BEHEMOTH (BEI XI MO SHOU) at TSL Hudson

This 2015 movie by Chinese director Liang Zhao is filled with great cinematography and sounds. It trades back and forth between scenes of enormous horizon gulping coal mines, under ground mines, iron making, and ends with scenes of a ghost city filled with enormous apartment blocks in a newly developed but vacant city West of Beijing. But, the most arresting part of the movie is its focus on the workers, men and women, in this relentlessly grim, polluted environment. The only narration is text read over scenes with a nude figure huddled on the ground in front of this devastation. It alludes to Dante’s Inferno.

Behemoth is a refresher course on why capitalism, whether in its American or Chinese variant, needs government regulation, strong regulation to prevent this egregious exploitation of the earth and mankind. Of course this presumes the government is in the hands of the people and nota tool of the rich and corporations. Therein lies the crisis.

The movie runs at TSL over this weekend and the two following. Here is TSL’s calendar.

Also playing at TSL is I Am Not Your Negro, the wonderful, challenging movie about James Baldwin.

Job (Business) Killing Regulations

Ever since Ronald Reagan told us in his 1981 Inaugural Address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” government bashing by right-wingers, Republicans and many Democrats has been a constant drumbeat of political rhetoric. Now we have Trump with his “Kill 2 regulations for every new one” and a government dominated by Republicans for whom destroying government has been an objective for decades. We are faced with the probable destruction of many government agencies whose job it is to protect us from capitalism.

Someone Else Will Pay – A Basic Feature of the Capitalist Economy

One of the basic features of capitalism is the requirement that businesses avoid any costs that they can. Basically they are required by the rules of the competitive game to get someone else to pay for anything they can shirk off. Without countervailing forces, the government, unions, and other social organizations, stepping in, capitalists will externalize any cost they can. This results in capitalist firms destroying the environment by unsustainable exploitation of the earth (see mines, forests, rivers, oceans); polluting the environment (air, water, landscape); maintaining unsafe working conditions; paying wages below that required for people to have a sustainable life; engaging in speculative risky gambling (see our financial sector for the most recent egregious examples of this); creating and marketing products and services based on manipulating demand through false, misleading and manipulative advertising.

None of this being done because capitalists are evil people.

This happens because the rules of the capitalist game require it to happen. If another firm, lets say a paper mill, is avoiding the costs of cleaning the water used in production before returning it to the river, the competitor paper mill must do the same. Otherwise, their paper would cost much more and they would not survive in the marketplace. Without government, unions, and social groups setting the rules of the game with regard to “external costs” capitalist firms must cast off as many costs as possible. This is the simple inescapable law of capitalist competition.

The EPA is a favorite target of government bashing. Let’s look back to why the EPA was formed in 1970 by Republican President Nixon. Many readers are too young to have first hand knowledge of how widespread environmental pollution used to be.

From the Empire St building – photo by Neil Boenzi originally published in NYTimes.

New York City looked like this in 1966. That’s not fog, that is smog, a noxious pall of automobile exhaust and emissions from power plants, petro/chemical plants and others. These days you have to travel to Beijing and other places without an EPA to experience this first hand

Another example

Here is a comparative shot from Los Angeles – 1968 – 2005.

From: http://geoprojectgrp7.blogspot.com/2015/03/air-pollution-in-los-angeles-location.html

Rivers on Fire

Industry polluted water so badly that some burned. Here is a short documentary on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. It begins with a snip from Randy Newman’s song “Burn On”1 :

The catalog of capitalism’s inevitable sins is way too long for this brief piece. The breadth of the costs of this central feature is quite astonishing and in some perverse way, inventive. In recent years we have seen new forms of externalized costs unthought of earlier. Do a search on “farm waste pollution” or “chemical pollution” for more examples from our current situation.

You Eat the Next Cost Avoidance Every Day

Another cost that capitalists seek to reduce, or eliminate, is labor, wages and salaries. The food industry is a good example of where non-union, minority workers are exploited because no one will protect them from the cost avoiding behavior of the capitalist system. Without government protections capitalists will pay as low a wage as possible regardless of whether the wage allows workers to live a reasonable life, raise their families and educate their children. Capitalism is not concerned with how the human resources of society survive and reproduce the next generation of workers.

The food we eat every day is plentiful and comparatively inexpensive because the farms that grow it are largely outside the protections of fair labor and minimum wage laws. Many farm workers are undocumented migrant workers from Mexico and other countries to our South. “Annually, the average income of crop workers is between $10,000 to $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family. To give you an idea, the federal poverty line is $10,830 for an individual or $22,050 for a family of four (in 2009). Thus, according to NAWS, 30% of all farm workers had total family incomes below the poverty line.”2 Many are migrants and therefore their children do not have stable school lives. 

This is not a new story. In 1960 Edward R. Morrow reported on this exploitation in one of the most famous documentaries of the TV history, Harvest of Shame. The facts today are only marginally better than 57 years ago.

Externalized costs, cost avoidance and shirking wherever possible are structural features of capitalism that people can and must control. Capitalism is structurally unable to control these outcomes. It has no capacity to see or react to the consequences of the actions of it participants. It requires perpetual mindless growth with no regard to any needs outside of its own needs. People and nature be damned.  With the present weakness of unions and other social forces, government is the tool. We must take the government back from the rich and corporations. Capitalism was created through the joint action of government and private entrepreneurs. It is not some ideal system, rather the result of struggle between various elements in society.  Its present structure is the result of more than forty years of political action by the rich and corporations furthering their ends. Time now for the vast majority to assert their needs to be expressed in the economy.

