Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don't Vote

Here come the liberals, tongues out, looking for door knockers:

"If Occupiers can run tent camps, organize food kitchens and clean-up brigades, run general assemblies and use social media, they can take over and run a significant part of the Democratic Party." George "Elephant" Lakoff

Only thing they ask in exchange for your own desk and clipboard is that you don't use controversial words like capitalism or imperialism, in fact stay away from any "isms". Talk about re-building the middle class or banking reform or maybe something nebulous like "public oversight of the economy" to bring in the Leftys. But remember your Funders!

Sorry Ducky, I'm throwing in the towel. I was prepared to vote for Cain but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time before they find the home porn videos he made and so instead, inspired by the Egyptian revolutionaries, I now call for Occupy Wall Street to endorse a boycott of the elections.

At it's most basic, the OWS message is that Wall Street and Washington are two sides of the same corrupt coin. The liberal fantasy of a neutral state has been shattered so why would we want to legitimize it? This would actually unite left and right and go beyond a populist "Throw The Bums Out" (tried ad nauseam) and really call the question. Sure, we will end up with Obama again (Newt's not crazy enough, Mitt is Mitt) but what a nice wake up call for liberals and those deluded ones who really think they are "Independent". Even including the radical vote the Republicans are just far too inept and incoherent to compete but hey, it was worth a shot.

What we do is follow the Spaniards and encourage voters to skip the middle man and place their ballots directly into bank machines. Or mark all the trash bins with big letters saying Ballot Box.

By then the Germans will be deciding whether to give their old allies a bail-out, Durbin will have shown the small countries our willingness to commit eco-cide and my tear gas stocks will be through the roof.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday and It's Discontents

I know Black Friday is a Spectacular orgy one might hope to someday look back upon with incredulous contempt, but the fact is, for the beaten down working class, camping out in front of a mall to get a bargain on a product might not be something the left wants to mock. Maybe we should sympathize. From a position of privilege it is easy to say "You shouldn't buy a giant flat-screen TV" but this could be said about anything anyone of us owns. Adbusters, for whom I have a great deal of respect, focuses much of their critique on "consumer culture" and accumulation but I think this is the weakest part of their analysis.It's an action in search of a logic.

An action like Buy Nothing Day could have revolutionary potential, but not nearly as much as Don't Work Month or Don't Pay Your Bills Month. And the tactic of shaming Black Friday consumers runs into issues of coherence when we consider those just trying to afford something they need.Those struggling against a de-humanizing system should not be compared to zombies. The potential is only manifested when the anti-capitalist critique is well understood by everyone and the ones shamed are the profiteers.

This conscious-consumption ethic also drives much of the environmental movement and the Transition Town thing I am investigating. It is unavoidably ambiguous in it's attitude toward technology or modernity more generally, adopting a notion of provincial/pastoralism as a brake on the runaway locomotive of capitalism. Here, slowness becomes an ethic, slow-food, slow-production, slow-consumption. It is a hearkening back to a pre-literate orientation to time itself. "Quality" time, sensual time, less teleological time. A more dignified time.

In the end however, I think people do want the trains to run on clock time. We can adjust the pace of life and embrace a little " pasado manana" without romanticizing inefficiency or un-utilized capacity as the New Way Forward.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Smaller, Gentler Capitalism

As one could easily have predicted, the major theoretical split in the Occupy Movement is what to do about this thing called ( insert your favorite adjective,ie late,crony,raw, neoliberal, etc... or not) capitalism. The progressive populists want to "move your money" and "end corporate person-hood" and "buy and grow local". All of these things have as a common denominator a downsizing in scale. Live in smaller tribes, start a local currency, all this Schumacher small-is-beautiful type stuff. "One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small." Along with this is what I believe to be an "unexamined nostalgia" for small business and tight communities, a sentimentality that runs the gamut between conservative and liberal. Ideal Mom and pop stores, where everybody knows your name. According to Rob Hopkins' Transition Town handbook, "small scale responses...help show the way forward for governments, business and the rest of us."

None of this speaks to exploitation at the point of production. As Doug Henwood economist with the the Left Business Observer reminds us, small business can be far more ruthless than the post-industrial corporation. Money is still money even if it is in your local credit union. There are some tight reactionary communities around here that are incredibly resilient.

So as much as we would wish it away, it comes back to those dismal sciences of economics and sociology. We still have to debate reductionist anthropological or socio-biological assumptions about human nature. The universities still teach "schools" of thought with their marginal utility, pareto efficiency, theories of value, equilibrium and lump of labor fallacy. In the "new" economics we hear about no growth, steady state, smaller, gentler capitalism but all too often it is a mystification to avoid the huge knowledge gaps most people have about the system under which they now labor. But these critiques are part of the slow painful work of building a new,hegemonic discourse.

