Monday, June 27, 2016

What's Goin on? Latest Update

So...where to begin? First, after all these months I have finally figured out who Trump is; the reincarnation of Rodney Dangerfield! Right? At his golf course in Scotland, it's a scene right out of Caddy Shack. And who wouldn't want Rodney for President? And now we have the soon-to-be Prime Minister of Greatest Britain Boris Johnson, a brash New Yorker with crazy blonde hair and absurd politics, so that if they were to do a routine together it would be INCREDIBLE. And then there is the whole Brexit shock; talk about your "ideological rubble"! There is so much incoherent or banal analysis on both the left and right that I am about to concede to those who want to proclaim a "post-ideological age", not in the sense of techno-managerial but in the sense of Caddy Shack. Marx speculated on the conditions which might bring about "...the common ruin of the contending classes..". Mao celebrated destabilization: "Everything under Heaven is chaos, the situation is excellent." I have my doubts about the excellence of the current situation because climate chaos can't seem to compete in the realm of Spectacular Chaos. The hope to resurrect social democratic parties in the form of Bernie or Podemos in Spain or Labour in UK or Syriza in Greece has fizzled because these efforts avoid the difficult question. Basically; what kind of work are all these people supposed to do? (Africa, Asia, Middle East, Latin America)

But the crisis of capitalist democracy is now in high gear. climate migration, technology, nationalism/populism, stagnation, terrorism, market volatility; "the center cannot hold". Some try to narrow it down to "neoliberalism", others to "industrial civilization", others just blame "greed" or "evil". If I were some autocrat running a small country I would be nervous right now- this is when the Empire likes to send its Christian Soldiers out to snuff some Noriega or Saddam Husein, or Grenada. Nothing inspires and unites like a good ass kicking.

There are numerous attempts to stitch together a left opposition but nothing seems to stick. The People's Summit I mentioned in my last post drew 3000 but they all that came out of it was a manifesto to focus on ten different things. So 3000 divided by 10. Should work out great.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Post Election

A tremendous amount of digital ink has already been spilled by progressive commentators on how to maintain the Bernie momentum. It is a time-worn dilemma; elections mean losers and defeat often leads to disillusionment and cynicism. Especially in the American system of Kabuki Democracy.
But lots of these progressives (and some socialists) believe that the Bernie "political revolution" is different, that it has a capacity to fold into movement building IF ONLY the energy gets directed somewhere before it dissipates. The other dilemma is the theoretical split between "the streets" and "the voting booth". If Obama proved one thing, it's that getting your man in office can send a lot of people home, satisfied with their "victory" and assured their man will follow through on his campaign promises. You know, "representation". on the other hand, masses of chanting activists can demand all day long but if they can't back their demands with a viable threat to the existing order, they are just pounding sand.

A quick survey just today finds articles by Kate Aranoff, Robert Borosage,Sarah van Gelder and Dan La Botz on strategy going forward. A theme which emerges is one similar to that of Michael Albert and his "Shared Program"; that of finding a synthesis. Van Gelder puts it like this; to "come together on a strategic focus...set ambitious,disruptive, transformational goals". To this end Albert got a bunch of left luminaries to sign a document and others are putting together a People's Summit (June 17-19 in Chicago) and Gar Alperowitz is building a Next Systems Project. Each hopes to take the myriad issues linked to justice and equality around which the left now mobilizes- a partial list includes "fight for 15, mass incarceration, voting rights, tax on Wall Street speculation, climate justice,Medicare for All..." and come up with a way for each to support the other. Some see this struggle taking place over the Democratic platform, some look to the ongoing Social Forum process. Almost everyone traces a trajectory from Occupy Wall Street through Sanders to the current moment. But always and forever we see the list of social ills and the NGOs dedicated to them but almost never do we see anybody try to actually prioritize it.

The list I quoted from above comes off the People's Summit website and through its ordering it suggests, if only implicitly, a certain prioritization. And what I immediately notice is that climate justice comes in at number 5. What I want to do here is make the argument that climate justice should explicitly be made number 1. Here is why.

First, the science tells us if we don't address climate change immediately it will simply be too late (see the last post for data). And by too late I mean not just the obvious devastation from weather, but also that the effects will exacerbate all the other issues on the list to the point where social justice activists will be confronting a self-feeding crisis that makes the 2008 global economic meltdown seem like a game of frisbee. So there is the temporal element, the ticking clock, as it were. Then there is the fact that the climate movement is already a powerful, militant force of resistance whose critique is becoming more radical by the day, thanks to its intellectual contributors and theoretical foundation. By that I mean it potentially challenges the essence of capitalist ideology; more precisely, the imperative of unlimited growth (and accumulation. It also fatally punctures market logic. Thirdly, the notion of climate justice allows us to move beyond mere carbon reduction to global re-distribution and structural change. It allows us to re-imagine democracy and to think about power relations, both political and economic. By placing our conception of Nature in question, it upends many destructive mythologies, constructions and conceptions upon which capitalism is built.

In this era of "inter-sectionalism" and local autonomy I realize it goes against the grain to call for actual unification, for prioritization or consolidation. I've noticed that those who do call for "focus" never actually select. It is of course unclear what such a selection process could ever look like but for now a robust, frank discussion and debate would be refreshing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


So the world needs to get to zero emissions within 20 or so years to have a 65% chance at staying under a 2 degrees celsius rise in temp. Right now the world emits 36 billion tons annually, down just a bit from last year, thanks to China's decreasing coal use. To stay under one and a half degrees, we will have blown through our budget in just five years. This is all based on modelling which is itself continually changing. It is expressed in chances or percentages of such and such scenario, hence the wide margins. But basically we can express the chance of going from 36 billion to near zero as near zero. It is hard to even imagine the scale of such an undertaking. The most massive and massively profitable (and powerful) industry on earth would have to be dismantled next month. This includes state-owned. Production of renewables (while avoiding nuclear?) would have to make up for some if not most of that energy to avoid economic meltdown. A new grid would have to be developed, new systems of transport and new food systems that didn't produce emissions as well. Rather than contemplate such an ambitious agenda most world governments are instead tasking some internal agency to develop ways to cope with climate change, to adapt and mitigate. So imagine you are some technocrat functionary in a cubicle and your boss comes to you saying (s)he wants you to write a plan for climate change adaptation. You get some staff and some software, you plug in some numbers and think about ways you can protect infrastructure, plan for fires, etc..all ridiculous bullshit that just postpones the inevitable but hey, this is capitalism. In this self-reinforcing way the illusion is maintained that there is no crisis even as the crisis gets worse (after all, who would have a geek drawing up useless contingency plans if it was a REAL crisis!) The other way to mask the crisis is to show great concern over ancillary, marginal issues like coal dust or oil spills or crime in fossil fuel boomtowns etc. (climate change can't be an existential crisis if they are worried about meth) In other words, the climate movement needs zero distractions and 100% focus on the real issue.