Mother’s Day 2010

I can’t think of a better thing to post on Mother’s Day, the day that Julia Ward Howe designated as an international day of peace called for by mothers around the world, than this reflection by Joe Bageant, about the political conflict brewing in America these days and apparently, in Canada too:

Most of the liberal thinkers I know still do not grasp that the anxiety working people have, even the Tea Partiers, are rooted in the same things as their own. Yes, the right is definitely cruel. And yes, it can by now be called fascist. However, to deal with what has happened, one must come to grips with what produced the internal distrust upon which fascist empires are built.

The brutal way Americans were forced to internalize the values of a gangster capitalist class continues to elude nearly all Americans. Most foreigners too. This is to say nothing of how our system replaced our humanity with ideology, our liberty with money, and fostered fascist nationalism through profound degeneration of the people’s mind and spirit. It’s not as if one can ever escape that sort of thing, either by going to a place like Mexico, getting drunk or whatever. We are made in Americas’ image, whether we admit it or not, and America’s image is the face on a ten dollar bill

Liberal or conservative, money is what we care about — period. From birth, the empire has made one thing very clear to us: If you do not produce or acquire enough of the green stuff, meet the quota, you will be ground beneath the heel of the machine we call a society. No universal health insurance or higher education, no guaranteed minimum income, no worker rights, nothing for you suckers but the tab. So keep humping.

With such a national ethos, who can blame Americans for caring most profoundly about money? Everything is secondary to money. The future of the world’s children, the planet, everything. I’ve been watching the horrific BP oil spill on CNN (doncha love the way they call it a “spill,” as if it was a cup of coffee?) The first and biggest ongoing question has been, “Who is going to pay for it?” Right off hand I’d say the fish, birds and wetlands will pay for it, along with future generations. One quart of motor oil will pollute 250,000 gallons of water, and already there have been millions of gallons of oil blasted into the earth’s waters from this single spill. Yet the big question has been “Whose money and how much is going to change hands here?”

It is now clear to me that the people’s rage is a tool in the hands of the new electronic and digital corporate state. Its various channels, eddies and pools, regardless of type, can be directed toward all sorts of mischief and profit. Left or right, the angry throngs on both sides can be managed and directed. They can be sent chasing various injustices, denouncing evil characters on Wall Street, Times Square bombers, BP executives, or whatever, worked up into slobbering outrage over Sarah Palin, and thus kept divided and working against each other for the benefit of last gasp capitalism.

Once outside the furious drek of American political and economic life, and having finished the last book I will ever write, I found myself asking: “Why did the good in the American people not triumph? How can it be that so many progressive, justice-loving citizens failed? Their positions were well reasoned. The facts were indisputably on their side. Obviously, there was, and is, more going on than merely losing battles to demagoguery and meanness. Why do we lose the important fights so consistently? What has kept us from establishing a more just kingdom? Something is missing.

I think it is, in a word, the spiritual. The stuff that sustained Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and gave them the kind of calm deliberate guts we are not seeing today. I am not talking about religion, but the spirit in each of us, that solitary non-material essence, none the less shared by all humans because we are human. When we let our capitalist overlords cast everything in a purely material light — as material gain or loss for one group or another — we played the oppressor’s game.

It was always a game with no vision. Just good guys, bad guys, pissed off people, or apathetic disenfranchised ones, amid one helluva lot of money changing hands. Mostly the wrong hands. That game drives us to the petty the larcenies we perform against one another in the name employment, and the atrocities abroad to which none of us lay our rightful claim as beneficiaries of the empire’s pillage. Our purposeful blindness to such things necessarily eliminates any universal vision. All the best ones are universal.

Yet down inside human beings is a love of justice. Honestly. The psyche seeks balance, and therefore seeks justice. Regardless of the perversion of its definition, and therefore the laws, by those who own nearly all of our country and damned well intend to own the rest, we know.

While those elite forces can own everything around us, and have proven they can make life quite miserable if they care to, they cannot own that thing inside us. The one that gives out the last sigh before sleep, and travels the realms of the great human collective consciousness alone. This is the consciousness that ebbs and flows between all external events. There is nothing mystical about it. Go sit in any quiet place with your eyes closed for a half hour or so, and that self will invariably say hello.

This is also the self that our oppressors can never allow a moment’s rest. Because when it finds rest, it finds insight, and can fuse the spiritual, psychological and material worlds into some transcendent vision that can at last seen and sought after. It makes Buddhist monks rebel in Sri Lanka and creates indigenous liberation theologians in Latin America.

