"So Goldman Sachs, the world's greatest and smuggest investment bank, has been sued for fraud by the American Securities and Exchange Commission... Much of America is going to reflexively insist that Goldman's only crime was being smarter and better at making money than IKB and ABN-Amro, and that the intrusive, meddling government (in the American narrative, always the bad guy!) should get off Goldman's Armani-clad back. Another side is going to argue that Goldman winning this case would be a rebuke to the whole idea of civilisation – which, after all, is really just a collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even when we can. It's an important moment in the history of modern global capitalism: whether or not to move forward into a world of greed without limits."
In my "spare" time, I continue to work on my long term project "Death and Politics at the End of the World"-- it's slow going and at times I wonder just what the point is. After all, when I write on my blog, I post it and it's there for all to see for all who care to see. Blogging is simpler- an essay here, a picture there- a public journal if you will. Hours are not spent choosing distinct phrasing or lyrical description- it is a quick way to communicate the blurbs of the mind and if one is a decent writer, it will appear somewhat thought out even when it isn't. My larger project, in contrast, can take me hours or even the entire day to work out a sentence, or a paragraph, if I am having a wildly prolific day. If I so chose, I could network and attempt to gather readers- twitter my day at work with tidbits of my witty wit to entice readers to the larger task that is call My Blog. Alas, I have none of the ambitions to be a blogging star nor is the limited format of daily posts really adequate to inspire my creative juices. But it is useful and fun and provides a format for topics which I am not really interested in writing an article about let alone a book. The title of my fiction piece however has a tone to it that relates to events that I felt compelled to comment on here on my blog-- even if it's posterity remains only in the Blogoverse.
In my fictional piece, death and politics meet the end of the world in a sometimes hilarious, other times dark and confusing, romp through Key West. The underlying thread that holds the pieces together is a Quantum gaze at what reality might look like IF Quantum physics were relateable in the non-quantum world. Metaphorically, that is. It is not, in any way, and attempt to recreate the scientific world of the quantum wildness. And to define what is being done in D & P is to put it in too a limited a sphere or in a defineable space. I am not sure I do it justice in the explanation. But to move on to the "real" world, death (or life or humanity) and politics combine to create a whole new weirdness that seems as unstable and undefinable as the quantum world itself.
Having worked in public schools, we talk at length about the education and the problems therein in our house. I have an In Progress blog that is linked at the top of the page that is dedicated to the subject of The Problems in Education. It will take some time to complete the essay because the problems are vast and deep and there are no simple solutions though we often try to say there is. I also spend some time writing and following the political landscape where healthcare and finance reform are the topics of the day. I occasionally dip a toe into pointing out headlines of abuse such as the headline about the elderly gay couple. But these topics seem to move past pale to white then luminesce when placed alongside the the issue of Global chaos and our environmental destruction.
As scientists continue to reveal data they've collected and the results they've obtained, it's clear that our planet is on a trajectory that is inconsistent with the Business As Usual attitude that continues to prevail. In fact it is inconsistent with the ongoing habitation of humanity in general. As water levels rise (one island has already made like the Titanic) and snow caps disappear, Earth Day and the modest changes that accompany it (for the day) seems like a dram of water offered to the beached whale. Way too little way too late. And proposals that are coming from Washington and the private sector (read: the All Good, All Loving, Corporate Hierarchy) continues to be largely symbolic over substantive change.
So on we go, sliding down the slippery slopes of no baby to throw out with any bathwater, our planet reminding us as often as possible that change is imminent and we are mere travelers here who may be cast aside and as extinct as Homo rhodesiensisat any moment. Add to that the compelling evidence that we are using up our planets resources (at least the ones we are capable of consuming). A military think tank has just released it's biannual report called the Joint Operation Environment (JOE) in which they discuss security threats on every level. In the report there is no doubt that we are headed toward an energy shortage. In fact it is a given that shortages are inevitable. Much of the information was, by all accounts, largely the same as the last report in 2008 EXCEPT the role that energy will play in defining how the military will plan for future operations.
Energy fuels more than our cars. We ship food, clothes, toys, makeup, materials for our homes, etc. As prices go up, we will have less and less. And all this coming at a time when Americans are making less and more of us are unemployed with no job creation anywhere near the horizon. In fact it seems that job creation is part of the civilian casualty in a changing economy. The report goes on to say,“A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity” (p. 28). To add to the urgency, it restates its 2008 warning, “By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD” (p. 29). This warning is consistent with others which have been issued during the past 18 months"The author of the review goes on to point out, the "two “next questions” which are as obvious as they are vital:- How might a global supply crunch affect oil exports? and- How can governments best prepare for and administer a liquid fuel emergency? Both issues require immediate and thorough examination, regardless of how close we are to peak oil."
