Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mr. Block

So now a bunch of Pagan's buddies, clever fellows that they are, have started an "I'm the 53% tumblr" here htp://the53.tumblr. The Wobblies have a great name for these guys, named after a cartoon character created by Ernest Riebe in 1912 and immortalized in a Joe Hill song called Mr. Block.

"Mr. Block is legion," wrote Walker C. Smith in 1913. "He is representative of that host of slaves who think in terms of their masters. Mr. Block speaks from the standpoint of the millionaire, licks the hand that smites him and kisses the boot that kicks him." In a sense , it is a collective form of Stockholm Syndrome mixed with a little curmudgeon. Like my grandad telling me he had to walk five miles uphill( both ways!) to school every day and then milk the chickens and blah blah. A funny take on this pathology is portrayed in the Monty Python movie Life of Brian!

"Block thinks he may- be President some day." Joe Hill. And he thinks he has a monopoly on virtue and American Spirit.

Maybe worse are the liberals. Here is Benjamin Barber in the latest Nation, trying hard to catch up to Occupy and sputtering nonsense like: "Toward a Fighting Liberalism" ( I shit you not)
"Liberalism's core values remain strong, persuasive and enduring. Their fighting vitality is apparent in the spreading youth-led protests on Wall Street and across the country." It's basically re-hashed "we gotta push Obama" bullshit.Because they lost their imagination decades ago.

A long over-due debate is taking place on a dozen web sites in the "progressive" media-sphere over liberalism. A great example is the comment threads over at where liberals are being criticized from the left and acting very hurt about it. They just can't fathom someone attacking Elizabeth Warren or Michael Moore or any of the other stars and in a big way, this is the divide finally being acknowledged by the Occupy movement as well. Charges of opportunism and Utopianism are flying around and I say it's about time! The tired liberals with their tired approach tried to co-opt the Occupy Montana event on Saturday and unless some youth do show up they will probably be successful.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We're All Sarah Now

Here is Ian Fraser from Finance Magazine on the Occupy movement: "They want to replace crony capitalism with a saner version of capitalism."

And this is Nicholas Kristoff in today's NYT: "this is a chance to save capitalism from crony capitalists."

There are other examples around the internets because the memo finally went out, Sarah Palin had it right. As readers have noticed, my beef isn't with conservatives, I wouldn't waste my breath arguing with people with so little aptitude. My problem is with these boot-licking liberals who are always ready to clean up the mess after capitalists go on a binge. It is classic enabling behavior, like the black-eyed wife protecting her abuser husband. ( see the rage underlying Pagan's rants)

This is the message from Eric Alterman and the Nation crowd, from Thom Hartman, Glen Greenwald and Rachael Maddow, from any liberal pundit ( Michael Moore is sending mixed messages) that sees an opportunity to serve the master and get a pat on the back. They all know the history. Like all the times in the past Capital, properly chastised, will apologize sweetly, promise never to do it again ( make-up sex?) and a week or a month or a year later...well, you know the pattern.

European banks take a fifty percent write down and the world is made right again. Confidence restored, capital will go get those trillions it has stashed and get back to the business of making widgets. Occupiers will leave their tents, shower,get shaves and haircuts, and go back to the widget factory. A chicken in every pot! Pagan will rest easy at night knowing decency has been restored. It's A Wonderful Life!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mission Finally Accomplished

You're welcome Iraqis. And listen, any time you need assistance don't be afraid to call. We're here to help!
Welcome home troops! Will there be a ticker-tape parade down Broadway? Does ticker-tape still exist? There is plenty of work up here in our own oil patch( eastern Mt, North Dakota, Wyoming) if nothing opens up in Kirkuk, where the Kurds may be the ones doing the hiring. There is a pipeline needing to be built through the Ogallala, a new rail line to get coal out of Otter Creek and through the tongue River valley, plenty of work if you know where to look.Or you can join the Innovation Economy, whatever.

Occupy Missoula took Thersite's advice and had it's General Assembly in the Public Library last night. Much warmer than the courthouse lawn. There may have been some "scumbag hipsters" there but it's hard for this old dirty hippie to tell.Are they the ones with tiny laptops? Noticeably absent are the students, but I believe there was an ultimate frisbee tournament going on at the same time. Besides, most UM graduates go right into the Drone industry, a perfect fit, if you know what I mean. In today's economy you don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the slowest worker!

