Archive for the 'neoliberalism' Category

26
Oct
10

Hedges: America more or less screwed, thanks to the liberal class. Have a nice day!

UPDATE BELOW: A defense of liberals!

Chris Hedges continues to hammer on the failure of the liberal class. And I can’t say I find much with which to disagree—either in the video above or his recent piece “The World Liberal Opportunists Made.”

I get so tired of the fearmongering about the threat to Democracy posed by Rush, Beck, Christine O’Donnell and Palin. It is absolutely true that they are are clowns, dangerous clowns. But at the moment they hold zero real political power. One wishes the Democrats would stop talking about how awful their opponents are, and just run things, as they were elected to do. But that is the only weapon left in their arsenal. Unwilling to actually enact changes that live up to their purported ideals, all they can do is say, “Look over there. What if those bad people actually took power!?”

Not that there’s any chance of the Dems finding their spine at this point, but even if they did, Hedges says it’s already gone too far.

An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class.

 

UPDATED: “In defense of liberals, though, we…uh. Yeah, I got nothing.”

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08
Sep
10

Are the Dems stupid? Or not?

rahm

"Either way, I win." REUTERS/Jim Young

Money makes the Democrats stupid is a pretty decent rant by Eli at Firedoglake.

The Republicans, he observes, have a big advantage in terms of money because the ideology of conservatism lines up perfectly with giving rich people and corporations more money and power.

Not because they have more [money], although they usually do.  No, it’s because their base is almost completely aligned with their corporate and wealthy big-money donors, while the Democratic base is the complete opposite.

Republicans can deliver their megadonors tax cuts, deregulation, corporate welfare, and protection from prosecution, all cocooned in a conservative narrative of supply-side economics, free enterprise, and independent frontier can-do spirit that their base just loves.

Contrast this with the Dems, who, with a few exceptions, are pretty much on the same level in terms of greed and lack of scruples. But they have this nagging problem with their party’s (purported) ideology, which isn’t a good fit. They have to be sneaky because “there’s simply no way to spin pro-corporate, pro-wealth policies as congruent with progressive values.”

The best they can manage is to play the DLC/Third Way game of pretending that capitulation is really some kind of principled pragmatic centrism which is the only way to win elections or get anything done against the all-powerful GOP and its 55 49 40 41 Senate seats.

Some of the base reluctantly goes along with this because half a loaf is better than the enemy of the good or whatever, but none of us are particularly happy about always settling for a compromise of a compromise of a compromise. Think how much leverage Obama and the Democrats had after two huge electoral landslides, a huge Republican-branded financial crisis, and a huge congressional majority… and how little they did with it. They didn’t deliver on progressive priorities because that wasn’t what their big campaign donors wanted.

And now they’ve failed so miserably, sold out so blatantly, demoralized their base so completely, and ceded the populist ground so thoroughly to the Tea Party, that they’re on the brink of losing the House and maybe even the Senate. All of the Democrats’ kabuki to protect their corporate friends so they could rake in campaign cash and get re-elected will end up costing them their seats instead. Because it is possible to fuck up so badly and so obviously that all the money in the world can’t save you. Just ask the Republicans.

I like this, and I’m down with Eli’s disgust, but wonder if he might be missing something, like maybe the fact that it’s on purpose?

Not sure about this, but I’ll throw it out there and wonder aloud if perhaps we are in for a few decades where control of Congress (and maybe the Presidency) will swing from party to party with every election.

The Party Out of Power promises Change, gets in power, doesn’t change anything, and is sent packing. Or it promises to reverse the Mooslem Socialist Mismanagement of this Once-Great Nation. Until the voters realize they get screwed there too. Rinse and repeat.

Either way the party pros win. If in power, hey, you’re In Power. Out of Power you can make massive amounts of money in the private sector. (Think of Rahm’s waltz with hedge fund Magnetar Capital. Think Tom Daschle. Bob Dole.) Leverage your public service. G’head. You earned it. Take a position with one of the corporations you’ll be in charge of “regulating” when you get back into power. Money’s much better, and you will probably get to spend a little more time with the family.

And don’t worry. You’ll be back in D.C. before you know it. Count on the Other Party not satisfying those pesky voters either. Because there’s no way the non-rich 95 percent can be satisfied–unless legislation happens that actually reverses the flow of wealth.  And both parties have shown how firmly they are allied on the issue of wealth distribution.

At the moment, polls indicate voters will throw the current regime out, WITH AUTHORITY as Marv Albert used to say…. To replace it with a regime that makes no bones about its intention to give an ever bigger piece of the pie to the wealthy and powerful.

