Archive for Class

Anti-Trump: Catalyst for a New Organized Left, or more Dead-End Cult of Personality?

Posted in Capitalism, Elections, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , on January 20, 2017 by Z

As anti-Trump protests sweep across the USA, I am reminded of the signs of ill health I saw in the Bernie Sanders camp at the end of the primaries (link here).  Just as Bernie’s cult of personality threatens to act as a barrier to genuine political consciousness for many of his followers, so too does the photo negative that is Trump’s own cult.  I hope there are protesters out there trying to use this outcry to educate and organize, but much of what I’ve seen today (as presented by mainstream media, so that’s something to bear in mind) seems focused on Trump the individual; his vulgarity, his character, his personal history – not the broader social trends and policy direction in which he is situated.  Assuming Trump maintains his apparent course, we’ll have four years before this potential resistance begins losing people who failed to learn any broader lessons, meaning we have four years to teach those lessons.  There were organizations participating today that definitely understand this.  With luck, the cheeto-in-chief will provide enough vulgar provocations to maintain this anti-Trump coalition, which has at the very least already provided more opposition to any looming Trump disasters than was faced by the previous administration, which certainly dealt enough damage of its own.

Put on your helmets and strap in.  It looks like we’re going full accelerationsim.  At the very least, it will be interesting.  Probably very unpleasant, but interesting.

Brexit, Trump, Hillary, Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Robespierre’s Mistake

Posted in Capitalism, Economy, Elections, Europe, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , , on July 2, 2016 by Z

Most people who intended to comment on Brexit have already done so, but something about the situation made me want to wait. What follows is the result of that delay. Hopefully, it’s coherent enough to read.

First, a note about Brexit: this is a non-binding referendum, as many powers that be are already pointing out. It is still possible, even likely, that the democratic process that produced the Brexit vote will be overridden via undemocratic, unaccountable forces in the EU, much like what occurred in Greece. In addition, there is the very important point made by Yanis Varoufakis, who cited the interconnected nature of modern global capitalism and the UK’s geographic position when he referred to the EU as “Hotel California” – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. In other words, suppose the right wing of the Brexit faction gets all that it wants and more; suppose the immigrants all leave, reducing downward pressure on wages. Well, the corporations in that case would simply go where wages are lower. There is no escape from austerity to be found in scapegoating, unless you’re also prepared to nationalize those corporations before they can leave (which the UKIPpers certainly are not), and if you’re willing to do that, there’s no reason to be scapegoating immigrants in the first place, even if you’re the special sort of malicious that likes that kind of thing. Global capital is just that: global. It is not so easily sidestepped, and its consequences cannot be canceled with a vote alone. The center-left and all points to its right have, of course, already done their best to marginalize the left wing of the Brexit faction. However, assuming there actually is a Brexit, here’s my (American) take on it:

The popular discourse around this issue has been (and continues to be) dominated by two political forces: those of the center left, and those of the far right. Right out of the gate, we have a glaring, and instructive, omission: the left. Apart from a handful of alternative media interviews, supporters of a “left exit” have been ignored at best, called bigots and xenophobes and enablers of the far right at worst. And why not? Mass media and the two largest parties permitted the issue to be framed as one of immigration and economic stability; the choice was presented as a (false) dichotomy – limit immigration (and be racist) at the cost of economic stability, or remain, do not touch immigration (and don’t be racist) and insure economic stability. This is the center-left formulation, which of course overlooks all of the racism built into the already existing system. The far right (UKIP) formulation maintains the same narrative when it comes to immigration (though they dispute the racism charge), but reverses the economic stability element. The Brexit campaign promises a better life for the British working class (which a left exit might deliver, but the UKIP exit almost certainly won’t, i.e. the right exit claim is basically a lie), while the remain campaign tells some version of the truth – that choosing to remain will cause the lives of working Brits to get worse at a slower rate than they would with a right exit (the remain campaign doesn’t really acknowledge the possibility of a left exit because the remain campaign is fundamentally a creature of the center and opposes the left). In other words, one side lies when it promises a better life; the other tells the truth about a steadily worsening one. No one who wants to suggest actually sticking up for working people and challenging the power of the elite is allowed in. Of course they’re kept out; a true exit taking a leftward turn would mean the total abandonment of empire, an end to the plundering, through neoliberal globalism, of the third world (and even much of the first). This would require that resources needed to secure the future of the working class would need to come from inside the UK, from those who currently control them… the capitalist class. They aren’t going to let that happen. If the plunder dries up, the illusion is shattered, the imperial system gone, the only remaining choice laid bare as that first articulated by Rosa Luxemburg: Socialism, or barbarism?

A few points regarding the EU:

  1. The EU is not, and never has been, a democratic organization. Like it or not, Brexiters pointing this out are correct.
  2. The EU is a creation of neoliberal capitalism. As we saw in Greece, it lines up time and time again against the people and for the elite. The freedom of movement touted by many as a major advantage of the EU has a dark side: it allows free movement of labor between nations with vastly different costs of living and levels of poverty (in part because the EU makes no meaningful effort to empower the lower classes economically, and no effort of any kind to empower them politically). Because of this, EU freedom of movement can be (and is) exploited by the capitalist class to encourage a race to the bottom in wages. At the same time, the EU limits the ability of member states to strengthen worker protections, and even pressures them to remove said protections – as is happening in France right now. (Even after Brexit, it is likely that this freedom of movement will not be meaningfully altered for the UK – it will probably be required to retain access to the single market – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave).
  3. The role of EU institutions such as the European Central Bank has been to move and manage economic crises around Europe for the benefit of bankers – this is why Syriza was thwarted in Greece. This is why Varoufakis could not get a sensible deal for the Greek people. While the UK is not in the Eurozone, it is nevertheless strongly influenced by Eurozone economic policy – London is a financial center, and the Euro is the most important currency in the region.

