Tag Archives: occupy

The Lie of the Conservative Batman

I’ve waited a week to post this until enough people have had a chance to see the latest Dark Knight movie, but it bears mentioning: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Batman mythos runs so deep in our culture, that parallels are easy. Claims now run rampant that the latest brilliant installment of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy is anti-Occupy, or pro-capitalist in sentiment. That it purports ‘only a billionaire’ can save us. Chris Nolan has dispelled as much, though it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the phenomenally successful series may be inexorably linked to current events, as no writer or director creates in a vacuum, and both life imitates art and art imitates life. All films reflect their times, and the Batman is no exception. The imagery itself has seeped into everyday usage, (much like the protagonist masks in V for Vendetta), the war-painted Joker has been used by protest movements to vilify seemingly every elite from Bernie Madoff to president Barack Obama. Even without the gadgetry, moral code, genius-level detective skills, martial arts, cape or cowl, many billionaires see themselves as crucial heroes, their “sacrifices” necessary for the good of the system. And yes, the probably psychopathic James Holmes seems unable or unwilling to separate reality from fiction, modeling himself after The Dark Knight‘s villainous Joker (portrayed inimitably by Heath Ledger).

But Christopher Nolan’s version of the Batman (dubbed the Nolanverse), had already established an old Gotham rife with political corruption, a recession predating our own by a few years (Batman Begins began in 2005), the excesses of the rich and inequity of their system, and the thievery of Wall Street.

The script for The Dark Knight Rises was written during 2010, with location scouting happening in December of that year. Filming ran from May to November 2011, overlapping the rise of the Occupy movement by mere months. Any similarity is purely coincidental, and furthermore seen through the lens of Fox news analysis and FBI entrapment, where Occupiers have already been condemned as criminals and terrorists. The predominant Beltway philosophy already has established the ‘infallible rich’ as a cornerstone of its power structure.

And the story of haves and have-nots is as old as time anyway, as the Dark Knight Rises draws heavily from A Tale of Two Cities and its historical Red Terror. It’s a false dichotomy (which many pundits love) that one cannot have both a healthy opposition to violent revolution and sympathetic support for a protest movement. It really reveals more about the claimants’ ideology than anything else. Charles Dickens, for one, cared deeply for the plight of the poor, but not for the brutal atrocities of the French Revolution.

We humans will ascribe our own meaning and see what we want in film and comic book escapism, no matter how earnest the telling. This trilogy simply rings true because it dissects the hard ideological differences regarding justice, evil, truth, responsibility, and just exactly who is the real psychopath, anyway. We can all too easily see the divides and overlapping philosophies of the Occupy movement, the police force, the rich elites, and the League of Shadows. And yes, both lone vigilantes and lone nuts.

But even if the movie were a direct allegory to our failed structure, it could hardly be seen as a conservative endorsement, as bloggers on both sides have contended. More likely, the chilling dystopian vision of a city torn into a No Man’s Land reads as a warning against radical demagoguery and institutional deception. And though some may not agree with the aims of the Occupy movement, it takes a willfully ignorant or forcefully disingenuous mindset to equate them with the insane philosophy of either a chaotically sadistic Joker or a frighteningly focused and cold-blooded Bane (portrayed by Tom Hardy).

Indeed, Occupy remains a leaderless movement, constantly worrying about being co-opted by self-interested parties. Bane adopts a populist message in order to peddle false hopes to the citizenry he hopes to torture, populating his army with liberated thieves and killers. Yes, and there are those whom society has forsaken. Bane’s armed revolt plays to the same paranoid fears of Fox News and the State Department, and the same rhetoric of a much less radical Anonymous; it is made up of janitors, shoe-shiners, orphans, ex-cons, sanitation and construction workers. The under-served.

Bruce Wayne’s (reprised by Christian Bale) sins are spelled out for us at the beginning of the Dark Knight Rises. Not only has he taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and conspired to propagate a political lie, he has turned his back on society and the world. The streets have become relatively clean without him in the eight years since he donned the cowl, but the less obvious ills of a broken system still endure as Bruce neglects the city he loves, and literally atrophies in his elegantly rebuilt mansion.

