Friday, July 29, 2016

Spern the Bern: Bernie Whiffs

Bernie Sanders, who ran a campaign that was far more successful than any of the mainstream pundits prophesied, had the chance to make history at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week. When the rubber really hit the road, however, the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist who campaigned on the mother of all platforms, the inequality wrought by the economic and political dominance of the 1%, wimped out. Sanders had the chance to take his supporters out into the streets after Hillary Clinton won the rigged Democratic Primary systems, into alliance with the Green Party, a party that really does recognise the nefarious influence of the 1% on global politics, global economics, and global culture and will, if they can, do something about it. Instead Sanders whiffed, endorsing Hillary Clinton, an endorsement that is the equivalent of Bernie Sanders endorsing Enron or the investment banks that brought down the global economy in 2008. Needless to say, I will never trust Sanders or any of the other so-called socialist or left Democrat wimps like Elizabeth Warren again. With socialists like Sanders socialism, which has no future in the corporatist oriented Democratic Party, will only have a future in the US in spite of him not because of him.

At the beginning of this primary season there were some who suggested that Republican candidate Donald Trump was a plant in the Republican Party to throw the election to Hillary Clinton. I have begun to wonder whether Sanders was a plant in the Democratic Party to not only throw the election to Hillary Clinton who he treated with kid gloves, but also to bring young people into the Democratic Party in order to expand Clinton's Democratic base. Another possibility is that Bernie was threatened by the Democratic Party establishment in some way, shape, or form. The Clinton's and the Democrat's, after all, have proven themselves again and again to be machiavellians of the highest order second only to Republicans.

Musings on Political Doublespeak

It is somewhat interesting if endlessly repetitive to listen to political talking heads during the presidential contest season in the US. Why? Because nothing shows so clearly how apologetic and polemical bullshit is spun into potential pied piper electoral gold than discourse during the American presidential election season.

A few examples:
Exhibit A: The apologists and polemicists of the corporate Democratic establishment and Hillary Clinton are furiously spinning bullshit that it is dangerous for a foreign power, in this case Russia, which has been demonised in the US at least since WWI, to get hold of the emails Clinton "carelessly" posted on a private server while she was secretary of state. As anyone with half an empirical brain should recognise, however, if the emails are dangerous in the hands of the Russians then Clinton was probably more than "careless" in the way she handled them. She has perhaps put top secret information in harms way. Most people, because their reality is a product of ideology rather than empirical fact will not recognise the inherent contradiction here nor the attempt to deflect the issue from Clinton's handling of the emails to the ideologically constructed one of what would happen if the evil Russkies got their hands on the emails.

Exhibit B: Former attorney general Eric Holder was on Charlie Rose (PBS) just before Clinton gave what most pundits are calling the biggest speech of her career. When pushed on Clinton's "careless" handling of her emails while secretary of state Holder claimed that Clinton made a mistake just like Lincoln did when he did away with habeas corpus during the Civil War. Putting aside the fact that Democrat Holder probably used Lincoln as an example because he was a Republican and putting aside the fact that Rose pulled his punches or had no punches to pull and did not challenge him on the validity of the analogy, a dispassionate observer might wonder whether the Republican/Democrat/Bush/Obama/Clinton expansion of the security state after 9/11 was and is a "mistake". If not then one must ask whether doing away with habeas corpus during the Civil War was not a mistake either.

I could, of course, go on analysing the doublespeak. We could explore how a rigged Democratic primary system became a stirring victory for Hillary Clinton. We could explore how a party that became fully corporatist in the wake of the Reagan victory continues to convince people that it cares about more than the 1% despite all empirical evidence to the contrary. We could explore how limited presidential power is given the checks and balances in American political culture and explore the question of why so many apologists and polemicists and the media continue to talk as though any president can and will put his or her policies into effect all across the US when he or she enters office. We could explore how symbolism--the breaking of the glass ceiling, for instance--seems to be more important to people than policy realities. I think, however, that I will stop here for the moment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Da Doo Doo Doo, Da Da Da Da: Music and Profit at Ye Olde "Coop"

There are rumours circulating through Honest Weight Food Corporation that the new general manager is going to pipe music, or more accurately muzak, through the store. The reason? Studies suggest that music increases profits by a whopping 2%.

