Capitalism: The Nightmare

TD ORIGINALS
A worker in a costume representing world capitalism during a 2017 May Day rally in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Dita Alangkara / AP)

The neoliberal, arch-capitalist era we inhabit is chock-full of statistics and stories that ought to send chills down the spines of any caring, morally sentient human. Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of the world’s population is poor, living on $10 a day or less, and 11 percent (767 million people, including 385 million children) live in what the World Bank calls “extreme poverty” (less than a $1.90 a day). Meanwhile, Oxfam reliably reports that, surreal as it sounds, the world’s eight richest people possess among themselves as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire human race.

The United States, self-described homeland and headquarters of freedom and democracy, is no exception to the harshly unequal global reality. Six of the world’s eight most absurdly rich people are U.S. citizens: Bill Gates (whose net worth of $426 billion equals the wealth of 3.6 billion people), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Michael Bloomberg (former mayor of New York City). As Bernie Sanders said repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2016, the top 10th of the upper 1 percent in the U.S. has nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. Seven heirs of the Walton family’s Walmart fortune have among them a net worth equal to that of the nation’s poorest 40 percent. Half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor, and half lacks any savings.

Just over a fifth of the nation’s children, including more than a third of black and Native American children, live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, while parasitic financiers and other capitalist overlords enjoy unimaginable hyper-opulence. One in seven U.S. citizens relies on food banks in “the world’s richest country.” Many of them are in families with full-time wage-earners—a reflection of the fact that wages have stagnated even as U.S. labor productivity consistently has risen for more than four decades.

Failure by Design

These savage inequalities reflect government policy on behalf of “the 1 percent” (better, perhaps, to say “the 0.1 percent”). U.S. economic growth since the late 1970s has been unequally distributed, thanks to regressive policy choices that have served the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary working people. As Joshua Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute showed in his important 2011 study, “Failure by Design,” the following interrelated, bipartisan and not-so-public policies across the long neoliberal era have brought us to a level of inequality that rivals the Gilded Age of the late 19th-century robber barons era. These policies include:

● Letting the value of the minimum wage be eroded by inflation.
● Slashing labor standards for overtime, safety and health.
● Tilting the laws governing union organizing and collective bargaining strongly in favor of employers.
● Weakening the social safety net.
● Privatizing public services.
● Accelerating the integration of the U.S. economy with the world economy without adequately protecting workers from global competition.
● Shredding government oversight of international trade, currency, investment and lending.
● Deregulating the financial sector and financial markets.
● Valuing low inflation over full employment and abandoning the latter as a worthy goal of fiscal and economic policy.

These policies increased poverty and suppressed wages at the bottom and concentrated wealth at the top. They culminated in the 2007-09 Great Recession, sparked by the bursting of a housing bubble that resulted from the deregulation of the financial sector and the reliance of millions of Americans on artificially inflated real estate values and soaring household debt to compensate for poor earnings.

After the crash, the government under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama bailed out the very financial predators who pushed the economy over the cliff. The Obama administration, populated by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup operatives, left the rest of us to wonder “Where’s our bailout?” as 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during his first term.

Ordinary Citizens Have No Influence Over Their Government

All of this and much more is contrary to technically irrelevant American public opinion. But so what? You don’t have to be a leftist to know that the United States’ political order is a corporate and financial plutocracy. Three years ago, liberal political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University determined that the U.S. political system has functioned as an oligarchy over the past three-plus decades, in which wealthy elites and their corporations rule. As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo, “Ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”

Shock Profits

Most of this results from the normal, business-rule-as-usual operation of the American political process. Sometimes—as during “natural disasters” such as Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma—crisis moments allow wealthy interests to rack up huge profits almost overnight while much of the population is too shocked and distracted to respond. As Susan Zakin notes in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Handing out billions for hurricane reconstruction will shore up [Donald] Trump’s faltering support on Wall Street and among major corporations profiting from a bonanza expected to top $100 billion.” Katrina provided precisely such a business opportunity to corporate America. So did the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

‘Isn’t It Beautiful?’

At the same time, Houston, for instance, is a much bigger scene of devastation than it would be but for business-rule-as-usual. The city was recklessly built up by and for elite financial and real estate interests and their governmental tools without the slightest concern for environmental sustainability and resilience. As Zakin notes:

[W]ithout a zoning code, [Houston is] a case study in urban sprawl. Houston was built on a dry (read: low-lying) lakebed that’s laced with bayous. The bayous are lined with concrete, steel and sheet metal, which is functional when it rains a little, but a contender for the luge event when it rains a lot, even in posh neighborhoods like River Oaks. Doing what it takes to prevent flooding, widening bayou channels, managing growth, putting in green space, might impede the only truly important flow: money. Houston’s city fathers have resisted any effort to plan for climate change, because, well, it doesn’t exist. As if that weren’t enough, parts of Houston are sinking, some as much as 2.2 inches a year.

It’s an epitome of the deadly “free market” chaos favored by arch-capitalist political actors such as the right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and his friend, the “libertarian” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. In his recent, widely read book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” Flake writes with fondness about the time he met the eminent neoliberal University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman:

We picked him up at the airport, and while we were driving to a suburb of Phoenix we went through what could only be described as suburban sprawl. Someone in the car with us, remarking on this landscape, said, ‘Man, it looks like there was no planning at all.’ Friedman just nodded his head and said, ‘Yes, isn’t it beautiful?’ … [I]t wasn’t government coercion that had brought it into being. It was the invisible hand of the free market. Planning requires control, control empowers government, and empowered government = disempowered individuals.

Houston is the “petro-metro,” a major capital of the petrochemical industry and home to numerous toxic waste sites. As a result, the city’s floodwaters are loaded with hazardous materials.

How beautiful.

The “free market” madness rolls on. Like the melting polar ice, which opens up new business opportunities for oil drilling and ship travel even as it reduces earth’s ability to reflect sunlight back into space, the devastation resulting from extreme weather is both a consequence of the rule of big corporations (the real masters of the “free market” since the early 20th century in the U.S.) and a perverse opportunity for quick corporate profits.

On Aug. 15, 10 days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Donald Trump, himself a global real estate baron, wiped out an Obama-era executive ordermandating that federal reconstruction grants take account of sea-level rise and related aspects of climate change.

Capitalist Climate-astrophe

Meanwhile, speaking of climate change, anthropogenic—really, capitalogenic—global warming threatens to turn the venerable popular struggle for a more equal distribution of wealth into a fight over the slicing up of a poisoned pie. The signs of climate catastrophe are unmistakable. Record-setting wildfires raged on the nation’s West Coast, and a devastating drought plagued much of the nation’s northern Great Plains as Houston was sunk in epic, chemically polluted flooding and Irma bore down on Florida. Like Hurricane Sandy (which filled New York City subway tunnels with storm surge on the eve of the 2012 elections), the Indian and Pakistani heat waves of 2015, Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Alberta, Canada, wildfires of 2016 and numerous other recent, lethal, meteorological episodes, this extreme weather is intensified by the spiking balminess of the planet.

The warming is fueled by capital-captive humanity’s excessive release of carbon dioxide resulting from the profit system’s rapacious extraction and burning of fossil fuels and its reliance on animal agriculture. Carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, trapping heat and melting the world’s glaciers and permafrost, which holds vast reserves of carbon-rich methane. As the ice caps retreat, less sunlight gets reflected back into space and more of it heats the planet toward a point where it becomes uninhabitable.

Extreme weather is just the tip of the melting iceberg. If not reversed, global warming will destroy the human species through famine, dehydration, overheating, disease and resource wars. It has us on the path to hell.

