Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Wrong Side of the Mirror

RIP Adrienne Rich. She courageously challenged The Ignorant Ones but passed on with the sad knowledge they are running everything now. Pathos or tragedy? Guess we'll find out. The Supremes listen to arguments and worry about our Freedom but where is little "Super Committee" Max Baucus? Drinking shots from a hookers shoe?

Why would we trust scientists who tell us the Arctic ice caps have shrunk 40% since the early 80s? If they lied about going to the moon and just want to regulate the free market out of existence, why should we trust them? If the Constitution guarantees us life, liberty, etc. and Montana's Colstrip coal fired power plant caused 31 deaths last year, will the Supremes care? Lots of questions, few answers.

It really seems to me that instead of the massive protests being planned for Chicago over the Nato Summit, these angry folks should be headed for the Alberta Tar Sands. Isn't that by far the real threat to democracy and justice and security and all that stuff? What if we had a giant ticker in Times Square showing the parts per million of CO2 as they rise? Actually, Romney said that Russia is America's number one foe which seems weird because I thought it was either jihadis or taking God out of schools?

Anyway, in the spirit of making America "energy independent" Obama is opening up the Arctic to drilling and the Blackfoot Nation is opening up tribal lands to fracking (why shouldn't money and the Great Spirit be One on this side of the mirror?) We could build yurts and live on kale and our well water could STILL be fucked up.

It's easy to accuse me of letting the perfect get in the way of the good. For instance when I insist that the RE-distribution of wealth is not enough, that we must look at the primary distribution.I'm not being a curmudgeon, I'm being traumatically realistic in an upside down world. The Tea Party is right, the government is cracking down on whistleblowers and cops are getting more comfortable with deadly force at the slightest pretext ( Fred Hampton RIP). But like Bruce Springsteen or Jon Stewart or the Nation magazine or the Pope, they are mistaken to think capitalism can be reformed or made pure. They need to look away from the mirror.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Some Belated Replies

I just noticed the comment thread on the "slouching" post of a week ago and will reply. To Patrick: First, belated happy St. Patrick's Day. If I actually equated your demand for less bureaucracy with fascism/nazism I was mistaken and apologize. (I'm too lazy to search for the reference in question)

As for your notion that "there are supposed to be some regulatory safeguards to prevent that kind of corruption", this is indeed the essence of modern liberalism. It is a quaintly optimistic, and we now know, naively absurd expectation. We now know it is a capitalist state with capitalist courts and it's own capitalist press. And it regulates itself perfectly to serve that end. It's a matter of asking the right questions.

Beak: Who is LWB? I don't have any idea how to block comments even if I find them offensive.Did you say "real Jews"? Because that's a lot like saying "real Germans". And I am not a hack fishing guide, I can send you recommendations. I support many Chavez policies but have no allegiance to the man.

As for the dude with all the guns, he probably just thought he was erring on the side of caution (lots of minorities in Sacramento) and will sue the Govment for infringing on his rights. I know him in the figurative sense.

Now for my comment for the day. Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone about Bank of America has generated lot's of buzz. In "gonzo" style he takes down the culture of corruption Patrick's regulations are supposed to somehow stifle. I like what Baudrillard says about corruption:

"Just as the scorpion threatened by fire shoots it's own venom into itself, democracy encircled by the flames of free-market economics and the new world order pumps the searing venom of corruption into it's veins."

Anyway, after exposing the vile behavior of bankers, Taibbi ends with this:

"In a pure capitalist system, an institution as moronic and corrupt as Bank of America would be swiftly punished by the market.." He agrees with Patrick that Big Government intervened and harmed us all because Matt too is a liberal believer. He continues : "'s a full-blown assault on the American dream. Where's the incentive to play fair and do well..?" Charming, really, to think such starry eyed folks still exist. He ends with this: "Throughout history, it's precisely this kind of corrupt behavior that has given birth to counter-cultural revolutions."

The "revolution" Matt desires, then, is a change towards "a pure capitalist system", something that never has ,never will and never could exist. But everyone from Obama to Romney to Bill Mc Kibben to Rob Hopkins to David Korten want us to Believe in and Hope for it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Iceberg?

After a whole weekend spent "strategizing" with Occupy Missoula, we not only couldn't begin turning the ship, we couldn't even agree on how to re-arrange the deck chairs.

Those in this town with a sincere, compassionate desire to "fix the world" too often turn out to be those with the least developed knowledge or understanding of political-economy. And then there's the just plain crazies. Reaching consensus on anything meaningful with liberals, conservatives, radicals, undecideds and mystics is actually impossible.