Gotham’s sins are also many, where betrayal and lies are common political practice, where war heros are expendable during peacetime, where critical-thinking police are discounted as ‘hotheads’, and where even good men like Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) get their hands filthy. The Batman himself, as the Force-ghost of Ra’s Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson) reminds us, “for years fought the decadence of Gotham with his moral authority… and the most he could achieve was a lie.” The overreaching Dent Act, based on Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne’s falsehood, has robbed the imprisoned of any chance of parole. And though it was (hurriedly) agreed that if they world knew of Harvey Dent’s crimes, the guilty would be opened up to appeal, it is this very act of conspiracy that threatens to help blow apart the system, once finally discovered. The career politicians, police bosses, day traders and rich elite are anything but sympathetic figures.

Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is the only decent representative of the 99%. She (as well as her politics and moral code) is adaptable, values anonymity, and doesn’t seem to care much for gun control. She embodies the ‘honor among thieves’ adage, she is generous, and sees herself as somewhat of a Robin Hood, at least more than the society types she robs from, who ‘take so much and leave so little for the rest.’ However, she is equally horrified, frightened and disgusted by the madness that ensues during Bane’s “revolution.”

John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), on the other hand, is your stereotypical corporate vulture, a literal blood diamond opportunist looking for his next hostile takeover, who doesn’t have time for “save-the-world vanity projects.” In fact, Daggett doesn’t care if the world is destroyed with his help, so long as he acquires more money, and the “power it buys.” It is the likes of Daggett and the other one-dimensional capitalists who worship the status quo when it suits them, and then collude with criminals on the side. Daggett only sees Bane as ‘pure evil’ once he realizes the imminent threat to himself and his riches. Once it’s no longer himself who’s in charge. It should be noted, for the record, that there are no real-life Occupy figures who could cow a crooked billionaire by placing a hand on their shoulder like an alpha dominant.

But of course these unsympathetic crooks are surely served up as contrast to our hero: the billionaire who would save us.

And though the Batman/Bruce Wayne may be heralded as the authoritarian’s dream; willing to employ mass surveillance, extreme rendition, and solely deciding what technology the people deserve and can be trusted with, he is no societal Superman. He is not a billionaire’s billionaire, for though he has more cars than cares to count, has never answered his own door, and “doesn’t even go broke like the rest of us,” he is also easily displaced within his own boardroom, decries the egotistical hypocrisy of charity balls, and has not been watching his own money carefully. Notably, he wants to fail. He relishes the opportunity to be destroyed as the Batman, if it means saving the lives of everyone; the rich, the workers and the poor alike.

Neither, however, has he been serving his own people and city of late, trading in his once rich playboy identity for a Howard Hughes shtick. Not only is his corporation floundering, his beloved charitable foundation is practically defunct. Orphaned boys age out of Gotham’s social programs, neglected by a city with no homes of jobs available. Here they become easy prey for vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists and organized criminals, where they die in the sewers and wash away once they are used up.

The progressive responsibility of socially conscious and civic-minded billionaires, (an extremely endangered breed both in Gotham and out real world) had to be summed up by an ecoterrorist acting the part of a lovely socialite (Marion Cotillard); “You have to invest to restore balance to the world.” Bruce has been lacking in his duties, and that evil that he and Commissioner Gordon buried isn’t dead, but rising up once again.

Bane’s movement is a false one, as he tells the people of Gotham that he is not a Conquerer but a Liberator, but in actuality he is neither. Bane is the Destroyer. Spinning a hopeful message in the wake of his havoc, telling the people to “take control” of Gotham, Bane uses his “truth” to get the citizenry to “tear down a corrupt city” and reclaim what is theirs from the rich oppressors who had peddled their myth of opportunism.

