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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Left Dying On A Street In The Coney Island Of The Mind





Whoever made this meme -- apparently someone at Anti Media, one of those new web based media platforms, whose Facebook page it was posted to -- was appealing to one of the primary human motivators, which a psychologist friend described to me as "promoting our ideal image of our self."

That means we try to favorably influence how others see us, except that the "how they see us" is only something we imagine. It's not how they see us, but the image we think we're projecting to the world. It's that one last look in the mirror before we leave the house. It's all the things we've surrounded ourselves with and how we think those make us look. It's our remembrance of things we've said. It's why we do all that rationalizing. It's our "spin" on what we've said and done. It's ego driven. It's the same, or very similar to, the way we actually see ourselves in our heart of hearts, because our egos are very good at convincing us that that's who we are; i.e., of lying to us.

But the above meme doesn't mention you, or me, or any person in particular. It only works because we identify ourselves as "American." That's a complex set of images and associations that go back and forth from one thing to another depending on what's at the forefront of our consciousness, but which has a meaning to us nonetheless that is always going to center around a few basic things. America to most of us is this pretty big, pretty good nation that goes from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and is a leader on the world stage -- something like that. Plus Alaska. Oh, and Hawaii. Oh, etc., as different thoughts come to mind after those first few primary ones. It's those first few primary ones that are generally how we see America.

The meme is trying to get us to compare ourselves as Americans with "those Brits" or with whatever concept we have of the people who live in the United Kingdom. It's an appeal to our nationalism, which we here in the US call patriotism. Appeals to nationalism are often very effectively used by politicians who want to build support for wars. Part of what American nationalism entails is the idea that the US is an exceptional country. The concept of "American exceptionalism" is sometimes debated by newspaper columnists but it's generally believed and is often used  as part of the spin that attempts to justify all kinds of foreign policy that's engaged in for reasons politicians don't want to talk about.

People who like guns and people who don't like guns may have different ideas about what "America" is. What America is, to each of us, as I say, is a complex set of images and associations. Many people can in one breath say America is going to hell and in the next breath insist it's the greatest country on earth. But since part of who we think we are is "an American" and because our ideal image of ourselves is that we are for the most part flawless, we reflexively react to a meme like this. Our ego tells us; Hey, someone is putting us down, it's threatening me, do something.


By the way, the meme was apparently made a couple months ago. According to Killed by Police, the source given for those statistics, as of today in 2015, the 206th day of the year, police in the greatest nation on earth have killed 661 people.

By the by, A Coney Island of the Mind was a collection of poems written in the late 1950s by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Here's one:












Friday, July 24, 2015

Can You Say That?

A screen shot from my Google news page:




Apparently the market decided you can.






Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Good Cops

Ever notice how Muslims are always expected to condemn terrorism? Have you ever seen the news media harass Black people trying to get them to condemn other Black people who rise up, and "riot" as it's called.

I saw this posted on social media today.









Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wikipedia And The End Of Capitalism

It looks like us old Marxists will get our wish after all. Capitalism is in its last days.

Yep, it's on its way out, and what will bring it down is Wikipedia. Such is the topic of a Guardian column by Paul Mason, a British journalist who writes about economics. He uses the predictive power of history to show how the changes now taking place in the economy, that are being ushered in by the information age, are similar to other great economic transformations -- feudalism to mercantile capitalism and that to industrial capitalism -- and will propel the world economy into a kind that's already evident here and there in what is sometimes called the sharing economy. People trading goods and service, basically.

New currencies, new institutions, are already springing up to make manifest the changes being forced by the information economy. It's a rather dense essay in places, but two points caught my attention. One is that despite the fear of many progressives like myself that the government might sell off or put controls on the internet, like they do indeed have in places like China, and subvert its democratizing potential, the internet is such an integral part of the economy already that they don't dare mess with it.

