Monday, March 28, 2011

Black Bloc and Michael Moore

I'm so tired of these macho, neurotic punks with their ski masks and spray paint. Sure I'm sorry they were raised by freaks and have some pathetic job bussing tables at a pizza joint but hey, couldn't they just join a bowling league to find acceptance? Why smash up big demonstrations with their black booted window kicking? "Anarchist" dude, if you want to be a "street fighting man" ( and it is a man thing), just go out after your shift and smash some bank windows or paint some big A's inside a red circle. Organize your own effort. Why show up to parties where you are never invited? It's just so lame and imposes your incoherent agenda on everyone. And guess what, your spiked hair is not smashing the state, it is selling cheeseburgers. Get over yourselves.

Whew! Glad I got that out of my system. So, Stephan Colbert just asked Michael Moore if he believed in the free market and Mr. Love Story said "...uh..what free market?" In other words, he desires a free market; like Rand Paul or von Mises or Ayn Rand, he just thinks the Market is distorted . Clearing those distortions is his solution to Detroit and the nations problems. Maybe he is right. We should have that debate.I just wish he could be out front about it and say what the hell his political philosophy IS.

And my how he went on about the unions. He who stood on the capitol steps in Madison and got a half hour face time on Democracy Now pleading for "real transformation". He still praises the AFL-CIO which squashed whatever transformational energy might have existed after the massive rallies. Next he will be telling us to vote for the latest incarnation of Hopey Change in 2012. He is as cowardly as the Black Blocers who wait for massive demos to do their absurd property damage. Really sticking it to the man!

On a final note, we saw an interesting German film called The Edukators. Check it out. It totally reminded me of Marx's warning in the 3rd thesis on Feuerbach: "It is essential to educate the educator himself."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Out On A Limb

I have drawn the ire of just about everyone ( except Ashcar) at ZNet with my pro-intervention in Libya stance. First real debate I've ever seen there so I think it is worth it. Even if that hadn't been my position before, it would be after reading a George Ochenski piece in our local Independent.

A sanctimonious progressive and least original thinker alive, he lashes out at Obama for the hurt he has caused his base. In the article he says POTUS (who he glorified during the election) rushed to "lead the attack". He is outraged a la Kucinich that the Pres didn't first ask Congress for the power to do so. First of all, George, Obama and the whole defense and foreign policy establishment were drug kicking and screaming into this action. Second, Ochenski now trusts the very Congress he usually excoriates as corrupt, inept, sclerotic,etc..
In other words he can't make up his mind whether he loves the process and the players or hates them. Which is it George? Does liberal democratic capitalism work politically or doesn't it? Worse, he doesn't even sense this inconsistency.

His argument is that it is simply "a matter of internal strife". "We are to believe that Gadhaffi would have decimated his own population" he says doubtfully, as if it is beyond ridiculous, or like Patrick Cockburn, he has his own sources. Of course George was gung ho for the Jasmine Revolution when it was Tunesian and Egyptian "internal strife" and it didn't cost him anything to be a democrat. And does he wish to argue Gaddafi was not now butchering people and would not have decimated Benghazi? He won't say. He just bemoans the fact we have unleashed our war machine "on another hapless nation." Hapless.

He loved Tunesia and Egypt because they were "non-violent" ( bullshit narrative he accepts) and he is a pathological pacifist. He falls easily into the tropes of THIS IS IRAQ, or THIS IS ABOUT OIL or IT COSTS TOO MUCH TO PROTECT ARABS. The problem, he says, is "there is no guarantee Gadhaffi will lose this fight." So, he only wants to commit when the outcome is guaranteed?

First, this is not Iraq. Ghaddafi was our vicious buddy till the crazy got too obvious but regional forces trumped the Western global plan.For his oil argument George quotes a Halliburton exec from 2003. The world has moved on. There are totally new and unpredictable forces at work threatening the whole order and so much of the left shrinks back instinctively.

Gee whiz they say, we just wanted modest reform. This is scary and out of control. Well guess what. This ride has just begun. Everybody wants revolution. They just don't want A revolution.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

People Power?