Watching those smirking white faces at the Republican debate one can almost hear the chant: Let Them Eat Cake! These porkers are practically begging for the guillotine! They cheer Perry's death count, they cheer Cain's Marie Antionette impersonation, maybe they should go outside and light their cigars with 100 dollar bills! Is there no insipid bootstrap pablum too ridiculous for them to embrace? They still worship at the alter of a crappy actor named Ronnie and were so seriously sucked into the housing bubble they may never sell the inventory. So, let the fatties smirk and have their Mary Matlin- Ann Coulter mud wrestling fantasies. The little people are tired of scraps.

Of course this is Nevada, home of the famous Sagebrush Rebellion! The Jarbidge Shovel Brigade! I still remember a two ton truck filled with shovels leaving our little valley, shovels of support for the anti-Fed rebels. Where are those shovels now?, I sometimes wonder.

And this for the climate-change deniers or skeptics. The Koch funded Richard Muller of UC Berkeley just published a paper admitting he has been wrong about the science. In the press release announcing the results, Muller said, "Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK." In other words, climate scientists know what they're doing after all.Of course you can still deny it is has anything to do with human activity but such denial has a price in human lives. Something you bear. (hat tip to Phronesisaical)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Went To A Cider Party

Who remembers Ricky Nelson? Spent yesterday smashing apples into that sweet nectar (especially when mixed with vodka) with lots of old friends and new acquaintances. They would best be described collectively as progressives and many are actively involved in local Democratic "politics". Naturally most of the conversation centered on the Occupy movement and because I have been captured on TV, radio and video speaking out, I was asked my opinion of what it all means, portends, etc..

Many counter-culture types moved to this remote valley to escape modernity? civilization? over-crowding and alienation? (and I include myself) so some conversation is about impending doom, collapse, dystopia and sounds like naive hippie crap to me. Some is more nuanced (as is the latest thread on Kulturcritc's blog).Basically though, it reminds me of rightwing survivalist discourse. Growing gardens and making cider is a romanticized, privileged, nostalgic vision of what post-collapse life would look like.

On the other side were liberals who see no real crisis at all( just economic cycles), who feel slow and cautious is the way to go. One labor organizer told me "we will still be using gas in twenty years so the Tar Sands might be the best way to a sustainable energy future." ( he wants the Keystone pipeline jobs for his guys). Another wanted me to work in a coalition for incremental reforms. These are good folks, egalitarian, pluralist, humanists who still believe in the Third Way despite the overwhelming evidence of it's failure. Their utopian imagination has been crushed by the weight of pragmatic, bureaucratic, professional/managerial engineer-think.

All they got from me was nods and smiles as we turned the apple press and filled the jugs because I don't have to say a word. They have seen the news. The absurdity of their timid plea hangs in the air like a cloud of putrid gas. It is hard to realize you have turned into the old guard, that it is now you who is standing in the doorway and blocking the halls.

So-called conservatives, who have suddenly vanished from the discourse, are probably chuckling to themselves at the spectacle of Obama attacked from the left. But they are fools, so out of touch with reality and so vilified now that their mothers will soon act like they don't know them. The DOW is on a tear and it's a good time to get out. One lady in Chicago who had withdrawn her money was grabbed by undercover security and dragged BACK INTO the bank. Perfect metaphor for our time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pizza President

I'm totally down with Ducky on this one, Don't Be Insane, Vote For Cain! I had high hopes for Bachmann but this is a tough field. Lotta heavy weights. What must the racists be thinking? One in the White House and another one his way? Get the ammo! Anyway, Americans need and deserve a little free market enema, a lesson they won't soon forget.You see, the problem was, Bush was too intelligent. Joe the Plumber just couldn't relate to all the big words he used. Bush is in British Columbia today, actually, speaking to.. get economic forum! I have no idea if Hank Paulson is there but if it was me, I'd sneak over and fish the Kispiox or Bulkley.

Instead I'm at Occupy Missoula which is, as someone pointed out in the last thread, starting to get cold. The courthouse lawn is also where the alcoholics and homeless and mentally ill hang out. These are not so much the Indignant Ones as the Disposable Ones and the media has no way of distinguishing so they are getting some interesting interviews. I did a tv and a radio spot myself and I probably sound just as incoherent but what the hell. I pointed out to the GA my tactical concerns with focusing too exclusively on Evil Corporations and it was agreed to re-visit the issue. Hate to nit-pick but language is important.Most participants are progressives getting their first taste of anti-capitalism and they need time to think. We got a little time.

