Paul Krugman: Trump Can Ruin American Workers Without Passing a Single Piece of Legislation

NEWS & POLITICS
As long as he’s in office, he’s a threat to the underclasses.

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

It’s tempting to believe that, because Trump hasn’t repealed Obamacare, locked up Hillary Clinton, or built a border wall along the Mexican border, his agenda is stalled. That fantasy got a boost this week with the departure of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. And while Bannon’s firing was a necessary move, Paul Krugman warns we shouldn’t break out the champagne just yet.

Yes, the Trump administration’s efforts to kick 20 million people of their health insurance while lining the pockets of the 1 percent have been thwarted for now. Krugman can’t even get too worked up about the prsopect of tax reform. “Straight-out tax cuts”, he writes,  “which benefit corporations and the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, might still go through, but even that looks doubtful.”

But now is not the time to get complacent. “Don’t just watch Congress,” Krugman writes, “keep your eyes on what federal agencies are doing.” Whether Trump passes a single act of legislation or not, the Department of Labor can still do immeasurable harm to workers and their unions.

The most blatant example, according to Krugman, is “the decline in the fortunes of truck drivers, whose pay used to make them members of the middle class.” That’s over now, as “their real wages have fallen about a third since the 1970s, with most of the decline taking place during the Reagan years.” That collapse wasn’t because of tax policy. It was a slow and steady erosion of the the power of the National Labor Relations Board, “that encouraged private employers to fight unionization, and in part to deregulation that undercut the position of unionized firms.”

The same can be said for the deregulation of financial companies, whose CEOs were responsible for the housing bubble, the mortgage crisis, and ultimately the 2008 recession. It wasn’t legislation that enabled them to act so recklessly but a loosening of rules across all of the agencies that cover our financial systems. When it comes to Congress, Krugman explains, “Right now it looks as if [Trump] may have much less impact on taxing and spending than most people expected. But other policies, often made administratively by federal agencies rather than via legislation, can matter a lot.”

Krugman ends his column on an especially grim note: “As long as he’s in office, he retains a lot of power to betray the working people who supported him. And in case you haven’t noticed, betraying those who trust him is a Trump specialty.”

Read the entire column at the New York Times.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/paul-krugman-trump-can-ruin-american-workers-without-passing-single-piece?akid=16003.265072.RxHsun&rd=1&src=newsletter1081405&t=4

Big business, military tighten their grip on Washington

One week after Charlottesville

21 August 2017

It is often the case that the outcome of events reveals the essential issues underlying political developments. This is true of the conflicts that erupted within the ruling class over the Nazi rampage in Charlottesville, which culminated in the dismissal Friday of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

The corporate-controlled media has sought to portray the sequence of events entirely in racial terms, with Bannon and other advocates of “white nationalism” now purged, leaving political control of the White House and the Trump administration in steadier and more “moderate” political hands: a group of generals and ex-generals, headed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, together with Wall Street financiers such as Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The New York Times has led the way, with an editorial Sunday declaring that “Americans accustomed constitutionally and politically to civilian leadership now find themselves relying on three current and former generals—John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff; H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense—to stop Mr. Trump from going completely off the rails. Experienced and educated, well-versed in the terrible costs of global confrontation and driven by an impulse toward public service that Mr. Trump doesn’t possess, these three, it is hoped, can counter his worst instincts.”

In the same edition of the Times, a news analysis celebrates what its headline calls “The Moral Voice of Corporate America.” In this account, “a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion.”

Among those named as part of this “chorus” of “moral” leaders are such corporate criminals as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, one of those responsible for the 2008 financial collapse; Mary Barra of General Motors, who oversaw the cover-up of an ignition-switch defect that killed hundreds of people; and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon, whose company is a synonym for low-wage exploitation.

The ruling elite saw Trump’s incautious remarks defending the neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville as a serious threat to the interests of American imperialism abroad as well as the maintenance of social and political stability at home. Powerful corporate interests feared the implications for Trump’s agenda of corporate tax cuts, the removal of business regulations, a profit windfall in the guise of infrastructure reform and the gutting of Medicaid and other social programs.

Trump’s self-exposure of his efforts to build an extra-parliamentary fascistic base increased the nervousness in financial circles over the danger of a collapse of the speculative bubble that has been built up since the 2008 Wall Street crash.

The response, laid out most clearly by the Times, has been to increase the grip of the military and corporate America over the government to an extent unprecedented in US history. It is 56 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned of the dangers to democracy posed by the rise of the “military-industrial complex.” He could have no conception of the size, power and degree of dominance exercised by the vast military/intelligence/corporate complex of today.