Francis Fox Piven ( the anti-Christ according to Glen Beck) and Cornel West are organizing nationwide teach-ins for Apr. 5 whose theme is Fight Back! Gatherings are organized around college campuses and there will be one here in Missoula at the university( in the middle of the work day) While I respect these two and know their politics to be fairly radical, they have chosen to present our historical moment not as a crisis of capitalism but in the more progressive frame of a crisis of the American "middle class".
This is highly problematic and I look forward to exploiting the theoretical gaps in this approach.

They are naturally trying to build on whatever momentum still exists over class confrontation in Wisconsin.It hopes to focus on greed, debt and austerity as ways to explain income inequality, wealth transference, national and personal debt- and "think through how different sectors- state workers, students, homeowners- possess different points of institutional leverage."

Everywhere there are appeals to 'social' justice, to a rights discourse centered on an "independent judiciary" or responsive government or tighter regulations.From this liberal perspective the crisis is manufactured, bank bailouts were unnecessary, austerity is a myth and through reform of existing institutions- by "leverage"- the holy middle class can be expanded once again.

It is important to locate power in our current situation and ask if this "political" approach can be effective. The dominant narrative of liberal democratic capitalism is that power lies in the citizen, the state and the consumer. The citizen has the power of the vote, the state has the legitimate power of coercion/authority and the consumer has the power of the purse (vote with dollars). The citizen can petition the government or appeal to the courts, the consumer can boycott. What made Wisconsin dangerous was that it introduced, very briefly, the concept of worker and interrupted that narrative. For over a week some citizens realized their power might lie not with "rights" or legal appeals but in their ability to withhold their labor and interrupt production, profits and the circuits of capital. There were bold calls for a general strike. Michael Moore got excited/fearful about the conditions of possibility that briefly opened. Horace Cambell writes : "The scenes from Wisconsin have shown ordinary people the power they possess when organized and they take bold action."

Equally fearful were the Democratic Party and the Big Unions, who instantly reminded the workers they were citizens, and their energy should go to petitions, legislation, courts and elections.Focus on procedural irregularities. Not strikes. Even radicals with a structural critique such as Cambell argued: "The spreading of this movement around the country pose the necessity for a POLITICAL struggle against the capitalist system." Political, not economic.

What of the argument that capitalism is fine, it is only distribution that needs addressing? That the crisis is manufactured and austerity unnecessary? That it's all about greedy banksters?
This is a poisoned pill sugar coated for liberal consumption. It is no doubt reassuring ( especially to students entering the workforce with expensive degrees) to hear that we need only tweak things within existing institutions, processes, and ideologies, that the basic underlying structure is sound. But this requires wilfully ignoring the most obvious, profound signs compounding daily now.

To be continued..

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Consensus At Last

It took a black president to finally unite the American people around something: They ALL disapprove of the Libyan No Fly Zone on steroids. I have spent the last three days scanning sites from extreme right to extreme left and everything in between and virtually NO ONE supports the action without reservations. Which I guess leaves it to me. Screw it. I support it.

The Left is by far more vocal in it's opposition with the Dennis Kucinich "Another Iraq" faction calling for impeachment. They worry about money, and precedent and over-reach and violence and all. The Left-left worries about imperialism and blood for oil and quagmires etc..

The Right is interestingly quiet on the subject but where I can find brave voices they worry about the Islamists or other extreme elements we might be supporting and agree on the unconstitutional nature of war declaring these days. Those shrill voices calling for regime change in Iraq are eerily silent because Qaddafi and Saleh ,brutal as they are, were partners in the War On Terror.

Me? I just like uprisings, revolts, wrenches in the gears of Imperial Planning. And this wave sweeping the Arab states is totally out of control, totally un-forseen by the elite foreign policy wonks in their Think Tanks and has crushed their whole facade of analysis and expert hegemonic intelligence. RAND, Stratfor, Council on Foreign Relations, all sitting there with their thumbs up their butts because the order is breaking down. I am not so naive to think they are all democrats revolting for liberal freedoms and franchise but I really don't care. I know to some degree at least it is have-nots against haves. It is excluded against included. Marginalized against privileged. Voiceless against Corrupt bullshitters.

