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The Unnamed Co-op Value: Gritty

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Calvin Coolidge, the US President that symbolized the 1920s, has been credited with this statement: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

I think of that quote often when working with co-ops, especially these days. Embracing the values and principles of the co-operative identity is important; however, it is not enough. The people stepping in to create a new co-op or convert an existing business into a co-op also need the value of perseverance. This value, while not stated in either the ICA’s Statement or Mondragón’s list of principles, plays a deciding role in the success or failure of a cooperative. In many ways, it is the expression of this value that creates the cooperative difference of worker co-ops.

Perhaps the essence of being “gritty” provides a more working class way of thinking about perseverance. The value of Gritty combines with that of Solidarity, Self-repsonsibility, and Mutual Self-help to create an almost unstoppable force. The synergy of these values combined in the leadership of an organization can overcome so much.

A co-op, that I worked with, was struggling a bit, but making a go of it. About a month after adding a new director to the board, almost everyone else on the board quit (for personal reasons) leaving this person holding the bag. I would have completely understood if they just left as well (since they really hadn’t anything invested). Instead they pushed forward, recruited new leaders, got the co-op operational and made it a successful and well-respected co-op in its sector.

I see this a lot. I usually encourage people who seek to start a co-op to find a group of five people who will be champions. By champions, I mean, really, the people who are gritty enough to see it through to the end. Why five, because the value of gritty is expressed differently in every person and life gets in the way: a family member becomes ill, a once in a lifetime opportunity arrives, and people discover that the project doesn’t really tap into their gritty after all. The value of grittiness doesn’t manifest until it is needed, so we can only guess and hope.

Today, as our co-ops fight hard to survive the covid-19 pandemic, the gritty manifests. My day job supports a number of co-ops and part of that now includes helping to promote their covid-19 survival models and the US Federation of Worker Co-ops also promotes the efforts of these gritty co-ops.

Stay Gritty!

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michelslm
6 days ago
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It takes a whole world to create a new virus, not just China | Laura Spinney

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Viruses such as Covid-19 wouldn’t emerge in food markets if it wasn’t for factory farming, globalised industry and rapid urbanisation

  • Laura Spinney is the author of The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World

When I get stressed, a patch of annoying red eczema appears on the inside of my upper right arm. The doctor gives me some cream to rub on it, but I also know that to stop it coming back I have to deal with the underlying problem.

Too much information, you’re thinking, but let me make the analogy. The reason we shouldn’t call the Sars-CoV-2 virus causing global misery the “Chinese virus” is the same reason I shouldn’t blame my eczema on my upper arm: there is clearly a superficial weakness there, but the real cause lies elsewhere.

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michelslm
9 days ago
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On Coronavirus, Beware the Totalitarian Temptation

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Totalitarianism is Stalin and Hitler, the NKVD and the Gestapo, the Gulag and the death camp. Correct, but take another look. It is also an eternal temptation that has infected Western minds great and small—from Martin “Sieg Heil!” Heidegger to Jean-Paul Sartre, who pitched for Communism until the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution. Among the lesser minds, Charles Lindbergh cozied up to Hitler, and Joseph Davies, the U.S. Ambassador to the USSR, penned a ringing apologia for Stalin’s Great Terror in Mission to Moscow. The book was turned into an even more awful movie. Add a herd of Western devotees and camp followers who cheered Mussolini, Mao, Castro, Che, and, lately, Hugo Chávez—this Stalinist caudillo attracted effusive praise from the actor Sean Penn.

Which takes us to China’s President Xi Jinping and an up-to-date example of cheerleading for the almighty state. While in Beijing, the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom extolled China as a model in the war against SARS-CoV-2, better known as “coronavirus.” According to China’s state media, he gushed that “China’s speed . . . and efficiency . . . is the advantage of China’s system.” The country deserved “praise” and “admiration” for its methods in routing the silent enemy that has spread the COVID-19 epidemic from Wuhan to Milan, from Alberta to Auckland.