Unaddressed by the reviewer but the basic point of the JOE in the first place is the dangling question of how the military will respond, both in preparation for such shortages and as shortages occur. It dawns on me, as I consider the very purpose of this document, that the military feels it is necessary to prepare for action on those fields which they feel might threaten American interests- whether foreign or domestic. American interests are deeply entrenched with where oil is and who might be competing with us for these Resources whether they be Iraq, Iran, Russia, China.... The initial plan will undoubtedly be to keep the baby fed. In other words, the plan will be to keep control of the oil for American consumption and I might add for the military. It is estimated that the military itself uses 30% of oil consumption in the U.S. Eventually, demand will exceed production and the reality IS that Americans are accustomed to consuming. We have become spoiled with a gluttony of just about everything we think we want. When shortages come, the disgruntlement we see among Tea-Partiers and the Militia of discontent will amount to more than a hill of beans to stir up further antagonisms among those who are less involved with politics but are more involved with their familial economics.
It seems that troubled times lay ahead and unfortunately most of us are ill prepared for the difficulties which lie in front of us- let alone the end of the world (at least as we know it).
The right-wing populism manifested in the movement is essentially the same old Social Darwinism that appeared in U.S. society in the nineteenth century.
April 10, 2010 |
Photo Credit: ajagendorf25
One thing is certain about this fall’s election: The field upon which American politics will play out is a populist one.
Populism has long been part of the American political tradition, dating at least to the political ascent of Andrew Jackson in the 1820s. Its appeal is deceptively simple. The details vary but populism’s basic, urgent message remains the same: The game has been rigged by a small group of powerful people, and something must be done. Now.
What makes the current moment so rare is that both left- and right-wing populism have surfaced at the same time. Which side’s message wins out may determine the trajectory of the next era in American political life.
With its recent national convention and the emergence of a de facto leader in Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement has sent waves of populist energy through the American electorate. The movement’s agenda is not yet fully formed, and it consists mostly of a vitriolic disdain for the Obama administration. Much work lies ahead in terms of developing its message, logic, strategy, tactics and constituency.
But if the Tea Party is a young movement finding its footing, its ideological underpinning is old indeed. The right-wing populism manifested in the movement is essentially the same old Social Darwinism that became a kind of sacred truth in American society in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Father of modern conservatism
Modern American conservatism formed in the early years of the Cold War, when New Deal liberalism seemed triumphant. Though it has many tributaries, the mainstream movement consists of several core ideas: that societies are ordered in classes based on divine intent and/or personal responsibility; that property and freedom are inseparable; that markets should be unfettered from government regulation; that traditions must be adhered to for social stability; and that societies should evolve slowly.
All of modern conservatism’s founders articulated these principles in their writings. Perhaps the most influential work in conservatism’s late-twentieth-century ascent was Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative, published in 1960. But one of the original progenitors of contemporary social and political conservative thought—William Graham Sumner (1840-1910)—is nowhere to be found in lists of modern conservatism’s canonical texts. The reason is simple. His philosophy is so harsh and reactionary that to embrace it openly would be political suicide. Nonetheless, his ideas are everywhere in the right-wing populism that has gained ground during the last year.
Sumner believed that the fundamental law of the universe was survival of the fittest. So progressivism or socialism or any ideology that aimed to “save individuals from any of the difficulties or hardships of the struggle for existence” was pure folly. Like today’s right-wing populist revolt, Sumner’s brand of Social Darwinism propagated an unabashed but seamless defense of two groups that would seem to be at odds: the Captain of Industry and the Forgotten Man.
For Sumner, both of these figurative “men” had more to fear from the paternal state than they did from each other. Take the Captain of Industry. For Sumner, society depended on the creation of individual wealth; thus, social advancement for all depended on the financial abilities of the few. “If we should set a limit to the accumulation of wealth,” he wrote, “we should say to our most valued producers, ‘We do not want you to do us the services which you best understand how to perform, beyond a certain point.’ It would be like killing off our generals in a war.”
