Thursday, March 4, 2021

#63 / "Resistance" And "Insistence"



"Resistance" is a political term with which I have long been familiar. "The Resistance" is what we called the anti-draft movement in the 1960's, a movement with which I, as a draft resister, profoundly identified. 

The above graphic is a more recent use of the term and comes from the Blackspot Collective, which is associated with Adbusters. I received a bulletin in my email, not so long ago, with this image at the top, and with this message below:

oooOOOooo

This Is the New Face of Resistance

Let’s get into something personal right off the hop.
Let's talk about resistance.

Resistance is what people feel when they just can’t face what needs to be done. Something important is right in front of them, but it’s so hairy, so scary in its implications on their life, their cozy way of keeping on keeping on, that they can’t deal with it.

Resistance grips us when our very soul recognizes just how much is on the line. Like right now.

Caught in an existential crisis with no obvious way out, we begin to question the hidden coordinates of our reality and start thinking about a new operating system for Planet Earth. We hatch a new grand narrative, a set of ideas so fundamental, so systemic, so profound that a sane sustainable future is unthinkable without them.

And then we deploy them.

At this critical juncture for our species, this is the new face of resistance. In our upcoming mindbomb, AB 153: The New Left, we unleash a movement that operates completely outside of geographic borders and political structures — a Third Force.

oooOOOooo

If you don't really understand what this means, I am not a bit surprised. I don't either. For some time, Adbusters and its Blackspot Collective have been sending out advisories that something big is on the way. A "mindbomb," I guess we should be expecting. Issue #153 of Adbusters (the magazine) seems to be where the revelation will be found.

Thinking about "resistance," as depicted above, I am starting to believe that I may be more committed to the idea of "insistence," instead. 

If that blood red fist is the "new face of resistance," then an appeal to get involved with a new resistance movement might actually be a call to physical violence, and perhaps an invitation to overcome any personal or internal "resistance" to using personal and political violence to achieve social, political, and economic change. That may not be what is being talked about here, but if that's the idea, that kind of "resistance" is not an attractive proposition, at least to me!

My "resistance" during the Vietnam War was in direct opposition to violence, and operated on the model set by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That's the kind of movement with which I was, and still am, willing to get engaged. What the Blackspot Collective is talking about might be a call to a renewed nonviolent effort to change the world - or it could be a call to something else. It's not really clear, but I'm nervous about what that message, and specifically that graphic, are meant to convey. 

This brings me to the idea that we should probably be thinking about "insistence," instead of "resistance." That is perhaps where we ought to begin. Gandhian nonviolence, which served as a model for Dr. King, was premised on what Gandhi called "satyagraha," or "clinging to the truth." The idea, in other words, was that individuals would organize themselves to "insist" (nonviolently) that the society actually do the "right" thing. Those committed to the cause would certainly "resist" any effort to dislodge them from their "insistence" that the right thing be done, but the major effort was "insistence" on necessary change, not "resistance" to the unsatisfactory status quo.

I continue to think that this is the basis for all effective and transformative political action. It is also an approach that is premised on a realization that people have power. "Resistance" is premised on the idea that power is virtually all on the other side, and that we therefore must "resist" that power, as our first order of business. Well, we must, of course, resist those who perpetrate injustice, but far more important is the positive position, in which we simply insist that justice be done. 

I am hoping that the Blackspot Collective, and all of us, are seeing things in this light. We must insist on racial justice, we must insist on the elimination of the obscene income and wealth inequality that has blighted our common lives, and we must insist on an end to the combustion of fossil fuels, to save our planet. 

We know what's right. Can we cling to the truth?

Resistance, is fine. It's necessary. But insistence comes first!


Image Credit:
http://4eomt.r.ag.d.sendibm3.com/mk/mr/hoNzoHI55RqIWHbt54SjH7xjo_kitpxfeM_dyOg8oA3pufsU99MYTV10-PDLJG7gpYFLUZMoUbDJJzmQ98DEWi5cUDX6ARCIMkFd3G4igWMygMHu

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

#62 / Tyranny Or Revolution?



Chris Hedges, a Presbyterian minister, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has a very jaundiced view of American politics. That's largely understandable, of course!

In his recent article, "The Oligarchy Knows Class Warfare Is the Real Fight—Why Don't Liberals?" Hedges sums up our current situation this way: 

The death spiral of the American Empire will not be halted with civility. It will not be halted with the 42 executive orders signed by Joe Biden, however welcome many are, especially since they can, with a new chief executive, be immediately revoked. It will not be halted by removing Donald Trump, and the crackpot conspiracy theorists, Christian fascists and racists who support him, from social media. It will not be halted by locking up the Proud Boys and the clueless protestors who stormed the Congress on January 6 and took selfies in Mike Pence’s Senate chair. It will not be halted by restoring the frayed alliances with our European allies or rejoining the World Health Organization or the Paris Climate Agreement. All of these measures are window dressing, masking the root cause of the demise of America — unchecked oligarchic power and greed. The longer wealth is funneled upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal, who put Biden into office and whose interests he assiduously serves, we are doomed. 

Once an oligarchy seizes power, deforming governing institutions to exclusively serve their narrow interests and turning the citizenry into serfs, there are only two options, as Aristotle pointed out — tyranny or revolution.

