As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Their Ideal World

Michelle Bernard is one of the new entries to the cable news jabberfest, an African-American woman whose ideology is rarely if ever identified. But she is the President and CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, which tries to embed feminist rhetoric ("All issues are women's issues") behind a far-right conservative ideology. Humorously, the featured story at their website's first paragraph is "You know things are getting bad for the Obama-Pelosi-Reid trillion-dollar American Recovery and Reinvestment Act when regulars on MSNBC, the liberal counterpoint to Fox, start to stomp on the bill." Which of course looks past the fact that Michelle Bernard is on MSNBC every other hour.

But if you truly want to know the desired ends of the Independent Women's Forum, look no further than this letter to the editor from one of their senior fellows about the book The Case for Big Government by Jeff Madrick (h/t Yglesias):

Conservatives read The Times to motivate them against the paper’s principles. Yet the review of “The Case for Big Government,” by Senator Edward Kennedy’s adviser Jeff Madrick (Jan. 18), gushed even by your standards. The review’s title and subtitle — “Renewed Deal: The need for federal spending is apparent even to conservatives, as a time of recovery requires investment in the country’s future” — is completely misleading. Conservatives believe spending is out of hand and never use “investment” as a synonym for tax and spend.

Madrick’s statement, quoted by the reviewer, that “there really is no example of small government among rich nations,” is unsupported nonsense. Think Dubai, free and rich.

Put aside for a moment the fact that Dubai is an oil-extracting hereditary dictatorship, which isn't even a nation but a province. Dubai is about as close as you get in this world to a modern slave state. There are 240,000 citizens and 1.2 imported workers from South Asia, who live in miserable conditions of servitude.

An hour's drive into an area of Dubai that is about as far off the tourist map as it is possible to get brings us to Sonapur, an unhappy place in so many ways. Even its name cruelly teases its residents. The name of Dubai's largest labour camp means "city of gold" in Hindi, and it also sounds very similar to the local slang word for a female orgasm, as Khaled, my translator, seems to rejoice in telling me.

I doubt that most of the 150,000 male workers who live here (some claim it is as many as 500,000, but there is little official headcounting going on), smile at the irony of living in a place so empty of wealth and women.

As we pass the large cemetery on the road into Sonapur, a long convoy of buses heads in the opposite direction towards the hundreds of building sites across Dubai. Curtains screening the workers from the sun flap violently in the open windows as drivers move up through the gears, spewing a dirty diesel puff at every shift. On entering the huge settlement - "town" doesn't seem the right term as there's no sign of cinemas, libraries, restaurants, or even any landscaping - we pass block upon block of concrete walls, some topped with barbed wire and all fronted by large metal gates. Inside, Khaled says, are housing units, some of which are home for up to 500 workers, owned by the dozens of contractors that feed Dubai's construction boom.

The contractors take their worker's passports and force them to pay back usurious loans taken out for the cost of them being brought to Dubai. Some are forced into sexual slavery and the ruler has even been accused of enslaving children as young as 2 to be jockeys in camel races. The Bush-era State Department acknowledged that the country is not free in any real sense, nor does it have a healthy respect for human rights.

Every so often the shriekers on the right will cite these incidents as proof that all Muslims are evil and cruel or something. But the Independent Women's Forum - and, I would imagine, serious conservative economists - see it as a capitalist paradise, a paragon of small government. Similarly, right-wing privatization practices and ideological nation-building in Iraq inevitably led to the US Embassy being built by slave labor, subcontracted and once removed.

Why, it's almost as if conservative economic theory places a value on shrinking labor costs so much that the ultimate society is one where the workers are owned.

In the antebellum South, slavery provided the economic foundation that supported the dominant planter ruling class. Under slavery the structure of white supremacy was hierarchical and patriarchal, resting on male privilege and masculinist honor, entrenched economic power, and raw force. Black people necessarily developed their sense of identity, family relations, communal values, religion, and to an impressive extent their cultural autonomy by exploiting contradictions and opportunities within a complex fabric of paternalistic give-and-take. The working relationships and sometimes tacit expectations and obligations between slave and slave holder made possible a functional, and in some cases highly profitable, economic system.

Will this come up on the next Michelle Bernard appearance on MSNBC, or will the talk be confined only to the "Obama/Pelosi/Reid recession" and when it will ever end?

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