[OPE] Fw: No money? Or lack of nerve? The Contours of Ascent

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Wed Mar 19 2008 - 02:36:49 EDT

(I will try sending it again)
----- Original Message ----- 
From: Jurriaan Bendien 
To: OPE-L 
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 5:29 PM
Subject: No money? Or lack of nerve? The Contours of Ascent

The Nation gloomily and miserably comments:

"The billions that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would have had to spend to do the wonderful things they are dangling in front of the voters do not exist. Tradition has always allowed campaigning candidates to make promises they will not make good on, but this time they are bumping up against the limits of the plausible, let alone the possible. It might be helpful if they would ease off with the pretty pictures. There will be no health insurance for everyone. No long-needed increases in teachers' salaries, no big infrastructure projects, no decent-paying new jobs for those laid-off workers in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and nothing for single-parent (read mothers) households. There is no money. As things stand now we may have to spend hundreds of billions to prevent millions of people from being thrown out of their homes and billions more to prop our crooked, avaricious, heedless and duplicitous financial system so it does not come crashing down on all of us. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080331/howl

You see here how the American Left becomes the cheerleader of austerity for workers. In that case, the American Left cannot offer workers and the poor anything, except inviting them to fight harder for their interests, and ruminate about socialist utopias. This is not only spineless and gutless, but more importantly it also flies in the face of reality. Even a Dutch amateur like me cannot fail to understand it. I will limit myself to three points.

Consider firstly this, if you will: America had the gumption to conquer Iraq, in order to reconstruct the whole country! That project fails, because they don't really understand what they are dealing with, and anyway there are too many conflicting interests - you cannot fight a war, on the basis that nobody can really agree why you are there. As you learn in West Point, the first rule of the military is that you try to avoid a war if you can. If you have to fight one, you have to have a clear motive and criteria, and a clearly defined objective. Once you have that, the rest is strategy and tactics to achieve the objective with maximum efficiency and minimum losses. The war was premised on a fraudulent rationale about its costs and benefits, and what the objective really was beyond ousting "Nazi" Hussein. But the least you can say about the reconstruction effort in Iraq (and Afghanistan) is that it displayed an enormous amount of logistical skill, idealism, goodwill, initiative, and improvisation, out of which has come a whole of new knowledge about how to organize things literally "out of nothing" - about which, no doubt, the generals and corporates will fondly write their memoirs. 

Of course, leftists will now scream that I am apologizing for American imperialism, but I am not. My challenge to Americans is rather, "if you can do all that in a faraway country that you don't really understand, why can't you do that at home, where at least you understand the people and the systems, and speak the language?". This is of course not an invitation to turn America into an Iraq-type ruination either, but it is saying, that at least all the constructive skills, the verve and ingenuity is there to reconstruct America, and make it a better place, a place that working people can be proud of. It is just saying we are dealing with a case of misplaced effort. I know all about that because I get criticised for not writing up what I should, and frittering away my time.

Everybody knows that you shouldn't try to sort out other people's problems if you have big problems yourself - okay, you can show solidarity and support, but there are real limits to what you can do, your first and primary task is to sort out your own problems, and not take on additional burdens which distract from solving your own problems. Otherwise you are likely to make only more problems, and it is unlikely that you will solve other people's problems anyway, if you are burdened with your own - you end up projecting your own problems on other people. 

Consider, secondly, that the American government is in reality very rich. When I say rich, I mean rich, like, conservatively estimated some 10 trillion dollars worth of physical assets if federal budget estimates are to be believed at all. There are few other governments in the world, that possibly have that kind of asset base. In addition there are very large financial assets. Then there's the "human capital" of skilled public servants who try to do their best despite whacko policies. Of course, the Federal government doesn't have proper asset accounting, so actually they don't even know what they own, and what it is really worth. As against this, the Left focuses only on the debts (the liabilities) of the federal government, and they are very worried about those. That doesn't make much sense even to the auditor general, who at least understands public finance. Because the Federal government is in reality very rich, it has a great deal of room for maneouvre, it has the resources to do all kinds of things and change the rules, ranging from simply selling off assets to radically reorganizing its operations. Everybody knows for example that the American tax system (17,000 pages of legislation) is a bureaucratic jungle, where the costs of tax collection - to everyone concerned - are so large that in many cases more money is spent extracting the tax, than the actual tax money you gain from doing that! 

