The Jaded Prole

A Progressive Worker's Perspective on the political and cultural events of our time.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Alice Walker Speaks

Alice Walker speaks powerfully on the need for Women to unite in saving our world. Alice Walker is an important influence on my own poetry and here she demonstrates the power of poetry as the rarified communication of perfected language.
As Amy Goodman mentions beforehand, she will be on tour and it is lucky that she will be visiting locally. In writing for a local paper I did an article on the vital importance of authentic citizen journalism and of DemocracyNow! in a particular.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Occupy the Truth

Challenging the Media's Premature Post-Mortem on Occupy
By Michael I Niman, Art Voice

Protesters march through the World Financial Center during demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, September 17, 2012. (Photo: Marcus Yam / The New York Times) Protesters march through the World Financial Center during demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, September 17, 2012. Wearing an Occupy t-shirt in the summer of 2012 seemed old school—like wearing a Grateful Dead tie-dye. Occupy is so 51 weeks ago.

But where did that meme come from? Occupy hadn't yet hit its first birthday before we were asked to believe that the most transformational American progressive political movement of the 21st century had died of old age.

This past Monday, the Occupy movement celebrated its first birthday. What began with a fringe band of demonstrators in lower Manhattan quickly spread its glowing embers across the planet, forcing a global conversation about social inequality. Now, just one year later, the corporate media has banded together to declare the whole movement over, down the memory hole.

The media always held the Occupy movement to high standards, demanding nothing short of revolution, then calling the movement a failure when it failed to transform society in its first few months. But the pundits could only envision their own notion of revolution—replacing one set of leaders with another, all within the confines of our two-party system. Occupy, however, never aspired to being an electoral party or player, like the Tea Party, which, once organized, was co-opted by corporate interests in a matter of minutes. Occupy instead wanted to transform the debate—to shift the zeitgeist. To a punditocracy reduced to quantifying electoral battles as horse races, reporting on electoral tactics rather than substance, Occupy made no sense.

Months went by and the Occupy movement didn't yield its diverse voices to leaders, didn't endorse liberal Democrats who would use them and sell them out, didn't elect anyone to office. Measuring the only pulse the pundits knew how to take, they declared the movement dead. Yet almost everyone in public life today, a mere year later, speaks of the 99 percent, tries to speak to the 99 percent, or feebly feigns to be one of the 99 percent, as Ann Romney did when suggesting that her husband Willard formed Bain Capital while sitting with a bunch of buddies around their kitchen table, which I suppose we are to believe was a door propped up on milk crates. (The buddies, it turns out, were Salvadoran oligarchs tied to that nation's death squads.)

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the American mainstream is doing something it hasn't done in decades—discussing the taboo topic of social class in America. Yes, there is a class war. It's been raging ever since Ronald Reagan was elected, ushering in three decades of spiraling economic inequality and a historically unprecedented upward grab of the nation's wealth. The Occupy movement mainstreamed the conversation about this war. Now politicians must at least pretend to pander to the interests of the 99 percent. That's revolutionary—at least for a one-year-old. By contrast, it took the women's suffrage movement 72 years—from its first convention in Seneca Falls, until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—to secure women the right to vote, and we're still waiting for our first woman president. I'm sure pundits ridiculed that movement and declared it dead at many junctures during its persistent struggle.

The clearest example of this hopeful but premature obituary for the Occupy movement comes from the Associated Press, the cooperative of corporate news organizations whose canned articles appear verbatim in hundreds of major newspapers around the world. The AP's piece, published on the first anniversary of the first Occupy demonstration on Wall Street, reads as if it was authored by someone who had never encountered the movement. It's headline,"1 year after encampment began, Occupy in disarray," misses the point. Occupy was always in disarray, which generally is defined as "lacking order or sequence." That is Occupy's tactic. It's what makes Occupy powerful and inclusive. When your movement represents 99 percent of the population, it will never be of one mind, nor will it be neat or orderly. Democracy was never meant to be orderly. Hence, Occupy crowd-sourced and condensed a broad set of goals and values, but few specific demands.