‘A Death Knell for the Species’

Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s plutocratic political dysfunction to become a kind of one-man ecological apocalypse. The fossil-fueled hurricanes, drought and wildfires of 2017 have hit the U.S. at a time when the White House is occupied by an openly ecocidal billionaire whose election rang what Noam Chomsky called an environmental “death knell for the species.” Trump has pulled the United States out of the moderate Paris climate accord. He has removed all references to climate change from federal websites and chose a fellow petro-capitalist climate change denier dedicated to crippling the Environmental Protection Agency to lead that department. Trump’s secretary of state is the former longtime CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., history’s most powerful fossil fuel corporation—a company that buried and then organized propaganda against its own scientists’ warnings on carbon’s impact on the climate. Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 16 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors all things climate- and weather-related.

This is ecocidal petro-capitalist madness on steroids.

After Harvey nailed Houston and before Irma hit Florida, Trump held a chilling ecocidal rally in front of an oil refinery in North Dakota. He boasted of how he had exited the “job-killing” Paris agreement (“It was so bad”) and approved the planet-cooking and supposedly job-creating Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

“I also did Keystone,” Trump said. “You know about Keystone. Another other one, big one—big. First couple of days in office, those two—48,000 jobs.”

Trump said the White House was going to make North Dakota’s current terrible drought vanish because “we’re working hard on it and it’ll disappear. It will all go away.”

The president also asserted that the thousands of Americans who protested the Dakota Access pipeline within and beyond the Standing Rock Indian Reservation last year had no idea why they were against it.

It may have been his most absurd speech yet.

The System Is Working

Like so much else in U.S. government policy, Trump’s anti-environmental actions are contrary to majority-progressive public opinion. Who cares? It’s one more in a long line of examples showing that “We the People” are not sovereign in the failed, arch-plutocratic and militantly capitalist state that is the 21st century United States.

Many Americans find this difficult to process because they have been taught to foolishly conflate popular self-governance with capitalism—what the George W. Bush White House called “a single sustainable model for national success.”

This is a great lie. My old copy of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines capitalism as “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution … are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, [in] its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”

This definition does not mention any of the things routinely and inaccurately identified with capitalism in the dominant U.S. political and intellectual discourse: democracy, freedom, trade, job creation, growth and/or a “free market” that is characterized by widespread competition and/or little or no government interference. Capitalism is about profit for the owners of capital—period. They attain this through any number of means. The most damaging include:

● Seizing others’ land and materials.
● Slavery (the leading source of capital accumulation in the United States before it was outlawed in 1863–65).
● Firing workers or replacing them with technology.
● Undermining the value and power of labor by “de-skilling” workers by reducing the amount of knowledge and experience they need to do their jobs.
● Abject authoritarian tyranny in the workplace, where Marxist economist Richard Wolff reminds us that most working-age adults spend the majority of their waking hours.
● Outsourcing work to sections of the world economy with the lowest wages and the worst working conditions.
● Hiring and exploiting unprotected migrant workers.
● Slashing wages and benefits, or cheating workers out of them.
● Purely speculative investment.
● Forming monopolies and using them to raise prices.
● Dismantling competing firms, sectors and industries.
● Deadly pollution and perversion of the natural environment.
● Appropriating public assets.
● Military contracting and war production.
● Working to shape political and intellectual culture and policy in capital’s favor by funding political campaigns, hiring lobbyists, buying and controlling the media, manipulating public relations and propaganda, investing in the educational system, offering lucrative employment and other economic opportunities to policymakers and their families, holding key policymaking positions, and threatening to withdraw investment from places that don’t submit to capital’s rules while promising to invest in places that do.

When capitalism is understood for what it is really and only about—investor profit—there is nothing paradoxical about its failure to serve working people and the common good, much less the cause of democracy. If corporate and financial sector profits are high, the system is working for its architects and intended beneficiaries: capitalists. Its great corporations (now granted the legal protection of artificial personhood) are working precisely as they are supposed to under U.S. common law, which holds that (as Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled in Dodge v. Ford Motor Company in 1919), corporate “managers have a legal duty to put shareholders’ interests above all others and no legal authority to serve any other interests.”

The Growth Ideology

Environmental ruin lies at the heart of the system, intimately related back to class rule. As Le Monde’s former ecological editor Herve Kempf noted in his aptly titled 2007 book, “How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth,” the oligarchy sees the pursuit of material growth as “the solution to the social crisis,” the “sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment” and the “only means of getting societies to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them.”

“Growth,” Kempf explained, is meant to “allow the overall level of wealth to arise and consequently improve the lot of the poor without—and this part is never spelled out—any need to modify the distribution of wealth.”

Trump was channeling this deadly “growth ideology” in North Dakota. Sadly, growth on the current carbon-fueled capitalist model has put humanity—not to mention thousands of other sentient beings on earth—on the path to near-term (historically speaking) extinction. We are currently at 410 carbon parts per million in the atmosphere—60 ppm beyond what scientists identified as a hazardous point years ago. We are on pace for 500 ppm—a level that will destroy life on earth—by 2050, if not sooner.

‘Inclusive Capitalism’

“Capitalist democracy” is an oxymoron and a mirage. So is the curious notion of “inclusive capitalism”—a term taken up by the corporate right wing of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton’s closest economic advisers, in 2015. This is the Orwellian name of a global “coalition” set up in 2014 by Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild for super-wealthy elites to advance a “caring capitalism” that “works better for the broad base of society.” Lady Rothschild’s Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism started with what former Rep. Cynthia McKinney described as “a Working Group comprised of such luminaries of social justice as Sir Evelyn de Rothschild of E.L. Rothschild [a financial firm owned by a family worth an estimated $2 trillion], Dominic Barton from McKinsey and Company [$1.3 billion], Ann Cairns [annual salary of $5 million] of MasterCard, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles of HSBC, Paul Polman [paid 10 million euros in 2014] of Unilever, along with CEOs of various pension plans and philanthropic foundations, like the eponymous Ford and Rockefeller foundations.”

According to one British media report, the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism’s opening conference boasted a “guest-list … estimated to hold one-third of the world’s investable assets, around £18tr [nearly $25 trillion].”

One of the coalition’s leading speakers and champions is the great arch-neoliberal, former U.S. President Bill Clinton (with a net worth of $80 million)—a right-wing Democrat who did every bit as much to advance the Wall Street “free market” and globalist agenda as Ronald Reagan.

‘We Must Make Our Choice’

One does not have to be a Marxist or other variety of radical to acknowledge basic differences and conflicts between capitalism and democracy. D and capitalism have very different beliefs about the proper distribution of power,” liberal economist Lester Thurow noted in the mid-1990s. “One [democracy] believes in a completely equal distribution of political power, ‘one man, one vote,’ while the other [capitalism] believes that it is the duty of the economically fit to drive the unfit out of business and into extinction. … To put it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery. Democracy is not.”

More than being compatible with slavery and incompatible with democracy, U.S. capitalism arose largely on the basis of black slavery in the cotton-growing states (as historian Edward Baptist has shown in his prize-winning study, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”) and is, in fact, quite militantly opposed to democracy.

“We must make our choice,” the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is reputed to have said or written: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” This statement was unintentionally but fundamentally anti-capitalist. Consistent with the dictionary definition presented above, the brilliant, liberal, French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that capitalism has always been inexorably pulled like gravity toward the concentration of wealth into ever-fewer hands. In the U.S., as across the Western world, the tendency was briefly and partially reversed by the Great Depression and World War II, producing the long “middle class” Golden Age of 1945-1973. But that was an anomalous era, a consequence of epic economic collapse and two global wars. Capitalism has returned to its longue durée inegalitarian norm over the last four-plus decades.

