Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bad Suits and Profit

The Goldman -Sachs execs got a chance to explain their "risk management framework" and the concept of selling short to Congress yesterday. The Congressmen displayed the required outrage that Markets aren't more ethical but the gamblers refused to apologize for doing what everyone knows they do. I like how one analyst put it: If a guy wants you to sell him an ugly suit you sell him an ugly suit. Why should they bow and scrape for zealously practicing their religion?

This whole elaborate theatre assumes an American public either ignorant or naive. These companies exists to make profit because that is the only reason to exist.It is the highest good and the only justification necessary for anything. Telling these guys they were supposed to have other considerations is like telling a dog not to sniff another dogs butt. That's what they do.In a capitalist democracy there are no obligations to anything other than the God of Profit.

And Congress is a partner to the whole scheme. They would all sell the man the suit and all keep their noses in each others asses. The interesting thing is the tone the various commentators take when they explain it is all just a giant casino. Some sort of snicker while others try to keep it somewhat serious but the curtain of mystical complexity has been lifted to expose a bunch of WISE GUYS. In an unfortunate timing sequence, Senate Republicans are blocking the Dodd reform bill because they want to get government off our backs. The "ecstatic escape of unreason", as Fritz Stern calls it, has now replaced baseball as the national pastime.You can still get a $35,000 dollar a night room at the Four Seasons in NY.

In the background the stock market is reacting to Greece and Portugals recent downgrade.Those industrious, Marshall Planned Germans don't want to bail out their slothful Union comrades but will. Greeks will march and strike with a new credit card.

Good thing there is always that Constitutional ambiguity possibly allowing for secession ( from the website Texas Secede).Chris Hedges discusses modern secession movements as a positive aspect of all this revived libertarianism and posits that this might be a more logical way to organize ourselves. Vermont, maybe. Texas? scary thought.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

It's springtime in the Rockies and everything is awakening from hibernation. Greys and browns turn green and it's time to put seeds in the ground as well as peoples heads. Time to get Outside and I just happened to be looking through a magazine of the same name- wow- adventure is quite the industry,isn't it?

Tanned, healthy young people charging around the most remote regions of the globe in kayaks, on bicycles and surfboards, skis and hang-gliders, and of course, none of this is cheap, home-made equipment. Some of the bikes cost more than I make in a year. The magazine is also crammed with ads for rough and tumble vehicles to get you to all these far away destinations. The guide services and resorts that cater to this hard-core crowd have a very exclusive niche and one senses that brands mean everything.

There appears to be a slight eco-Pachamama-veneer to it butit comes with a wink and a nod.They may use a few recycled plastic bags to make that fleece jacket but it is really about big children and toys, super expensive, high-tech, status conferring toys and itineraries that are bound to leave a hefty "footprint". Nature assumes the role of dominatrix, slapping you around for your sensual enjoyment and the ultimate excitement -porn is the list of those killed by mountains or rivers or avalanches or giant waves in the service of exalting ME and what I can do.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that people still go outside but there is something freaky about the way it gets turned into such a competitive, egoistic affair.Do something cool and don't write a story about it. Remember the conditions your sherpa lives in and understand why.

"Hey everybody, look at me! I climbed the very last glacier!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Something else that received no mention at the "Awakening the Dream" symposium was the Peoples Summit on Climate being held near Cochabamba Bolivia this week. Evo Morales, not known for political hesitancy or polite "framing", opened with a speech saying "Capitalism is killing Mother earth". Five words that irrefutably dismiss all the Copenhagen / Obama/ Natural Resources Defence Council bowing and scraping before the God of so-called Realism.The British Minister of the Environment, in a rare flash of insight, called it "water mellon environmentalism" ( green on the outside, red inside). He was trying to be dismissive, but acknowledges the truism that ecology is always tied to economics and other social structures. The Water Wars of Cochabamba were a perfect example.

There is an interesting liberal narrative developing that is intended to reassure us that Rational Market Incentives work to avoid crisis. An example is this via Clive Thompson in Slate via Phronesisaical:

This makes capitalism a curiously bracing mechanism for cutting through ideological haze and manufactured doubt. Politicians or pundits can distort or cherry-pick climate science any way they want to try and gain temporary influence with the public. But any serious industrialist who's facing "climate exposure"—as it's now called by money managers—cannot afford to engage in that sort of self-delusion.