And he mentions in passing the example of Wikipedia, which is being constructed by and is run by volunteers, and has no ads, and has destroyed the encyclopedia business. Corporations like Encyclopedia Britannica no longer own the information they used to sell to us, and it's an indication that the efforts of corporations to control and capitalize on data is going to end up being futile. Most of the data available on the internet belongs to all of us already. It's a hopeful article. It's honest, too, about the failures of the Left, but if we can get beyond Capitalism I don't really care.






Sunday, July 19, 2015

12 Years A Slave

If I took away one overriding impression from 12 Years A Slave, Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir about being kidnapped and sold into slavery, that the 2013 Hollywood movie (which I didn't see) was based on, it's that white southerners are brutal people.

Northup, a free Black man born in New York state, was kidnapped in 1841 and sold to a slave trader in Washington DC who sold him into slavery on a plantation in Louisiana. In New York, Northup was married with two children and had had several small businesses, but also made money by playing the violin. He was approached by two men who convinced him to go with them to Washington, DC, for a lucrative, show term job performing with a traveling show. There, the men drugged Northup and sold him to a slave trader, who had him shipped to a slave market in New Orleans, from where he was sold to a plantation owner near Alexandria, LA.

Being kidnapped and sold like this was apparently not unheard of. There were organizations that specialized in rescuing people so victimized. But Northup disappeared into the vast slavery system and it took him 12 years to free himself, a testament to how brutally slaves were controlled. Northup dared not confront his new owner, who would have sooner killed him as lose his investment -- slaves in good physical shape were worth as much as $2,000, around $54,000 in today's dollars -- and violence was meted out upon slaves so regularly and harshly that Northup could trust no one with his story, not even other slaves, and wasn't freed until a white carpenter from Canada, who Northup was rented out to for a job on a neighboring plantation, befriended him and smuggled letters to some influential men Northup knew from his days as a small businessman back in New York.

The white slave owners Northup describes were violent, lowbrow people, who never went anywhere without their whips, and were in stark contrast to the mythology Southerners maintain around plantation life -- as having a genteel side, with Scarlett O'Hara type ladies and gentlemen who subscribed to strict codes of honor. The wives and children were also violent, lowbrow people, with rare exception.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I listened to about half of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and it also contains accounts of white southerners' brutality, not just toward slaves but to each other. The law had little authority in the South, and plantation owners and other whites usually settled differences among themselves with violence. The remnants of that lawlessness and violence can be seen today in the South, where I lived for ten years in the 1980s and 90s, in its caveat emptor social code; if a business or individual takes advantage of you, it's your own fault and no one thinks much of it.

Northup's memoir, published with the help of abolitionists just before the Civil War broke out, has been in and out of print since its original 1853 publication and was always known to people who studied slavery, as were several other slave narratives. There's a bit of controversy about the authenticity of 12 Years A Slave, not about whether it accurately depicted slave life but whether Northup, or perhaps David Wilson, to whom he narrated his story and who edited it, borrowed some details about plantation life from other sources, especially from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, which came out a year earlier.

I can't speak to that aspect of it, but can say that it's an engaging and convincing story. With it and with other slave narratives, like the scratchy recordings of former slaves housed in the Library of Congress that are available for download now, there's no doubt that slavery was not only racist and brutal in itself, but was part of a larger system of racism and brutal oppression, and that, as others have pointed out, such systems eventually brutalize the oppressors more than the oppressed. Philosopher Franzt Fanon made that case in his now classic 1961 The Wretched of the Earth about the dehumanizing effects of colonization.

America, the most powerful imperialist nation in history, is still trying to colonize the world in its unique way, with its mighty military always at the ready but primarily through its Capitalist system and the banks and other financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank that further those colonizing efforts, and we will have to heed this lesson if there is ever to be a better world.



Note: 12 Years A Slave, being in the public domain, is available for free in a variety of formats, and also several publishers sell print and audio forms. Here are two good freebies:

Librivox.org - a very good reading by Rob Board, who has a mild British accent. If you choose the podcast option, or get it through iTunes, which downloads it as a podcast, that's very handy for listening to. It will play through from start to finish if you want, and you can also stop and go back in 15 second intervals should you get distracted.

