As I give it at least my dozenth try at getting the ol’ blogger legs back going, lets take a look at some highlights of life here in America, February of 2010 (grab a beer or a joint or a big mug of coffee, this is a long one):
Seems it was a very good year to be a Washington lobbyist- the best year ever, actually. The Center for Responsive Politics has looked into tens of thousands of disclosure findings and found that in 2009 special interests of every kind spent $3.47 billion lobbying the Federal government. “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines.” said CRP director Sheila Krumholz. Among those numbers, the dollars from your and my health care premiums (if you’re lucky enough to even have health insurance) spent ensuring Congress could not pass a meaningful overall of the health care system was $266.8 million (that amount spent by the pharmaceutical and health products industries represents a record for one sector). The report also notes- oddly- that this year saw a decline in the number of actual registered lobbyists, prompting speculation that in the face of tighter controls on lobbying from the Obama Administration some aspects of lobbying have moved under-ground; now there’s a welcome development: the seedy back-room world of those with power manipulating politicians for their personal gain moving into a closet in the back-room. “Democracy”? is that what you folks call this?
I’m decidedly excited about organized labor threatening to “stay out” of this year’s elections in protest over the way the Obama Administration and Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have failed to deliver much of anything for working people. Lets face it, the Republican Party is not even an option- in terms of political choice- for working class people (I know what you’re thinking about Tea Party-ers and rednecks and religious fundamentalists and the like, and I’ll get to them, but I’m referring here only to those who are at least partially aware of their class-standing, the existence of class society, and who reject in general the inherent good of wealth concentrated among the wealthy (even if some of these things happen far from even their own waking consciousness)). For years organized labor have leaned towards the Democratic Party knowing they’d at least get thrown some bread crust, and that that would always be better than the mere crumbs the Republicans may throw. But in the face of being so hopeful, so full of excitement and promise (and after spending serious money and donating serious volunteer time) to get Obama in and with majorities and everything, labor has gotten jack shit.
What I like most about this strategy is that a Republican majority based on abstention from a large segment of the population would leave them weak. I know, Republicans clearly don’t care at all about public sentiment when they’re in power, they just act brazenly and audacious. But think, in the last non-presidential election voter turn-out was 40%. Although the unionized population of the U.S. is only somewhere between 12-15% (as far as I can tell anyway), and we know even if every union called for its members to sit-out an election not all would, I’d say it’s safe to guess that the number of members who went against the call and participated in elections anyway would approximately equal the number of non-members who would choose to abstain along with labor (I actually think it would be far more, but for the sake of not having that point distract from my larger one I’ll say equal). If 15% of the population abstained in protest you could be looking at an election with 25% turn-out! Republicans in control would go too far (because they’re that brazen, and for many, truly believe their regressive and anti-social scheme’s are right) and the left would strengthen. It would have to. Working people are already breaking their backs in this economy, and nothing positive would come from conservative measures (nothing has so far- and that’s all we’ve been getting); the left and labor would be much stronger for it. Assuming, of course, that we all survive.
Remember Greece? Well, you may be hearing about the place in the news lately as part of the so-called “PIGS” sending Europe and potentially the world into financial ruin round 2 (“PIGS” would be Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain). These four countries in particular are having a very hard time paying off the debt they own and balancing their national budgets, and the threat of any of them defaulting on debts has sent European financial markets a-drift at sea. The capitalist argument, of course, is that social programs and services are too strong and too generous in these countries with ‘weak’ economies (read: they don’t sell enough stuff abroad to make enough money to buy lots of foreign stuff). I’ll note my amateur-ish opinion that all four of these countries and perhaps most industrialized countries are plenty ‘wealthy’ enough domestically to have social programs like what they do- but the existence of financial markets and the participation by state governments in the global financial markets scheme causes a great deal of their “debt” and is thus most of the problem in and of itself.
Greece is in the mainstream press (here and in Europe) as the worst situation of all four countries, with Germany and the “leaders” of the EU (Germany, France, Italy, England to an extent) promising that they’ll pick-up the tab if Greece does in fact fail to pay on money it owes. System reforms, to say the least, have been proposed. The interesting thing is, proposed reforms to the social security system have brought all of Greece to a complete halt. Working people across the board aren’t reacting with a whimper and a cry (or the formation of some bizarre, reactionary, right-wing, nut-job set of conspiracy theories)- but instead public sector employees on Wednesday went on a 24 hour strike. Tax offices, social security, municipal and county workers, doctors and nurses (except emergency personnel), all teachers in all grades and all university faculty and staff, all archeological sites, all air traffic controls (no flights came in or out of the country); rolling stoppages plagued the rails and commuter trains. In solidarity a number of private sector unions went on strike as well.
“But they’ve got to cut back spending to balance their budget!” you hear (or did I just hear you say that?). Far from it, the reaction in Greece has been near-universal (except among the bankers, financiers, and the politicians, despite the government being under “socialist” control): the banks and investment firms made the problem, they can deal with it; working people had nothing to do with those choices, and so working people don’t need to suffer for them”.