Hedges' commentaries are almost always acerbic, and this analysis fits the profile. Read the entire article for the full treatment, but in the text just quoted, you can get a hint of just how bitterly Hedges views our recent election. Notice that he attributes the election of President Biden to a "tiny, oligarchic cabal." Ordinary Democratic Party voters, most of whom are the opposite of an "oligarchic cabal," don't seem to factor. Neither do the Republican women who deserted their party to vote for "Sleepy Joe." Neither do  the Black voters of Georgia, rallied by Stacey Abrams. Neither do the supporters of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who self-identifies as a socialist. I think it's fair to say that President Biden's election depended on all of those cohorts, and more, and unless all of them were, in fact, masterfully manipulated by Hedges' "oligarchic cabal," they all helped put Biden into office.

Attention, of course, is what counts in the arena of our contemporary political discussion and disputation, and Hedges is aiming to grab his readers' attention, in order to make his point. Exaggeration and overstatement tend to do that. It's a proven technique. So, let's not dismiss Hedges' argument out of hand, just because of his overstatement and exaggeration. He's just trying to get our attention. The power of money does rule our contemporary politics, and a decent politics, a politics that serves the needs of the majority of our citizens, must demand that the wealthy and well-connected give way to ordinary men and women. 

More properly put, the majority of our citizens, ordinary men and women, must make the wealthy and well-connected give way. And for those not quite clear why I seemed to repeat myself, there, I want to emphasize that it will be necessary for ordinary men and women to adopt an "active" not a "passive" approach to the political changes we need. We need to move beyond appeals, requests, and even "demands," which are always aimed at someone else, someone who, supposedly, has the "real power," or who, at least, seems to have it. 

"Tyranny" is letting other people run our lives, even if they do it with some modicum of benevolence, when pushed. "Revolution" means organizing to obtain what we believe is just and right, and then to govern ourselves in the way that the majority determines will best achieve our personal and collective objectives.

The problem with American politics today, from my point of view, is that those who have the ultimate power over our economy and society (that's us, folks) are not using their power, and are, instead, acting like spectators or supplicants. We keep "asking" for our political system, currently dominated by those with obscene wealth at their command, to do something for us. Usually, it doesn't come through. Democracy is always, of necessity, a "do it yourself" project!

The "revolution" we need does not require blood in the streets (in fact, that's contraindicated). All it requires is a change inside our minds. Once we truly realize that we, ordinary men and women, are actually able to insist that our social and economic arrangements meet our own needs, the revolution will begin. 

Amidst the exaggeration and overstatement, I do believe that this is what Chris Hedges is trying to tell us. And I think he's right. 

And so are Bernie Sanders and Stacey Abrams, too!


Image Credit:
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/02/02/oligarchy-knows-class-warfare-real-fight-why-dont-liberals

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

#61 / Dementia And Democracy

 

Caitlin Johnstone, pictured, is a reader-supported independent journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Johnstone mostly writes about politics, and specifically about the politics of the United States of America. Her biases are not hidden!

Johnstone is pretty "left," or so I interpret her position on the issues of the day, but she is always more "left" than the lefties. She is routinely aggravated by "progressives," and all others on the left, who don't hold "progressive" or "liberal" elected officials to account. The way she usually tells the story, such progressives are always too naive or stupid to know how badly they are being played. Like, they voted for Biden, a sure sign that they're out of touch with reality. Did I note, yet, that "acerbic" might just as well be Johnstone's middle name? She does not suffer fools gladly, and she sees those fools everywhere - even on what you might think she would recognize as her own team.

To provide one example, just to give you the flavor, a fairly recent posting proclaimed that "Biden's Iran Policy Is Just Trump's Iran Policy With A Rainbow Flag Emoji." Ok. Ok! I quite often find myself "almost" agreeing with Johnstone. You know, she often makes quite a good point - a point well taken and all that - but couldn't she just turn down the snark a notch?

Speaking of snark, Johnstone's contempt for electoral politics in the United States is pretty much unbounded. In a recent column, Johnstone says that "Electoral Politics Use The Same Containment Strategies As Alzheimer’s Facilities." In essence, Johnstone compares democracy to dementia, and finds them pretty much equivalent:

In a high-quality dementia care facility, confused residents who are at risk of unsafe wandering are skillfully redirected away from exit doors by staff members who are trained to provide them with the illusion of freedom while still keeping them in the safety of the care home. A propaganda-addled populace wandering around trying to find an escape from its oppressors is redirected in very much the same way.

If you’ve ever visited a loved one in a locked dementia care facility, especially near sunset, you know how agitated the people who live there can become. The impulse to wander and pace is very common, and depending on where they’re at cognitively they’ll often demand to leave the facility at once so they can go “home”.

When this happens, unskillful staff members will take an openly authoritarian position and tell the resident that they cannot leave and that the facility is their home now. This confrontational approach invariably leads to agitation on the part of the confused resident, because in their mind they really do live somewhere else and are being told they need to remain locked in a strange place that they have no memory of. This can quickly lead to a catastrophic response that is unpleasant for everyone, especially the resident in question.

A more skillful staff member will employ a very different strategy. Rather than engaging in futile attempts to persuade someone with severe dementia that they must stay and that their perception of reality is wrong, they will simply say “Ah yes, right away Mister Smith! Let’s go get you ready to leave.” They’ll take him by the hand, ask him if he wants dinner before he leaves, get him talking about his time in the army, distracting him from the thought of leaving and letting the memory loss do the work for them. In a few minutes Mister Smith is happily chowing down on mechanical soft meat and potatoes without a care in the world.

This technique, says Johnstone, is exactly the technique used by those who suggest that electoral politics is the way to deal with issues and concerns that are important and need to be confronted: 

That's how electoral politics works. The public will periodically become agitated at the way their wealth and resources are being stolen from them and spent on overseas wars, or the fact that they are deliberately kept poor and busy by a plutocratic system in which the relative wealth of the rich is given more political power by the relative poverty of everyone else, and they are redirected.

