The past 50 years have seen a dramatic shift to the far-right in American politics. On the heels of the 1972 McGovern debacle, the Democrats all but abandoned their New Deal heritage and moved swiftly to a stronger pro-business position and embraced Neo-Liberalism. They abandoned class politics and giving priority to workers and the poor and instead have embraced ID politics and wokeness. As the Republicans stole elections and Supreme Court seats, gerrymandered congressional districts, packed the courts, and ran scorched-earth campaigns at every level, the Democrats have offered a timid resistance at best.
In this fantastic interview, Noam Chomsky gives us a history and analysis of the evolution of the Democrats from the party of FDR to a party that’s Republican-Lite. We discussed the Carter campaign, the Trilateral Commission, the DLC and the Clintons, Obama, Democratic hawkishness, and other factors in the Democratic retreat from progressive ideas, all while the GOP waged an open and ruthless war on workers, non-whites, women, and others.
Don’t miss this important interview with the world’s greatest living intellectual.
“The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
’Cause London is drowning, I live by the river”
— London’s Calling, The Clash
Front man of The Clash, Joe Strummer, would have been 70 last week. Musician, anarchist, socialist, culture revolutionary and punk rock hero, Strummer’s politics were grounded in resistance to authority and conformity of the late 1970s and 1980s. The Clash’s music spoke to us about heightened Cold War tensions, Sandinistas in Central America, Washington’s Bullets all over the world, union busting, dismantling of social services and, generally, neo-liberalism in the UK being ushered in by Margaret Thatcher.
The band’s landmark 1979 single “London Calling” was a stark warning to the “doom of everyday life” under the Thatcherite regime. As 1980s austerity and cultural conservatism began to take root, Strummer and bassist Mick Jones saw an urgent need for an urgent call to ordinary Britons about what the future might hold. At the time, Strummer was living by Thames and feared potential flooding. Jones expanded the song to incorporate much more.
The song’s title came from the BBC’s radio broadcasts during the World War Two era to Nazi-occupied territory and the band wanted to convey the urgency of a news report. It included fears of a “nuclear error,” policy brutality (“We ain’t got no swing / Except for the ring of that truncheon thing”), banal social conformity (“London calling to the zombies of death”), casual drug use (We ain’t got no high / Except for that one with the yellowy eyes”) and, most presciently, early references to the climate crisis (“The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in Meltdown expected”).
The Clash’s “London Calling,” amongst others, warned of possible nuclear war, the rise of neo-liberalism (also known as privatization, austerity or simply the defunding of public services), an increasingly authoritative police state, apathy of the populace, and global warming.
Things Get Worse
Today’s crises only get more dire.
In less than three years, the Coronavirus pandemic has killed over 6.5 million people worldwide (including over a 1 million Americans). In the U.S., this is a result of privatized health care systems and overwhelmed medical workers and public institutions besieged by inept craven politicians and attacked by conspiracy theorists.
The new “Gilded Age” of this era has made class power insurmountable. Trump 2017 new tax cuts reduced the corporate tax burden from 35% to 21%. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gave the top 1% $1.9 trillion over the next decade. Meanwhile student debt is $1.75 trillion and Biden’s recent debt relief is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits from the TCJA. Furthermore, while Congress approves hundreds of billions for the Ukrainian war effort they continue to cut funding for COVID testing and other essential services.
We laugh and joke about a class war, but it’s alive right before our eyes.
Finally, the climate crisis has only worsened since Joe Strummer worried about London flooding in 1979.
In eastern Kentucky, thousands of families lost everything in recent floods. 39 people were killed. Access to clean water is still an issue for many and schools have struggled to recover. My hometown of Dallas, TX experienced the 2nd worst raining and flooding in record. 23 counties were declared state emergencies by Gov. Greg Abbott. At least one woman died in Mesquite, TX when flood waters swept away her car. In Jackson, MS, the Mayor urged residents to “get out now,” as record setting rains hit Mississippi’s Pearl River.
In Pakistan, the “apocalyptic” flooding their has killed over 1100, displaced millions and wiped out a million homes. The climate crisis is literally bringing about an end to the world.
