New York has Spoken

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Photo by Roger Leisner, via commondreams.org.

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… at least, most of it.  Now, do we have to listen?

 

In spite of all the hype and hysteria, the New York primary ultimately held very little in the way of surprises.  The frontrunners with with the most significant home-state ties did well, the guy attacking the state’s most profitable industry did less well, and the guy who has built his persona on insulting its values and institutions got wiped off the map.  Nothing unexpected.  Well,  except for…

…More Than 100,000 Voters Dropped In Brooklyn…

Actually, never mind, apparently that wasn’t entirely unexpected either.  Perhaps a bit too convenient, as the most affected area is both the childhood home of Senator Bernie Sanders, and the home of a disproportionately large number of young liberal voters (generally seen as Sander’s strongest demographic base).  It gets even worse when viewed in the larger context of other establishment-friendly quirks, like the closed primary rules, shortened hours at rural polling places, or the fact that voters needed to be registered in their respective parties 6 months ago in order to participate.  But that’s all beside the point now.

The real issue at hand is how to respond to these results.  Unfortunate (or unfair) as it may be, the Sanders campaign was dealt a pretty serious blow by the loss of New York.  Clinton’s underhanded and dishonest tactics worked sickeningly well, and most of the ground gained in delegates during the past several weeks was lost in a single night.  Bernie’s chances were slim before, and after this loss, they’ve dropped to almost non-existent. I would argue that this, while discouraging, is also beside the point.

This campaign was never really about winning.  I mean, it would have been incredible, but losing this fight shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The deck was stacked from the start.  The important takeaway, for me at least, comes in two main components:  (1) There is a legitimate ideological Left remaining in US politics, and  (2) it is now more organized and more galvanized than it has been in decades.

Go all the way back to Bernie’s original announcement speech, and it becomes clear that, while he always intended to fight for every vote, he never really expected things to come as far as they have.  It was an experiment, and like any good experiment, there are things to learn regardless of what result you get.  He’s run a real campaign, and he’s taken advantage of all of the support that has come to him over the past year, and while winning was always a goal, I don’t think it was ever the primary one.

As I see it, the ultimate goal of this campaign was the political revolution.  He wanted to bring about a change in the national debate on issues like financial regulation, extreme income disparity, and the inherent anti-democratic nature of a election system that relies on a wealthy minority of the citizenry for funding.  And to that end, I think he’s succeeded beyond his greatest hopes.  He acted as a beacon, and he gathered an enormous and passionate movement dedicated to solving those problems.

As much as I hate to say it, I think the time has come to start asking ourselves, “What happens to this movement once the campaign that created it is over?”   It’s a tough question, but an important one, and it will define the nature of the American Left moving forward.  Clinton supporters and surrogates, along with most of the DNC establishment, want nothing more than to dance in the ashes of this revolution.  Are we going to let that happen?  Or are we going to make sure there are still plenty of live coals smoldering underneath when they try?

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Primaries Get Weird and Ugly in NY

Clinton-Sanders NY

Among the multitude of new developments since I temporarily dropped off the planet, the two Presidential Primary elections have probably been the most bizarre and potentially significant.

On one hand, the Republican race would have been a nightmare even without the Trump factor, but with him involved, it has resembled nothing so much as a train wreck into a dumpster fire.  Fucking seriously.  Ted Cruz is by far the more knowledgeable of the two leading candidates, and he is a theocratic psychopath who thinks he is anointed by God to lead the country into the End Times.  Or, he’s some kind of radioactive garbage monster in an ill-fitting human-esque skin suit, intent on steering the species to certain destruction…

I’m not even getting into Trump.  The man gets more media coverage than everyone else in the field combined.  It is enough for anyone’s good, times about 1000.

The Democratic race has been much more significant, but it hasn’t had the same circus sideshow tone, so the media has tended to keep the coverage to a minimum.  The last couple of weeks leading up to the New York primary have been a bit more intense, if only because the action is happening close to home for most national news outfits.  The Clinton camp has also been tapping a couple of choice sources to do some of their dirty work (more on that later), or at the very least taking advantage of clearly shoddy journalism to make Bernie look inept.

The primary is already underway, so I’m just throwing out some decidedly non-rigorous opinions, and on a subject where there are already far too many flying around.  Enjoy!