The Gutenberg Project - here you can read it online or in several downloadable formats, including Kindle. The Gutenberg Project has been around a long time. It started out as simple text files of old literature and documents, but is being constantly updated now to present works in a variety of formats. I usually forget about it, but like Arcive.org it has a vast amount of stuff for free.




Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hillary Opens The Door For Bernie Sanders

Updated

As her standing falls among Democrats, Hillary Clinton this week delivered her major speech to lay out how she plans to bring back the Middle Class. It's been disappearing since Ronald Reagan and Clinton's husband, Bill, established Neoliberalism as our economic model and began evaporating when the current recession took hold -- a recession that continues for most Americans despite a return to the good times for owners of stocks, the vast majority of which are owned by the 1 percent.

Wall Street, Don't Worry, was the subtext of Clinton's speech, which revealed that Clinton has no plans to reverse or even slow down what has become massive inequality of wealth in the US.

Another speech subtext: Big Donors, Don't Worry. Clinton over her olitical career has received huge sums in campaign donations and speaking fees from all the big Wall Street banks, whose boards of directors and CEOs have been let off scott free for their roles in crashing the economy at the beginning of the recession and in then costing American taxpayers billions in bailouts and trillions in the easy fed money that has kept markets afloat, on which we and our children will be paying interest for decades.

Clinton's speech contained vague references to policy solutions fiscally conservative mainstream Democrats have pushed for years, like raising the minimum wage and expanded day care, that will do nothing to undo years of the massive upward wealth redistribution that's occurred under Neoliberalism.

Clinton said nothing about returning to the progressive income tax system, which she has no interest in doing, the abandonment of which has leaves governments and schools perennially cash strapped, has put a college degree out of reach for most young people and left the country with a crumbling infrastructure. Working American pay almost the entire cost of government now, out of wages that have remained flat since the late 1970s, robbing them of the buying power needed to grow an economy.

Pseudo Liberal pundits like the New York Times David Brooks stepped in after the speech to warn that Clinton's policy proposals would rely too much on government and not enough on the "private sector." This kind of attitude by the mainstream media is designed to warn people not to expect anything more than they'd get with a Hillary Clinton.

But Clinton has opened the door wide for an economic populist candidate like Bernie Sanders, who like Elizabeth Warren voices the concerns of the majority of Americans about whom Democrats like Clinton could care less. Sanders has been drawing big, enthusiastic crowds, and campaign stops this weekend in both Houston and Phoenix have been moved to larger, stadium venues.

Mainstream conventional wisdom is still that he has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination let alone the presidency, because his position aren't "mainstream" enough. This is always the convention wisdom about economic populists, despite polls showing that most Americans agree, issue by issue, with Sanders' economic positions. Sadly the conventional wisdom is correct because the American political system, of which the media is a part, has been configured so that populist candidates are never permitted to attain positions of power.



Below are some recent poll findings gathered by Populist Majority with links to the mainstream media outlets in which they appeared. Such poll findings are easy to find in the same media outlets where you read that these positions, which are held by the majority of Americans, are out of the mainstream. It's instructive to compare these results with how mainstream pundits like, again, Brooks, portray Bernie Sanders and those who support his positions, which are well are within what the majority of Americans believe, as a kind of lunatic fringe.


Income Inequality

The gap between the masses of Americans and the wealthiest


61% believe that in today's economy, just a few people at the top have the chance to get ahead.

New York Times/CBS News  (05/31/2015)
 

66% believe that the distribution of money and wealth should be more evenly spread out.

New York Times/CBS News  (05/31/2015)
 

67% believe the gap between the rich and the poor is getting larger, only 5% believe it is getting smaller.

New York Times/CBS News  (05/31/2015)
 

65% believe income inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

New York Times/CBS News  (05/31/2015)
 

57% say the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

New York Times/CBS News  (05/31/2015)
 

63% say the wealth and money distribution in America is unfair.