I also have no illusions about the humanitarian nature of this intervention. But this is what history does, decades of cynical strategy for "stability", oil and dominance "coming home to roost" , as Rev. Wright put it. The afflicted powers are scrambling to get ahead of events and I love to watch them scramble.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Flux Deluxe

A veritable tsunami of concurrent crises make it more than a little difficult to get a grip on trends unfolding in real time. Add to that the many different lenses through which the whole conglomeration can be seen and it is little wonder massive incoherence rules the day.

Start with energy. Forty year old GE reactors melting down and a government/industry cabal that no one trusts as the information source. This follows right on the heels of the largest oil spill in history, where the public also was lied to,though has probably forgotten altogether. The technologists assure us the future belongs to them, that they will deliver us from this energy impasse with "innovation". How much longer will citizens put their faith in Expert Managers? Of course we are told it is either nukes or coal/oil/ natural gas and all fossil fuel based energy does the same thing radiation does, poison life on earth. Since our global economy needs abundant energy like an addict needs dope, this is what passes for choice.

Which brings us to economy. Europe is bleeding but wants a piece of Libya so it is willing to invest. Japan was hurting before the natural disaster and will now be deeper in the red. The Arab revolutionaries are also going to want a change from 15% unemployment and the growing inequality neo-liberal reforms have brought them but what is their 'comparative advantage', as they say in development circles? Markets are incredibly jittery and volatile and one wonders what lies around the corner?

As for the US, it is difficult to understand what lens the foreign policy establishment sees Libya and the greater revolution through. Oil, War on Terror, failed state vs stabilization, democratization ( Bahrain sort of puts the lie to that one), Israel? Iran? Wolf Blitzer thought Hillary might have been traumatized by watching Rawanda unfold. Somehow doubt it. The domestic politics are certainly interesting with zero consensus on left or right over intervention and virtually nobody predicted this would unfold the way it did.

Perhaps the ones who come out looking the silliest are Chavez and Morales as they cling to their outdated Che imagery but I think this Revolution is going to be complex and involve a lot more than people wanting to be franchised. And it's interesting how all these dictators have picked up on calling their enemies "terrorists", thinking they would then be free to do whatever they want to them. They absolutely get the logic of drones and the Israeli security forces.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Creative Destruction?

We should just let the free market sort things out at the Japanese nuclear reactors. If it blows up there is a rational solution, don't buy their power. This will discipline them to build better reactors in the future! Trying to regulate them will just create inefficiencies you see.I love it when life is so simple, so rational!

As I write this, investors are "heading for the exits" as CNN puts it,( DOW down another 125) but with the Japanese Central Bank pouring liquidity into the system, they are averting a global crash. But of course, Central Banks are evil, and Japan's economy should be allowed to implode to discipline them for being in the way of the tsunami.This is all free market 101. Suffering there will create opportunity for others in perfect equilibrium!

Update: DOW down 230 The moral hazards of interfering in the market can be weighed against the real hazard of evacuating Japan. Profit to be made now in transportation! In iodine tablets!

This brings up the question of whether the 50 workers in the melting nuclear plant should have collective bargaining rights? Shouldn't supply and demand determine their salary as individuals weighing the risks privately?

In oil markets we can see the Saudi "stabilization" plan is working in Bahrain, helping jittery markets with supply worries. Who will buy Gaddafi oil if he is so willing to hurt his own people? Why, everyone. Good thing he doesn't have WMD's or Colin Powell might have to take him out in front of the U.N. Clinton is in Egypt introducing her friends from Goldman-Sachs to the Twitter revolutionists and so freedom and the free market should be able to work their magic in cheaper cotton and durable goods.Unless those rampaging Jihadi Islamists take over as Pagan predicted.

As for the leftists running NPR, they make sure to run the neutral commercials for Exxon-Mobile,General Electric, Morgan Stanley, etc etc.. at the beginning of each news report in the interest of full disclosure. Or as Zizek puts it:

"The ultimate show of power on the part of ruling ideology is to allow what appears to be powerful criticism."

