Friday, July 14, 2017

What , me worry?

Why is nobody worried? This is the enigma inside a conundrum, the thing historians will one day truly puzzle over. Why did they all just sit there as if nothing was wrong? How was such mass denial possible?

There is the obvious psycho-social pathology that accompanies every instance of collective cultural denial; the disavowal, the ideology, the sublimated and repressed trauma. There is the pervasive anti-intellectualism and religiosity, the supremely confident paranoids with their fantastic meta-conspiracies, and then there is the post post-modern cynicism and nihilism that sees mass extinction as another cartoon or reality tv show. So there is that...

But there is also the tragic failure of The Movement to communicate in a coherent fashion. When Trump says he might or might not re-consider pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, as if he were having trouble deciding which sandwich to order (The reuben would be OK but if I had the meatballs, that would be ok too), it probably reflects their own general ambivalence- it might even sound rational and "balanced"! This is because Movement messaging has been ambivalent, vague, and has too often lost relevance in an attempt to achieve "balance" (not too alarmist, not too casual).

But here's the deal: If you call 911 to report your house on fire, you can't ask the firemen to stop off at the convenience store for a pack of smokes. And expect to be taken seriously. This is the messaging failure of the Movement; they want us to "Do the Math" and understand the unfolding crisis, or catastrophe, or emergency but then they ask us to sign a petition of march holding a sign. Your children's lives are threatened, mass extinction and civilization collapse loom... so you should write a letter to the editor and go to a public utilities commission meeting. The disconnect is not just confusing, it is self-defeating.

This was the problem with the Standing Rock slogan Water Is Life. And all the concern with sovereignty and treaty rights. Or making dust coming off coal trains a big issue. For those trying to get a grip on the actual severity of the crisis this is a signal not to get too worried. We can deal with coal dust, we can deal with Native rights, there are plenty of processes in place, no big emergency. Messaging needs to be consistent and plenty alarming. People need clarity around the scope and scale of the crisis. Honest, clear, consistent messaging.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Another Bill

Every so often we watch Bill Maher do his liberal rants and last night he was all set to confront a Senator from Nebraska who supports Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Accord. So this slick, handsome Harvard grad Senator starts in on a "cost-benefit" analysis, saying we won't get enough cooling for all the lost economic growth. And Maher buys right into the argument, claiming green growth is the next great stage of capitalism and the smart money should get on board.

This was exactly Naomi Klein's point when she wrote : "the Right is right". These conservatives understand that keeping us below 3C degrees of warming means the end of GDP growth. It's the deluded liberals who insist renewable energy and "retrofitting" can keep it all humming along as usual. Maher should instead have agreed with the corporate lackey that there was not enough force in the agreement to really make the changes we need. He should have insisted the Accord be strengthened and fuck the "cost"; what is the "cost" of sea level rise? How many US jobs do we trade for the coral reefs or endangered species or civilizational break-down? Do you want to attach a dollar figure to our children's future?

Neoliberalism has reduced every human interaction to a "cost-benefit" calculation.It is, to quote Wendy Brown from her book Undoing the Demos, "the undermining of democracy through the normative economization of political life and usurpation of homo politicus by homo economicus." Unfortunately, liberals are just as complicit in this project as conservatives, they just believe, wrongly, despite all the mountains of evidence, that we can have "capitalism with a human face".

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

More Bill

If he would stop feeding me these easy lines, I would find someone else to pick on. This time, in an interview on Democracy Now, Bill said: "...weekends are for fighting tyranny." Which is the essential liberal-activist slogan. And sort of how it felt here in Missoula Mt.during Saturday's People's Climate March. For a nice walk with nice people on a nice day we get a crowd of 700. But try to stop a coal train using direct action and you can expect 40, with maybe 5 willing to risk arrest. And again, all around the country, march, listen to speeches, go home. At some point all these expressions of outrage just meld into one another, into an amorphous blob of outrage. A very "dull tool" to use one of Mc Kibben's expressions.

NPR contributes to this dullness with it's special brand of "neutral, objective" climate journalism. A perfect example was the piece they did on "clean coal", or the state of carbon capture and sequestration on Monday's Morning Edition. They report that "two groups usually at odds with one another- environmentalists and coal companies- want carbon capture to succeed." Enter the "environmentalists"- Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, etc..- whose prime mission is saving capitalism from itself. They want us- the tax payers- to fund more research into CCS so coal can make a profit (the industry has already conned the government out of billions for such research, something NPR fails to mention). Also not mentioned is the fact the research to date has only confirmed the absurdity of this project. Magical thinking. But NPR loves the whole working-together-consensus-saves capitalism AND the environment narrative.