Does that makes sense? Not so much. Will it work for a few more election cycles? I wouldn’t bet against it.

22
Jan
10

Ban looting from the language?

Banish the word looting from the English language. That is the suggestion of national treasure Rebecca Solnit, in When the media is the disaster.

It incites madness and obscures realities.

“Loot,” the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out, “At one time loot was the soldier’s pay.” It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers’ pockets and as imperial seizures.

After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don’t believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn’t even call that theft.

Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other countries, though it’s usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don’t need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.

Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of a disaster.

The media are another matter. They tend to arrive obsessed with property (and the headlines that assaults on property can make). Media outlets often call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded interpretations and emphases.

Case in point: these two images from the Los Angeles Times.

GOODS FROM STORE: A looter makes off with rolls of fabric from an earthquake-wrecked store in downtown Port-au-Prince. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

ARRESTED: A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag of evaporated milk. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

I don’t KNOW the real story behind these pictures, but I suspect the copy editor in Los Angeles didn’t know either when he or she declared that these were cases of looting.

I look at the face of both of these desperate people, especially the one carrying a bag of evaporated milk (!) and wonder how anyone can judge them. Solnit recommends a simple solution: put yourself in their shoes.

Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.

By day three, you’re pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can go for many days without food, but not water. And in the improvised encampment you settle in, there is an old man near you who seems on the edge of death. He no longer responds when you try to reassure him that this ordeal will surely end. Toddlers are now crying constantly, and their mothers infinitely stressed and distressed.

So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like you stranded with nothing, and there isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough aid anytime soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all his goods to the neighbors.  That supply’s long gone by now. No wonder, when you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket, you don’t think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.

The old man might not die, the babies might stop their squalling, and the mothers might lose that look on their faces. Other people are calmly wandering in and helping themselves, too. Maybe they’re people like you, and that gallon of milk the fellow near you has taken is going to spoil soon anyway. You haven’t shoplifted since you were 14, and you have plenty of money to your name. But it doesn’t mean anything now.

If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster, often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial for suspected minor property crimes?

Or are you a rescuer? Is the survival of disaster victims more important than the preservation of everyday property relations? Is that chain pharmacy more vulnerable, more a victim, more in need of help from the National Guard than you are, or those crying kids, or the thousands still trapped in buildings and soon to die?

It’s pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn’t obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities. Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.

For these particular photos, Solnit proposes the following alternate captions:

Let’s start with the picture of the policeman hogtying the figure whose face is so anguished: “Ignoring thousands still trapped in rubble, a policeman accosts a sufferer who took evaporated milk. No adequate food distribution exists for Haiti’s starving millions.”

And the guy with the bolt of fabric? “As with every disaster, ordinary people show extraordinary powers of improvisation, and fabrics such as these are being used to make sun shelters around Haiti.”

In spite of the fact that I’ve slapped out rather large chunks of this essay, please read it in full. Solnit is a great writer who always has a fresh, insightful and, at times, strangely optimistic perspective on some of the most difficult topics.

15
Jan
10

The “international community” and Haiti

Updated below. Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh have had their moment in the limelight, and our media celebrities have brought their special brand of cluelessness to Haiti, but from now I’m doing my best to  ignore these distractions.

We are pretty helpless here, but there are ways to contribute financially.  I think it would also be a good idea  to put  pressure on Congress and the President to grant temporary protected status to Haitians,  something our government seems determined to avoid doing.

And we might want to stop acting like this disaster came out of the blue. Haiti has had a  long and tragic history, but the magnitude of the human toll of this earthquake was amplified massively by the fact that there are  2 million people in Port au Prince, and that a vast number of them are there because they were driven off the land intentionally by neoliberal meddling from the north. I’m not an expert on the subject, but “Our role in Haiti’s plight,” published yesterday in the Guardian, looks to be a good introduction to the policies that got us to this point:

The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

…. Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population “lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day”. Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti’s agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more “natural” or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.

As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: “Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses.” Meanwhile the city’s basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government’s ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.

It looks like Haiti is the first country to have been completely broken by colonialism and neoliberalism. It won’t be the last.

_______

Update: I said I’d ignore the gasbags but this one is almost up to the very high bar set by Rev. Robertson. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa):

Illegal immigrants from Haiti have no reason to fear deportation but if they are deported, Haiti is in great need of relief workers and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians.

… which led Wonkette to say:

Bwahaha, they have nothing to fear! Haiti’s in great shape, don’t they read the NEWS? And whatever problems there are… well they’ll starve after a few days so whatever. They yearn to be deported, is the point!




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