There are plenty of reasons the left might want to leave – EU rules block left wing change just as surely as they block right wing anti-immigrant change. The EU is not a leftist institution, only a liberal one. It will not permit serious challenges to the dominance of capital, and is actively pushing its member states toward austerity. It will not be reformed from within, as this would require all member states, including those with far right governments, to agree on a new EU constitution. Reforming the EU is probably as realistic a goal as reforming the Democratic Party. Absent a Bakuninesque spontaneous popular uprising, I don’t see how this could be done without an army, at which point it’s no longer ‘reform’. Bottom line: There’s no reason to be mad at the Brexiters. Some are also UKIPpers, and you can be mad at them for that, but left exiters are making some version of the following calculation: Leave now and risk a major battle against the right to secure a left exit while the left still maintains some rough equality with the right in its political clout, or remain, accepting a status quo where the resources of the working class and other left constituencies are guaranteed to gradually diminish, making the likelihood of victory over the right more remote the longer the fight is delayed. Is that the wrong call? What is to be done? In any case, what reason could there possibly be to actually support the undemocratic playground for capital that is the EU? Let us remember that, contrary to what the remainers seem to think, Brexit didn’t and won’t create rampant xenophobia and bigotry. Those things already existed long before this vote and have been festering and growing for years. The EU isn’t protection against nativism; it is part of the context in which nativism has again become prominent. It doesn’t expunge racism; it legitimizes an “acceptable” level of it by institutionalizing it – as exploitation of Eastern Europeans as cheap labor, as squalid refugee shelters in Calais, where the victims of imperial meddling in the middle east rot in legal limbo, as the bodies of North Africans sinking into anonymous graves beneath the Mediterranean. When you silence the left, substitute neoliberal globalism for internationalism and in the process bleed the workers, the only place left for them to go is, unsurprisingly, the only ideology outside of neoliberal globalism that you didn’t silence: nationalism. The perfidious Blairites and their Tory tag-alongs, the same drivers behind Remain, are responsible for UKIP. The left too is responsible, for repeating the mistake of the interwar socialist parties; they provided no viable alternative, allowing themselves to be drawn into the web of centrist compromise, in the end compromising only their integrity and credibility.

[Another point in Brexit’s defense: it has prompted calls from Sinn Fein for the return of Northern Ireland to the republic where it belongs. Sadly for my mother’s people, Eire is currently dominated by Fine Gael, scions of the Free Staters and Blue Shirts, who will no doubt shoot down any suggestion from Sinn Fein purely because it comes from Sinn Fein. Still, it’s nice to see the loyalists glance around nervously. Sweat, you bastards. Connolly’s watching.]

I. Remain, Hillary and Neoliberal Multiculturalism

Professor, political scientist and all around brilliant guy Adolph Reed has observed a phenomenon in recent years that he calls “neoliberal multiculturalism.” It short, this refers to the use of previously left wing politics connected to various liberation movements (black, latino, women, etc.) by establishment forces. Reed summarizes the effect as a sundering of select identity groups from class as identity politics, but not class politics, are assimilated in warped form by the liberal wing of the elite. Reed describes the result as a widespread neoliberal position in which the idea of equality is reduced to the notion that as long as the 1% contains demographic proportions similar to the general population, everything’s ok. In other words, the neoliberal concept of equality is a 1% that is 12-13% black, 14% latino, 50% women, etc. leaving the working class portions of those (and all other) groups behind to rot. (These percentages, obviously, refer to the US population. If you want to look up the appropriate numbers for the UK, I won’t stop you). Here in the states, we might call this Clintonian multiculturalism. In the UK, it is at the heart of Remain. This is why calling for a vote to stay the course on a steady decline appears defensible to the UK establishment. A compromise with the EU is analogous to the compromise the Democratic Party made with capital in the US a long time ago (and Labor with the Thatcherites); it is this compromise that led directly to the neoliberal multiculturalism Reed despises. Put simply, it goes like this: “You (Dems, Labor) stop with all this ‘class’ business and we’ll let you keep working for minorities and social issues.” They accepted this deal, which in the context of the time may have seemed reasonable; income disparity was less pronounced, and the threat of the Soviet alternative forced the establishment to keep up the appearance of worker’s rights. Absent that alternative, however, the situation has steadily deteriorated. Left of center social issues have come to be associated with neoliberal economics, as the mainstream parties that represent these social issues are also neoliberal. What we have now is the social issue equivalent of the old lie that free markets make free people. Now free markets, apparently, make tolerant people as well. A population that no longer sees the necessary links both racism and sexism have with class can be tricked into seeing Brexit as a moral binary between bigotry (which predates neoliberalism by millennia) and tolerance (which also predates neoliberalism by millennia), emptied of all political economy and devoid of historical context, despite that the relevant context is not only recent, but current. In the US, the same blindness has been applied to the Democratic primary, where the mainstream media has treated Bernie Sanders’ attempt to talk about class as though it was a sign that he rejects all other struggles, despite the naked absurdity of this infantile assumption. It allows the political establishment to pretend Hillary Clinton is on the left because she’s a woman, or pays lip service to the black leadership class (while supporting the mass incarceration of the black working class). There will no doubt be a similar myopia in the presentation of the general election, which is shaping up to be every bit as absurd, hyperbolic and fearful as the Brexit “debate.” The artificial separation the neoliberal center-left has imposed between class and identity has exacerbated divisions within the left that should have been surmountable. It has fractured the coalition we need, and should have had.