The first result of this consolidation was the announcement that Trump will deliver a nationwide address tonight, unveiling plans for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

What the ruling elite fears above all is the growth of working-class opposition to the Trump administration and the entire political system. Thus, excised from the official narrative promoted by the media is any reference to the reality of social life in America—a country in which 20 individuals control as much wealth as the poorest half of the population—as well as the reactionary agenda of the Trump administration itself. Nor is there any discussion of war and the crimes carried out by “responsible” leaders such as Mattis, who won his appellation “Mad Dog” for his role in destroying the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

This is replaced with a series of diversionary issues, centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country seething with racial intolerance and an exaggerated picture of the strength and influence of neo-Nazi and racist forces. Hence one has the apparently contradictory but in fact compatible phenomena, ubiquitous in the Democratic Party-aligned media, of the promotion of identity politics alongside respectful and even admiring portrayals of the white supremacist thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville.

Typical was a newsletter released Sunday by the New Yorker under the headline, “White Supremacy in America.” In an introduction, David Remnick, author of the hagiographic biography of Obama, The Bridge, proclaims, “Make no mistake: neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now at the forefront of American politics.”

Among the featured articles is one by author Toni Morrison titled “Making America White Again,” which insists that “Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.” In line with the Democratic Party and its various appendages among the pseudo-left organizations of the privileged middle class, Morrison explains the election of Trump as the product of the racism of “white America”:

On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

This effort to portray all whites, and particularly white men, as secret supporters of the KKK is a political fraud. Racism does exist. However, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are a tiny minority who are regarded with deep revulsion by the vast majority of working people. A nationwide mobilization could dredge up only a few hundred proponents of this barbaric ideology. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of all races have marched to denounce both Trump and the fascists he defends.

Trump is president today, not because of a mass vote for racism, but because he more successfully appealed to social discontent than the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, the personification of the alliance between Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, who did not attempt to conceal her complacent contempt for the plight of tens of millions of working people struggling to survive.

The racialist narrative is being used to demonize large sections of the population, buttress the identity politics of privileged layers of the middle class, provide political cover for a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, rally support for a virtual palace coup by the generals and corporate billionaires, and, above all, divert and suppress an independent movement of the working class.

The overriding threat to democratic rights comes not from a handful of fascist thugs, but from the very alliance of Wall Street and the Pentagon that is being touted as the antidote to the racists in the streets.

As for the Times and the various affiliates of the Democratic Party, they see the real threat coming not from neo-Nazis, but from a socialist movement of the working class.

The promotion of racialist politics and the tightening of military-corporate control over the government go hand-in-hand with the suppression of oppositional views, above all the World Socialist Web Site. Thus the decision taken by Google, in close coordination with the state, to censor and blacklistthe WSWS through the manipulation of search results. This is the prelude to more aggressive actions to target socialist opposition to the policies of the corporate and financial elite.

Patrick Martin and Joseph Kishore

WSWS

 

 

 

 

Frustrated young white men are facing class divisions more than racial divides

Why can’t white supremacists confront the fact that the source of their economic problems are white economic elites?

Why can't white supremacists confront the fact that the source of their economic problems are white economic elites?
(Credit: AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet

There’s no disputing the white anger and rage seen in Charlottesville, even if conservative publications like the National Review say these “angry white boys do not have a political agenda.”

Their anger is real and grievances differ, even if they took the old path of joining mobs spewing racist filth. Yet these white supremacists are blaming the wrong slices of society for their angst.

Racial divides are not what’s plaguing vast stretches of white America — deepening class divides are. If you think about who is to blame, it is mostly powerful white capitalists and their government servants that decimated regional economies in recent decades.

Many Democrats keep saying inequality is the top economic issue, as Eduardo Porter wrote for the New York Times in a piece that recaps the party’s national political agenda. However, the conventional wisdom that Democrats need to “recover the support of the middle-class — people in families earning $50,000 to $150,000, whose vote went to Mr. Trump,” especially in swing states “where three-quarters of voters are white” — is not acknowledging the roots of America’s latest outburst of white supremacy.

“Our economy is in very serious trouble. Ten or fifteen years from now, the standard of living of our average citizen may actually be lower than it is today,” writes Steve Slavin, author of the new book, “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It.” “Large swaths of the suburbs will be slums, and tens of millions of Americans will have joined the permanent underclass. There will be three separate Americas — the rich and near rich, an economically downscaled middle and working class, and a very large poor population.”

Slavin cites eight major economic trends, pointing out that almost everyone who is not living in wealthy enclaves — usually coastal cities or inland hubs — is facing a downward spiral that’s been decades in the making. These are the same stretches of suburban and rural America that elected Trump, elected the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, where hate groups are concentrated, and where many of those arrested in Charlottesville come from. They hail from the losing end of the trends Slavin cites and forecasts for the country.