Then there is the split between people who insist it is not enough to be against something, you have to know and build consensus around what you are for. You have to establish concise definitions accepted by all and settle all tensions and only THEN can you move forward. Is it enough to be against injustice? Or must one first have a perfect definition of justice? (good luck on that)

Me, I'm investing in pepper spray and tear gas, a high growth sector exploding with potential in the coming years.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Manic Monday

You just have to start with the Not-So-Super Committee, whose failure to compromise sent Congress' approval ratings to 0.001% for the first time ever. Not even their families will admit to knowing them. One might think the Tea Party would be rallying around this symbolic drowning of government in the bathtub but they remain eerily quiet. ( hint: all but the village idiot now recognize democracy isn't corrupted by government bureaucracy but by Corporate ownership. Obama isn't a socialist , he is a pawn) The Markets are reacting poorly and Max Baucus was charged a cleaning fee when he returned his cape. I personally think it is admirable both sides stuck to their guns ( I am that .001) and the ideology is now front and center instead of obscured. The choice is failed social democracy or failed laissez faire. That's not a real choice.

The demonstrations in Tahrir Square put Hillary and Barack in another awkward fix. It seems to be the excess democracy they don't like and cotton futures are down along with tourism. The Egyptian military is Wisconsin's Scott Walker, free marketeers who don't like unions and could exploit their coalition with religious fundamentalists.

The Spanish Socialist Party lost big in yesterday's elections, in part because they aren't socialists. Like the Chinese Communist party selling real-estate. The German left party Die Link has a coherent anti-capitalist platform but these others are like New Labour or SPD and deserve to lose. And while we are discussing Europe and Markets reacting poorly, it looks like Moody's is on the verge of down-grading France. Neither country is famous for embracing austerity measures.

Everyone wants Occupy to come up with "concrete actions" and pragmatic demands. I am going to go with theatrical, symbolic actions and demanding the impossible. Full employment and National wages and pensions for all. Just to get us started. A democratic economy with fossil free production. Anything I am missing? The point right now is to break the collective imagination out of it's Matrix-like cocoon and force people to choose a pill. That's a Real choice.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Energy

In that great tradition of Zeitgeist, Alex Jones, What the Bleep and countless other Grand Unifying Theories That Can Save The Planet, this new film Thrive takes crazy up a notch. Here we have a true code given to people centuries ago by space aliens that can provide boundless energy for free...EXCEPT for the powers that will stop at nothing to keep this code concealed:

"J.P. Morgan got Lorentz to cripple the Heaviside equations so that the new EE (electrical engineering) concepts being taught in the universities would not ever contain free energy and over unity systems. This deliberate mutilation and crippling of electrical engineering is the real and single cause of our dependence on oil and of much of the pollution of our biosphere…The “High Cabal” – Churchill’s name for the secret consortium of elite families and organization we loosely refer to as the “control groups.” – has been ruthlessly suppressing free energy inventors for a century, including by direct assassination. Having personally survived several such assassination attempts, I have experienced what I’m speaking of."
– Tom Bearden, Inventor, Author, Energy from the Vacuum

Basically, for all you scientist-types out there, what we got is a torus and a Vector Equilibrium and something Tesla was working on and a lot of cosmic in and out. But the financial elite (1% for you Occupiers), Rockefellers and Bilderbergers and New World Order Global Domination crowd wants to prevent a just and sustainable future so they use the Federal Reserve and Monsanto and chemtrails and GMO food to fuck the rest of us over. Basically, it's a mix of cold fusion, Van Jones and "natural capitalism".

There. Everything should be clear now. You're welcome.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Insanity or Cowardice?

Here is Jeffrey Sachs' latest offering: "Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose..a third progressive era is likely to be in the making." This economic visionary prescribes "a fresh generation of candidates."

Third Times a Charm? Really? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result? Looking beyond the inane revisionism and missing definition of acceptable "inequality", he reminds me of Tony Judt arguing for "social democracy" as Tony Blair and Berlusconi get elected. Even if we get a New New New Deal, won't Hillary just de-regulate the whole fucking thing again? Or that "fresh generation" of Twitter candidates?

Here is a different historical narrative from Wolfgang Streek in his NLR 71 article, Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.( he has obviously been reading my blog). He traces a long arc back to the post-war settlement between capital and labor where workers accepted capitalist markets and property rights in exchange for political democracy (social security, pensions, raises, full employment, collective bargaining, etc) But when the war bump ends and global growth slows in the late 60's, inflation begins to rise rapidly. "inflation can be described as a monetary reflection of distributional conflict between a working class, demanding both employment security and a higher share in their countries income, and a capitalist class striving to maximize the return on it's capital. As the two sides act on mutually incompatible ideas of what is theirs by right, one emphasizing the entitlements of citizenship and the other those of property and market power, inflation may also be considered an expression of anomie in a society.."