Such an éloge needs to be tempered. First of all, the world owes the most recent iteration of the coronavirus to China, more precisely to Wuhan and its “wet markets” whence it sprang forth from bats, a delicacy of the local cuisine. That calamity may be ascribed to Chinese culture. But what followed was owed to the very system cheered by the WHO boss. 

By the end of December, health workers warned that something was afoot. Yet totalitarians hate bad news, that’s in their DNA. Suppressing the reports, they blamed the messengers and detained them. There was “speed,” but the wrong kind. Instead of locking up the doctors, the regime might have closed down Wuhan Airport, which serves 32 cities around the world, including Paris, London, Rome, Seoul, Tokyo, and Sidney. With flights operating into February, the virus forged ahead while precious time was lost. In mid-March, the regime tried fake news, a classic agitprop tool, with the foreign ministry insinuating that the “U.S. army had brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” 

So, why would the WHO director (and plenty of others) applaud the Communist emperor Xi? Because of political expediency, for one. You don’t bite the hand you need to feed in order to contain the Wuhan Virus. But China seems to be making up for its sins. Apparently, new cases have plummeted from 2,400 during the last week in February to single digits in mid-March. So, three cheers for the superiority of a totalitarian system?

But South Korea is the world’s number one when it comes to testing, which is critical for controlling the virus. Taiwan has slowed its spread. In Iran, though, a harsh theocracy whose tentacles reach deeply into society, new infections are on a steep rise. So totalitarian systems aren’t necessarily super-efficient, while supposedly chaotic democracies are hardly doomed.

The price of what Xi calls a “people’s war” is horrendous. To boot, Beijing’s strategy can be pursued only by a totalitarian state, but not by a democracy. Essentially, the state has locked up half a billion people, most harshly in and around Wuhan. It dispatched armies of enforcers to guard the access to residential compounds and to restrict movement within. 

The regime deployed digital surveillance systems no liberal polity would or could countenance, and rightly so. The government tapped into data from state-run mobile companies as well as from payment apps that record “who, when, and where,” so that fugitives can be traced and collared. Regime minions intrude on what is known in the West as “my home is my castle” to record body temperatures, presumably hauling suspects off to detention facilities—for their own good, of course. Tech companies have developed apps with a kind of traffic light. “Green” is good, “yellow” is a warning, “red” is bad. Guards use the color coding to block movement at railroad stations and traffic nodes.

The darkest side of the “people’s war” is sheer repression. Ren Zhiqiang, a prominent Beijing tycoon, had been blasting Xi for extinguishing free speech. Too bad for him that he now ran afoul of an all-out Party campaign to quash criticism about the government’s fake- or no-news strategy. Ren accused the state of having accelerated the epidemic that had claimed innumerable lives. He might as well have committed treason. So, Ren has suddenly disappeared, which is a swift way to silence “enemies of the people.”

State control of information is a bridge to oppression democracies must never cross. Freedom of expression is among the holiest of holies in a liberal polity. An indispensable check on arbitrary power, free media also happen to be eminently useful in national emergencies, exposing error, mismanagement, and falsehood. It was the absence of free media in China that enabled the regime to muzzle the whistleblowers of Wuhan at such a murderous price.

How are those bungling democracies doing? Italy has virtually copycatted China’s anti-virus warfare, practically locking down the entire country. Spain has followed, as has France—though with a 15-day limit for the time being. Other EU members will surely go the same route. They are successively dismantling “Schengenland,” the EU’s borderless realm, reasserting national control. Yet such constraints are being imposed without the totalitarian tools of the Chinese. In deploying the powers of the state, Western governments have illuminated a peculiar advantage of democracies. To combat crises, they need not resort to police-state tactics. 

