Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Peacefully Into the Night

Like those Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, America's liberals refuse to accept defeat. Eric Alterman makes an especially impassioned plea in this weeks Nation magazine but it is the sad voice of someone who should be moved from intensive care to hospice. Ironically, he just finished a book called The Fight For American Liberalism, an especially sclerotic version, and tries his hardest to sell it by breaking out all the icons, Waltzer,Trilling, Hofstadter, Galbraith,FDR, Dewey and Niebuhr. He still calls for a "humble" Government to intervene and find new remedies in a "militant and optimistic" spirit. What could he possibly be smoking? To add injury to insult he also tries to describe Bruce Springsteen's "political voice". Talk about irony! Springsteen was John Kerry's Vote for Change puppet. His new album Wrecking Ball is all populist anger against greed and now the opening song "We Take Care of Our Own" has been adopted (co-opted) by the Obama campaign. A classic, clueless liberal, Springsteen keeps bleating about the working man but other than the Woody Guthrie anthem he sung with Seeger at the inauguration, he refuses to see the connections, to do the intellectual work of digging below surface effects to try to uncover causes.It's the reason so few wish to identify as liberals any more. A static, stagnant political philosophy needs a kick into the grave. The magazine goes a way towards redemption by including a piece by Lee Siegal on the new production of Death of a Salesman. The disturbing play is the classic expression of Marx's pronouncement that "all that is solid melts into air." We need an Arthur Miller at this point in time, a new Willy Lowman caught in the crushing jaws of late capitalism. Galbraith the Younger will be in Missoula tomorrow night for a lecture. We'll see what he thinks about the capitalist state.I saw two college age jazz groups on Monday night that gave me the will to fight on. Jazz lives. The revolution will swing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Man Without Money

There was a presentation at the Missoula library last week by a man who uses no money. Our friends who attended said the crowd extended out the door of the large room and that the ensuing discussion was very interesting. The idea of living outside the economy has tremendous appeal to the progressive community here, fulfilling a desire for a spiritual harmony which the capitalist economy thwarts, allowing them to imagine a future other than the bleak scenario of headlines and activist speeches. Food security, energy self-sufficiency, "transition" to an existence of bicycles and farmers markets and co-ops, on a sunny spring morning this is a tonic against reality/realism. The Man With No Money apparently lives in a cave on public land, dumpster-dives freegan style and hitchikes his way to voluntary simplicity. But of course he is totally on his own, an ascetic in the style of monks and shamans, free in the most individualistic sense of the word. I am afraid this "alternative" is the symbolic replacement/transference for all who have abandoned the political goal of a society without money, he is the revolutionary Jesus each generation turns to in their hopelessness, (all the while knowing they can never BE like Him.) Last night I attended a meeting of young activists who want to end coal exports from Montana. They are appealing to the State Land Board to reverse a decision made two years ago.(which will never happen unless the price of coal makes export economically unfeasable) They hope to build a "critical mass" to apply pressure through direct action and I hope they know the necessary but impossible nature of this task. Interestingly, because they desire no discussion or input in terms of strategy ( they have made a plan), I don't know their understanding. Labor will be against them, the vast majority of the "citizenry" will be against them, Business will be against them. Only Truth(that poor red-headed stepchild) and a few voices in the wilderness will be on their side if the price of coal stays high enough. "And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life; 'I was listening to the cries of the past When I should have been listening to the cries of the future' But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24 hour cable Or what kind of nightmare it might be When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you And you are floating on your pleasure boat upon this river Even while others are drowning underneath you And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters And yet it seems to be your own hand Which turns the volume higher?" from the poem America by Tony Hoagland

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ALEC Cries Foul

Corporate members like Mc Donalds and Pepsi are all of a sudden finding the right wing "legislative council" a bit too toxic (thanks to Stand Your Ground Law) and ALEC is upset. They are denouncing their foes as "ideological" , insinuating that they stand above ideology.They are just for free markets and privitization and what's ideological about that?