It may very well be that the external circumstances of the whites protesting are “pretty good,” as the National Review’s Kevin Williamson writes, compared to non-white America. That’s even more reason to condemn their visceral rage and hate speech. But as Slavin notes, the national economy and sense of well-being is on a downward slide that accelerated in recent decades.

Those responsible are largely white politicians, white business executives and more recently the graduates of elite business schools — where the curriculum involved outsourcing domestic industries that once allowed people without degrees to prosper.

The culprit here is primarily class — even though race and class are often synonymous. If anything, the downwardly spiraling sections of white America today eerily resemble inner cities in the 1960s, where non-whites called for economic justice. Those urban cores were abandoned after two decades of white flight to the suburbs and manufacturers also leaving.

Here are eight overarching economic trends that Slavin notes have clobbered the middle class, working class and poor.

1. Manufacturing has mostly vanished. Notwithstanding Trump’s announcements that a few companies based overseas are returning, factory jobs have largely disappeared from the interior of America, where from World War II through the 1980s they anchored cities and counties.

2. Many cities have fallen into decline. Starting after WWII, the government and industry promoted suburbia, abandoning scores of cities to the mostly non-white poor. Detroit’s carmakers bought and dismantled public transit. That led to today’s costly transportation needs with a nation of commuters paying a lot for private vehicles, gas and insurance and spending hours away from home.

3. Health care costs have left wages frozen. Average wages have not seen increases, after being adjusted for inflation, for decades. A big part of the reason is businesses that provide health insurance have to keep paying more to insurers rather than employees. Meanwhile, insurers keep finding ways to draw on what’s left in people’s pockets.

4. Public education is vastly underfunded. Suburban schools in wealthy enclaves might be fine, but nationally half of high school graduates are not at the same level as graduates of other countries and their better achieving peers. That forecloses opportunity.

5. The government is not reinvesting in America. This is not simply about neglected roads and bridges. The U.S. government supports a beyond bloated military industrial complex that accounts for 40 percent of global spending on weapons. This may be domestic spending, but it is not spending on domestic needs.

6. The criminal justice system is bloated. Here too, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation; a predatory system that targets lower-income people and creates taxpayer-funded private police forces.

7. The make-work private sector’s useless jobs. This isn’t just the growth of service industries, but “more than 15 million Americans hold jobs that do not produce any useful goods or services,” such as bill collectors, telemarketers, sales reps paid on commission, etc., Slavin writes.

8. The bloated financial sector. This is Wall Street’s diversion of savings from productive investments to speculative ventures, where money is made from tracking the movement of other assets or the public is sold repackaged securities that generate fees.

In every one of these eight areas, wealthy whites in positions of power and privilege have made decisions that collectively have set the country on the path to today’s downward economic spiral. Right after World War II, the federal government would not lend money to black veterans to buy homes in newly expanding suburbs. They gave real estate investors like Fred Trump, the president’s father, money to build what became urban housing projects where many occupants were non-white renters.

There were not many non-white executives in Detroit when the auto industry acted to destroy public transit systems. There were not many non-whites on corporate boards in the 1980s, when the first wave of moving manufacturing abroad hit. The business schools minting sought-after MBAs were teaching predominantly white students to take operations to countries where labor was cheaper, or extolling the virtues of businesses like Walmart that decimated entire Main Streets across small-town America.

The list goes on and a pattern emerges — a class division, more so than race — which has deepened and afflicts America today. As Slavin writes, “Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of our nation’s economic decline is that millennials are on track to be the first generation in our nation’s history to be poorer than its parents’ generation. In January 2017, CNBC reported, ‘With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.’”

The Young Invincibles are a progressive group concerned about health care, higher education, workforce and finance, and civic engagement. But their name could also be used to describe the belligerent attitude of the white marchers in Charlottesville.

As Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, “What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.”

But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want — and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington.

 

Salon

Elon Musk may be a “visionary,” but his vision doesn’t seem to include unions

Tesla required employees to sign confidentiality agreements which prevent them from discussing workplace conditions

Elon Musk may be a “visionary,” but his vision doesn’t seem to include unions
(Credit: AP)
This article originally appeared in In These Times


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been making more headlines than usual lately. Shortly after the business magnate claimed he had received governmental approval to build a hyperloop from New York to Washington, D.C., he got into a public argument with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the future of artificial intelligence. Musk also recently made comments regarding the production of Tesla’s new Model 3, a battery-electric sedan. “We’re going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell,” he told journalists.