  1. audio of song here: https://youtu.be/VtW8RkI3-c4 []
  2. http://nfwm.org/education-center/farm-worker-issues/low-wages/ []

Diversity and Identity Politics Is A Deadend

Progressives have to declare class war as a central strategy. Otherwise we will all be sitting at the dinner table basking in our glorious diversity with nothing to eat.

For many good reasons identity and diversity have dominated our politics for decades.  Progressives celebrate its expansion and Republicans and their brethren on the right pretty universally engage in either dog whistle or outright racist politics. 

Simultaneously the rich and corporations have been fighting a class war. They have succeeded beyond belief. As is well known, for 90% of the population real incomes have been flat for the past 40 yrs. Meanwhile, the rich and corporations have gotten fabulously rich. Richer than at any time in history. And, to make things worse they have done this while hiding behind free-market (neoliberal) ideology that has impoverished the government and the public sphere of our lives. Our infrastructure is crumbling, education is outrageously expensive, sending many students to decades of indebtedness. Our health system costs more than twice any of our developed country cohort and delivers third world results. 

Progressives, time to fight back. Diversity and identity without a fair share of the pie is not going to make you happy.

Talk Back: Correcting the Anti-Government Bias of Our Politics

President Reagan was not the originator of this central trope of free-market (neo-liberal) politics, but he famously said in his first Inaugural Address in 1981, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” President Clinton, a Democrat, continued this theme during his terms culminating the the deregulation of the financial industry in 1999 setting the table for the collapse of 2008 and the Long Recession. Listening to almost any discussion by Republicans and Democrats you can find this theme, “If just get government out of the way, free markets will solve our problems.”

This ideology is ahistorical, counter-factual nonsense. It is asserted without any basis in fact. It is rhetorical cover for policies that have led to the vast enrichment of the wealthy and corporations and the impoverishment of everything public. Continue reading

The Future of the Women’s March

There is much ongoing discussion about steps needed to turn the enormous one day action of the global Women’s March in to a sustained movement to achieve better outcomes for the vast majority of Americans.1 To focus on just one strategic element, the movement needs to move beyond identity politics to embrace class warfare. The rich and corporations have carried out a sustained and successful class war for more than 40 years. They control the government and the economy. Donald Trump is just a symptom of the underlying issues. We need to break this hammerlock and shift the rules of politics and the economy back towards us, the 90% who are living off the remainders, the scraps from their feast. Continue reading

  1. The energy of this action is illustrated locally by the fact that over a 1,000 people marched in Hudson NY, a town of 7,000 in a county of 68,000. Video here of this event []

Park Avenue and How We Got There

“There” is our current situation in which our government has been bought by the rich and corporations, over 80% of the population has not had a pay raise in 40 years and the public sphere, schools, parks, our infrastructure, really anything not behind the gated walls of private wealth, is being starved in the name of free market ideology. The American promise that hard work, pluck and a bit of luck can bring success to anyone, regardless of their rank at birth, is an empty myth. If you are born poor you will die poor. Even if you are middle-class, there is a significant chance that you will sink and at any rate you will always struggle just to keep that middle-class status.

The rich and corporations have waged a 40 year class war. At this point they have won all of the battles and continue to take home the spoils. Continue reading

“Liberal”, “Progressive”, “Free Market”, “NeoLiberal” – what’s up?

A friend asked the following question of me on Facebook the other day:

What’s wrong with the word LIBERAL …. This word … progressives … is only a diluted weak solution of the real thing …. the L word has become like the N word … it can’t be mouthed in public. I know what Liberal means I don’t have a clue what progressive means … you’d think Neoliberal has some relationship to LIBERAL which it doesn’t. Am I the only person that can’t keep track of these shifting meanings which I think are meant to deliberately confuse the public .

I commented in reply: Continue reading

Election Results: The Next Ten Years

img_1844– The Morning After –

The election of Trump and the continued Republican control of both Congress and Senate guarantee that the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of the shrinking middle class and further aggravate conditions for the poor. Trickle down economics and tax subsidies will flow for the rich and corporations. The financial sector will buy its way out of the weak regulations of Dodd/Frank and lurch towards new adventures in gambling; a financial disaster will once again require the socialization of their risk at taxpayer expense. Continue reading

The Corruption at the Center of American Politics and Government

The 1/2% of the Population That Run Our Politics

Recently I came on a Ted Talk by Lawrence Lessig, “We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim” filmed in February 2103 (18:19 minutes). This typically brief TED talk provides a compelling argument for why the dominance of big money in our political system has turned it into an oligarchy and kleptocracy – my words not Lessig’s. 

“.26 percent of America gave 200 dollars or more to any federal candidate, .05 percent gave the maximum amount to any federal candidate, .01 percent — the one percent of the one percent — gave 10,000 dollars or more to federal candidates, and in this election cycle, my favorite statistic is .000042 percent — for those of you doing the numbers, you know that’s 132 Americans — gave 60 percent of the Super PAC money spentin the cycle we have just seen ending. So I’m just a lawyer, I look at this range of numbers, and I say it’s fair for me to say it’s .05 percent who are our relevant funders in America.”

Continue reading

Big Money, Big Politics…the best government bought, not by you…..

Wonder about the Impact of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision? 

Government in the US, as everywhere, has always been tilted in favor of the wealthy. But, the Citizens United  decision in 2010 giving corporations the right spend unlimited money has made government, really at every level, into the sole playground of the rich and big corporations.

A couple of weeks ago This American Life broadcast “TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN FOR OFFICE”. Listen to this program. It will further clarify how totally corrupt our government has become.