Friday, December 24, 2010

Chris Hedges, Marx and Climate Change

Okay, the day before Christmas is probably not the ideal time to be writing an important blog, I shouldn’t have announced it, but since I did, I’m posting it.

In The Death of the Liberal Class Chris Hedges faults the liberals,  i.e, the Democrats, for not resisting the siren calls of access to power or the seductions of the media.  He believes, as do I, that failure to respond to popular discontent will result in a right-wing revolt, as it did in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

“That this revolt will be funded, organized and manipulated by the corporate forces that caused the collapse is one of the tragic ironies of  history.  But the blame lies with the liberal class. Liberals, by standing for nothing, made possible the rise of inverted and perhaps soon classical totalitarianism.”

According to Sheldon Wolin, whom Hedges quotes, “inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader.  It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state....The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism (neither replace decaying structures with new revolutionary structures (nor) offer a radical alternative. Corporate power purports to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution, but (it) so corrupts and manipulates power as to make democracy impossible.”

Climate change is inseparable from inverted totalitarianism.  According to Hedges, the failure of the liberal class that it ‘sought consensus and was obedient when it should have fought back.  (It)continues to trumpet a childish faith in human progress.....the naive belief that technology will save us from ourselves.” The liberal class assumed that by working with corporate power, it could mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism and environmental degradation. It did not grasp, perhaps because liberals to not read enough Marx, the revolutionary and self-destructive nature of unfettered capitalism.”

I commend Hedges for using the M word without being openly or insidiously derogatory. Due to the extraordinary staying power of McCarthyism, Marx’s insights about capitalism and imperialism - however badly Soviet-style regimes turned out  - have been unable to penetrate the minds of well-meaning intellectuals.

Another thing I am grateful to Hedges for, is his recognition that Americans see themselves as a good people, and do not understand why the rest of the world sees us, at best, as dangerous. “American society, although it continues to use the traditional and sentimental iconography and language to describe itself....bears no resemblance to its self-image.  Corporate forces, whether in Copenhagen or the U.S. Congress, ignore the needs and desires of citizens” - not to mention those of the rest of the world.

Recognizing that corporate interests will not be defeated through elections,  Hedges offers several grim alternatives.  As the author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning , he comes out squarely against those in the anarchist movement who argue for violence. While admitting that there are times when humans are forced to respond to repression with violence, he warns that “when you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you.”

Personally I have long been convinced that Obama was allowed to enter the White House in a tacit agreement with the Clinton Democrats that he not upset the apple cart.  According to Hedges: “The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance.  It was a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite.  We mistook style and ethnicity - an advertising tactic pioneered by Clavin Klein and Benetton - for progressive politics and genuine change.  The goal of a branded Obama...was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience.”

One of the most interesting comments in this work full of illumi-nating passages, is that “our passivity is due in part to our inability to confront the awful fact of extinction, our own inevitable mortality or that of the human species....We prefer illusion.” Predic-ting a global collapse Hedges believes that the only way to survive it will be by building small largely self-sufficient, self-contained com-munities with access to sustainable agriculture. But he warns: “As climate change advances, we will face a choice between obeying....the corporations and rebellion.” Civil disobedience and the systematic breaking of laws will be the new radicalism.

Finally, Hedges espouses another idea I have expressed in A Taoist Politics: Moral acts should be carried out not because they are effective, but because they are right, and I thank him for providing me with the hefty rationales of the Catholic Workers Movement for that principle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chris Hedges is Right!

Chris Hedges’ new book The Death of the Liberal Class should be mandatory reading for anyone who hopes that activism can still make a difference.  It is probably the best of his books, the work of a mature mind and a disciplined pen. When the book club I run read Empire of Illusion, published in 2009, its members accused Hedges of not providing solutions to the problems he exposed.  This time he does, and they are brutal.

Identifying hedonism, fear and distrust as the weapons of choice of a system that is too far gone to save, he faults the liberal class for having identified itself with power that is determined to ‘recreate the world through violence’.  In a powerful indictment of the media, academia and government officials, he describes the ‘Freudizing of society’: The belief that if our individual repressions can be removed - by confessing them to a Freudian psychologist - then we can adjust ourselves to any situation, and the world would no longer need to be changed.

