Thursday, July 30, 2009

August: Peace, Shanti, Wa Salaam, Shalom

Images by Eleonore Weil

David Seaton's News Links
Some of my readers may not be aware that southern Europe shuts down in the month of August.

Great cities like Paris, Rome, or Madrid, where I live and work, are deserted in August except for the tourists.

Many years ago, in my painter days, I spent two Augusts in Madrid painting exhibitions scheduled for October. It was a perfect way to get a lot of creative work done.

I was totally alone: no one I knew was in town, there was nobody to call, nobody to see, nothing to do, except work...

No distractions, most bars and restaurants closed, the streets deserted, no traffic.

A city of nearly five million people: a ghost town shimmering in the Castillian heat.

Almost everyone is on vacation.

Employees here get one full month vacation a year, with a vacation bonus of an extra month's pay (there is another bonus at Christmas too, they call this the "
catorce pagas", 14 paydays) and almost everyone takes (or is forced to take) their month off in August.

Those, who like me, are free lancers, self-employed, with many irons in the fire, are simply unemployed in August and must make provisions throughout the year for this unpaid vacation.

This year, as I usually do, I am going up to spend August in a cabin I have in the
Guadarrama mountains. We have solar electricity, running water (if I choose to run up the hill from the well with it) and the high mountain valley where it is situated blocks cellphone reception.

Internet? LOL.

Peace, Shanti, Wa Salaam, Shalom.

Deer, wild boar and assorted reptiles abound in the surrounding forest and, since it is common grazing land, there are free range cattle wandering through it and even wild horses that roam free in the woods until the spare stallions are caught and sold for their meat.

Eagles, hawks and giant vultures circle, glide and swoop through the cloudless, blue skies.

There, during the month of August, I will --
si Díos quiere, Inshallah, God willing -- lie, sit, sprall, under a tree and read and read and read and also block out some ideas for a book I'm going to write -- si Díos quiere, Inshallah, God willing.

So, this will probably be my last post till September.

I always feel bad about this because every time I take a month off, some faithful readers drift away and don't come back.

But for those who like what I write, I promise -- si Díos quiere, Inshallah, God willing -- to be back full of piss and vinegar and fresh ideas in a month's time. DS

PS. To decorate the page for people who stumble upon it during this month of abstinence, I am hanging some of the work of my lady wife, Eleonore Weil, inlined from her webpage. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What health care in America hinges on

We are in the midst of a great national debate about how to make health care affordable; almost nothing is more important to working-class Americans. “For the health of the nation, both physically and economically, we need a system with a public option,” Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, wrote recently in the Huffington Post. “And we need it now.”
But whether working families get it now depends to a large degree on Mr. Obama’s personal popularity. And now comes Gates-gate, this latest burst of fake populism from the right. Waving the banner of the long-suffering working class, the tax-cutting friends of the top 2% have managed to dent the president’s credibility, to momentarily halt his forward movement on the health-care issue. Thomas Frank - Wall Street Journal
David Seaton's News Links
In most situations there is one thing the whole business depends on or revolves around. I call that thing the "hinge".

In analysis, finding the hinge is the shortcut to the center of a mass of inchoate information.

In action, identifying the hinge is often finding the "fulcrum" with which to move the world and finding it can bring huge rewards with little input of effort.

The world's latest economic crisis, for example, was brought upon us by very clever people who had discovered that the "hinge" of our financial system was that there was really no meaningful relation between the actual value of assets and what you could charge for them if you transformed them to a gaseous state.

Despite the near collapse of the system they had gamed, many of these clever people are still laughing... because they had also discovered another hinge... the "too big to fail, if you have enough friends in Washington" hinge.

I have been meditating on the plight of America's left as universal health care, entangled in the pantomime of our checks and balances, is once again circling the drain.

I have been searching for the "hinge" of the absurd impotence of American progressives.

I think that I may have found said hinge in a simple technical phrase that keeps bouncing off my neural walls: "working poor".

The contradiction between working and simultaneously being poor in the world's richest country.

Here is how Wikipedia defines the term "working poor":
Working poor is a term used to describe individuals and families who maintain regular employment but remain in relative poverty due to low levels of pay and dependent expenses.
Barbara Ehrenreich, the writer who has probably done more than anyone to put a face on working poverty, has this to say in her book, "Nickel and Dimed":
When someone works for less pay than she can live on ... she has made a great sacrifice for you ... The "working poor" ... are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.
Here is what she wrote in the New York Times:
The human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.
So, where is the hinge to the sheer uselessness of American progressives?

