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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dialectics Dude Is Back



I had gotten my fuel the other night at Speedy's truck stop at the NM-AZ state line on the Navajo Reservation and on the way to the bathroom passed the the little laundromat where a big screen TV is usually on Fox News, and looked up to see a broadly grinning Newt Gingrich tell the host that the Democratic presidential candidate could well be an "open Socialist!"

Bernie Sanders is no Socialist but he hasn't run from the Democratic Socialist label, but maybe Newt Gingrich, despite surely being aware of polling that shows Sanders beating all of the Republican candidates by fairly wide margins, by bigger margins than Hillary Clinton would, thinks he can turn that around with some good old red baiting. At least he knew the Fox News audience he was playing to thrills at the mention of the word Socialism.

There are supporters of Clinton who've tried to instill fear into potential Sanders voters by raising the specter that he isn't electable because Republicans will smear him with the Socialist label. They, too, know about those polls, and it will be interesting to see how their efforts to use Socialism against Sanders pan out. It's no longer far fetched to postulate that the Socialism smears might even help him. Conservatism, the economic philosophy of the "New Democrats" behind Clinton, as a philosophy is losing ground to Socialism, especially among the young people who are taking the brunt of Capitalism's failure to provide a decent standard of living for increasing shares of the population, or even provide the hope for one in the future.

Capitalism just can't capture peoples' imagination like it once did, and there's reputable polling showing that young people have a more favorable view of Socialism than they do of Capitalism (Pew), which probably accounts for the fact that Sanders drew 70 percent of the youth vote in this week's Democratic Iowa primary. Polls even show that as much as 36 percent of the general population view Socialism favorably even when you include conservatives (Gallup.)

What we're seeing is a shift in the electorate that's partly generational and partly due to America's changing ethnic makeup. But it's also that, as the Cold War propaganda that once caused in Americans a knee-jerk aversion to Socialism fades from memory, people generally are realizing that Capitalism simply hasn't delivered on the promises made by people like Ronald Reagan and the Republicans an Democrats in his wake who have tried to purge all vestiges of Socialism from the US political-economic system.


Awhile back the local paper ran an article that described remarks made by Albuquerque's Republican Mayor, Richard Berry, after two heinous crimes had occurred -- a road rage incident in which a young child was shot and the shooting of a police officer. The article included this:

"Berry said no one is responsible for what happened to Garcia and Webster except the criminals who shot them."

The statement was completely foreign to the situation at hand, unless you understood it in a political context. Barry was making a political statement; attempting, by bolstering the philosophy of conservatism, to head off any talk about having to improving the lives of poor people or change society in some way.

Marx, in his philosophical writings, worked out how our economic system, Capitalism, because it sets the rules for how we live out our daily lives and how we make decisions about the future, creates the reality each of us lives. He called this dialectical materialism. The dialectic is a concept developed by Hegel that explains the complex interactions between all things. It shows how when A affects B, A is also affected by B. Marx took the concept of the dialectic further and showed how Capitalism fits into it, by affecting everything it comes into contact with.

In a way he was answering the age old "nature-nurture" question; Are we the products of our environment or are we hard wired by nature to act in certain ways? If, as people Berry maintain, we rob banks because we choose to, why do those type crimes predominant among the lower economic classes? Rich people commit crimes, too. Does crime in general have something to do with growing up in a certain kind of home and social environment? Many liberals tend to believe so, while conservatives steadfastly hold to notions about personal choice, which also happens to excuses their dog eat dog policies.

Marx of course came down on the nurture side. We're the products of our environment, and our environment is the Capitalist economic system and its attendant state, civil society and home life, all of which are conditioned by Capitalism.

But why did Berry choose to insert into remarks about two tragedies his assertion of "nature" over "nurture?" Why have that in the middle of a sometimes tearful talk in which he was trying to reassure the city?

On some level he's no doubt aware of the resurgence of Marxist thinking that's taking place, and that in it's various popular expressions Marxist ideas are providing, to more and more people, a different way of understanding what's happening around us and to us. He surely knows that spells trouble for people like him, who adhere to the "personal responsibility" ethic and who don't want anyone to blame society's problems on the economic system, or the economy, or his policies. He fears it and rightly so. New Gingrich fears it. "New Democrats" fear it. From city hall to the studios of Fox News to Clinton campaign headquarters, it's dawning on the powers that be that there's a reckoning coming, that blame for a fraying society, the obscene inequalities, and the millions of disappearing futures is about to be placed where it belongs. Dialectics Dude is back.