Unfortunately,the goals set in the Paris Accords of keeping warming below 2 degrees C are dependent on lots of this magic. Lots of CCS is built into their models because they have no expectation of actually cutting emissions fast enough. Of course this means millions of lives will be deliberately sacrificed for our economy and "jobs" but they will be buried far away. And we will have a wall to keep them out. And entertainment to keep them out of mind.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sorry Bill

Bill Mc Kibben is a dedicated, caring activist thrust into a role he probably would never have chosen so I always feel a twinge of guilt when criticizing him. But with that role comes a giant responsibility and certain crucial choices. (different from the meaningless consumption choices of my last post). As a recognized leader/spokesperson of the climate movement (such as it is), his choice of words, his analysis and proposals have tremendous weight and if he can't take the heat he should get out of the kitchen. He himself acknowledges that shit is getting serious. As Dylan put it: "let us not speak falsely now- the hour's getting late".

Bill published End of Nature in 1989 and started speaking to groups about climate change, even showing up here in Hamilton Mt in 2007. For 28 years he has been explaining the issue and proposing solutions without ever mentioning, or certainly never questioning the ideology of "democratic capitalism". In his latest piece urging people to go to the March on Washington, he uses a cryptic euphemism for our global system of production and exchange. He writes: these marches are "about the machine that has been driving the planet in a dangerous direction for decades, a machine that spans parties, ideologies and continents."

A "machine". An impersonal, mechanical force. This tells us less than nothing, and other than "rage against the machine", gives us nothing to direct our collective force at. Which helps explain why in 28 years the problem has only grown worse. In this article he identifies Trump as "the enemy" and in the past he has identified "the fossil fuel industry" as the enemy, easy enough targets in that simplistic, Hollywood "good guy/ bad guy" sort of way, but actually just smoke and mirrors, like the "greedy Wall Street banksters" or Bill O' Reilly.

He goes on to say the marches are also about a "hope" and a "vision" but who will articulate that vision and through what process was it determined? He says "the week of rallying is the logical extension of the climate justice movement" and that "all the battles currently under way will be on full display as we march...for solar panels,solar panels and more solar panels." Same as its ever been...through Clinton, Bush, Obama ad nauseum. I'm sure there will be plenty of indigenous leaders telling the gathering that NO DAPL carries on. There will be progressive Democrats urging folks to register and vote, even a "candidate training". Write your Congressperson, sign the petition, join the Resistance and Our Revolution, Indivisible, or Rise UP. They will talk about all the jobs and GDP growth we can expect from a greener, kinder gentler capitalism. Hope and Vision.

Even as he goes on in the article to admit that "the fight about the money and power...is mostly lost." Perhaps because "the movement leaders" never had the courage to dig below the superficial layers of "money and power"? (Naomi Klein excepted) Bill confronts the elephant in the room by asking if "marches really matter?" since "Trump holds all the levers of power right now". Which is another simplistic misreading but even if it were true, wouldn't that put to question your plan to "train candidates" for a democracy that is essentially hollowed out?

Towards the end of the piece Bill starts to get real and one senses his frustration and even awareness that he has been flailing, seeing hope instead of the con. He condemns both Obama and Hillary who "followed a script, which was to express alarm but take small steps, a script which has slow-walked us to the edge of hell... winning slowly is the same as losing." Now he wants "action which is actually commensurate with the problem." But you have to first identify the problem to know how to confront it. Klein said the problem isn't carbon, it's capitalism. When will Bill get the message? And the courage to speak it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fewer Choices, Please!

Capitalism's brainwashed sycophants never tire of explaining how to really be free, you need endless choices. For example, to have quality healthcare, you need hundreds of insurance plans to choose from. Or the latest scam, to undo Dodd-Frank they are calling it the CHOICE Act (Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors and Entrepreneurs) (no really) which will allow you to choose between an endless range of financial advisors, from those with a smattering of ethics to those totally devoid of any ethics. Don't you feel more free already?

This is the Gospel according to WalMart; as consumers (that is what your species-being is reduced to) you are at your "freest" when confronting aisle after warehouse aisle of product choices. True emancipation, the purest liberty, is infinite consumption choices. It is what the Founding Fathers started a revolution for and what our soldiers have fought and died for through endless wars.

Reverence for this gospel transcends both the trivial boundaries of political party and less trivial ones of race and class. It is ubiquitous amongst our fellow homo economicus.But my argument here is that too many choices are just as oppressive as too few and that what is obscured is the market ideology and "political rationality" contained in freedom of choice. What I want is to spend less of my time having to choose. Shopping, that is comparing price and quality, eats into my precious leisure time making me less free. It imposes its obligation constantly and the truth of the matter is, you don't know the worth or value of what you are trading your labour power for. You can spend a week of your life researching every health insurance plan on earth and still end up with shit because the insurance market for health is shit.

