Anatomy of Decomposition

It’s been a while since I had the inspiration to blog. I’ve been home through the holidays, and since I was in Mexico at the beginning of December, I’ve been reading a ton. In particular I wanted to ruminate in this entry on three books that, taken together, are a fantastic primer on the current state of working class politics. Why think about that, you might wonder?

We’re living through the most excessive, blatant, overwhelming mass looting of public wealth by the plutocracy that has ever happened in this House of Mirrors that calls itself the United States. Obama, a guy I never felt any enthusiasm for, has lived down to my expectations again and again, or really, he’s plunged many fathoms lower than I could even imagine him going. The casual abandonment of rule-of-law promises (forget about Guantanamo, forget about habeas corpus—Executive Power is increasingly monarchical and the Dems are pushing it as much as the Bushies ever did) is bad enough. And handing the keys to the public treasury to the banks during the bailout, and to the defense industry the rest of the time, all pretty bad too… In the past week Obama has appointed old-style fixer Bill Daley (direct from his job at JPMorganChase) and Gene Sperling from Goldman Sachs to run his economic policy. Can it be any more blatant? There is a tiny cabal of self-serving plutocrats who are determined to take every last granule of public wealth for themselves before it all collapses in a pile of debt and empty malls, rusting ports and abandoned skyscrapers. Obama is just their smiling front man, and he’s not even trying to hide it anymore!

So where are the angry citizens? The demonstrations, pickets, strikes? (Oh yeah, they’re all signing up for Facebook groups and clicking “angry” petitions and “urgent” appeals online! Maybe they’re reading—or writing—blogs!) Where are the workers who are getting screwed in this Great Theft? What about a collective response to the destruction of the economy, the nearly one in five who are unemployed? There’s not a simple explanation, but at this point we have to wonder who exactly are we expecting to “take action”? There is not a shared sense of class among the vast majority of the population that exchanges their daily lives for wages. There is more confusion, cynical bitterness, and racial animosity than any common idea of a class enemy. The very concept of “class” is largely rejected by most people, or grossly misinterpreted to mean a wide range of strata that include such bizarre convolutions as “lower-upper-middle-class.” Most people think they’re middle class, whether they’re making $88,000 a year or $17,000. The fact that nearly all of us have to sell ourselves to an employer in exchange for money (some much better paid than others, obviously) is the real key to the picture. Nearly everyone in modern America is some kind of a wage-slave, regardless of the fantasies they harbor about their status based on their temporary ability to engage in debt spending.
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The Long Night

Another guest editorial, this one from my pal Iain Boal… a timely rumination on today’s sell-off of the internet by the Obama appointees on the Federal Communications Commission…

by Iain Boal
Winter Solstice 2010
4.30 AM, BERKELEY—Later today, in the hours between total lunar eclipse and the longest night, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be discussing an Order (drafted by its chairman and Obama appointee) which spells the end of the internet as a common carrier, and will allow “paid prioritization” by big capitalist firms. We have lived through the opening military-socialist phase of the planetary telecommmunications system, whose infrastructure required public subvention and state action far beyond the ability of private capitals – cold war computing and informatics, Pentagon ballistics and telemetry, DoD funded materials science, rocketry and satellite R & D, eminent domain and state seizures as necessary, etc. Now Big Telecom is poised and the electromagnetic enclosures are beginning in earnest; the camel’s nose is the (de)regulation of the internet in its etherial mode, the so-called “mobile services”.
The opinion of the mass of commoners counts for nought, and the silent compliance of public servants and officials is at this stage a given, as when in 1800 the seizure of the commons could be completed, no longer in “letters of blood and fire”, but with the stroke of the pen in Parliament by means of private members’ Bills of Enclosure. In 2010 it takes a comedian-turned-US senator, aghast at the idea of Comcast customers being blocked from Netflix, to describe the prospects:

Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it…For many Americans – particularly those who live in rural areas – the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections. Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet – but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called “paid prioritization” (the creation of a “fast lane” for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern. It sure is – but that’s exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination. Continue reading The Long Night

Normalizing Catastrophe: Cancun as Laboratory of the Future

This is a guest post from my good friend Eddie Yuen, who was in Cancun for the COP-16 Climate Conference… it follows on my extensive coverage a year ago from Copenhagen, so I wanted to keep it going, even if I wasn’t there and didn’t follow it so closely this year… thanks Eddie!

Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid crashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and rendered extinct 70% of all life on Earth. In December of 2010 in Cancun, a mere geological stone’s throw from the Chicxulub crater that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, a conclave of political and corporate leaders presided over a conference that failed to slow down the next great extinction event on this planet.

But for this geographic coincidence it’s unlikely that this conference will be remembered as anything more than another tedious and predictable step towards a future of managed climate chaos and accelerated global enclosures. Cancun is most significant, though, not as the scene of a crime but as a laboratory of climate apartheid.  Whatever fearsome predation the Yucatan of the late Cretaceous may have harbored, the Cancun of the early Anthropocene is the model of a
naturalized social order even redder in tooth and claw.

Even to use the language of “climate talks” is like speaking of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. As linguist Noam Chomsky said years ago, the mere utterance of this phrase validates the discourse that there is such a process. This particular conference, rightfully overshadowed by the Wikileaks saga, was both anti-climactic and anti-climatic, in the words of Laura Carlson, director of the American Policy Program in Mexico City. The Indigenous Environmental Network summed it up nicely:  “The Cancun Agreements are not the result of an informed and open consensus process, but the consequence of an ongoing US diplomatic offensive of backroom deals, arm-twisting and bribery that targeted nations in opposition to the Copenhagen Accord during the months leading up to the COP-16 talks”.

Hidden in the dismal wonkery of the summit, however, an important shift has taken place. The Economist of Nov 25th, 2010 pronounced the end of any effort by states to seriously seek to lower emissions. We are in a post mitigation world now, and elite effort will focus on adaptation. Some analysts estimate that the current ratio of prevention to adaptation in terms of funds spent is about 80 to 20, and this will likely be reversed.  But what kind of adaptation to climate change are we talking about?  Cancun in this regard is the perfect site for this conference, as it presents a vision of the future that elites are very comfortable with. Exclusion zones of concrete walled leisure, ringed by layered barricades and social apartheid. Like Dubai or Beverly Hills, its obvious who is a worker and who a consumer, and enough of the workers are security guards to ensure that “safety” and property will always be respected. Outside kilometer zero, in the city of 700,000, the highest suicide rates in Mexico. Inside the Hotel Zone, debt ridden Americans lounging on eroding beaches are convincing themselves that they’re having a good time.
Continue reading Normalizing Catastrophe: Cancun as Laboratory of the Future