The great heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, neoliberal multiculturalists imply, weren’t fighting for working class minorities, but rather for the opportunity for their own elites to join the white elite. Never mind, of course, that both MLK and Malcolm X just so happened to be assassinated when they were starting to talk about the relationship between race and class. (Leaders who talk only about race and don’t mention class seem to live significantly longer). This neoliberal multiculturalism is also at the root of the current plague of upper class white liberals in cities with strong tech sectors just dying to explain how the app they’re developing plus the glorious free market will somehow save all of the brown people. It’s why you meet people who describe themselves as “progressive libertarians.” In rejecting class politics in favor of identity politics, the left in the US and Europe severed the connection between the two in the minds of their political class and, increasingly, their constituents. The result: postmodern liberals – pro-gay, pro-minority, pro-woman and utterly disdainful of the working class without realizing that the working class contains at least 95% of all of those other groups. This combination is now bearing bitter fruit.

II. Right Exit, Trump and What Happens when the Left Cedes the Field

In both the US and UK, the immediate political consequence of neoliberal multiculturalism has been the “New Democrats” (Clintonites) and “New Labor” (Blairites). Class as a political consideration has been sent to the back of the line by both. The real left (people like me) were, of course, already sidelined long before these developments either through marginalization (in the UK) or recurrent, punitive red scares (in the US). The move away from the working class while retaining an increasingly skewed and superficial interest in minorities and social issues has contributed greatly to both Trump and the right exit camp. By dropping class as an issue, the New Democrats and New Labor effectively abandoned a key demographic: the white working class. Because the white working class is, well, white, it could not be retained solely through appeals to race or gender. With the nominally center left (neoliberal) parties working against their interests (and placing all of the blame on them for the persistence of racism despite their being the least powerful white people around – look at yourselves, white liberals; you’re probably more to blame), they had nowhere to go. The left was nowhere to be found with the alternative that should have been provided. Instead, these workers went to nationalism, the only game in town outside the neoliberal consensus. In the US, this is why the Trump phenomenon is largely a white problem, and also why there are so many who prefer Sanders to Trump, but Trump to Hillary. When even a vaguely left option is presented, many jump at it, but for the most part the left has ceded the field, leaving it by default to the nationalist right. Meanwhile, working class minorities had even fewer options – they couldn’t go to the nationalists, and so had no choice but stay with the neoliberals, who had stolen and twisted their causes in the absence of meaningful objection from the left, which continued to be marginalized or to compromise with the center. If the white working class is racist and xenophobic, then you (center-left neoliberals) made them that way. In short, the arrogant mainstream liberals bemoaning the foolishness of the unwashed and assuming that no motivation other than hatred and xenophobia could possibly underlie a Brexit or Trump vote are the very reason these entities exist as anything other than an irrelevant fringe. Trotsky believed that fascism was the result of a failed revolution; it looks like crude nationalism may be the result of a totally absent one. But hey, keep ignoring, insulting and dismissing Trumpeters and right exiters; clearly, the center-left refusal to even try to understand the situation is working very well. Where, oh where, is the left alternative? Its mainstream expressions in Sanders and Corbyn are under constant attack. Congratulations, center-left – you’ve succeeded in marginalizing the only currently viable alternatives to what you claim to hate. In the US, this is compounded by an unbelievably cynical and utterly transparent effort to herd the berners into the Clintonian fold.

III. Robespierre’s Mistake

Learning is hard. If it wasn’t, those on the left who still call for compromise with the center, whether in the form of lesser evil Democrat voters or EU supporters, wouldn’t. Even so, learning shouldn’t be this hard. Robespierre was probably the first to make this mistake, at least in the modern era. Faced with a profoundly confusing political situation, he was beset on both left and right. Unable to satisfy rivals on the left, the sans-culottes and enrages, representatives of the popular movement as opposed to the more educated political clubs (such as Robespierre’s Jacobin club), he was nevertheless too concerned with their welfare to find support from the middle class. He attempted to compromise, but inevitably ended up acting against both factions and satisfying neither. Having moved against those on his left, he found that they would not help him against those on his right. For him, the consequences of compromise with the center were total. He had once noted that the revolution might one day consume him; indeed it did. It isn’t so hard to understand why Robespierre made his mistake – he was, after all, arguably the first to make it in the era of modern politics. But why do leftists throughout the western world continue to repeat this mistake today? Whether settling for Clinton or huddling under the leaky umbrella of the EU, afraid to clash with the racists in a true battle for a left exit, why do so many on the left abandon their fellows to compromise with the center? They should know better. They should know that the center will not return the favor, will not help them in turn. Robespierre paid with his head. The least we can do is keep ours. The center is falling apart. Either the left can rescue the working class from neoliberal multiculturalism and form a coalition able to deliver socialism, or there will be a period of triumph for the racist right caused by our inability to do so. Maybe we’ll win after that, but I’m inclined to think it’s do or die. Failure means barbarism.

IV. Final Note

After reading this, one could be forgiven for thinking I believe Brexit has significant positive potential. Sure, it could, but there’s little reason at present to believe it will. The most likely outcome is that it will be ignored, canceled or technically carried out but with no meaningful changes to British economy or government. Even if a real effort at a true Brexit, whether of the left or right variety, is made, the gravity of market forces and global capital dependencies will simply hold the UK in economic orbit around the EU anyway. Varoufakis has it right: you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. The elite are already trying to adjust to the unexpected script changes fired at them by Brexit, but adjust they shall, unless something else happens. Still, forcing them to go off script is far better than just going along. It might well be meaningless, but it had to be tried, and no good leftist should accept the EU as it stands; so Brexit it is.