And even before the onset of the neoliberal period, capitalism at its comparatively egalitarian and high-growth, post-WWII Keynesian best had already pushed livable ecology into crisis. It tipped the world into what leading earth scientists have designated a new geological era: The Anthropocene—a period when “human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature and are pushing the earth into planetary terra incognita … a less biologically diverse, less forested, much warmer, and probably wetter and stormier era.” The not-so-Golden Agebrought what sociology professor John Bellamy Foster called “a qualitative transformation in the level of human destructiveness.” If this ecological destructiveness isn’t tamed very soon, nothing that progressives and the left care about is going to matter much: Who wants to turn a poisoned world upside down?

Can environmental catastrophe be averted under capitalism? Not likely. Shifting from fossil fuel reliance and other unsound environmental societal habits and practices—built-in obsolescence, mass consumerism and the endless pursuit of quantitative economic growth, accumulation and “cheap nature” resource appropriation—requires a level of coordinated social and public intervention so extreme that it is incompatible with continued capitalist control of the means of production, investment and distribution. It requires an empowerment of ordinary people and a radical rehabilitation of the concept of the natural and social commons—things that very likely cannot be attained under the continued rule of capital. Stark as American activist Joel Kovel’s formulation may sound, I suspect he is right: “The future will be eco-socialist, because without eco-socialism there will be no future.”

Paul Street
Contributor
Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books,…
Advertisements

U.S. Political System Requires a Fundamental Transformation

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally of health care advocates, grass-roots activists and others outside the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke. I believe a political realignment is underway, and those who fail to discern its outlines could end up powerless and irrelevant.

With all respect to Hillary Clinton, her newly published memoir, “What Happened,” doesn’t really tell what happened. It is perhaps inevitable that she would focus on the daily twists and turns of the campaign. It is understandable that she would blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin and the media for damaging her prospects—and that she would downplay her own strategic and tactical missteps.

But take a step back and look at the election through a wider lens. Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.

That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew—or thought we knew—about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing—and at least the attempted collusion—of the Trump campaign.

But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.

In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either, as evidenced by the way his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration. But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking—as is the contrast between what both Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.

Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue—immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.

The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.

But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

Contributor
EUGENE ROBINSON uses his twice-weekly column in The Washington Post to pick American society apart and then put it back together again in unexpected, and revelatory, new ways. …

The Story: Life, the World, Now, You, and Me

Hi. I’m Umair. I want to tell you a little story about life, death, meaning, purpose, happiness, you, me, the world, and why I founded Eudaimonia & Co.

A couple of years ago, right at the peak of it all, jetting around the globe, writing books, giving speeches, invulnerable as a rock, I got sick. Keeling-over-losing-fifty-pounds-in-a-month-sick. The doctors told me I had months to live. And after the heart-stopping panic subsided, a funny thing happened: I was happy, thinking and writing about the meaning of it all, in a way I’d never really been discussing economics, leadership, and society.

Dying young — or at least thinking you’re going to — is like climbing the Mount Everest of inner clarity. You think about life. Not in a mournful way. Maybe you haven’t lived enough for that yet. Just in an appreciative one. Life is a funny thing. Unique, singular, strange. Camus famously called it absurd. It’s the only thing in a lonely, clockwork universe that struggles. Rivers flow, clouds dissipate, oceans ebb. But only life undertakes an improbable, uncertain, difficult quest for self-realization. A tree stretches into the sun. A little bird builds a nest. You strive mightily all your days long for happiness, meaning, purpose, grace, defiance, rebellion, truth, knowledge, beauty, love. That quest is what makes life so strikingly different from dust, fire, mud, air.

Only today our quest for self-realization doesn’t seem to be going so well. If I asked you, “how do you think the world’s doing?”, I’d bet your reply would be on the spectrum between not-so-well and dire, not pretty good and fantastic. Which is just as I’d had to warn of, and that’s why writing about economics always made me unhappy. Maybe the fate of the world wasn’t my cross to bear. Maybe it isn’t any of ours. But I didn’t know that then. And yet. The world seems suddenly different now, doesn’t it? The headlines now are an almost comically absurd smorgasbord of catastrophe: nuclear war, Nazis, natural disaster, societies fracturing, impotent frustration at it all.

It’s a head-spinning, anxiety-inducing time. It’s even scarier to admit it, so let’s do it together. Climate change. Stagnation. Inequality. Extremism. They feel different, more threatening. Bigger and badder than yesterday’s problems. They are. These are Massive Existential Problems. To societies, cities, democracy. To you and I and our kids. To the entire planet. Why are they all happening at once? How are we to solve them? Can we? If we don’t, problems only create more problems. Climate change creates refugees, famine, starvation. Stagnation creates authoritarianism. Inequality and extremism create war. A vicious circle, a savage feedback loop of problems. We’re at cruising altitude — but the engines are stalling. A nose dive of human possibility looms.

How did we get here? Every age has a paradigm of human organization. A set of defining principles and beliefs about what life is for. In the past, you can think of things like tribalism, feudalism, mercantilism, and so on. What’s our paradigm? Why isn’t it working?

Every paradigm’s end, purpose, defines it. We organize — whether countries, companies, societies, days, projects, investments — for just one sole end: maximizing income. Whether it’s called GDP, profits, shareholder value, all are more or less different words for the same imperative: the most income over the smallest increment of time an organization can produce. This overarching social goal of maximizing income trickles down into maximizing incomes for corporations and firms and banks and households so on.

Today’s paradigm of human organization — which is a relic of the industrial age — is economic. Our lives — in fact, all life on the planet, in fact, all life in the universe, because life on this planet is the only life that we know of anywhere in existence — are thus oriented around the pursuit of a single end: maximizing short-term income. Maximizing immediate financial income is the sole purpose of all the life that we know of, which all the life that there is.

Here’s the problem.

In the economic paradigm, well-being, the fullness of life’s quest for self-realization — whether or not lives are growing, flourishing, becoming, developing, to what degree, extent, duration, quality, whether it’s your life, my life, our grandkids’ lives, or the planet’s life — is nonexistent. It’s not conceptualized, represented, counted, measured, quite literally valued. Not in GDP, corporate reports, profits, markets, theories, models, prices, costs, benefits, anywhere. Not even in the smallest way — quantitatively, functionally, arithmetically — and so certainly not in the truest way: qualitatively, conceptually, substantively. And so because well-being, life itself, isn’t represented or valued, it’s not worth anything according to the calculus of this paradigm.

What do you with stuff that’s free? Well, you take it. So the economic paradigm uses up, drains, exhausts all the many kinds of well-being above to attain it’s sole end, how much immediate income it can produce. Let me give you two examples. If we break each others’ legs, GDP will go up, not down. We’ll have to take taxis to work, and pay for more medical care, which are counted as “gains”. Does that example strike you as absurd? It is, but it’s very real: in the extreme case, you get a society where an economy is growing, but life expectancy is falling — modern day America.

Life itself — in it’s truest sense, as a quest for self-realization — is systemically undervalued, underrepresented, and under-understood by the economic paradigm of human organization. Let me put that a little more bluntly. The economic paradigm of human organization doesn’t care. About life. Yours, mine, our grandkids, our planet’s. In any of it’s three aspects: not it’s potential, nor it’s possibility, nor it’s reality — life a beautiful and universal quest for self-realization. It’s sole end is maximizing immediate income. It doesn’t care if you’re happy or miserable, if you’re fulfilled or hollow, if you’re humane and gentle and wise or cruel and brutish and spiteful, if you flourish or wither as a human being, if the oceans dry up and die or teem joyously, if the skies turn to ash, if if you, me, our grandkids, or the planet, dies young or old, or if any of us live or die at all, in fact. It just doesn’t care. It wasn’t designed to. Thus, all that possibility, all that potential, is never realized: it’s used up to maximize immediate income. More and more, maximizing immediate income minimizes life’s potential.