The past 9 years (2013–2021) have been the hottest years on record. China’s current heatwave is the longest in recorded history. Meanwhile, Europe faces its worse drought in 500 years. This week, climate scientists reported that major sea rise from the melting of the Greenland icecap is now inevitable. Billions living in coastal areas can expect to suffer through on of the most intense impacts of the climate crisis.
Fire season is no less of an issue. In the past 20 years, we have watched wildfires burn across Russia, Europe, Indonesia, the Amazon Basin, North America and Australia. According to Global Forest Watch, fires are destroying an additional 7.4 million acres of tree cover loss than they did in 2001. Wildfires are not naturally occurring in tropical rainforest, but deforestation and climate change have led to fires in tropical forests.
Along with these crises, an immediate popular reaction to them has been rising populism on all sides of the political spectrum: 1.) the far right anti-elite xenophobic Trumpian politics deriding free trade deals that outsource jobs, trade wars with China and closing the borders.; 2.) the Sanders-led progressives and socialists wanting a redistribution of wealth through essential services like health care, education, basic income guarantees, job protections and much more through state led intervention and reform; 3.) worker, grassroots and community-led movements organizing workplaces as well as providing bottom up street resistance and mutual aid in the midst of these existential crises.
The Return of Corporate Liberalism
As the Ruling Class is seeing these “shocks” from these crises and responding popular movements, their grasp on the ability to get, Adam Smith said, “all for ourselves and nothing for other people” is weakening. At least, for the moment, these “shocks” are leading to a shift from the regularly scheduled program of austerity to a return to “corporate liberalism.”
During the 1960s, historian Gabriel Kolko defined corporate liberalism, with his groundbreaking work The Triumph of Conservatism, as the state protecting and advancing capitalist interests. Kolko disputed the popular notion of the liberal state is that it provides a check and balance to corporate interests. Instead he used the “Progressive Era” of the early 20th century to show that reform comes from the top to prevent radical change from below.
Kolko used meticulous research to show that the Gilded Age was not a period of monolithic corporate power, but an era where big business lost profit to cutthroat competition, radical labor, anti-business politics at state and local levels and a divided political system. During the so-called “Progressive Era,” corporate leaders concluded that the federal government had the power to regulate the economy and bring order to the chaos of the Gilded Age. They, then, colluded with high government officials to make this a reality.
Manchin’s Energy Bill
Case in point, the recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) negotiated for the past two years amongst Democrats and special interests is an example of the state advancing the interests of the capitalist class.
Climate movements have long advocated and agitated for action on the climate crisis. Over the past ten years, we’ve seen rising power in Indigenous, frontline and youth movements from Keystone XL to Standing Rock to the Green New Deal. But the rich and powerful won’t allow for grassroots and frontline movements to lead with solutions. Otherwise, there might be an equitable distribution of resources. Instead, Senate Democrats have crafted federal legislation that benefits business as usual.
The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) within the IRA provides $27 billion in funding for accelerating clean energy technologies. Eligibility guidelines for the dispersal of the money are designed to benefit corporations and large non-profits (NGO). Grants are distributed on a “competitive basis,” therefore allowing corporations, NGOs and NGOs connected to corporations to have advantages in gaming the system. The GGRF will also fund “zero emission” technologies, thereby giving funds to false solutions like carbon capture and storage and biofuels.
Big Oil is invested heavily in the clean energy sector. If anything, they see the writing on the wall. BP, rebranded from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum, has significant investments in European solar power, rapid charging batteries and charging technology for electric vehicles. Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell has billions invested in solar and electric vehicles. French oil giant Total aims to be a global leader in solar power. It has invested billions in the solar industry.
The IRA is also full of false solutions to climate change. We’ve been told for decades by the billionaires these are the fix for the climate crisis. They include nuclear, biofuels, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and, last, but never least, carbon markets. All of these pose a clear and present threat to communities.
The IRA has billions benefiting uranium and nuclear technology. This includes tax credits for existing nuclear facilities and production of nuclear reactors. It also includes $700 million for the stockpiling of uranium and $150 million to maintain the Office of Nuclear Energy. The nuclear industry has a decades long history of poisoning and killing communities across nuclear energy. It’s inclusion in the IRA is a slap in the face to those communities that have long resisted it.