Spend a week of your life researching the ethical standards of financial consultants and you will still be investing/risking your life's energy in someone's unsustainable debt to make some gambler rich and probably degrade the planet. Which you are free to do, just not really free.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Black Lives Matter

But white people's money matters more. I just returned from Portland, a progressive bastion if ever there was one, and Black Lives Matter signs are seen in the windows of homes and businesses everywhere you go. It's a fine sentiment but the harsh reality is that despite the "raised awareness", real estate prices have gone mad, hipsters are taking over traditionally black neighborhoods and resentment is on the rise. Gentrification is the mirror image of the white flight and urban decay seen in rust-belt cities by-passed by the tech boom and gig economy.

The irony is that those who support diversity and multiculturalism and even affirmative action are inadvertently undermining all of those values as they flock to hip enclaves and bring their uber-bougie tastes and fat paychecks (or trust funds or whatever) with them. The Alberta Street hip strip boasts high-end pet massage, chic "organic" boutiques, bike shops and line-out-the-door French eatries but it is almost all white. Mixed in are the Weird Portland emblems like avant garde movie houses and artist collectives. The black hair salons, quick loans and soul food joints have moved 8 blocks north and the Mexican grocery has been bought out. There were lots of "help wanted" signs in windows but making ends meet as a waitress or clerk ain't easy. Nothing weird about that.

Things are a little tense at ML King Elementary, where my grand kids go to school. But money talks and the Market decides who lives where. MLK knew there was more than one way to segregate people, more than one Jim Crow.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Antifa


The new rallying cry for lifestyle anarchists is "Antifa" , as in anti-fascist, where they can get their bad-ass militancy on and lots of media attention, and if lucky, a few proud scars. If they hear some alt-right speaker like Milo whats his name or supposed-racist like Charles Murray ( has any of them, has any body at all, actually read The Bell Curve?) has been invited to a campus to speak or are organizing a march somewhere, the Antifa gets to break out their black hoodies and skinny jeans and bandannas and confront them. Crank up the Stones' Street Fighting Man and form a "bloc" to prevent people from exercising their right to free speech. Brilliant.

Yes we are powerless in today's world and yes it sucks but these theatrical displays of knucklehead machismo play perfectly into the hands of the right-wing, and besides, wasn't it the radical labor movement that led the struggle for free speech in the first place? If they really think they are on the front lines of preventing the next Franco or Mussolini, they have been watching too much television and not reading near enough history. I just hope they aren't chanting : this is what democracy looks like! C'mon people...words/speech are not the problem.

which brings me to the upcoming protests: Earth Day and May Day. I am an environmentalist and I labor but I am obviously struggling with the movements that are supposed to be struggling for change. One thing Micah White has correct is that these one-off marches have become tragically boring and useless. Old leftists going into the attic to dig around for the old signs with the old slogans. I want to show solidarity but I want to see some recognition that, like the antifa crowd, they need to sit down and do some re-thinking.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mowing While Rome Burns

So yesterday I Skyped into a "Keystone Strategy Session" hosted by 350.org to see what the plan was to save the planet from climate chaos. The plan, according to Bill Mc Kibben, is, I quote, "to keep mowing the lawn". Underwhelmed? Oh baby. Because Keystone keeps popping back up (like grass) apparently the only thing to do is to keep mowing into perpetuity ( and sending them money). If any of the other "climate movement leaders" on the call were troubled by this Non-Profit Preservation strategy they didn't pipe up. Michael Brune from the Sierra Club threw down the gauntlet by threatening to sue the government, to litigate to the death. The Native American from South Dakota was asked whether another camp was going to be set up and he suddenly got very vague. One suspects the last thing they want is a clusterfuck Woodstock with thousands of white wanna be's and hippies playing flutes to the sunrise.

And the scariest thing is, all these folks act as if they are winning. Brimming with confidence. Which brings us back to disavowal; they know they are getting their ass kicked ( 406 ppm with rate of emissions accelerating) but they act AS IF they don't know it. The biggest hope was placed in the Market, with the "competitiveness" of renewables. The energy market which brought us this crisis will now save us from it. They all sounded like Obama.

Then Mc Kibben was asked about the role civil disobedience would play going forward ( the question I sent in) and he said it was "one tool in the toolbox, but like any tool, if you use it too often it gets dull." Of course the other "tools" they were promoting like signing petitions and writing letters and holding marches and rallies and fighting court battles, these apparently never get dull. And then there is the whole pretense that this was a participatory strategy designing session when it was obvious everything had been pre-decided in the "leaders" closed door meetings. When someone listed the six or eight different fossil fuel infrastructure proposals out there, they just said mobilize around each one, whack-a-mole style. When someone mentioned the failure of stopping banks from investing, they said" try harder", double down on the failed strategy.

Actually, they didn't all sound like Obama Clinton. There was one indigenous Canadian gal who dared to mention colonialism and capitalism as the roots of the problem but she was dismissed with nervous laughter. Those darned Canadians!

Monday, March 20, 2017

De-Coupling

In the beginning of January, then Pres. Obama wrote an article for the journal Science claiming that the historic relation between CO2 emissions and economic growth (measured as GDP) had been "de-coupled". This is a seductive fantasy entertained by believers in Green Capitalism like Nordhouse, Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, etc. It is intended to provide hope, promising that if we get on such a such pathway and somehow unleash all this promised technological improvement we can meet these international goals yada yada.