And that’s the hidden thread that connects today’s four Massive Existential Problems. Climate change happens when the planet’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. Stagnation happens when people’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. Inequality happens when a society’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. And extremism is a result of all that ripping yesterday’s stable and prosperous social contracts to shreds. Today’s great global problems are just surface manifestations of the same underlying breakdown — a badly, fatally, irreparably broken paradigm of human organization.

The paradigm is the problem. A solely, paradigmatically, one-dimensional economic approach to human organization. That old, rusting, busted, industrial-age, economic paradigm is what’s created the Massive Existential Threats the world faces today. The single-minded pursuit of maximizing short-term income (versus, for example, optimizing long-run well-being) is what’s ignited inequality, stagnation, climate change, and extremism — and the later problems that are likely to stem from them.

And so — it’s no coincidence — here we are. Desperately clutching the controls in a nose dive of human possibility. But the controls don’t seem to work anymore, do they?

Every age has a challenge. Here’s today’s. Crafting a new — perhaps a radically new — paradigm of human organization, that values, represents, respects, celebrates, elevates, and expands life. Life is an impossibly big word, because it is such a strange and striking and impossible thing. Yet when you and I say “life”, we don’t mean some kind of actuarial probability table, the one-dimensional way the economic paradigm values things, but life in all its fragility, messiness, emergence, contradiction, complexity. Life in that sense, as self-realization, is more and more what’s minimized by the economic paradigm of human organization, so that it can maximize income. That’s what a broken paradigm means, and because it is the problem inside all the problems, that is what needs to be fixed, reversed, upended, turned around, with a better one. So how can we —

“Wait”, you cry. “Why should I care?” I see extreme capitalism has trained you well, young Darth. I sympathize. I didn’t want to either, remember? I just wanted to die happily. And yet. We — you and I — are going to have to care for a very simple reason. No matter how glorious your startup, moneyed your giant corporation or investment fund, mighty your city or country — today’s Massive Existential Problems are going to take you down too. Think your company can function without working societies? Your startup without a planet? Your country while its cities drown? Think again. Sure, you can ignore it all, but you’re only kidding yourself. The world feels broken because it is, and none of us are mighty enough to keep on escaping its expanding catastrophes by a thinner hair’s breadth of victory on our own little treadmill. The precise opposite is true: it’s up to us to make it better, and not just some of us, but each and every one of us. Sorry. Welcome to reality. Here’s a little consolation. Even tiny ways will do, which, in their gentleness and grace, are often greater than big ways.

So. How can we begin crafting that better paradigm?

I call it moving from an economic paradigm to a eudaimonic paradigm of human organization. It has new ends for organizations: five new goals that elevate and expand life, versus blindly maximizing income. And it has new means: design principles with which to build organizations that can accomplish those ends. Together, those ends and means make up a little framework that I call “eudaimonics”. It’s meant to help us build organizations that are better at creating wealth, well-being, and human possibility, not just maximizing income, because life itself is the true measure of the success any and every organization, from a family to a company to a city to a country to the world itself.

What does such a eudaimonic organization look like? Whether it’s a company, country, or city, it’s different in vision: it has a concrete, overarching goals to To do it, it’s different in structure: it probably has a Chief Eudaimonia Officer or the like. It’s different in strategy: it doesn’t just launch products and services, but focuses on the human outcomes those have, whether lives are flourishing and growing or not. And it’s different in management: it doesn’t just report, track, manage, identify, optimize profit against loss, economic indicators, but eudaimonic ones, that are about how much life it’s really giving back to you, me, our grandkids, and the planet.

Here’s another example of eudaimonics, at macro scale. The objectives and strategies and policies and values and and roles and titles and numbers and metrics and measures and reports and the rest of it — all of the software of human organization, from “profit” to “GDP” to “markets” to “value” to “wealth” to “vision” to “mission” to “work” to “jobs“ — that power our countries, cities, companies, corporations is going to have to be updated and rewritten to realize life.

So. A brief summary. Human organizations have become treadmills. But they should be gardens. In which lives flourish, grow, fruit, and flower. The great challenge of this age isn’t single-mindedly maximizing one-dimensional income as the sole end and purpose of human existence, but elevating and expanding life’s possibility. Whether mine, yours, our grandkids’ or our planet’s. That noble, beautiful, improbable quest for self-realization — eudaimonia — is the reason we’re all here, each and every one.

Remember me? There I was, happily dying. And then the fates did what fates do. Pulled the rug out from under me. I didn’t die. The old world did. And the new world isn’t yet born. We’re going to have to create it, give painful birth to it, drag it out of ourselves, kicking and screaming, with love and grace. Even those of us, like me, who thought they’d be content watching the sun set.

Hence, this little organization. You can think of it as a lab, consultancy, thinktank — what it really is is an invitation. So if you’d like to join me on this quest, consider all this yours.

Umair


(Here are three brief footnotes for nerds. I emphatically don’t mean “economics is bad!”. It’s not. It has a great deal to teach us. The problem is that it’s used backwards. Abstractions of reality are meant only to provide academic insight and theoretical validation. But we use economic ideas — theories and models — not to validate theories, as real world levers to fulfill them. See the difference? That’s like taking a bunch of monkeys who’ve survived the clinical trials of a wonder drug and…putting them in charge of a nation’s healthcare. Inquiry has been turned around to become a method of human organization. Thus, the economic paradigm of human organization shouldn’t be one at all — economics should be just one tiny way, among many, to see, explain, think about human behavior, not a mode of organizing it, especially not the only mode.

In a similar vein, there’s often a refrain of “things are getting better! They’re not that bad!”, meaning that extreme global poverty has been reduced. That’s true, but. Those gains have been concentrated in India and China, and while the old paradigm might have raised median incomes there from $1K to $5k, it can’t raise them from $5k to $50k. Not just because the planet doesn’t have the resources, though it doesn’t — but because those societies already face the same tensions the old paradigm has produced: inequality, extremism, dissatisfaction, and so on. In other words, the old paradigm is out of steam. Technically, we’d say that the social, civic, and human externalities of the economic paradigm are too high for the world to bear.

That also means paradigm change isn’t just about going from capitalism to socialism. Both those — and all the “isms” surrounding them — still often share exactly the same paradigmatic goal, the same sole end — maximizing immediate income, trickling down from bigger to smaller organizations. As a simple example, China’s nominally socialist — but it’s overarching social objective, is precisely the same as America’s — to maximize GDP. So paradigmatic change doesn’t just mean “capitalism versus socialism”. It doesn’t mean any ism, in fact. Not liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, leftism. None of it. Paradigmatic change means something truer, deeper, more radical — changing the means and ends of human organization, the purposes to which our days, moment, ideas, relationships, careers, ambitions, dreams are devoted.)

If time is fuzzy, the idea of causality may be in trouble

Does one thing lead to another?

The thing about Gedankenexperimente — or thought experiments, for those who find Albert Einstein’s native tongue too twisting — is that you never know where they might lead. For Einstein, they led to the theory of relativity. For James Clerk Maxwell, they conjured an imaginary demon who could violate the second law of thermodynamics. For Erwin Schrödinger, they created an existentially confused cat that was simultaneously dead and alive.

Physicists like to devise Gedankenexperimente because they are a way to consider ideas that cannot be tested for real, usually because the technology needed is not yet available or even envisaged. Though not a substitute for true experimentation, a good Gedankenexperiment may point to conclusions that proper experiments can indeed test. And, though the famous Gedankenexperimente mentioned above are all quite old now, the idea of conducting them has neither gone out of fashion nor lost its ambition. Indeed, some of the most recent such thought experiments, carried out by a group of quantum physicists led by Caslav Brukner of the University of Vienna, are questioning the nature of one of the fundamental aspects of the universe, time itself.

That one thing happens after another, and that there is no doubt about which came first, is intrinsic to the commonsense notion of time. It was also intrinsic to the development of the theory of relativity, the Gedankenexperimente for which often depend on clocks moving relative to one another. Add quantum theory to the mix, though, and then think through the consequences, and doubts start to emerge about what order events are really happening in.