Now that the general manager is apparently talking about bringing what will likely be middle of the road music to the store it is worth remembering that since the opening of the new store in 2013 there have been at least two attempts to pipe music through the store. Each time it was found problematic. Why? Well firstly there is the very poor quality of the store's sound system, a sound system that is right up there in quality with the tin can kiddie walkie talkies of yore. Secondly, there is the acoustics at the front of the store, acoustics which make it possible for cashiers to hear virtually everything emanating from the cash registers around them to the sounds emanating from the cafe. The addition of music to this already multilayered and confusing mix of noise made it even more difficult for cashiers to hear what customers were saying to cashiers and what cashiers were saying to customers.

Is Honest Weight about to experience round three in the music saga of the store? Only time will tell.

You're Just Like Everybody Else: Coops, Missionary Work, and the New Eden

Given that the Honest Weight Food Coop began life as a countercultural alternative to the mainstream and looked different, at least initially, from the mainstream, there are still many at the "Coop" who think that Honest Weight has a moral obligation, has a mission, to transform the world. For some Honest Weighters, Honest Weight should serve as an beacon whose aim is to transform the eating habits, health care habits, and political and economic habits of the Capital Region of New York and beyond.

The question arises, however, how an institution that since the 1980s has increasingly come to look like the mainstream corporate world it once criticised and wanted to be different from, can convert others to an alternative political and economic lifestyle? Can Honest Weight convert people to alternative political and economic lifestyles when it mimics mainstream political and economic culture? How can an institution that looks much like the mainstream institutions that it once condemned and didn't want to be like, offer an alternative to the mainstream corporate, money obsessed, narcissistic, and environment destroying world?

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder argues that it can't. For Yoder you cannot build a alternative beloved, in his case a beloved Christian community, by mimicking mainstream culture and institutions. For Yoder only truly alternative beloved communities can serve as a living witness to alternative arrangements that are more ethical, moral and environmentally sensitive and friendly and only alternative beloved communities can remake humans and human communities into communities that put agape into practise and action. For Yoder, in other words, being mainstream or becoming mainstream is not a viable means to the end of transforming humans and, in the process, transforming human life and human communities. For him only a community that is inherently separate, distinct, and different from the mainstream can convert humans from their old lifestyles to new ones.

If Yoder is right, and I think he is, then it will be impossible for an Honest Weight that looks little different from Kroger, Whole Foods, or CVS and acts much like Kroger, Whole Foods, and CVS to transform either humans or the world. All an Honest Weight that is corporate can do is replicate mass capitalist society with its bureaucracies, hierarchies, narcissisms, and wars.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Day the Coops Died

It is actually really easy to pinpoint exactly when countercultural food coops in the United States died. They died and rose again remade, in the process, into a mainstream corporate image the day they ceased being member only coops and became "consumer coops" open to anyone who wanted to shop in them. They died the day they traded in their countercultural outsiderness for mainstream corporate success.

When countercultural member coops made their faustian bargain with the corporate world they made several choices that inevitably drew and continues to draw them them more and more into the corporate world. They adopted the corporate language of growth and proceeded to hire more and more business school graduates and former or ex-employees of for profit corporate grocery stores to guide them toward the radiant future of financial success. As coops grew bigger, added more items, and built new stores, they became more and more tied to corporate entities like the for profit banks they had to borrow money from in order to grow bigger and bigger. As consumer coops became more and more dependent on non-members for financial success they compromised to assuage non-member wants and "needs". They brought more and more goods into the store like sugar, meat, cereal, potato chips, tortilla chips, that would have never been allowed in member only coops given their questionable health benefits. As coops became more and more like the supermarkets countercultural member coops once decried, they increasingly became prisoners to the wants and "needs" of bargain hunters than to the loyal members who once were at the heart of the countercultural coop, members who wanted to build alternative forms of social and cultural organisation. As a result of all of this it is today hard to tell the difference between consumer coops and for profit corporate stores like Kroger, Whole Foods, or CVS.

