Making a difference

Stephen King, in one of his books on the field of horror fiction, was asked about the political import of all the 50’s movies that featured scary monsters created from radioactive fallout.  King’s response was that there was no politics at all.  Spooky radioactive stuff was simply part of the public consciousness, a throw-away, and the question was simply whether the monster should be a sea creature or an insect or a giant lizard.

Today, if you look at popular movies for the past 40 years, there is a constant theme that if you know evil government secrets, the government will kill you.  If you expose a secret military operation, the military will kill you.  If you can reveal corporate wrong-doing, the corporations will kill you.  If you know of illegal police operations, the police will kill you.  Government officials, corporate officials, military officials, are all routinely portrayed as ruthless seekers of profit and power who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends.

Jaws.  A local government leaves people exposed to a giant ravenous shark rather than hurt the local tourist business.  This was a shock?  Did people react to Jaws with, “No, we can’t imagine them doing something like that”?  No.  Of course not.  The exciting part was whether the heroes could kill the shark before it ate them.

Now there’s this oil leak

The left leaps into action.  The oil companies are evil.  The government is corrupt.  Obama is a tool of BP.  So fucking what?

What difference does this exposure make?  Has it made Obama move any faster to clean it up?  I doubt it.  Does it increase the pressure to halt offshore drilling?  Yes, to some small extent.  (The real pressure is exerted by shoreline governments and the economic interests this threatens.)

Is it being used as a rallying cry for a primary challenge in 2012?  If only it were.

Crushing the unemployed

I’ve been trying to keep folks up on some of what’s happening with the unemployed, particularly the 99ers — those whose maximum benefits are running out, like mine.  Paladinette of Now: Jobless/Next: Homeless, Advocacy for the Long Term Unemployed (AFTLU), the IAM’s Union of the Unemployed (UCubed) and others launched a fight for the creation of a Tier 5, additional benefits beyond the maximum 99 weeks (99 for states with extra-high unemployment).  They organized a campaign to fax leading politicians, phoning congresspersons, and hitting some radio shows.

It was a great success.  They helped force the issue into the mainstream.  They jammed the fax machines of the likes of Pelosi.  Paladinette and others have emerged as leaders of the unemployed.

It was a total failure.  The unemployed were heard, and Pelosi and Reid simply said drop dead.  A devastating article in Huffington Post notes:

But this is the first time the Democratic Party can’t even half-plausibly blame the Republicans for the lapse. “This isn’t being done because of Republicans, believe me. This is done because there’s a group of us, we don’t have a majority, but they listen,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersburger (D-Md.), who fought to shrink the size of the bill. “I think it’s really symbolic. We have a very diverse party and the party has come together… This is a real victory for the moderates and the Blue Dogs and the freshmen, that our party leadership is working with us to let this happen.

And it signals the beginning of the end of the commitment to ending the jobs crisis. It took FDR two congressional terms to lose his New Deal majority. Though Democrats still controlled Congress in 1937, deficit hawks put a stop to federal efforts to end the Great Depression, bringing about what became known as the “recession within the depression.”

Failure and success both

The question is what is to be done with it.  To the extent that they are calling on their members to make more phone calls and send more faxes, they are heading for a dead end.  A mini version of MoveOn.  This tactic was exactly correct when the campaign began.  It mobilized the memberships, and moralized them with a level of success (breaking the Tier 5 story into the mainstream after the Democrats had tried to keep it under the radar).  At this point, I fear that it will lead to defeat and subsequent demoralization

On the other hand, judging from the Facebook entries, folks are turning toward punishing the politicians, some astute comments such as Paladinette’s, “If Repub vote in a Dem. If Dem has a primary challenger vote in the newbe!”  The Democratic Party is catching heat as the betrayers.  How far can this go?

If if if if if there were an organization that had a coherent electoral strategy to confront the Democratic Party around this in 2010, I would gladly say to them, join that organization, they are fighting for you, they need you, you need them.  I see nothing on the horizon that fills that need.  At best, the left has treated the Tier 5 issue as, “See, here’s another example of how bad things are.”  That is not the same as fighting for it, campaign for it, rallying forces around it.

And the unemployed organizations themselves?  I’m not sure.  A Facebook organization can reflect movement, bring people together, but as an effective planning body, it’s very shaky.  You don’t know where your membership is at, whether it is even still there.  A grouping brought together ad hoc around a narrow focus will of necessity be riven with differences at any attempt to broaden that focus.  This is not a criticism.  It is merely a fact.

There has to be that outside organization.  There is not.  Yes, there are organizations out there, but they have (at least) two major limitations.  First, there is the taboo against seriously threatening the Democratic Party.  We saw this in the aftermath of the healthcare debacle, where all progressive anger was to be diverted toward the Blue Dogs, despite the fact that it was the refusal of the ENTIRE Democratic Party to ensure healthcare for all without restricting abortion rights.  Second is the lack of strategic perspective.