The author of the AP piece, Meghan Barr, writes that Occupy Wall Street meetings broke down because "Nobody could agree on anything and nobody was in charge." She's accurate in that nobody was in charge, and consensus, given the large size of the assemblies, was often elusive. But she's ignorant of the Occupy movement's goals and values if she truly believes this is why the movement, as she argues, "disintegrated." To the contrary, it's because of this intellectual inclusiveness that the movement grew so fast. Everyone was welcome at the table, but not everyone would agree with everyone else about all issues.

But where there is agreement, there's incredible power. We see this power in the fact that issues of social inequality, discussion of the one percent versus the 99 percent, are now everywhere. In contrast, Barr writes that "the movement is now a shadow of its mighty infancy, when a group of young people harnessed the power of a disillusioned nation and took to the streets chanting about corporate greed and inequality." Today we don't have to chant in the streets because Occupy hijacked the conversation. Today, even Republican candidates often couch their lies in the lingo of the movement.

The media liked the Occupy movement when it maintained camps, providing visual spectacle available anytime during slow moments in a 24-hour news cycle. The camps got the movement off the ground and gave it the media presence needed to launch its memes and spread globally. The post-camp Occupy movement is proving a bit too cerebral for a media machine that prefers shiny objects and flashing lights to substance. The subsequent phase of the Occupy movement has so far included teach-ins at libraries and universities, saving homes from foreclosure, helping workers successfully unionize, lobbying governments to divest fom criminal banks, creating homeless shelters, and evicting predatory lenders from college campuses. An Occupy group in California created a community farm. In New York, Occupy groups played a large role in pressuring the governor to extend the "millionaire's tax." Occupy groups pressured corporations to stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, which authored reactionary legislation sponsored by pro-corporate politicians in statehouses around the country.

These are all measurable activities or victories organized or won by disparate local Occupy groups. Occupy activists are now organizing student debt actions and voter registration drives. There are countless stories—and all of this, along with the entire camp phase of the movement, has transpired in just one year. During this time, a large plurality of Americans started to list the disparity between the rich and the poor as one of the nation's most pressing issues. This is a fantastic track record for a one-year-old movement. And it is very threatening to the entrenched corporate interests who want us to believe that this movement is over—or better yet, that it never happened.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why do the hate us?

I keep hearing that Muslims, especially in Middle-Eastern countries hate the US. The world-wide protests recently over an obscure anti-Muslim video seems to confirm prejudices in the West of intolerance and anti American sentiment but is it really that simple?

An article in the Atlantic by Robert Wright titled Hidden Causes of the Muslim Protests points to the real reasons for the popular anger we are seeing:

Drone strikes. Obviously, President Obama doesn't want to say anything bad about the gobs of strikes he's authorized. Neither does Mitt Romney; if you're going to spend your whole campaign calling Obama a hyper-apologetic girly boy, you can't turn around and complain that he kills too many people! But American drone strikes--which seem to always target Muslim countries, and sometimes kill civilians--are famously unpopular in the Muslim world. Note which countries tend to cluster toward the bottom of this graph from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. And watch the one-minute-clip below of my conversation on BhTV with Robert Becker, an American who lives in Cairo, taped after the protests had started.

Israel-Palestine. That's the second issue Becker mentions in the video clip, and it is also cited in a recent Atlantic piece by Middle East expert Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. Again, don't expect to hear about this from Romney or Obama. During an election campaign, especially, neither man wants to dwell on the downside of America's essentially unconditional support of Israel even as Israel pursues policies that violate both international law and basic principles of justice, such as the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. But rest assured that the Israeli-American relationship gets plenty of airtime in Muslim, and especially Arab, nations. And, while some of this assumes the form of wild conspiracy theories, the core fact that American support helps sustain highly objectionable Israeli policies is not a figment of anyone's imagination. Neither is the fact that when President Obama did try to get Israel to freeze settlement expansion, he encountered so much blowback in Israel and America that he had to give up.