The hinge is that, at its most critical moment, the entire debate about universal health care in America has been diluted, if not derailed, for over a week by an unpleasant, though bloodless, encounter that a Harvard professor had with a police officer.

All this, while millions of working Americans, both black and white, are being treated like shit every day of their lives.

"Treated like shit": surely an exaggeration?

Check this from the Guardian:
It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.

Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.

For Potter it was a dreadful realisation that healthcare in America had failed millions of poor, sick people and that he, and the industry he worked for, did not care about the human cost of their relentless search for profits. "It was over-powering. It was just more than I could possibly have imagined could be happening in America," he told the Observer.
Now, it appears that the policeman and the professor are going to the White House to have a beer with the President of the United States.

A nice chilled lager, a manly handshake, a photo opportunity, this, while, as the Canadian National Post newspaper writes:
The U. S. Congress, corrupted by a failure to impose campaign finance reform on special interests, from unions to wealthy entities, appears to be unable to pass laws to provide even a modicum of fair, universal health-care coverage for its populace.
So that is the "hinge" in American progressive politics: what passes for a left in the USA is obsessed with racial, gender, ecological and identity politics, while Americans, of all races and all possible sexual preferences, are mercilessly overworked and underpaid. They are being exploited and treated no better than excrement and left to the mercy of right wing demagogues, all while the President of the United States takes time off to soothe the ruffled feathers of a professor and a policeman.

Frivolity, corruption and decadence are the hinge. DS

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Gates affair: looking on the bright side

A multiracial group of police officers on Friday stood with the white officer who arrested a prominent black Harvard scholar and asked President Barack Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick to apologize for comments the union leaders called insulting. Associated Press
David Seaton's News Links
It has always been a truism of the classic left that the "class struggle" in America is eternally short-circuited by racism: that the hostility of working class whites toward blacks, and working class blacks justifiable mistrust of their white "comrades", always meant that the bourgeoisie could divide and rule them in comfort. In short, racial hostility would always trump class loyalty in America.

The clearest example of this was Nixon's "Southern Strategy", whereby tricky Dick pried loose the heretofore populist, "a chicken in every pot", southern whites from their age old, "solid south" loyalty to the Democrats and enfolded them into the Party of Abraham Lincoln, something which violated not only their most precious traditions, but also their every economic interest.

Thus, in America, so the saying goes, politics are racial, not class, based.

Perhaps this is changing.

Commentators from all over the world have affirmed that the election of America's first African-American president heralded a post-racial America.

In a rather perverse way, perhaps the professor Gates arrest hoo hah is this new America's first icon.

Hey, don't laugh! Look at it this way: as the quote above from AP shows, a multiracial group of working class union members stood united with their white "comrade" and faced down two members of the upper middle class, a Harvard professor and a former professor of the University of Chicago, (the second professor just happens to also be the President of the United States of America).

This multiracial workers union solidarity has stopped these powerful and prestigious men dead in their tracks and has the president -- supposedly the most powerful individual in the world -- back peddling rather smartly.

Is this a sign of the changing times?

As more men and women of color take their places in positions of power, naturally defending their privileges and the system that provides them with those privileges; as their color becomes increasingly incidental to their power and the status that goes with that power; as the oppression they, by the very nature of their position, exert on those beneath them is less and less identified with a particular skin color, will this -- in a deteriorating and stagnant economy -- bring the oppressed of all colors together to fight oppression... no matter the color of the oppressor?

If this is where post-racial America is taking us, then the "establishment" is soon going to be heartily sorry that they ever took this road and it will be interesting to see what tactics they may use to get the races conveniently back at each others throats. DS

Saturday, July 25, 2009


David Seaton's News Links
The "professor Gates gets arrested" case has drawn comments from around the world, with many people criticizing the way the Cambridge Massachusetts police handled the whole affair. Were they that rough?

As world police go American cops are about par for the course... they come a lot worse.

In many countries the policeman would have suggested that professor Gates pay him a bribe to avoid further problems and mentioning the policeman's mother, as Gates apparently did, might have ended up with the professor being "shot while trying to escape".