Thursday, January 28, 2016

Race, Class and Gender

Those three words became kind of a trope starting I'd say in the 1980s when the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the rise of Reaganomics, the remaking of the Democratic Party into a Wall Street adjunct of identity politics sects, and the Postmodern rejection of ideology in general caused the Marxist analysis to fall into more or less disfavor among academics and at popular intellectually leaning publications like The Nation magazine.

Of those three words, class refers to the Marxist analysis, but the other two meant that everything had also to be put through race and gender analysis. Gender analysis means,loosely, a Feminist analysis, but feminism is a wiggly term and in common parlance it means identity politics that promotes the interests of women. The same with the term "race." There's a white supremacy critique that's similar to the critique of patriarchy, but commonly we're talking about identity politics again that promote the interests of Black people. The problem with identity politics is that it simply seeks to rearrange where you sit on the totem pole. It only seeks to rearrange the hierarchy of power and privilege that are functions of economic status. In other words, of class. If you don't deal with that, if you leave the system in place that reproduces economic class, you might have another group sitting on top, but they will behave the same as the one that's there now. Why? We're all human. We're equal. We're the same species.

I say all this to introduce an article that just appeared in the The Nation that makes the case for racial discrimination -- race -- being a function of class oppression. (Marxism holds that the same can be said of gender discrimination.) The article doesn't explicitly say it's based on a Marxist analysis, but it is. That's The Nation's DNA, brought to the surface again, apparently, by the rise of economic populism, which began with Occupy Wall Street but has become more mainstream now because of the Bernie Sanders candidacy. Those who thought Occupy was a flash in the pan spoke too soon. It was only the initial expression of peoples' discontent at 40 years of Reaganomics, growing economic inequality and employment insecurity, and a recovery that was benefiting only a few people. Socialism is not only in the DNA of The Nation, though. It's appeared in various forms throughout history. It's an expression of our innate sense of fairness and our natural human impulse for compassion that exist alongisde the more base instincts that are expressed through systems like Capitalism. It's the same sentiment expressed by whoever wrote the Sermon on the Mount. You see it surfacing everywhere, increasingly, again; in the fact that "Socialism" in the course of just about a year has lost almost all its force as an epithet, in the fact that more young voters in Iowa identify as "Socialist" than as "Capitalist", and in appearance of increasingly more articles like this one.





Saturday, January 23, 2016

Science







A columnist for the local paper yesterday ruminated about a lack of enthusiasm for "pure science" among today's youth and by society in general. He remembers growing up in "a golden age of science" when World War II, and then the Cold War, elevated scientists to the status of national heroes.

But the war was won, the Cold War ended, and, he opined, consumer goods of today like the cell phone and automobile are so complex that it's difficult to see how the science that goes into them benefits us. I've greatly reduced his arguments but you can read the colomn here.

It was a thought provoking column. I'd add a few other considerations:

There's always been a strong vein of anti intellectualism running through American society. I recall, as a kid, my classmates and I asking, as we advanced through the grades and into more complex classes, especially in mathematics, asking "How am I ever going to use this." Little did we know that the algorithms we couldn't understand would be at the heart of the software that powers internet giants like Google and Facebook.

Anti intellectualism is arguably greater now with the rightward shift of the center of American politics. Today's Republicans seem to relish in it.

Another thing that's changed is how education is viewed. It's been increasingly talked about as a commodity, a path to riches of the pocketbook, not of the mind. It was seen like that as I was growing up, it's just moreso now, as public education, something we all owned and had a stake in, is increasingly demonized and privatized, and as higher education is increasingly supported by and done on behalf of corporations, who patent research they've had a hand in paying for -- along with us -- and keeping the benefits for their CEOs and shareholders.

On the other hand, the nationalistic sentiments that made us strut like Banty roosters when we landed men on the moon before the Soviets did are harder to evoke now in Americans, and we don't automatically recoil at "made in Japan" and "made in China" labels.

It's not that we've suddenly realized that Japanese and Chinese workers have just as much right to make a living as we do, although that awareness is more possible now because of the world wide web.

And it's not that we've suddenly realized that the Cold War wasn't a struggle between good and evi, but betwen the Capitalist ruling class and us. It was about their fear of Socialism, and  the fact that their wealth and privedge were threatened by Socialism, which in the late 19th and early 20th centiuries was taking hold in the US just as it had in Europe, Africa and Asia.