It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes “manufacturing hell,” but it might also be difficult to ever find out. That’s because, since last November, Tesla has required employees to sign confidentiality agreements which prevent them from discussing workplace conditions. This policy has faced increased criticism since February, as workers at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. plant have expressed concern over wages, safety and their right to unionize. They have reached out to the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) union, which is now intervening.

Last week, some of those workers made specific demands. A group called Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee sent a letter to the company’s board members seeking safety improvements and a clearer promotion policy. The letter cites 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the last full year for which such information is available. “For that year, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that our injury rate was higher than that of sawmills and slaughter houses. Accidents happen every day,” reads the letter. The committee also addressed Tesla’s resistance to workplace organizing: “We should be free to speak out and to organize together to the benefit of Tesla and all of our workers. When we have raised this with management we have been met with anti-union rhetoric and action.”

Attention was originally drawn to the factory’s organizing fight after Tesla employee Jose Moran published a Medium post on February 9. Moran raises safety concerns, writing that, a few months ago, six of the eight people on his work team were on leave due to workplace injuries. He also breaks down problems with the factory’s wages. According to Moran, workers at the Tesla factory make between $17 and $21 in Alameda county, an area where the living wage is more than $28 an hour. Moran wrote that some of his coworkers make a two-hour commute to work because they can’t afford to live near the factory.

“Tesla’s Production Associates are building the future: They are doing the hard work to build the electric cars and battery packs that are necessary to reduce carbon emissions. But they are paid significantly below the living wage for one adult and one child in our community,” Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director of the local worker advocacy group Silicon Valley Rising, told In These Times via email. “We believe that green jobs should be good jobs, and that they have a right to organize and advocate for themselves and their families.”

The day after Moran published his post, employees passed out literature containing the piece during a shift change at the factory. According to an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by workers, and obtained by Capital and Main, this prompted management to schedule a meeting where workers were told they couldn’t pass out information unless it was pre-approved by the employer. The same NLRB charge accuses Tesla of illegal surveillance and intimidation.

Moran’s piece, and the subsequent accusations, were taken seriously enough to be addressed by Elon Musk directly. In an email to employees, obtained by Buzzfeed, Musk declared that safety concerns ignored vast improvements established in 2017. Tesla also put out a statement echoing Musk’s claims. The company’s data points to a 52 percent reduction in lost time incidents and a 30 percent reduction in recordable incidents during the company’s first quarter.

Musk promised a “really amazing party” for workers after the Model 3 reached volume production. In addition to the party, the factory would eventually include free frozen yogurt stands and a roller coaster. “It’s going to get crazy good,” he wrote. As for Moran, Musk claimed he was a paid UAW plant and that he had looked into his claims and discovered they weren’t true. The UAW, he explained, “does not share our mission” and their “true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.”

This wouldn’t be the last time Musk would use such language in regards to a union. Six months after Tesla acquired Germany’s Grohmann Engineering, Musk found himself clashing with the country’s dominant metalworkers’ union, IG Metall. The union intervened to insist that Tesla straighten out a wage discrepancy that had some workers claiming they were making 30 percent less than union rates. Musk sent a letter to Grohmann employees offering a one-time bonus — an extra 150 Euros a month — and Tesla shares instead of a pay increases that the employees desire. “I do not believe IG Metall shares our mission,” reads the letter.

“We’re a money-losing company,” Musk told The Guardian in May. “This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing.” Two months after that interview, Automotive News reported that Musk had been the highest paid auto executive of 2016, exercising stock options worth $1.34 billion. Musk’s incredible economic success hasn’t exactly been generated via an unfettered free market. According to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times in 2015, Musk’s companies have benefited from billions in government subsidies.

Whether or not Tesla’s board members are receptive to employee demands, it seems clear that the workers’ struggle is not going away anytime soon.

Bernie Sanders, and the Unexpected Socialist Revival

CULTURE
Bernie Sanders proved socialism isn’t dead—and some young people are even open to the banished ideas of Karl Marx.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Since his grassroots presidential campaign took the world by storm last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been widely credited with bringing socialism back into the mainstream of American politics and introducing an entire generation to left-wing politics. As a major presidential candidate who unabashedly identified as a democratic socialist, Sanders essentially resurrected an idea that has been considered off limits in our political discourse for many decades: that there is an alternative to capitalism and the status quo.

This radical idea has become less taboo in recent years, and today an increasing number of millennials say they reject capitalism, while a majority of Americans support “socialistic” policies like universal health care (for the first time in a long time, single-payer is gaining mainstream momentum). Clearly, Sanders deserves the credit he has received for shifting the Overton window and reintroducing a form of left-wing class politics to America. It is safe to say that no single person has done more to revive the American left than the Vermont senator.