Some will point to this as an example of how activism can work, pressuring companies through petition and boycott. But it took the Spectacular death of Trayvon Martin to bring this odious association to light. It is not the specific work of specific think tanks which should give us pause, but their hegemonic domination in DE-POLITICIZING any last vestige of discourse in this country. The Market is all the conversation you need folks, it (like Father,) knows best.

From today's NYTimes:
“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” said Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the researchers who commissioned the new poll. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

The poll opens a new window on public opinion about climate change.

A large majority of climate scientists say the climate is shifting in ways that could cause serious impacts, and they cite the human release of greenhouse gases as a principal cause. But a tiny, vocal minority of researchers contests that view, and has seemed in the last few years to be winning the battle of public opinion despite slim scientific evidence for their position."

A tiny, vocal minority perhaps, but with unlimited cash to spend and that same hegemonic free market ideology put in service as their symbolic ally. Plus, they are not afraid to use Mc Carthyite tactics to smear us poor communists. Shame vanished decades ago.

I am finally getting around to reading Legitimation Crisis by Jurgen Habermas and am amazed at how trenchant and relevant the critique remains. We need this kind of social analysis, not pop-crap like George Lakoff produces or hysterics like Chris Hedges does.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Teach Your Children Well

This is from the latest Adbusters:

"NPR reported that in 2010, A US college survey found 49% of Harvard grads went on to work in consulting and the financial sector...The funneling starts in Economics 10, the most popular course in one of the most popular disciplines at Harvard, a pre-requisite for many degrees, not just economics. Gregory Mankiw, a former Bush tactician and current economic advisor to Mitt Romney teaches the course. His text,Principles of Economics, is the top selling economic textbook in the world. The class's alumni disproportionately clutter the halls of the IMF, the World Bank, the White House and Wall Street."

Told they are being taught science, these future leaders are being finished off with an ideological frosting on their exceptional educations. Fortunately, they are not all buying what Mankiw is selling.

Harkening back to an earlier group of students who rejected what they were being spoonfed, Tom Hayden writes in the Nation on the fiftieth anniversary of the Port Huron Statement. He admirably admits that much was poorly theorized and I realise historical context is needed but in the end I am disappointed by his reflections, especially with a new movement blooming that is much in need of solid historical reflection. Tom still falls back on the "ultra-leftist" trope to explain how SDS was " a poisonous sectarian direction..and weighted with the ideological language and baggage of Marxism that remained foreign to most Americans." Notice the adjectives. Notice who is ideological and who is pure.

It's not hard to see where Port Huron went wrong."The Statement's economic program was an extension of the New Deal.." Their definition of economic democracy was that the major resources and means of production should be "open to democratic participation and subject to democratic regulation." Instead of ownership, they wanted Keynesian state oversight, social democratic participation through parties and Parliament. With their hope to unite liberals and socialists, they had concluded that moral values and democracy were more important than any ideological renovation of Marxism. They hoped a political realignment could bring about a progressive third party and hoped to tap into the energy around the United Farm workers grape boycott and the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice.

Reasonable people can argue why this new social movement failed as it did, undermined by the AFL-CIO and Democrats, crushed by the Vietnam war and assassinations of progressive leaders, or infiltrated by the CIA and what Hayden calls "the secret pro-cold war element within liberalism." But I argue it was the flawed analysis of the more conservative elements within SDS (such as Hayden) which ultimately doomed them. A good example is a statement such as : "..a third obstacle to the SDS dream..was the system itself, or the powerful 'paradigm' we defied but could not defeat.By system I mean the intersecting (BUT NOT COORDINATED) hierarchies of banks, corporations, the military , media and religion..." Rejecting Marxist materialism, he rejects ideological coordination. He goes on to say: "By paradigm I mean an understanding of power as cultural hegemony or dominance, a thought system in which there seems to be no alternative." Again, he rejects expropriation and alienation at the point of production and concentrates only on culture, in this case, cold war culture.