You can fool some of the people most of the time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Middle Class or No Class?

The recent struggle over collective bargaining rights has harnessed a great deal of positive energy. People across the country understand this to be a defining issue of social justice and are struggling to locate it in the wider context of the global capitalist crisis. But in my opinion we only muddle the issue and prevent deeper understanding by constant reference to "building the middle class".

The current progressive/ populist/ labor conjuncture relies on a nostalgic, sentimental approach to the problems now facing workers. It harkens back to the New Deal and Roosevelt or Maynard Keynes for answers to problems fundamentally different from those of earlier times. This approach is doomed to fail because of certain crucial, false assumptions , because "progressive" leadership is wedded to the status quo, and because new voices are excluded from the dialogue.

Even if this crisis WERE the same as the depression of the 1930's, would the Left seek the same accommodation as it did then? In order to save capitalism from itself, the State intervened in a massive way with stimulus, tax policy and the extension of rights but even the turn from laissez faire to a social wage and welfare state policies did not create real economic growth. It is crucial to remember it took war-based expansion for that "middle class" to grow. At the same time this prosperous, manufacturing-industrial base grew, the energy towards building a truly democratic, just system was quashed. Suburbs spread across the landscape but the environment suffered and workers signed no-strike contracts and Taft-Hartley.

We are seeing that same type of reformist strategy now as capitalism is once more saved from itself. This time the calls for "austerity" are creating a backlash over particular budget items but workers accept the basic narrative that they are partners in a process to preserve The American Dream. Lacking a radical perspective, they are being lured by Big Labor and Old Guard Liberals away from any real fight and into yet another accommdation. Yet again they are being told to vote and legislate and regulate their way back to the "middle class" , and despite the treachery and utter corruption of the hollow charade called "politics" they seem willing to yet again follow rather than lead.

The brutal fact is; the worlds workers can not all live what we have called the "middle class" life. We must ask: is the consumption part of that American Dream sustainable? Now that Capital is global the worlds workers can no longer think of their issues in isolation. And it is time to recognize that the Social Democratic welfare state model has also failed. Now the reformed, kinder gentler capitalism of progressivism must be abandoned along with the limited struggle for mere accommodations. A broader, deeper struggle must begin, one informed by a much more radical critique.

The crisis is here. Recall petitions cannot save us now. "There is something going on here...but you don't know what it is.."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recall or Strike?

Angry protesters are back in the Madison state capital after a surprise maneuver and vote strips collective bargaining rights from public workers, despite the fact Democrats are still hiding out in Illinois. Crowds rushed in and started chanting and drumming but the slogans varied from "general strike" to " recall the Representatives". Lets consider this rather wide range of choices.

One is radical and addresses the question of power. It opens a can of worms because once workers see and feel this power it is very difficult to predict where it might lead. Some would demand transformative, structural change, wanting to get to the root of the inequity. This might include saying screw the budget, the deficit, austerity and the horse they rode in on. This is why mainstream union leaders fear it and have been happy with no-strike clauses in contracts and channeling issues of power into Spectacular "politics" such as Democrats, Obama, legislation, policy etc.

Which is what the "recall" chant is all about. More timid progressives want to work through legal process to recall elected officials. They buy into the dominant narrative that, as unfair as the economic downturn and the calls for austerity are, something first needs to be done about the budget deficit. As good workers they are willing to sacrifice more but they wish to cling to their "right" and a shred of dignity.

Michael Moore is fired up, calling for "class war" which to him means making the banksters and wealthy pay for the crisis they created. "We are not Broke" is his slogan, thinking that with enough people power the workers can reclaim a bigger share of the social product and re-create the middle class. This is as far as he can imagine going, at least at this point. I think it is totally inadequate but my job is to push, push, push.