American troops in Muslim countries. Though American soldiers have left Iraq, they remain in Afghanistan. Noting the downside of this fact doesn't fit into either Obama's or Romney's game plan as they try to out-hawk each other. But, while they stay silent, there are people who are happy to talk about American troops in Afghanistan: Jihadi recruiters. And the reason is that they know this subject strikes a chord among young Muslim men who for various reasons (including local ones such as unemployment) are unhappy campers to begin with. This demographic played an important role in many of the protests last week.

Sadly, as Wright points out, neither corporate candidate will talk about these issues in any meaningful way. Both are part of the problem in a government run by the CIA for the global corporatocracy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty

Beyond the hoopla and bullshit that dominates an American Election, there are the real conditions of life at the end of a failing system. As ever, Chris Hedges goes to the heart of it. This article from Truthdig

Growth Is the Problem

By Chris Hedges

The ceaseless expansion of economic exploitation, the engine of global capitalism, has come to an end. The futile and myopic effort to resurrect this expansion—a fallacy embraced by most economists—means that we respond to illusion rather than reality. We invest our efforts into bringing back what is gone forever. This strange twilight moment, in which our experts and systems managers squander resources in attempting to re-create an expanding economic system that is moribund, will inevitably lead to systems collapse. The steady depletion of natural resources, especially fossil fuels, along with the accelerated pace of climate change, will combine with crippling levels of personal and national debt to thrust us into a global depression that will dwarf any in the history of capitalism. And very few of us are prepared.

“Our solution is our problem,” Richard Heinberg, the author of “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality,” told me when I reached him by phone in California. “Its name is growth. But growth has become uneconomic. We are worse off because of growth. To achieve growth now means mounting debt, more pollution, an accelerated loss of biodiversity and the continued destabilization of the climate. But we are addicted to growth. If there is no growth there are insufficient tax revenues and jobs. If there is no growth existing debt levels become unsustainable. The elites see the current economic crisis as a temporary impediment. They are desperately trying to fix it. But this crisis signals an irreversible change for civilization itself. We cannot prevent it. We can only decide whether we will adapt to it or not.”

Heinberg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, argues that we cannot grasp the real state of the global economy by the usual metrics—GDP, unemployment, housing, durable goods, national deficits, personal income and consumer spending—although even these measures point to severe and chronic problems. Rather, he says, we have to examine the structural flaws that sit like time bombs embedded within the economic edifice. U.S. household debt enabled the expansion of consumer spending during the boom years, he says, but consumer debt cannot continue to grow as house prices decline to realistic levels. Toxic assets litter the portfolios of the major banks, presaging another global financial meltdown. The Earth’s natural resources are being exhausted. And climate change, with its extreme weather conditions, is beginning to exact a heavy economic toll on countries, including the United States, through the destruction brought about by droughts, floods, wildfires and loss of crop yields.

Heinberg also highlights what he calls “the highly dysfunctional U.S. political system,” which is paralyzed and hostage to corporate power. It is unable to respond rationally to the crisis or solve “even the most trivial of problems.”

“The government at this point exacerbates nearly every crisis the nation faces,” he said. “Policy decisions do not emerge from deliberations between the public and elected leaders. They arise from unaccountable government agencies and private interest groups. The Republican Party has taken leave of reality. It exists in a hermetically sealed ideasphere where climate change is a hoax and economic problems can be solved by cutting spending and taxes. The Democrats, meanwhile, offer no realistic strategy for coping with the economic unraveling or climate change.”

The collision course is set. It is now only a matter of time and our personal response.