"The paper’s central premise is something I’ve been hearing from Alpert for more than a year now: this time, it really is different. What he and his co-authors mean by that is that the bursting of the debt bubble three years ago was not just a severe example of the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of American capitalism. Rather, it was the ultimate consequence of the modern global economy."

Joe Nocera NY Times describing an academic paper by a group of leading economists. What I liked was the word "inevitable". Lovely system that, where the periodic crushing of lives and dreams in inevitable. Which brings me to the "Free Trade" deals just passed by the capitalist state. In Columbia, the murder is constant and ongoing, not periodic. How cynical do you have to be to even use the term Free?

But as I wrote a year or two ago, they are playing us too close.

"This is about to get ugly and there is very little anyone can do about it." Kevin Giddis exec.managing director for fixed income capital at Morgan Kegg & Co. Read that either way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 4

Occupy Missoula has gotten a little soggier (rained all night) and a little more complicated. Which is only natural given a new social body is being invented day by day. I have noticed that a small band of core "facilitators" keep working the Assemblies, people with knowledge and experience which could all too easily turn into coordinator power.

The biggest issue has been messaging: What Are We and What Do We Want? If we were simple people like some I know we could just say : Kill All Rich People/Commies! But these gathered are generally thoughtful people who realize the world is complex. Trouble makers such as myself and Che Bob tried to introduce an anti-capitalist critique but most people wanted to follow New York's lead and single out Corporations.

This is problematic and no doubt a great relief to the ruling class that heard Zizek's speech on Sunday. (Liberals were critical as well, demonstrating which side they will choose when push comes to shove). But the problem with fighting corporatism is the end game. Do you wish to re-try Santa Clara County vs Southern Pacific? (county where I was born, by the way) Do you want to re-try Dartmouth College vs Woodward and go after their person-hood? Interestingly, the guy who drafted our message statement is a lawyer. Does he want to argue this before the Supremes?

Or do you just want go after Limited Liability or Charters? I think this strategy is a dead-ender for movement building and that in fact, corporations are a straw man. My local barbershop is a corporation. They sell stock and retain the right to transfer ownership. You can become a corporation yourself for fifty bucks in most states. Do we just hate big corporations? How big? Just rich ones? How rich? This focus on corporations is the result of populists like Bill Moyers or Thom Hartman who believe capitalism can be reformed.

16,000 children will die today of causes related to malnutrition while tons of food is wasted or lies rotting. This is not because of corporations but because of capitalism.

I suggest instead we think of Wall Street or Corporations as symbolic of capitalisms propensity to hollow out democracy. It's not the money junkies themselves, but the structure they represent. Now is the time to re-claim the imagination the system has crushed (primarily speaking to progressives), to give up on the obscene Profit System and, to quote Zizek again, not be "afraid to want what you desire."

If Herman Cain calls you anti-American for being anti-capitalist all the better. He is a bigger moron than Rudy and Trump and Palin put together!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Occupy Missoula

A damn fine showing in Zootown today and I didn't have to organize it! It actually grew pretty much organically, and was extremely diverse in terms of sex, age and class anyway. Beak was there representing the Rudy League though his speech about Chavez fell a little flat. In fact it cleared the park, so the folks took to the streets on an un-permitted march to the courthouse which they shared with a lovely wedding that was in progress. Probably the first wedding to be occupied in this nascent movement. The black-block kids and my wife insisted on blocking traffic but the cops stayed out of the way."Whose streets?, our streets! They chanted but I always feel a little sorry for the people with an appointment stuck in traffic. Robbies impassioned trashing of Obama and the Democrats was a highlight. Che Bob made it on local TV.

We organized the basic committees to maintain the little encampment and study groups so folks could discuss and learn about the different political philosophies floating about. Beak and an Alex Jones fan talked about patriotism to the homeless folks who use the park to drink and hang out.There is a large anti-capitalist sentiment and it will be interesting to see what sort of synthesis arises with the reform minded folks.