And it is not just any “ordinary citizen” who holds the detonator to their destruction, but equal parts rich girl and terrorist-anarchist. These masterminds did not just create a populist movement to fulfill their diabolical plot, but infiltrated powerful corporations with their subterfuge as well. For comparison, real-world anarchists, despite practicing just another political philosophy, are readily depicted by the media as murderous terrorists. Protestors, despite exercising their constitutional right to assemble, are either beaten or made into bridge bombers by the FBI. Even those who have read the anarchist or socialist literature pale in comparison to the bloodthirsty Bane army. But the fear has been writ large in the news: if a lone nut like the joker can inspire a depraved massacre in a theatre, what would an evil warlord and his army of mercenaries inspire?

Like the Batman, authoritarians do seem to create their own enemies.

What follows once the structures fail lacks even more subtlety; in the face of such wanton violence, the government will abandon you. The good cops will attempt to salvage the status quo, and the bad cops will either desert or work against the people. Idiotically and blindly following orders, in fact, could get orphans and priests killed. Only the Batman can save us.

As even Selena realizes too late, this is not what the 99% ever wanted. Their system has swung wildly from an authoritarian, decadent state to the bloody turf of a mad warlord. It is the Dark Knight who is the hero we need, but unlike any known billionaire, he is now humiliated and humbled, fearful, responsible, accountable, and thus strengthened, empowered, respectful and focused. “Hardened by pain… not from privilege.”

It really should go without saying, by the way, that is not until Bruce Wayne loses all of his money, loses nearly everything, in fact, and is dropped into a pit to rebuild himself, that he is worthy of becoming a savior. And even those he still uses all those wonderful toys that only his privileged life could have afforded him, there can be no analogue for his virtuosity. Nobody has done as much as the fictitious Wayne family. And no playboy industrialists don a mask and fight crime.

As super-fan of the Batman, Kevin Smith, points out:

“In our world it’s not the case. The richer one gets, the less moral one seems to become. Not in all cases, but you hear about everything that just happened to our economy in the last few years… at the end of the day, Bruce Wayne/Batman [is] a moral example of a billionaire… Right then and there you should be able to divorce yourself from reality because no billionaire would waste their time helping others.”

This establishes the film’s central conceit as high fantasy. The Batman doesn’t have what we’d normally call superpowers, and we’ve seen it’s not simply the gadgets or money that keeps him going, but his rigid moral compass and drive to do good that makes him superhuman.

It isn’t just allegorical. It’s not just a cautionary tale. It’s a mad thought experiment. Fiction. Fantasy. Though some of us do have trouble separating that.

For there is no Ayn Randian perfect citizen or engine of the economy that somehow magically makes everything better. There is no Nietzschean Übermench. In the face of the very real threats of depraved elites, deadly terrorist groups and savage gunmen, there are no real superheroes.

Batman will not save us.

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Free Radicals!

Groups and individuals are radicalizing all around us! Taking up arms, subverting laws to their own purposes, spying, organizing, stealing, indoctrinating, infiltrating every crack of our world society. Radical Islam, radical conservatism, radical Israel, radical plutocracy, radical protest, radical polarization, and my personal favorite, our radical race towards the future, perhaps our own demise!

PLAYLIST
Hall of the Mountain King – Ratmen
Let’s Get Radical – Gogol Bordello
International Sponge – Alien Planetscapes
Uprising – Muse
Free Radicals – The Flaming Lips
Oppression – Ben Harper
The Ghost of Corporate Future – Regina Spektor
Harvester of Sorrow – Apocalyptica
Megalomania – Black Sabbath
Youth Against Fascism – Sonic Youth
All You Fascists – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Attack – Deerhoof
Be a Sect Maniac – Thee Headcoats
Submission Complete – Bad Religion
Anarchy In The UK – Sex Pistols
The Conspiracy Song – Dead Milkmen
Fight – Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards
Blood On The Motorway – DJ Shadow
midnight in a perfect world – DJ Shadow
This Damn Nation – The Godfathers
Gangsters – The Specials
Fight For Your Right – Beastie Boys
Insaneology – Necro
The Age of Sacred Terror – Jedi Mind Tricks
Call Of Revolt – Benefit
Sneak Attack – DJ QBert
Revolutionary Warfare (Ft. Lake) – Nas
Attention [drum skit] – Head West
Third World Revolution – Gil Scott-Heron

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-05: Free Radicals! by The Stranger on Mixcloud

A University of Maryland-led team of international experts, funded with $4.5 million from the U.S. Dep. of Defense, are empirically investigating ways to understand, prevent and reverse the radicalization of young people in destabilized areas of the world, and to keep them from embracing terror as a political tool.

