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An historic reverse. March 23, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Perhaps it is me but I still find the sense of an historic reverse we are all living through hugely disturbing… this from a Slate.com review of Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue’s These United States:

The curtain opens on the Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893. The city’s wealthy elite paid for an extravagant complex complete with enormous neoclassical columns, the world’s first Ferris wheel, and a giant statue of Christopher Columbus riding, oddly, a Roman chariot. All this masked the nation’s jarring inequalities: Jim Crow laws were spreading throughout the South; women had not yet received the right to vote; and millions of new immigrants were living in urban slums. Indeed, economic inequality had become the nation’s defining feature at the turn of the century. In 1900, the wealthiest 10 percent pocketed 41 percent of the nation’s income—a number that would only be surpassed in 2010, when the top 10 percent took home 48 percent of the national income. That number only fell between 1950 and 1970, to 33 percent. Even more shocking was the wealthiest 1 percent, who by 1910 had controlled 18 percent of the nation’s wealth, but 8 percent in 1970. Only in 2010 did the top 1 percent again control 18 percent.

Some interesting aspects uncovered by the book. It notes that progressives were as responsible as business elites in the ‘small empire’ established by the US ‘throughout the Western hemisphere’ between 1898 and 1912. It points up the contradictions in relation to race. And it has some intriguing points about the divisions in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1900s, divisions which have had effects that persist to this day.

But the near contemporary is part of the text:

Of course, Gilmore and Sugrue make clear that Reagan, above all, enshrined the idea of trickle-down economics and market-based solutions. But they are at pains to show how much Clinton and Obama shifted the Democratic Party rightward. Indeed, These United States becomes most riveting, and will likely arouse most debate, over its judgment of Democrats in the Age of Reagan, which many historians contend is the era we still live in. For all Clinton’s professed empathy for the black community, the authors highlight how his gutting of welfare played to the public’s false, racist image of lazy black “welfare queens.” Clinton gets plenty of blame for abetting the Great Recession too. The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act—a critical piece of New Deal legislation that prevented banks from making risky investments with depositors’ money—unleashed a speculative torrent.
The authors are only the slightest bit sympathetic to Obama. They concede that he operated under conditions not of his own making. But he “was not a transformational president.”
He caved to Wall Street in bailing out the banks without demanding any meaningful reform; the Affordable Care Act may have insured millions, but countless others have been forced to pay more because its biggest beneficiaries were insurance and drug companies. And his foreign policy effectively continued to do by stealth what George W. Bush barely kept secret at all: drone strikes, secret wiretaps. Other fundamental problems that began at the start of the 20th century have re-emerged under Obama: racial segregation abetted by a criminal justice system that is the New Jim Crow; anti-immigration nativism, which has hardly been helped by an immigration policy whose only achievement is a record number of deportations. Meanwhile, as of 2012, a woman still made 81 cents for every dollar a man earned.

Thought provoking point here too:

More importantly, Gilmore and Sugrue never succumb to defeatism. They highlight the many profound changes over the past century, from women winning the right to vote to the election of a black president. In doing so, they forcefully resist the notion that a narrative centered on the idea that we’ve returned to where we started means that we have achieved nothing in between.

Looks like a most interesting book.


1. gendjinn - March 23, 2016

The Odious Presidency of Bill Clinton is worth checking out. Obama has been about the same, which prompts ACA!!! Regardless of how politely one points out that health care coverage != health care, ACA!! I recall that Bush had 30% job approval ratings even at the end.

There’s a civil war going on in the Dem party right now between the Third Way/DLC/DNC/Clinton and the Progressive/Sanders wings. There’s a purge of the latter from the DailyKos site currently underway. There are a couple of fault lines: neoliberal vs Scandinavian democratic socialism; foreign policy; MIIC; In the discussions at DK I’ve seen those who look the other way on Iraq/Kissinger are overwhelmingly Clinton, those opposed to the Monroe doctrine (which Sanders criticised at a debate when he was questioned about his praise for Ortega & Castro in an ’85 video) are Sanders.

I’ve seen how good Irish folk treated Travellers and qualitatively the same attitudes, behaviors & rationales hold true across discrimination, prejudice and subjugation of an entire people/continent.


2. dmoc - March 23, 2016

On the subject of reading material on the US decline, some titles you might enjoy:

from 2008, Dennis Perrin’s ‘Savage Mules’. This got Perrin (a leftie) interviewed across the US on right wing AM radio. First time a lot of them ever heard a proper leftie; the hosts weren’t used to hearing the Dems attacked from the left instead of the right, insofar as those terms have any meaning here.