Except for England in the old days, ("good evening sir, could we please see the license for that gun you are holding in your hand?) cops are rough trade everywhere in the world and even in England in the old days if you resisted they could get tough, but always "excuse me sir, just hold still while I twist your arm behind your back, sir".

One of the things that happens to policemen is that after interviewing thousands of really horrible and dangerous assholes in the line of duty, they come to assume that everybody is guilty of something... and of course, in reality, everybody is guilty of "something" if only stealing another kid's teddy bear back in nursery school. So that is part of why contact with cops is normally so humiliating for honest folk... the cops seem to be looking into your soul with a look that says, "asshole, this time we are going to overlook that teddy bear, but don't let me catch you around here again."

This makes an honest person feel soiled. So making people feel guilty is a professional tool of the police and people resent feeling guilty.

Perversely, if you don't feel guilty about anything and don't seem to be affected by this treatment, they may get the idea that you are psychotic or a hardened criminal.

I'm not sure the President of the United States should have weighed in on this one until a full official inquiry had taken place, because as Chief of State and Commander in Chief, all armed forces and law enforcement in the USA are directly or indirectly under his command and this commenting on the behavior of cops on the beat, coming from the White House, may cause problems of morale among the law enforcement community and a hostile attitude from their unions.

In my opinion, Obama should have called professor Gates and offered his sympathy as a personal friend and promised him that he would ask that a full and fair inquiry take place.

Instead he has made this an "us and them" thing for a lot of people, both black and white, which is a tactical error causing an unfortunate distraction and division of support entering the health care battle, which is priority number one, or should be. DS

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A short statement of basic principals

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My last post had some people wondering where I was coming from. One person who wrote to me accused me of being "elitist".
The problem with your point of view is that it exposes a fundamental hypocrisy in the minds of people like you. And I do mean to use the words "people like you". You like to cloak your condescending attitude towards the working class to give the appearance of compassion. And Palin and Republicans swoop in and take advantage of it.
First I am very interested in a stable society of healthy citizens living in peace, and that means taking care of people who are not exceptionally talented or motivated (the vast majority).

I don't consider this "elitist" -- although I don't much care -- because most of the ancestors and descendants of the exceptionally talented or motivated were and will be just average to below average. I would call these people "the salt of the earth" and I dare any "born again" to challenge the source of that term.

I believe that the exceptionally talented or motivated are more than able to take care of themselves and that society's true role is to "uplift the masses", which means to give the "salt of the earth" a comfortable life with the possibility of enjoying fully the simple pleasures of peace, a family, culture, health and leisure. Simple genetics plus a peaceful and healthy society will take care of producing the exceptionally talented or motivated.

I believe that this will also provide a better background for the exceptionally talented or motivated to make their contribution and to also enjoy with a peaceful heart the benefits of that contribution.

If that is elitist, I would say that anyone or any group that could put that program into effect could wear the title "elite" with some justification, certainly with more justification than the sorry assed crew that passes for "elite" today.

At the heart of the problem, as I see it, is that Americans, although mostly ordinary people, descended from ordinary people, and likely to beget ordinary people, in fact, despise ordinary people and to the extent that they find themselves ordinary, they despise themselves.

For me this explains most of the hostile and violent behavior associated with our country. DS

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today's America is a class act

The United States ranks behind every industrial nation except France in the percentage of overall economic activity devoted to manufacturing (...) Manufacturing has long been viewed as an essential pillar of a powerful economy. It generates millions of well-paid jobs for those with only a high school education, a huge segment of the population. New York Times

“It wasn’t the US service sector that defeated Japan,” notes Robert Dujarric of Temple University in Tokyo. Well-paid blue-collar jobs, he adds, have been a pillar of Japan’s postwar social equality. Financial Times

(Meth is) “the only example of a widely consumed illegal narcotic that might be called vocational, as opposed to recreational.” It was given to starving Nazi soldiers to keep them in warrior mode on the Russian front. Now it’s a preferred stimulant for people working two jobs in low-wage purgatory. "Methland vs. Mythland" Timothy Egan - NYT
David Seaton's News Links
Everybody has their own way of thinking: some people think in facts and figures, I think in symbols and metaphors.

I am ever searching for the correct symbol or metaphor, and when I find the one that feels just right, everything else: thinking, talking and writing, comes easily to me, just like ringing a bell.