It is also an incredibly dangerous proposition. If mankind places its collective hope in this purported "win/win solution" and it proves to be a chimera....The consequences are, shall we say, dramatic. In his article in Real World Economic Review 76, Ted Trainer finds "negligible de-coupling" and that the slight productivity gains of late are "due largely to greater use of energy"( food production, for instance). He pulls in many studies and I find his argument convincing; a "steady state economy" (were it even possible), can not save us from resource depletion and economic collapse. To avoid that scenario, we would need "de-growth" at a fairly rapid rate. Trainer takes the opportunity to promote his "Simpler Way", a small scale, highly self-sufficient, self-governing, primarily collectivist local economy.

The only way I see any of that happening is if Janet Yellin steps up. Indeed, the fate of civilization rests in her lap; quite a responsibility for the girl from Brooklyn, now chairwoman of the Fed and self-described "admirer of capitalism", because to save the humans she is going to have to dismantle her beloved system. Picture this: the neoliberal oracle Queen (as close to royalty as there is in modern times) takes the stage and announces that due to inherent limits to growth, primarily but not exclusively climate change, the global economy will need to shrink by 10% per year for the next ten years. This is not some doltish boor like Trump speaking; this is an actual serious person the entire global financial system listens to. So Janet; this is the voice of your conscience speaking.....

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reform Blues or Demand the Impossible

Left wing activists are constantly reminded not to let the perfect get in the way of the good. That we must struggle for real material gains for real people as we work to overturn the system. But is it also possible that the "good" can preempt the possibility of the better?

Anyone who has worked in the world of social justice activism recognizes the tone of those who characterize radical goals and ideals as "utopian". Hillary Clinton's attacks on Bernie Sanders were emblematic: I can accomplish things in the real world (smirk), through a pragmatic approach to what is actually possible. At its most punishing, those who attempt to transcend the fundamental finitude and limitations of our situation are dutifully reminded of the Soviet Gulag as the end of history.

I will argue that in certain circumstances, working within the system for incremental, intermediate gains is worse than doing nothing at all. When we bestow legitimacy on the system, we undermine our own arguments and dissipate our energy. When we compromise at the outset by accepting the "rules" we are signalling weakness which the wolves can smell a mile off. Only when demands press against the "limits" of what is possible does the illusion of absolute hegemony shatter. To relay the urgency of crisis those demands must stretch what is possible.

The conscious prohibition on wanting what you desire has a long history, long enough for the prohibition to become internalized (the unconscious relation between want and desire we will leave for another time) This is the Serpents offer whose acceptance dooms us as "fallen" for eternity. It is the reason Icarus crashed to his death. The admonishment not to over-reach, to stay within prescribed limits, to tame "ambitious desire" is also a legacy of our Puritan past and imbues us with all that debilitating anxiety which keeps psychoanalysts and pharmacists in business.

Beyond merely wanting what you desire, difficult as this is, we must also act. But this is where it gets tricky. Rebecca Solnit would have us believe every act extends "hope" in some form, that every act of resistance is a success if viewed from a certain perspective. This is New Age bullshit, obvious on its face. If everything was such a success (anti-war protests, Occupy, Arab Spring, Standing Rock) why is the left in such a psychotic frenzy of hand-wringing and spontaneous, useless "opposition"?

If you rush into some Action Against Something, using the same old organizing playbook, using Hope in place of strategic planning, then end up getting your ass kicked- it matters. You demonstrate weakness, embolden you enemies and deflate your allies. You engender cynicism. We only have so many shots at this. Better get it right.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Water Is Life (for some)

Water is Life but when it comes to desalinization, the carbon footprint of providing fresh water now can mean death in the future.

“What you are doing is so crucially important,” said Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, to the participants at the conclusion of the workshop. She pointed out that while the world population is “going up, up, up, the amount of fresh water is basically a fixed asset.” And yet, there is “an incredible resource in the ocean, all the water you could want, yet it’s not suitable for human needs.” That’s why it is so essential, she said, to find a way to provide “access to clean water that doesn’t impact the environment in a negative way with its carbon footprint.”

“We need breakthroughs on this,” Zuber said, “and thanks to the efforts of all of you, I think we’re going to have it.”

The new high-tech desalinization plant in Israel confronts regional climate-influenced drought by using more fossil fuels. A temporary respite for the Jordan River and Dead Sea, but long term? More Syrias and South Sudans and Yemens. Most proposals call for more nuclear power to run these plants (near term) with research into geothermal or other renewable energy forms. But they will need investment from the same capitalist system causing the problem in the first place.

I believe Techno-optimism is a large reason people seem so unconcerned with the climate crisis. While many condemn scientists for doomsday modeling and projections, they trust these same scientists will produce perfect solutions if the problem turns out to be Real. Surely the brilliant minds giving us nano-technology, space exploration and artificial intelligence can fix a little problem like climate change!