Sumner believed hereditary wealth was a product of the laws of nature as well, and he defended it vigorously. Since the millionaire and his offspring were responsible for enriching their communities through their wealth production, personal wealth had to stay in the family. To do otherwise was a state-sponsored assault on personal liberty.
But if Sumner strongly defended the wealthy, his defense of the Forgotten Man—who prizes liberty, not wealth, above all—was equally fervent. “It is plain enough that the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman are the very life and substance of society,” he wrote. “They are the ones who ought to be first and always remembered. They are always forgotten by sentimentalists, philanthropists, reformers, enthusiasts, and every description of speculator in sociology, political economy or political science.”
A free man in a free state had only one major duty, according to Sumner: “to take care of his or her own self. That is a social duty.” If one could not take care of oneself, that was of no consequence to others.
Sumner believed that the causes of poverty were misunderstood and the policy of state intervention was deeply misguided. Social welfare through state intervention replaced the survival of the fittest with the survival of the unfit. And that was disastrous for civilization.
The road to Sarah Palin
The New Deal was about many things, but at its core it sought to rearrange the relationship—formed in the Gilded Age of the late-nineteenth century—between the government, the Forgotten Man, and the Captain of Industry. With the help of an economic crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt convinced Americans that government intervention was necessary to curb the Captain of Industry’s greed and irresponsibility.
Over the last four decades, conservatives have successfully mounted a counter-argument to this New Deal narrative. The key to their success has been Sumner’s Forgotten Man, the same mythical figure that Tea Partiers have been fighting for. The left underestimates the power of their grievances at its peril.
In the world according to Tea Party protesters, poverty is not about the structural deficiencies of capitalism; it is about personal idleness and extravagance. Welfare is not about alleviating poverty; it is about doing away with a government handout that breeds dependency. Gay marriage is not about “equal rights”; it is about government telling you what values you should be compelled to uphold. The estate tax on the super-rich is not about the fair redistribution of wealth; it is a final assault—a “death tax”—on the liberty of the dearly departed.
In their world, the Forgotten Man and Woman are constantly (in Sumner’s words) “threatened by every extension of the paternal theory of government.” This is the logic of Sumner’s Social Darwinism. Its broad appeal lies in an elegant simplicity: government always crushes the individual’s liberty.
Combating Social Darwinism
Conventional wisdom holds that Barack Obama is not a natural populist, that this cerebral former law professor doesn’t know how to push populist buttons. That may be true. But Obama understands that for decades the American public has been fed a steady diet of Sumner’s Social Darwinism. Today, fewer Americans trust government than at any point in modern history—and this is after a financial meltdown. Making the case that government can be trusted to stand between the Forgotten Man and the corporate raiders who caused this mess is not easy. After a year in which the discussion turned on government intervention in many aspects of American society, it was only a matter of time before we saw the return of Social Darwinism.
Despite Americans’ lack of trust in government, Obama and his supporters should take comfort in two things. First, whether or not they believe that government actually works, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that government should solve big problems. The doctrine of “mind your own business” is so far out of the mainstream today that few could imagine government not involved in social welfare programs like education and healthcare. The era of big government is here to stay.
Second, those New Deal policies that were directed at FDR’s “forgotten” men and women eventually created the biggest middle class in the history of human civilization. Though it has lost ground, the middle class is also here to stay. Defeating Social Darwinism means framing every policy decision around that class. Doing so will require more left-leaning populism from this president. (emphasis mine) He must persuade Americans that all the taken-for-granted fundamentals of modern middle-class life—healthcare, home mortgages, college education for the kids, etc.—are jeopardized by the power and greed of the new Captains of Industry.
To move the country forward, in other words, Obama must learn from the battles that FDR fought in the 1930s. Today, the stakes are just as high and the challenges are just as great. There is hope to be found in this fact: FDR’s successes created the most prosperous three decades in American history. Obama can do the same. But where there is a way, there isn’t necessarily a will. Time will tell.
With the release of 'The Tudors' Showtime has reignited a long held fascination with one of Britain's most significant monarchs Henry the Eighth. While the show is not intended to be a historical reenactment by any means, it nevertheless attracts viewers who enjoy high drama in any time period, others who may have a passive interest in history but love nicely put together TV mini-series or even the actual history buff who simply loves historical reenactments and are willing to forgive it's transgresses into the less-than-historical. (For my part, the show is a combination- but the sexual tension- and sex scenes- of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn was by far the best part of the show).
