Archive for June, 2012

Analysis Of Benefit

June 24, 2012

            Moyers and Company had the usual suspects on last night. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone was on for his perspective of The Scam Wall Street Learned From The Mafia. Yves Smith concurred with views expressed in her latest book Econned. More grounds for appeal by the Occupy folks. The second half of the program was a conversation between Moyers and one of his peers: Peter Edelman who just released his So Rich, So Poor filled with statistics, charts and graphs and 8 x 10 glossies showing the stagnation and perpetration of lower wages, poverty level existence in the midst of incredible wealth. The rich get richer while the poor remain – poor, and grow in number. More fodder for Occupy. Of course, spanning the half century of study and involvement that these two old warriors contributed, the big picture, the long term solution was the only focus. Can anything be done? In the late fall of 2011 the Republican Governors Association was instructed in the manipulation of language to further the conservative agenda in the face of (at that time) growing Occupy influence in the economic conversation. Frank Luntz promoted seizing control by using “free market” instead of “capitalism”, “careers” instead of “jobs” (what happened to that one? Romney certainly isn’t promising careers for the unemployed!), “job creator” over “entrepreneur”. Just as the conservative solutions of mandatory jail sentences to be tough on crime, and waging “war” as a solution to addiction proved unsustainable and counter productive, we need to stand up and insist on fairness, transparency and economic justice when the “redistribution of wealth” is denigrated by political aspirants. The emphasis needs to be on what applies to and improves our country over the long haul, programs and policies that cultivate growth and sustenance. So recommended Peter Edelman. Moyers rhetorically asked how this is possible when we live in a society, an economically obsessed culture, where immediate returns and outcome determine policy/program decisions (whether last quarter showed a profit or not). In the face of what Taibbi and Smith presented, and Edelman confirmed, the short term outcome of any resistance or argument for alternative will always be deemed ineffective. And there’s the rub.

            Recently, a small group of loosely affiliated individuals intent on calling attention to the corrosive influence of big money on government and politics, exposing this inequity, this lack of transparency and justice within a constitutional democracy, found itself in disarray. By definition, this disparate group was filled with various interests and demands symptomatic of big money’s reach; be it environmental issues, lack of housing, pervasive hunger, etc. What fragmented the unity of intent that initially made up this community was not the plethora of interests but rather the insistence on efficiency, on projecting limited resources and membership exclusively on the basis of what would be most effective. No one noticed or recognized that such an approach, such methodology is precisely the same methodology and operational schema of that which the group was challenging and seeking an alternative for. As Moyers pointed out, the capitalist business emphasis is increasingly on instantaneous gratification, on what is most effective at showing a profit in the immediate or past quarter. This small group of patriots, intent on exposing the disastrous consequences of such a “get rich quick” approach on the good of our country, embraced the mode of operation, the very standard (of effectiveness and efficiency) that it wished to critique. Is it any wonder that such methodology produced eventual fragmentation? Insisting on short term effectiveness and efficiency in the face of long term major overhaul is a recipe for collapse. Trying to compete, let alone competition with late term capitalism, is like trying to out swim sharks. Swimming is what sharks do. Competition is what capitalists do. If the alternative is cooperation and consensus, the analysis of benefit cannot be founded on effectiveness and efficiency.

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Fracking Is Not The Issue

June 15, 2012

            A recent Newark Advocate article (Ohio’s Top Geologist Demoted Following Shale Map Concerns by Russ Zimmer June 13, 2012) flies neatly under the radar like the latest stealth aircraft. Ostensibly, its connection with the controversies surrounding the shale energy gold rush in eastern Ohio is what made it newsworthy. Careful reading indicates it quietly tells the tale of a public employee within shouting distance of 30 years of public service being chastised for not getting it right when it comes to serving the public (even though his job “appraisals mostly were unblemished”). What did he not get right? After nearly 30 years of service (with good performance appraisals), it couldn’t have been the “serving” part. It must have been the “public” part. “Public” must have changed since Reagan’s first term, when this fellow’s employment began, and what is the worldview today.