I guess we all have to believe in something; an Invisible Hand, an Omnipotent Science, an Intelligent Design, a pluralist, egalitarian democracy. Goethe understood the bargain, the beauty and tragedy of human development.

It is obvious the Trump administration has decided how it will confront the problem: build walls, beef up the military and security services and create a fortress. America First (and last one standing)! Kill em all and let God sort em out!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

How Capital Gets Its Way- A Local Perspective

Happy to publish this guest piece from a hard-fighting comrade (who wishes to remain anonymous). He has been trying to influence policy at the City level, to extract a few pro-labor concessions from some big developers by using the regulatory power of the liberal city council. But as usually happens in these types of negotiations, the forces of Investment and Economic Growth have the upper hand. And just as my friend warns, until those who labour realize their own collective power, they always will. Welcome to Capitalist Democracy in action:



I cannot gaze into the hearts of our civic representatives to see if they are truly sympathetic toward those who are being stripped of their dignity by a system that does so well at shielding those who are responsible for toil and destruction. A system designed to push to the forefront and saddle with guilt the leaders who we believe desire to do-well. However I have sat across the table from representatives of the true culprits, for a time in my life I was one of their enforcers, and I've heard them express the zeitgeist of our time that fear and the imperatives of the system demand our community's obedience, that in essence we don't matter.

In public the representatives of the true culprits sit amiably in the corner. But in private they consult with their masters fabricating their yield of promises in order to extract more treasure from our tiny and precious corner of the world and extract more toil from the bodies of our neighbors, our kindred. This tiny corner of the world like so many others can hardly bear to grant more. Yet we contort ourselves into knots trying to justify more ways in which to accommodate and to squeeze out just a few more drops for export into the pockets of those in the gilded towers. Or we pay dearly to retain those drops.

For many of us within the construct of our insulated, comfortable, ostensibly democratically-liberal lives, the moment has not yet arisen where we'll be forced to choose a side. But the transit of the two paths we are staring down is becoming very clear. The path we currently tread is one of individual identity lashed to fleeting tribal security which will lead to collective and earthly annihilation. The other is a path of solidarity and health based on moderation, sharing, restoration and respect for the earth. We don't have much time, some say the time has passed, to make the choice to step into the latter path. We cannot have it both ways.



"Which side are you on boys, which side are you on?" - Florence Reece singing to Harlan County, Kentucky.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Still Standing?

It is official; Trump told the Army he doesn't need no stinking EIS to get a pipeline finished and so the frozen drilling rigs are being fired up as I write. The tribal chairman has decided he doesn't want a giant clash and is asking protestors/Protectors to focus instead on a big March gathering in D.C. (after the pipeline is complete). He thinks we can affect the elected leadership and our representatives in government. Whatever. Native climate activists seem to be calling for folks to show up at Standing Rock but what is the plan exactly? The heroic types will shun "symbolic action" and insist on stopping the actual drilling with lock-downs and such. Others will want to "bear witness" and pray and "support". This is the School of the Americas playbook for direct action that has not closed the school after thirty years of annual actions.

The Big Enviro groups want to "hold the Army Corps. accountable" by having members send letters and more money; always more money. The Sierra Club says they "will continue to let you know how you can fight back." Awesome. Meanwhile the construction unions are celebrating Trump's actions to create good drilling jobs and MAGA. In a NYTimes op-ed,Naomi Klein asks: "In times of insecurity, why shouldn't unions worry more about jobs than about the environment?" She is trying to be understanding but borders on condescending. For one thing, climate change isn't like litter. it threatens the life of their children and the moral imperative is to protect our own (and then others).Big Greens and mainstream unions have tried to sell a version of kind, non-greedy, non-"predatory" democratic capitalism (the version Steve Bannon believes in as well) and now they they have constituents who believe all the free market, Blue-Green alliance bullshit. Now what do you tell them?

what do you tell the Water Protectors about their sovereignty? Do you trust them enough (and the union folk and the Sierra Club members) to explain the real crisis in all its dimensions? Recall that all these folks were ok with the pipeline when it was going through Bismark. And where is Black Lives Matter, where is Idle No More, where are all those students upset over debt, all those Occupy people upset over "money in politics"? Are they all busy writing letters trying to stop Betsy DeVoss and Jeff Sessions? How is that working out so far? Who is still standing?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reist What?

We all remember reading, why, not that long ago, about the "great victories" that were the Keystone and DAPL actions. Blockadia rising, Indians praying, celebrities helicoptering in for solidarity. It was spectacular! Well, perhaps "Victory" was a tad premature. Apparently our Democracy decided we want those jobs and that oil funded prosperity and fuck a bunch of Indians and loser environmentalist extremists. Making America Great Again is going to take a bunch of fossil fuels, cause you know, the economy and jobs and oh yeah, safety, cause pipes are safer than trucks and trains.