Capitalizing on this renewed interest, Alison Weir puts a more intense spotlight on one of the women in Henry the Eighth's life who held perhaps the most controversial role of any woman in Britain's history. That woman is, of course, Anne Boleyn.
Coming to the topic with a great deal of study and expertise (she's written two other books on the Tudor era), the author comes to her subject as no plebe. Her sources are often primary- at least as primary as one can get on a woman who was highly politicized and motivation is generally suspect- and where secondary sources are used, they are generally scholarly studies of the period. At times her scholarship takes leave and allows a chuckle, for example her query into whether one woman who had suffered under the same malaise as Anne Boleyn had been beheaded because she actually was a witch! Otherwise her seriousness and attendance to detail befit the academic world she appears to be addressing. And sometimes addressing directly (and with the same dryness, I might add). Midway (in the book, not the island) she hits her stride and the reader is compelled by the final days of the queen and the five men who met their death alongside her to continue turning pages.
Having, perhaps, nothing new (what is there really "new" to say about a woman who has been dead over 400 years?) to say concerning the life and times of the second wife of the Eighth Henry in general, she telescopes the final days of Miladies life between the accusations of adultery and treason mid April to the detaching of head from neck May the nineteenth. A busy and tumultuous time for the Queen one doesn't doubt, yet the inconclusivity in any direction makes one wonder why she spotlights this particular period in the queen's life when there are other questions that remain unanswered. For example, in discussing the motivations and intrigues of the accusations and eventual demise of the woman, her relationship to her husband is frequently referred to, yet never described with enough detail to be convincing. The same would be true of her relationship to Cromwell. To analyze this small passage of the lady's life means neglecting history which leads directly to motive which leaves the reader feeling as though they have walked into a film in the final moments of it's conclusion. If the author's sole intent was to assume a scholarly argument for the academic world alone, then she has succeeded splendidly. But if she is writing for the laypersons edification, then she has left readers with a sketchy sketching at best.
Having waited with bated breath for the long awaited opening of the remake of "Clash of the Titans" I am pleased to announce that it is NOW IN THEATERS!
After pushing past throngs of people waiting for hours for their own first peak of the Grecian epic, we were seated in prime seats -not too close, in the middling for optimal sound quality, and front row of the section so there weren't any heads to bob around. A few talkers during the neverending Trailers threatened to cause discontent but they managed to keep their traps shut once the film began.
The opening sequence of the show was superfluous and it seemed the filmmakers thought so too. The conception and birth of wee Perseus was handled later in the story but the filmmakers thought for some bizarre reason they needed to show how loved and well-adjusted the future savior would be. In an odd moment that took up valuable screen time, the pre-teen Perseus sits on the ship with his adoptive parents (oh, his arrival into their lives was very Mosaic--- they pulled him right out of the waters of a bobbing casket- of course his dead mother was inside- ewww!- unlike the biblical myth) and glances troubledly at his adopted mum. His father, oh so moved by his son's discountenanced countenance, asks what is bothering him and sits amiably by his side as Perseus explains his feelings, his fear of being cast aside by his parents when the child his mother is carrying is born. "Not true, Perseus," his father denounces, "You'll always be our own true son... " or something to that effect. It wasn't really worth seeimg, let alone remembering so I could quote it accurately. If the four people who exited the film unceremoniously at the beginning of the film had left at that moment, I might have been tempted to follow them. But fortunately that was a short-lived touchy-feely moment.
Now on with the show!
Our hero's epic adventures begin because the rebellious sheeple decided they didn't need the gods anymore (just like the Haitians). At this point, Hades, played by Ralph Fiennes (whom I love but does anyone else see the resemblance to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?)...
sees an opening and gets Zeus (Liam Neeson) to let him unleash the hounds of hell, the Kraken, on the ungrateful wretches. I mean after all, Zeus created them so if he wanted to play fast and loose with their women and their lives, then that's his prerogative, right? And they should just live their miserable lives and be happy for it!
But I digress...
Gathering his Band of Brothers, a woman, (who adds the feminine touch and reminds me a bit of the female tokenism of Arwen in 'Lord of the Rings' movie) and a duet of hunters who will "kill anything" Perseus heads out into the wilds. Their purpose is no small one for they are on their way to save the King's daughter from being hung out to dry as an untimely virginal sacrifice to the Kraken.