Last, but not least, the IRA also secures a future for fossil fuels. It allows for the fast tracking of fossil fuel projects (particularly the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia.) It opens up public land and water for fossil fuel extraction. It also creates a quid pro quo for wind and solar projects to be tied to oil and gas leasing. Finally, it frames energy production in terms of national security (what does that mean for pipeline fighters?)
The Inflation Reductions Act puts in place an energy future that is for, and by, the wealthiest entities on the planet. These are the same politicians and corporations that have added 100,000 new police to U.S. streets and put over $800 billion for military budgets.
It’s most surely the Triumph of Conservationism as it reduces any chaos created by economic and social forces that might upset the established order. If we’re lucky, it will reduce carbon emissions. But don’t bet on it.
False Solutions Be Damned.
Movements opposed to the wealthy elite’s “all for ourselves” mantra or the resulting human and climate disasters aren’t taking any of this lying down.
In response to Manchin’s new trough for the corporate pigs, U.S. climate movements are escalating on federal politicians. Last month, in the lead up to it, we saw dozens commit civil disobedience at the Congressional Baseball Game and congressional staffers sitting in at Majority Leader Schumer’s office calling for further climate action. Since the IRA was announced, actions have targeted the giveaways in the bill around fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters and the fast tracking of fossil fuel projects. In New York at Schumer’s office and at Sen. Patty Murry’s offices in Seattle, protests and sit-ins happened over the past week with more to come.
Escalation around the climate crisis is looking less cordial in other parts of the world. Climate fighters with Just Stop Oil smashed, vandalized and then glued themselves to gas pumps at three petrol stations in central London. A nice combination of sabotage and civil disobedience.
Across Vancouver BC, small groups damaged locks, smashed windows and left messages at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branches. RBC continues to provide funding for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline crossing Wet’suwet’en territory.
More intensely, in Puerto Rico, large crowds have been gathering at LUMA’s offices demanding a cancellation of the energy company’s contracts managing the electrical grid. Mostly because they don’t manage it very well, make lots of money and have caused ongoing power outages across the island. The protests have been met with riot police and tear gas.
One Final Note
On a final note, iconoclastic film director Bob Rafelson passed away in July (I missed it until recently). He was best known for directing Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces and co-producing two of the most significant films of the 1970s era — Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show.
He was far from alone in edgy film-making. Rafelson’s generation of directors ushered in a new wave of film-making that offered a piercing critique of politics and society around them. It was a generation that included Robert Altman (M*A*S*H), Alan Pakula (All the President’s Men) and Mike Nichols (The Graduate). Their films portrayed characters that had drifted away from friends and family and are unable to make real connections. Authority is mindless, cold, and far away. Traditional heroes were violent and corrupt. The portrayal of institutions and politics at the time still rings true today.
Like Joe Strummer and the Clash, Rafelson questioned the status quo. A classic exchange between Dennis Hopper’s Billy and Jack Nicholson’s George Hanson in Easy Rider captured the moment then as it does today:
Billy: What the hell’s wrong with freedom, man? That’s what it’s all about. George: Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s what it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it — that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. ‘Course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em.
The ruling class follies continue both at home and abroad.
Another $40 billion going to aid the Ukrainian war effort while there are baby formula and COVID vaccine shortages in the U.S. Plus George W. Bush gives a speech at the Bush Institute about stolen Russian elections (what about Florida 2000?) and illegal invasions of Iraq… er… Ukraine..
In all seriousness, the brutality of military and economic war against populations around the war is heartbreaking. We continue our commentary on the history and politics around the war in Ukraine.
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
Hiding out in the Good Friday press dump, the Biden administration announced it was opening up more public land to oil and gas drilling. The New York Times reported it as Biden trying to bring down high gas prices and save some sort of face for the 2022 elections. This is a reversal of his 2020 campaign promise to end new oil and gas leasing. It locks in new fossil fuel extraction despite his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The consultation prize for environmentalists is a sharp increase in cost for oil companies.