Now, there are plenty of folks who are dying to bundle up and get their Standing Rock groove back but this time they had best think long and hard about what it is they are actually fighting for and who they are up against. Because there is no benevolent Obama to beg for understanding and "consultation". They better figure out that "energy independence" (tribal chairman Archambault) is not a vision for justice or emancipation, they better learn that drum circles and five bucks will get you a latte. And that the government is just a mega-corporation that gives two shits about water or life, they will bottle that water and sell it back to you for a profit.

This time around it can't be about treaties or rights or sacred ground. This time we need to make it about raw capitalism. This time we deal with the "ism", no matter the discomfort.

Gallons of virtual ink have been spilled post- Women's March attempting to translate outrage into "progressive change". Like the Bernie campaign energy would get funneled into Our Revolution and then Indivisible and Justice Democracy and several other off-shoots hoping to coalesce into The Movement. I contend the pipeline fights have the most symbolic import and should become the focal points but the radical critique combined with a new strategy for confrontation/resistance is crucial.

It is too easy to slide into what John Bellamy foster calls "the ecological modernization of capitalism" or what we know as Green Capitalism. Reform-minded, accommodating centrists who have learned nothing from the latest series of crises must be confronted with the abysmal record of their failure. Loud and proud we must shout them down and insist, following Naomi Klein, that "revolutionary levels of transformation to the market system are now our best hope of avoiding climate chaos." We must always bring it back to the question of scale.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When America Was Great

It is my theory that the nationalist fervor Trump has so successfully tapped into can be traced directly to the debacle which the Vietnamese refer to as "the American war". People want to return to pre-Vietnam/pre-Korea America, the America whose "greatest generation" saved Europe from the Nazis ( the role of the Soviets lost to historical amnesia) and the Pacific from the Japanese. I believe this nostalgic yearning, articulated in Trumps slogan, taps into the subconscious grief and trauma and shame over the horror of that grotesque defeat in southeast Asia. It is a repressed grief we have never reckoned with as a country, despite the long black wall with all those names etched in it(50,000). The "conflict" (America never officially declared war) therefore continues to haunt the collective imaginary and manifest in endless "culture war" battles, patriotic zealotry and support for phallic, disciplinary Fathers like Trump. This is the more "immediate" cause, with the general acceleration of modernity and relativism of post-modernity being the background ambiance, as it were, for this dislocation/ alienation/ estrangement/anxiety (see earlier posts if you have nothing but time on your hands, which apparently you do if you are here).

It is hard to describe to those who weren't around for that insanity. Not just the napalm and body bags but race riots and campus revolts and feminism and hippies. This was a time when every household had a tv screen tuned to the nightly news and every one of those screens displayed a carnage that makes Trumps use of the word obscene. He has no fucking clue. Which is why John McCain despises the draft-dodging-silver-spoon licking puke with a depth I can't even imagine but, paradoxically, also why so many aging baby boomers see in him a redemptive, even transcendent erasure of that stain through masculine, hyper-aggressive re-assertion of dominance and authority. Psychic disturbance, big time.

The Super Duper Power with it's highly trained army and high-tech weaponry and endless resources got its ass kicked by a tiny but fervent anti-colonialist, revolutionary force of peasants and workers. 7 million tons of bombs (twice that of WWII) were dropped on Vietnam ,Laos and Cambodia and helicopters had to scoop people off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon as we fled in defeat. So making America "great again" would restore the pride of those who came home as losers, and in the mind of many ( not myself), as criminals. O

Of course the whole rust-belt/ working class/ endlessly looping Chevy truck commercial is a potent meme but the defeat is the under-layment that gives it real potency. That's my theory anyway.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Democracy Dumpsterfire

The pomp,the ceremony, the solemn rituals of fireworks and Bibles and "the peaceful hand-over of power" have concluded and a diverse array of white folks- hard working, hardly working, a few getting dividend checks, a few their disability checks- are enjoying a brief moment in the sun. Bumper sticker companies will re-set the type from Obama to Trump. Red baseball caps versus pink pussy hats.

And of course the opposition will enact its own rituals of stubborn defiance. Black blockers in hoodies "taking the streets". Angry housewives going to rallies. They will be asked to join things, sign things, send money and call their representatives. To re-engage as citizens in civil society, a pretty picture not just at odds with our obscene reality, but actually propping up the dangerous illusion.

I miss Hunter Thompson and his brutal willingness to pull back the curtain and expose the grotesque sausage making, the carnivalesque, morbid excess of power and those who enjoy (joissance) it. Tragically flawed himself, he could paint unflattering portraits of "actually existing" humans and not be accused of being politically uncorrect. In these times, displaying a bit of shaedenfreud that Kentucky coal miners "will get what they voted for" is to invite the ire of repentant liberals with no dirt under their own fingernails. But isn't this the most offensive form of condescension? "Forgive them, they are but children and know not what they do; voting against their own interests is sad but so 'understandable' (by us). Fuck that. Ignorant is ignorant, whether you went to Harvard or listen to Lee Greenwood.