Gallup/Gallup  (04/12/2015)
 

69% have a sense that the gap between the rich and everyone else has gotten bigger since 2005

Bloomberg/Selzer & Company  (04/08/2015)
 

66% say the government does too much to help the wealthy.

Associated Press/GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications  (02/02/2015)
 

69% believe that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting larger.

CBS News/SSRS  (01/12/2015)
 

55% say the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.

CBS News/SSRS  (01/12/2015)
 

88% of voters believe that the growing gap between the rich and everyone else is a problem in America.

Good Jobs Nation/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner  (11/09/2014)
 

54% of Americans agree that the widening income gap between the wealthy and everyone else is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity for a better standard of living.

WSJ/NBC News Poll  (09/07/2014)
 

61% of women and 46% of men believes the widening income gap undermines opportunity.

WSJ/NBC News  (08/03/2014)
 

54% of Americans agree that the widening income gap between the wealthy and everyone else is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity for a better standard of living.

WSJ/NBC News  (08/03/2014)










Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Adam Smith

"The rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than that proportion... To remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich."

That's from Adam Smith, the classical economist who's considered the father of Capitalism.

Imagine hearing your local Democratic congress member or senator saying something like that. They never say anything remotely like it. Modern Democrats, including the entire New Mexico delegation, are fiscal conservatives. Republicans who are liberal on two social issues, abortion and gay rights.




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

President Walker

Here comes Scott Walker to rescue Republicans from the temporary embarrassment of Donald Trump and lethargic support for Jeb Bush. Wisconsin's union busting governor is creating buzz and excitement among Republican operatives because of his record of further decimating Wisconsin's already weak labor movement.

Scott Walker
 Meanwhile one of the nation's largest teacher's unions, the American federation of teachers, has pre-emptively endorsed Hillary Clinton. This action wasn't the result of rank and file participation or demands but was decided by the executive committee. AFT president and Clinton ally Randi Weingarten may have become alarmed by the rising popularity of Clinton opponent and nominal socialist Bernie Sanders. The endorsement is free and comes with no demands, and while the TPP treaty that was largely negotiated by Clinton moves toward adoption. Clinton has ignored demands that she come out against the TPP, which hands vast new powers to corporations and will depress wages here and abroad. Mainstream middle class feminists like Weingarten and The Nation's Katha Pollitt have selfishly decided that all they want is a female president, no matter if she has a history of selling out working Americans or not and a record of supporting Neocon principles of warmongering in the senate, not to mention of supporting so called education reforms that have devalued the teaching profession and weakened teacher unions.

Americans are woefully ignorant of their history and believe their high standard of living fell from heaven -- we are God's chosen people after all -- and some think it was bestowed upon them by Democrats, which is pure hogwash. Revisions to labor laws under the Franklin Roosevelt administration that helped facilitate the modern labor movement were part of a broader phenomena; the entire Roosevelt Administration New Deal was the Democrats response to the rising power of the labor movement and of socialism in the US and to a greater extent in Europe. Roosevelt cleverly co-opted that movement's power and rescued Capitalism from itself.

Hillary Clinton, Randi Weingarten
Only around 10 percent of American workers are still unionized, and most of those are government employees. Our living standard is a holdover from the days when union density was 35 percent -- i.e., more than one in three workers were union, and that was the result of years of struggle outside the political system.

There is much to be criticized in today's labor movement. It's leaders, Democrat like Weingarten, do all they can to keep unions safely in the Democratic Party fold. Some, like Teamster's president Jimmy Hoffa Jr, even endorse Republicans. Democrats expect and are granted union support by union leaders with no strings attached. In New Mexico we have the pathetic spectacle that its Democrats get union support but won't even utter the word union in public.

If union members don't seize control of their own unions, and if Americans don't learn their history, America is well on its way to becoming the next Greece. The story there wasn't about economics -- European Union leaders and European bankers know the Neoliberal reforms being forced on Greece won't help -- they have admitted that Neoliberalism doesn't work. Neoliberalism is about disciplining the working class. It's a political, not an economic project. Elections are coming up in several EU countries where the working class has been getting restless, and Greece was made an example of what happens when the working class gets too uppity.