On trendy pseudo-responsibility and its commodification

Posted in Capitalism, USA with tags , , on June 11, 2016 by Z

A few days ago, my girlfriend came home with a story.  She had stopped at a place called “Sweetgreen” (one word) on her way home from work.  Apparently, “Sweetgreen” (one word) is some kind of salad and yogurt place for the hip and health-conscious urban sophisticate consumer with adequate disposable income.  Fond of salad and yogurt, particularly when one or both happen to contain bacon (I don’t know if they did in this particular case), she placed an order.  Based on her description, it seems the clerk was an unduly alert and enthusiastic young lady with a penchant for upward inflection at the ends of her sentences, the sort of customer service professional my girlfriend has been forced to work with in the past and often describes as “wretched.”  (She’s not known for patience in the face of annoyance).  Her order was prepared with the usual “this isn’t fast food but it is fast food but it isn’t fast food” efficiency no doubt familiar to patrons of “Sweetgreen” (one word).  The funny part came next: she opened her wallet to pay – and was informed by the clerk that “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t accept cash.  Uh, why?  Apparently (according to the clerk) because cash is not sustainable.  But, the clerk noted, you can pay with apple pay on your smartphone!  Or a credit card, if you still use those things (come on, they don’t even have apps for those!)

Wow.  “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t take cash because cash is not sustainable.  Apparently, paper money is doomed to destroy the environment, but the massive coal and nuclear powered energy infrastructure necessary to maintain the elaborate electronic payment systems “Sweetgreen” (one word) prefers are somehow sustainable and will save us all.  It’s remarkable how many people seem to be convinced that electricity comes from some kind of magical green-friendly no place, like a happy meadow where gumdrops grow from the sunflowers.  Even if we had 100% wind and solar tomorrow, the maintenance of physical infrastructure like copper wire (mining, smelting) and the rubber to cover it (chemicals galore!) would still probably be less sustainable than simple paper bills, which come from trees that can, if I’m not mistaken, grow back.  (And we haven’t even touched on the level of pollution, social chaos and even armed conflict endemic to many regions of Africa where a large share of the rare earth metals needed to make devices like smartphones are mined, or the worker suicide plagued factories in China and Southeast Asia where they’re assembled!)  There’s also the issue that those most likely to lack smartphones and credit/debit cards are of course the poor, who are therefore likely not able to patronize “Sweetgreen” (one word), but no one seems too worried about that.

What then, is the reason for this compulsive attachment of poorly thought out pseudo-responsibility to acts of consumerism?  Is it simply a marketing tactic, begun (probably) by Starbucks, and now necessary for all others to avoid being outcompeted via the logic of capitalism?  Slavoj Zizek suggests a more complex picture.  I might think we could call it quits here, but “Sweetgreen” (one word) is doing something a little different from the more familiar cultural capitalism Zizek describes.  They aren’t just offering some kind of one-for-one personal moral redemption for the individual consumer; they’re actually making an unambiguously authoritarian decree.  It isn’t “buy one of our salads and we’ll do something nice for the less fortunate,” it’s “engage with us on these terms or be cast into the outer darkness, you enemy of sustainability!”  That the poor are de facto excluded from the ethical light of “Sweetgreen” (one word) may be taken as especially instructive; this is a form of class-ignorant yuppie slacktivism.  It’s doubly slacktivist in that not only does the business carry out your slacktivism for you, it tells you what the issue is and has already done obviously lazy and totally inadequate research in order to identify it.  It is both smug and lazy on your behalf, bestowing upon you a sense of righteousness at the expense of the excluded unwashed.  Ah, bourgeois virtue!  Of course, it’s also quite possible that it’s just a cynical marketing ploy existing only because the management prefers electronic payment for totally selfish reasons and grabbed at the first eco-friendly sounding excuse within reach.  But then, that’s arguably also a bourgeois virtue.

Look on the bright side…

Posted in Capitalism, Economy, USA, Web Satire Round Up with tags , , on June 6, 2016 by Z

I found these on an out of the way forum recently; I think they go well together.  Happy summer.

debtjoke directdep

I Have Returned

Posted in Announcements, Elections, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , on April 9, 2016 by Z

I have returned.

Actually, I never went anywhere at all, but I do believe I’ve found the time to get this place moving again, if only just barely. Wrong With Sartre is back; the irregular posting, unreliable moderation and slow comment section very few of you were used to has risen again.

Recognizing that a blog in the age of TwitFace is at least mildly anachronistic and that just about any contribution to the “discourse” of the internet is like throwing a message in a bottle into a sea composed entirely of messages in bottles, I’m likely going to be a little more free form in my prose from here on out, though I will try to maintain some scholarly rigor where appropriate.

I’ve been watching this election stuff play out, so let’s reopen with some primary rambling. Many of my friends are quite enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders, which is fair enough when you consider the context (i.e. the American political spectrum as it now exists). True, he’s not a socialist (get back to me when he calls for worker control of the means of production. I’ll wait.), but a euro-flavored FDR is as close an approximation as the system can produce. Recognizing this unfortunate circumstance, I can’t summon up any anger at those prepared to go all in for him. In any case, it is probably the smart play; pushing the Dems to the left, even if only slightly, even if only temporarily, may create intellectual space for some to find the actual left. Who knows, maybe a rift in the Dems themselves is even possible. There are of course those who fear Bernie’s mislabeled Keynesianism may damage socialism in the long run, and their fears are not without merit, though I feel I must point out that further damage to socialism in the US is a laughable threat at best. Socialism in the US has already been through Blair Mountain, the Soviet Ark, HUAC and a raft of ill-conceived but mind bogglingly effective misinformation, not to mention the dubious legacies of certain self-identified socialist regimes. It’s difficult to believe that Bernie’s nomenclature confusion is capable of an inadvertent death blow at this point (there is also the increasingly likely bitter truth that, in light of the European socialist parties’ craven capitulation to austerity, communism and anarchism may be the only remaining positions with any integrity. If the establishment is intent on packing us all into brakeless freight trains barreling toward Lenin and Bakunin, so fucking be it. Game on, shitstain).