I love to put some quotes and pictures, like the ones above, together and hear how they resonate like a chord played on a well tuned instrument. For me, much of what we are facing today is resumed, almost like a poem in these snippets

The key visual metaphor is that of the meth addict's transformation from hillbilly beauty into death's head. The key phrase is the one from Robert Dujarric in Tokyo: well paid blue-collar jobs, are the pillar of social equality, followed by the NYT stating that those with only a high school education make up a huge percentage of the US population. That is the present situation in a nutshell.

I was struck by a line in president Barack Obama's much reported NAACP speech, where he, a supposed "lefty", addressed this advice to young African-Americans:
“They might think they’ve got a pretty jump shot or a pretty good flow,” Mr. Obama said, “but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States of America.”
My first reaction to that paragraph was that aspiring to be a rapper or a professional basketball player was just as realistic as aspiring to be a scientist or engineer and certainly more realistic than aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice or president of the USA, as between the White House and the Supreme Court there are only ten jobs, whereas to begin with there are 1,696 basketball players in the NBA... (Sorry, but I can't find the number of openings for hip-hop artists).

I immediately thought on reading Obama's words, "what's wrong with aspiring to having a union card and working in a factory at union rates and getting married on that pay, buying a house and raising a family, seeing some of your kids go to college and then retiring on a decent pension and going fishing with your grandchildren?"

What is supposed to happen to people who don't have the natural aptitude or interests to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers? Or specialists in derivatives or other such useful types?

In today' America are they fated to end up like the woman in the photographs, fated to taking methamphetamine in order to be able to stand the strain of working 60 plus hour weeks at minimum wage without any unions or medical coverage?

Is there only to be a future in America for knowledge workers?

If so, we as a people are in deep, deep, shit.

Because that is not really in our DNA.

For thousands of years our species has mostly worked with its hands and as a simple matter of natural selection, not everyone who is an able bodied, willing and honest person is interested in reading and studying.

As Italian author Alberto Moravia once said, the number of illiterates is constant, but nowadays the illiterates know how to read.

And this is just as true for white people as for black people in today's America.

In many senses we really are living in a post-racial society.

Today the real question is class and poverty, not race.

Most of the white working poor of today's America would happily trade the pale complexion of their nether parts to be an African-American UAW worker in the 1950s and 60s Detroit.

Today, instead of a society where race inevitably determines status, we live is society of sharp class divisions, where class, except for those with inherited wealth, is based on educational attainment and that educational attainment itself is in great part based on the parent's social class and the income that comes with it.

Within living memory the sons and daughters of the line workers of unionized American manufacturers, who showed aptitude for study, could go to excellent state land grant universities and their brothers and sisters who didn't like school could look forward to the same decent life as their parents had enjoyed... That didn't last very long did it?

In today's America it is very difficult for an American from a poor family of any race, no matter how intelligent he or she might be, to get a first class education or, with parents (or single parent) working at two jobs, the supportive and stable family life to be able to concentrate on their studies and thus escape from poverty.

The heart of the matter is that America's once proud working class, both white and black, is being transformed, has been transformed, into a classic "lumpenproletariat" or "ragged proletariat". Here is how the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines that term:
(German: “rabble proletariat”), according to Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, the lowest stratum of the industrial working class, including also such undesirables as tramps and criminals. The members of the Lumpenproletariat—this “social scum,” said Marx—are not only disinclined to participate in revolutionary activities with their “rightful brethren,” the proletariat, but also tend to act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.”
What could be a better description of the working poor followers of Sarah Palin's, or of any populist of the right that may arise in the near future's, than as "bribed tools of reactionary intrigue"?

Are any right wing populists, who go in mostly for creationism, abortion and guns, going to advocate strong labor unions, a higher minimum wage, universal health care and keeping the jobs in the USA? I doubt it very much, don't you?

Will anybody else advocate those things? DS

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Obama's "OK Corral" moment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he had been "surprised" by a recent U.S. demand that Israel halt a construction project in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. (...)" In my conversation with Obama in Washington, I told him that I could not accept any limitations on our sovereignty in Jerusalem. Haaretz

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the US demand was "odd." Jerusalem Post
David Seaton's News Links

I wonder how this is going to play out?

How will AIPAC organize to soften up Obama?

What weak point will they discover to break him down?

What I don't see them doing is bending their stiff necks.

The personal power of the individual men and women that make up AIPAC, in dozens of areas that have nothing to do with Israel, will be deflated if they don't prove to Obama, and everybody else, that they are stronger than he is.