Death by corporatisation for some "coops" has been mercifully swift. For others it has been long, drawn out, and painful death. For still others death has been someplace in between. Regardless of how quickly death has come to all of these once upon a time member only coops, all of them have sung the same tune: bye bye once upon a time cooperative pie...they drove their alternative vision into derision making the countercultural river dry...and good old corporate boys were drinking whiskey and rye...singing praises to the corporate sky...

Friday, July 22, 2016

American Presidential Politics as Apocalyptic Drama

I am not particularly interested in the history of American presidential politics. It doesn't take a PhD. in history (something I actually have), however, to see that virtually every presidential election since the 1960s (and likely every presidential election before World War II) seems, at least if you listen to the media and partisans of each presidential candidate, to be a war between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

In 1964 Republican Barry Goldwater was portrayed as the beast of the apocalypse who would end the world literally if the famous television advertisement of the LBJ campaign was to be believed. In 1968 many suggested that Republican Richard Nixon, if elected, would bring about the end of America and the world as Americans knew it. By 1972 when Nixon ran for re-election the world hadn't ended but many said it would if he were re-elected. In the late 1970s many Republicans and even some Democrats thought that Democratic president Jimmy Carter was bringing about the end of America the great. In 1980 many prophesied that Republican Ronald Reagan would bring about the end of the world if elected. He almost did though not in the way most imagined it would end when the Soviets misread NATO war games in Scandinavia as an attack on them. In the 1990s many thought that Democrat Bill Clinton was the very essence of evil in the modern world and that he was bringing an end to America as "Americans" knew it. In 2000 many prophesied that Republican George Walker Bush would end the world. He didn't even though he led the US into two wars and a massive budget deficit. From 2008 to 2012 many Republicans thought that Barack Obama was involved in a liberal, commie, nazi, Muslim conspiracy to end America as "Americans" knew it. Currently Democrats and Republicans proclaim that if Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton are elected the world world as each of them know it or wish it was will end.

All this end time apocalyptic rhetoric is enough to make one believe that fear is a Democrats and Republicans best friend...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cracks in the Mirror: The Honest Weight Fragments

As a sociologist, historian, and social and cultural anthropologist there are a lot of things I found interesting during my observations over the last several years at Honest Weight Food "Coop" in Albany, New York. One of the most interesting, given my interest in culture and the social and cultural work of ideology, is the difference between rhetoric and reality at the "Coop".

Honest Weight Food Coop may have began as a countercultural operation in the 1970s but by the 1980s and certainly today Honest Weight has shed much of its countercultural past. Today Honest Weight looks just like a host of other corporations in the US and around the globe. It is governed as are most other corporations in the US and around the globe by a corporate Board, the Chief Operating Officer or general manager the Board hires--the Board refers to the COO in the language of doublespeak as the Chief Cooperative Officer--and the chief financial officer the Board hires. Below these are a number of middle level personnel who do a variety of administrative and supervisory tasks at Honest Weight.

The inequality of Honest Weight is not only reflected in the job hierarchy of store but also in the store's built environment. Administrative staff, those more highly paid then most of the floor staff presumably because it is assumed that the jobs they do are more important than the jobs floor staff do and hence should be rewarded with greater salaries than the floor staff--culture and ideology at work--are ensconced in the administrative sector of the building. Recent concerns, others might see these concerns as more the product of power and the paranoia that often goes along with power, that middle and low level staff might access top secret material in the administrative section if the store--in this instance the salary of the new general manager or COO--means that the administrative part of Honest Weight can only be accessed by those who work in the back, by Board members, and by middle level management personnel. Compared to the administrative section of Honest Weight, by the way, the staff break room looks like something out of the Soviet radiant future of the 1960s without the windows.

The realities of hierarchical bureaucratic power at Honest Weight and its expression in its built environment conflict with Honest Weight's conspicuous proclamation that it is a democracy. This fact was brought home to me again recently during an interview I had with one of Honest Weight's powers that be. I asked this power that be if he would have had those member worker owners associated with the Industrial Workers of the World who picnicked and picketed at Honest Weight on Memorial Day arrested. He said he would arguing that these member worker owners, ostensibly the owners of Honest Weight, might offend other member owners and thus had to be removed by the Board or by representatives of the Board from the property they supposedly co-owned. This power that be maintained that such an action was "democratic" because the Board had been authorised to operate the store and deal with store problems by working members. Ah, the joys of politically correct representative bourgeois corporate liberalism?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Will It Go Round in Circles: An Honest Weight Update

I haven't written about the goings on at the Honest Weight Food Corporation in some time so I thought I would offer a few observations on what has happened since the "revolution" of late 2015 and early 2016.

