Tag Archive: Obama


Revolutionary democracy

Here are a few thoughts after watching Frontline’s Revolution in Cairo, which is a very good 24-minute summary of how this particular democratic moment occurred, and after reading Badiou‘s, Hardt & Negri’s, Hallward‘s, Amit Rai‘s, and some other takes on the events.

(1) The recipe:

Tools + Techniques + Events + Vision = The revolution(s) we’ve been witnessing

The first three, in the Egyptian instance, are pretty easy to identify (click on the links). To oversimplify just a little, they are   View full article »

Now that the election results are in, we can all go back to thinking about what U.S. citizens (and non-citizen residents like me) can do about the sad state of affairs in this country. Gara LaMarche’s and Deepak Bhargava’s recent Nation piece The Road Ahead for Progressives: Back to Basics captures the overall picture quite well, in my opinion.

While LaMarche and Bhargava acknowledge Obama’s tactical errors and mistakes in judgment, they don’t wallow in self-pity, as the left tends to in moments like these. “As for the left,” they write,

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“clean” coal

Today is National Coal Ash Action Day, as MountainJustice.org reminds us — see the information there on what you can do about it. Meanwhile, Climate Ground Zero reports on a fascinating case unfolding in West Virginia’s coal country, where tree sitters have halted blasting of a mountaintop by Massey Coal company.

Climate justice folks have taken the old growth forest protection movement’s most direct form of direct action to a place where it’s clearly about justice, not just trees (as so many have documented, and as Google Earth provides plenty of photographic evidence of). A petition to halt the blasting can be found here. (And reading the comments can be a blast as well.)

One of the things I like about that video, incidentally (and ironically), is that it sounds like a piece of ambient drone music by someone like Nurse With Wound or Zoviet France being performed as if it were one of R. Murray Schafer’s outdoor concerts, on location where it counts. Except that here the horns are being played by real live mining company truckers. And what becomes clear here is that music can be dangerous — a force of violence, not merely to oneself (when subjecting one’s eardrums willingly) but to others. Like a lot of art that comments on atrocity, however, the sonic blasting is only a prelude to the physical blasting that awaits the landscape, or a kind of homeopathic substitute for it if the tree sitters succeed in stopping it from getting to the more destructively physical stage.

Meanwhile, President Obama, despite all the good things in his speech last night (which I generally liked a lot, and which helped renew the feelings of admiration I’ve had for him all along), worryingly continues to dither on the energy issue, speaking not only of “clean coal” as if it actually existed but of off-shore drilling and a whole “new generation” of nuclear plants, and not even mentioning sustainable energy once in a speech that should have been a programmatic reframing of reality. I understand (as I think one of the MSNBC commentators mentioned last night) that he was aiming, in part, to take the wind out of any possible response by Virginia’s governor, who gave the Republication response afterward. But please, we need more pressure on the folks in Washington…

Here’s an interesting piece on the use of GoogleEarth and GoogleMaps to disclose the reality of the 450+ mountaintops removed to access coal deposits in the United States:

Valery Lyman’s 16-minute film, One of These Mornings, captures the pain, the joy, the happiness, and the excitement embodied in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.

Now, a year and a couple of months after that election, Ben Ehrenreich’s Slate piece on the dramatic failures (already!) of the international, but especially US, response to the Haiti earthquake disaster, Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti Rather Than Helping Haitians?, forces us to confront the fact that changing the world is not brought about by an election. If Ehrenreich and others are right, it appears that through a combination of knee-jerk militarism, systemic racism, and the pursuit of economic interest even in the midst of tragedy, Haiti’s most needy have not been getting much of the relief that the global community has generously sent out through personal donations via social networking media alongside traditional aid channels. That’s a scandal in itself, and it calls for serious reflection on why so little has changed in this country.

The other big moment of contradiction this past week was the U.S. Supreme Court decision about corporate “personhood” and unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns — which is the biggest single setback to democracy this country has seen in a long time. But, there being a silver lining to every dark cloud, this may also be the moment for Obama to step in and take the reins of his multiple-majority power lock and do something with them. (Why is it when Bush had to work with a Democratic majority in Congress he still managed to do so much damage, and when Obama has clear majorities in both houses, his hands are tied? We know, of course, that it’s largely because of the beholdenness of all American politicians, wimpy “moderate” Democrats no less than others, to the special interests who fund them — which the Supreme Court decision has just made that much worse.)

The decision is an easy target for Obama, and at least some of the more moderate Republicans (such as McCain, who’s initiated campaign finance reform in the past) as well as Democrats would be hard-pressed to support the decision. As he prepares for his State of the Union address this Wednesday, any American who supports him should take some time in the next couple of days to send a message to the the White House and to, at the very least, sign the MoveOn.org petition against the Supreme Court decision. For this “progressive” president to act on his promises, he needs to feel the country behind him. One step can lead to another, generating momentum for at least some of the change he had promised; but that first step has to be taken.