Moving quickly through the time-space continuum (who has time to waste when there are three blind hags to interrogate, Medusa to behead and the Kraken to kill? Not to mention Hades henchman who immediately tries to waylay them and winds up complicating things by sprinkling blood in the sand which turns into giant scorpions?) the group quickly finds themselves in trouble (and that's Trouble with a capital T).
Showing themselves to be broadminded ancients with a liberal bent (clearly future socialists!), the group even adds an interspecies member to their numbers that puts Star Trek to shame-- not just raised eyebrows or strange ears but actual Woodlike creatures who live in the dessert and quickly control the rampaging scorpions before they can eat our christ-figure for lunch AND then giving the journiers a ride on to their next destination. Nothing like hitching a ride on a giant over-sized scorpion to take the sting out of Mediterranean rush hour traffic jams!
The story moves along at a gallop (or with the wings of Pegasus if we're going to stick with the Grecian theme) which might leave a more complicated story in the wake of it's tail, but the original tale was fairly sparse on detail so the director could romp off from one action packed scene to another. The computer graphics were not too troublesome and I certainly didn't miss the 3D effect our neighbor's down the corridor might have been tortured with. As I mentioned there were several obvious rip-offs from other films, not the least of which was a Star Wars-ish sword which had been given to Perseus from Zeus. Why the magical sword had to appear and disappear light sabre-style is beyond me and the Kraken looked like it might have escaped from New York after the filming of Cloverfield was over... but the out-of-syncrities didn't detract from the general enjoyability of the film. There were even some nice moments of homage to it's thirty-something predecessor. All in all a good time was had by all-- for the most part.
(And just for full disclosure- there weren't many people in the theater at all. We had our choice of seats!)
Robert Reich wrote on his blog @ http://robertreich.org/:
"The Fed has finally came clean. It now admits it bailed out Bear Stearns – taking on tens of billions of dollars of the bank’s bad loans – in order to smooth Bear Stearns’ takeover by JPMorgan Chase. The secret Fed bailout came months before Congress authorized the government to spend up to $700 billion of taxpayer dollars bailing out the banks, even months before Lehman Brothers collapsed. The Fed also took on billions of dollars worth of AIG securities, also before the official government-sanctioned bailout.
The losses from those deals still total tens of billions, and taxpayers are ultimately on the hook. But the public never knew. There was no congressional oversight. It was all done behind closed doors. And the New York Fed – then run by Tim Geithner – was very much in the center of the action.
This raises three issues. First, only Congress is supposed to risk taxpayer dollars. The Fed is not part of the legislative branch. Its secret deals, announced almost two years after they were done, violate the democratic process, if not the Constitution itself. Thomas Jefferson put a stop to Alexander Hamilton’s idea of a powerful central bank out of fear it would be unaccountable to the public. The Fed has just proven Jefferson’s point.
Second, if the Fed can secretly bail out big banks, the problem of “moral hazard” – bankers taking irresponsible risks because they know they’ll be rescued – is far greater than anyone assumed after Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations bailed out the banks. Big banks will always be too big to fail because they know the Fed will secretly back them up if they get into trouble, even if Congress won’t do it openly.
Third, the announcement throws a monkey wrench into the financial reform bill now on Capitol Hill, which gives the Fed additional authority by, for example, creating a consumer protection bureau inside it. Only yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) blasted the Dodd bill for expanding the Fed’s authority “even as it remains shrouded in secrecy.”
The Fed has a big problem. It acts in secret. That makes it an odd duck in a democracy. As long as it’s merely setting interest rates, its secrecy and political independence can be justified. But once it departs from that role and begins putting billions of dollars of taxpayer money at risk — choosing winners and losers in the capitalist system — its legitimacy is questionable.
That it chose to reveal the truth about its activities during a week when Congress is out of town, when much of official Washington and the Washington media have gone on vacation, and only after several federal courts have held that the Fed must release documents related to its bailout of Bear Stearns, suggests it would rather remain secret than become transparent.
Much of what Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner did (when Geithner was at the New York Fed) in 2008 was presumably necessary. But the public has no way of knowing. The public doesn’t even know who else the Fed has bailed out, or what entities it will bail out in the future. All we know is the Fed secretly bailed out Bear Stearns and AIG and thereby subjected taxpayers to risks that remain even today, without informing the public. That’s not a record on which to build public trust."
Can anyone say "Corporate Control" or "Who really writes the rules?" This isn't an April Fool's joke either sadly.