Much more interesting is the late Joe Bageant’s ‘Deer Hunting with Jesus’, the memoirs of a self-described ‘redneck socialist’. Absolutely 100% essential to read if you want to wrap your Irish political compass around the mentality of the southern white working class cohort. SPOILER: THEY’RE ORANGE.


Morris Berman’s ‘Why America Failed’ (2012) is the third volume of his American collapse trilogy. Like Joe Bageant, Morris gave up on the US, and moved to Mexico, of which he writes very affectionately. “The Gringos don’t like it when we remind them that they are dead”, says one of his neighbours!!!!!! Previous volumes in his collapse trilogy were ‘Twilight of American Culture’ and ‘Dark Ages America’; I recommend them all. MB’s view is: the US is going down, and nothing can stop it. Get out while you still can.


John Michael Greer (of the archdruid report) – his blog is a ‘penny university’ and it was a happy day when I stumbled into it in the mid 00s. Aloof, detached, he studies the hu-mans with the analytical sense of one of HG Well’s martians. One of his critics called him ‘Olympian’, and he was right.

If you gave me the choice of going to a university or reading Greer’s blog, I’ll keep the blog, thanks. His books are collections of his blog posts (this is actually backwards – he writes his books week by week, able to know in advance that the next year’s posts will collate into a book. Terrifying).



3. dmoc - March 23, 2016

Here’s a classic Joe Bageant piece, one of his finest I think. I can’t read the final paragraph without teaing up.


QUOTE: Beyond all this, it never ceases to amaze me how flat out damned ignorant these successful, well-heeled neocons at the local level can be. One business leader in my town, I’ll call him Jim Dawkins, returned from a trip to Europe and, knowing that I am a double-bottomed cast iron leftie, brought me a copy of a socialist newspaper. He gave it to me as a joke, and said “Man! Can you believe they actually allow this stuff to be published over there? We got laws against such crap in this country.” I reminded him that we have no such laws and that the socialist party is probably the largest political party on the planet. “Aw bullshit!” he said. “Then what the hell do you think is the largest party?” He answers, “The Republican Party. We’re the only country with real parties.” Now this is a guy who has an MBA, holds local office and has influence in public affairs around here. What in friggin heaven passes for education in this country? What kind of bubble are these American business people living in? Whatever the case, characters like Dicko and Jimmy Dawkins stand on the necks of millions of working poor.

My father died with some of those heel marks on his neck. For much of his life he ran a gas station/garage for a small businessman. He was proud of his craft, and good at it. Worked six 12-hour days six a week laying on wheelies under cars, mucking out grease pits, living on sandwiches. He never drank — he could never afford to start — and feared a fundamentalist god. He’d give your tail a whuppin if you swiped stuff, and take you all-night fishing on the Shenandoah River. Pop believed Jimmy Hoffa was proof that all unions are crooked, and loved to eat ice cream straight out of the carton late at night when he got off work. I used to slip downstairs in my jamas, snuggle up with him, and watch Gunsmoke. He had his first heart attack in his late 30s, lived in debt to doctors and hospitals ever after. He never had health insurance until he finally went on social security. The small owners he worked for became quite well off because of his ceaseless efforts to gain friends and customers and do perfect work — for $55 a week. In 1963. Yet he trusted the system and accepted all his troubles as personal failure. He had one hell of a huge funeral though, the biggest one ever in his church. Which I guess counts for something. Hope so. Because he sure as hell got nothing else for his troubles in this life.

One recent winter day, after the long dark commute back from the D.C. metro area, I stepped into my living room, where for a split-second I saw my daddy sitting on the couch by the flicker of the television eating ice cream straight from the carton, just like he did when I was a kid. Even a spilt second with an apparition is a long time, an eternity which defies our very notion of time. After the electric waves of shock quit going through my body, I sat down on the couch and reminded myself why I am a socialist: If I can do my bit, however small that may be, to prevent good men like my dad from working their guts out to line a lesser man’s pocket, or restore dignity to labor in even the smallest way, then I will do it. And if I can use the only damned gift I ever had — the one he never understood — in testimony, then I will do that too.


4. dmoc - March 23, 2016

Greer on ‘The Decline & Fall of Hillary Clinton’. This is great, I can’t think of anyone else who could work Spengler into this!


QUOTE: the reason that a large and growing number of ordinary working Americans are refusing to accept another rehash of the status quo this time around is that their backs are to the wall. That’s a situation that comes up reliably at a certain point in the history of every society, and it’s a source of wry amusement to me that Oswald Spengler predicted the situation currently facing the United States—and, mutatis mutandis, the rest of the industrialized world as well.

Spengler’s … theme was the way that democracies die. He argued that democracy suffers from a lethal vulnerability, which is that it has no meaningful defenses against the influence of money. Since most citizens are more interested in their own personal, short-term advantage than they are in the long-term destiny of their nation, democracy turns into a polite fiction for plutocracy just as soon as the rich figure out how to buy votes, a lesson that rarely takes them long to learn.