It's that the Cold War is fading from the collective memory, to the extent that the socialist epithet no longer disqualifies someone from weigning in on the public debate or even being a contender for president. It's that old newspaper columnists who never did get what the Cold War was about are simply going away, along with people like me and that whole tired debate.

It's that science is no longer owned solely by the Capitalist class, leaving it entirely to them to decide what it's used for, but that thanks to hackers and file sharers and Wikipedia and internet web sites that let people buy life saving medicines at prices they can actually afford, science belongs to all of us. 






Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Politics Made Simple

Updated 1/20/16 7:30 a.m.






New Mexico's Senate Majority leader Michael Sanchez yesterday delivered a response to the governor's state of the state address that was largely defensive in nature. Sanchez simply listed the ways in which Democrats intend to thwart the ideologically driven Republican governor's agenda; her agenda mostly involves creating fake issues around crime and immigration and pretending to solve them. The governor has nothing planned in the way of economic policy except to further weaken the state's already feeble unions by passing "right to work" legislation and thereby further suppressing wages in the the state.

New Mexico's economy has stagnated for years because of the lack of consumer demand. Because of the state's low wages and high unemployment, people don't feel like they have any spare cash and aren't buying much -- consumer confidence is low -- so since there's no demand for things, new jobs aren't being created that would meet consumer demand if there was any.

Sanchez made vague references to that dynamic, but then just made a reference to an economic stimulus plan New Mexico Democrats introduced last year, which went nowhere because Democrats have next to no political power in the state. He said Democrats will be pushing the plan again this year.

The plan is a typical "New Democrat" plan, a combination of modest tax breaks and job training assistance measures. It's designed to stimulate growth the Ronald Reagan way, from the supply side. It's also what you might call unimaginative.

Minnesota is said to be the state that has done the best, economically, since the national economy crashed in 2007-2008. It's Democratic governor raised taxes on businesses after the recession. It's citizens already had the fourth highest burden of state and local taxes in the country.

If New Mexico raised taxes on businesses and individuals, it could stimulate its economy in ways suggested by former Albuquerque mayor Jim Baca today, such building much needed school infrastructure. And it could improve its highway and public transportation systems. It could also do things to lower the cost of housing and rent, which Minnesota economists said has been part of the secret to their recovery -- people won't come to your state, spend money and pay taxes if they can't afford to live there.

The industry that has led Minnesota out of recession has been its agriculture industry. New Mexico has great deal of undeveloped agricultural potential. It's antiquated public irrigation system, the ditch system, only allows the kind of irrigation in which farmers flood their fields with water, which wastes most of the water to evaporation. The state could help landowners install more efficient drip irrigation systems and greatly expand its base of irrigated land -- any land, not just flat land, can be drip irrigated. Large scale drip irrigation has already been demonstrated at the Rio Grande Community Farm, which, according to the USDA, is one of the few places in the country this has been done and "stands alone in the state as a model for sustainable farming."

One need only drive through the Navajo Nation's NAPI farm near Farmington, which uses a type of irrigation that's midway between the two, i.e. the sprinkler system, to see how productive New Mexico agricultural land can be.

New Mexico could also get in on the rapidly growing organic food market. It's already home to a few organic farmers, some of whom have said they had no problem converting from traditional farming because they traditionally couldn't afford chemical fertilizer anyway.

And of course New Mexico could be the solar energy capital of the world. It's the fourth largest state, most of its land is vacant, and it gets as much sunshine, in practial terms, as anyplace else on earth.

New Mexico Democrats need to drop Reaganomics and do something that will capture peoples' imagination while they come up with ways to put money in peoples pockets again.







Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Biggest Union Of Them All

Updated 3:04 a.m. 1/16/16

Review:  The Influence Machine: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life


Seasoned journalist Alyssa Katz is out with an expose on the US Chamber of Commerce that shows the bosses union to be the most influential political organization in the country after the Republican and Democratic parties, and one that has been increasingly using its vast resources in underhanded ways.

Tom Donohue
As is known to anyone not in a deep coma, the Chamber knee jerk opposes anything that benefits workers in any way. The Chamber pushes its extreme right wing Capitalist ideology by putting its hands on as many of the levers of power as it can, Katz has been saying in a series of interviews about the book. Namely. With an army of lobbyists, through the courts via several internal legal divisions, with massive public relations, much of it via fake citizen astroturf groups, and by giving tons of dark money to political candidates.