            Re-reading the article within light of the state’s (and county’s and city’s) current management emphasis on public private joint ventures and the hurried introjections of private business “consultants” on boards of public regulation and policy, it is no wonder the poor fellow didn’t get it right. Just the minor side reporting on the state’s joint venture with Cargill and Morton resulting in a law suit over price collusion on the sale of salt back to the state from whence it originated in the first place is as confusing as the Nixon years (just think of the possibilities with the energy produced by Ohio shale!). Who is the “public” identified by public service? The recent Supreme Court Citizens United ruling joins a new voice to any karaoke selection of Woody Guthrie’s great sing-along, “This land is your land. This land is my land.” And that voice comes from “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law.” (Chief Justice Marshall’s identifying definition of a corporation, Dartmouth vs Woodward 1819). How could it not sound hip, with it, so totally today?

            And what is private, private enterprise or business? The fracking brouhaha that placed this “private” human interest story in the news originally (making it “public” news) is all about water, public water, and whether private entities “existing only in contemplation of the law” are entitled to the same public access as, well, the public. How many public employees are demoted, promoted, placed on leave, laid off or fired every week without the notice that even newly acquired Realtor membership receives? The Advocate of late has been all full of reporting regarding the new gold rush, jobs to be created, the energy independence, the wealth lying deep below the ground, the disgruntled tree huggers, canoeists, bird watchers, and whether or not the MWCD and cities along rivers are within their jurisdiction to deal in water with “artificial being[s], invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law.” A curious insight is that there has been no reporting on the various private sand and gravel mining operations located throughout the Muskingum watershed. There are a lot, both active and defunct. Both contain enormous quantities of “privately” owned water which they are free to sell (and do). Then again, with the state’s (and county’s and city’s) emphasis on public private joint ventures, if the eastern part of Ohio were blessed with a sandy coastline, these quarries wouldn’t benefit from the sale of sand to private energy companies either.

            The Citizens United ruling redefines all of the previous identifying definitions of public, such as public hunting areas, public fishing areas, public recreation, public health, public transportation, public airwaves, public roads, public waterways, etc. It gives access to and entitles “artificial being[s], invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law” all the rights previously reserved for flesh and blood, mortal entities. The esteemed authors of “We, the people” would have embarrassed themselves if they had bothered with an identifying definition since it would have involved flesh and blood entities, of gender, color, origin and background- tangible, visible, real beings existing in time at the time (and, in too many cases, owned as private property). No, fracking is definitely not the issue. 

 

Mitt Romney As Reality TV

June 13, 2012

            Marketing a political candidate is an enormous industry, currently one of the bigger job creators in the US. It is a story in itself, a covert activity, usually estranged if not outright divorced from the candidate her/himself. What candidate dares to betray association with the little guy pulling all the levers and pushing all the buttons behind the curtain creating the great Oz?

            C.S. Peirce is quoted as saying “it is the belief men betray and not that which they parade which has to be studied”. The incumbent of any political office betrays belief constantly due to the spontaneity with which the office holder must meet the various unforeseen contingencies the everyday presents.  Presidents have to deal with everything from some idiocy by low rank military personnel, to “too big to fail” economic bankruptcy, foreign crisis and internal staff disgruntlement (throw in weather calamities for good measure). All this while likewise trying to market themselves as right for reelection. We see it every four years. The challenger, on the other hand, has none of this to contend with. Short of outright betrayal by acts of infidelity or corruption, challengers are free to script the contest to their advantage. There’s an uncanny resemblance between the present challenge for presidential election and the slew of “reality” TV entertainment available with the touch of a remote. Like political incumbents, reality show competitors also face obstacles and conflicts. However, these obstacles and conflicts are much as Sartre described the portraits of the bourgeois in Nausea- attempting nothing that already, ahead of time, wasn’t assured of leading to a successful outcome in the first place. And so the focus is on “how” the political challenger meets these obstacles, not on any spontaneity or contingency that might imply actual risk or campaign failure. More so, it is totally and knowingly for audience consumption, making the “live mic” gaffes all the more titillating and promotional (belief betrayed and not paraded!). As with all good marketing, the packaging is the product (when was the last time you “saw” the potato chips before you opened the bag?). From predetermined start (usually some myth creation, currently grandparents make for a good beginning) to anticipated end (imagine day one of a future presidency) the packaging is the show, edited selectively to edify, entertain and satisfy the viewing audience (“In America’s small towns, you don’t find despair—you find boundless optimism. We know we can make America better, and that is why I am running for president.”). Anyone hearing “I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message” knows it means another reality TV show is now on again.