If governments communicate truthfully with the people, the ruled do what needs to be done voluntarily. Look around the democratic world. People self-quarantine at home and stay away from large crowds. They accept curbs on their freedom such as closed bars, restaurants, theaters, and stores except those establishments that sustain life in deadly times: food, drug, and pet stores (animals have to eat, too). They keep social distance and walk alone rather than in pairs.

Competitive sports unfold in empty stadiums whence games are broadcast. Operas and concerts are streamed. Companies shift to home office work and video-conferencing on their own. Schools close according to local determination, and the government provides emergency day care so that parents can continue to work in critical places like hospitals. It isn’t all voluntary, of course. But there is still a difference between Wuhan and Milan. Carabinieri don’t act as prison guards, but ask for cash receipts that prove a trip to the pharmacy. When venturing outside, the choice is still yours; this is the critical difference. You are not manhandled or dragged off to jail. Instead you pay a fine of 200 euros ($224). 

If you feel mistreated, you can appeal to the courts. The rule of law does not yield to unchecked power. It is “gentle persuasion” that comes with incentives. In Munich, for instance, stores that must lock up for a while enjoy the benefits of the welfare state. Rules on short-time work kick in. The social security system makes up for reduced wages.

Beyond such anecdotes, there is a larger point: the irreducible trade-off between freedom and safety. Despots don’t have to deal with such conflicts. For them, the security of the state—and their regime—is über alles. Let the people pay the price. Authoritarians love crises—or regularly manufacture them—because these justify untrammeled power. The logic is all too familiar. Posit a supreme evil, and all other values must be betrayed: freedom of expression and movement, property rights, judicial review, individual autonomy, political competition, due process. Rule of Law? Not when the enemy is at the gate, and certainly not when he is already roaming the land.

Liberal polities, alas, are not immune to the temptation. Listen to the prophets of planetary doom who want an all-powerful state that would do away with constitutional restraints and unfettered politics for the sake of the earth. Don’t quibble when the house is on fire; seek salvation in “eco dictatorship.” On a less cosmic level, there is Benjamin Netanyahu, who was first in the democratic world to impose a draconian regimen in the corona crisis. Why Israel of all places? Unable to cobble together a coalition, the Prime Minister faces a virus of his own: his criminal indictment and looming loss of office. And lo, he invoked the epidemic to demand an emergency government headed by him for six or even 24 months. A scoundrel who thinks evil of it.

It could happen here, too—which is all the more reason to resist the authoritarian temptation. What are the antidotes? All emergency measures must come with a sunset clause. Protect the freedom of the press at all costs. Set new dates for postponed elections now. Keep holding officials accountable. Secure the separation of powers. The rule is to persuade, not to impose. Defy the pied papers who stoke panic and hysteria in order to deconstruct the liberal state. 

Do not forget that three viruses are in play. One infects the human body, the other the body politic, and the third the economy. Close it down, and the enemy passes from the human bloodstream into the vulnerable creature called “supply and demand.” This is not a financial crisis as in 2008, which is why infusing trillions of liquidity is not working. As a result of sequestration and insulation, production is plunging, and so are consumption and jobs—the life forces of the economy. These are real, not virtual phenomena like stock market busts.

Disease and death are real, too. But if the economy grinds to a halt as consequence of a progressive shutdown, material misery creeps forward. Its relentless advance will also cause sorrow and distress, unleashing a kind of epidemic not seen since the Great Depression when people could no no longer pay their bills or keep their homes. Thus the imperative is to balance not only freedom and safety, but also anti-virus warfare and economic well-being. There is no either-or, damn the consequences.

A system based on the consent of the governed is messy. But it is working throughout the West. The democracies are far better equipped to strike the right balance between health, wealth, and liberty. China’s Xi need not lose any sleep over this three-cornered conflict of values. Yet Western leaders must crack the trilemma for a simple but compelling reason, which is to keep the state of emergency from escalating into a panic and then jelling into a New Normal. Let China be China, but take a daily dose of vaccine against the virus of state supremacy. As seductive as the authoritarian therapy may look, it may cripple the patient known as “Liberal Democracy.”