So I'm not sure the whole Occupy/consensus/ anarchist model is the right one for our current historical moment. It may have too much anti-globalization-World social Forum nostalgia and a certain sixties sentimentality. Those progressives who participated in the Community Bill of Rights workshop a couple weeks ago were a much more sophisticated, educated bunch and there is little cross- over. There were one or two from the Transition Town study groups but it is difficult to discern any real movement in either of those two efforts either. Meanwhile, Nike will come out with it's new Occupy Runner in time for Chicago's festivities.

The problem of course, is confusion about capitalism. Those still hoping to reform it are virtually paralyzed, neutered and out-maneuvered at every juncture. Obama's latest pipeline jujitsu is the perfect case in point. NGO's sprout like crocuses in spring (let a thousand NGO's blossom!) but by the time they have finished their first fund-raising drive, capital has already developed a new way to co-opt them.The educated liberal"green" academics packing the Barry Lopez reading were a perfect example.

The only serious proposal was one by a young climate change activist and it never got discussed or acted on but I think I will hitch my wagon to that cause. I doubt that he or his student colleagues have a radical critique but maybe after they get bashed around a bit they will come to understand the Real issue behind the real one. Coal is just a symbol of capitalism's imperative to poison it's host for profit. Our attempt to question it's logic will not be tolerated by liberals, conservatives, democrats or republicans. We will be hated by workers and bosses, the Chamber of Commerce and unions. It'll be perfect.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Continued Slouching

I just watched Santorum's speech at some gathering in Illinois with the worlds largest American flag in the background. Because size matters! In fact, I'm prepared to vote for the candidate with the biggest flag.Or Bible. But as a metaphor for hyperbole, it was a great backdrop for his professing the MOST patriotism and faith, for declaring America the MOST exceptional, for our people being the MOST favored by God etc..

I could picture blog commentators Patrick and Beak in the crowd, with their single minded devotion and "passionate intensity",( see their comments to my last post, the hanging, the gasoline) stirred by Santorum's emotional pitch. And then I could picture Adolf Hitler at those giant rallies with those giant Nazi flags in the background and his emotional pleas for a renewed Fatherland and Purity, the impassioned, resentful crowds chanting in unison, revelling in that perfect Unity of a righteous cause and ordained destiny.Onward Christian soldiers.

We are a nation in the throes of "spiritual agony", as a comrade put it so eloquently the other night. All that promise and hope draining into a shallow, cynical pool of materialist,irrational excess or the feverish swamp of religious fanaticism. Wasn't hard to predict. You can only bury so much trauma before it manifests as the brutish sneer on a cops face. Can you sense the police state marshalling it's forces (both physical and "moral"), it's new high tech crowd control weaponry, preachers and paramilitary vigilanty zealots?

The Saudis promise to "meet any shortfall" and the price per barrel dips a couple bucks.The gated communities increase the patrols, the settlers stock up on weapons, the cherry blossoms come two weeks early. The pundits try to explain the shooters motives. ("Abe said where you want this killin done?") A howl is heard across the land and William Burroughs lights another fag.

"And what rough beast, It's hour come at last
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

End of Dignity

To watch the labor leaders crawl all over each other to be the first to endorse Obama is the culmination of a long, disgusting process of accommodation and capitulation. The total loss of dignity takes awhile. To hear the excuses: "What choice do we have?" We will keep his feet to the fire, He has done some good things, blah blah, you just wish you had a tape recording of every such endorsement since Jimmy Carter. Begging for scraps and smiling all the while. They made their bed and now they get to sleep in it. One wonders just how many rank and file workers will be out knocking on doors for Democrats? How about teachers? Verizon workers?

Interesting piece in the Atlantic called Our Market Obsession. Especially poignant cause Ben Bernanke is celebrated on the cover! In it Harvard communitarian Michael Sandel (Liberalism and the Limits of Justice) bemoans the fact that "markets and market forces have come to govern our lives", what I and others have called an inverted totalitarianism. He worries that in a society where everything is for sale, a qualitative shift happens within a moral order, a "corrosive tendency" which "might also corrupt the meaning of citizenship".

This is obviously a reply to the Republican candidates and their market fundamentalism and also to the recent crisis of capitalism. The tea party is freaked about tyranny of the bureaucrats but is fine that free choice now means Coke or Pepsi. Sandel wants us to think about the harm in turning human beings such as children or slaves into commodities but interestingly finds nothing troubling about a person selling their labor power. He talks about rights and duties but we know every fine is just a cost and everyone has their price. He can't explain how a market economy turns into a market society. His only remedy is a "debate" but admits our "public discourse" has been drained of moral and civic energy. Bit of a dilemma!