Former Student for a Democratic Society Dick Flaks once said “the people who are running society are the corporate liberals. They want to stabilize, not repress.” They want to stabilize business as usual and even extreme repression, as we saw under Trump, becomes destabilizing. It’s why you saw everyone from Wall Street CEOs like Chase’s Jamie Dimon to the anti-worker National Association of Manufacturers to the Wall St. Journal saying the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and denouncing the Capitol Riot.
The ruling class prefers corporate liberals like Joe Biden or Jeb Bush than a lunatic like Trump at the helm. Unfortunately, for the rest of us and fate of human existence on this planet, they also prefer having oil and gas as part of their “business as usual.” This is why Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were top recipients of oil and gas dollars. It’s also why Manchin and Sinema and 50 Republican senators have so much sway over our political system. The oil and gas industry gave over $139 million to both parties into the 2020 election.
And currently, it’s why Biden is now reversing course on public lands oil and gas drilling permits.
If it wasn’t Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema blocking legislation for oil and gas, it’d be two other Democrats. The political system, by design, is inherently corrupt. It is owned by the oil and gas sector, as well as a variety of other industries (banks, real estate, manufacturers) that want to keep things stable for an ever-growing economy.
Keep It in the Ground
In 2015-2016, I worked with others to organize disruptions at Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public ocean and land auctions in a campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground on public lands. Obama had rejected the permit for the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in 2015 after a four year campaign and many within the climate movement had high hopes and we next moved to get him to ban fossil fuel extraction on public lands.
Our campaign continued to build and organize. The central strategy was the disruption of federal BLM and BOEM auctions where the leases were being sold off to the highest bidder. We organized protests and disruptions across the West targeting federal auctions in Colorado, Nevada and Utah. The tactic fit into a strategy of drawing attention to the administration’s policy of lease sales, disrupting them where we could and growing a bigger bolder movement.
The disruption of public lands auctions had become widely known after climate activist Tim DeChristopher had successfully bid $1.8 million for leasing rights to drill on 14 parcels of land. He was a student at the time and didn’t have the money. Consequently, Tim was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with a federal felony and spent 21 months in prison.
In the New Orleans Superdome, we had our biggest splash as we marched 200 people into the middle of BOEM auction where they were selling off leases in the Gulf of Mexico. As Gulf organizer Cherri Foytlin put it,“We want to stop these lease sales. As long as these leases go through, [industry] is tying us to an archaic economy and an archaic way of doing things that is destroying our earth.”
As part of that campaign, I also attended an Obama fundraiser in Columbus OH that year and disrupted his address at the Ohio Democratic Party “Annual State Dinner” calling on him to end the federal public leasing program. He laughed and bantered back and forth with us until police took us away. I got banned from the Greater Columbus Convention Center for a year.
But, ultimately, in his remaining days in office, Obama did nothing to end fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Despite his rhetoric of “hope and change,” Obama was just another corporate liberal dedicated to keeping the economy stable for corporations and the ruling class.
Build a ferocious movement
It’s not lost on many of us that Biden’s reversal comes just weeks after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) most recent dire warnings about it being a “now or never” moment on climate. Many from the reformist environmental non-profit industrial complex think that asking Democrats nicely will get us what we need. As during the Clinton and Obama eras, that’s clearly not working.
Centrist Democrats are also waging war on the left flank of their own party and racial justice and labor movements. When Biden says that we need to FUND the police and centrist Democrats in the Senate sink a key Dept. of Labor nominee, it’s a clear message that the forces of neo-liberalism and law and order run deep within the party.
In struggles around fossil fuels, it’s no different. From crackdowns on water protectors at Standing Rock and Line 3 to Manchin siding with Republicans to kill climate legislation, it happens over and over.
We need a bigger more ferocious climate movement. There needs to be much less compromise and playing electoral games with the Democrats. People are hungry for militancy. We see that militancy at fights around pipelines, old growth logging, development of luxury homes in Detroit and other points of destruction, but we need to meet the crises in our world at a greater scale.
A little historical perspective.
In 1935 rubber workers in Akron, Ohio formed a union called the United Rubber Workers Union. They created 39 local chapters and begin a strike against poor working conditions, low wages and few benefits. The American Federation of Labor attempted to call off the strike. So thousands left abandoned union leadership, and instead used sit-down strikes and long picket lines to win their demands. The mayor of Akron attempted to send the police in to put down the strike, but police refused to face off against thousands of organizer workers.