Which is the perfect segue into this interminable, banal debate between "identity politics" and "class consciousness". Hillary versus Bernie blah blah. Except it's bullshit; Hillary is a tool (so sad) and Bernie was not prepared to take capitalism straight on. Talking about "billionaires" and "re-building the middle class" is not a radical critique. We see this playing out in less Kubuki form in France where "third way" fake socialist Hollande is challenged on the left by actual socialists and on the right by actual neoliberals. Unveiled political economy and a debate about ownership. How refreshing!

Rebecca Solnit believes just such an insurgency is possible in the USA. She, like Michah White, calls on "wild-eyed young radicals to take over the Democratic Party." But meanwhile there are hundreds of thousands of Women Marchers out there today, mobilized by social media all across the country, calling for what, Medicare for all? Nationalize the energy sector? Occupy the factories? No. They want their rights protected (including property rights) They will hear all about "Indivisible" or "How To Use Tea Party Tactics" to win back power. Maybe someone will mention Our Revolution. Planned Parenthood will get lots of donations. The Democrats will settle back onto their yoga mats, smartphone at the ready, so they can call their congressman in between posture changes.

Ken Ward, one of the Valve Turners facing 30 years in prison says "I think protests are absolutely inconsequential. Trump will welcome them. We need a totally different approach."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Comfortably Back in Opposition

A new spectre is haunting the American progressive media-sphere: Trumpism. At least a thousand gallons of ink have been spilled warning us, preparing us, defining for us what this shifting, ephemeral threat could mean. Yet underlying this daily barrage of doomsday scenarios (Nazis in the streets, police rounding up protestors, Mc Carthyite hearings, etc) one senses a profound relief, a joy even, to finally be back in opposition. No more having to support a bunch of crappy programs (like the ACA), or policies (like drone strikes)Now we can really protest! March and carry banners, ( certainly no lack of slogans)give heartfelt speeches in support of all the programs and policies we hope to save from the reactionary onslaught. The landscapes and little children! Democracy itself in peril! Lions and tigers and bears and Rex Tillerson, oh my!

The dudes name is Rex, I mean c'mon, square jawed, graying at the temples, manly and yet thoughtful, a walking Viagra ad,if Delillo or Pynchon were to write this character into a novel, in their most post-modern, literary ironic spoof, they could barely get away with Rex. So who names their kid Rex? And who would you rather have on your team growing up, Steve over there with the glasses- or Rex. Yeah. So be afraid, be very afraid. Michelle is out and Melania in.

Getting back to Trumpism, really? because we needed a new "ism" to hate?; what parts of the brain does it attack? Will I know it when I see it? I remember Bush though I don't recall Bushism, but maybe that was just what we called "stupidity". As in, has anybody found those weapons of mass destruction yet? What? Trump is a liar? His cabinet is all Big Money boys? I'm shocked! This is totally unprecedented!

The problem for me is one of age. I have seen this movie too many times and it just doesn't entertain anymore. How long can you actually ride a merry-go-round and not notice that the scenery is eerily familiar. Despite all the breathless claims that "this is unlike anything we have ever seen before" I still have this Groundhog Day feeling, disturbing at first but quickly sliding into under-whelmed boredom.

Yeah, if only Hillary or Bernie or Jill got more votes. But since they didn't, now we can be against stuff. Against the wall, and against the registry and against the cabinet picks and the generals. Against hate and discrimination and sexism and xenophobia. Damn, I feel better already!

Just don't ask me how we ever get off the merry-go-round.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Life Enrichment

I attended a panel discussion about the Standing Rock Protection (not protest) the other night, and it was painful. Following a brief description of the sacred nature of the action by a (white settler) professor in Native American studies, the four panelists described their various experiences while visiting the camp. The common thread was personal growth, enlightenment and transcendence, much like those who travel to Sedona Arizona might describe their 'personal journey'. The one native on the panel could speak with authenticity about a re-connection to cultural roots but even there it was a story of dislocation and alienation (joining the military and going to Iraq, PTSD, and isolation, etc..) within a damaged culture and individual and the return of a prodigal son. There was lots of emphasis placed on the fact that so many veterans were drawn in, wounded warriors, who might find a certain redemption and grace through immersion into "the sacred".

If I sound cynical it is because I know this audience and their collective yearning for a New Age, non-confrontational way to "accept the Universe" and "be the change they want to see". As opposed to fighting for it. So a gathering with teepees by a river where they simply listen and absorb ancient wisdom from aboriginal people, not unlike the expensive meditation retreats they frequent, is the perfect anti-dote to the chaos of The Political. Oneness and Unity and prayer. Tribal connectivity. There is simplicity as well in the "Water is Life" meme; no mention of climate catastrophe, no deep structural analysis with all its nuance and contingency,no talk of democracy or The Left. Any struggle is reduced to one between the coarse "material" realm and the ethereal "spiritual", between affect and intellect. In this sense it is binary thinking, the setting up of a dichotomy, specifically anti-dialectical, ironically the very "Western" schism they claim to reject.