Another good read is the novel Resistance by Barry Lopez. Ostensibly a "political" work, he mentions a war on terror gone amok and a government/business alliance a couple of times but leaves you hanging as to actual forms of resistance. Mostly it is psycho-social-spiritual explorations and it is imbued with wisdom and beautiful prose. He is coming to Missoula next week for a talk and I guarantee folks will come out. I wish he was a little less mystical and a little more political.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Seeing the NAACP marching into Selma for voting rights a couple days ago should give us pause. Just the Groundhog Day aspect of it, struggling for contraception or the right to collectively bargain or to register to vote, is a sign that MLK's "long arc of justice" might bend randomly unless people are willing to re-evaluate their strategy.

Of course one wants to reflect on history, to consult and interrogate, but simply replicating what once seemed to work is an emotional, simplistic response that avoids the hard question. Like, if it really worked, why are we doing it again? How is it these "rights" end up so ephemeral and fragile? What if we're not asking the right questions?

One thing we might need to look at is the role of civil society. We like to imagine it is the site of people power and participation but what if instead it is a self-referential feed-back loop designed as a pressure relief valve? What if it veils real power and keeps us on a carousel of activism while discreetly ignoring the reproduction of injustice and inequality behind the screen?

Environmentalists always point back to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, women to Roe v Wade, Progressives to the New Deal, Populists to the Grange, westerners to the Frontier, immigrants to the Statue of Liberty. But moving forward, getting off the carousel, means examining the past with am unsentimental eye and asking what about the road not taken. For labor this means looking at the rightward drift of the AFL-CIO. For environmentalists this means looking at their embrace of Market Solutions or regulation by the capitalist state. Minorities might have to look at voting.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Community Rights

I spent the weekend at a workshop put on by Paul Cienfuegos, whose main thrust is getting communities to pass ordinances which place citizen rights above corporate rights. He first goes through the history of the corporate form, charters, and the legal precedents ( mostly in the form of Supreme Court decisions) which gave corporations the power they enjoy today. Some time was spent on those aspects of the US Constitution and it's amendments which also bestow power to capital more broadly.

Especially following Citizens United, this has become a hot topic but a group called Program on Corporations ,Law and Democracy has been doing this work for awhile and have helped communities (mostly) in the Northeast protect themselves from concentrated animal production and natural gas fracking. Bellingham Washington is currently trying to stop coal trains and Spokane has tried and failed twice to get an anti-corporate Bill of rights passed. Missoulians seem pretty fired up to try this approach to gain control of their public water system and stop coal trains headed west (eventually to China). In my opinion it is a push in the right direction and it would be entertaining to see our states attorney general weasel out of arguing our state constitutionally guaranteed rights to corporate lawyers. There might even be a radicalizing effect.

But as with so many efforts, it fails to follow it's own logic to a revolutionary conclusion. Instead it looks backward, nostalgically, to an imaginary time when capitalism was under populist control, to abolitionist and suffragist movements which have little relevancy to our current historical moment. Like radical labor, it is a proud tradition and there are organizing lessons; mainly, Don't Stop With a Rights Regime. Rights can be revoked or trampled. They are given by the state and the state can taketh away. All the rights in the world won't get you your fair share of your surplus labor, won't keep you from becoming a commodity to be rented or keep capital from externalizing it's costs somewhere else.

In other words, if you have mobilized people to the point of demanding their rights, why not just demand power? Form your own councils and write your own constitution and fire your bosses!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Mixed Economies

The worst thing you can do is underestimate your enemy. Capital is in high gear right now figuring out a spin to counter "The 99% Spring" and a time tested technique is good cop-bad cop. Bad cop- Republican presidential candidates and they're hyper-market fundamentalism. Good cop? The new Benefit Corporations, social entrepreneurialism, corporate responsibility, social democracy and mixed economies.

These new capitalists wag their fingers at the hysterical old school "ideologues" and say "We have learned from Occupy and are ready to improve ourselves". Last night the Newshour did a big piece on the B Corporation, foregoing the imperative to maximise shareholder profit in order to Be Better People. Younger, hipper, more collaborative and socially responsible, they turn to us guilt-ridden consumers a la Ben And Jerrys and say: Buying from us will help save the Planet. Zizek has referred to this as Cultural Capitalism, they donate one pair of eyeglasses to The Poor Other for each one you buy. Our conscience is salved. Change was so easy! This is wonderful!

This shit is nothing new and most corporations have a PR campaign in place to show how much they donate and recycle and hire the handicapped. And their progressive enablers such as Yes Magazine or The Nation or Mother Jones or MSNBC have incredible resources to insure this is the direction Occupy energy is directed. The old will be made to look new. Realism will prevail. The theme at the Davos gathering this year was The Great Transformation! (David Korten blushes)

What is disheartening is to see Naomi Klein go this route, thinking she is pushing to the left when in fact their Realism is infecting her. She can point to Scandanavia if she likes but how do China and India figure in? How do you keep Capital from undermining public owned entities just as they have done for the last 40 years? Why keep going through this?