But Sanders’ political rise did not happen in a vacuum, and it’s unlikely he would have achieved much success had the social and economic conditions not been ripe. Though the 75-year old senator played an essential role in demystifying socialism to the public and instilling a radical spirit in the progressive movement, the current resurgence of class politics on the left has been in the works for many years, going back to the 2007-08 financial crisis.

It hasn’t been white-haired socialists who have provided the foundation for this resurgence, but young people who grew up in the era of neoliberalism. This was evident last week, when progressive millennials flocked to Chicago for the biannual Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention, where delegates came together to vote on various resolutions for the party. In the past year, the DSA has tripled its membership, and what is particularly telling about this growth is that the average age of DSA members has dropped by half virtually overnight, from 64 in 2015 to just 30 today.

This trend has led to a cottage industry of think pieces speculating about why millennials have embraced old school leftists like Sanders and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but it is hardly a great mystery. Millennials came of age during the worst capitalist crisis in 80 years and live in a time when income and wealth inequality have reached historic levels — as evidenced by the fact that the eight richest men in the world (seven of whom are white American men) own as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people.

Millennials inhabit a planet that faces ecological collapse, and most grasp the threat of climate change on a visceral level. Young people are also crippled by record levels of debt and despite being better educated than their parents earn 20 percent less than baby boomers did at this point in their lives. Finally, millennials have grown up in a time when moneyed interests have completely infiltrated the political process, creating an oligarchic form of government that serves the economic elite rather than the majority.

In other words, millennials are increasingly ambivalent about capitalism because it is a system that has failed their generation. Not surprisingly, this has led to a significant number of young intellectuals who have also rediscovered the works of Karl Marx, the great diagnostician of capitalism’s ills. Around the same time that the Occupy Wall Street protests erupted around the country in 2011, Bhaskar Sunkara founded Jacobin, the left-wing quarterly that has grown rapidly over the past five years, publishing the work of many millennial Marxists.

Of course, it is one thing to call yourself a socialist (or a “democratic socialist”) in America, and another thing entirely to identify as a Marxist. For the past century Karl Marx has been the ultimate intellectual bogeyman in the United States. For the majority of Americans who have no first-hand familiarity with the 19th-century thinker and his work, the term “Marxism” is synonymous with Stalinism and totalitarianism.

As with the millennial embrace of an elderly democratic socialist, this Marxist revival has predictably confounded many liberal and conservative critics, who assume that youngsters simply don’t know their 20th-century history. “That Marxism is not viewed with a similar horror as Nazism is one of the greatest failings of contemporary education,” tweeted Claire Lehmann, editor of the libertarian-leaning publication Quillette magazine, last month.

One of the greatest failings of contemporary education, one might counter, is that critics of Marxism know next to nothing about Marx or Marxism, other than the fact that some unsavory historical figures identified themselves with the term. This is obviously not a new phenomenon, and more than 50 years ago the American sociologist C. Wright Mills attempted to provide an objective account of Marx’s ideas in his 1962 book, “The Marxists,” meant to counteract the propaganda efforts of Cold Warriors. Mills’ book is just as useful today when it comes to explaining why Marx remains relevant in the 21st century. (Some might argue he is even more relevant today than in the mid-20th century, as capitalism has conquered the globe). In order to uncover what makes Marx’s work so valuable, Mills makes an important analytical distinction between the philosopher’s methodology/model and his theories:

model is a more or less systematic inventory of the elements to which we must pay attention if we are to understand something. It is not true or false; it is useful and adequate to varying degrees. A theory, in contrast, is a statement which can be proved true or false, about the casual weight and the relations of the elements of a model. Only in terms of this distinction can we understand why Marx’s work is truly great.

Marx’s model, argues Mills, “is what is great; that is what is alive in marxism. [Marx] provides a classic machinery for thinking about man, society, and history. That is the reason there have been so many quite different revivals of marxism. Marx is often wrong, in part because he died in 1883, in part because he did not use his own machinery as carefully as we now can, and in part because some of the machinery itself needs to be refined and even redesigned. . . . Neither the truth nor the falsity of Marx’s theories confirm the adequacy of his model.”

Marx’s model looked at the structure of society as a whole, as well as that “structure in historical motion,” and the German philosopher and economist employed this model to examine and reveal the dynamics of capitalism. This largely explains why there has been a renewed interest in Marx’s work in recent years, especially among millennials who have lived their entire lives under a global capitalist order. Marx’s model of looking at the world, along with his exhaustive analysis of capitalism, helps us to understand our own contemporary reality and where we are headed.