Wisconsin Recall

June 6, 2012

Last night I had a dream about reality.

It was such a relief to wake up.

Stanislaw J. Lec

 

            Last night I actually did have such a dream. It was as though a sentence had been imposed, a curse. The fellow in the dream was to live his life within the identical same context as his former had been, only without the history. In this case he was involved with some rural activity and found himself within a farming community where the various folk were identical to those he interacted with previously, only he had no historical handle, no myth with which to have a connection (i.e. a co worker was a different physical entity, yet the job and relationship were as before). His only connection to them, and they to him, was his function, their interaction. So while functioning with them, he couldn’t (or didn’t) animate them with any stories or background, no shared experiences or memories. The functioning and interaction was matter-of fact, with the all encompassing (enshrouding?) pall of “who are these people? What am I doing involved with them? Shouldn’t there be something more, something significant in our interaction?” Everything was done as it ought to be done, as it was meant to be done, by definition in terms of how things function, as though according to a mathematical description of a function. Yet it was likewise totally and completely meaningless. What more, to even ask that it have meaning was meaningless for there was no history, no myth with which to relate it to, connect it to, by which to reference it. People acted with each other, within the functions we have grown accustomed to, that are taken for granted, that we have all come to expect. Yet there was no reason to be had for any of it. What was even worse, there was nothing exchanged within the interaction; as though it is really history and myth that are all that can be exchanged, the only things possible or of value, the exchange of which constitute the only sustenance of meaning. It was such a relief to wake up.

 (From the archives inaugural blog posting October 25, 2009)

Citizens United

June 4, 2012

            Here in the US, when the Citizens United ruling first came out, there was a huge brouhaha over the enormous influence that money would play in upcoming elections. The Occupy movement seized on this Supreme Court decision to further emphasize the imbalance and inequality of American governance. It seemed that the only thing the news and information media could concern its self with was speculation on what impact all of this would have on life in these United States. Tsk. Tsk. And like last week’s long term weather forecast, all this has had no bearing on, gives no account of how today is experienced. Today the news is different. Occupy is where? Citizens United, like the gay movement, was simply big money coming out of the closet. It had always been present in American politics and governance. Now it is not considered impolite or shocking to encounter it or discuss it.

            Occupy has been closeted. Citizens United has had much more far reaching and undermining effects than simply how elections are run and paid for. Big money not only determines candidacy and issues, but discourse. Occupy has disappeared not because people are no longer involved, but because the big bucks plied into purchasing votes is spent somewhere. And that somewhere we all witnessed with the Rupert Murdock Sky News extravaganza in Britain. Media is out to profit from its corporate control of information (and that includes you newly wed Mark Zuckerberg, gatekeeper extraordinaire of the internet). If the ever shrinking sources of media stand to benefit so significantly (and so continuously) from the political Wimbledon pairings of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Romney and Obama, it only stands to reason that what doesn’t pay, doesn’t play. And so Occupy has vanished.

            A more insidious infection disseminated by the Citizens United ruling is the unobserved, and (now) impossible to be publicly noted, perversion of language. All of the match ups in the upcoming political games will liberally (conservatively too) make use of such terms as citizens, individuals, people and their families. I don’t know of a single corporate structure (for profit or not for profit) that doesn’t pride itself on being family. And now with Citizens United they are people too, as well as citizens and individuals. Individual liberties, people free to pursue their interests and passion, families secure in their communities, and citizens taking back control of their country (and government) can now likewise be read, be heard as corporate liberties, corporations free to pursue their interests and passions, corporate enterprise being secure in its surroundings, and corporations controlling their country and its governance. In the final appeal (which in this country is the Supreme Court), corporations are people. Citizens United confirms this identity relationship. Unless some political aspirant specifically mentions mortals of a limited biological lifetime, or flesh and blood human beings, it is pretty safe to assume that she or he is talking about where the money comes from when speaking of people, families, individuals or citizens.