I would argue that capitalism is a spectacularly adept system at CREATING "ideological haze" and not only manufactures "doubt", but consent and apathy.The recent Health Care "Reform" should be a perfect, recent example of Industrialists engulfed in "self -delusion".( They will continue to lose global market share to countries with single payer systems) Industrialists are funding the Denial- Conspiracy narrative and it is Industrialists who want to "drill baby drill" and create the Canadian Tar Sands Mordor.
Capitalism was "self-deluded" on a profound scale when it came to the housing bubble, derivatives, hedge funds, risk spreading, regulation etc etc.. It is precisely an "ideological haze" which gives us not just Tea Party climate change denial but such absurdities as "Cap and Trade" or the utopian "Green Economy".

Capitalism destroys diversity. It is a totalizing system ( in it's own fantasy. Resistance remains). Even in it's ability to adapt, it does so synthetically rather than organically. It is the difference between what happens in a Monsanto Laboratory and one hectare of rainforest. Our survival as a planet depends on diversity, not just biological but political and economic as well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lost in a Dream

I ended up spending my Saturday learning how to Stay Awake. The Pachamama organized symposium is a cross pollinated affair, part cosmology, part encounter group, part Inconvenient Truth. Maybe twenty five folks showed up to hear what all of them already knew, change is needed. But how?

The metaphor of "dream" and the whole discussion around consciousness is interesting ( I still owe a post on "false consciousness and Spectacle) but in this New Age discourse there is a very deliberate intention never to tie it back to ideology or political economy. "Social justice" is discussed at length but only as "fairness" in the broadest sense and of course the words capitalism and labor are totally avoided.They used the exact strategies that Foster critiques in the article Kultur linked us to in the last post.

Which is where I interjected a bit, asking about the subordination of any materialist notions, about investigating basic incentives and power relations. The gal next to me was more interested in "galactic intelligence" and most of the others just wanted organic food and song birds. I was instructed to "open myself to the wisdom of nature" so I went out and killed some weaker competitors and then we were asked to grieve for our planet, hold hands with a partner and look in their eyes and talk about our ways of coping.As soon as I said "don't mourn, organize!" I regretted it and spent the rest of the symposium glaringly partner-less.

"Support, lobby and vote for the policies that will lead to the world you envision." This is from the brochure. Problem: I never see "End Capitalism" on a ballot. "Loan money to a third-world entrepreneur". "Buy only what you need for a certain period of time"."Read a book about an indigenous culture." "Do nothing for one minute".

This post would be more elitist snark EXCEPT for the fact I can't possibly be elite. I'm a gun owning, high school educated, manual laborer making less than 40,000 (combined incomes). I stood up and said "Anyone who wants to talk about marching in a May Day Parade or ending coal development through direct action or doing a community survey or helping Food Not Bombs feed people, see me after the symposium." One guy came over to tell me solar energy could replace coal. Few want to take the risks required to actually end the dream.

Another Earth Day came and went, cans recycled, light bulbs replaced and Goldman Sachs showed a 3.5 billion dollar profit for the quarter.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Mohammud Yanus:

“Microcredit should be seen as an opportunity to help people get out of poverty in a business way, but not as an opportunity to make money out of poor people.”

The fracas over preserving the field’s saintly aura centers on the question of how much interest and profit is acceptable, and what constitutes exploitation. More broadly, this is the question which has always plagued the capitalist system and it's application. I believe "the results are in", as they say, but there is the whole problem of verification and consensus.

Locally, some folks are organizing an "Awakening Symposium" today, based on the Pachamama conceptual framework and the ideas of David Korten ( the Great Turning). From what I see theirs is a discourse on limiting greedy excess, going back to a more local, technologically simplified system and adopting different values. My critique is obvious. Still, I am tempted to go and listen so I will be qualified to make more broad, elitist generalizations about folks. ( Sorry Lichanos, I couldn't resist)

I also want to invite these folks to our May Day Celebration and see what kind of reaction I get. I don't see that organizing labor plays a very big part in the Awakening although in Bolivia where Pachamama is central, unions and their political role have a large part in social transformation. One problem is that quite a bit of labor in this state involves trashing Mother Earth. The coal miners might be worried about the atmosphere of Gaia but they are more worried about their paycheck.( Yet Another Generalization)

It seems difficult to go "micro" when talking about energy production and transmission. The initial investment is substantial, especially for the American Worker.Food we can do more sustainably. Montana is getting warmer and warmer and we have more water than a lot of places. Lots of firewood.Wild game.Nuts and berries.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sun City Retiree

This "Roundtable discussion took place on the Leher News Hour last night:

DEE WILLIAMS: And he was told last year when he got it that: If Obamacare health care passes, this would have to go to a committee, and, with all your other existing health problems, they will decide whether this pacemaker would be cost-effective. And I can almost guarantee you, you wouldn't get it.