Any of my previous econ posts should make it clear that I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, but I try to base my opinions on facts rather than rhetoric or propaganda.  That said, I don’t have a perfect bullshit filter, so feel free to tell my if/why I’m an idiot, especially if you have some credible sources to back you up.

Basically, this state is a monster, and I think this is Hillary’s last big push to shut Bernie down.  Her campaign seemed to be ceding ground for the last month or so, content to lose states she was likely to lose anyway, and instead concentrate on fortifying her senatorial home turf.  California is an even bigger monster, but she doesn’t have as many natural advantages there, so like any good strategic operation, her campaign is picking it’s battles carefully.

The pressure on Bernie to leave the race is going to multiply exponentially if he loses here, and I imagine he’s going to ignore it completely and keep pushing to the convention.  He’s got the money and no good reason to get out now.  I don’t buy the argument that he’s hurting her against the Republicans.  (Honestly, I still think he’s pulling more punches than he throws.  Read up on the Clinton Foundation work in Haiti for an example.  She’s got plenty of vulnerabilities that have yet to see light.)  The worst he is going to do is further strengthen this new left resurgence and buy them more influence with an eventual Clinton administration and the DNC moving forward.

I think Sanders could win, but I strongly doubt he can win by as much as he needs to make up his delegate deficit before June.  After his early losses, things need to go perfectly in any state that could possibly be contested, and while it’s gone fairly well so far, he hasn’t bought himself much in the way of breathing room, and I just don’t see his good luck continuing indefinitely.  He’s had an impressive string of victories over the last 6 weeks or so, but as I said, I think the Clinton camp was in conservation mode for most of that time.  That is decidedly not the case in New York.

Now that we’ve covered their legitimate advantages, let’s get to some of the underhanded shit Clinton’s operation has been engaged in during the New York lead-up.  It started about as early as it could, with a hit-piece interview in the New York Daily News, released a mere day or two after Sanders capped off a seven-state run with a convincing victory in Wyoming.  It was basically Bernie squared off against the entire editorial board, and the framing of the interview (as well as the resulting article and surrounding media analysis) was carefully tailored to make him look incompetent, specifically on questions of bank regulation.

In spite of early impressions, it turns out Sander’s answers to the board’s questions were exactly correct, and if anything the Daily News editorial board came out looking like they didn’t know the difference between the Dept. of Treasury and the Federal Reserve (see this, this, this).  That, of course, didn’t stop the Clinton campaign from flogging the discredited article at every opportunity.  It was some classic Karl Rove/Swift Boat chicanery, attacking an opponent’s strengths with misinformation, then using friendly media to saturate the news environment and create legitimate doubt where none should exist.  But, then again, what did I expect?  If there is a discernible Clinton brand, it is victory at any cost, and the truth is usually an early and frequent casualty.

I don’t know if I have to bother with the perennial accusations of sexism (usually leveled against Bernie supporters, rather than the man himself), but I will anyway.  When a pro-Bernie Union rep. described all establishment politicians as “corporate whores,” the Hillary-friendly media was quick not only to personalize the attack against Clinton, but to claim it was an example of clear misogynist intent, as if there is no such thing as a male prostitute.  There were probably better ways to approach his sentiments, for sure, but the assumption that he chose that analogy particularly because of Clinton’s much-vaunted status as “a woman” is fairly absurd.  Besides, if anything, I’d say the association with U.S. politicians does more of a disservice to the nation’s prostitutes than the other way around.  I’d guarantee the average brothel has a better approval rating than Congress at this point.

Over this last weekend, there was a similar mini-(non-)scandal that centered around Sanders supporters in California showering a Clinton motorcade with 1-dollar bills in protest of a massive nearby fundraiser.  Cable networks pounced again, claiming (say it with me now) sexist undertones.  CNN and MSNBC commentators both went out of their way to describe the symbolic gesture as being “like a strip club,” rather than simply being the most economical way of visually proving a point that could easily be used against any number of male politicians within our corrupt and cash-addled political system.

I’m sure I’m coming off as having my own sexist animus in these last couple of paragraphs, but that’s also kind of the point.  The Clinton camp is counting on its ability to spin any attack on Hillary at all into a “sexist” attack, and to trust the larger culture to interpret those attacks accordingly.  Obviously, Clinton is seen as untrustworthy simply because she’s a woman, not because she’s a person of constantly-evolving positions running against one of the most consistent political figures in recent U.S. politics.  Her addiction to corporate cash is problematic because she’s a woman, not because she’s up against someone who makes a point to gather the vast majority of his funding from private individuals, rather than massive multinational corporate interests.