Let’s do the time warp again

The first thought experiment that Dr Brukner’s group came up with, published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by him and two of his students, Esteban Castro Ruiz and Flaminia Giacomini, involved an imaginary clock of great precision. The accuracy with which such a clock could be read is constrained by Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. This limits how well pairs of properties of any physical system (such as location and velocity) can be measured. The more precisely one member of a pair is known, the more uncertain is the value of the other.

In the case of a clock, the time it tells and the energy required to run it form a Heisenberg pair: the more accurately the clock is read, the less accurately the quantity of energy involved can be determined. The result is that the clock’s energy is in a state called a quantum superposition. The energy in question may be large or small, both at the same time — just as Schrödinger’s cat is both alive and dead.

Since clocks, whatever the specific details of their mechanisms, are the only way time can be measured, the whole concept of time itself therefore becomes fuzzy.

At this point, quantum mechanics and relativity collide. One consequence of Einstein’s theories is that energy and mass are equivalent. This means energy, like mass, has a gravitational pull. A second consequence is that gravity changes the flow of time. Such gravitational time dilation is a well-established phenomenon. Atomic clocks kept at different altitudes on Earth, for example, get out of sync with one another because they are subjected to different gravitational forces.

Dr Brukner and his colleagues observed that in the case of their own hypothetical clock, the quantum superposition of its energy states means that the gravitational effects of those energy states also exist in a quantum superposition. The time dilation created by these gravitational effects thus becomes superposed, too. Worse, a second quantum effect, entanglement, means other clocks within the gravitational influence of the first will be affected by the superposition as well, and, reciprocally, will affect the original clock in a similar manner. Since clocks, whatever the specific details of their mechanisms, are the only way time can be measured, the whole concept of time itself therefore becomes fuzzy.

Nor is that the end of it. In the wake of the clock paper Dr Brukner and his colleagues are working on another Gedankenexperiment. This investigates the consequences that superposing gravitational fields has for causality — the idea that one event can truly be said to cause another.

The metric system

Besides mass-energy equivalence and gravitational time dilation, a third concept which emerges from the mathematics of relativity is something known as the metric field. Just as general relativity is an extension of Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, so the metric field is the relativistic extension of the Newtonian idea of gravitational potential — namely that the strength of the gravitational interaction between two objects depends on the distance separating those objects. The strength of gravitational interaction in a metric field similarly depends on the distance between objects. But because general relativity treats time as a fourth dimension, equivalent to the three dimensions of space, in a way that Newtonian gravity does not, metric-field distance is measured in both space and time.

According to Dr Brukner, the clock thought experiment shows that the metric field is yet another phenomenon which is subject to Heisenberg’s principle, and therefore to superpositional effects. As a consequence, it is no longer only location in space that becomes uncertain, but also location in time. Often, therefore, it would no longer be possible to say which of two events came first.

The new Gedankenexperiment the team have devised to test this involves a giant atom in a superposition of two divergent energy states. They are attempting to calculate the consequences of such an object for the concept of causality, namely the idea of event A causing event B. They believe that if the atom’s two energy states are sufficiently different it will become impossible to say whether A or B came first, and causality will thus disappear.

Although, like all Gedankenexperimente, this latest one cannot be conducted with current experimental technologies, all of the assumptions behind it have been so tested in the past. It therefore obeys both quantum mechanics and the theory of general relativity. But one big question nags. If the Gedankenexperimente that led to relativity relied on a linearity of time that the theory itself is now helping call into question, can those original thought experiments themselves be relied on?

This article first appeared in the Science and technology section of The Economiston June 8th 2017.

Sanders promised a “revolution,” but campaigned as a democratic reformer. Ultimately that may not be enough

Bernie Sanders’ revolution is still alive — but is democratic socialism a realistic goal?

Since Bernie Sanders’ historic presidential run ended last year, the senator from Vermont has attempted to keep his “political revolution” alive in order to bring about lasting change. Though he lost his Democratic primary run against Hillary Clinton more than a year ago, today Sanders is the undisputed face of progressive politics in America, and consistently ranks as the most popular politician in the country. He is in a very good position, then, to promote his cause and continue his political revolution.

Yet even as Sanders has become a household name in America, some uncertainty has lingered about his political revolution and what it truly represents. Is, for example, Sanders a democratic socialist — as he calls himself — or is he more of a social democrat? And just how radical — and revolutionary — is his political revolution? The word revolution does, after all, historically denote the abrupt and often violent overthrow of a government and/or social system.

In one interview with Rolling Stone last year, Sanders was explicitly asked by Tim Dickinson whether he supported an “overthrow of the capitalist system” like one of his political heroes, five-time Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs. The senator’s response was unequivocal. “No, no, no. Now you’re being provocative,” said Sanders, who went on to lay out what he actually meant by political revolution:

What we have got to do is not only overturn Citizens United, but we have got to move, in my view, to public funding of elections. We have to pass universal legislation that makes everybody in this country who is 18 or older eligible to vote, so we do away with the Republican voter suppression around the country.

This, of course, is what one would call a reformist agenda rather than a revolutionary one — which is essentially what the Sanders campaign was all about. Though Sanders identified as a “democratic socialist” and advocated a “political revolution,” in reality the Vermont senator was more of a social democrat who espoused a bold though decidedly moderate agenda. Sanders did not advocate an overthrow of the government or the collective ownership of the means of production, but a nonviolent popular movement fighting for progressive reforms akin to the New Deal legislation of the 1930s.

And this is ultimately what Sanders meant by a political revolution. Using the Democratic primaries as a launch pad, the senator aimed to create a sustained grassroots movement similar to transformative social movements of the past (e.g., the Civil Rights movement, women’s suffrage, the labor and socialist movements, etc.). “Change never takes place from the top down, it comes from the bottom up,” the senator frequently repeated during his run, suggesting that electoral politics is limited in what it can accomplish.

Whether one believes in reform or revolution (or, indeed, counterrevolution), it is hard to argue with this theory of change. History shows us that social movements drive progress and that political apathy is the lifeblood of the ruling class. This may sound like common sense, but Americans have become so accustomed to the spectator sport that is modern electoral politics that it was actually radical for Sanders to drive this point home last year. And he has continued to do so over the past year. Indeed, last week he made a stop in Naperville, Illinois to give a presentation on his new book, “Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution,” and the message was familiar.

“The struggle of American democracy has been to become a more encompassing democracy, to involve more and more people,” said Sanders to group of high school students. ”And none of that happened by accident. It happened because people stood up and struggled and fought to make that happen.”

Not surprisingly, the senator’s new “guide” to political revolution advocates reforming the system rather than overthrowing it. This is to be expected from a social democrat like Sanders, who believes that it is both possible and preferable to reform our political system and economy through legislative means. But not all of Sanders’ supporters are on the same page. There is a growing subset of progressives who believe that while social democratic reform is a step in the right direction, the end goal should be true democratic socialism — meaning an economic democracy in which workers rather than plutocrats hold power.

This debate between social democrats and democratic socialists was recently on display in the pages of the New Republic and Jacobin Magazine. In the former publication, veteran progressive journalist John Judis wrote an  excellent article on the resurgence of the American left and why he believes it should embrace a social democratic agenda going forward.

The “old nostrums about ownership and control of the means of production simply don’t resonate in 2017,” writes Judis, who contends that social democracy, “while lacking in utopian appeal, does provide a vision that goes very far beyond the status quo in the United States.” The author of “The Populist Explosion” goes on to suggest that American socialists should “do what the Europeans did after World War II and bid goodbye to the Marxist vision of democratic control and ownership of the means of production.”

“They need to recognize that what is necessary now — and also conceivable — is not to abolish capitalism, but to create socialism within it,” Judis concludes.