This is his "Gunfight at the OK Corral" moment.

Certainly if Obama goes this far, touching Jerusalem -- which is the Gordian knot, if there ever was one -- and then backs down, he is toast.

Because if the President of the United States puts the prestige of his office on one side of the scale and the the lobby of a foreign power on the other side of the scale and the lobby wins, then the USA with all its power is proven to be nothing more than a glorified Golem or a Shabbes goy and everybody, friend and foe, will despise him... That is why no president since Eisenhower has had the nads to try anything like this.

If Obama doesn't climb down, if he can convince Congress to, for example, suspend aid to Israel till it complies with US demands, than it will be like air leaving a balloon, like sunshine for Dracula, ding, dong the witch is dead.

Frankly, I think that AIPAC will find some way of letting the air out of Obama's balloon.

If he pulls it off and lives to tell the tale, he instantly become a great president, but, I much hope that, by Obama's tilting at Middle Eastern windmills, the American people don't finally end up without, for example, health care...

I don't think anybody in the Middle East is worth that much to the American people. DS

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sarah this, Sarah that. Sarah Schmarah.

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Sarah this, Sarah that.

Sarah Schmarah.

The question is really this:

If, because of a long, "jobless recovery", a large number of America's 350,000,000 people would enjoy listening to a demagogue, then finding a very effective one among 350,000,000 people won't be all that difficult.

Is it Sarah?

Well, at the moment she is the most known and commented contender.

Is she "too dumb" to succeed?

Being a successful demagogue really doesn't take that much of a "brain", it takes a talent mostly.

Palin's convention speech showed that she had that talent.

Examining the "brain" thing in demagogues:

Remember that the most successful demagogue of all time, Adolph Hitler, was dumb enough to declare war on the USA, when he was already at war with the Soviet Union. They don't come any dumber than that.

However, so that there be no confusion, unlike many of history's demagogues Sarah Palin is certainly not an antisemite, in fact, she is a staunch friend of Israel.

This from the Washington Times:

Sarah Palin displays an Israeli flag in her governor's office in Juneau, even though she has never been to the country, and attends Protestant evangelical churches that consider the preservation of the state of Israel a biblical imperative.

Her faith makes her a favorite with the staunchly pro-Israel neoconservative elements in the Republican Party.
A couple of general rules of thumb when considering demagogues:

1.) The people who follow demagogues aren't interested in thinking, they are interested in feeling: demagoguery is a form of political pornography: up and on, who cares about the "plot"?

2.) The rational people who use demagogues do plenty of thinking, in fact, they don't want anybody else to think very much at all.

That is the whole point of demagoguery, to eliminate rational thought.

That is the whole point of fascism for that matter, to replace objective, individual thought with mass emotion.

The question remains: is there a market right now or in the foreseeable future for someone like this?

That is the real problem, not, for the moment, a lady named Sarah Palin. DS

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It doesn't matter that *we* don't like Sarah Palin

David Seaton's News Links
Several commentators, notably David Brooks, have been comparing Sarah Palin to Richard Nixon. Here is Brooks:
No one thought Richard Nixon — a far less personable commodity than Palin — would come back either after his sour-grapes “last press conference” of 1962. But Democratic divisions and failures gave him his opportunity in 1968. With unemployment approaching 10 percent and a seemingly bottomless war in Afghanistan, you never know, as Palin likes to say, what doors might open.
From the point of view of those who sympathize with neither Nixon or Palin, what should worry us about Palin is her natural charisma. Nixon had none. Nixon had to work harder and hustle more than anyone to get where he got, everything about him was forced, sweaty jowled and unnatural. Palin on the contrary irradiates whatever it is that makes (some, a lot of) people like or identify with her.

That we don't like her is nothing for her to worry about. That, despite the Republican establishment's disparagement, Palin's base still supports her gives the GOP a lot to worry about and should probably trouble the rest of us too.

I think that Sarah Palin is frightening many Republican "realist" (read pro-business) commentators because they realize that she is a monster that the party has been creating since Nixon's "Southern Strategy". The fiscal conservatives have been using the social conservatives and the just generally resentful and racist elements as cannon fodder to win elections and now they finally see what Nixon hath wrought.

The Republican rage against her is because they see that they have fallen into a trap of their own construction: the party of the rich, which catered to the yokels is now in danger of being taken over by the yokels... which could be catastrophic for American business interests all over the world.