What was I saying? Oh, right. Bernie. I voted for him in my state’s primary, and I’ve tossed some cash his way, despite his military Keynesianism and social democratic (not socialist) economic perspective. He is as far to the right as a candidate can be and still have a fighting chance for my vote – in so far as that’s even worth anything in a neoliberal duopoly. A solid threat from a populist small donor funded campaign is also a good precedent to set. I do find myself liking his supporters, or at least those of them who recognize the need to show moral courage in the face of lesser evilist crackpot realism by proclaiming themselves “Bernie or bust” (i.e. no support for the center-right Clintonian scourge). I even saw one guy phrase it this way: “Bern it up or burn it down.” Magnificent.

The Bernie situation has also produced an MSNBC(!) interview with Susan Sarandon in which the concept of sharpening the contradictions is mentioned. Is this the same USA that played host to “Russian spy,” the schoolyard game of my late Cold War childhood? You know, the game in which the poorly defined rules call for one player to be designated a “Russian spy,” then promptly chased around the field by other children with improvised weapons? (My grandfather’s family, mostly Volga Germans, came here from Russia, so guess who was often assigned the titular role).

In any case, Harry Belafonte has gone to bat for the Sandman, and who am I to argue with the King of Calypso? I’m willing to see where this goes, even if I suspect the answer is nowhere.

Well, that was quite a comeback rant. Let’s slow things down a bit and cover some specific things that have been driving me up a wall about the primaries.

I. The sheer level of contempt for the American people from our own political class.  Sure, this is not and has never been much of a secret, but it’s been so out and obvious this time around, I can’t help but mention it. They’re not even trying to cover it up now. We’ve got Rahm Emmanuel calling half his party’s voters “retards,” Gloria Steinem implying that young women are only interested in sex, so much suspicious activity around polling places and caucus sites that there’s a whole blog now dedicated to possible election fraud for just this year, just the primary, just for Democrats and we’ve got campaign claims and rhetoric that can only be coming from people who believe we have not only no historical memory, but also no capacity to reason. To wit:

  1. Claims from Clinton lackeys that Sanders has run a “negative” campaign. Are we seeing the same material? All he’s done is mention things Clinton has actually done. If we’re to believe that’s negative, that would imply that we don’t like what Clinton has done … which would be on her, am I right?
  2. Near universal deliberately obtuse idiocy on the part of the media. Nothing more needs to be said here. (If someone could possibly bullseye Chuck Todd’s face with a pie or something, that would be great).
  3. I tend to run significantly behind on social media news, and so just read up on the “Bernie Bros” thing recently. It’s remarkably similar to the “Obama boys” thing from the 2008 mess, and The Intercept has suggested it may be largely made up. But let’s assume it isn’t. Let’s assume there really is a horde of contemptible misogynists supporting Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is running on (among other things) pay equity for women, paid maternity leave, protecting abortion and tuition free college (more than 50% of college students are women these days, so this is also a women’s issue). This would mean that Bernie Sanders has somehow convinced a horde of contemptible misogynists to vote for possibly the most openly feminist agenda any major party candidate has ever proposed (admittedly not a high bar), which would make him potentially the most effective ally the feminist movement has ever had in the US (see above RE: bar). So which is it? Is this story largely fantasy, or is Bernie able to rally anti-feminists to feminism with a wave of his hand?  (Not to mention how … interesting … it is to hear accusations of sexism coming out of Bill Clinton. It seems odd that Hillary would assign that task to him. Was Cosby not available?)

That’s enough; I’m getting tired. Moving on.

II. The whole “Anyone but Trump!” thing.

  1. “Trump is a fascist!” No, he isn’t. “Fascist” doesn’t just mean an authoritarian you don’t like. It involves a theoretical foundation steakpile just doesn’t have. He doesn’t even have all of the standard fascist negations – anti-marxism (check), anti-liberalism (check, in a selective social issue only sense at most), anti-conservatism (definitely not). Is Trump a jackass willing to rally racists, sexists, homophobes, etc. to his cause?  Yes, he certainly is – but he’s no Mussolini. What he is is the American Berlusconi. He’s bad, yes, but let’s be accurate. We don’t need to further destroy the definition of a word needed intact for historians and political scientists just to signal that we disapprove of an asshat.
  2. Err … he’s actually to the left of Hillary Clinton on trade … and foreign policy … that’s why neocons prefer her to him.
  3. He has mentioned cooperation with Russia. While I doubt he’s aware of this, the idea of US – Russia cooperation was shared by two of our more intelligent presidents, Lincoln and FDR. Lincoln pursued a policy of friendship with Russia so strongly that the Russian Baltic fleet was sent to the east coast and the Pacific fleet to San Francisco during the Civil War with sealed orders. The orders, to be opened in the event that Great Britain or France entered the war on the side of the Confederacy, instructed the admirals of both fleets to report to Lincoln for orders. It’s also interesting to note that before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, Tsar Alexander issued an emancipation manifesto, freeing the Russian serfs. Huh. FDR, dealing with Stalin, set in place agreements for the postwar era that, had Truman not largely ignored them, might have prevented or at least minimized the Cold War. Huh again. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unrepentant Russophile who plays the balalaika, so there’s that to consider).
  4. While Trump’s statements are absurd and often disturbing, the fact remains that he basically has no record to speak of. In that sense, he’s a wild card; he might in fact be terrible, but he might also throw us a curveball by being all bark and no bite. The remaining republicans (including Hillary) on the other hand, all have proven records of near constant war mongering, wall street cronyism, influence peddling and general oligarchic myopia.
  5. The lesser evil has, especially in recent years, proven itself to be the more effective evil. Remember when W still occupied the white house? Remember how we had that large, vibrant anti-war movement with all those protests? (Well, if you watched the TV news, you probably didn’t see it, but trust me, it was there. I’ve got the memories, I’ll be happy to fill you in). Remember how that anti-war movement kept going after Obama was elected? No, you don’t, because the anti-war movement essentially dissolved as soon as the last ballot was cast in 2008. No one turned out to protest the war once the lesser evil was in charge, and what happened? The lesser evil ramped up drone strikes, kept troops on the ground, maintained Guantanamo, extended drone strikes into Pakistan, maintained and expanded domestic surveillance, indefinitely detained people without charging them and even claimed the right to kill citizens without trial (see NDAA). The greater evil would have faced major resistance every step of the way, but Obama got it all done with nary a whimper from his own party. It’s not inconceivable that a greater evil facing serious resistance might actually be better than the lesser evil acting with the tacit approval of the ones who should be resisting.
  6. You do realize that Ted Cruz is a Dominionist, right? I repeat: TED CRUZ IS A DOMINIONIST.