Ultimately, the Clinton campaign’s cynical use of feminism as a cover for her clear deficiencies as a candidate in this particular race is not only intellectually dishonest as hell, but it undercuts legitimate feminist concerns in the broader social context.  You can only cry wolf like this so many times before people stop listening entirely… But again, victory at any cost.  This is thinking she’s absorbed from her Wall Street connections:  If claims of sexism seem to be working right now, then they are an asset to be exploited for maximum personal gain, and nothing more.  You can call me a “Bernie Bro” for attacking her positions all you like, you’re only further proving my point.

The reality of the 2016 Democratic primary is this:  Despite a cadre of massive systemic advantages and the support of basically the entire Democratic party establishment, Hillary Clinton, the pragmatic, triangulating centrist, is in a tough race with a self-identified socialist independent senator from Vermont, and it’s not like he hasn’t made his share of mistakes that a better candidate of any gender would have been able to capitalize on.  The point is, Hillary Clinton isn’t doing anything that the DLC/New Democratic coalition hasn’t been doing for the last two decades, it simply doesn’t work anymore.  The voters that make up the american left are changing, and they are not going to tolerate this sort of center-right elitist Democrat beholden to corporate interests anymore.  Hillary will probably still win this, but I think a single-term presidency is a real possibility, especially is she insists on assuming that one of her party’s most valuable demographic groups (namely, younger voters) is too dumb to see through her bullshit and vote their own interests and beliefs.  Any future democratic candidates for any office would do well to learn these lessons as quickly as possible.

The Revenge of the Return

MechDanger

I did everything right.  Which is to say, I did what I was supposed to do.  (I’ve not once in my life done everything right;  this was about as close as I get.)  I took a chance, in spite of trepidation, in a bid to better provide for my family.  Anyone rational would have done the same.  The timing was horrible, and I knew that going in, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.  I’d studied and built experience over the years to do exactly this type of work, and I would’ve been good at it.

To this day, I still have no idea how it went wrong, but it did, and everything since has been a vicious cosmic joke.  I’ve tried to play the good sport, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep laughing it off.  There is a bit more at stake now than simple pride.

Which brings me back to my last pre-lapse post.  It was itself intended as a contrite-but-hopeful return to writing, although my time away had been much shorter (2+ months vs. 2+ years).  I closed it with a bit of rebellious flourish, some inspirational/oppositional window dressing to set the tone for things to come.  Except nothing ever came, not until now.  My current sentiments are similar, but more deeply felt, and I would like to expand a bit on those previous words.  I’m hoping for catharsis.  We’ll see what I actually get.

“…a time-consuming distraction like writing non-professionally is something I should have grown out of by now.  And for a while, I really bought it.”

I no longer think this is what I’m doing.  The last couple of years have been eye-opening for me, if only because I’ve dug more into the ugliness that is modern economic policy and uncovered some truly rotten and disgusting truths that need to be exposed and reversed.  If there is the slightest outside chance that I can help make that happen, I need to act on it.  I’m no longer just doing this for fun, or distraction, or as a learning opportunity.  I’m playing for keeps, and it starts right here.

“My current job pays significantly less and asks significantly more than the temp gig I had as a shipping carpenter back before the crisis really hit high gear, and anything I’ve done in the interim has been worse yet.”  

I used to joke, at one of the many jobs I’ve held in the last few years, that I was waiting to see if the whole “job” thing was going to pay off.  It was a line lifted from “Being John Malkovich”, and it was meant to show the John Cusack character’s disconnection from the average life experience.  Except, now, 17 years later, it doesn’t actually seem that disconnected from reality.

One of those aforementioned disgusting truths just happens to be the fact that re-stabilizing the jobs market at pre-Crisis levels was never part of the plan.  Business leaders, rather, intended to use the Financial Crisis to drastically lower the baseline of what workers could expect from a job, even a good one, and to replace many long-term contracts with small armies of temp workers.  It’s a strategy that has ushered in everything from recent fights over minimum wages and how to differentiate contractors from employees, to the “gig economy,” in which younger workers are forced to cobble together multiple part-time and temp “gigs” into an income on which they can (maybe, sort-of, if they’re really, really lucky) actually survive.