They are not told “No Mister Smith, you are the property of the oligarchic empire.” They are instead told by the skillful manipulators of the political/media class, “Ah yes Mister Smith, you can have everything you want! Just vote for the Democratic Party right over there!”

And just as the facility’s design intended, Mister Smith goes out the door to the Democratic Party, wanders around in circles for a while, then comes back inside without posing any inconvenience to the staff members who run the empire.

There is just enough truth in that comparison to make me a little bit uncomfortable, and that is the reason that I keep on reading Johnstone's writings. As a fictional 19th Century bartender, Mr. Dooley, was fond of saying, the job of a journalist is to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." 

Johnstone certainly knows how to do that!


Image Credit:
https://medium.com/@jamesrozoff/praise-for-caitlin-johnstone-f2d804fd4d14

Monday, March 1, 2021

#60 / Waiting



Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on February 22, 2021. He was almost 102 years old. The Kitchen Sisters produce award-winning radio shows, and knew Ferlinghetti personally. 

After Ferlinghetti's death, the Kitchen Sisters published an appreciation, by way of a copy of one of this poems, "I am Waiting." 

Aren't we all right there? Aren't we all in that same place, waiting, with Lawrence?

oooOOOooo

Here it is that poem, with thanks to Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva! 

I Am Waiting
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder



Image Credit:
https://www.kitchensisters.org/

Sunday, February 28, 2021

#59 / More On That "Green New Deal" Idea

 

On January 28th, I pointed out that not everyone is completely sold on the "Green New Deal." Of course, the oil companies don't like it, but I was talking about "sincere environmentalists." There are a number of such environmental critics, who express concern that our modern civilization will attempt to solve the so-called "climate problem" with the same kind of high-tech tools that we have deployed to deal with other social and economic problems, and that what is needed, actually, is something like "degrowth."

I ran across another article that makes a related point, with the focus being, in this case, on who might be expected to implement the "Green New Deal." 

Jack Delaney, writing in CounterPunch+, puts it this way: 

While a handful of elected officials recognize the gravity and push for a Green New Deal (GND) — that rightfully strives to curtail carbon-intensive economic growth — it must also be recognized that the GND is only an initial step. The GND hints at contradictions within the U.S. economy and outlines a transition to alleviate some of these contradictions, yet it is a mere jumping-off point and a framework that leaves questions regarding its implementation.

What are those "contradictions" mentioned by Delaney? What is he getting at? I will let him spell out his argument, himself:

The current mode of production and distribution — of private ownership motivated by unlimited growth and profits — is incompatible with ensuring the survival of humanity, serving the common interest, and staving off ecological collapse. To effectively limit the destructive tendencies of a system based on carbon-intensive growth, mitigate economic contradictions, and reverse course from impending ecological collapse, a bold conversation offering implementation with explicit class politics is urgently needed from GND champions.

GND supporters — Congressional, amongst the public, and media — must begin to look at how to achieve the resolution’s goals and consider the ideological framework of the GND’s implementation... As the clock ticks down and the urgency to correct climate change draws near, the GND’s future implementation cannot rely on rudderless ideological appeasement to the market (emphasis added). 

In California, arguably a bold leader in efforts to combat global warming, the promise of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 has been transmogrified into a so-called "Cap and Trade" system of "market mechanisms" that allow major carbon-emitting industries to pay money to the state, instead of actually reducing emissions that they could, technologically speaking, eliminate.

THAT is what Delaney is talking about. He is absolutely right!

In other words, we have a bigger job ahead of us than we might have expected. Not only do we need to rework our entire economic system, aiming to eliminate the combustion of fossil fuels by the earliest possible time, we need to rework our political and economic system, too, so that we don't let corporations transfer to the government their responsibility to make the maximum reductions technically possible. I am hoping that there will be a real effort, in California, to make that happen. 

We know what the alternatives are, if we don't succeed!




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/31/on-the-green-new-deal-nationalization-class-politics/
(2) - https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/02/03/2020-election-democrats-connect-california-wildfires-climate-platforms/4568185002/


Saturday, February 27, 2021

#58 / I'm With Joe

 

That is Joe Garofoli, portrayed above, for those who don't immediately recognize the picture. Garofoli is the San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer, covering national and state politics. His columns now appear on Sundays (replacing long time contributor Willie Brown). Garofoli has worked at The Chronicle since 2000 and in Bay Area journalism since 1992, when he left the Milwaukee Journal.

Garofoli's first Sunday column appeared on Sunday, February 7, 2021, and Garofoli used the occasion to "reintroduce" himself to Chronicle readers. I am not sure that this was strictly necessary, since Garofoli has been writing in the Chronicle for such a long time - even if it wasn't on Sundays. 

Nonetheless, reintroduce himself he did, and Garofoli's first column in the Sunday slot replayed his personal journey from Pittsburgh, to Milwaukee, to the Bay Area, and focused on how wonderful California is. Or maybe was, to be more accurate!

We defend California quicker and louder because we uprooted our lives to move thousands of miles to be here. We can’t understand why people would want to leave, because we believe with a convert’s zeal in the promise that California has long offered: This is the place not just to chase your dream, but to catch it. It is where you can be yourself and be with whom you choose to be with and say what you want, when you want and as loudly as you want. Unlike the places we left.

That’s why I moved here nearly 30 years ago. I believed all that. I still do.