Hedges harbors a particular - and justified! - animosity toward the press, which reduces news to ‘facts’, allowing the public’s emotions - which determine how they think -  to be manipulated by surveys and polls, where labels, celebrity gossip, angry rhetoric and syndicated columns replace local reports, town debates and other forms of popular expression.

Hedges traces the demise of committed journalism in the early twentieth century, noting how the shift “from hatred toward ‘the Hun’ to hatred toward the Red was seamless.” (Early propaganda tied communists to the German war machine, much as, today, the Tea Party lumps Communism and Fascism together.)

Those of us who criticized the right for lumping liberalism and socialism can learn from Hedges analysis of its evolution:

“The liberal class - buoyed by the rise of an independent press,  militant labor unions, workers’ houses, antipoverty campaigns, and the rising prosperity of the country bequeathed by the industrial revolution - embraced institutions, and especially the state, as tools for progress. This created a new form of liberalism that departed from ‘classical liberalism’. While the two belief systems shared some of the same characteristics including a respect for individual rights, the new liberal class was and remains distinctly utopian.’ It places its faith in practical state reforms to achieve a just society... (whereas) classical liberalism was colored by a healthy dose of skepticism about human perfectibility.”

Hedges’ disdain for intellectuals who have chosen to work within the system is boundless. He explores the influence of the Social Gospel movement, which he obviously admires as a former seminarian, and some of the best parts of the book are devoted to Dorothy Day and the movement she founded,  Malcolm X, and King who, according to Hedges, was much farther to the left than is commonly believed.

I interrupted this diary for lunch, but Hedges’ book provided a template for understanding the news on Democracy Now running on my computer: today, Wikileaks revealed U.S. pressure on European countries as well as the European Union itself to eliminate the barriers to genetically-modified seeds, and Amy Goodman’s guest scientist described laboratory studies on mice that vividly illustrated the corporate/government nexus that Hedges’ excoriates in his book. How to be surprised that out tax dollars allow our diplomats to strong-arm the rest of the world into buying Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, even if they cause cancer and other damage to humans? In the same broadcast, various peace and pro-Palestinian activists told of getting ‘a knock on the door’ at seven a..m. from FBI agents armed with subpoenas to appear before a grand jury, or with authorizations to search their homes and cart away boxes of documents. One of them referred to the visitors as ‘the thought police’, because these activists are being investigated for their opinions.

I will return to Hedges’ book tomorrow. It is too long to accommodate my preference for writing relatively short posts, but I want to get this out: Hedges’ warnings that it may be too late for anyone to reverse the tide may strike some as exaggerated, but there is not a single point that I disagree with.

Tomorrow: Hedges talks about Marx and climate change.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bricks no Longer Refer to Dollars

With all the excitement over what the Lame Duck congress would or would not vote on or pass, a significant event has gone unremarked:  China and Russia, two of the four countries known as the BRICS  (Brazil, Russia, India, China), have begun to conduct their business in Euros rather than dollars.

I believe it was about two years ago the Vladimir Putin first mused publicly that the dollar was no longer suited to be the international currency and that it should be replaced by the euro.

Lately, there has been a lot of noise about China’s refusal to revalue the yuan.  Does this mean our financial experts have taken their eye off the ball, or that they believed they could indefinitely bury the news that two major players now prefer the euro to the dollar?

Every time I turn on a news channel I hear weighty discussions about the financial crisis, and every nuance of opinion as to how it may evolve.  I also hear about competitiveness, jobs being outsourced and a myriad of other considerations regarding the financial situation.  I’d like to hear someone opine on the likelihood of the euro replacing the dollar as the international means of payment across the board, as ever more countries take their cue from China.

That, rather than Senator McCain’s rants about DADT, would appear to be more relevant to United States security.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Apologies, Apologies - and a Question

Before anything else, I must apologize to Jullian Assange for identifying him as a Swede, and to Liu Xiaobo for identifying him as a ‘Chinaman’.  The first occured because Mr. Assange looks Swedish and doesn’t have an Australian accent.  Although I KNOW as well as anyone, that he’s Australian, the idea for the blog came to me as I was waking up, and somehow the half-asleep picture stuck.  As for Mr Xiaobo, I had no idea the word Chinamen was politically incorrect. Using the word ‘Chinese’ as a noun just doesn’t sound right to me, but I will henceforth.