In the past couple of years, I’ve worked two jobs that operate on a kind of independent contractor/on-demand model, though neither was billed as such going in.  I was an employee, officially, and had to be available for a full work week, but with no guarantee that I would actually be utilized.  I was willing to roll with the punches, for a while, but it eventually became clear that the point was basically to have part-time employees while making it impossible for them to plan ahead for days off, the way one would with a more traditional part-time job.  Taking on a second supplemental job was impossible under this model, as was undertaking any kind of large-scale project outside of work.  Effectively, companies can externalize or offload business risk onto employees, which, like most post-Crisis developments, has been great for companies, but ultimately horrible for workers.

Which brings me to my final point…

“I’m sure I’m tempting labels like ‘cynic’ or ‘socialist’ or ‘conspiracy nut,’ but I really can’t avoid the feeling that the aforementioned conventional wisdom is only in place to keep my mouth shut and my mind too busy to notice the patterns of decline…”

I’m no longer worried about courting that kind of terminology.  Hell, I’d wear any one of those labels with pride at this point.  For one, I think, if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, my cynicism should speak for itself (frankly, I tend to see it as one of my draws).  As for socialist?  I guess, compared to what?  I’m no hardline capitalist, but I do believe markets are useful under certain conditions and in certain situations.  (That said, I also believe their efficacy is conditional on creating acceptable outcomes for the broader society, and if that condition can’t be met, as is absolutely the case under the current neoliberal variant, then they need to be restructured.  In other words, a pretty clear textbook socialist.)  And about the conspiracy stuff?  Well, I’ll just have to make sure my sources are solid.  After all, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t coming for you, or at the very least your subversive ideas…

And subversive ideas are the real currency of value here.  When a system is so fucked and unreadable that you can paint yourself into a nigh-unemployable corner making nothing but smart moves, subversion is the only valid course of action.  I’ll keep looking for that paycheck, but my next job will be simply that:  Something I do to keep food in my mouth while I write.  This is my option.  Anything else requires me to rely on a system that has proven, on multiple occasions, that it simply cannot be trusted.  I will not place myself at its mercy again, not with my family and future on the line.

Mustard

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Because I hate ketchup…

 

Holy shit, did things ever get weird.  2+ years.  4 jobs (give or take).  9 months with a pregnant wife, culminating in 1 amazing daughter (Penelope Jean, born October 2014).  Too many bills and too little income.  A handful of therapy sessions.  A smattering of inspiration, the occasional epiphany, and a near-infinite supply of irredeemably stupid ideas.

And, of course, nowhere near enough time to reflect on (or write about) any of it.

Not an excuse, mind you.  More like a bridge back to writing.  I can’t catalog everything that has gone into the past couple of years, but I can guarantee it has changed me irrevocably, and I’m certain it’s going to show (as if the Dad joke in the sub-head didn’t give me away already).  Possibly more confident, probably more desperate, and ultimately more invested than I’ve ever been in pushing myself and the world to get better.

Put plainly, I don’t have a choice now.  Or, more accurately, I’ve made my choice and there is no turning back.  “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” as the good doctor Hunter S. Thompson used to say (you know, before he killed himself, and then Johnny Depp shot his ashes out of a cannon).  I have to improve myself before I can improve things around me, and allowing the destructive and anti-social ideas at the top of the heap continue to stay there is not an option.

I have to do what I can to fight systemic stupidities, because I suddenly understand in a way I didn’t or couldn’t before that the consequences of flawed thinking will be passed to the coming generation, whether they deserve it or not.  It’s easy enough for me to be cynical and misanthropic about humanity and it’s future in a generalized form, but putting a face on it, specifically her face, blows the windows out of that abstraction.

So, I find myself driven not only to ensure the usual food/clothing/shelter/attention that every parent tries to provide, but also feeling a tremendous responsibility to further engage with political and social institutions and start pushing them toward better ideas (usually in opposition to their natural tendencies under current conditions).  I was never particularly good at either one of these things before, and why I suddenly seem to think I can manage to juggle both with the day-to-day requirements of parenting is completely beyond me.  Turns out very little about parental instinct is rational.  Go figure.

But who knows?  I have to think that if my perspectives could shift this drastically on the fulcrum of a single event, other aspects I’ve come to take for granted may be capable of a similar change.  The only way to know for sure is to try, and like I said, it’s not as though I still have a choice in the matter.  The ramifications may be dire, but that doesn’t mean my reasoning isn’t sound.