The post On Coronavirus, Beware the Totalitarian Temptation appeared first on The American Interest.

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michelslm
17 days ago
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Do you like containers?

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michelslm
27 days ago
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milky way

Advertising is a cancer on society

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A detailed explanation of why I keep saying that advertising is a cancer on modern society.
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michelslm
44 days ago
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Why the Democratic and Republican Establishments Can’t Stop Insurgents

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For decades, political parties have been hollowed out by the forces of neoliberalism and social atomization. Now, in the era of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, they’re in crisis — and they have only themselves to blame.


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Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell stand for the presentation of colors during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the US Capitol on January 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

No matter the final count in Iowa, it’s clear Sanders is emerging as the front-runner in the Democratic primary. If he does win the nomination, the presidential race will express a uniquely American version of the wider crisis of authority facing representative democracies.

Consider the fact that both Trump and Sanders will be leaders of parties that they did not belong to in any significant way prior to running. They will both lead parties whose major figures and leading apparatchiks did what they could to stop Sanders/Trump. These will be parties to which neither candidate paid the dues of time and effort: parties that they did not rise up in, rendering the normal relationships of mutual obligation and favor-owing more or less inoperative. All of this makes each of these nominees leaders that are far harder for the party to discipline and control. And, further, it is the source of their appeal to major segments of their party.

These will be candidates elected because the gap between the party establishment and its membership has grown so large that one of their greatest appeals is that they did not follow the rules. If Sanders really is nominated, we will have seen the internal revolt of party members and fellow travelers against the party officialdom in both parties, achieved by selecting someone about as far outside the party as possible: a real estate mogul–cum–reality TV host with no political past and purely nominal party affiliations, and a self-proclaimed socialist who had never before run on the Democratic ticket (prior to 2016) and who remained an Independent even after his first run. It’s interesting to ask why this is happening. Why are the parties being taken over by leaders who are not real members of that party?

As various political scientists, most famously Peter Mair, have long pointed out, the capacity of many major political parties to represent their traditional constituencies in a democratic way has been in decline for a few decades. Peter Mair called it “ruling the void” — political elites and their parties retreat from their constituencies, seeking alternative ways of ruling, while their members withdraw their consent in various ways. In some countries, this has taken the form of the collapse of traditional parties (e.g. the French and Italian Socialists), the growth of new ones (AfD in Germany, Podemos in Spain, Front National in France, Lib Dems and UKIP/BP in UK), and the rise of more ad hoc parties as personal vehicles for national leaders (La République En Marche for Macron, various Italian formations like Berlusconi’s Forza Italia/Grillo’s Five Star, Mélenchon’s France Insoumise).

There are important national variations in these developments. But what Mair noticed about all of them was that there was an important decline in party loyalty, increasing distance between leadership and membership, ideological disorganization of existing parties, all symptomatic of the deeper hollowing out of the parties themselves. Where political parties were created to represent segments of society to the state, they had over time become ways of representing the state to society. The more they functioned to limit and control their members and their aspirations, the less they could serve their properly representative functions and the harder it was for members to control their parties.

We are currently watching the American variation of this process take place. If Sanders wins the nomination, he completes the process of outsiders taking over the parties through the internal revolt of the membership. That has necessarily been the American version of “ruling the void.” There have been failed bids by figures like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader, either outside any party or from very marginal third parties, to break through the two-party monopoly in the United States. But these are mostly notable for how resistant American political institutions are to third-party challenges relative to other democracies. In fact, the legal repression of third parties in the United States is enormous, unmatched in any industrial democracy — one of the many intensely undemocratic features of our “democracy.” I would go so far as to say legal repression of third parties has become a fundamental, though relatively silent, feature of our political constitution. (The historical development of that legal repression was documented by Jacobin’s Seth Ackerman in his 2016 article “A Blueprint for a New Party.” It served as the legal complement to the violent repression of radical elements of the labor and more militant left movements in the twentieth century.)