While Marx’s model is essential to understanding modern society, another fundamental aspect of Marxism is, of course, the merging of theory and practice. As Marx famously declared, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

This remains the ultimate goal for millennial Marxists and socialists. Although capitalism has never been more globally dominant than it is today, this has also engendered social and economic conditions that are ripe for left-wing political movements. As the Marxist economist Richard Wolff recently said during an interview on Fox Business:

Socialism is in a way the shadow of capitalism. Nothing guarantees the future of socialism so much as capitalism, because socialism is capitalism’s self-criticism.

After Capitalism: A New Synthesis

I was talking to someone recently and in the middle of a perfectly civilized conversation about our impending doom by nuclear holocaust they blurted out: “but you’re a leftist!”

Whoa there, pardner. I’m many things, a wastrel, a real life vampire — but I’m assuredly not a leftist. Not that there’s anything wrong with leftists, apart from their nitpicking ways, but liberals share that too I suppose. Here’s what I do think.

Capitalism and socialism might have been, once upon a time, in a mythical fairy tale of empires past, opposites — thesis and antithesis. I say “might” because I think even that is a tale told by wise old fools to keep children afraid of the dark. The genuine opposite of both capitalism and socialism are kleptocracy, oligarchy, authoritarianism — what results when political economies are run by and for tiny elites. We’ll come back to that.

The great lesson of the last century is very simple: first extreme socialism failed, and the Soviet empire fell. Now extreme capitalism is failing, and America is falling. Two great kingdoms — one single lesson: yesterday’s extremes have both failed. Cutthroat competition in every aspect of life soon becomes abuse. Enforced cooperation soon becomes unendurable. So what now? Well, surely not choosing sides in this textbook false dichotomy—which unfortunately is what many still hope to do — but transcending it.

Today capitalism and socialism are not opposites. They are complements. The global economy of this century must and will be built on new synthesis: capitalism and socialism working together, each strengthening the others’ weakness, a kind of yin and yang of human organization.

In what specific way? Well, let’s examine reality for a moment. Capitalism is very, very good at providing people things like iPhones and craptastic summer blockbusters and dating apps and edible deodorant and designer diapers and reality TV. You might call them idle pleasures. Which I might not like, but the average person certainly does. And that’s fine. If.

If they have the basics of a genuinely good life first. What are those basics? The American right and left love to pretend as if there’s some kind of great debate, mystery, about it. There’s not. Aristotle, the Buddha, and Jesus all spelled it out millennia ago. Food, shelter, income, safety, security, opportunity. Today we might update that list with things that didn’t exist in their time, but are clearly in the same spirit: transportation, healthcare, education, environment, relationships, etc. If you think about it, no matter how much money you have, you can’t really buy such things unless a society has invested in them first.

These “things” are what I call “fundamental goods”. They are what makes a life good at its root. Through them, everyone can be happy, and grow into their potential — without them, no one can be, no matter what your latest self-help bestseller says. Without a few meals a day, a little bit of money in the bank, and your health, no amount of positive thinking can get you to happiness — nor should it. Human beings are not all born to be monks — they are born to dare, risk, defy, rebel, imagine, create. And to do all that, they need the basics. Without the basics, democracy can’t survive, society can’t cohere, people can’t flourish, and lives can’t be fully lived.

So. The two great systems of the past, learning to work together. Where do we see it happening? All over Europe and Canada of course. There, capitalism and socialism are being mixed together in sophisticated and bold ways. Those societies are prospering because they are getting the formula of human possibility right: socialism provides the basics, and capitalism offers endless idle pleasures which only really count if you have the basics.

Where don’t we see it happening? Well, ironically, or maybe logically, in the two fallen empires of the past. America still clings to extreme capitalism, which has devolved into oligarchy — just as it has in Russia. Here, people have idle pleasures but not the basics — and for the simple reason that you can’t eat your iPhone, or educate your kids with Uber’s nonexistent benefits package, middle classes are choosing demagogues to topple the elites who have failed to provide working social contracts.

It’s a big world, and an endless future. But it’s also one with big problems. Demagoguery, driven by rage, is one. But then there are mass extinction, climate change, the growing threat of nuclear war. Choose your apocalypse. These are the stakes of this troubled age.

If humanity is to survive, it’s going to have to grow. Up. It is going to have to mature beyond the simple, crude polarity of yesterday, and learn to synthesize its great lesson. Capitalism and socialism aren’t adversaries, opposites. They never really were — more yin and yang. Every thesis and antithesis yield ultimately only a new synthesis. The opposite of capitalism and socialism is oligarchy. And the new synthesis beyond oligarchy is social capitalism, or capital socialism. Whatever we call it, it is a system in which people are freer. In America, ironically, “freedom” has devolved to “you’ve got to compete like an animal for your life every single day of your life, or else die young”. In Soviet Russia, it devolved to the precise opposite: cooperate for your life, or else. But the great gift of synthesizing human organization beyond capitalism is that human beings no longer have to submit to those foolish non-choices, demands, little tyrannies.