The right-wing meanwhile, is challenging unionism with the charge it is undemocratic. Dues check off means money comes straight out of your check and often straight to the Democratic Party. A closed shop means you are forced to join the union. I agree these are undemocratic and coercive measures and that if unions ever wish to be viable again they need to demonstrate why they are valuable and trust that workers would come to them willingly. If somebody wants to "free-ride" on the members, he should be taught the error of this kind of thinking.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Ideology of Small Business

Owning your own small business is the gateway to the American dream and within the dominant narrative, the small businessman's stature is nothing less than heroic. Like becoming a farmer, anybody can join the productive property owning class with nothing more than a vision and a large loan. You will be celebrated as the backbone of our economy and a moral exemplar endowed with traits of diligence, frugality, efficiency and ambition. John Boehner will actually cry just thinking about you!

One wonders how many small businessmen or farmers were in that crowd cheering when Michael Moore called for taxing the rich? How about bailing out the banks? It's a tricky class position, described well by Samuel Bowels and Herbert Gintis in their book Democracy and Capitalism:

"The fact that most populists were themselves property owners perhaps immunized them to socialist appeals, but it made them no less radically opposed to the railroads and the banks."

They are talking about Reconstruction but the same social dynamics are still in play as we imagine each citizen can become an equal player by acquiring private property. Of course to Jefferson, looking out at a vast new continent inhabited by savages, this seemed perfectly reasonable, and his Virginia Constitution, in a socialist turn, advocated "Every person of full age..shall be entitled to an appropriation of 50 acres."

In our day and age you don't get an appropriation, you find a business for sale or come up with your own plan. You go down for a subsidized business loan and get tax incentives and capital gains breaks and some of Ayn Rands glow washes over you as you realize you are now a member. Perhaps you will not be invited to Davos right away, but you can dream. Michael Moore mocked that dream, noting it's illusory nature rather than it's inspirational qualities, and this is the tension within liberalism. He believes in the Dream, if only...banks and greedy people and heartless, corrupt politicians and corporations and bad judges and the military-industrial complex, etc, etc. would get out of the way.

Populist fervor is spreading and the incredible Naomi Klien got an hour on Democracy Now to relate this all to her Shock Doctrine. I shouldn't be such a spoiler since this is the first glimmer of revolt but I fear the stinking Democrats will co-opt all the energy.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Solidarity Forever

You want to see an effective union, look no further than the US Chamber of Commerce. This is the true power of collective bargaining at work, unapologetically sumptuous banquets celebrating total victory over a fractious working class. If they have demands, they simply go on strike, hold back their capital until everyone cries uncle! That's a picket line you don't cross.

And organization, Holy Joe Hill! They got trade associations, conferences, Think Tanks, the two political parties, media and the courts pushing a unified agenda. An injury to one is an injury to all. You start whining about Big Banks, or threaten to indict a CEO and they won't build a factory in your town and ALLOW you to work for them. Golf Clubs, luxury vacation lodges, private schools, why it's all one big happy family sharing the good life they so amply deserve.

The good news this week? Job gains, the majority paying between $9.03 an hour to $12.91. Couple of those and you could almost make ends meet living in your minivan( except for spikes in gas and food ).At this rate an 11 to 13 year march back to 5% unemployment, unless old workers can't afford to retire or machines replace people or there is another bubble or other shit that always goes wrong is on schedule. Perhaps there is some way to free up the market OR,.. and this is why I can't believe I haven't been hired by the RAND Corporation... ally with the drug cartels and declare war on Mexico. Cheap oil, cheap labor, cheap drugs, nice beaches??

James Madison from The Federalist No.10:

"Those who hold property and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society...The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principle task of modern legislation."

Task complete.Call it democracy and split the pot.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Widening Split

Louis Hartz, in his book The Liberal Tradition in America, wrote :

"In a society evolving along the American pattern...where virtually everyone, including the nascent industrial worker, had the mentality of an independent entrepreneur, two national impulses are bound to make themselves felt: the impulse towards democracy and the impulse towards capitalism."

He is opposing us Americans to Europe, where old class division disturbs the implied harmony.This kool-aid was drunk by the bucket but it ignores the clash of rights, personal versus property, that is never far from the surface in the land of E.Pluribus Unim.( think: we reserve the right to refuse service...)

Uncle Milty Friedman mixed up another batch when he wrote in his classic Capitalism and Freedom:

"Freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself...economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom."

