Anonymizing the System

sweet_talk Americans are well and truly conditioned not just to hate and avoid politics, but also to fuck it up when they wander into it.

Take the rapidly growing “Growth Must End” trope among the technocrats and vaguely frustrated liberals who now serve as leaders of what passes for an environmental movement. It’s a case-in-point.

True enough: Growth must end. And the green activist world is certainly chock-a-block now with such calls. But have you noticed? The “no more growth” harangues almost never mention the c-word: capitalism. Instead, they muse about “our culture” and the supposedly all-powerful pre-suppositions of academic economists. As if we can avoid conflict with the powers that be, and sweet-talk our way to a decent future.

In my opinion, we do not have time for the purely tune-in, turn-on, drop-out strategy implied by the existing “let’s stop growth” crowd, even granting that one is even conceivably possible in this TV-mediated capitalist dictatorship.

If we don’t acknowledge that capitalists are far and away the main force behind growth, we will lose this race, or never even start it, IMHO. Stopping economic growth is a matter of high politics, not personal attitudes. It is not going to happen without the creation of a sharp and radical and honest social movement pushing for profound, collectively-managed social reforms.

lscap BTW, yesterday, I saw a very hip looking chap leaving a Starbucks for his car holding two beverages in paper cups with plastic lids. On his head? A cap with a cute whale logo saying “Live Simply.”

To my eye, the state of that common persona speaks volumes about the limits of waiting for the great drop-out.

A Headline Worth 1,000 Words

moneybagsU.S. Firms Build Up Record Cash Piles

Under that headline, The Wall Street Journal reports this:

U.S. companies are holding more cash in the bank than at any point on record, underscoring persistent worries about financial markets and about the sustainability of the economic recovery.

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that nonfinancial companies had socked away $1.84 trillion in cash and other liquid assets as of the end of March, up 26% from a year earlier and the largest-ever increase in records going back to 1952. Cash made up about 7% of all company assets, including factories and financial investments, the highest level since 1963.

And, of course, this:

The comfort of having cash on hand, though, comes at a high price companies may not be willing to pay for much longer. They are earning almost no interest on their holdings of cash, making it more difficult for them to achieve the returns shareholders typically expect from them. That will put pressure on companies to pare down the cash holdings eventually.

“Stockholders don’t want them to keep sitting on cash at a zero return,” said Paul Kasriel, an economist at Northern Trust. “They’re going to use it,” either to increase hiring and investment or to make payouts to shareholders in the form of dividends or share buybacks, he said.

Wanna bet which one it’ll be? Didn’t think so:

Earlier this week, retailer Target Corp. raised its quarterly dividend to 25 cents a share from 17 cents, saying that the company’s cash holdings were “well above the amount needed for optimal reinvestment in our core business.”

How fortunate for everybody that we love free markets and don’t begrudge people getting rich! And that we have a president who knows how things work, and that “Ultimately, true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector.”

The Unfolding of the Obama Fraud

obamapreach

Adolph Reed, Jr. has never been fooled by Barack Obama:

He’s a vacuous opportunist. I’ve never been an Obama supporter. I’ve known him since the very beginning of his political career, which was his campaign for the seat in my state senate district in Chicago. He struck me then as a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him. I argued at the time that his fundamental political center of gravity, beneath an empty rhetoric of hope and change and new directions, is neoliberal.

This has been confirmed ever since Obama chose his cabinet, and the reality just keeps getting repeated by Obama himself. The neoliberalism (not my favorite word — I prefer plain old “capitalist,” or even “market totalitarian,” both of which are less confusing and more penetrating) is an article of faith with this empty vessel/mainstream Democrat.

First, there was the recent “We believe in capitalism; we believe in people getting rich” Profession of the Faith.

Now, it’s quite literally church-time.

And the head preacher’s core message is the same old tired, outdated, utterly disproven one that capitalists and their minions always preach: capitalists need more money.

This claim has been around for ages. In Das Kapital, Marx ripped into its expression as the early 19th-century businessman’s dogma known as Say’s Law.  A century later, when the dim war criminal Ronald Reagan took office and began fronting for corporate capitalism’s Great Restoration, “Say’s Law” was repackaged as “supply-side economics.” Ever since then, as Big Money has enjoyed unbroken market-totalitarian conditions, all “serious” politicians have had to pass this litmus test. Even if they don’t openly preach “supply-side economics,” each aspiring “major” leader must adhere to capital’s insistence that the one and only possible cause of economic problems within capitalism is insufficient money at the top, in the hands of the overclass.

Think Obama sees through this sociopathic mantra? Think again. Here is what he is now preaching to us from in front of stained-glass windows:

And since the problems we face are all working off each other to feed a vicious economic downturn, we’ve had no choice but to attack all fronts of our economic crisis at once. The first step was to fight a severe shortage of demand in the economy. The Federal Reserve did this by dramatically lowering interest rates last year in order to boost investment.