Fortunately for Wall Street, the world’s bankers, the military industrial complex, there is science, which they love so dearly they purchased it outright. Scientism has successfully sold the notion that spiritual awareness is superstition. By that accounting, the mind is no more than the brain, and love is a body sack of chemicals interacting. (A stunningly successful new public relations campaign by BASF chemical corporation campaign actually declares that love is chemical. Its success both here and in China would give Orwell the heebie jeebies.)

This will in all likelihood be the last philosophical and political battle with capitalist totalitarianism, assuming it can even be called a battle. I am not seeing much thinking and no genuine struggle on the American people’s part. Consumer capitalism’s material gratification has been so grotesquely satisfying, that it has shredded most of thinking in the country and all of willingness to take risks.

The blinking reptilian elites now own our entire material needs hierarchy chain, top to bottom. You eat, shit, work, fuck and die at the pleasure of their Great Machine. The presence of six billion others, most of whom are in the same situation, all but guarantees this as our material destiny on a finite and increasingly poisoned planet, before the big hasta la vista.

Meanwhile, win or lose, we are left with our inner selves to sustain each day (if only because Oprah has not yet gained copyright). In doing so we can discover the only kingdom that was ever ours. The same one gurus, messiahs, martyrs and hairy-assed sages the world over have ever agreed upon. The kingdom within.

Joe says that by this time next year he’ll be focussing more on the kingdom within than without.  Who knows?  Maybe I will too.  Thinking about it.  This is one of those things that fell into my hands in a moment of crisis and says something I wish I could have said.  But now it’s said, I’m a happy camper.

Ya Can’t Find Equality from the Kitchen

Family structure in the United States magnifies class-based inequality and undermines the human capital of the next generation. Yet, the ideas that helped secure a Nobel Prize in economics for Chicago economist Gary Becker still provide the starting point for every discussion of the economics of the family, and if followed, would produce an economy that looks like Yemen’s.Becker won the Nobel Prize at least in part because of his identification of marriage with specialization and trade: men “specialize” in the market and women in the home. His critical prediction: with the wholesale movement of women into the labor market, the gains from marriage would decline and family instability would rise. Yet, it is the blue states — and the families who combine dual careers with egalitarian relationships — that show the biggest drop in divorce rates and brightest spots in in a failing economy.

Yeah baby!  More from June Carbone

And then there’s Feminomics at New Deal 2.0

The Devious Upstart Poor

…the moment you take for granted that a metaphor is the equivalent of the thing it describes or points to, is the moment when that metaphor is effectively dead. It’s worse than useless for thinking with. But usually people go on using such metaphors long after they’ve ceased to generate any new ideas–which is one of the things a metaphor is supposed to help us do. People will just keep walking on in the resulting conceptual daze, because to think about it is like looking at the end of the world. Some will invest heavily in re-animating the corpse and blame the demise on the usual suspects: the all-powerful and infinitely devious upstart poor and other outsiders.  Kia in a comment at the Gift Hub

via wood s lot

Keynes & Consumerism

From Robert Reich:

The current recession is a nightmare for people who have lost their jobs, homes, and savings; and it’s part of a continuing nightmare for the poor. That’s why we have to do all we can to get the economy back on track. But most other Americans are now discovering they can exist surprisingly well buying fewer of the things they never really needed to begin with.

What we most lack, or are in danger of losing, are the things we use in common – clean air, clean water, public parks, good schools, and public transportation, as well as social safety nets to catch those of us who fall. Common goods like these don’t necessarily use up scarce resources; often, they conserve and protect them.

Yet they have been declining for many years. Some have been broken up and sold as more expensive private goods, especially for the well-to do – bottled water, private schools, security guards, and health clubs, for example. Others, like clean air, have fallen prey to deregulation. Others have been wacked by budget axes; the current recession is forcing states and locales to axe even more. Still others, such as universal health care and pre-schools, never fully emerged to begin with.

Where does this logic lead? Given the implausibility of consumers being able to return to the same level of personal spending as before, along with the undesirability of our doing so even if we could, and the growing scarcity of common goods, there would seem only one sensible way to restore and maintain aggregate demand. That would be through government expenditure on the commons. Rather than a temporary stimulus, government would permanently fill the gap left by consumers who cannot and should not be expected to resume their old spending ways. This wouldn’t require permanent deficits as long as, once economic growth returns, revenues from a progressive income tax refill the coffers.

My friend the born-again Keynesian might not like where the logic of Keynesianism leads in today’s world, but the rest of us might take heart.

Read the whole thing here

Via Relentlessly Progressive Economists

Bankrupt Banks

From Jonathan Stempel at Reuters:

Jim Rogers, one of the world’s most prominent international investors, on Thursday called most of the largest U.S. banks “totally bankrupt,” and said government efforts to fix the sector are wrongheaded.