So that’s why it hurts us converts more when California doesn’t live up to that promise. Like now.

Living the California dream is nearly impossible for anyone who isn’t already rich. Or, for the most part, white.
The dream isn’t attainable now for a skyrocketing number of residents who can’t buy a home or can’t afford rent unless they pack eight people into a two-bedroom apartment. It is a sham to people who shake their head at $12 grilled cheese sandwiches or wonder who would pay $7 for a shot of pressed juice....

While I wholeheartedly endorse these comments (and in fact wrote something rather similar in my blog post last Thursday, though my remarks were focused on my Santa Cruz hometown, not the state as a whole), what interested me most about Garofoli's first Sunday column was this statement: 

For the past five years, this column (and my accompanying podcast) has been called “It’s All Political” for a reason. Everything we do — and everything we hope to change — has a political element to it.

People can march in the streets in support of Black lives, but structural change will come only through political solutions. Yes, change starts in the streets. Nothing makes a politician move faster than the threat of losing a job. But lasting change doesn’t happen unless laws are changed.

Our political system may be broken, but I remain optimistic that politics can be the route to change. Because I’ve seen it happen just in the time that I’ve lived here (emphasis added).

Our problems are "political" problems. We "live in a political world." That is the way I put it, and Joe Garofoli says it this way: "It's all Political." 

Our political engagement can transform the realities to which we all too often defer, believing them to be inevitabilities. They are not. Whatever is the case right now, that we can change.

It's all political!

I'm with Joe on that.


Image Credit:
https://www.sfchronicle.com/author/joe-garofoli/

Friday, February 26, 2021

#57 / State Of The Empire

 

Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies have written, recently, about "The decline and fall of the American Empire." Their first job in this article is to convince American readers that their country has actually ever been an "Empire," since that isn't the way most Americans like to think about their country.  

Benjamin and Davies quote Republican Party political consultant Karl Rove as an authority, citing his boast that "we’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Perhaps more telling, they also quote our first president, George Washington. Still, Davies and Benjamin make clear that few Americans think of the United States as an "Empire," or concede that the country has any imperial ambitions. As they note, "post-World War Two Americans grew up in carefully crafted ignorance of the very fact of American empire." They note, as well, that "the myths woven to disguise it provide fertile soil for today’s political divisions and disintegration. Trump’s 'Make America Great Again' and Biden’s promise to 'restore American leadership' are both appeals to nostalgia for the fruits of American empire."

In other words, Benjamin and Davies suggest that Americans are in a state of denial about the imperial past of their country, while simultaneously having a deep nostalgia for what that imperial past included. Their bottom line? Give up on "Empire!"

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets.  
But now U.S. militarism and America’s economic interests have diverged. Apart from a few military contractors, American businesses have not followed the flag into the ruins of Iraq or America’s other current war-zones in any lasting way. Eighteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s largest trading partner is China, while Afghanistan’s is Pakistan, Somalia’s is the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Libya’s is the European Union (EU).  
Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies, closing doors to economic opportunity instead of opening them, diverting resources from real needs at home, and damaging America’s international standing instead of enhancing it. 
When President Eisenhower warned against the “unwarranted influence” of America’s military-industrial complex, he was predicting precisely this kind of dangerous dichotomy between the real economic and social needs of the American people and a war machine that costs more than the next ten militaries in the world put together but cannot win a war or vanquish a virus, let alone reconquer a lost empire. 
China and the EU have become the major trading partners of most countries in the world. The United States is still a regional economic power, but even in South America, most countries now trade more with China (emphasis added).

I think it's true that Americans seem to want it both ways. We don't want to admit to any "imperial" pretensions (it seems so "undemocratic"), but we do - or many of us do - want to be appreciated as the "greatest country in the world," and we do want our ideas of how the world should work to be accepted, generally, by everyone else. Conveniently, when other nations do that, the United States - or at least the corporations and the rich people among us - tend to benefit.

To me, the greatest contribution that Benjamin and Davies make in this recent article is their analysis of how United States militarism and military spending is an effective way to make sure that American influence will diminish on a worldwide basis. Rather than supporting the perquisites that go along with "empire," our unconstrained military spending is undermining everything.

Good point! Let's pay attention and make some budgetary readjustments!

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while America’s poverty rate has barely budged in 50 years and child poverty has increased. America still has the weakest social safety net of any developed country and no universal healthcare system, and the inequalities of wealth and power caused by extreme neoliberalism have left half of Americans with little or no savings to live on in retirement or to weather any disruption in their lives. Our leaders’ insistence on siphoning off 66% of U.S. federal discretionary spending to preserve and expand a war machine that has long outlived any useful role in America’s declining economic empire is a debilitating waste of resources that jeopardizes our future.  
Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” 
As our government debates whether we can “afford” COVID relief, a Green New Deal and universal healthcare, we would be wise to recognize that our only hope of transforming this decadent, declining empire into a dynamic and prosperous post-imperial nation is rapidly and profoundly to shift our national priorities from irrelevant, destructive militarism to the programs of social uplift called for by Dr. King.

Image Credit:
https://www.nationofchange.org/2021/02/03/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-american-empire/

Thursday, February 25, 2021

#56 / WEIRD

 

I have been reading a book that I am enjoying quite a bit. It is titled, The Patterning Instinct, and was authored by Jeremy Lent. The subheading on the title page is: "A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning." 

Well, I am always searching! It's looking like I am going to discover quite a bit of meaning right here in the book, too. George Monbiot, by the way, according to Lent's website, says that the book is "the most profound and far-reaching book I've ever read." Definitely a recommendation I'd take seriously, if I hadn't already taken the plunge. I am reading the book based on a recommendation by my friend Derede Arthur, who actually delivered me a copy to make sure I read it!