In fact the most profound analysis came from a guy who shouted out the window of his truck as he drove by: "There's winners and there's losers! That's capitalism." This is the strict social Darwinian approach which transfers the notion of financial success, through effort, skill, talent or sheer luck, to a judgement by Nature onto your very character. The man's truck allowed him a sense of superiority over those without, who he assumed were simply whining about their lot in life.He may actually have a disproportionate share of power (along with his wealth) or just be a red-neck whose mind had been colonized, either way he was alienated from his fellow citizens.This hierarchy rends the social fabric at all levels and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect display to answer the oft asked question: "What do you people want changed?"

This same kind of activity broke out in almost fifty cities today and the mainstream media still can't come up with a narrative.(unlike the right-wing press which has gone with the "unwashed" meme) If we aren't a Party running in an Election it is beyond their ken.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Workers Unite?

It's great to see SEIU down at Zucotti Square but I hope someone asks them about California health care workers. Because their union is actively scabbing and trying to break a courageous strike. It is time for honest critique of EVERYTHING, just get it out in the open and talk.

That includes the Teamster support for the Keystone XL pipeline. Yes, it means quite a few good jobs (though not the 60,000 they are claiming) at a time of high unemployment. But the fact is Workers can always be blackmailed by a Capital strike and at some point they need to realize they have been on the wrong, accommodating, compromising track. Labor either grows a pair RIGHT NOW, or becomes totally irrelevant. It is a line in the sand and any hope for a BLUE GREEN COALITION depends on a radically new approach.

I hope somewhere in all these encampments and general assemblies people are talking about the difficult, essential element of class. What is it? How can it help/hinder a mobilization? What role does it have going forward? One thing the Obama presidency has excelled at is deferring that discussion but we need to have it out, right now,

As for discursive space more generally, I'm starting to feel more optimistic it could exist. There is a yearning that won't die. Look at the progression from the manufactured Health Care Town Halls to the Tea Party Rallys To John Stewart's Rally for Sanity to Madison Wis. to these General Assemblies springing up. People are finally getting sick of having their views "represented" by nit wit candidates or politicians or pundits. They want a voice. And while it won't be very articulate at first, or even coherent, we'll just have to be as patient as we can.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Wall Street : Symbol or Substance?

Like it or not, every act of insurrection comes down to it's demands. Whether it is a protest or a strike or an all out revolt, unless some objective can emerge from the group dynamic/consensus at some point,it will only have been an exercise.

The objective need not be realized immediately, but I think it is important that it be articulated and circulated. This is why theatre is so powerful, it inserts itself by insisting that all imagination isn't dead (Yet), that symbols and metaphors still contain a power beyond the pull of the dominant ideology and institutions.

So is #Occupy Wall Street more important as theatre with symbolic objectives or a protest with concrete demands? If we look back at the occupation of the Republic Window and Door factory in Chicago or the occupation of the State capitol in Wisconsin, we see this modern dilemma play out.In both instances radical(symbolic) objectives such as: Workers Should Own the Means of Production were reduced in favor of objective demands: Workers Deserve Their Back Pay. A small victory was declared when the demand was (easily) met and the momentum for structural change was dissipated. In Wisconsin the more radical demands such as : Not Our Austerity or Fire the Bosses were reduced to recall elections and support for the Democratic Party. Again the momentum for deep, imaginative restructuring was dissipated and channelled into a form the capitalist state could easily manage.

The General Assembly in Liberty Park is faced with this decision as the weather gets colder and the media moves on to the Next Big Thing. Their Demand, which will probably boil down to: Tax The Rich, will be duly negotiated and considered by The Powers That Be. (who have already decided to do that anyway in order to save capitalism from itself again). Those Powers will be thinking "or else what?" but they will mostly be discreet enough not to say it out loud, instead congratulating the " sometimes messy democratic process".

But if there was no "demand", but instead a symbolic, theatrical, agreed upon suggestion or proposal: End the Capitalist System, it would actually give Wall Street and every other street (Main Street, K Street, Madison Ave., Pennsylvania Ave. etc) something to worry about. The Occupiers could say: Screw Your Reforms and call the action off on their own terms, vowing to show up again unannounced and better organized at some later (warmer) date.By saying : Wall Street is just a symbol of a whole brutal system which we want dismantled, they lose none of the energy and leave everybody hanging, suspended in a tension which Power hates more than anything.