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Nightmare on TV

A television commercial for Rocket Mortgage last night horrified me. The narrator declared these quick mortgage loans would enable more people to purchase homes. This would create more contruction work and jobs producing the materials for building houses. The new owners would have to buy furniture, appliances, art for the walls and clothes to fill their closets. The people put to work making this merchandise could then buy their own homes, which they’d have to fill with furniture… and so on. Attractive visual images filled the screen with countless consumer items. Less than a minute after it started, the narrator concluded that this scenario demonstrated “America’s power.” It was terrifyingly brilliant; a catchy summary of the ideological underpinning of our nation’s need to engage in orgasmic excesses of production and consumption.

Industrial capitalism is a fabulous engine of production; that’s its greatest strength. The Great Depression, however, taught the captains of industry to fear over-production. If they produce too much, prices drop, profits disappear, and companies shut down. Workers lose jobs and the unemployed can’t afford to buy products so the system spirals downward. World War II got us out of the Great Depression. For the first time since 1929, industry could run at capacity, and since much of what was manufactured was expended or blown to smithereens in battle they could produce to their heart’s content without creating a glut.

When the war ended, many feared another depression. But those evil twins, the military-industrial complex and domestic consumerism, saved the day. We could manufacture huge amounts of military equipment as we pursued the cold war and developed an unprecedented globe-spanning empire, while selling even more to other “free world” countries. But that wasn’t enough. Madison Avenue convinced us to buy an endlessly expanding array of items that we simply had to have, even though we’d done perfectly well without them before we realized they were necessities.

This is an oversimplification, but the military industrial complex coupled with an explosion of domestic consumption is what fueled 60 years of prosperity. That ended for most with the 2008 collapse, but the economy remains wedded to increasing military production and domestic consumption. The problem is that this continual growth is destroying the productive capacity of the planet.

This can’t be sustained. Even if all the green capitalist dreams of expansion through renewable energy, increased efficiency, and technological breakthroughs were realized, infinite growth will still increase greenhouse gases, species loss, and habitat destruction. Do the math; even if we become ten times more efficient (very unlikely), and use one tenth of the fuel to build something, we gain nothing if the system demands that we make ten times more stuff.

Unfortunately, that commercial wasn’t just a nightmare. It captured the essence of our system. And, nightmare or not, we desperately need an alarm to wake up more of us because our survival depends on junking capitalism.  Read More 
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This Changes Everything?

I concluded my last blog: “The global warming-induced climate chaos and consequent resource depletion that Naomi Klein wrote, “changes everything,” has begun. I believe that Klein is right, but that many progressive[s]” remain stuck in decades-old strategies.

Why is that?

Perhaps some see that phrase as hyperbole. I believe Klein meant it literally, and that is how I take it for at least three reasons: 1. The overwhelming scientific concensus is that if global warming induced climate change is not stopped we will cross climate tipping points that will gut the planet’s productive capacity and render large portions of it uninhabitable. 2. Our time is limited. Either it’s too late already, or we have only a decade or so to turn this around, and minor adjustments won’t cut it. 3. Continuing current first world behavior guarantees disaster.

I’m not going to argue with those who don’t accept these points here, but if you agree, isn’t one question: If everything has changed, why do we vote as if they haven’t?

Some who know this feel defeated by it. They continue with their lives as if it isn’t happening. This mind-set leads people to follow past political proclivities as if nothing has changed.

Some hope either it can’t be that bad, or that it won’t happen for hundreds of years. Given the enormity of problem such thinking is understandable, but these positions are based upon denial and wishful thinking, not knowledge. This also leads people to follow politics as usual.

Some look at our inabiliy to get out of the pickle we’ve created as proof that we are a stupid, fucked-up, vicious species that deserves what it is about to get. I doubt anything I could write would change that attitude, so I’ll focus on the first two and relate them to the upcoming presidential election.

Many progressives who hate Hillary Clinton’s politcs say they will vote for her if she is the nominee because the Republicans are particularly god-awful this time around. This is the politics of “things haven’t changed that much.”

We’ve been told that if you throw a frog into boiling water it will jump out, but if it is sitting in comfortable water and the heat is increased slowly it will sit until it cooks. For argument sake, assume you knew that it was likely that either the Republican nominee or Clinton, if elected, would start a nuclear war. You wouldn’t vote for either even if you saw no alternative.

Apply that logic to climate change. If you believed, as I do, that neither would take the actions needed to save us from civilization-ending climate-based disaster, and you still would vote for Clinton because the Republicans are even worse, wouldn’t you be cooking in increasingly hot water? (Scalia’s death does not change this fact.)

Naomi Klein has put her finger on what requires the most basic re-thinking of our political tactics. This is why I reiterate that if you really believe that everything has changed, voting for the lesser evil is no longer a viable option.  Read More 
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Clinton Over Republicans?

In last week’s blog I explained why I agreed with the following quote: “It is easy to focus our ire and ridicule on those we call ‘climate deniers.’ But the worst climate change deniers are not the ones who say it is not happening, but the ones who recognize the problem but refuse to confront its most basic sources and causes.” The author was referring to the empty promises and false green capitalist solutions of the Paris Climate Conference. In that blog, I wrote that the proponents of this path “in the guise of saving us … will make things worse.”

Last week Noam Chomsky said in an interview that what Republican presidential candidates “are saying is, let’s destroy the world. Is that worth voting against? Yeah.” He explained further that he always counseled strategic voting, and so if Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination and if he lived in a swing state, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton to defeat the Republican.

If Chomsky is correct, then the quote in the first paragraph is wrong.

The Republican candidates are climate change deniers. And Hillary Clinton is firmly in the camp of the worst climate change deniers, the ones who recognize the problem but refuse to confront its most basic sources and causes. If elected, she will continue Obama’s “all the above” policies that encourage renewable energy within the capitalist framework, while expanding off shore drilling rights, continuing the oil depletion allowance which gives massive tax breaks to the big oil corporations for extracting oil, protecting nuclear power, and opposing infrastructure projects like the XL pipeline only when it is politically expedient.

These policies will bring about the disasters that Chomsky correctly predicts will “doom our grandchildren.” Perhaps Clinton’s willingness to promote renewable alternatives will delay that doom a bit, but if her policies lull segments of the population into thinking that the government is addressing the problem, they will also serve to co-opt and weaken portions of the movement to prevent the growing climate chaos.

I call myself a radical environmentalist because I believe that we cannot prevent civilization-ending catastrophes without eliminating capitalism’s Grow-or-Die imperative, and its reliance on competition, consumption and military domination. I support Bernie Sanders because, although he has not jettisoned these ideologies, his “socialism” can undermine them.

If Clinton is nominated, I will vote for the Green Party candidate because Clinton will doom my grandchildren as surely as the Republicans. With Clinton’s election we would lose more than four precious years. We will be confronted with the same choice in 2020 when she runs for re-election, and beyond, as long as the major party duopoly persists without either a mass popular uprising or true electoral alternatives.

The global warming-induced climate chaos and consequent resource depletion that Naomi Klein wrote, “changes everything,” has begun. I believe that Klein is right, but that many progressive tacticians, even those as brilliant as Chomsky, remain stuck in decades-old strategic voting schemes. All of us must fully incorporate into our thinking, and our voting behavior, that everything really has changed.  Read More 
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