Along comes Volker and Carter and an attack on inflation by raising interest rates. The unemployment was handled by the Reagan/Thatcher assault on unions (so much for the "settlement") but stagnation and economic disorder persisted. All the deferred wages, in the form of social entitlements, came due however, and we begin the era of public debt, borrowing once more into future productivity. Of course,"just like inflation the accumulation of public debt cannot go on forever" so under Clinton we enter the era of de-regulation and end of "welfare as we know it." The government was able to run a budget surplus by "giving citizens and firms unprecedented opportunities for indebtedness" and so public debt was replaced by private debt. We know how that story ends. It's public again and being passed around like a hot potato.

The beauty of the capitalist system is you can put off till tomorrow what you don't wish to deal with today. Shift the burden, cook the books, or better yet, simply pass the debt off to the next generation. War debt,financial bubble debt, climate debt, it never has to show up in the actual price of anything...till later.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Read It Here First

About six months ago I mentioned Italian debt. Italy, like the U.S., is too big too fail and so, to avoid a Lehman Moment, it "managed a successful offering of debt securities" last night, bought by the European Central Bank. The problem is that the contagion is spread throughout Europe. France, even Germany (the wundereconomy) are leveraged like AIG was. Italy's bond yield is now way over 7%, the point at which Ireland and Greece had to start begging. According to Scott Simon at Economix,"..then all sovereign debt in Europe will need to be repriced downward." Sound familiar?

Which means Beaks favorite clown Berlosconi will have to be replaced and many are calling for a technocratic government of "experts" to step in and set things straight.But this begs the question; aren't we already really governed by experts? Aren't they called the G20? I think what these commentators are saying is we need some NEW experts, some who are more expert than the old experts.

It occurred to me this odd Occupy moment with everyone asking Who Are We and What Do We Want? is a problem of semiotics. We have learned in our post-modern world to live comfortably with all these floating and empty signifiers such as Democracy and Politics or The Left. I am ok with indeterminancy, but not with the lack of debate and discussion which has been the hallmark of the last 40 years. So now when a Moment or Event opens up, citizens have no consensus on what consensus means or what citizen means. They are all fill-in-the-blank questions and there is a great deal of talking past one another. The Right, being brain dead, doesn't have this problem,they just round up a posse for Liberty and ride out into the sunset.

The Left can begin by defining itself as anti-capitalist and working out from there.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Transition Towns

A study group formed out of the Occupy Experience which has met twice now and discussed the Transition Town model as developed by Rob Hopkins. It takes as a basis the notion that an energy crisis is fast approaching, further exacerbating the global economic crisis and communities should transition towards something more resilient. He primarily advocates localizing food systems, which appeals to a lot of folks here on many levels. The concept of "peak oil" elicits many different responses and this one strives to be very scale oriented, "doable" and appealing to a mainstream but politically aware audience.

The literature and video presentations go out of their way not to critique capitalism as such or spend much time on asking why we are in this precarious situation. They just say it is coming and you best be prepared. It is political only in the least antagonistic sense of the word, hoping to actually incorporate local government and business in the guise of community building.

The first night the group basically built consensus around the nature of the problem (carbon based economy) and a commitment to learn more. Last night a critique was introduced and it was refreshing to see how well it was received, if not the specific arguments, at least the fact we can be critical without being divisive. (of course Beak didn't show up). To the consternation of some, the anti-capitalists pressed for a radical investigation of the crisis in all it's forms but it didn't degenerate into cries against infantile leftism. There is a legitimate argument around the use of language, around compromise and inclusiveness and hopefully we are mature enough to work it out ( I don't equate historical stages with human growth, btw). We don't have to advertise our project as Communist Transition Towns and we don't have to withhold divulging our personal politics during discussions. There should be a synthesis possible.

The most problematic parts of Hopkins' vision for me are notions of "social enterprises and entrepreneurship". For instance : "social enterprises often stem from one visionary, bold individual, an entrepreneur...the important point is not to fear business..not all businesses are in some way wicked." Me fears old Rob is one of these visionaries and is saying radicals need not apply.

He wants to "bring land into community ownership" but in "real existing capitalism" this means titles, taxes, insurance, and the State. Also problematic are foundations and trusts and non-profits as the guardians of the liberal status quo. They have money for this stuff, not poor working people. This thing is supposed to be open source so it will be interesting to see what Missoula morphs into.