A treaty even more onerous than the TPP, between the US and the EU, is now being negotiated. The US government has worked nonstop to subvert governments in its hemisphere that don't adopt US Capital domination and now Neoliberal orthodoxy. The list is long, the timetable goes back more than a century. Whether Walker is the next president or Hillary Clinton won't matter. Both are cut of the same Capitalist cloth. Americans' future is in their own hands, and they will continue to sit on them, ignorant of history and amused by the fall TV schedule.








Saturday, July 11, 2015

Michelle Grisham Against The World

I have to hand it to my congresswoman, 1st District Rep Michelle Grisham. During her brief tenure in the House she's repeatedly voted to slash the federal budget and keep in place and even expand tax breaks for the rich, but pulled off a brilliant publicity stunt this week by showing up at the local Social Security office and standing in line with retirees for several hours, then criticizing the overworked federal employees inside whose budget she had cut.

From Michelle Grisham's Facebook page
Local media and what passes for an alternative here dutifully transcribed Grisham's press releases about her stunt or wrote stories based on her Facbook account, which at last check had garnered her well over 1,000 gushing congratulatory comments -- a lot for a politician's Facebook page -- from sorely uninformed New Mexicans entirely ignorant of what this woman's been up to. Once she lived for a week on what a food stamp recipient gets -- had herself photographed doing it, publicized it, the whole bit -- and later voted to cut food stamps.

To be fair to Ms Grisham, the other Democrats in the New Mexico federal delegation, and most Democrats in congress, and the national Democratic Party, also support Neoliberal, Reaganomics economic policies, but either didn't think of, or think themselves above, standing in line in the hot sun with average citizens for three hours. My delegation as far as I can tell refuses to meet their constituents face to face any more.

As a reminder of what's at stake when Democrats act like Republicans on economic issues, look the charts at the end of the post, which show how we the people have fared economically since Ronald Reagan cowed the spineless politicians we still call Democrats into getting in line behind him. Economists are calling it the new normal; zero to slow growth, stagnant wages. The news media now calls it a "recovery" when the stock market goes up and the all the benefits of said recovery go to the already well off.

Net Neutrality

As soon as the Federal Communication Commission bowed to the public pressure campaign to save net neutrality and adopt rules in February to do so, corporate America began to undermine it. They took a two track approach, filing a dozen or so lawsuits, and working with congress to override the FCC's decision. The lawsuits were dismissed, but a congressional vote is approaching that will undo net neutrality while New Mexico's Democrats, naturally, have remained silent.

This is critical, both for big business and for we the people. The power of the internet as an organizing tool is now well proven. Occupy, #BlackLivesMatter, net neutrality, are a few examples. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign would not have survived the attacks on it by mainstream Democrats, and being frozen out of the mainstream media, if not for being driven by social media, which has propelled the poll numbers that have forced the mainstream media to finally take note of it.

Corporate America has well founded fears that its chokehold on government and power in this country can be threatened by the internet, and they want to control it, and decide who can and who can't speak on it. That's what's at stake in the net neutrality struggle. You can let your congress member and senators know how you stand here.

The BRICS and SCO

Two important meetings took place this week in Ufi, Russia, that the media is unaware of or barely aware of.  One was of the BRICS group -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. These developing nations formed an economic block several years and and this week set up an infrastructure investment bank. This is big. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have had a monopoly in the market for funding big projects and have used it to spread Neoliberal orthodoxy around the world. It's quite simple -- if a government wants World Bank or IMF funding it is required first to cut taxes on the rich, slash social spending and sell government assets -- i.e., privatize services. That can have devastating affects on the people, as we see playing out in Greece most recently.

The other meeting in Ufi was of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, another economic block that includes China and Russia, formed 15 years ago, like BRICS as a way to circumvent corporate America's control over the world economy.