What a shocking way to see the situation. My advise to Greece (and the rest of us, really): default on the debt. Just don’t pay it. What are they gonna do, take away your country?
Getting back to that certain, er, interesting segment of the U.S. population that most benignly we’ll just refer to as “under-educated”, here’s a great one: A CBS poll posed this question: “Do you favor or oppose ________ being allowed to serve openly (in the military)?” When the option for that fill-in was “homosexuals” 44% favored and 42% were opposed. But when the option for that fill-in was “Gay men & lesbians” 58% were in favor and only 28% opposed. What the…. ?!@#?!
I do want to interrupt this train of thought momentarily to point out this really great piece from a few weeks back by Chris Hedges, “Democracy In America Is A Useful Fiction“:
Corporate forces, long before the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, carried out a coup d’état in slow motion. The coup is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy and the triumph of corporate power. But it does not significantly alter the political landscape. The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.
The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy. As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.
Much of the outrage expressed about the court’s ruling is the outrage of those who prefer this choreographed charade. As long as the charade is played, they do not have to consider how to combat what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolincalls our system of “inverted totalitarianism.”
Yes, that’s right, as I’ve said all along (as has, generally, the radical left): capitalism is unreconcilable with ‘democracy’ (as it’s popularly thought of) and liberals are part of the problem. But what are we gonna do? what needs to be done is not particularly easy, nor pleasant.
As for the afore mentioned conservative members of the American working class (and I mean, specifically the rising conservative populist movement): that, my friends, is not a good thing. Not at all. Think, for a moment, about the headlines recently about the conservative activist James O’Keefe (the guy who went undercover to film that ACORN vid that got America’s collective panties in a bunch) getting arrested for attempting to break into a Senator’s office and fuck with her phone system. Oddly, the left (the liberal left, mind you) reported this story with a straight-face and a general tone of “these fucked-up conservatives are messing around and it’s not appropriate”. I even heard MSNBC the other morning note it seemed “Watergate-esque”. Nevermind how much these very same liberals love Ragging Grannies infiltrating Legislative hearings or Bush press conferences; nevermind how they make cultural heroes of the Yippies of the 60’s, of the protests of Veterans for Peace, of the antics of ‘civil disobedience’ and gladly spouting off the names of MLK Jr or Ghandi or Thoreau or Zinn or Chomsky they implore us all to take ‘action’ to do things like “defend our freedoms” or “our Constitution” or our “civil rights”. Please see above Chris Hedges’ reference to empty moral posturing.
In the “inverted totalitarianism” mentioned above (and that’s really just a term- take it or leave it- we could describe the political and social temperature of the U.S. at this moment with any number of different titles), reactionary, right-wing populism is not only a fad, but a real, definite, extremely dangerous pole. And because it is a pre-rational state, it can justify and reproduce itself extremely easily; it is, after all, free from any sort of genuine rationality, and therefor can apply itself at random and can merely create its own linkage. Even worse, it uses anti-social norms such as racism, religious fundamentalism (xenophobia), homophobia, sexism, etc as its substitute for rationalism, creating a self-serving and self-reproducing “logic” that, quite frankly, will probably only grow.
That’s right. Because non (pre) rational ideas cannot be argued against rationally. They create their own logic, and thus live as a differend to rational thought. Which means none of it is going to “go away”, nor will we see people (otherwise regular and ‘normal’ seeming friends, neighbors, and family) forget about or change their minds or out-grow this stuff. Their demands for corporate rights, for freedom for the rich to fuck them and their communities over, to centralize government functions in the name of “anti-government” and “de-centralization” (i.e., in the name of taking power from teacher’s unions and giving it to the State), it’s all here to stay. And it’ll get much, much worse than the current “a black guy can’t be president, he must be Arab or an illegal immigrant or a terrorist” B.S. that we see.
But don’t get me all wrong here. Despite my general dreariness (which is furthered at the moment by having-a-5 1/2 month-old-sleeplessness as much as anything else) all is not lost and, as Lennon said, “There’s no problems, only solutions” (what, you thought I was gonna quote that Lennon? oh brother).
The answer, of course, is organization (as Kropotkin said: “Anarchy is organization, organization, organization!”). The important work- the work that’ll get us not only through but even out of all this mess- is in building poles of power which center on the daily needs of working people. And that, despite being really fucking hard, is surprisingly easy. Power-dynamics doesn’t insist on any particular issue or strategy, nor on all of us focusing on a singular issue or strategy. A housing/tenants rights group, labor organizing/solidarity, campaigns such as VT’s Health Care Is A Human Right, community or neighborhood associations. There are countless choices for very, very good things to do to counter the corporate State (the above referenced “inverted totalitarianism”) and reactionary, right-wing populism.
And just as the thing isn’t so much the destination as the journey, so too any work that we do to build ground-up, popular, progressive organizations or movements or campaigns is more about the building than winning issues. Of course, at some point winning on issues becomes not only important but necessary. But more immediately, all that happens when we work to make these things happen is the accumulation of social power. Social power, make no mistake, eventually can accumulate to challenge political power. Any exploration of popular movements or political revolution will show it.