“It could implode in a few weeks, in a few months or maybe in a few years,” Heinberg said, “but unless radical steps are taken to restructure the economy, it will implode. And when it does the financial system will seize up far more dramatically than in 2008. You will go to the bank or the ATM and there will be no money. Food will be scarce and expensive. Unemployment will be rampant. And government services will break down. Living standards will plummet. ‘Austerity’ programs will become more draconian. Economic inequality will widen to create massive gaps between a tiny, oligarchic global elite and the masses. The collapse will also inevitably trigger the kind of instability and unrest, including riots, that we have seen in countries such as Greece. The elites, who understand and deeply fear the possibility of an unraveling, have been pillaging state resources to save their corrupt, insolvent banks, militarize their police forces and rewrite legal codes to criminalize dissent.”

If nations were able to respond rationally to the crisis they could forestall social collapse by reconfiguring their economies away from ceaseless growth and exploitation. It remains possible, at least in the industrialized world, to provide to most citizens the basics—food, water, housing, medical care, employment, education and public safety. This, however, as Heinberg points out, would require a radical reversal of the structures of power. It would necessitate a massive cancellation of debt, along with the slashing of bloated militaries, heavy regulation and restraints placed on the financial sector and high taxes imposed on oligarchic elites and corporations in order to reduce unsustainable levels of inequality. While this economic reconfiguration would not mitigate the effects of climate change and the depletion of natural resources it would create the social stability needed to cope with a new post-growth regime. But Heinberg says he doubts a rational policy is forthcoming. He fears that as deterioration accelerates there will be a greater resolve on the part of the power elite to “cannibalize the resources of society in order to prop up megabanks and military establishments.”
Survival will be determined by localities. Communities will have to create collectives to grow their own food and provide for their security, education, financial systems and self-governance, efforts that Heinberg suspects will “be discouraged and perhaps criminalized by those in authority.” This process of decentralization will, he said, become “the signal economic and social trend of the 21st century.” It will be, in effect, a repudiation of classic economic models such as free enterprise versus the planned economy or Keynesian stimulus versus austerity. The reconfiguration will arise not through ideologies, but through the necessities of survival forced on the poor and former members of the working and middle class who have joined the poor. This will inevitably create conflicts as decentralization weakens the power of the elites and the corporate state.

Joseph Tainter, an archeologist, in his book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” provides a useful blueprint for how such societies unravel. All of history’s major 24 civilizations have collapsed and the patterns are strikingly similar, he writes. The difference this time around is that we will unravel as a planet. Tainter notes that as societies become more complex they inevitably invest greater and greater amounts of diminishing resources in expanding systems of complexity. This proves to be fatal.

“More complex societies are costlier to maintain than simpler ones and require higher support levels per capita,” Tainter writes. The investments required to maintain an overly complex system become too costly, and these investments yield declining returns. The elites, in a desperate effort to maintain their own levels of consumption and preserve the system that empowers them, through repression and austerity measures squeeze the masses harder and harder until the edifice collapses. This collapse leaves behind decentralized, autonomous pockets of human communities.

Heinberg says this is our fate. The quality of our lives will depend on the quality of our communities. If communal structures are strong we will be able to endure. If they are weak we will succumb to the bleakness. It is important that these structures be set in place before the onset of the crisis, he says. This means starting to “know your neighbors.” It means setting up food banks and farmers’ markets. It means establishing a local currency, carpooling, creating clothing exchanges, establishing cooperative housing, growing gardens, raising chickens and buying local. It is the matrix of neighbors, family and friends, Heinberg says, that will provide “our refuge and our opportunity to build anew.”

“The inevitable decline in resources to support societal complexity will generate a centrifugal force,” Heinberg said. “It will break up existing economic and governmental power structures. It will unleash a battle for diminishing resources. This battle will see conflicts erupt between nations and within nations. Localism will soon be our fate. It will also be our strategy for survival. Learning practical skills, becoming more self-sufficient, forming bonds of trust with our neighbors will determine the quality of our lives and the lives of our children.”