I wrote last weekend about a range of ways China and Russia are cooperating to circumvent the US ruling elite's strategy to encircle them military and make them submit to US-led economic hegemony, to become US colonies in short. These action are in response to, in the case of Russia, the relentless expansion of NATO into former Soviet satellites, right up to Russia's borders, the bungled Obama Administration attempt to bring Ukraine into the US orbit with last year's coup, and in China's case the president's "pivot to Asia" by which he seeks to encircle China with naval and air power, with new bases in countries like Australia, and through military alliances with Pacific Rim countries and trade agreements like the TPP treaty.

China has also formed an investment bank, which has been joined by almost all our European allies, and is building high speed rail systems, much of it built by the German government, to move freight rapidly from China's industrial areas to Europe and throughout the Eurasian land mass, including Russia, circumventing the US sea and air power being built up that threatens it. The SCO is part of this strategy, and this week admitted India and Pakistan as full members and elevated several other countries to observer status, a prelude to full membership.

Some people fear China, which has one aircraft carrier, and a few actually fear Russia with its ancient propeller driven bomber fleet. Neither have attacked anyone outside what they consider their borders during the time the US has been attacking countries the world over. Look at how that's worked out, with the US stretched so thin militarily it can't bring one of its disastrous foreign wars to conclusion, and then rethink your fears of China and Russia, who again, have attacked no one. Some also fear cyber warfare from Cnina or Russia. Google "Stuxnet virus." The US by far leads the world in that field. Think Edward Snowden, too.

The interminable Pepe Escobar of Asia Times, from Geneva where he's covering the US-Iran nuclear negotiations, which may be falling apart, wrote this week regarding US policy by which it is isolating itself from much of the world:

"The record is not good. It took over five decades for Washington to start normalizing its relations with heavily sanctioned Cuba. Washington has already alienated the overwhelming majority of 1.7 billion followers of Islam. It has lost most of 1.2 billion Indians – as India joins the SCO. It has lost 1.3 billion Chinese with the pathetic “pivot to Asia” and the non-stop South China Sea saber rattling. It has totally lost Russia, the absolute majority of Latin America and the absolute majority of the Global South."

Its Labor Movement decimated, most of its good jobs gone and having decided the wealthy and corporations don't have to pay significant taxes any more, and as a result with its infrastructure crumbling and its public education system in decline, the US, in order to enforce its hegemony has come to rely ever more on its military, which consumes more than half its budget and for which the working class pays dearly, by shouldering the tax burden and through cuts to social services. And where are Democrats? Doing publicity stunts, talking about green job fantasies, pointing at the Koch brothers and shrieking.

The American working class achieved its highest standard of living, the one that was the envy of the world, remember, between World War II and the early 1970s, before Ronald Reagan came on the scene, and also when there was a counterweight to US hegemony and US corporate power. Say what you will about Russia and China, but that's a fact.

If they, and Latin America,  perhaps eventually Africa, and much of the rest of the world acting in cooperation come to fulfill that counterweight role again things can't be any worse than they are now, with American workers wage having been flat for 30 years and their living standards in decline, and it's more likely we'll be better off.

The rise of US corporate power is why Hillary Clinton cavorts openly with the Wall Street bankers Barak Obama refuses to prosecute for their crimes but instead routinely invites to the White House for lunch, and why the New Mexico delegation says nothing about it, or about the coming end to net neutrality. It's why they say nothing when the president tries to cut Social Security.

It's why none of them have said a word against Neoliberalism. It's why neither Grisham, as she makes her career with publicity stunts pretending to be for the working class, nor representative Ben Lujan nor senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, seem to mind that in Albuquerque, which has monumental buildings named after Republicans, the only remembrance of the New Mexican who voted to establish Social Security, Democratic Senator Dennis Chavez, is a little stretch of blacktop out at the edge of the desert that goes nowhere.




Total spending under current Democrats. Remember that as overall spending has declined the military has been getting more









Economic Policy Institute - productivity increased, but not incomes, under Neoliberalism