This legal repression has reinforced the pragmatic, catch-all, anti-ideological character of the major parties, especially the Democrats. Their regional diversity has allowed them to represent very different groups and combine major segments of capital — like finance and tech — with labor organizations. Never seriously threatened by competitor parties on either side, while retaining a regional flexibility, they have become even more sclerotic and distant party organizations. They have been able to take their “base” — e.g. unions and minorities in the Democratic Party — for granted because they can more or less hold them hostage: you can’t outflank us to the left, and the other guys are worse.

On the one hand, this has meant that the two parties suffer an even more extreme version of the internal decay characteristic of the “void” — they do not face the same costs of failure, not quite the same pressures of internal renewal and of creating real lines of accountability and control. After all, they might lose an election, but not lose the political space they occupy; they have no rivals. On the other hand, it has left only one feasible option to those who wish to challenge the two-party status quo: internal colonization or, a variant, destroy the party from within to create political space for a new party.

This has all taken place during the primaries because of a further oddity of the American party system: we don’t have separate processes for choosing party leaders and for electing presidents, one reason why the electoral season is so fucking long. The internal party debates about what their program should be and procedures for selecting leaders are fused to an electoral process. When you add together the internal decay of the major parties, the legal repression of third parties, the amorphousness of party organizations, and the confusions of party leadership contests and national elections, you get a totally overheated and overextended primary in which, now, both parties face internal colonization. This also explains the brittleness of the party response, the mixture of bias, corruption, and incompetence, and the grasping around for a savior, as they face these challenges.

This same development has taken place at the level of the media. While it is often said that technology is destroying the influence and control of the mainstream media, by proliferating sources of news and opinion, I think that is only half the story. The point is also the declining authority of major media outlets to control narratives and shape debate. Think of the failure of nerve by the New York Times in its dual endorsement of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, or CNN’s failed attempt to hype the Warren-Sanders dustup, or wider evidence of declining trust in leading sources of opinion. The freak-out about online aggression by Bernie Sanders supporters is, in part, a reaction to losing control over prevailing mores and the terms of political discourse. So, too, is the anxiety about Joe Rogan saying he’ll vote for Bernie — Rogan, whose eleven million followers is larger than the viewership of all five Democratic debates combined. Given the fairly loose formal structure of the mainstream parties, the media has served a role in shaping and policing the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. They can’t stand the fact that they are powerless both against Trump’s know-nothing vulgarity and Sanders’s Teflon socialism.

The only difference between the Trump effect and the Bernie effect is that, in the end, Trump has ended up ruling as a more or less conventional Republican on the core issues of value to the party — taxes, judges, business regulation — with some departure on matters of trade and a slightly less militaristic posture. The jury is out on what Bernie’s ultimate effect will be, but he represents a far greater challenge to the Democratic Party. He leads a more organized movement far more ready to take over and transform party structures — or possibly break it apart if resistance from the New Democrat/Clinton/Obama wing is too great. Should that happen, the Democrats will have brought it upon themselves and they will deserve it. Having held their own constituencies in relative disdain, held its base hostage, and done everything they could to freeze out and repress the Left, the Democrats left no other choice but what has become the Bernie strategy. Take the party over.

It’s true, the Democrats are caught in a wider process of political decay and transformation reshaping all the industrial democracies. But it is the parties, and at this moment the Democratic establishment in particular, that are responsible for turning this into an internal revolt. I see few signs that they are in any sense aware of the forces they are caught up in and the role they have played in this process. Part of why I support Bernie is that he brings this process to a head, forces out into the open differences that otherwise have been smoothed over. Given the constraints on American party politics listed above, it is unclear to me that there would have been any other way to really test the limits of existing institutions and show the real character of the ruling parties.


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michelslm
51 days ago
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The void of US politics
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