Now that I have that embarrassing incident behind me, I have only one comment to make today and that is: Will not removing nuclear sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait be invoked by Iran to justify its on position on nuclear research for peaceful means?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Chinaman, the Cuban and the Swede

Almost simultaneously, a Chinese writer and activist, Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize, angering the Chinese government; the Cuban dissident, Guillermo Farinas was refused a Cuban exit visa to receive the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Jullian Assange was arrested in London for leaking damning American military and diplomatic cables. This is at once striking and in need of clarification: the peace prize and the free speech prize can be said to reflect the overall primacy of American interests on the part of the Nobel and the European Union. But one must suspect much more than that in the charging and arrest of Assange.

As I wrote in a previous blog, it is hard to believe that two Swedish prostitutes, knowing Assange’s work, would report him for failing to take an HIV test, unless prompted by the CIA. Secondly, I do not believe that a social-democratic Swedish govern-ment would do the United States’ bidding by extraditing Assange to face espionage charges that carry a threat of death.  But right now, Sweden has a Conservative government....

Back now to the remarkable coincidence: Farinas was and Liu is in jail in their respective countries for campaigning for human rights.  Assange is in jail in London for publishing communications thought to reveal military and diplomatic secrets involving the United States. I see these events as one more example of the common ground shared by rulers. These three men are speaking out against the politics of their country:The policies of the Chinese and Cuban governments, which affect mainly Chinese and Cuban citizens, are treated in the same way when denounced, as the policies of the American government that affect people worldwide. The fact that all governments use every means at their disposal to prevent the citizens of the world from disseminating unpalatable truths indicate that the leaders of the world not only use the same tools, but agree among themselves as to conduct they will tolerate from the planet’s inhabitants.

The good news is that citizens around the world are beginning to take matters into their own hands. As governments scramble to act to limit information emanating from Liu, Farinas and the highly organized Wikileaks, they must also combat the dozens of loosely organized grass roots groups that converged on Cancun, Mexico, last week for a U.N. follow-up conference on climate change.

As happened a year ago in Copenhagen, thousands of people who made the trip from around the world were cordoned off in an area far from the site of the official conference, with U.N. and Mexican employees ‘just doing their job’ of preventing activists from being heard.  (You can see this by watching the videos from on your computer.)

Not only do individual rulers stand together against the ruled, the United Nations, largely funded by the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, knows which side its bread is buttered on. It’s time for someone to start a campaign to elect Lula Ignazio da Silva, Brazil’s outgoing presi-dent, as the new Secretary General of the United Nations.  As seen on last Sunday’s 60 Minutes , the life-long activist and trade union leader explained his success with Brazil’s business class: “Do the obvious, which no one ever thinks of.”  In Lula’s case, that meant, for starters, paying poor families a stipend on condition they send their children to school and for vaccinations. This program reduced poverty by almost 30% during Lula’s first term as president.

The international community can go one of two ways: it can continue to bail out the leaking world boat with one had while clamping handcuffs on dissidents with the other; or it can reorganize the United Nations so that it becomes, effectively, the embryo of a world govern-ment, with the vastly increased powers to effectively deal with climate change and local conflicts.

The myriad people’s organizations that are endeavoring to serve as a shadow world government must unite to put Lula in the Secretary General’s chair. Ban ki Moon’s term will end on December 31, 2011, and there had never been a Latin American Secre-tary General. It’s time, and no political figure on the world scene enjoys the respect and popularity of Lula, a man who has proved he can get the rich to help the poor.

As long as the U.N. is the descendant of the organization sketched out by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1942, that was intended to maintain colonialism on the part of the great powers, it will not serve the needs of the twenty-first century, when colonies have given way to warring states, all of whom, whatever their form of government agree on one thing: dissent is to be suppressed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

John Boehner, Poster-child of Republican Indignation

John Boehner’s life story is all over the media now that he’s about to grab the House gavel. Boehner cries when he gets emotional, and one of the things he’s most emotional about is having reached the pinnacle of power, after ‘chasing the American dream” all his life. Watching him reminisce with Leslie Stahl on Sixty-Minutes last night was revealing for more significant reasons.

The genesis of Republican resistance to taxes was spelled out for us with each word. We know it in our bones now wonder why blue collar Americans voted the Republicans back in power, why some actually resent the health care bill.  They hope to achieve what John Boehner did.