Certainly continuing high unemployment with no relief on the horizon is the recipe for populism. Since left wing populism is out of the question in America, then it would have to be right-wing populism. Palin would be a perfect poster girl for such a movement.

The rise of socially conservative populism would be a joker in the deck that could derail globalization and interrupt the pantomime of American politics. The idea sounds fun, but the reality could be pretty terrible. DS

Thursday, July 09, 2009

If it isn't Sarah, it'll be somebody like Sarah

Every mom we know multitasks. And I am one to believe I can use an all-of-the-above approach, too. I can abandon Alaska and ambition myself for the presidency. I can get bored with my job and fight apathy. I can take the easy path out to work hard on a path for fruitfulness. I can move on selfishly and call it altruistically. I don’t need a title now when I can shake up the good ol’ boys and get a better title in the end. Maureen Dowd - Sarah’s Secret Diary - NYT
David Seaton's News Links
Sarah Palin's fine adventure is a sign of things to come.

We are looking at a scenario that could produce a serious mutation in the system, which, even if it doesn't make it all the way to the White House, could seriously warp America's political landscape.

Although there is much talk of "green shoots", most observers seem to concur that high unemployment is here to stay for quite a long time. That the number of white, working poor is growing exponentially and that this group, very large although unhyphenated, with all of its former left wing populist fervor long since extirpated, is bereft of any ideology except charismatic Christianity; with its critical faculties dulled to disappearance by a brutish corporate entertainment culture and drugged with sentimental, xenophobic patriotism and with nowhere to go except toward racism and paranoia.

These people have no defense against globalization and the new technologies except fear and resentment. And having an African-American in the White House has destroyed the last citadel of their precarious, tattered and battered self-esteem: the thought that, no matter how far down they were, there was someone they could look down on... black people.

Incoherent, celebrating violence, sentimental, paranoiac and resentful: it's all there cooking on the stove of high unemployment.

Along comes Sarah.

Many commentators, while admitting that Sarah Palin is attractive and charismatic, quickly discount her because little that she says will stand up to even the most cursory examination of its sense or nonsense.
They fail to realize that this mixture of charisma and incoherence is precisely her most powerful political tool.

They fail to realize that mindless energy combined with carisma, the "just do it", is exactly what distinguishes
and empowers "fascism", a word which most Americans throw around with enormous imprecision until it has become virtually meaningless.

I don't claim to have any preternatural knowledge of the subject, however,
the country where I reside, Spain, as you may recall, was officially a fascist country for nearly forty years and when I first came in contact with the country Franco still had a black mustache. Since I was a young man I have known quite a few official, card-carrying, fascists, upper level servants of the fascist regime, their children and grandchildren: in short, I know something about them.

In my experience they often have energetic, brilliant, charming, personalities and they have no guiding principal that I have ever been able to discover other than following their whims and humors wherever they might lead them and the devil take the hindmost. A la carte amorality is the best description of their take on life. The rules are more or less,
"I want, I take, I possess. If someone is weaker I crush them, if they are stronger, I worship them." It is amazing how far these simple rules can take some people.

Thoughtful progressives have trouble understanding that it is precisely this mindlessness vitalist energy, which Sarah Palin incarnates, that the ultra-right celebrates, and if you try to pin them down to rationality, they can suddenly stop being charming and turn very ugly, very fast.

I have seen Spanish fascists go from being anti-American to canine-ly pro-American, from being rabid antisemites to unswerving "friends of Israel", from favoring nationalized monopolies and the corporate state, straight to being Thatcherite privatizers: all without ever skipping a beat.

All this during years when people of the left were tying themselves in knots trying to find some way of adapting to all the changes in the world without violating the basic coherence of their fundamental principals, principals which of course, were things that the fascists never had had in the first place.

While the left tried to make some sense of the situation, the fascists just said the first thing that came into their heads and the people who vote for them, like them, couldn't care less. What they go for is the vivacity, the energy the voracious quality expressed in the Sam & Dave classic, "I take what I want, I'm a bad go-getter, yeah".

I would maintain, having observed both societies closely, that thoughtful people who care about things like coherence and ideology can differ greatly from place to place, but after removing a few superficial cultural markers, the impulsive, selfish, energy of the sociopath is much the same everywhere.