I was somewhat startled to find, on page 213, that our local slogan - Keep Santa Cruz Weird - may need to be reconfigured somewhat. As you can see from my shirt (perhaps still available from Bookshop Santa Cruz), people from Santa Cruz, and certainly including me, tend to glory in the idea that our community is just a little bit "weird." A little bit outside convention. A little bit "risky," even, willing to try new things, willing to push some limits. Let's keep it that way, too. That's what I think!

Lent, who is working on "the cultural shaping of our minds," has a different take on "WEIRD." It's an acronym, the way he uses it:

In the individualistic culture of the West, there is high value attached to being talented, taking care of yourself, and competing successfully in the marketplace. In East Asia, a "good" person may instead be seen as someone attentive to her own weaknesses, motivated by self-improvement, and emphasizing the values and needs of those around her. 
What should we make of these differences that have persisted through the millennia? One important implication is that many attributes that psychologists have believed to be human universals are really only true for Westerners, a relatively small portion of humanity. A group of researchers, pointing out that most psychology experiments are carried out on samples drawn from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies have memorably given this subpopulation the acronym WEIRD. People from WEIRD societies are, it turns out, frequent outliers in experiments conducted globally, and one of the least representative human populations (emphasis added). 
 
Well, if being "WEIRD" means to be "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic," my personal sense of our local community doesn't completely fit with the acronym. "Educated?" Well, I'll go for that. The University of California has really increased the educational level of our town. When I first got here, for instance, prior to the advent of UCSC, the only place I could find to buy a book was at the Greyhound Bus Station on Front Street, in one of those revolving, wire racks. "Democratic" also fits what I think of as a salient character of my community. We have made use of the democratic process to make huge changes during the last forty-five years, the years in which I have been here and have been involved in local public policy making. 

But what about "Western?" What about "Industrialized?" What about "Rich?" My son is a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine - and he is definitely not alone in that. I believe that there are, probably, more acupuncturists per capita here than in almost any other community in the United States. "Eastern" influences abound - and that is one of the things that makes us "Weird." Take a walk in the "Land of Medicine Buddha." How many communities have a retreat center like that?

"Industrial" influences are also not a defining characteristic of our community. Even Lipton Tea is no longer with us (though it was here when I first arrived). As for "Rich," we have always prided ourselves, in my opinion - and rightfully so - that you don't have to be "rich" to be able to live here, in one of the most wonderful places to live in the entire world. And yet we know that money is driving the non-rich out. That is certainly one of our top social and political problems. 

We are not going to be truly "Weird," in the way we always have been, if Western, capitalistic high-tech industry and industry workers move in, buy up all the housing, and by doing so compel all those who don't qualify as "rich" to leave. And like I say, that seems to be what's happening right now. We are becoming less "Weird" by becoming more "WEIRD," in the way that Lent's acronym plots it out. 

I generally advocate "democracy" as the recourse for all those who want to build, and sustain, a community worth keeping. Currently, we are mostly letting "the market" determine the shape and character of our community, and we won't be "Weird" for long if we don't fight back. 

When I came to Santa Cruz, the "market" guys wanted to build a convention center, high-rise hotel, a Rancho Del Mar-sized shopping center, condominiums and seven acres of blacktopped parking lots on Lighthouse Field. Everyone in positions of power thought that was going to be just great. But the community didn't actually support the plan. So it didn't happen. That was strange. We got involved. We changed what was assumed to be inevitable (and desirable). Later on, we stopped the conversion of prime agricultural land into condos, shopping malls, and car dealerships. Hardly anything like that has ever happened, anywhere else (go check out what happened to the so-called "Silicon Valley" as they knocked down the apricot trees). 

I have been pretty happy with how my community has never succumbed to that WEIRD combination that includes letting "industry" have its way, in order to make some people rich. We'd better watch out, though, if we don't want what is best in our community to be kicked to the curb by those espousing the "growth is the goal" policies that are oriented to helping those with the most to get even more.

My advice (and I wear it proudly on my shirt) is still good advice:

Keep Santa Cruz Weird (not an acronym)

 


Image Credit: 
Gary A. Patton, personal photo

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

#55 / [Don't] Speak Of The Devil



Megan Fluke (she's the one pictured at the bottom of this blog posting) is the Executive Director of Green Foothills, a grassroots nonprofit that is working to protect open spaces, farmlands, and natural resources in both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. 

Green Foothills' periodic newsletter is called "Green Footnotes," and in the Winter 2021 issue, Fluke wrote a nice column called "Lessons Along Our Equity and Inclusion Journey." As she said in her column, quoting environmental activist Leah Thomas, "the longer racism is not addressed, the harder it will be to save the planet."

The point of Fluke's column was to relay what she had learned from her participation in the American Leadership Forum's second diversity, inclusion, equity, and liberation affinity group. This is a group of ten nonprofit leaders who have dedicated themselves to achieving racial equity in the nonprofit world. In her column, Fluke presented the group's "Guidelines For Our Conversations," consisting of nine admonitory points: 

1. Center BIPOC voices

2. Put relationships first

3. Notice power dynamics

4. Create a space for multiple truths and norms

5. Be kind and brave and lean into discomfort

6. Show what you're learning, not what you already know

7. Allow for space.

8. Be okay not having the answers

9. Focus on our common goal 

I found this listing quite helpful, and was pleased that Green Foothills, a group I have long supported, and also a group that does such great work in our region, is taking so seriously the need to eliminate racism, root and branch, from every part of our lives. I particularly appreciated Fluke's acknowledgment that we need to do this systematically, both individually and in the organizations with which we are affiliated. It takes effort, in other words, to eliminate racism, and we need actually to work at it.