GWEN IFILL: This is the death panels we have heard about, or what some people have called it?

DEE WILLIAMS: Yes, I mean, like the -- well, you can call it a death panel, whatever you want to, but a committee.

GWEN IFILL: A committee that would actually deny you coverage is your concern.

DEE WILLIAMS: More than likely.

They showed Dee and her decrepit husband at their beautiful Florida home, getting in their brand new Buick, driving to their doctor appointment to be paid for by Medicare and a supplement plan.The 80 year old matron told the interviewer she gets her information from "cable news and talk radio". She travelled to Washington with the Tea Party to tell the government to leave "people who were insured alone."

It was particularly stunning when this white poster child for class privilege said she was concerned for her "freedom". Something she learned from that cute Miss Palin no doubt.

People like this present an amazingly strong case for death panels. ( just kidding, I'm sure with ten years of intensive therapy she could become a compassionate,maybe even discerning person) It was painful to watch because at some level she understood how ridiculous she sounded, causing her to become increasingly defensive.You could see her thinking: "If only I could say it like Rush does!" She probably bought a Sleep Number Bed from Rush, fought against integration, fought to privatize Social Security, fought for energy de-regulation, supports secret rendition, and still believes Osama and Saddaam are the same person hiding the WMDs somewhere deep underground.

The bind is this bank reform Obama is now pushing for. Where does the Tea Party go, Evil Elite Bankers or Evil Government Regulations? Tough call for a modern patriot. Obama is beginning to display a little of that Chicago style political savvy we heard about.Republican elites like where the DOW is headed and will soon co-opt the Tea Party hillbillies.

I bought David Shields' Reality Hunger after seeing him present in rainy Portland a week ago. He is quite eloquent in a book store setting but didn't do so well in the Colbert Report format tonight. Very interesting work exploring new forms and hopefully it will get more exposure.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gunship Porn

Something about the way Amy Goodman and others have been playing the WikiLeak helicopter gunship footage over and over bothers me. Looking through the Sarah Palin gunsights, interviewing the grieving families and drawn out shots of the sad eyed children gets way too Oprah Winfrey when we really need journalism 101.

The Missoula City Council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance late last night that includes gender and sexual orientation. Of course the God cult was there in force with their faithful Libertarian allies. They had formed a group called Not In My Bathroom ( you can't make this stuff up, though John Irving has tried) to fight this humanistic interference into the Natural Order of things. (Natural Order has an Invisible Hand, remember) They will no longer be able to send their young daughters into restrooms where men in dresses lay waiting. With all the "terrible problems in the world" why add yet another worry?

This brand of Libertarian would prefer to see these social issues worked out in the cultural arena rather than the political. Rather than be coerced, they will eventually come along ( kicking and screaming) as social mores evolve.For instance,eventually blacks have been accepted as human! Now give them rights! But not power, of course.

The God folk don't evolve so much as endure. Shaking their heads in disgust,waving their signs, they can only wait for the glorious day when they are Risen and the rest are Left Behind. Can't happen soon enough for me either and I hope if Jesus does come back he brings Woody Guthrie with him.

I wonder if California has considered applying to the IMF for some bail-out funding,a la Greece? The Gay Agenda appears to be in disarray in the Golden Bear State, having failed to get enough signatures for their marriage initiative. By the way Ducky, I went to Beaks blog but he was busy sorting through some intra-factional issues concerning a certain special skin pigmentation. That's a rough crowd to hang with. Good to see he's a union man however. Any you boys not paid up on your card?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Derrida Lives!

I found Jacques bartending in Avon. Mt. at the Rainbow Bar! He had this to say on complex discourses and I think it is pretty accessible ( we had already had quite a few rounds!):

"But one cannot...plead simply for plurality, dispersion, or fractioning, for the mobility of screening spaces or the subjects who occupy them...How then to open the avenue of great debates, accessible to the majority, while yet enriching the multiplicity and quality of public discourses, of agencies of evaluation, of "scenes" or places of visibility,etc? A wager, an aporia?"

Sure I had to look up "aporia" and I am SO glad I did because Jacques gave me a word I have needed over and over : "an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument ,or theory."

