Posted by rflacks on:
We seem to be living in a nightmare. Disaster after disaster, threatening the natural ecology and the social fabric. Right now-a massive oil spill is killing wildlife and their habitats in the Gulf and threatening truly dire damage. Greece's financial disaster offers a stark choice: an austerity that kills the standard of living and life chances of working and middle class Greeks-or a vast withdrawal of investment from Greece, Portugal, Spain and? Fear of immigrants and terrorists creates fertile ground for police state policy and politics. Volcanic ash clouds reveal the fragility of global connection. Here in California-and all around the world-governments seem paralyzed, as vital services they are supposed to provide are starved and often failing. Obvious needs for reform are blocked or diluted by amazingly selfish interests. Self-evident truths are countered with shameless but widely distributed lies.
It's a nightmare but maybe the confluence of all this opens the possibility of awakening.
It's now 30 years since the start of the ‘Reagan revolution.' For 30 years before that, American political life was structured by what might be called a truce in the class war. In the 30s and 40s, a large scale upsurge in labor movement power, sometimes supported by government leadership, led to what was at the time thought to be a new era in history. The big corporations would finally accept the legitimacy of labor unions that were themselves willing to negotiate contracts that would give their members decent wages and benefits in return for cooperation to improve worker productivity (by accepting automation and long term contracts). A well-paid work force with good healthcare, pensions, vacations would be good for business (as reliable workers and available consumers). Moreover, much of big business would accept the main provisions of the welfare state-social security, unemployment comp, investment in public education, urban renewal.`When I went to college in the fifties, we learned that this postwar deal promised to prevent future depressions and proved Karl Marx wrong about capitalism's potential to raise workers' living standards. Instead of class conflict, we were taught, the new America would be shaped by a partnership among government, business and labor leaderships.
That model (which was carried out even more fully in Western Europe) expanded its scope during the years of LBJ's Great Society. In the 60s, the black rebellion was the fuel for the war on poverty, head start, federal aid to education, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other programs-all supported significantly by corporate interests as well as the liberal-labor coalition. In Nixon's years, although a fiscal crisis was brewing, new programs that set limits on corporate behavior (clean air, clean water and other environmental laws, for example) passed-again with corporate backing.
In the 70s, as Japanese and German manufacturing began to overtake US products, corporate elites broke with the postwar model. Six years ago, Bill Moyers summed it up:
"the class war was declared a generation ago, in a powerful paperback polemic by William Simon, who was soon to be Secretary of the Treasury. He called on the financial and business class, in effect, to take back the power and privileges they had lost in the depression and new deal. They got the message, and soon they began a stealthy class war against the rest of society and the principles of our democracy. They set out to trash the social contract, to cut their workforces and wages, to scour the globe in search of cheap labor, and to shred the social safety net that was supposed to protect people from hardships beyond their control. Business Week put it bluntly at the time: "Some people will obviously have to do with less....it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more."
That sums up the purposes of the Reagan Revolution.
Just as it took a vast economic disaster to create conditions for the New Deal era, so, it appears, have we needed to experience the catastrophic effects of deregulation and corporate domination of policy and politics to see the need for a new social contract. Of course, that's a very optimistic sentence I just wrote. Whose this ‘we' who is ready for change? Unlike the 30s, we haven't yet seen a vast upsurge of people power challenging corporate power.
In this blog over the past few months, I've been trying to point to such possibilities for new movement. And in the past few nightmare weeks, signs of this have been visible. Thousands of people, mobilized by the AFL-CIO and others, descended on Wall Street last week and rallied at a lot of other bank headquarters. Hundreds of thousands marched on May Day in Washington and around the country for immigrant rights and against the Arizona pass law. Meanwhile the entire Greek working class has been in the streets for days protesting the austerity, while in Thailand, a people power uprising is winning its fight with its government.
In the same few days, GOP resistance to the financial reform bill has begun to crumble. Cities in California and many other institutions are taking action to protest the Arizona law. President Obama spoke to 100, 000 at the University of Michigan commencement Here's the theme of his speech:
"When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny... Here's the point. When we don't pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day, when we choose not to make our voices and opinions heard, that's when democracy breaks down. That's when power is abused. That's when the most extreme voices in our society fill the void that we leave. That's when powerful interests and their lobbyists are most able to buy access and influence in the corridors of power -- because none of us are there to speak up and stop them. Participation in public life doesn't mean that you all have to run for public office -- though we could certainly use some fresh faces in Washington. But it does mean that you should pay attention and contribute in any way that you can. Stay informed. Write letters, or make phone calls on behalf of an issue you care about. If electoral politics isn't your thing, continue the tradition so many of you started here at Michigan and find a way to serve your community and your country -- an act that will help you stay connected to your fellow citizens and improve the lives of those around you."
Soon after, Obama backed away from his earlier endorsement of new offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf catastrophe-and the whole ‘drill baby drill' campaign may now be derailed.
There's a better chance now that congress will pass a semblance of financial reform, a climate/energy bill, some further job creating measures, and maybe even immigration reform. Every one of these continue to be targets of incredible corporate lobbying to undermine the potential value of these measures, to create loopholes and special deals, to turn reform into boondoggle. In these efforts the lobbies will be aided by the entire GOP and any number of corporate Democrats. Some of the most egregious features of some of these measures maybe can be checked. And what we have reason to hope for when the congress adjourns is that a foundation for more far reaching democratic and progressive advance will have been laid.
More marches and demonstrations will be needed (I still want to see a national demo this fall!) Organizing the Democratic ‘base' will be crucial-and that I think can be done by showing how a Republican resurgence will mean more nightmares.
Santa Barbara and Oil
In Santa Barbara, we're highly conscious of oil spill catastrophe. The Santa Barbara channel blowout of January 1969 was a massive threat to one of the world's most beautiful coastal communities, and we claim to be the first region to create a real grassroots environmental movement in response. That local movement has much influence in local politics and a host of local activists who're as sensitive as anybody about the whole gamut of environmental matters. One of the relative successes of Santa Barbara environmentalism has been a kind of treaty with oil corporations that keeps oil development off shore, and regulates how it's done. But the drilling continues, even at the platform which blew 40 years ago.
A couple of years ago, the leading environmental groups in our region, led by the Environmental Defense center (our amazing full time environmental law firm) achieved an agreement with PXP that, for the first time in history, would compel the END of drilling by an oil company on a date certain, with considerable additional local powers and benefits. The agreement provides that PXP will be allowed to extend its current drilling operations into the so-called Tranquillon Ridge area but would end all its drilling nine years later. The agreement has the support of the entire environmental coalition in our region and all of the leading public officials, most of whom have long records of anti-oil activity. Failure to implement the agreement will allow for continuation of offshore oil drilling indefinitely. It's this agreement that Governor Arnold has just decided to stop supporting, claiming that the Gulf disaster indicates that off shore oil drilling ‘s dangers are greater than its benefits.
The issue is a fraught one in our local political scene. Pedro Nava, our retiring assembly representative (and a long time environmental advocate) has used opposition to the agreement as the center piece of his current campaign for state attorney general. His wife, Susan Jordan, is running for his assembly seat with the same stance as central to her effort. She's opposed by well-known progressive activist Das Williams, who is representing the pro-Tranquillon Ridge agreement forces. To all outsiders, it would seem that opposition to drilling equates to opposition to the agreement. But in reality, if the deal goes down (as it probably will now that the Governor has opposed it) that will guarantee that offshore drilling in Santa Barbara will go on for decades. If you want to learn about EDC's position go here. And to get a flavor of the debate and issues read this report and comments as well.