The thing is, I have been a "water protector" for many decades and know how the role is constructed with built-in bureaucratic, regulatory barriers to systemic change. One begins by accepting the framework of "capitalist democracy" and its inherent power relations. "Safe standards" are those which "balance" the protection of health with profit and investment property.
It is exactly the "realism" promoted by 350 Missoula when they claim there will "never be one climactic, ultimate victory but instead a steady one-by-one rejection of proposals", in other words an endless chain of camps fighting an endless supply of brush fires.

At the meeting we were asked to put our questions for the panel on 3x5 cards but I just had to leave. How does localized water protection turn into the necessary generalized rejection and revolt? Where is power located and how is it confronted and de-legitimized? If society is currently organized by market relations, what takes their place? If everything is sacred, is nothing then sacred?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Guess Who

See if you can guess who this quote is from, Michael Moore, Thom Hartman or Steve Bannon?

"Middle-class taxpayers, people that are working-class people, right, people making incomes under $50,000 and $60,000, it was the burden of those taxpayers, right, that bailed out the elites. And let’s think about it for a second. Here’s how capitalism metastasized, is that all the burdens put on the working-class people who get none of the upside. All of the upside goes to the crony capitalists."

It could have come from the "People's Mic" at Occupy Missoula but actually it is Trump's special advisor and Breitbart News impressario Steve Bannon. What intrigues me is the overlap between this Tea Party intellectual and "progressives" on this issue of Crony Capitalism. I can imagine Bill Moyers interviewing Bannon and nodding along. In a panel discussion at the Vatican back in 2014, Bannon lashed out against the "greed of the investment banks", against so-called conservatives "binding with corporatists" and the fact that no one from the financial sector has gone to jail for the global economic collapse of 2007-8. Sound familiar? It should because it is the same line we heard from Michael Moore, Rachael Maddow, Thom Hartman, and that ilk. Remember Sarah Palin back in 2011, calling out the crony capitalism of "connections and government bailouts...and influence peddling and corporate welfare"? Though they never identify it as such, it is "progressive neoliberalism" (see Nancy Fraser in Dissent Magazine) that these New Conservatives have united against.

Capitalism is frequently described with an attached adjective, be it "late" or "corporate" or "predatory". That addition often indicates a desire to either reform or scrap capitalism altogether. So that when Bannon speaks of the "crisis of crony capitalism" he is referring to what he perceives as a turning away from a glorious, if wholly imagined, past, a previous period of efficient, just, victorious capitalism based on an "enlightened...underlying moral and spiritual foundation of Judeo-Christian belief." Here he is thinking of World War II production and the post-war settlement of labor peace that followed, which he calls "Pax Americana". This nostalgia is remarkably similar to that of progressives who look to those decades, as well as the period of the New Deal, as models for what could be. But of course this is magical thinking for both.

Here is Bannon from the same conference- this time channeling Chris Hedges- criticizing Objectivist precepts which: "...make people commodities and objectify people, use them..under the rubric of 'personal freedom'". Trumps new advisor went so far as to call for a cap on wealth creation and distribution, something not even Bernie, much less Clinton, ever dared to say. He believes his own alt-right/international Tea Party to be part of a "global, center-right populist movement..of working men and women... that is tired of being dictated to..by the party of Davos." Almost Naomi Klein if you ignore the center-right part. They are fine being dictated to by The Market, I guess, maybe because the Market is close to God (or is God!).

The irony- of course there is always the irony of a post-ironic age- is that all these "revolutionaries" also worship at the Tomb of Reagan, who, along with Thatcher, put a dramatic end to the Golden Age they so celebrate by crushing unions, continuing Volker's deflationary monetary policy, gutting social provision and lowering taxes on the rich. Their appeals to an amorphous working/middle classes mash-up put "traditional values" and nationalist pride front and center and tuck the Hayekian economics into the fine print. If Sarah Palin could memorize the mantra of "free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and risk", the struggling folks of the rust-belt can absorb the bumper-sticker version and trust a virile, flame-throwing leader to work out the details. Tying this proposed "new settlement" to Judeo-Christian prosperity gospel is a brilliant touch, adding affect, an emotional, even tactile connection, in a way the Left never seems to.

As with identity politics and political correctness, the Right has executed another ju jitsu move with crony capitalism. By exploiting feelings of victimhood and co-opting progressive strategy and language to build a coalition, they get some time in the sun. Because they so totally and completely mis-diagnose the crisis of capitalism, it will be fleeting, as all things are these days, when "all things solid melt into air", but it is fascinating to watch. Just banish greed and work hard and be good. Simple.