Responding to Judis’ piece in Jacobin, founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara and Joseph Schwartz, national vice chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, observe that while Judis has good intentions, his reformist vision would ultimately lead progressives “into the dead end of twentieth-century social democracy.”

“History shows us that achieving a stable welfare state while leaving capital’s power over the economy largely intact is itself far from viable,” they write. “Even if we wanted to stop at socialism within capitalism, it’s not clear that we could.”

This is a crucial point that social democrats like Judis must grapple with. Even the French economist Thomas Piketty — an avowed European social democrat — concludes in his bestselling book on inequality, “Capital In the Twenty-First Century,” that the “golden age” of capitalism in the mid-20th century, when inequality levels actually declined, was a historical aberration that is unlikely to repeat itself. While social democrats are often seen as the pragmatists of the left, it is the democratic socialists who recognize the structural forces of capitalism and the inevitable antagonism between labor and capital.

Of course, the question of political pragmatism depends largely on one’s perspective. In the short term, the social democrats who are currently trying to take over the Democratic Party and carry out a progressive agenda in the halls of Congress are certainly more pragmatic than the democratic socialists who obstinately reject the Democrats. The United States has a winner-takes-all voting system that favors two major parties. Until we see electoral reforms that not only eliminate money from politics but create proportional representation  and ranked-choice voting, working with (and within) the Democratic Party seems to be a necessity. This does not mean the left should limit itself to electoral politics, however; as Sanders has argued over the past two years, there must also be a sustained popular movement that pressures elected officials to pass the needed reforms.

This may be the pragmatic way forward in the short term, but in the long run the left must also deal with the question of what comes after the current stage of capitalism and how to create this future. Social democracy cannot be the end goal, lest we repeat what happened at the end of the 20th century. At the present moment it is imperative to work within the system and fight for meaningful reforms. But eventually a true “political revolution” may be necessary to confront capital in the 21st century.

 Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Hillary Hates Again


When “mainstream” (corporate) media talks about the terrible role that hate is playing in American political life the discussion is usually about partisan contempt between Democrats and Republicans or heated conflicts between “radical extremes” like the alt-right and the so-called alt-left (Antifa). You don’t hear much about the longstanding and dripping contempt the Democratic Party’s neoliberal corporate and professional class “elite” has for progressive and social-democratic forces within that party – this even though most of those “progressive Democrats” generally line up dutifully behind the party’s ruling class masters at the end of the day.

This hate, too, deserves attention.

Smearing “Doofus Bernie”

Take the case of Bernie Sanders, currently the most popular politician in the United States.  Bernie, it should be recalled, sheep-dogged for Mrs. Clinton (whose approval rating stands below even that of Donald Trump today) during the last quadrennial election cycle.  He promised support for the party’s locked-in top-down nominee (Hillary) from day one. He gave that support to Hillary against the wishes of many of his backers in the summer and fall of 2016.  He did this even after the spiteful Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee collaborated with other highly placed Democrats and their corporate media allies to rig the primary race against him.

He was treated in very shabby fashion the by those forces during the primaries. Bill Clinton in New Hampshire called Sanders and his team “hermetically sealed” purists, hypocrites, and thieves and mocked Sanders as “the champion of all things small and the enemy of all things big.”

Hillary sent her daughter Chelsea out to absurdly charge that Sanders’ single-payer health care plan would “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”

Former top John Kerry and Obama communications strategist David Wade used his perch at  Politico to call Sanders “the zombie candidate” – a “doomed” challenger at risk of “becom[ing] Trump’s best ghost-writer for the general election” and a “Nader” who would destroy the Democratic Party’s nominee with “friendly fire attacks.”

In April of 2016, for example, Hillary told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that a dreadful hit-job interview and smear campaign conducted by the New York Daily News against Sanders “raise[d] a lot of questions”about Sanders’ qualification for the presidency.

Hillary’s prizefighter Paul Krugman preposterously likened Sanders’ common-sense and majority-backed health insurance proposal (Medicare for All) to “a standard Republican tax-cut plan and  smeared Sanders as a practitioner of “deep voodoo economics” and “unicorn politics.”  (Krugman enjoyed calling Sanders’ supporters “dead-enders.”)

Hillary’s good friend the blood-soaked mass-murderer Madeline Albright told female voters there was a “special place in Hell” for them if they backed Bernie.

The liberal feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s curiously claimed that young women were voting for Sanders because “when you’re [a] young [woman], you’re thinking ‘where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

The silly, power-worshipping Rolling Stone publisher Jan S. Wenner (the man who took childish fake-progressive ObamaLust to frightening new heights in 2008) insultingly and inaccurately described Sanders as just “a candidate of anger.” (“But it is not enough to be a candidate of anger. Anger is not a plan…”)

An endless stream of establishment “liberal” media talking heads and pundits (with Krugman as leader of the pack) treated Sanders’ moderately leftish neo-New Deal agenda as a radically outlandish pipedream beyond the pale of serious discussion. They constantly repeated claims that Sanders’ lacked Hillary’s supposed ability to defeat Trump despite one match up poll after another showing Bernie doing substantially better than Mrs. Clinton against The Donald.

This was all consistent with a February 2016 document Wiki-leaked in October of last year.  It showed top Clinton campaign operative Mandy Grunwald suggesting that Hillary essentially red-bait and otherwise smear Sanders.  Grunwald suggested calling Sanders a false promiser of “socialist…free stuff” that “middle class” Americans would only pay for with higher taxes – and to denounce Sanders for supposedly advocating giant slashes to the military budget (Sanders made no such demand., sadly). The main idea – standard centrist neoliberal Clinton-Tony Blair-Barack Obama-Bob Rubin-Lawrence Summer “pragmatism” – was to portray Sanders as an impractical leftist dreamer and then to present Hillary by favorable contrast as the “progressive” realist who knew how to “get things done” (Obama’s recurrent boast) in the real world.

A different Clinton campaign e-mail released in October showed Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta referring to Sanders as “doofus Bernie” because the Vermont Senator had the basic decency to note that the Paris Climate Agreement fell short of what was required to stem global warming.

Clinton operatives and media allies repeated over and over the false charge that Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada state Democratic Party convention became a raging mob of “chair-throwing” thugs on par with the worst hooligans at Donald Trump’s rallies.

The Clintonistas invented the ugly, identity-politicized smear-term “Bernie Bros” to falsely paint out Sanders supporter as a bunch of bitter old sexist white men (there were plenty of women and people of color among Sanders’ disproportionately young base).

Rigged

Beyond the insults, put-downs, and smears, there was of course the rigging of the primary nomination process. There are abundant reasons to believe that Hillary benefitted from electoral and administrative shenanigans across the (seemingly endless) primary season. The fixing process was evident in Las Vegas, when the Nevada Democratic Party chair “shut down debate behind a screen of uniformed police” after the party excluded 58 Sanders delegates with sudden “rules changes” clearly made to block Sanders’ rightful claim to have won Nevada.

In July of 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was forced to resign from her position after thousands of Wiki-leaked emails showed the DNC exhibiting a clear bias for Hillary over Sanders and other Democratic Party presidential candidates.

Wasserman-Schultz’s successor was interim DNC Chair Donna Brazille, who was later shown by WikiLeaks to have used her position as a CNN commentator to have relayed questions ahead of primary campaign debates to the Clinton campaign.

Then there was the open mockery of democracy behind the fact that much of Hillary’s convention delegate lead over Sanders – enough to give her the nomination without a contest on the convention floor – derived from the 525 explicitly unelected and so-called superdelegates pledged to her before Sanders even declared his candidacy.