Katz  outlines, for example, how, when the Chamber was unsuccessful in defending State Farm Insurance against a 48-state class action lawsuit filed in Illinois, it poured money into the opponent of an Illinois Supreme Court judge and got him tossed out of office. A new, Chamber friendly court then threw out the $1.6 billion settlement. The case involved a State Farm policy of having repair shops use knock-off replacement parts when consumers thought they were getting original equipment parts.

Katz' personal web site contains links to reviews of the book and to many of the interviews she's given about it, and also has some entries in which she elaborates on some of this.

As Katz told Sasha Lily on Against The Grain, the Chamber wasn't always so ideological and aggressive. That changed with the advent of a new President and CEO, Tom Donohue, who took over during the Clinton Administration.

The Chamber conceals much of what it does with a special IRS status that was given to it on its formation in 1912, Katz says. It uses that status and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision to skirt the law and anonymously pump millions into conservative candidates' campaigns.

The Chamber of Commerce, and like groups -- the Business Roundtable, the Manufacturers Association, the American Trucking Association,  and others -- exactly fit the definition of a union, a group of people who get together to pursue interests they have in common. All of them, and especially the Chamber, vehemently oppose employees using the same strategy they use.

Whether that's more hypocritical or unfair is open to debate. How they get away with it, and continue to have a public image as a kind of friendly group a civic volunteers, is another thing. That's the fault of us, of the trade unions, and of sleazeball Democrats who go crawling down to the chamber offices once a year to give a speech and then schmooze with the people who exploit and oppress the people those same Democrats are supposed to be standing up for.






Sunday, January 10, 2016

Change

New Mexicans, generally, native New Mexicans especially, have a sense of history, and I can see that it plays a role in shaping their identities. It might be more noticeable to me because that dynamic is absent in the people who live, generally, in the small Michigan town I grew up in, New Buffalo, population 2,500. I know very little of my history, and in New Buffalo people didn't talk about where their ancestors were from or how they got to New Buffalo. I dont think it ever occurred to us.

A women from my home town who's interested in preserving the town's old buildings (and is fighting a losing battle) posted on Facebook the other day a link to a blog article by a New Buffalo woman in which she tells a story about how the mayor is using all kinds of chicanery and questionable legal maneuverings to turn the town over to out of town developers. The town's location on Lake Michigan, 35 miles across the lake from Chicago, about 65 miles by highway, has always meant it was a somewhat resort town during the summer, but it's become a lot more so in recent years and that process is hastening

Within a day of that posting another old building came down and Judi posted a picture someone had taken with their cell phone, a rear shot looking toward the main street. I knew that building pretty well. I had friends who lived in the apartments there, like Larry Lloyd who came in second in the state in the shot put and was silly when he got drunk.

My father, Maurice Conway, after he retired from truck driving, sold real estate for Mike Kerhoulas, a nice Greek man who had an insurance agency/real estate business in the storefront part that faced the main street. I didn't think of my dad as a salesman type but he did pretty good at it. He got the May family, some southerners, into the old Kissman home down the road from us. I remember them talking in our living room. "Oh," I remember Mr May saying. "I can always get a four or five dollar an hour job." That was enough, apparently, in the early 1970s to get the loan.

That time was as contended as I'd ever seen my father, but it didn't last long. He was gone in a couple years from cancer.



Change is why I left New Buffalo and don't often contemplate going back. I can fully identify with people who are uncomfortable with the changes that have taken place in New Mexico owing to the influx of outsiders. Having been on both sides of that equation, though, I can also appreciate what my old friend, Ken Sade, meant when he told me, "Change is the essence of life." Every time change occurs I repeat that phrase to myself. Sometimes it takes awhile but eventually it sinks in.





Friday, January 1, 2016

La Musique de la Louisiane

Louisiana is a little cauldron of creativity. Its just four million people make it closer in size to New Mexico than to big cities like New York and Los Angeles. In New Orleans, of course, jazz was born. New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta that begins and ends there are the primary springs from which Blues flowed. Louisiana is home to some of Rock and Roll's originals, like Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. These are the music forms America invented and is world revered for, but from Louisiana also comes Zydeco and Cajun music and their offshoots, born of French and Creole backgrounds and interminglings, that are not as well known, although the Zydeco band led by Buckwheat Zydeco has occasionally appeared on TV.