Fluke provided a brief explanation to go along with each one of her nine points. "Center BIPOC voices," for instance - Point #1 - means that "rather than 'empowering,' we should focus on listening to and following the leadership of Black, indigenous, and People of Color." This is good advice for white people who are serious about eliminating the racism that pervades our society.

"Create a space for multiple truths and norms," Fluke's Point #4, means "speak your truth and seek understanding of the truths of others that differ from yours."

I particularly liked Fluke's explanatory note on Point #6. That point, remember, is to "Show what you're learning, not what you already know." Fluke added the following advisory, to augment this rather easy to understand piece of advice, and what she said is valuable beyond providing a guideline on how to overcome the racism that continues to plague our society. In fact, Fluke's advice on Point #6 is more generally applicable to virtually all of our political discourse, and particularly to those postings which scroll before us on virtually all forms of social media: 

Avoid playing devil's advocate; the devil has enough advocates already. 


Megan Fluke

Image Credits:
(1) - https://theconversation.com/the-vatican-the-exorcists-and-the-return-of-the-devil-in-a-time-of-enchantment-92575
(2) - https://www.greenfoothills.org/team/


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

#54 / A Plot To Help Children



The title of Paul Krugman's February 15, 2021 column in The New York Times was "The Plot To Help America's Children." That sounds pretty sinister, doesn't it? Or, sarcastic, maybe? I think maybe "sarcastic," not "sinister," is what Krugman was shooting for. He wound up his column with this statement: 

What seems clear is that the real reason many on the right oppose helping children is that they fear that such help might make low-income families less desperate. And the very reason they hate this proposal is the reason the rest of us should love it.

Krugman points out that "Democrats seem ready to enact major economic relief legislation," and that the relief package being discussed will be big, "with a price tag probably close to the Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion." Most of that proposed relief will be temporary, but as Krugman reports, progressives are hoping that the legislation will provide some permanent assistance, too. Specifically, progressives would like to see enhanced aid to families with children enacted on a permanent basis. 

That's the "plot to help America's children" that Krugman is talking about. The plot would be to provide permanent assistance to lower-income families with children. Right-wing legislators are claiming that providing such permanent assistance would mean that some adults would choose to work less. Compassion, they say, is "counterproductive." 

Krugman doubts that more assistance to families with children would actually result in large numbers of parents choosing to work less. But let's suppose that were true. If it were, the end result would be that such parents would end up spending more time with their children. Given this possibility, and with right-wing legislators forecasting this result, I am reminded of a phrase I have always really loved: "You say that like it's a bad thing!" 

Parents spending more time with their children is not a bad thing! To the contrary. In fact, to generalize, compassion is never counterproductive. Compassion reflects the truth of our human situation. We are in this life together, and the more we can help others with their struggles, the better off we all are. 

A "Plot To Help America's Children?" I think that is just what we need!


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/15/opinion/child-tax-credit.html


Monday, February 22, 2021

#53 / Outdoor Living (In Santa Cruz, California)

 

The Santa Cruz City Council will consider an anti-camping ban on its February 23rd agenda. That's tomorrow, for those who may have lost track of time. The Council will be discussing the ordinance starting at 5:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday.

The ordinance proposed for adoption was dreamed up by the staff, not by our elected City Council Members, and it would redefine homelessness in beautiful Santa Cruz, California. It would do that by renaming the Chapter in our Municipal Code that currently relates to "Camping," and instead call the relevant Chapter "Regulations For Temporary Outdoor Living." Isn't that a nice name? I think the most suitable characterization of that proposed change in the nomenclature is "putting lipstick on a pig." Does the City Manager really think that he and the others proposing this ordinance can make it look beautiful?

Don Lane, a former City Council Member, has said that the proposed ordinance provides "Something for everyone… not to like." That is undoubtedly true. Judging by his blog post on the topic, however, former Council Member Lane does seem to like the proposed ordinance, all things taken into account, saying that a proposal to deal with homeless camping is "long overdue!"

At least three current City Council Members also like the proposed ordinance (it takes four to enact it). The Mayor (Donna Meyers) and Council Members Martine Watkins and Renee Golder have all endorsed the proposed ordinance in a staff memo sent to the Council. Astute observers will note that these endorsements of the ordinance by the group just named have all occurred prior to the Council Members hearing from the public. 

Let's be honest, though, Council Members, who cares about the public? Right? Who actually thinks that members of the public might have anything to contribute, or that their views might matter? In our contemporary city politics, the staff proposes and the Council endorses. It works for developers, after all. Whatever the staff recommends, the Council does it. Same thing here. 

Well, what do these "Regulations For Temporary Outdoor Living" actually provide? I think three aspects of the proposed ordinance are worth examining.

First, the proposed ordinance specifies where "Temporary Outdoor Living" is absolutely prohibited. That includes most private property, and twelve different "at risk" areas. You can consult the list of the "at risk" areas in which "Temporary Outdoor Living" is prohibited by reading Section 6.36.040 (a) of the proposed ordinance. Those familiar with the City will quickly understand that this list includes almost every place that homeless persons now camp.