NOTE: I’m not suggesting that it’s ok to vote for Trump. I’m not sure there’s enough soap in Christendom to clean the hand that pulls that lever; I’m merely pointing out that one orange blowhard isn’t the apocalypse. Let’s try to maintain some kind of perspective, here – this country survived Warren G. Harding; we can handle Trump if we have to. And Ted Cruz IS A DOMINIONIST.

III.  Generational “analysis.”  The worst offenders here are center-left progressive media on the internet. I’ve been hearing a lot of generational explanations for the nature of the division of the vote, particularly on the democratic side. The whole “young people support Bernie because they get their news online instead of from the TV networks” line has popped up all over the place. This is stupid for the following reasons:

  1. The internet was largely constructed by boomers, and we Xers drove its early growth.
  2. This approach ignores the most obvious and historically consistent explanations, which, as usual, pertain primarily to economic class. Why should this also appear generational? Because the older generations are more likely to be established in the upper classes. It’s not complicated. This focus on generational differences is just another case of covering up class and pretending it’s not there. Why are young people struggling? Is it because they’re damn dirty millennials with no work ethic who don’t understand how the world really works? Or is it because they’re being forced into the ranks of the working poor through high youth unemployment, colossal student loan debt and flat wages? Generation gap politics, if you’re willing to scratch the surface a little, generally reveal themselves as just another way to avoid talking about class. The young aren’t mad because they’re young; they’re mad because they’re working class. I’ll freely admit that I’ve made my share of millennial jokes – why would anyone want to wear skinny jeans – but these kids have been screwed over even more than my generation. (And I probably shouldn’t call them kids; as a Carter era Xer, I’m barely older than them anyway, but it’s not my fault – pop demographers told me to hate them!).
  3. Anecdotal? Yes … nevertheless, let me point out that my retired boomer father spends significantly more time online than I do. Why? He’s retired. In fact, he’s probably reading this. Hi, dad! Sorry I’m still an insufferable smartass.
  4. Many of those online news sources aren’t any better than the major networks. For example, many of them utilize intellectually lazy “generation gap” analysis.

Wow, kind of lost my train of thought there. In any case, no savior is likely to spring up from all of this, but the more nakedly undemocratic it all becomes, the better. Look at that emperor pose!

A (Shitty) Year in Review

Posted in Capitalism, Economy, Elections, Israel-Palestine, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by Z

Happy new year.  Let’s review.  We’ll start small:

Status quo in another revolving door election between party A and party a.  (No other result was possible, so we classify this as small).

Stepping up now:

We were treated to the holy wisdom of Richard Mourdock from the heart of Indiana as he revealed to us the Almighty’s position on rape.  (A note on the lighter side: Shouldn’t someone who might be nicknamed “Dick” generally avoid commenting on gender issues?).

Moving on from troglodytic verbal gaffes, we reach domestic surveillance:

It seems the Occupy movement was closely watched by the FBI and Homeland Security even before the start of public protests.  Apparently, the FBI’s Memphis Joint Terrorism Task Force actually described Occupy as “domestic terrorism.”  Apparently, the FBI communicated their findings to corporate America.  So, what we have here are government agencies (the FBI and Homeland Security) coordinating a national crackdown on a nonviolent protest movement according to the needs of the cash engorged corporate world.  This is nothing less than part 2 of the Palmer Raids.  Why mention this now?  Well, because this surveillance is still going on as Occupy plans for the coming spring.

And now manipulating public opinion:

CNN decided to go ahead and selectively gather data on drone casualties from obviously suspect sources in order to cheerlead for Obama-as-war-president.  Here’s an article from The Atlantic that covers the bases, but frankly isn’t critical enough.

On to the real big leagues – death and wrongful imprisonment:

Gaza is still blockaded.

The drone wars of Bush-Obama continue to kill civilians.

Bradley Manning is still not free.

Leonard Peltier is still not free.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is still not free.  (Three is good enough for now.  We only have so much space, after all).

We had a school shooting, following which a president whose personally authorized drone attacks have killed more children than died at Sandy Hook gave what I can only consider a deeply hypocritical speech.  We then had to be dragged through the requisite media find-some-music-or-movie-or-videogame-to-blame-this-on routine before arriving at gun control as an issue.  Once there, the limit of the national discourse seems to be an assault weapons ban not substantially different from the one we had not too long ago.  (Never mind, of course, that that ban only expired in 2004; those of my generation who were finishing up high school in 1999 ought to be acutely aware that this ban was in effect during the Columbine shooting, so hooray for useless legislation).  There’s a great post over at SMBIVA suggesting what should have been obvious from day one: there’s a common element to all school shootings that no one seems to want to talk about – schools.  Check it out.

Finally, stuff of global import:

2012 was the warmest year on record, with tons of extreme weather.  Climate change deniers would be well advised to wear sunscreen when they go outside to yell at the rest of us about how climate change is a hoax.  Unless, of course, sun burns and skin cancer are also hoaxes.