The drive through the southern part of Louisiana on I-10, or US 190 -- from Mobile through Baton Rouge and then 20 miles on raised pillars across the mighty Atchafayala Swamp and into Cajun Country's capital, Lafayette, where the TA truck stop just might be serving crawfish etoufee, then on through Lake Charles and Beaumont, TX and into Houston -- is one of the most enjoyable drives I know of. Turn on the radio and fiddle with the dial a bit, find the little stations in between all the Clear Channel dreariness, and you'll be treated to some of America's best, and some really original, music.



KPFT, the Houston Pacifica station, has two programs of Cajun and Zydeco music. Several years ago the record industry and a few rich musicians started freaking out about music file sharing over the internet and they've been able to strike the copyright infringement fear into the hearts of many radio stations that had been podcasting their shows -- which makes them easy to save on your computer -- and many stations quit podcasting music shows, although they still make them available as live streams, and hence, it is said, if you know what you're doing (I don't) still recordable.

Then there's KFAI, a little Minneapolis-St Paul community funded station which airs Louisiana Rythmns every week. They leave each of their two-hour-long programs on the show's web site for two weeks, during which you can save the entire show as an mp3 flie by left clicking on the (middle button - "listen now") feed. It's amazing.



I don't know why this situation still stands. I've wondered if it's the generous nature of the Southwest Louisiana musicians who record it, or maybe because those musicians sell lots of records in Minneapolis-St Paul and get lots of work there. The Louisiana Rythmns hosts give a weekly rundown of the Twin Cities' Cajun/Zydeco music scene and there are usually one or two Southwest Louisiana bands appearing in the area. There are even some local Minnesota groups playing that music. Strange.


The other night I was cruising into Holbrook listening to my KFAI download when a song by Bonsoir, Caitin, a Cajun girl (except for the drummer) band, came on. They aren't among the giants of the genre yet but there's some talented young musicians here, I'd say, particularly accordion player Kristi Guillory who wrote most of the songs on their latest album.













Monday, December 28, 2015

Consciousness Consolidation


The effects of media consolidation amount to more than immediately comes to mind:




This graphic by frugaldad.com was posted on Daily Kos.  It's not readable here but if you go there it is.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

An Ayn Rand Christmas








Someone with nothing better to do has taken a bunch of Ayn Rand quotes and made them into Christmas cards. In a way they're funny because of the stark contrast between her diabolical social Darwinism and the kind of thoughts we normally associate with Christmas.

Until you remember that many of our politicians, including people like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house, and people like former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, are followers of this woman and spend all their time figuring out how to translate her philosophy into innocuous sound bytes designed to disarm our natural revulsion at the naked lust for money and power so they can implement it as public policy.




Saturday, December 19, 2015

The New USA

Massive internet spying is back; our government once again has the authority it, including President Barak Obama explicitly, wanted to spy on every detail of our lives.

Innocuous sounding media reports about what's in the "cybersecurity" bill that made it into the final version of the massive omnibus spending bill that's been signed by the president reflect the fact that many people, including congress members, don't actually know what's in the bill.

“Most members of Congress still don’t understand what it will actually do, which is to dramatically expand the U.S. government’s unpopular and ineffective surveillance programs and make all of us more vulnerable to cyber attacks by letting corporations off the hook instead of holding them accountable when they fail to protect their customer’s sensitive information,” Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight For the Future, a digital rights group, told The Intercept.

Also in the bill is the repeal of a law requiring country of origin labeling on meat sold in the US. Congress repealed the law because the US recently lost a case under NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows foreign countries to collect damages from the US government for such laws and would have required the US to pay out billions.

The Trans Pacific Partnership treaty, or TPP, that the president and both parties are trying to get through congress at the moment contains provisions that are worse and much further reaching.

Welcome to the New USA, where corporate interests trump US law, and where the surveillance state is in place and so are the militarily armed police, who already have official sanction to use whatever violence they deem necessary to keep the people in line. In other words, where the mechanisms are in place for it to quickly become a police state. Keep that in mind as the never ending foreign war rages on in the background of a presidential race that, intentionally or not, is conditioning peoples' minds in ways that are preparing them to accept it.

The mechanism and the willingness to submit to it are one thing. The reasons for it -- Capitalism's inability to emerge from its decade long global recession and its inability to provide a decent living standard for an increasing number of people -- are more apparent by the week.