Second, "Temporary Outdoor Living" is now going to be much more highly regulated. Not only would a homeless person have to find a place that is not completely prohibited by the ordinance, such a homeless person would also have to pack up his or her belongings, tents, sleeping bags, and personal property every day, between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. No tents or sleeping bags during the daytime, even if you can find a spot that is not absolutely and categorically prohibited in the first place. You can see why they're calling it "TEMPORARY Outdoor Living." You get to "live" only when you're asleep.

Third, it is important to look at the map to get a real sense of where homeless persons might be able to survive. If you click on this link, or consult the image below, you will see that there are large areas of RED. These are the areas in which "Temporary Outdoor Living" is prohibited at all times. Note that this includes virtually all the areas where there are at least some sanitary facilities that might be available to homeless persons. Specifically, the entire downtown area is off limits. 


Where, then, are homeless persons to go? Well, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. homeless persons are free to wander wherever they want. They just can't deploy any "Outdoor Living Paraphernalia" during those hours. When it's time to sleep, though, at 8:00 p.m., what then?

Here's where the proposed "Temporary Outdoor Living" ordinance gets really creative. "Nighttime camps" are alright - just not in the RED areas. But the proposed ordinance does recognize that people need to sleep - even homeless people. So, here is the code section [6.36.040 (b)(5)] that explains how this proposed system is supposed to work: 

For the purposes of allowing unsheltered people to sleep at night during times when shelters are full, except in cases of critical need (including, but not limited to, increased fire risk; blocking access to a home, business, or a parking lot of a building; blocking access to both sides of the sidewalk on one street; or blocking the sidewalk in a way that that causes pedestrian use of the sidewalk to not be maintained for at least one side of the street), City staff shall not, on City sidewalks, outside of those areas specified in 6.36.040(a) where Outdoor Living Encampments are prohibited at all times, enforce SCMC section 15.32.010 against persons experiencing homelessness, between the hours of 8:01 PM-7:59 AM. 


For anyone having problems with the legal syntax, this means that homeless persons are invited to find places to pitch their tents on residential streets throughout the City, including specifically on city sidewalks. No sanitary facilities or trash containers will be available in any of the locations in which such "Temporary Outdoor Living" is going to be allowed (from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.), but why worry? All those campsites will magically disappear at 8:00 o'clock each morning. What could go wrong?

In case you haven't already figured it out, what is being proposed is both unworkable and incredibly inhumane. Unless the City is actually going to do something that will address the human needs of homeless persons, which would have to include identifying some place in which a homeless person might safely remain, sheltered from the weather, during all twenty-four hours of the day and night, I'd suggest that the City not try to pretend that it's doing something positive, when it really isn't.

oooOOOooo

Here's a question: Do you think, if YOU were on the City Council, you'd like to hear from the public before endorsing a proposal that invites homeless persons to camp on almost every residential street in the City (from 8:00 at night to 8:00 in the morning)?

If you think that affected members of the public ought to expect that their elected City Council Members would want to hear from them before signing off on a plan to turn the sidewalks in front of their homes into potential "Outdoor Living" sites - i.e., into homeless tent spots, which is what is being suggested by the City Manager and the other City bureaucrats - then your name is obviously not Donna Meyers, Martine Watkins, or Renee Golder. 

You remember those names, right? Those are the Council Members who signed off on this amazingly unworkable and inhumane plan, without hearing from the public - and probably without even thinking about it. And remember.... those Council Members were elected to represent you!

You can communicate with the Santa Cruz City Council by sending an email to the general City Council email address: 

citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com

You can also participate in Tuesday's City Council meeting by following the instructions that are found right at the top of the agenda.

The homelessness crisis is severe. The remedy, ultimately, must come from bringing in resources from those who have resources. Any particular billionaires come to mind? Or, maybe we might ameliorate the crisis by redirecting funding that is going to less worthy causes. Any particular military adventures or military projects that you think might be less important than feeding the hungry and housing the homeless?

We, as a local community, should be using our political power and influence to work for real solutions, not trying to pretend we are doing something positive for our community by schemes like this lipstick on a pig "Outdoor Living" ordinance.

You can consider this blog posting as an editorial comment!



Image Credits:
(1) - https://capitalbooksonk.com/putting-lipstick-on-a-pig
(2) - City Map of Prohibited Areas


Sunday, February 21, 2021

#52 / Neoliberalism Versus Politics



Not everyone can provide a quick and accurate definition of "neoliberalism." If you think that you might have some difficulty doing that (as I certainly would), here is how Wikipedia describes the doctrine:

Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with economic liberalism and free-market capitalism. It is generally associated with policies of economic liberalization, including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade, austerity and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. 
Another definition and explanation of neoliberalism can be found by clicking this link. That will take you to the article from which I got the image at the top of this blog posting. 

As you will note from the cast of characters included in the picture, Adam Smith and Milton Friedman are two economists who are strongly identified with neoliberalism. Most of those pictured above, however, are politicians. I bet you can recognize them all. Politicians, more than economists, are the ones who have made neoliberalism into an actual thing. It's more than just some economic theory. Check out the policies listed in that Wikipedia definition. Neoliberalism is pretty much the sum total of of the policies that say how the world is currently being run.

The Guardian, the daily newspaper published in Great Britain, is a news source for which I have a great deal of respect. A recent article in The Guardian calls neoliberalism "the ideology at the root of all of our problems."

That word "ideology" caught my attention in the headline to the article, and then when I read the article, here is the statement that I found most thought-provoking:
 
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

"Citizens" may "consume," but their role is not defined by the fact that they do so. If "citizens" have been redefined as "consumers," then something has gone seriously wrong. Citizens are the active governing body of a democratic republic. In a representative democracy, citizens decide everything, and their democratic choices are not "exercised by buying and selling." 