This faction of the New Left found it's explanatory framework in "deep historical currents of populism, pacifism, religious reform and slave rebellions in American history", in other words, an acceptance of liberal democratic capitalism and belief in the neutral state. This is why Hayden ends with this timid advice to the Occupy movement."Elections produce popular mandates and mandates spur popular activism. It's time to organize a progressive majority..."

Some people just never learn. Occupy needs to debate this history and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Here is how Wendy Brown articulates our task: "apart from state power, both capital and a range of less forthrightly economic normative powers must be reckoned with when considering prospects for redemocratization today."

Saturday, April 07, 2012

What's Good for Shell...

Ducky left a quote by Timothy Parsons in the last thread. It's as good a place as any to start.
"The American empire works by stripping Americans of wealth and liberty." He backs this up with some good examples.

What needs to be added, I believe, is that this is not as straightforward a paradox as it may seem. Because at the same time "empire" is stripping it is also bestowing. I know ten small contractors locally who depend on Defence Dept. contracts and these are spread out in each region of each state. So just as capitalism keeps the worker alive just long enough to extract her labor power before impoverishing her, so empire works the same magic. We run furiously in circles, holding a gun to our own head, threatening to shoot ourselves if we don't successfully compete. Only to die of exhaustion and sorrow.

My email account was hacked yesterday so that somebody could try to sell junk to all my "contacts".
This is a pretty bizarre sales strategy IMHO. Rather than advertise a product and hope for customers they attack me and my acquaintances with deceptive bullshit (nobody bought anything). Who does this? The same people who want you to send them your bank account number? What a pathetic existence!

I spent the morning trying to parse out the weird lexicon of modern energy development, stuff like oil shale vs shale oil, coal to liquids and gasification and "cracking" and fracking. As I am peripherally involved with "peak oil" folks, it seemed necessary to know a little more about Hubbards curve and all that but in the end, it's just another rabbit hole of capitalist calculations. Reserves, resources, recoverable, economically viable discoveries, inputs, outputs.
I think the bottom line is, the easy sweet stuff is about sucked dry and they are scrambling to squeeze oil out of rocks, or bitumen out of sand or kerogen out of sandstone. Same pathetic existence.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Greedy Bankers?

Vaclav Havel wrote "Each person is capable, to a greater or lesser degree, of coming to terms with living within the lie." What prevented rebellion was "the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity." Not just the 1%, he is saying, but all of us.

So perhaps we have come upon some universal attribute, because what Havel wrote about the Communist Party system certainly applies to our own market system. A post-totalitarian regime ( or inverted totalitarianism, as Hedges refers to late capitalism),need only reward conformists who mouth it's empty slogans. What they lose in dignity they gain in comfort. Ignorance,then,rather than greed? Laziness? Havel himself, once in power, ignorantly trusted the economic transformation of his country to disciples of Hayek and Thatcher/Friedman and turned it into a mafia state. He claims being in power isolated him from daily reality. Duh!

The cover of The Nation displays ignorance. It says: Can We Trust Government Again? Are they joking? Fist off,I don't care who the "we" is, it makes a ridiculous political slogan. Second, it implies a historical moment when "we" trusted. The third and most debilitating aspect is the word "Again". Endless repetition bothers them not, struggle, temporary gains, lost gains, struggle again, re-gain, lose again, ad nauseum, none of this seems problematic to progressives.

The Nation commentariat break out the usual polls to try to prove some sociological point, such as " the Obama era, blacks have about twice the level of trust in the federal government as whites and Latinos." Duh! This only proves they are equally as capable of "living within the lie" as anyone else. Of course they are not so complacent about local government (they remember George Wallace). Whites on the other hand trust local government ( as long as their neighborhoods are patrolled regularly). In other words, once again the Nation asks the wrong question and answers it poorly, wasting everyone's time.

I believe good governance is possible, despite the grim record, but it would have nothing to do with how much people trusted it. It would depend on how much they participated in it, critically, skeptically, with no illusions. And popular participation is the last thing the capitalist state encourages.( instead, send checks or money orders) Trust rates right up there with hope as something to avoid if you think another world is possible.