Consider, thirdly, the enormous level of productivity of Americans. This is acknowledged by for instance by Will Hutton, otherwise a fierce critic of "greedy capitalists", who write in his homily: "The untold story of our times is of US industry not just holding the line but expanding production, a phenomenon gathering pace as the dollar plunges on world markets, promoting super US competitiveness. American brands and companies increasingly populate the world top 100 and the US invests stunning sums on its knowledge economy base - software, universities and R&D." http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/3/story.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10498706 is not that, as Condi Rice claims, "the economy is resilient" whatever that means, but that American workers have enormous productive and intellectual power (which, in bourgeois ideology, becomes the productive power of capital, a reification). What Americans can produce is absolutely fantastic, and even if it's crap, it still mesmerizes the whole world, because they are so good at marketing it. 

So anyway Barack Obama is objectively quite correct when he says "don't tell me we cannot do it". Of course it can be done, all the resources are there if you are prepared to go beyond tinkering, and think big. The problems are not mainly economic scarcity, but political and organisational obstacles, that's is where people get nervous. Reorganising public enterprises and restructuring public finance is a hornet's nest, which invites opposition from vested interests - workers whose jobs are at stake, politicians unwilling to confront the issue, and businesses who get their hand chopped off trying to stick it into the pork barrel of public money. It requires integrity, clear principles, welldefined objectives, strategy and a mandate from the American people to make it work. 

But the biggest problem of all, is the lack of any bold, realistic vision about the situation that can overcome the jeremiads about the loss of the American Dream. What happens to a normal person when he has a nightmare? He wakes up! While asleep, his brain processed life's anxieties, and conjured up a fantasmagora of sounds, images and situations expressing his worst fears. What are we to say however of a person who starts to act out the nightmares he had when he was asleep? We would say you are a somnambulist, or a psychotic. If this starts to masquerade as politics, we're far gone. You can realise you dreams if you are awake, when you create them consciously. You cannot practically realise anything when you are asleep.

But... it's Eyes Wide Shut even in Obama's own camp. Thus, for example, sophisticated Susan Rice (a former assistant secretary of state for Africa under President Bill Clinton who now advises Obama) pipes "In different ways, we all have a 21st century'' concept of how U.S. power should be exercised after Sept. 11. We live in a world where globalization means threats can emanate from anywhere and flow anywhere.'' Blah blah blah. Any sophomore can say stuff like that. Most of those unspecified threats do not even exist, they are manufactured by people who are themselves deeply uncertain about what power they actually have, and about the lay of the land in world politics, it's just a lot of dogs barking at each other. You can go any which way with that kind of argument, but by the same token it provides nil orientation.

This whole picture dreamed up by paranoid intellectuals cooking up concepts to fit the flavour of the month is a farce. Of course, if you go looking for "threats" you will find them. If you go looking for an enemy to fight with, you will find that enemy. But actually the vast majority of people in the world don't operate like that at all, they are busy constructively living their lives, and therefore those threats play no role. If they are really threatened by anything, it is by poverty, hunger, disease, crime, pollution and unemployment, but since that is a fairly constant reality, it is not so much a "threat", as a risk that you have to take with and handle on a day-to-day basis. Compared to the problems ordinary working folks scale everyday around the world, the miserable problems of a few financiers who lent out money they don't really have, and borrowed money they can't pay back, are chickenfeed. If you buy into all that, you'll never get anywhere. You're better off going to math class in that case.

What is needed in American politics is more balls, and less bullshit. The American Dream is there, if The Nation wakes up. America is not dumb. It is asleep. And in its sleep, it tosses around its nightmares. That is all it is. You don't get there just by being nice. You get there by fidelity to what you believe in. You don't just need hope. You need the will to realise your hoped-for situation, and a plan. You hopes must be focused. So what do you really believe, America? Another path is possible, says Bob Pollin, and I agree. Well, take that path then! Ain't nothing you can't do, if you put your mind to it!


"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us, who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
- Bob Dylan, "All along the watchtower"

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