Sanders Stumps for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger

Despite all this and more, Sanders did his best, as originally promised, to try to drag Hillary Clinton’s horrifically bad and noxious neoliberal campaign across the finish line in November.  As the Democratic National Convention approached, Sanders endorsed Mrs. Clinton and dropped his totally reasonable criticism of her as captive to Wall Street billionaires and the moneyed elite. Re -directing his “populist fire” against Trump, the Senator travelled to Wisconsin, Michigan, and other battleground states (some of which he’d won during the primary campaign) on Hillary’s behalf. (Queen Hillary never deigned to set foot again in Wisconsin after she got nominated.

I saw Sanders speak in Iowa City the Friday before the general election. With former liberal Iowa Senator Tom Harken at his side, Bernie bellowed, pleaded, and begged for folks to vote for the “lying neoliberal warmonger” (Adolph Reed Jr’s all-too accurate words, not Bernie’s). His brief primary tussle with the reigning corporate Democrats was forgotten as he warned an at-best mildly enthusiastic crowd about the all-too real evils of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was always a tough sell.  The strain of trying to bring her across was evident on the Senator’s face.  The contrast was remarkable between the relatively small and polite gathering he attracted barnstorming for dismal Hillary and the giant and raucous crowds he’d attracted here when running on his own.

Still, Sanders hit the trail, beseeching voters on her behalf, with full knowledge that she was running a terrible operation. The Friday before the election he told some of his friends in Iowa City confidentially that he wasn’t sure he could bring her across: her campaign was just so awful, so clueless, dull, and conservative. She didn’t really have a serious policy agenda, Sanders noted.

Yet still he came out, ever the good Democratic Party company man(beneath the “Independent” veneer), swallowing his pride and fearing the Republican candidate enough to say over and again that  “we must defeat Donald Trump, you must vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Ingratitude: “The Worst Kind of Asshole”

How does Hillary pay Bernie back for his dedicated and energetic efforts on her behalf? In her soon-to-be-released political memoir What Happened? she accuses Sanders of causing “lasting damage” that opened the door to Herr Donald. She claims that Sanders “had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character” because the two Democrats “agreed on so much.”

“Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros,” Hillary writes. “took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.” The “Bernie-Bro” smear repeated.

“When I finally challenged Bernie during a debate to name a single time I changed a position or a vote because of a financial contribution, he couldn’t come up with anything,” Clinton wrote. “Nonetheless, his attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.”

So primary challengers aren’t supposed to challenge at all.  They are supposed to be thoroughly cowed patsies for the front-runners.  No, they are supposed to act out the same role The Washington Generalsplayed vis-a-vis The Harlem Globetrotters: perpetually failed props. As one correspondent wrote me last Tuesday, reflecting on Mrs. Clinton’s cold ingratitude: “How dare [Bernie] have acted like a primary was meant to be anything other than a foregone conclusion? Really, Hillary Clinton is giving the strongest support for the concept of ‘sheepdog candidate’ that I’ve ever seen, and she’s offering it willingly.”

In What HappenedClinton says that Sanders “isn’t a Democrat,” claiming that “He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.” Never mind Sanders’ repeated promise from the day he enlisted in the presidential race as a loyal Democrat that, in his words in January of 2015: “No matter what I do, I will not be a spoiler. I will not play that role in helping to elect some right-wing Republican as president of the United States.”

After discussing how she disagrees with Sanders’ view of the Democratic Party, Clinton writes that “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”

Wow. This is the thanks that the Hillary Clinton has for Sanders’ energetic and self-effacing efforts to save her sorry, vapid, sold-out, and uninspiring political career.  After everything Bernie did for her, after all the exhausting campaign stops he made for her, she still has the sneering sociopathic audacity to lay her abject failure partly at Sanders’ feet. As a different correspondent wrote me last Tuesday:

“Reprehensible. The worst kind of asshole kicks their own sheep dog when he/she left the pen door open. Madame Deplorable simply cannot face the fact that she alone is responsible for achieving the seemingly impossible i.e., allowing the crass, bloviating, two-legged toxic waste dump Trump from defeating himself. Her closest aides have confessed that she could not even name the reason that she desired to become president, other than, ‘It’s my turn. Gimme. Gimme.’”

One thing Trump got right: Hillary is “nasty.”

Conservative, corporate-imperial Hillary continues to look for others to blame for her longstanding pre-existing condition of severe unpopularity.  It’s Russia’s fault.  It’s Comey’s fault.  It’s Bernie’s fault: the sheepdog just wasn’t sheepish enough.  He wasn’t supposed to do what politicians do during primary and other election campaigns, which is find and exploit their opponent’s main weaknesses.

“An Asset to Her Campaign”

The Clintons had had such different hopes for the Bernie run. It wasn’t for nothing that, as the New York Times reported in the spring of 2015, “Mrs. Clinton cheerily welcomed Mr. Sanders into the race.”  The Clintons figured at that time that the only real threat to de-rail Hillary (as Obama did in 2007 and 2008) on the road to her inevitable. God-ordained Democratic presidential nomination this time was Elizabeth Warren. But with Warren appearing to have meant it when she said she wasn’t up for a presidential run (not ready for fighting Hillary’s daunting money machine, perhaps) and with little else to contest Hillary’s ascendancy on “the left” (Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb…seriously?), Hillary now faced a rather different political and public relations problem.  She was in danger of enjoying an all-too obviously Wall Street-funded dynastic coronation as the Democratic nominee.  She saw it as useful to face a challenge from a progressive candidate like Sanders, who could never (she calculated) receive the funding or media approval required to make a serious bid. That way, her pre-selected nomination could look less transparently plutocratic and more like a passably “democratic” outcome of “a real debate.” Ashley Smith puts things very well in a trenchant analysis on SocialistWorker.org:

“Hillary Clinton certainly doesn’t regard Sanders as a threat. She knows that the election business follows the golden rule: Whoever has more gold, wins. Clinton is expected to amass a war chest of more than $1 billion, mostly from Wall Street and Corporate America, to pay for advertising, an army of paid staff and Astroturf support. This will overwhelm Sanders’ fundraising goal of $50 million and his underdeveloped volunteer infrastructure…In fact, Clinton regards Sanders as an asset to her campaign. He will bring enthusiasm and attention to Democratic primaries that promised to be lackluster at best. He will also help her frame the election in populist terms that have widespread support. That benefits the Democrats and undermines the Republicans, who have little to say about inequality, except that they like it…No wonder Clinton celebrated Sander’s entry into the race” (emphasis added).

But then Bernie, probably even to his own surprise, got more support than he was supposed to! (Why that surprised anyone has always been a bit of a mystery to me, given the neoliberal-capitalist hollowing-out of America and the related desperation of masses of U.S. citizens for the slightest glimmer of substantively social-democratic decency on the part of anyone in the political class.) Bad sheepdog! Bad Bernie! For getting that popular support and at least briefly running with it in a major party campaign that came “surprisingly” close to unseating Hillary, Bernie simply cannot be forgiven. How pathetic.

A Goldwater Democrat

“I’m proud,” Hillary says, “to be a Democrat.”  But what kind of Democrat? The kind who has spent the great bulk of adult life helping push the Democratic Party ever further towards the corporate and imperial right – well to the right of the post-World War II Republican Party, in fact. In 1964, when Hillary was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a revealing reflection.  The right-wing Democrat Hillary acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in the anti-progressive conservatism of her family of origin.  Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.”  Her problem with Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay was that they were betraying true conservatism – “the conservatism [Hillary] was raised with.” This was worse even than the language of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) – the right-wing Eisenhower Republican (at leftmost) tendency that worked to push the Democratic Party further to the Big Business-friendly right and away from its working-class and progressive base.  Bill and Hillary helped trail-blaze that plutocratic “New Democrat” turn in Arkansas during the late 1970s and 1980.