Thanks to Jacques I have a title for the last post ( and many to follow) on complexity, intellectualism, tension and vertiginous uncertainty.Democracy, Freedom, Liberty, all at some point run into an aporia and Jacques brilliantly suggests we use it to "open the avenue of great debate".

I'm still of the opinion that in the matter of chicken or egg we first need to dismantle and replace capitalist social relations before we can have that debate but it might be that the debate itself is the opening "scene". So I'm playing it both ways!

By the way, interesting coincidence with the START treaty and the Kyrgyzstan revolt. The Great Game is never far from the surface it seems. Karzai, Putin, Netenyahu, all pushing back at the late, great Empire.

A final thought on the W.Virginia coal miners and all the signs asking God to help, for prayers, and Jesus and heaven. As soon as the rubble is cleared there will be a line stretching down the block of God fearing miners ready to get a non-union job and climb down the hole. Masseys Don Blankenship is the Pope and the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Derrida is Dead

The passing of Jacques Derrida last weekend could be turned into a metaphor by someone with a less developed sense of irony. Oh what the hell. Along with his death we can mourn the death of theoretical complexity and difficulty ( or to paraphrase Zappa, perhaps it just smells bad!) and say hello to the Age of Framing. The art of dumbing-down or sound-biteification is nothing new and there is always tension between clarity and depth but to me the most dangerous aspect of reactionary ascendency is the rejection of the notion that thinking or understanding should be difficult or a form of labor in itself.

I know the arguments surrounding "deconstruction" and the sneering sophistry of much post-modern discourse. I myself never "understood" Derrida and felt uncomfortable on those twisting trails of argument he constructed but I think we will soon miss the uncomfortable, the tense, the difficult challenges of a now bygone era of theoretical exploration and excavation. The texts will remain of course, but no one will go there and soon they will be buried in signs saying Liberty! and Freedom! and fake boys flying away in breathless balloons.

Henry Giroux asks if we can find "an approach to writing that addresses what it means to make language accessible without emptying it's content of any viable meaning or insulting the public by not challenging it to assume some responsibility for it's engagement with the text."
This is a conundrum for sure, reaching the "public" without condescension, pitting accessibility against clarity. "Against accessibility, clarity condemns any notion of difficult reading, complex language and sustained focus and thoughtfulness."

In our own organizing efforts here we often agonize over how simple or un-threatening we need our presentations to be and then what effect that has on the general level of discourse. The nuanced is losing to the banal. Deconstruction and un-packing is losing out to "common sense". the lazy is rewarded and all things complicated are now suspect but does that mean we follow suit in order to "connect"?

My own fiction writing dwells in this conundrum. Who is the public? How quickly will they get bored? Do they want ideas or easy entertainment? A way to remember or a way to forget?

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Barbara Kingsolver has written a powerful book which speaks to our times called The Lacuna.It is a fierce indictment of intellectual and moral laziness, the effects of fear and propaganda and the loss of a certain kind of idealistic American innocence.

The strongest condemnation, or at least the one that struck me hardest, is the one against what she calls "howlers". These are buffoons, like our very own Beakerkin, whose thoughtless rhetoric can cause very real damage to very real lives. I admit to dismissing his diatribes as harmless "examples" but as Kingsolver so eloquently points out, we ignore the downward trend of discourse at our own peril. One minute you are blissfully blogging away and the next the FBI is knocking.

The timely re-telling of the grotesque, surrealistic horror of the Mc Carthy era should be a prod for all of us who dismiss the "howlers" as just some perpetual nuisance, lacking any real effect. Combined with a perversely incentivized "media, our countries famous historical amnesia, and our love of strong authority,these self-righteous pretenders are dangerous and the author pleads for a renewed vigilance and remembering.

Especially poignant were the descriptions of the attacks by militarized police on WW I veterans camped out in D.C who were demanding the veterans benefits they had been promised and the sad concentration camps America set up for it's own citizens in WWII. Kingsolver describes the last years of Trotsky and his relationship with the larger-than-life artists Rivera and Kahlo and writes with clarity and often poetic beauty about Mexico and it's people.

I should read more fiction and would if it was half this good and understood, as this author understands, the need for a renewed politics. She also got me thinking again of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I had tended to dismiss as a liberal band-aid for capitalism. It might actually provide an entry point into a discussion on a just society. It certainly is the epitome of everything conservatives are against and liberals should be confronted with the economic conventions which have never been ratified.