Real change is not brought about by a single election, nor by the expression (audacious or otherwise) of hope. It’s brought about by the hard work of enacting that hope into practice. Once the conditions are set for a moment of good feeling like that embodied in Valery Lyman’s film, we need to ensure these remain not just moments but movements, the moments of jubilation being the froth spraying off the tops of the waves, whose repeated breaking on the shores of our consciousness changes that collective consciousness. Hope needs to be set into motion along multiple vectors — cultural and institutional — and at multiple scales. But it requires political leadership, and leadership, in a system of politics as financially corrupted as this one, only comes with repeated kicks from behind. Friendly, soft, but persistent kicks.

Thanks to Ron Burnett for sharing the Vimeo link. Of the bloggers I’ve read commenting on the Supreme Court decision, Sara Robinson’s at Campaign for America’s Future, Chris Vitale’s at Orbis Mediologicus, and Brendan Demelle’s at Ecological Buddhism provide inspiring and interesting perspectives. And see Rebecca Solnit’s piece on the disaster of media coverage of Haiti.

plutonomy, Michael Moore, & Canada

I’ve written before about William Connolly’s notion of the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine, a description of the cozy relationship that’s developed between the economic right and the social-moralistic right over the last couple of decades in the U.S. It’s not merely an alliance of converging interests, since the two groups’ interests don’t always align with each other at all; nor is it only the kind of discursive alliance that poststructuralist analysts like Laclau & Mouffe describe with their notion of hegemony as a process of co-articulation of interests between differently positioned subject-groups. For Connolly, there is also a micropolitical level of resonance that takes in affect, feeling, sensibility, ethos, and other things taking place in pre- and sub-rational dimensions of individual and collective life. (The updated version of Connolly’s piece is found in his book Capitalism and Christianity, American Style.)

Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, which I just saw a few days ago, is a good example of the effort to forge a popular alternative to that. Moore tries to work on both the cognitive-discursive and the affective levels to, in effect, forge a kind of Christian-socialist-populist resonance machine — Christian in that it explicitly and repeatedly invokes the Jesus of the gospels (in a kind of reclaiming of the “what would Jesus do” discourse of the evangelicals), socialist in the small-s sense of valuing public control of our institutions, and populist in the way its critical barbs are aimed at, well, mostly bankers.

(On the Christian bit: see Moore’s interviews with Sean Hannity, rounds one and two, where the two tangle, sometimes in a friendly way, sometimes less so, over which of them carries Christianity in their heart (among other things). It makes for fascinating viewing…)

(And on the ‘socialism’: Every political-economic system in the developed world includes some mixture of small-s socialism and small-c capitalism, i.e., some combination of public and private ownership, management, and/or oversight of institutions, where “public”, in a democratic context, means by elected officials and “private” means by individuals or corporations pursuing their own goals. The difference is in how the lines are drawn between the two, with the U.S. erring on the side of minimizing the public role and most other countries seeking greater balance. Moore comes in somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but what he explicitly advocates is not socialism but democracy — which is another word for public oversight with the details being determined according to what’s in the public interest, not in the interest of the wealthy few.)

As a result of its discursive-affective strategy (with part of the latter being citizen Moore’s persona) the film won’t convert the unconverted unless they’re already leaning in this direction. But he does present a handful of tasty informational morsels that will hopefully send some viewers to their computers — as they did me — to find out more about them. One of those interesting bits is the idea of “plutonomy,” which comes out of a piece of political analysis developed by a trio of Citigroup financial advisors in 2005, well before last year’s economic crash. Jodi Dean has helpfully posted the group’s report here, along with its follow-up, and I highly recommend reading them. “Plutonomy” is similar to “plutocracy” (rule by the wealthy) and “oligarchy” (rule by a dominant class), except that it is not the direct power of the wealthy as it is its economic force that drives things (thus the “-nomy”). Investopia defines plutonomy as

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trusting Obama or not

With protests gearing up today to push the Obama administration away from its current timidity with its economic policies (see A New Way Forward and Democracy Now’s broadcast on it), it seems apropos to ask whether and to what extent the Obama administration should be trusted by progressives.

Open Left, one of the better progressive political websites, and one of the groups that greens should be building better alliances with, has an interesting discussion going on about this – see Chris Bowers’ Open Left:: The Case for Distrust.

For some background on Open Left, I recommend its take on the twentieth-century history of left politics in the U.S.

Similar questions as these could be raised about the administration’s environmental positions, where a notably strong set of opening strategies – particularly on climate change – seems to be growing a little limp. In particular, it will make a big difference whether carbon credits are given away to polluting corporations (effectively giving them what belongs to all of us, the air) or sold to them (and bringing in some revenue in the process). But at least with environmental issues we don’t have the same faces from the Wall Street-loving Clinton era as with economic issues (the Summerses, Geithners, et al.).