Marx and socialism

In a recent post I Am Poor, DawnoftheRedSun brought in the importance of class and even dared to reference Marx.  I supported that.  I think that anti-communism has become such a deep thread of the American consciousness — even though there is no longer any communism — that it has a paralyzing effect on everything.  As Dawn stated, “Since the official burial of Marxism we aren’t supposed to use the term “class war” anymore.”  But if there is indeed a class war going on, and we aren’t allowed to mention it (or say anything that might evoke it), that leaves us in pathetic shape to actually deal with it.

One hopeful thread is that SEIU and others have sponsored rallies of people being foreclosed on at the homes of the big bankers and their running dog lackeys.  I usually think of demonstrations as ritualized exercises in futility, but these are a bit outside the box.  Suppose the unemployed and the homeless joined in.  Suppose they held one at Pelosi’s house.  Or Reid’s.  This could be explosive.  It could break the box.  But SEIU as loyal Democrats would never take it that far.  And progressives would — I think — be made very nervous about the potential for confrontation, possible violence.  Class war.

There are threads that could be pulled together, but that would require some pulling, wouldn’t happen by chance.  Who would do the pulling?  People with a strategic perspective, who, as an organized force, do not today exist.  And we get back to the leadership issue.  The understanding of dynamics as opposed to flat empiricism.  Class.  War.

This would require a body that can plan, rather than merely react as everyone is doing around the BP spill.  Allow me to irritate people (more).  I contend that the energy being put into exposing the BP spill will accomplish very little that wouldn’t already be accomplished by bourgeois forces that need to do something for their own self-preservation.  Minor quantitative change at best.  (According to a recent poll, 44% of Americans thought the spill should be cleaned up, 27% thought we needed more oil spills, and 29% thought the number of oil spills was just right.)

Suppose all the energy that has been poured into that had been poured into the Tier 5 fight, a minor reform as any Marxist would admit?  I think it would have dramatically changed the dialogue on the left and in Congress, while the BP spill is more of the “isn’t capitalism bad” litany.  It would have broadened the class base of the progressive movement.  And it would have the potential to harness the anger of the poor (you think they’re not angry, you have no ears) for every damn political cause that progressives fight for.  It would have transformed American politics.

But again we get back to the same question.  How could we make this happen?  Progressives are what progressives are.  The left is the left.  They will keep doing what they’ve been doing since they helped impeach Nixon.  Until they die.  The calls for renewed spirit and energy and dedication are the same calls they put out all the time, and in the wake of the healthcare debacle, I’d put spirit and energy and dedication at a low ebb.  (Remember, jobs was the “next big issue” after healthcare?  And the left didn’t even show up enough to construct a surrender.)

One place to start is to put Marx and socialism back into the dialogue.  Would any of this look like it looked in 1848?  I suspect not.  But it would be a different dialogue than the one we are having.

28 comments

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  1. I like this provocative point:

    I contend that the energy being put into exposing the BP spill will accomplish very little that wouldn’t already be accomplished by bourgeois forces that need to do something for their own self-preservation.  Minor quantitative change at best.  (According to a recent poll, 44% of Americans thought the spill should be cleaned up, 27% thought we needed more oil spills, and 29% thought the number of oil spills was just right.)

    I will tweak this a bit in response.

    One of the criticisms of Obama was that he didn’t show leadership in responding to this crisis.

    For it’s just as much pain and anguish and fear the spill has resulted in, and a good leader knows that must be dealt with before going into action.

    Obama missed a great opportunity there.  As a result, most Americans, whether politically engaged or not have no touchstone that societies normally visit to provide the unity for action.

    I guess I’m trying to say that it is an absolute necessity to expose BP’s dealings as well as really confront what has happened to our environment and understand the far-reaching consequences, but the energy used in that endeavor has thus far been scattered and easily manipulated.

    • jeffroby on May 30, 2010 at 1:38 am
      Author

    Yes.  I don’t like to push either/or choices when not required.  I’m more disturbed by the lack of tactical focus, like getting offshore drilling banned and targeting the politicians who support it.  Then the “exposures” would be elements of a campaign, thus transformed.  And the class bias revealed by the unemployed being under-reported (and kudos to AmericanRiverCanyon today for his/her post) is deeply problematic.

    I compare the issues of BP spill and unemployed because of the inadequate attention paid to the unemployed.  I fear that people will see me as comparing which is worse (people on the streets vs. devastated Gulf economies), but that is not my method at all.  Rather, I see it in terms of the strategic alliance that is not being built.

    It is worth noting that some of the posts on the Now Jobless Facebook page do note the BP spill and debate our Middle Eastern wars.  I see this as hands reaching out.  But they are not being grasped.