“Ultimately, we hope to identify tactics that will help inoculate young people against terrorist recruiters who urge the use of violence as a legitimate political tool,”

Why don’t we have something like that already? Why isn’t there an entire political group organized around criticism and the deradicalization of our system, our parties, our media, and our national rhetoric? A political party that can criticize both Iran and Israel? Ok, and I know I’m not the first, by far, to point out that our own government uses terror to control us, but when we see shades of it in China, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Israel, it should give us pause.

Former PM Ehud Olmert and the recently-resigned Kadima leader Tzipi Livni have joined the chorus of past and present senior Israeli politicians criticizing the government and its warmongering policy against Iran.

Livni announced her resignation as leader of the centrist liberal Kadima party on Tuesday, saying in her speech that Netanyahu’s government is putting the existence of the Jewish state “in mortal danger” by ignoring growing international discontent.

“Israel is on a volcano, the international clock is ticking and you should not be the ‘chief of Shin Bet’ to understand that. The real danger is a politics that buries its head in the sand,” Livni said.

Meanwhile, former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who was in office in 2007 when a suspected nuclear site in Syria was attacked allegedly by Israel, has spoken out against the ill-considered attack on Iran. The fresh criticism comes just days after Israel’s former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, voiced his mistrust in the Israeli political elite in the harshest terms to date.

“I do not believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” Diskin said last Friday. “I don’t have faith in the current leadership of Israel to lead us to an event of this magnitude of war with Iran.”

“An Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.” And here in this country, where we’ve born witness to a slow and decades-long, and yet no less drastic, radicalization to the right. With the corporate systems of power controlling our security forces, shouldn’t these fundamentalist (whether gun-toting right-wing Christians, Ayn Rand acolytes or deregulated greed-economics dogmatists) be considered a threat to national security? Our nation? Why would supremely powerful, connected and wealthy elites reigning over multinational corporations have any fealty to the US? They’re spying, bribing, extorting and blackmailing us and our leaders. Surely of more concern that than teenaged hackers and sign-carrying protestors?

The scandalous corporate crime wave continues, with one such hacker answering fabricating for his crimes. The UK parliamentary report on phone hacking practices at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers is harsh — but it’s just one piece: the Leveson Inquiry, which has far more real power, and the five ongoing criminal investigations by the police, the Justice Department and FBI — already looking into News Corporation — will “pursue a rigorous investigation” of any violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. when its employees allegedly paid bribes to foreign officials such as police, law enforcement, and corporate sources.

Rupert Murdoch apologized for the phone hacking and admitted that there was a “cover-up” within the paper to shroud the extent of the hacking from poor, innocent, hapless, buffoonish senior executives such as himself.

The Inquiry has “a duty under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting licence is, and remains, fit and proper to do so. And the findings are harsh, indeed. Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person,” and he and his company committed “willful blindness” “collective amnesia” and “tried to have it both ways” and “wished to buy silence” calling him “astonishing” “a huge failure” and “simply not credible.”

While the report itself is harsh, the committee was apparently split on party lines about at least some of its conclusions.

Rupert Murdoch has been shielded in a way because the scandal keeps unfolding an ocean away from his home and corporate headquarters. If, for instance, a U.S. congressional committee or regulator criticized Murdoch in the way that the British Parliament has, Wolff told TPM — “willfully blind” and “not a fit person” to lead an international company — “you would be thrown out or your company would collapse.”

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to the FCC this week demanding that the federal agency that oversees America’s airwaves suspend the more than two dozen licenses issued to News Corp. that permits them to publish content to Fox affiliates from coast-to-coast.