Up from hard-scrabble, next eldest of twelve children who start work in their father’s bar by ten, Boehner served during Vietnam, but was discharged because of a bad back, worked his way through college for seven years, (no money from Dad with eleven other kids to feed), and got his first job in a small business company, which he eventually bought out.

Now comes the key point: as a businessman, Boehner gradually started making a decent amount of money; we don’t know how well or badly he paid his workers, let’s assume he was fair-minded because he knew where they were coming from; but he surely thought that being the owner meant a lot more money to take home. Finally. So when he looked at his first income tax return, he flipped: What?!  All that money to the government?  I’ve been working since I was ten, attended mass every morning, put myself through college, worked hard, played by the rules, and now I’m supposed to give my money away???!

A Democrat until then, Boehner promptly joined the Republican Party.  After all, what did government have to do with his achieving the American dream? He worked for what he got, his parents slept on a fold-out couch, the twelve kids were like a mini-army, each with his task, in a one-story house with two bedrooms.

It wasn’t only his family story that formed Boehner’s outlook: his typical Catholic public education gave him a patriotic view of American history (as opposed to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States) and a cursory view of the Others, out there. It instilled the idea that we must defend the pursuit of happiness.  Not some French revolu-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      tionary idea of liberte egalite fraternite that leads to mob rule, the storming of the Bastille, and the tumbrels to the guillotine. Here we respect power, the pinnacle of the American dream.

Here it’s every man for himself: the roads, the trains, the water-mains, are God-given. If it requires a few dedicated souls to defend our borders, they should do it gladly, like the Boehner kids helped out in the bar, because God gave us this land, it’s ours and we should be proud to defend it. The citizens being defended will hand out a few coins on Saturdays to the ones who also behaved, didn’t ask questions.

A few coins is all the Republicans are ready to give. They work hard for their money: the ones clever enough to get to Wall Street work hard figuring ways to make greasing the wheels for entrepreneurs like John Boehner benefit them too.

Figuring things out is work. Government employees just follow orders, sit in cushy offices shuffling papers that complicate the lives of the rest of us. Let them get out and hustle, that’s productive, that raises the GNP. Then they won’t always be raising taxes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

By Request: About No-Growth

A Daily Kos reader asked me to say more about a reference in my last post to no-growth:

The idea of no-growth is big in France, and probably other European countries, where people are familiar with Marxist theories.  I see it as a kind of up-dating of Marx.

Two books that are available here are Farewell to Growth by Serge Latouche, at Polity Press and Ecologica, by Andre Gorz, at Seagull.

People like David Korten, the publisher of Yes! magazine and author of several mass market books on the economy, have not yet reached the point where they realize we need a no-growth policy, but they offer intel-ligent solutions for reforming the present system.

I believe the case for no-growth on a global level is the only sane solution to the ecological and energy crisis.  Andre Gorz, while a bit less immediately accessible, provides a very compelling argument based on the idea that the important thing is not who owns capital but what is done with it.  He also explains why ‘capitalism’ as an economic system requires growth, to the detriment of humans and the planet.

Arguments that have been taking place for some time between the United States mainly, and the developing world, center on leveling the playing field: we would ‘have’ less, so the rest of the world could reach a reasonable level of development.  We are, in fact, overdeveloped; we produce far too many things that no one spontaneously needs, but are foisted on us by advertising.  With a limit to how much the country’s population can consume, war becomes a necessity, to guarantee the return on capital.  See also, Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules about that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Imagine! Cyber Wars INSTEAD OF Battlefields

In a belated salute to John Lennon, imagine we stop all death and destruction involving humans and duke it out on computer sites.

Hail to the hearty hackers who’ve taken on the powers that be in the only way they understand, by preventing them from move money around so that it rains one day and snows the next on the rest of us.

Wikileaks has been a long time coming  - at least since the days of McCarthy, when the American press was disabled for life.  All our precious sources of information, from The Nation, to In These Times, to Mother Jones etc. cannot do one tenth as much to move the world off dead center as the gzillions of leaked cables that put our noses in governments’ secrets.

My friends say: diplomacy is about lying and secrecy. Pace Machiavelli, it’s also supposed to be about solving mutual problems.