By 1969, draft resisters had built a formidable movement against the war in Vietnam. Their disruptive actions sparked a shift in tactics from legal protest to mass civil disobedience, drawing the Johnson administration into a confrontation with activists who were largely suburban, liberal, young, and middle class — the core of Johnson’s Democratic constituency.
Pictured in this photo, Quaker Robert Eaton not only was arrested in civil disobedience actions, he spent three years in prison for draft resistance.
Right now, lots of talking heads and armchair pundits are talking about how weak and ineffective the left is. But, everywhere I go as an organizer and every time I look at my inbox, people are reaching out to get involved and get involved with action. Organizing is the act of building power and mobilizing is the act of using the power you’ve built. Our power is already here, we just need to organize it. So, get busy, the ruling class won’t overthrow itself.
Websters defines atrocity as “a shockingly bad or atrocious act, object, or situation.”
Russian atrocities on Ukrainian civilians have been the top of the 24 second news cycle since the invasion began. Since the advent of industrial warfare at the end of 19th century, war has been waged increasingly on civilian populations than opposing military forces. Wars of attrition have had the goal of subjecting the populace to “shockingly bad” actions to force the downfall of its ruling regime or submission of a resisting insurgency. The 20th century is full of examples of this by the British, the Germans, the Japanese, the Russians, and of course, the Americans.
As the stories emerge from the war between Ukraine and Russia, detailing atrocities committed on civilian populations, we thought it was a good moment to talk about some of this history. We start with the Civil War and World War One (early industrial wars), the advent of air power, brutal occupations in Nanking, Korea and Vietnam, bombings of Dresden, Tokyo and Hiroshima, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, Central American death squads and the forever wars in the Middle East.
A mass of western companies are exiting Russia over the war in Ukraine. This has included some major corporate heavyweights, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Nike, Netflix, Apple, Visa, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Exxon, major western law firms and most major film distributors.
Jeffry Sonnenfeld at the Yale School of Management compared it to the boycott of apartheid era South Africa. We’ve talked on past shows about the role that multinationals have played in the political economy. But have they developed a new conscience?
In our latest, we talk with investigative journalist and Executive Director of CorpWatch Pratap Chatterjee (@pchatterjee) about the latest round of corporate activism. We talk about who benefits, who’s being hurt and whether it’s having enough of an impact on Russia.
In December, the Pentagon got a $768 billion budget approved, despite the withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the aim to counter China and build Ukraine’s military strength. This has been a bonanza for arms makers like Raytheon, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Gruman.
Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes popped the champagne open when saying “…[W]e are seeing, I would say, opportunities for international sales. We just have to look to last week where we saw the drone attack in the UAE, which have attacked some of their other facilities. And of course, the tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea, all of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.”
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we saw a spike in these companies’ stock prices.
In our latest episode, we talk about arms manufacturers with William Hartung of the Quincy Institute. We discuss how the war in Ukraine, potential conflict in the South China Sea and wars in Yemen and other parts of the world are critical to their business model. We also talk about how the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and Washington D.C. gives these companies so much influence.
Our latest episode on the Ukraine is a wide-ranging conversation with our good friend Prof. Clinton Fernandes on the U.S. empire and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. We discuss Russia and Putin’s adventures in Georgia and Ukraine to the lack of strategic empathy from the West (particularly the U.S.). We break down the motives of the U.S. drive to expand NATO and encircle Russia, and the effect it has on global politics.
We discuss the tensions in the South China Sea and the impact of the Ukraine conflict on Australia’s coming election. Finally, we get an update on Clinton’s law suit trying to get the Australian government to release documents showing intelligence agencies supporting Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973.
Recently, Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes reported to his shareholders, “[W]e are seeing, I would say, opportunities for international sales. We just have to look to last week where we saw the drone attack in the UAE, which have attacked some of their other facilities. And of course, the tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea, all of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.” While lauded in the press for his comments, Hayes’ thinking embodies structures established by government and private industry for over a hundred years.