    • banger on May 30, 2010 at 2:15 am

    …to be talking about every day here. Indeed, without a intellectual framework there is no way for the left to go forward. For example, just saying we should help the unemployed because we feel sorry for them isn’t the right approach. We help the unemployed because a sane society is inclusive–all people deserve to be a part of the culture–no one should be excluded unless you simply vote to exclude them and ship them away.

    More precisely, what the left needs (and yes, Marxism is important) is to base its ideology (yes, we have to have one) on social science. BTW, this is why the right hates social science–they know that a rational approach to human and social behavior will destroy two things at once: 1) the power of the oligarchy in saying that up is down and greed is good; and 2) the power of religion to say that something as internally contradictory as the Bible can be read as an instruction manual that it was never, ever meant to be and certainly not one to be interpreted by functional illiterates. The left should be waving the flag of science and rationality–not because it is everything (I have some major criticisms of science and Scientism) but because it offers us an approach to knowledge that is honest and all parties can agree to without it becoming dogma and therefore something to fight over.

    Just that is enough. Just saying that, for example, more equal societies are healthier and people live longer both the rich and the poor. Just saying that brutalizing people leads to brutal people is enough. Just saying that social-science can tell us quite a lot about how people learn and why can’t we use those findings to help us educate our children? Just saying that stress has a major effect on health and productivity would be a dramatic thing to do and have a far-reaching influence. Just saying that it makes no sense to discourage young people from getting educations by saddling them to huge debts so that they will be virtual serfs for ten years is not a good way to create a knowledge-based workforce–look at what the GI bill did for this country one of the most spectacular and unambiguous success story this country has ever seen.

    The right has absolutely NO rational argument based on reality. The “Chicago Boys” ideology that dominates both political parties has NO BASIS in fact–it is a religion not based on science. Individualism a la Ayn Rand is just not scientific–there’s no such thing as individualism–it is a fiction and modern neuro-science and a good reading of not only social science but history will show that without any ambiguity. The right has nothing solid to stand on–NOTHING! Yet here we are stranded and overwhelmed by arguments based on fiction and religion and we just despair. WE have the fucking power because we know what we are talking about so let’s let folks know that the reason we help the unemployed is because we have TOTAL view of society so that helping them helps all of us even the rich and we have the science behind us.

  2. However, your last paragraph doesn’t inspire the same level of confidence as to what direction to take, that would work. Let me, however, suggest another approach, that IMO has a much higher probability of mobilizing people, and that unemployed people could use to swell the ranks of their movement, by broadening it in a way that many more people could relate to. In one sense, it’s not all that different from talking about class, because the subject is still about personal and family economic viability. However, it’s also less abstract than talking about class, and people will relate to it much more easily.

    Basically, what the unemployed could seize upon is a credible cost/benefit analysis of the turdish healthcare system in America, recently broadened by the Democrats, but also solidified in it’s power, political and economic. That analysis has to be translated into PER CAPITA financial loss, with subdivisions by family income. While I don’t know how the details will work out on an income-strata basis, I can give quote you the net/net, from correntewire.:


    United States: $7290

    Switzerland: $4417

    France: $3601

    United Kingdom: $2992

    Average of OECD developed nations: $2964

    Italy: $2686

    Japan: $2581

    — Bob Somerby

    So, for a family of 4, we can see that that family is essentially having $$ stolen for it to the tune of 4 x (7290 – 2964) = $17,304 PER YEAR.  Higher income families (how “high” is “high”, I don’t really know) are getting socked EVEN MORE, because they will disproportionately pay taxes for poorer Americans who can’t afford to pay for their healthcare. Thus, there’s even GREATER appeal for higher income American families to join the cause (with the obvious exception of people who are profiting from the parasitic healthcare industry because of their job and/or particular investments.)

    Thus, we have an issue that strikes a dagger DEEP into the heart of most American families’ financial outlook, and frankly threatens the financial viability of huge swathes of them. (“Viability” could be loosely interpreted as “losing my middle class status”).

    Let me repeat that figure, so that it sinks in, but in a way that would go well on the posters held by an army of unemployed. IMO, this army of unemployed shouldn’t waste too much time displaying their posters in front of Nancy Pelosi’s house. No, they should be approaching the voters in their communities, which is how the people of New Brunswick productively directed their energy in looking for largescale change in their community. (See Progressives and Revolutionaries Win 25 Seats in Local Democratic Party.)

    POSTER#1  Democrats help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#2  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#3  Republicans help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#4  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#5  Obama LIED about supporting a public option! Ask me for the proof, PLEASE!

    POSTER#6  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#7  Democrats help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#8  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#9  Republicans help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#10  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#11  Obama LIED about supporting a public option! Ask me for the proof, PLEASE!