How do you combat a severe shortage of demand — i.e., the lack of buying power among the masses of ordinary product-purchasers? That’s right: You make sure the investing class has more money! Then they’ll…

And there’s the rub. The obvious problem is that the rich are too rich for their own good. Capital, as it usually does, got what it asked for, and now it is too powerful. The overclass has, once again (think 1873-1893 and 1929-1940), won its own poker game.

As a result, there are really only two possible ways out of this New Depression: 1) the temporary fix of a new round of credit-cards for the commoners, or 2)  major economic reforms plus a big new dose class-struggle-from-below.

Alas, Obama, for all his supposed smarts and “community” compassion, is unable and/or unwilling to understand this, being the social-climbing mainstream Great Restoration/market-totalitarian politician that he is.  He simply ain’t gonna do it, folks, no matter how much pain he has to pretend to feel.  Like all good New Democrats, he will choose ignominious defeat over opening the slightest crack toward questioning the system.  Just listen to him.

Despite the continuing complacency of his entranced supporters, Obama is proving, as Reed has long argued, that he’s 100 percent hopeless in this core area of our collective conundrum. He is indeed a vacuous neoliberal opportunist.

I have the strong feeling that 2010 is going to look a lot like 1994. And God only knows what we’ll get in 2012, if people don’t rise up and fight this corporate bullshit…

Cultural Consequences

snake

Since they lost the ability to appeal to racism, rightists have appealed to culture to explain why blatant unfairness isn’t really unfair.

Now, to be sure, the concept of culture they use is hardly different than the old racial saws: When you press a reactionary for his/her definition of “culture,” it turns out to be “the way people are,” i.e., the allegedly native, pre-social qualities of specific groups.

This, though, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cultural dimension to human affairs. People do absorb sticky habits from extended collective experiences, and those habits can and do turn around and affect what people do next.

Thursday, the Pew Charitable Trust released a study that provides a paint-peeling proof of the real power of accumulated experience. In “Findings from a National Survey & Focus Groups on Economic Mobility,” Pew reported that, despite the times, ordinary people in the United States continue to mis-frame and mis-understand their chances for “economic mobility”:

Nearly eight in ten (79 percent) believe it is still possible for people to get ahead in the current economy. This remains true even among lower-income, less-educated and unemployed Americans. Such consensus is striking given that a near-unanimous 94 percent of Americans describe the current economic condition of the country negatively.

Americans remain optimistic about the future—a 72 percent majority believes their economic circumstances will be better in the next ten years. This optimism crosses party lines and demographic groups. African Americans are the most optimistic (85 percent) compared to whites and Hispanics (71 percent and 77 percent, respectively).

Seventy-four percent of Americans believe they have at least some control over their own economic situation, while only 43 percent think that other people are in control. By a 71 to 21 percent margin, Americans believe that personal attributes, like hard work and drive, are more important to economic mobility than external conditions, like the economy and economic circumstances growing up.

Personal attributes such as poor life choices and too much debt were the top explanations given for downward mobility.

Although previous research by the Economic Mobility Project has found considerable differences in economic mobility by race and gender, respondents ascribed relatively little importance to their impact on mobility (15 percent and 16 percent, respectively). Further, the Economic Mobility Project’s research found that there is a strong relationship between parents’ income and children’s adult income. However, coming from a wealthy family was among the least important factors that respondents cited (28 percent).

By a 71 to 21 percent margin, Americans believe it is more important to give people a fair chance to succeed than it is to reduce inequality in this country. Each demographic subgroup, including those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, concurs with the majority on this issue.

It’s no surprise, of course, that this familiar ideological package still holds sway. After all, this is the core topic — the dynamics of class inside the domestic “homeland” — on which the commoners simply must remain addled, in this, the flagship nation of market totalitarianism, the most heavily indoctrinated, commercialism-and-TV-penetrated society in human history.

How many times, even in recent months, have you heard the basic facts about class?

The real sources of wealth?

The deep imperatives and limits of corporate capitalism?

Now compare those zeroes to the number of times you’ve experienced the “anything is possible in America” diversion?

It’s still no contest out there, folks…

The Bonfire of the Retail Vanities

The above two images [click them for a larger view] are of the row of shops across the street from the law office where I work.

From left to right, here is the list of these oh-so-vital service-providers:

Sofa – Table – Chair, upscale furniture boutique

Wishing Well Floral & Gifts

Bone-Jour, gourmet dog food bakery (I’m not making this up!)

Miss Meers, women’s “Sex and the City”-style shoe boutique

Sit Still, haircuts for toddlers

Spoiled Rotten, upscale children’s clothes

Aqua Nails Bar, purveyor of manicures and pedicures

Seeing this string of shops, you have to wonder pretty hard about the future of this society.  This is the stuff for which we allow our overclass to continue closing factories and dictating the technologies and terms of “our” supposedly non-negotiable way of life?  This is the bedrock of an economy?