The rest, as they say, is history – an ugly corporate-neoliberal, imperial, and racist history that I and others have written about at great length.  (I cannot reprise here the voluminous details of Mrs. Clinton’s longstanding alignment with the corporate, financial, and imperial agendas of the rich and powerful. Two short and highly readable volumes are Doug Henwood, My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency [OR Books, 2015]; Diana Johnstone, Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton [CounterPunch Books, 2015].  On the stealth and virulent racism of the Clintons in power, I highly recommend Elaine Brown’s brilliant volume The Condemnation of Little B: New Age Racism in America [2003].)

And yet strident “liberals” I know here in Iowa City are seriously and enthusiastically talking about Madame Deplorable running yet one more time in 2020.

Stop Hillary before she hates again!

Postscript

Meanwhile, the rapacious fury of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suggest that Sanders (of whom I was no great fan thanks above all to his failure to break from the American imperial project) was on to something when he had the basic environmental decency to say in one of the primary debates that climate change – and not Russia or Iran or North Korea – is the single greatest threat to Americans’ “national security.”

Which reminds me: Has Rachel Maddow lost her mind? Irma’s on a lethal rampage in the Caribbean, Jose in her wake. Houston is just starting to dig out of Harvey and the massive chemical pollution that ensued. Nuclear war beckons on the Korean peninsula. And when I had MSNBC on at the gym last night, Rachel was going on and on about. – what else? – Russia and Trump, Russia and Trump (specifically how they supposedly collaborated to hijack Facebook last year). The night before that I saw Rachel say that for all the “non-ideological madness” of Trump there have been two and just two consistent themes in the Trump presidency: 1. Love of Putin/Russia and 2. Hatred of immigrants. Now, #1 is absurd given the conflict with Russia that Trump has participated in (look at the recent diplomatic staff war just for one example). But even more significantly, Russophobic Maddow deletes probably the most consistent and deadly theme in Orange Beast’s presidency: eco-cidal climate change-denial and environmental arch-de-regulation of energy…certainly themes of utmost relevance in relation to recent and current extreme weather events. Insane. Anthro-/capitalo-genic climate change is the biggest issue of our or any time (Please see my latest essay on Truthdig: “The Silence of the Good People”). The Earth is our witness to that. And she prattles on about Russia, Russia, Russia, as if whatever it might have done to U.S. politics comes remotely close to the power of just the nation’s leading oil corporations in “undermining our great democracy.”

More articles by:

Touching Grace: A Little Closer to the Point of it All

If I could sum up this age in word, it’d be “hostility”. Wherever we go, whatever do, there it is. Petty nastiness over even the smallest differences. Hostility on social media, on TV, in the news, hostility between left to right, fringe and center, young and old, poor and fortunate, hostility, enmity, oppositionality, polarity, all day, every moment, endlessly. How does it make you feel?

I want to tell you a little story.

When I was ten or so, at school, they asked me: “what do you want most in life?” Imagine asking little children that question for a moment, which implies that life is about the pursuit of desire, not the price of love. They were training us to be little warriors, you see. So the little ones dutifully replied “money!” “cars!” “a mansion!”, and so on. Until they got to me. I frowned, thought very hard in my tiny mind, and said, “I think what I want most is peace.”

“Peace?”, the teacher replied, puzzled. “Like…world peace?”

“No,” little me said. “Just peace in me.”

The kids tittered, as kids do, the teacher frowned in disapproval, as teachers do, and never again was that awkward moment mentioned. Peace. What does a child know? What does a child not know? The child in me already knew something, just a little something, of the battles raging in me, and already wanted respite from them. Me against the world. Me against everyone else. Me against life. Battle. That’s what they teach us life is, isn’t it? Not how to really be ourselves, but how to make these wars, in this truest and most deadly of ways.

Fast forward a few decades. I’m a good warrior. I’ve won all my battles. My books have been published, I’ve won some tiny degree of fame, money, respect, and so on. There’s just one catch, one price, one problem. Everyone’s also an enemy when all you are is the world’s greatest warrior. So my life is one long, endless, wearying war, in which relationships, happiness, meaning, truth, people are all expendable. Casualties. Friendly fire. And slowly, though I’m young, war, which is death, is asking its price: me. In a true and real way. Of my possibility to love, to know, to feel. I’m becoming dead relationally, mentally, physically, socially, to love, to life, to grace. War. The most deadly of ways. The battles raging in me. They are also the battles raging in you, too.

What I wanted was peace, yet all I’d really earned, in this adversarial way of life I’d been taught, was the opposite. Rage, turmoil, fury, becoming the storm, and do you know what those really are? They are forms of hopelessness, powerlessness, numbness, despair. They are prisons of the human soul, because every instant you live them is an instant you are not (by definition) happy, self-aware, capable of appreciating or enacting beauty or truth or wonder or mercy, even upon and within yourself. That series of little wars that I’d been taught was the one true way to live, to be, to achieve, to have, hadn’t gotten me any closer to fully living. Only, somehow, an endless distance away from it. It’s a terrible price I’m paying. But I don’t know any other currency to use than hostility in this little life.

And then I get sick. I don’t know it yet, but I’m fighting the one war I can never win. The sun is killing me. Can a man fight the sun? What will he use? A mountain to block the sky? A net made of comets? Such hubris, such folly, is what tragedies are made of. So there I am, fighting and fighting. It’s all I know. My teachers have taught me well. And yet the harder, the more desperately I fight, the idea, the truth, the terrible knowledge, that I am sick, and maybe I will never get well again, that maybe this is it, goodbye, the end, the more I can hear fate laughing at me. This is the one war you can never win.

One day, into a long and painful illness, I’m just watching people. Bam. Something is different. Really different. Not in them, in me. I can’t see them as enemies, adversaries, rivals, opponents, in a great and endless series of contests for all the pleasures people tempt each other with. Can’t. Which is what I’ve done all my life, because it’s what we are taught to do. I just see them. Their suffering and beauty and pain. Their fear and hurt and love. I’m as transfixed as I am transfigured. It’s not some kind of miraculous superpower. It’s right there, on every face. Don’t you know? A little dog does, a child does, the stars do. They see us as we truly are. So why don’t you? Why didn’t I? My teachers taught me well. But they didn’t teach me much at all.

Then, at last, there was peace. From where? Just from nothing but perspective. Nothing between me and people had changed. I hadn’t suddenly gained it by having more money, fans, friends, dates, things, wishes, small mercies, charity, or even kindness. Only now I had a sense of grace, which means just seeing, accepting, knowing, holding everyone as they are. Just as they are. Then you become the sky that holds every storm, and transforms it into the rain that waters the soil of the garden.

So peace comes to us through grace. And grace comes to us not from winning wars. Not wars to be wanted, desired, respected, admired, nor even wars of kindness, mercy. It comes to us only through the wars we can’t win. The wars we can’t win teach us what is really universal, constant, necessary, worthy, beautiful, true, in life. Suffering is always with us. But so is love. Love is greater than suffering, because one can undo the other, but the other cannot undo the one. And so the wars we can’t win teach us that life is not really a war at all. It is just a way home, a crossing to the other shore, a return.

We are always coming home to love, in this way, in every instant and moment, every thought and action, every feeling and perception, and in that return to the garden is grace, and in grace is the perfect stillness of the human heart. A river flows, but is still. A heart beats, and it is still. Then we are home. There is nothing wrong with life, there is nothing right with life, there is just life. But now life is greater than us, and yet, it is the same life. Just lived in countless ways, to express all the infinite names of love. The wars we can’t win teach us all that.

So. I don’t think that you or I can heal this broken world’s hostility. We are not here to do that, are we? That is another war, too. Just to become the sky, instead of only the storm. To plant some little part of us in the garden. To let our rivers flow. Just one of those is enough for a life, any life, every life. Then we are touching grace.

Umair
August

https://umairhaque.com/touching-grace-35e2c0b270a