The problem with plutocracy, in turn, is that it embodies the same fixation on short-term personal advantage that gives it its entry to power, since the only goals that guide the rich in their increasingly kleptocratic rule are immediate personal wealth and gratification. Despite the ravings of economists, furthermore, it simply isn’t true that what benefits the very rich automatically benefits the rest of society as well; quite the contrary, in the blind obsession with personal gain that drives the plutocratic system, the plutocrats generally lose track of the hard fact that too much profiteering can run the entire system into the ground A democracy in its terminal years thus devolves into a broken society from which only the narrowing circle of the privileged rich derive any tangible benefit. In due time, those excluded from that circle look elsewhere for leadership.

The result is what Spengler calls Caesarism: the rise of charismatic leaders who discover that they can seize power by challenging the plutocrats, addressing the excluded majority, and offering the latter some hope that their lot will be improved. Now and then, the leaders who figure this out come from within the plutocracy itself; Julius Caesar, who contributed his family name to Spengler’s term, was a very rich man from an old-money Senatorial family, and he’s far from the only example. In 1918, Spengler predicted that the first wave of Caesarism in the Western world was about to hit, that it would be defeated by the plutocrats, and that other waves would follow. He was dead right on the first two counts, and the current election suggests that the third prediction will turn out just as accurate.

To a very real extent, Hillary Clinton’s faltering presidential campaign is a perfect microcosm of what Spengler was talking about in his cold analysis of democracy in extremis. Her entire platform presupposes that the only policies the United States can follow are those that have been welded in place since the turn of the millennium: more government largesse for corporations and the rich, more austerity for everyone else, more malign neglect for the national infrastructure and the environment, more wars in the Middle East, and more of the fantastically stupid policy of confrontation—there really is no gentler way to describe it—that has succeeded, against all odds, in uniting Russia, China, Iran, and an assortment of smaller nations against the United States, by convincing their leaders that they have nothing to gain from a US-centric world order and nothing to lose by challenging it.


5. dmoc - March 23, 2016

And here’s Berman’s recent post on Mexican vs. American culture:


QUOTE: Sad to say, many Mexicans have bought into this trendy US lifestyle, sitting in cafés that have spread across Mexico like a cancer, hypnotically staring into their laptops, and drinking bad, overpriced coffee. Progress?)

-The town embraces the White family. A neighbor gives Jim a chicken. The Díaz family has him over to dinner, stuffs him with enchiladas, and gives him food to take home. “You are not family unless you eat with them,” Sra. Díaz tells him. (Do even 10% of US families eat together anymore?)

-Over and over we see the town engaged in group rather than individual activities, such as a combination car wash and tamale sale, that the White family is drawn into.

-The town makes a quinceañera (coming-of-age party for girls) for Julie, Jim’s older daughter, which overwhelms him, emotionally. “Gracias por todo,” he tearfully announces in Spanish, to all who attended the event.

-Meanwhile, Jim comes to the attention of a rich white high school in Palo Alto, which offers him a coaching job. One of his runners finds out (from Julie, who is not happy about this), and confronts him about it: “Were you going to even tell us?” he asks, “or were you going to just run off into the sunset with those country club kids? We all get it: This is America. Gotta go bigger. Nicer place, better pay; everyone’s always gonna go for the better everything. There ain’t nothing American Dream about McFarland.”

Jim says to his wife, regarding the job offer: “This is the situation we’ve always dreamed about.” His wife replies: “Think of everything the town has done for us. They have protected Julie like family. You think we are going to find that in Palo Alto, or anywhere else [in the US] for that matter? Nowhere I’ve ever lived has felt this much like home.”

-Then come the state playoffs, and Jim leads the opening cheer for the team—in Spanish: “Uno, dos, tres, McFarland!” he cries. After the match, he tells the recruiter from Palo Alto that he won’t be taking the job. Jim White lives in McFarland to this day.

The psychologist Fritz Perls liked to tell the story of a Mexican farm worker who swam across the Rio Grande in search of work. Come Christmas, he swam back to visit his family, who wanted to know all about life in the mythical United States. “Well,” he tells them, “the gringos are actually very nice people. There is only one thing that gets them angry: they don’t like to be reminded that they are corpses.”

And so the flip side of the White Savior, who breaks open a closed, dead-end life for his students, so that they can enter the American Dream, is that Jim himself becomes disenchanted with that super-individualistic, alienating dream, in which people are turned into the walking dead. He becomes, in other words, a human being.


6. WorldbyStorm - March 23, 2016

That’s a lot of reading there, thanks dmoc!


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