The 2012 Mayan apocalypse failed spectacularly.  Granted, it was based largely on a blatant misinterpretation of Mayan beliefs.  But hey, at least a horde of ignorant rubbernecking tourists did irreparable damage to a couple of archaeological wonders as part of their world’s end party.

You know, I’m getting some serious déjà vu here.  In ’99, we had a horrible school shooting, I finished an academic program, and a prediction of apocalypse (Y2K) didn’t deliver.  In 2012, we had another horrible school shooting, I finished another academic program (if we include high school, that makes four now and still no lucrative, fulfilling career.  Ever wish you could place a call back in time to your high school guidance counselors?), and another apocalypse fizzled.

We lost both Alexander Cockburn and Gore Vidal.  I can only see this as a severe blow to the left and to the United States in general.  We don’t have that many good people left, and these losses only hasten the end of the era of the public intellectual, already being replaced with talking heads and credentialed idiots.  With Howard Zinn already gone, things look pretty bleak to me.  If Noam Chomsky, Jeffrey St. Clair and Cindy Sheehan ever travel anywhere together, maybe we should insist they take separate flights.  The flame is low, and there’s a big wind coming.  The liberals capitulated big time (again) and think the Democrats have saved them from some thug named Cliff whose nickname appears to be “Fiscal.”  As usual, there will be no meaningful help from them.  This year, my eyes will once again be on Occupy.  Here’s hoping.

 

On the bright side, I did read a pretty damn funny satire recently.  I’ll probably add more on that soon.

Post Thanksgiving Update 2: Black Friday, AKA American Thunderdome, or possibly Lumpenfest USA

Posted in Bad Faith, Capitalism, Economy, Media, News, USA with tags , , , , on December 4, 2012 by Z

What can be said about the uniquely American quasi-religious retail holiday known as Black Friday? This year’s observance happened to coincide with a Walmart worker’s strike that almost no one appeared to care about. Well, that’s not quite true; I’ve heard of several stories indicating that many shoppers expressed support for and approval of the Walmart strike – as they crossed the picket line to shop AT WALMART.  (This account of some of the more successful actions may lift spirits a little.  Let no one say I’m more than 95% gloom).  In addition, I’m aware of an incident of mass pepper spraying by a shopper looking for a cheap Xbox (California), two people shot dead in a Walmart parking lot over a parking space (Florida) and a man who tried to punch his way to the front of the line outside Sears, until he happened to attack a man with a concealed carry license, who drew his weapon and chased the attacker away (Texas). While I’ve never been a fan of concealed carry (if one must carry a weapon, surely open carry is both more honest and a better deterrent), the Texas Sears incident is probably the best argument in its favor I’ve yet seen. Of course, the Florida parking lot shooting seems a more potent argument against it.  But back to the matter at hand: How has this de facto holiday achieved such significance that people are prepared to kill for it? Why also do so many see no contradiction in indicating their approval of the Walmart strike even as they cross the picket line to shop at Walmart?

This second question is made more interesting in light of the revelation that the term “Black Friday” was used by factory managers in the 1950s not to refer to crowds of shoppers, but to the large number of workers who called in sick.  Only later did the day transition from a headache for manufacturing into a for profit free for all for retail. One might characterize the transition in this way: 1950s Black Friday was a day for workers to tell the boss “piss off, I’m extending my holiday and there’s nothing you can do about it,” while present day Black Friday is a day for consumers to say “it’s great that you’re standing up to this evil company I’m about to make more profitable. I’d stay home or shop elsewhere and actually support you in a meaningful way, but I can’t show any real solidarity. I mean, seriously dude – there are plasma screens at stake!” Between the violence and the disregard for workers, I think the following ought to be the official Black Friday slogan (or mission statement, if you’re the corporate type): “Plasmas over people!” This attitude shouldn’t surprise us. It makes perfect sense in the context of a society in which people have come to identify as consumers rather than workers.  This is what becomes of six decades of local news reports on who’s getting ripped off at the register instead of who’s getting ripped off on payday.  Yet the culture of Black Friday doesn’t really favor the consumer, either.  The desperate violence, after all, ultimately stems from the once a year availability of products that most consumers ordinarily can’t afford.  This is another effect of the worker-consumer disconnect. The exploitation of American workers is what sets the stage for the annual struggle over products that are temporarily affordable.  This is what leads to actual human beings calmly considering the pros and cons of unleashing pepper spray on their fellows in the name of savings, and this is what leaves us with shoppers who seem totally unaware that the bargains they’re hunting come at the direct expense of the striking workers they’re largely ignoring.  There is no understanding that the workers and consumers are the same people; even the workers and consumers themselves seem unaware of this.  Everything is simply part of the environment.  Deploying pepper spray against a rival for a game system seems as natural as two predators fighting over a gazelle carcass if it’s perceived as an environmental necessity.  Ignore the man behind the curtain, peon.  This contrived retail scenario has nothing to do with him.  Now face your opponent and fight to the death!  Two shoppers enter, one shopper leaves – with a discount!

Happy Labor Day!

Posted in Economy, USA, Web Satire Round Up with tags , on September 3, 2012 by Z

Happy Labor Day!

Profiles in Aisle 9

Posted in Economy, USA with tags , on September 3, 2012 by Z

For about a year now, my girlfriend/partner/fiance (whichever label she currently prefers) has been trying to find employment – at a PETCO.  Of course, she didn’t emerge from childhood gazing starry-eyed at the pet supply giant, a wistful smile on her lips, the sound of barcode scanners in her ears and the aroma of accumulated hamster feces lingering around her.  No, this was not always her dream.  She went into debt training as a massage therapist, earning high marks (that employers didn’t care about).