The United States is getting ripe for someone just like Sarah Palin, a perky, "down to earth", George Wallace with large breasts. If she burns out, there will soon be another one, if she doesn't make it, she'll be the next one's Joan the Baptist. DS

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Sarah Palin "mystery" unlocked

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard. Ross Douthat - New York Times

One of my odd experiences covering the US in the early 1990s was visiting militia groups that sprang up in Texas, Idaho, and Ohio in the aftermath of recession. These were mostly blue-collar workers, – early victims of global "labor arbitrage" – angry enough with Washington to spend weekends in fatigues with M16 rifles. Most backed protest candidate Ross Perot, who won 19pc of the presidential vote in 1992 with talk of shutting trade with Mexico. The inchoate protest dissipated once recovery fed through to jobs, although one fringe group blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. Unfortunately, there will be no such jobs this time. Capacity use has fallen to record-low levels (68pc in the US, 71 in the eurozone). A deep purge of labour is yet to come. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard - Telegraph

Think globally, suffer locally. This could be the moral of “Methland,” Nick Reding’s unnerving investigative account of two gruesome years in the life of Oelwein, Iowa, a railroad and meatpacking town of several thousand whipped by a methamphetamine-laced panic whose origins lie outside the place itself, in forces almost too great to comprehend and too pitiless to bear.(...) The madness stalking tiny, defenseless Oelwein may eventually come for all of us, we learn, and once again, as happens in America whenever our collective attention wanders from the gray struggles of the little guy to the purple capers of the big wheels, attention must be paid. Right now. Or else. Review of "Methland", New York Times

David Seaton's News Links
Reading most of the mainstream media (MSM) comments on Sarah Palin I get the feeling that for the urban Americans who write in those media Sarah Palin is as foreign a personality as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the attraction she possesses for fly-over Americans seems as mysterious to them as the propensity of Koreans to eat cute puppies.

This leads me to believe that the urban-based commentators are "misunderestimating" this woman, for in reality the reaction she produces in them is the mirror image of the the reaction she produces in the masses of people these commentators by turns patronize or despise.

Whoever Sarah Palin may really be, she functions powerfully as a type. What, for deracinated urbanites, constitutes prima facie evidence of trailer trashdom, resonates as identity for the struggling members of America's discouraged and marginalized warrior caste, the rural-rooted scotch-irish and their various semi-urban sept clans. Although it in politically incorrect to notice it, they too are a hyphenated, disadvantaged, ethnic group.

Also on a personal level she also seems to have solved one of America's most crushing and ubiquitous problems: how can a woman without exceptional academic qualifications, or inherited money, successfully have children, a happy husband and a productive career? The sneaking suspicion that this lady is not as dumb as she is made out to be even creeps occasionally into the consciousness of many women of impeccably liberal credentials .

Sarah Palin's attraction for her base is that of the "Woman" of Peggy Lee's big, Lieber and Stoller hit, who sings, "I can make a dress out of a feed bag and I can make a man out of you".

Those who have never seen and handled a cotton feedbag, or seen and handled the type of women who has done so, may have trouble relating to this message. There are millions of Americans who do... and almost all of them live in the lower 48.

Palin's move is the only logical one open to her.

Leaving Alaska is essential if she is to have any future in US politics. In Alaska she sits far from her potential base, only accessible to them through the hostile filter of the MSM.

Now, freed of Alaska, she can begin to tour flyover America making personal contact with her ethnic-identity base in an endless variety of venues. In many ways her putting Alaska behind her is as fundamentally logical as president Obama's leaving Hawaii was.

If another 900,000 jobs disappear by the end of the year--likely, without unexpected improvement--an entire decade of employment gains will have been wiped out. In January of 2000, there were 130.8 million jobs in the country. "It's not that those jobs weren't needed," says Heidi Shierholz, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute. "The labor force has grown by nearly 13 million people." Forbes
Despite the talk of "green shoots", we are facing a jobless recovery that stretches far into the future and this is already causing notable unrest in Sarah Palin's natural constituency. Who knows who a jobless America might be willing to vote for in 2012?

Sarah Palin's only chance for political survival is to become the "Joan of Arc" of America's white, working poor. And liberals had better pray that she is successful in her endeavor, because, the way things are going, Barack Obama's only chance for reelection in 2012 may be a split on class lines in the GOP, with Sarah Palin as the Perot-like spoiler. DS