The most significant thing about the leaks is the extent of arm-twisting, blackmail, threat, and downright setting-up of allies by a United States bent on ruling the world to the everlasting glory of capitalism and imperialism.

Compared to what goes on behind our backs, at least the Somali Pirates are in the open. It’s time more people realized that each downtrodden group will use the weapons it has - and that they are right to use them since most of what is hurting them is taking place behind their backs - see no evil, hear no evil, don’t ask, don’t tell on a planetary scale.

Three cheers for the British students: there are too many highly educated people to fill the jobs capitalism has created for them, but a better way to avoid having an army of overqualified people is to cut the work day in half, meeting the climate challenge half-way by a hard left to a policy of no-growth.

Cancun’s follow-up to last year’s Climate Conference in Copen-hagan, was intended for no-show presidents and prime ministers, and consequently ignored by the world press (except for Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, it seems). Indigenous people did show up and were restricted to obscure locations, far from the crowd that wasn’t there.

A salute to the murky dealings brought to light by Assange and his cohort - heroes all - and to all those who have found new weapons to fight the darkness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is it About Assange's DNA?

The effort to entrap the founder and chief mischief maker of Wikileaks appears, on the surface, so ludicrous, that it must be part of a well-thought out plan, which can, I believe, be discovered by considering the recent leaks:

American diplomats are asked to obtain all sorts of apparently irrelevant information from everyone they meet, credit card numbers and DNA being the most obviously shocking.

Can’t you just see the CIA hatching this plot? Offer Assange a couple of women, get his DNA from them, and, to cap it all off, have him arrested for sexual molestation on the excuse that he didn’t wear a condom! (This is against the law in Sweden.)  The charges enunciated today by BBC online (which to my knowledge has never mentioned the Swedish law or its infringement by Assange, tut, tut!) appear to be typical legal ways of describing one and the same act: one count of rape, one of unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation.

I’m not an investigative reporter.  I hope those qualified in this domain will follow the lead - or leaks - to discover what the CIA plans to use people’s DNA for: that’s sinister.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Assange’s ‘Crime’: See Wikileaks Revelations

I wanted to write this yesterday but a manuscript took precedence. Too bad for my reputation as seer.

Can anyone aware of the revelations on U.S. behavior doubt that Assange is being framed?  Today it turns out that one of the women who ‘accuse’ him of having sex without a condom has ties to the FBI.....

Can anyone believe that a modern Swedish woman would wake up after sex and denounce her partner instead of insisting on protection before?

You'd think the government would worry about looking ridiculous by hatching such a stupid plot. But the leaked evidence of its activities all over the world against all sorts of individuals, simple citizens or leaders, suggests it will never learn.

The question is:  Will we?

P.S. To find out what’s happening at the Cancun Conference on Climate Change, which most news organizations are boycotting, watch Amy Goodman on your computer at  The U.S. is not participating: too busy  chasing Assange no doubt.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Peoples are Angry, the Kings are Weak and the Princes Circle the Wagons

The Peoples are Angry, the Kings are Weak and the Princes Circle the Wagons

The only way to approach the current buildup of conflicting events that risk ending in worldwide catastrophe is by telling it like it is: a fairy tale.

Not the people of one country or one king, but the peoples of the world are, for their separate and related reasons, all angry: in most place they take to the streets: in the United States having been taught that their only recourse is the ballot box, the majority have been left powerless by the 2010 election.

The Kings rule the world under various titles: President, Prime Minister, First Secretary of a party, Mullah, Ayatollah: they know why the People are angry, but can do nothing about it, for they have ceded their power to the Princes.

The Princes are CEOs, Sheiks, Army Generals and Drug Lords, who either possess or manipulate the world’s weapons, ranging from explosive devices to drones. They circle the wagons being ostensibly driven by the Kings, waiting for them to fall from the driver’s seat.

In the United States, a minority of the People work to topple the Kings from the drivers’ seats, believing the Princes will be better rulers.

Other minorities come together in large groups around the world: Copenhagen, Cancun, Detroit, Rio, particularly in the annual World Social Forum usually held to coincide with the G8 or G20, the liberal economic forums attended by Kings and Princes.

The Kings and Princes keep warm inside fortified castles, while the people in the streets wrap themselves in the new weapon: solidarity.