After some initial success at two terrible jobs, the first at a gym that never retained a manager longer than two weeks, the second at a local spa that routinely stole her tips and expected her to do marketing work on her own time for free, the collapsing economy swallowed up the spa (which in turn swallowed her last paycheck before closing).  For awhile, she found a string of massage jobs as an independent therapist, where she had the delightful opportunity to explain over and over again that she was not a prostitute.  Pretty soon, the cost of license renewals and insurance outpaced the available work.  Now her license is expired and she has no insurance, but at least she got to keep her student loan debt.  Always fond of animals, she was very excited when she noted our apartment’s proximity to PETCO, and so the applications began.

Like everything else these days, PETCO’s application process is entirely online.  Like every online form, much of it is meaningless space filler, including the most insulting element of all – a psych test.  Yes – PETCO requires applicants to fill out a psychological profile to operate cash registers and mop up urine.  In total, it took her about two hours to complete the application.  When she called to follow up with the hiring manager, she was told – by the hiring manager – “I’m not really sure we’re hiring right now.”  Huh?

After repeating this process several times, she finally caught the hiring manager in person at the store and discovered the horrible truth about her unanswered applications: She had “failed” the psych profile.  When I heard this story, I was struck forcibly by a line from “Alice’s Restaurant”: “Sargeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I’ve rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I’m sittin’ here on the bench, I mean I’m sittin here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein’ a litterbug.”  Edited for PETCO: “I’m takin’ a psych test, I mean I’m just takin’ a psych test ’cause you wanna know if I’m sane enough to restock cat food after havin’ father issues.”  She wondered: did she appear too sensitive?  Not sensitive enough?  Not willing to rat out fellow employees?  Did they suppose she’d have a breakdown while feeding the tropical fish, perhaps due to repressed memories of childhood emotional abuse suffered at Sea World?

The working poor in this country are, of course, the only ones who must endure abuse this asinine.  In short: they deliberately waste your time.  A psychological profile, personality test, whatever they want to call it for an $8-$9 an hour job no one wants.  Fantastic.  I imagine the only reason we don’t put our heads of state and captains of industry through similar tests is that we’re already well aware of their sociopathy.

Bad Faith 2012: They aren’t out of touch, they’re just not talking to you.

Posted in Bad Faith, Elections, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2012 by Z

The conventional wisdom regarding both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (according to their respective opponents in the left and right wings of the American neoliberal party with two names) is that they’re “out of touch.”  This is a very appealing explanation, especially in the case of Romney with his alien demeanor and cavalier country club financial sense (bet you how much, Mitt?).  However, there’s a better explanation.   They just aren’t talking to you.  The conversation taking place between candidates, pundits, etc. not only during election years, but all the time doesn’t require input from the American public.  It fact, it doesn’t even want it.  This conversation is about our future, but it isn’t one we’re actually invited to; it’s merely taking place where we can hear it.

 

When Mitt Romney stood in front of a crowd of his loyal followers at a palatial mansion and suggested that everyone should be able to live “like this,” many rightly pointed out that the very suggestion was absurd.  Of course it’s not possible for everyone to have a mansion with a household staff and all the ridiculous luxuries associated with that lifestyle (it’s especially impossible for the members of the household staff).  Yet, the people who pointed this out missed the point.  Mitt knows full well that not everyone can live his lifestyle (again, especially not the household staff).  So what’s the secret that renders this insane attitude comprehensible?  Simple – if you think his statement was strange, he wasn’t talking to you.  He was talking to people who can live “like this.”  He was talking to people who do have the wealth, the connections and the desire to live “like this.”  The household staff, for example, are not included when Mitt says “everyone.”  Neither are most of us.  We aren’t the people in whose interests he wants to run the country, and we don’t have what he needs to get where he wants to go.  Consider also his laughable suggestion that young people borrow money from their parents to start a business.  “Is he serious?” many asked.  Well, yes he was – he just wasn’t talking to you.  How can you tell?  Easy – because either you don’t have enough money to lend your children to enable them to take his advice, or if you’re young, your parents don’t have enough to lend to you.  Or, and this is certainly outside of Mitt’s experience, you do have the necessary capital, but don’t want to be a business owner.  If any of these things are true, Mitt wasn’t talking to you.  In Mitt land, the solution to your problems is to become a business owner.  If your class, your interests or your financial situation prevent you from doing this, Mitt doesn’t think your problems need solving.  You are a non person.

 

Barack Obama may take a slightly different approach, but offers the same result.  He’ll talk to us – I understand we’re meant to hope for change, or some such – but his policies, as noted elsewhere, are more or less the same as his predecessor’s.  Keep hoping, I guess.  The nice boss (Obama) talks to his employees while he exploits them, while the traditional boss (Romney) is content to let the rabble believe he’s talking to them.  Meanwhile, the neoliberal policy agenda marches on.

 

Public political discourse in the US remains confined to a ruling class.  This ruling class is more eclectic than it once was, as it includes both the traditional 1%er types and a class of professional politicians, but in most cases debate about policy remains firmly in the narrow neoliberal frame long laid out for us.  This is because the people participating in this debate don’t want our input.  We are allowed to fool ourselves into believing that we’re included, but the truth is that we’re spectators.  We can observe this public discourse through the mass media, but our input is neither welcomed nor necessary.  The position of the general public is not unlike that of a household servant.  The masters of the house, our employers, are arguing over how best to run their household, including how to treat us.  We are in the room, we can see and hear the discussion, but although we may convince ourselves that we’re involved, we are not.  Our access to the political process is largely coincidental at this point.  We can see it on TV, but attempting to contribute in the traditional way is a bit like yelling at game show contestants.  The folks on Wheel of Fortune can’t hear you, and neither can your political class.  Not only that, they aren’t even talking to you.