There has been a lot of turnover in the administration of the Corpop. Probably the most significant change in the management of the Corpop has been the demise of the old leadership structure. All three members of the Leadership Team have either taken jobs elsewhere or have been fired. This tripartite leadership structure has been replaced by a more centralised corporate structure with what the new Board calls the "chief operating officer" at the top. At any other corporation the CCO would, of course, be called a CEO or a general manager. Ironically, the LT, so I am told, was a response to the controversies and problems surrounding a previous general manager at the Corpop.

The new CCO, who was recently announced with great fanfare by the Board, and who makes, so a source informs me over $100,000 dollars a year, comes to the Corpop, as do several other members of the management team hired over the last several years by the old Board and the new, from Price Chopper, a regional for profit corporate grocery store. Apparently, the powers that be at Honest Weight think that only those with for profit corporate experience are qualified to run what is now a for profit enterprise.

Like any CEO or general manager the new Honest Weight GM has to show that he is doing something. Rumour has it that he wants to bring canned music to the Corpop. Corporate wisdom apparently has it that that canned music increases corporate sales and the powers that be at Honest Weight want to increase corporate sales. Apparently the new general manager doesn't realise that one of the previous members of the LT tried to bring canned music to Honest Weight several years ago. That experiment with "music" proved problematic given the poor sound system at the store, given the problems it causes for cashiers who can't hear what customers are saying because of the canned music and the store's poor acoustics, and because Honest Weight, though no longer a cooperative, is more of a community than Price Chopper.

The new Board continues what is increasingly another tradition at the Corpop, the corporatisation of the Corpop Board and its membership. Three members of the new Board are lawyers. The new Board is also continuing, though at a more intense level, another thing that has become increasingly common at the Corpop, an aversion to dissent. The Orange Bunch, the clique that now dominates the Corpop politically, has been particularly critical of one Board member, one of two who served on the old Board and the new. During the run up to the Board election in early 2016 at least two prominent members of the Orange Clique criticised the supposed intransigence of this elected Board member on the Let's Talk Honest Weight Facebook page. An unelected appointed member of the Board, one tied to the Orange Bunch and one prominently endorsed by the Orange Clique, went out of his way NOT to endorse this Board member on the Honest Weight Let's Talk Facebook page. He urged that members elect another favoured member of the Orange Clique. Recently, this non-conformist Board member was ousted or purged from cheese, where another Board member, one of the most powerful members of the Board of the Orange Clique and her husband, do their member work. It was also recently announced that the new manager of cheese will be the wife of yet another member of the Board who also seems to be friendly to the Orange Crush political and corporate agenda.

Honest Weight continues to struggle with its central contradiction, namely that it is a "democratically" run member owned cooperative at the same time that it is a corporation run by a managerial elite. This contradiction manifests itself in a number of ways. One of the more interesting ways this contradiction was manifest recently was on Memorial Day. On Memorial Day ten Honest Weight member workers who are affiliated with the IWW union decided to hold a picnic and protest on coop property at the far end of the outdoor eating area of the store where they impeded no one from entering the store. Management responded to the picnic and protest by calling the police on the picnickers and protesters. The police forced the picnickers and protesters to move off Honest Weight property that was and is ironically "owned" by the member workers picnicking and protesting.

Honest Weight and other faux cooperatives like to think that they are exceptional. In reality Honest Weight and most other fauxops are not exceptional whatsoever. As in most corporations, not to mention in most other countries, the powers that be at Honest Weight with their limited memory of history continually reinvent the wheel. As in most corporations, not to mention in most other countries, the powers that be at Honest Weight have an aversion to dissent. Honest Weight is a hybrid, part cooperative originating out of the 1960s counterculture and part corporation like any other corporation in the Western world, and the hybrid nature of Honest Weight which became manifest in the 1980s continues to impact the Corpop in inherently contradictory ways. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.