They are a little more genuinely free. Liberated not just to be themselves, but to see themselves, their very own hearts beating, in every life — and that is what growth really is.

Umair
August 2017

View story at Medium.com

1987 is the most important year in alternative rock

From chart hits to mainstream breakthroughs, it was the year modern rock came into its own

Why 1987 remains the most important moment in alternative rock
The Psychedelic Furs; Depeche Mode; Echo & the Bunnymen(Credit: Legacy/Sire)

The National has achieved many things in its career: music festival headlining slots, Grammy nominations and near-chart-topping albums. However, the brooding, Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati band hasn’t had a No. 1 single — until now.

Billboard reports “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” a song from the National’s forthcoming “Sleep Well Beast” album, reached the top slot of the Adult Alternative Songs chart for the week of August 19, beating Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” by a measly two spins.

In addition to the National and Arcade Fire, the rest of the Adult Alternative Songs chart top 10 includes a slew of seasoned artists: Portugal. The Man, Spoon, The War on Drugs, The Killers and Jack Johnson. Sonically, these acts don’t overlap much. However, on an aesthetic level, they all promulgate a musical approach predicated on constant metamorphosis.

The Killers’ “The Man” is an icy, funky strut; the War on Drugs’ “Holding On” is rife with sparkling Springsteenisms; Portugal. The Man’s “Feel it Still” is a taut, soulful shimmy. The biggest chameleons might be Spoon, whose latest effort is the ominous, funky “Can I Sit Next to You,” which feels like Duran Duran filtered through a paper shredder and pieced back together.

In a striking parallel, the composition of the Adult Alternative Songs chart — notably the abundance of veteran bands who are fearless about evolution — echoes the equally transformative alternative bands dotting 1987’s music landscape.

That’s not necessarily surprising: 1987 was an enormously influential year that shaped how fans and artists alike create, consume and appreciate so-called modern or progressive music.

To understand why 1987 is a cultural inflection, it’s best to consider it the year a burgeoning underground movement crystallized and mobilized. Certain facets of this movement were already in place, of course. Specialty national video shows such as MTV’s “120 Minutes” and “I.R.S. Records Presents The Cutting Edge” and USA’s “Night Flight,” as well as regional video shows (V66 in Boston and MV3 in Los Angeles) were already airing clips from new wave and so-called “college rock” bands. Modern rock-leaning radio stations — notably KROQ in Los Angeles and the Long Island powerhouse WLIR — were also giving these new groups a platform.

On a more mainstream level, John Hughes-associated movies such as 1984’s “Sixteen Candles” and 1986’s “Pretty in Pink” combined relatable depictions of teen angst with a cool-mixtape musical vibe. Hughes treated bands such as Thompson Twins, New Order, OMD and the Psychedelic Furs like futuristic pace-setters. The people responded in kind.

In 1986, OMD’s “If You Leave,” from Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink” peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. pop charts. No wonder critic Chris Molanphy, writing in Maura Magazine, points to “how pivotal Hughes was in helping to break what became known as alternative rock in America — he served as a bridge between what was known in the first half of the ’80s as postpunk or new wave and what would be called alt-rock or indie rock by the ’90s.”

Hughes’ imprint reverberated well beyond films. For example, the movie “Pretty in Pink” took its title from the Psychedelic Furs song of the same name. Appropriately, the U.K. band re-cut the tune, which originally appeared on 1981’s “Talk Talk Talk,” for the film’s 1986 soundtrack. This slicker new version landed just outside the top 40, at No. 41. However, the goodwill earned by this re-do buoyed the Furs through 1987: The desperate swoon “Heartbreak Beat,” the lead single from the band’s 1987 LP, “Midnight to Midnight,” became the Furs’ only U.S. top 40 hit, peaking at No. 26 in May.

“Midnight to Midnight” polarized fans: A collection of full-on synth-pop gloss, it bears little resemblance to the group’s early, moody post-punk. Yet bold evolutions were a 1987 trend; multiple established modern and indie bands staked a decidedly contemporary claim, sometimes in ways that completely overhauled (or at least added intriguing new dimensions to) their previous sounds.

(Let the record show that this phenomenon also has precedent: For example, Scritti Politti’s glittering synth-pop gush “Perfect Way,” which reached the top 15 in 1986, is a far cry from the band’s scabrous post-punk roots.)

