand of the state to make a similar point.

Henderson is correct, to a point, that “we are either going to redesign our legal institutions or they will fail.”  (Assuming he means they fail for most people; the current institutions are quite effective for the so-called “1%” [or really the “0.001%”] at present).  But redesigns to legal institutions without large redesigns of political institutions that shape the overall economy will produce no long-term changes.  But of course, Henderson doesn’t seem to want that.  He writes about finding “creative ways to restore the balance.”  What historical balance, precisely, is he referring to?  Is this yet another (implied) invocation of the post-WWII “golden years” of prosperity, which depended on things like the destruction of industrial capacity in much of the world, racial discrimination, sexism/patriarchy, wanton environmental destruction, etc.?  I don’t think there was a time in the past that we can say had anything close to a reasonable “balance” in the American legal system.  Reference to “balance” is just coded language in a a way parallel to the slogan “Make America great again.”

I guess, in short, my major concern is that Henderson seems to suggest narrowly framing symptoms of class warfare in the legal sector as root problems that permit sufficient technocratic fixes solely within the legal sector, bracketing out the larger society-wide political dimension of class warfare (and avoiding a class-based materialist analysis in general) that better explains the origins of the (very real) downstream symptoms he chronicles in the legal sector.  For the kind of analysis I would like to see Henderson engage in, see Jeffrey Reiman’s …And the Poor Get Prison (which deals just with criminal justice).  

Matt Bruenig & Ryan Cooper – How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth

Link to an article by Matt Bruenig & Ryan Cooper:

“How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth”

 

As is typical for writing in Jacobin, this article includes a section at the end that draws conclusions unsupported by the body of the article.  For example, the authors state, “No political obstacle stood between President Obama and a better housing policy.”  The article does not address political factors at all, so this is a bald assertion without support.  It also is questionable.  While certain other studies have established how the Democrats during Obama’s era have courted Wall Street and other banking/finance donors, if you follow (for example) Thomas Ferguson‘s “Golden Rule” theory about “investment” in elections, which holds (in greatly simplified form) that politicians are vetted by moneyed interests and masses are too poor to be able to influence the choices offered in an election, then the authors would need to establish that Obama could have raised the same or more money elsewhere (Bernie Sanders’ small donor approach seems like the closest and easiest comparison point).  This also requires an assumption that Obama and the Democrats care/cared about long-term consequences, rather than limiting themselves to short-term thinking (e.g., sacrificing the future for a near-term win) — which is normative.  That criticism aside, the linked article does do a good job illustrating how the problem discussed is fundamentally political in character.

Shamus Cooke – History Blinded by Anti Socialism

It never ceases to amuse me how the insight of philosophy and psychoanalysis that ideology determines what is or is not a “fact” is proven again and again.  As Rex Butler put it,

“in the analysis of ideology, it is not simply a matter of seeing which account of reality best matches the ‘facts’, with the one that is closest being the least biased and therefore the best. As soon as the facts are determined, we have already — whether we know it or not — made our choice; we are already within one ideological system or another. The real dispute has already taken place over what is to count as the facts, which facts are relevant, and so on.”

Along these lines, Shamus Cooke has reviewed Ken Burns & Lynn Novick‘s mini-series The Vietnam War (2017):

“History Blinded by Anti Socialism: Ken Burns’ Vietnam”

The general tone of Cooke’s criticism reflects this statement by Malcolm X:

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

 

Bonus quote:

“How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world!”

Che Guevara, “Message to the Tricontinental,” April 16, 1967

 

Bonus links: The Battle of Chile and “It’s a Fact: Supreme Court Errors Aren’t Hard to Find” (this article engages in a certain kind of criticism that is largely blind to the issue Butler described)