    POSTER#12  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#13  Democrats help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#14  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#15  Republicans help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#16  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#17  Obama LIED about supporting a public option! Ask me for the proof, PLEASE!

    POSTER#18  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#19  Democrats help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#20  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#21  Republicans help healthcare companies STEAL $17,304 from the average American family per year!

    POSTER#22  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    POSTER#23  Obama LIED about supporting a public option! Ask me for the proof, PLEASE!

    POSTER#24  Help us FIRE corrupt Congress Critters so that I can get a job!

    etc

    In other words, instead of being polite and supplicatory, the army of the unemployed should be outspoken (“corrupt Congress Critters”) and act like they’re the boss. Which, if they can recruit enough Americans to their cause, they eventually would be the “boss”, collectively speaking. Assuming that the current lousy employment picture stays static, let’s look at a crude estimate as to how dumping corrupt Congress critters, en masse, along with their support for a parasitic healthcare system, would be very good for both the employed and unemployed. I.e., I will make a case for a win-win scenario (which the unemployed would not push as their message, though some reciprocity and compassion is to be expected.):

    If the unemployment rate is 12%, then there is about 1 out of every 9 people out of work. If we assume that 8 working families get an average healthcare expense break of $17,304/yr, then we are talking about $138,432/yr. To support the 9th unemployed family in this sample, assuming that there are 2 wage earners, that comes out to about $800/week, or $40,000/year. Consequently, the 8 employed families ‘should’ be amenable to leaving $40K/year on the table so that their neighbors don’t become homeless – and also so that they don’t become homeless, if they get the axe.

    Oh, and did I mention that corporations would save big $$ on healthcare insurance, hence the cost of doing business in the US would decline, hence the profitability of doing business in the US would increase, hence more jobs would be created during any recovery?

    As the establishment Democrats and Republicans begin realizing not just the loss of the certainty of their duopolistic franchise, but perhaps more signifacantly, the loss of their ability to frame the pseudo debates which pass as political argumentation (which are often really just ‘less crazy corporatist’ vs. ‘more crazy corporatist’), then they may well panic and attempt to supplicate the army of the unemployed with extended benefits in the near term future, not just after 1 or 2 election cycles.

    Hopefully, though, if the army of the unemployed sparks a political renaissance in the US, they will not attempt to put the cat back in the bag.

    (See also my not-so-famous diary, Creating Compelling Civic Value Propositions – Making Lazy Citizens a Part of the Solution )

     

    • jim p on May 30, 2010 at 7:32 am

    There’s never been nothing but feudalism for settled nations. It’s just the level of technology and organization which lets the identical processes go on, but seeming different, evolving, to the tech-users.

    “Successful violent revolution” of the materialist theorist type, has rarely if ever been truly successful for the humans. War means chaos, chaos means fog of war, fog of war means the best organized and ruthless criminals tend to rise to the top. For everyone else, “Meet the new boss, …”

    Still comes down to the boss calls in the boys and makes you act or refrain as per their fancy. Not to ignore that they prefer to keep us quiet with inducements and distractions as long as possible, in the modern style.

    If we’re serious about organizing let’s start with the dominant, overriding political fact of our lifetimes: Corporations determine everything discussed in public.

    And how it is treated, if it is shown at all. And there is no correction and no appeal to the story they tell.

    A handful (is it down to 4 yet?) of media companies can reach every single American not in a cave or a coma with the identical impression, and within a day or two.

    The tale of Howard Dean: mold-breaking populist front runner; says on Sunday “will break up media;” Thursday comes the Dean Scream, which all the stations know is a mike designed to dampen crowd noise. Next 3 or 4 days, Dean Scream every hour, every show. 5th Day: Howard Dean not front-runner.

    Oh, yeah, for sure, the internet corrected that impression, and there must have been tens of thousands who knew it within days of Dean’s plunge.

    Happens all the time. Organize something effective and it turns out you’ve been a penguin-molesting Druid according to high sources. And this is how our politics are conducted. Behave, we make you look good. Don’t behave: we make you look non-serious and we do even that in a style of our choosing.

    Frankly, I don’t care what issue you (any you) have, how right you are, how true your heart is, how brilliantly conceived, how well you are organized. If threatening to the establishment, your effort will be either completely stifled, or if allowed in public, at the least heavily burdened, if not discredited. Fact of our political life.

    Another fact of life: Corporate Media is despised, despised, by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Across the spectrum. The reasons are diverse, and not even harmonious in some cases, but it is universal. This is to be taken with one more fact: The need for the appearance of Democracy is the elite’s weak point. At least for now, though the setup coming along is looking nice for demagogs.

    Short version:

    The target is the Corporate Monopoly on public discourse.

    The strategies and tactics should derive from that. I imagine anyone can think of 2 or 3 ways to attack that specific target in a reflective moment or two.

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