In each of these texts there is interesting language about the psychological component; Hartz's "mentality" and Friedman's "broadly understood", implying a hegemonic, intellectual logic which is the incubator for making the capitalism = freedom connection. This is the role of ideology and culture and if done properly, it disguises it's manipulation so effectively people think their belief systems are inherent or naturalistic, normative, perhaps "God given".The military calls it psy-ops, Madison Ave. calls it advertising, FOX calls it "news", John Stewart calls it comedy, schools call it history or economics class.

But of course the workplace, the family, the school,the segregated lunch counter, are also sites of formative culture ( where discussions happen) and the unavoidable antagonisms will eventually, at times, cause people to question the normative discourse.

"Wait a second, I'm not an 'entrepreneur' I'm an exploited wage slave!" or "Wait a second, working two jobs and still needing food stamps is NOT my idea of 'freedom'! I should be free from want!"or "Wait a second, how come I'm working AND doing all the cooking and cleaning!"

The harmony, as happens periodically, is dissolving and the fictions of the "end of ideology" or "the end of history" are being exposed. Signs saying Tax the Rich and FOX commentators bemoaning "class war" are signals. So is growing talk of a general strike.The question is: Will people both liberal and conservative see this for what it is, the clash of expanding individual rights against expanding property rights? What will the demands of the strike be? Both sides prefer to target nebulous elites or corporations or bankers or bureaucrats or special interests or whatever... rather than admitting the structural contradiction and the real struggle over democracy.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Convergence ?

It is admittedly very hard to wrap ones head around the matrix of unstable forces at play both locally and globally at this juncture and come up with scenarios, possibilities, analysis or synthesis. There is LOTS going on. US media has totally given up; after Egypt I have seen no effort at contextualizing beyond the simplest frames. For example, here is Doyle McManus in LA Times:

"Here's a modest proposal; the administration and Congress should choose a country to turn into a real success story and make sure it gets all the help it needs."

Like choosing an Ethiopian poster child to adopt and "save", the US could unleash the Institute for Democracy and USAID and the New Chicago Boys and a few Mormon missionaries and create a model society! Conservatives rant just as idiotically about Caliphates and Islamic Socialists. Meanwhile one senses panic in foreign policy circles because the implications for not just Middle Eastern but wider, global revolt against "austerity" bumps up against the reality of a massive global economic slump. Capitalism has little MOJO at the moment and oil prices are running into municipal bond defaults and further lay-offs and rising food prices and on and on and on. Germany is balking at having to bail out the European periphery and the Saudis don't have nearly as much reserves as they have claimed."Perfect storm" is a bit of a cliche and yet..

Then there is Madison Wisconsin, the protests spreading to other states and the general hatefulness towards the working class and poor here in the home of the brave. That very Puritan "living within our means" when a penny saved is no longer a penny earned. Is this disgust at the status quo linked in any way to unrest around the globe? Michael Moore, Tea partiers, unionists, enviros and Middle Easterners all seem to be calling out for an as yet nebulous, idealized, but unformed notion of political democracy based somehow on rights and constitutions and greater equality and access and justice.... but still...It is all rhetoric with no real theory behind it. We aren't going back to FDR or Ronald Reagan, we are moving forward into the unknown. Scary, indeed. Flux. Fissures.

One thing we know is that history is suddenly on the move and the opportunity to widen the cracks in capitalism is increasing daily. This use of the battering ram can happen on two fronts I think, one, the active, "billion incessant stings" as Kalle Lasn describes it, relentless, bold criticism and loud displays of subjectivity. The other is a more passive encouragement of capitalisms debilitating death spiral, support for Orin Hatch's "Health Care Plan", support for all "Free Market Solutions" and Privitization of All Spheres, Bigger Wars, Bigger Tax Cuts, Ayn Rands head carved into Mount Rushmore, till our "political-economy" is such a reeking, ridiculous, pornographic mess Rand Paul will be forced to take Rupert Murdoch and Barak Obama on that long ride into the wilderness. Perhaps after that Death Drive we can park the car for awhile?