In fact, letting "the market" decide what happens is the antithesis of democratic self-government. It is the antithesis of "politics." 

If you think that democratic self-government is a pretty good idea, and that we ought to get back to it, read up on "neoliberalism," and then determine that you will do everything that you can possibly do to escape from the ideology that is so clearly implicated in almost every one of our most significant social, political, economic, and environmental problems today.


Image Credit:
http://factmyth.com/neoliberalism-explained/

Saturday, February 20, 2021

#51 / Worst Films Ever

 

It is well known that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in LOTS more movie binge watching. Forbes, for instance, not only provides us with the picture above, but gives us this report: 

There was a lot of binge-watching of documentaries, reality TV and romance. Stories that took place outside the U.S. also saw some of the largest gains as viewers were stuck at home and isolated. Through entertainment, we sought love, escapism and connection with others.

Streaming movies as an escape from the realities of the pandemic lockdown? That is a real thing! Some have utilized the Hallmark channel, or have even punched the buttons for UpTV, trying to find some "feel good" movies in these dismaying times. While I am sure the "feel good" channels are attractive to many, Netflix has probably been the big winner in the lockdown competition. In April of last year, as the pandemic shutdown began, BBC News reported that Netflix had signed up sixteen million more customers. I was already signed up, and still am, but I like to think I can resist the siren call of streaming movies. Books, right? If you are bored and feeling restive, you could just read a book! I tell myself that, but I must confess that I am not immune from the urge felt by millions to escape the boring realities of our stay-at-home pandemic by losing myself in one or more of the rapidly expanding set of Netflix offerings.

Just yesterday, for instance, I advertised what I thought was a truly excellent movie, My Octopus Teacher. I found it on Netflix, more or less by chance. I absolutely recommend it. However, not all my selections have been winners. 

Blood Money, for instance (no longer on Netflix) might well qualify for a "worst films ever" list. The movie was made in 2017, and stars John Cusack, who does just fine. The movie, though (click for the trailer), is really not fine. Lots of money falls out of the sky, and greed prevails. The lust for money prevails over love and common decency, and you're not happy with the ending. At least I wasn't. Don't watch it! That's my advice. Consider this to be a public service announcement! 

Even worse than Blood Money is The Paramedic (El Practicante), which is described by Wikipedia as a 2020 Spanish thriller film. I didn't find it all that thrilling, and would characterize it, rather, as a portrait of an unrelievedly horrible person - horrible from the beginning, and horrible after he is turned into a paraplegic early in the film, and horrible when he is ultimately turned into a vegetable, pushed around in a wheelchair by a pregnant woman he has tortured throughout the film. Do you remember what I said about Blood Money? Double up for this one. If I haven't discouraged you enough, you can click this link for the trailer, but you should really make that trailer the last contact you ever have with this film. I mean it!

This is a public service announcement!


Image Credit:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/danafeldman/2020/12/10/netflix-allowed-us-to-escape-2020-at-home-in-lockdown-heres-what-the-streamer-says-we-watched/?
sh=caa85e31d2db


Friday, February 19, 2021

#50 / Octopus Teacher

 

On the first of February, my blog posting was titled, "Salp Help," and reported on a little-known sea creature, the salp, which Wikipedia tells us is a "barrel-shaped, planktic tunicate." Few people comment on my blog postings, but I did get a comment on that one. The comment summed it all up in one word: "Nice."

Well, let me recommend another nice way to get to know more about the ocean environment. I have recently watched My Octopus Teacher, a 2020 Netflix Original film directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed. The film documents a year spent by filmmaker Craig Foster forging a relationship with a wild common octopus in a South African kelp forest.

In one word (or maybe two): REALLY nice. Highly recommended!



Image Credit:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Octopus_Teacher


Thursday, February 18, 2021

#49 / What's In A Name?



I was pleased to see that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (pictured) have introduced legislation to recognize what they are calling a "climate change emergency." I learned that on Monday, February 8, 2021, from a news article with the following headline: "AOC and Bernie Are Teaming Up to Get Biden to Declare Climate Change a National Emergency."

I promptly posted the article on my Facebook page, to bring what I consider to be good news to the attention of my Facebook friends. I did feel compelled, however, to add a brief comment:

I, personally, prefer to use the term "Global Warming," rather than "Climate Change." Global Warming is the cause, and Climate Change is the effect. Still, I'll take an emergency declaration however it's denominated. A genuine emergency it is!
Talking about "climate change," instead of "global warming," has always rubbed me the wrong way, and for the reason just outlined. In thinking more about it, I realized that there is an even more significant reason to be clear that "global warming" is the fundamental problem. 

Human-caused global warming - "anthropogenic global warming," to use a more fancy name for it - is what is helping to put our human civilization in peril, and to drive what is being called the "Sixth Extinction." Part of the problem, of course, is related to "climate change." However, the phrase "global warming" puts the focus on those human activities that are causing the emergency, while speaking of "climate change" puts the focus on the inconveniences that affect us. When we use the term "climate change," then, the emergency is being measured not by what we are doing, but by how by how we are being affected. It's a way for us to escape thinking about our own personal responsibility, and to bemoan, instead, the problems that our changing climate is causing us.

It is "all about us," but we need to accept responsibility, not complain about the problems as though we were the victims, instead of the executioners. 


Image Credit:
https://www.vice.com/en/article/93wmq5/aoc-bernie-sanders-get-biden-climate-change-national-emergency