Elsewhere in 1987, Echo & The Bunnymen buffed up their gloom on a self-titled album with sharper production, while Depeche Mode countered with “Music for the Masses,” an (appropriately) massive-sounding record with a dense, industrial-synth sound. The Replacements, meanwhile, teamed up with producer Jim Dickinson for “Pleased to Meet Me,” their most streamlined and focused rock record yet. R.E.M. forged a production partnership with Scott Litt that would stretch into the ’90s, releasing the loud-and-proud political statement “Document.”

In many cases, these evolutions didn’t necessarily lead to immediate commercial dividends. In fact, the Smiths — inarguably one of the biggest cult alternative acts in the U.S. — broke up in 1987, making their forward-sounding final album, “Strangeways Here We Come,” a posthumous swan song. However, in 1987, the upper reaches of the pop charts were noticeably more amenable to modern bands.

 Consider this a culmination of a slow and steady trend — how the chart inroads made by OMD and the Psychedelic Furs paired with those made by Pet Shop Boys (“West End Girls” hit No. 1 in 1986) and INXS (who set the stage for its blockbuster 1987 record “Kick” with 1985’s top 5 smash “What You Need”).

“Just Like Heaven,” from 1987’s “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” became The Cure‘s first U.S. mainstream top 40 chart hit, peaking at No. 40 in 1988. The shimmering 1987 synth-pop gem “True Faith” also became New Order’s first top 40 single, landing at No. 32. Other bands found even greater success: Midnight Oil’s “Diesel and Dust” spawned that band’s first mainstream hit, the top 20 entry “Beds Are Burning,” while R.E.M. landed its first top 10 single with “The One I Love” from “Document.” Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” hit No. 1 (though having a major Hollywood movie behind them helped tremendously).

What’s interesting: Besides individual radio station charts and specialized trade magazines, these alternative acts didn’t yet have a dedicated Billboard chart. The publication only launched its Modern Rock Tracks chart on Sept. 10, 1988, “in response to industry demand for consistent information on alternative airplay,” as it noted in that week’s issue. In hindsight, it’s easy to see this chart as a reaction to 1987’s alternative groundswell. The influence of these groups was now impossible to ignore, and measuring their reach and impact — no doubt crucial for label bean counters, if nothing else — made sense.

In an interesting twist, 1987’s beginnings and endings were as formative as their transformations. That year’s dissolution of the Smiths and Hüsker Dü led to each band’s frontman — Morrissey and Bob Mould, respectively — launching fruitful and vibrant solo careers that endure today. Debut records from Jane’s Addiction (a self-titled effort) and Pixies (“Come On Pilgrim”), and second albums from Dinosaur Jr (“You’re Living All Over Me”) and Faith No More (“Introduce Yourself”) put forth an aggressive, hybridized rock sound that presaged ’90s grunge, metal and punk. Even Crowded House’s 1986 debut LP finally spawned two hits in 1987, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.”

And, in terms of the touring circuit, plenty of popular 1987 acts continue to find success; U2 playing 1987’s “The Joshua Tree” to packed stadiums is the most obvious one. Depeche Mode is currently embarking on an amphitheater tour while Echo & the Bunnymen and Violent Femmes have toured sheds together all summer. In spring 2017, Psychedelic Furs tapped Robyn Hitchcock as an opener. In the fall, the band is teaming up with Bash & Pop, featuring the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, for tour dates.

These tour dates in particular have led several writers to recently question whether “80s pop” or “classic alternative” could become the new classic rock. It’s an intriguing idea, although one the radio consultants at Jacobs Media doubt has traction.

“While these bands may do well at state fairs and other summer festivals boasting well-stocked lineups of bands, their ability to support a format is questionable,” Fred Jacobs wrote in a recent blog post. “Classic Rock — and its derivatives — as well as Oldies stations were predicated on the power of nostalgia — not just for a few thousand fans in a market, but for tens of thousands or more of die-hard supporters. We’re talking mass appeal vs. niche.”

Jacobs then went on to point out that Echo & The Bunnymen received only seven spins on a Classic Alternative station in a recent week. “It’s hard to create a groundswell of support for poorly exposed music that’s now 30+ years old,” Jacobs adds.

In a sense, current successful bands like Arcade Fire, Spoon and the National are better positioned than their 1987 analogs to avoid this trap. Multiple channels — radio, video, streaming, live shows — make it easier for bands to gain exposure and reach more people.

At the same time, 2017’s fractured musical culture means that there are plenty of people who either don’t listen (or don’t need to listen) to any of these bands. For proof, just look at the puzzled reactions to Arcade Fire nabbing the Album of the Year Grammy in 2011. One person’s mainstream band is another’s niche or unknown act. Perhaps the underlying concept that drove alternative music culture’s 1987 rise — the mainstream cracking the door open to outsiders — is still alive and well in 2017.

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.