Friday, January 28, 2011

Capitalism, a Love Story, a film

Michael Moore's film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is just as funny as its title and just as veil-lifting as his previous films have been on their subjects.

Wrapping crime-scene tape around Goldman-Sachs and other Wall Street Pirates is a hilarious and incisive gesture and looking closely at some of the victims of the predator culture brings home the criminality of some of what happens when the bottom line is all that matters. An interview excerpt with an influential columnist with the Wall Street Journal pretty much says it all - the writer takes the usual propaganda device of associating capitalism with democracy and drops the latter component as unnecessary and in-the-way. The Constitutional guarantee and exhortation to seek happiness can apparently be completely satisfied by chasing money.

Speaking of Goldman-Sachs they, according to Moore, are amply represented, indeed are indistinguishable from the government, especially under the Bush Administration, at least when it comes to the treasury and economic policies. But they were there also in force under Clinton, the first Bush and certainly with a vengeance under (over!) Reagan - the Hollywood actor hired by Bankers and other lesser Capitalists to represent their interests. The film confirms that most of the congress and anyone with any chance of getting anywhere near the presidency are employed by the same forces in the form of campaign contributions and shared ideology. Across all these administrations Wall Street sociopaths can be seen moving - into government, shifting a few rules (deregulate), back to Wall Street, make some more money, back to government, tweak it abit (deregulate) and serenely count profits while the economy melts down. The appointment of Larry Summers as his chief economic adviser demonstrates that Obama-the-reformer has in no way escaped the clutches of this cabal. Maybe the change he was talking about was in Oval Office decor (to give him his due, the Woodward book, Obama's War, claims that "enhanced interrogation" techniques and rendition have ended under Obama, a change worth the 10 minutes it took to vote).

The stormtrooper right routinely lies, makes stuff up, distorts data, all to discredit what it perceives as the enemy, usually socialism. They have to since to honestly present their view, that the wealthy should rule, would discredit themselves. So I hate to see Michael Moore use their tactics, even in a minor way, which I'm afraid he does in a segment where he presents airline pilots, deep in debt from their training, underpaid and working part-time jobs outside their profession to make ends meet. For many students in the U.S. this is a sad but true tale but the film implies (by using a visual of a large major airliner while citing the statistics) that pilots make less than $20,000 a year when in fact this figure is only true for the commuter airlines and part-time pilots. Moore, under constant attack by the right, should not give his critics ammunition.

Moore includes in his film something he discovered in South Carolina, lost footage of President Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union Address. In his talk Roosevelt suggested that the nation needed to implement a second "bill of rights". His argument was that the "political rights" guaranteed by the constitution and the Bill of Rights had "proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness." Roosevelt's remedy was to declare an "economic bill of rights" which would guarantee:

* Employment, with a living wage,
* Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies,
* Housing,
* Medical care,
* Education, and,
* Social security

Roosevelt believed that these rights would guarantee U.S. security, and that our place in the world depended upon how far these and similar rights had been carried into practice. Unfortunately Roosevelt died before he could use his immense popularity to bring this vision to fruition. The film leaves that task to us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Religious/Existentialist Marriage

Conscious Indian, oil on canvas, 1984 Tom Ferguson (detail, collection Patty & Patrick Brennan)

The meaning of the word God, in my neighborhood during my formative years was conventional, literal biblical, bearded guy in the sky taking notes, who’s been naughty, who’s been nice. This got challenged, or should I say devastated, when I walked into a design class in art school conducted by Myron Kozman, Think Richard Dawkins mischievously assailing received wisdom.

The usual response to new information is either denial or paradigm adjustment. My old neighborhood would have chosen the former. Migrating from working class to bohemia made the latter choice feasible for me, still received wisdom I suppose but more thought out this time: Existentialism – Dylan’s line in Visions of Joanna played its supporting role, “We’re all sitting here stranded, doing our best to deny it.” As did Sartre’s learn to think clearly; think clearly about good and evil; do good. In this bleak paradigm there is no God at all, no supernatural. Earth is a rock in space, isolated individuals are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, and the nets of chance… and especially there is indifference, even hostility, from a dead backdrop and a ruthlessly competitive life system.

Glimpses of an enlarged, more appealing perspective appeared, in the form of Eastern thought, Buddhism and Hinduism, delivered by Hesse, Huxley, Alan Watts, LSD and The Beatles but these remained occasional, not always consistent, hazy if intense glimpses until Eckhart Tolle’s books brought the various strands into an unprecedented clarity. Others may have arrived at this view before Tolle, and as clearly but I’m not aware of them (Huxley’s book Island comes close). And the point is the view, not who gets credit for it.

The three phases I’m describing, that I went through, could be thought to be incompatible, irreconcilably antagonistic, or they could be seen as paraphrasing each other, pointing at the same thing. The language of Christianity (or any other religion) could be metaphoric, standing for or pointing at a difficult to describe reality. Existentialism could be seen to be pointing directly at the reality itself. Both views must jettison some baggage to arrive at a happy marriage: Religion must recognize the Mythology of its language; Existentialism must quit its pessimistic and arbitrary conclusion that reality is horrifying. When the marriage is consummated we are in the Great NOW where the barricade of mind chatter is set aside, leaving a non-narrative presence, a felt recognition of interconnection, of Oneness, with its healing component, the peace, as the preacher says, that passeth all understanding.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tea Time

Serve some crumpets with that unreality virus hitting our congress. A mixed metaphor but in zany times like this there are new rules. Orwell would be amused. Grassroots now means any number of people recruited by public relations experts hired by billionaires to convince said persons that their interests align with the funders. Some focus-group derived rhetoric required. Any gathering no matter how small will have first rate sound systems, local right-wing celebrities, sometimes national versions of same, tuned to the focus-group data, and lavish media promotion and coverage. The slogan Take Back Our Country appeals to a certain brand of disenfranchised and argues at the same time that our country has indeed been taken, implying that we had it in the previous administration which again would impress Orwell.

Bryan Burrough, in his book The Big Rich, documents how Texas oil millionaires distorted our democracy by funding right wing candidates, not just in their home state but across the country, and targeting any politician they deemed too “liberal” (communist!). Their efforts helped bring us the red-scare 50s. So today. We’ve lost an honest, compassionate voice in the senate with Russ Feingold’s defeat to a tea-party stalwart worthy of Joseph McCarthy. The people of Wisconsin seem to have forgotten that history. You may not be able to fool all of the people all of the time but you can come pretty close if you pump enough money, vitriol and unscrupulous but clever con artists into the electoral process. So here we are once again, having deviated slightly from the path to extinction, having thus pushed the hysteria button on those who have the wherewithal, motivation and inclination to get us back on track.