Speaking by teleconference at the Reuters Investment Outlook 2009 Summit, the co-founder with George Soros of the Quantum Fund, said the government’s $700 billion rescue package for the sector doesn’t address how banks manage their balance sheets, and instead rewards weaker lenders with new capital.

Dozens of banks have won infusions from the Troubled Asset Relief Program created in early October, just after the Sept 15 bankruptcy filing by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEHMQ.PK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). Some of the funds are being used for acquisitions.

“Without giving specific names, most of the significant American banks, the larger banks, are bankrupt, totally bankrupt,” said Rogers, who is now a private investor.

“What is outrageous economically and is outrageous morally is that normally in times like this, people who are competent and who saw it coming and who kept their powder dry go and take over the assets from the incompetent,” he said. “What’s happening this time is that the government is taking the assets from the competent people and giving them to the incompetent people and saying, now you can compete with the competent people. It is horrible economics.”

Read the whole thing here

Economic Stimulus Needed NOW

If Stephen Harper prorogues Parliament or is successful in an attempt to get the Governor-General to do it for him (how would that be for responsible government?), there will be no action on the Canadian economy until late January – and that’s being optimistic.

Here’s Marc Lee on why that matters:

Over at Worthwhile Canadian Initiaitive, Stephen and Nick have been making the point that “Canada is not the United States, we are not in recession (although the odds that we will be soon are much better than even), and there’s no reason to rush into a program of public works”.

To some extent, they are right, and that go-slow approach would seem at the heart of the Conservatives’ economic plans. But it is a cute technical point that in proper context is wrong.

It does take some time to get infrastructure projects up and running. It requires cooperation with provincial governments and municipalities, and time for planning processes to get underway. That is the knock against infrastructure projects in normal recessions. But our times are not normal. There is every reason to believe that 2009 is going to get ugly, and so we need a signal to other levels of government to get going. Every other country in the world has recognized this, and is acting accordingly. Canada needs to play its part not free ride off the effort of other countries.

The rest is a matter of reinforcing the automatic stabilizers, primarily EI, so that as the downturn happens they kick in. The feds should immediately make changes that open up accessibility, increase benefits and lengthen the time for which they can be claimed.

These things should not wait until late-January 2009.

Friedman & the Death of Neoliberalism?

From an interview with Robert Pollan by Mike Whitney:

This is certainly a massive crisis of Friedmanite economics and neoliberalism more generally—which all along was the ideology that touted free markets and deregulation to privatize profits, but to come begging for government bailouts when the inevitable crises emerged. This is certainly not the first financial crisis under the neoliberal regime. There have been regular severe crises since the 1987 Wall Street crash. These crises were all quelled through Federal Reserve/Treasury bailout operations. Whether or not this crisis will mean the end of the neoliberal era will depend on political mobilization—specifically, how successful the left will be in building coalitions behind an agenda that combines egalitarianism with a stable financial system. I would say this: if the left is unable to defeat neoliberalism now, and build some version of social democracy or “leashed capitalism”, then we will never do it.

The rest is here

via wood s lot

27%

On the subject of “what’s wrong with America”, some say America is wrong with America, or, the people of America are broken:

When I look at Dubya’s poll numbers staying absolutely dead-level week after week after week regardless of what he has fucked up this week, or how badly, I learn nothing new about George W. Bush. But A-B-Cs behind just about everything else I need to know about America stand painfully revealed. Those numbers confirm for me for the unmpteenth time that inside the mushy skulls of the 27%-ers there is nothing but a hatbox of junk machine parts, still twitching and clattering mindlessly along on corrupted software that was already obsolete before men walked on the Moon.

The 27%-ers are slugs madly fighting for the right to jump into the salt bucket and drag us all down with them, and any solution to the problems that vex us must begin with their grotesquely mutant versions of patriotism, economics, virtue and civilization being discredited, sequestered and driven into oblivion.

Our first, great, national problem is that our fellow citizens — in their millions — are damaged beyond repair.

And our second, great, national problem is that our media refuses to talk about it.

driftglass via Mike the Mad Biologist

Legacy of the ’60s

Another view on Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland from Lane Kenworthy at Consider the Evidence:

Is Perlstein right about what happened during these years? Did America harden into two warring camps? I think an argument can be made that something very different occurred: the developments of the 1960s coupled with (and accentuated by) Nixon’s political tactics opened up new fissures that left the political landscape not more crystallized, but more clouded. Instead of shifting from (more or less) one America to two, the shift was, arguably, toward a greater multiplicity of political identities that the two political parties had to struggle mightily to try to shape into manageable coalitions. 

After the New Deal, economic policy was the chief fault line between Democrats and Republicans. The political legacy of the 1960s is the diminution of one incongruous aspect of American party politics, the Democrats’ dominance in the conservative south, but simultaneously the growing importance of issues that cut across the economic divide …

[more here]