“Under US law, broadcast frequencies may be used only by people of good ‘character,’ who will serve ‘the public interest,’ and speak with ‘candor’,” reads the press release issued on Monday from CREW’s DC office. “Significant character deficiencies may warrant disqualification from holding a license.”

And ever since the financial crisis started, we’ve heard plenty from the 1 percent. We’ve heard them giving defensive testimony in Congressional hearings or issuing statements. They typically repeat platitudes about investment, risk-taking and job creation with the veiled contempt that the nation doesn’t understand their contribution. You get the sense that they’re afraid to say what they really believe. What do the superrich say when the cameras aren’t there?

Edward Conard, Romney’s old buddy at Bain Capital (his wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions) aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. His could be the most hated book of the year. “They (I assume he means people or chattel or serfs) don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment.”

He advocates creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks with taxpayer money if they ever face another run. As for exotic derivatives, Conard doesn’t see a problem. He argues that collateralized-debt obligations, credit-default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and other (now deemed toxic) financial products were fundamentally sound. Conard, for instance, insists that even the dodgiest financial products must have been beneficial or else nobody would have bought them in the first place. If a Wall Street trader or a corporate chief executive is filthy rich, Conard says that the merciless process of economic selection has assured that they have somehow benefited society. Because society is doing so well right now thanks to these freaks.

If their Ayn Rand philosophy feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonremunerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible, it’s because it is.

Wealthy individuals and corporations are able to influence politicians and regulators to make seemingly insignificant changes to regulations that benefit themselves. In other words, to rig the game. Banks have enormous resources to constantly put explicit or subtle pressure on lawmakers and regulators so that regulation can eventually serve their interests.

Both could be true. The rich could earn a great deal of wealth through their own hard work, skill and luck. They could also use their subsequent influence to make themselves even richer at the expense of everyone else. What impetus do they have to benefit their “lessers” at even minor expense to themselves?

Romney has also said that rising inequality is not a problem and that the attention paid to the issue is “about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.”

Meanwhile, millionaire author Stephen King writes that the rich (such as himself) should be taxed, as an institutional motivation above and beyond any wishy-washy voluntary donation.

I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

He goes on to write that the rich are not only unwilling to donate, but those that individually do are incapable to systemic change.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.”

We don’t need them to apologize, we need them to admit that “you couldn’t have made it in America without America.”

But where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.

This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. It’s a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.

One the one hand, the conservatives tell us that Obama is bad because the recovery isn’t fast enough. Then they push for austerity, so that nobody can spend anywhere (except their elite friends).

But cuts in government spending are reducing domestic demand precisely at the time when consumers are reaching the end of their ropes and can’t spend more. Absent real wage gains, that spending pace can’t possibly continue. Consumer savings are down and their debt is up. Consumer confidence dropped last week to a two-month low.

The basic issue, says economist Paul Krugman, is a lack of demand. American consumers and businesses, aren’t spending enough, and efforts to get them to open their wallets have gone nowhere. Krugman’s solution: The federal government needs to step in and spend. A lot. On debt relief for struggling homeowners; on infrastructure projects; on aid to states and localities;

Part of it is that if you’ve been brought up to believe that capitalism is wonderful and perfect then the notion that it could use some help every now and then becomes alien to you, and there are a lot of people who are so deep into that mindset that it’s very hard for them to get out.

But besides, there is a great recovery happening: for the 1 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 13,338 Tuesday, it’s highest since December, 2007. The S&P 500 added 16 points. Wall Street will remember May 1 as a great day. But most of these gains are going to the richest 10 percent of Americans who own 90 percent of the shares traded on Wall Street. And the lion’s share of the gains are going to the wealthiest 1 percent.

Shares are up because corporate profits are up. Increasingly, the world belongs to those collecting capital gains.

They’re the ones who demanded and got massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, on the false promise that the gains would “trickle down” to everyone else in the form of more jobs and better wages.

None of this is sustainable, economically or socially. Or even physically.

Physicists like Tom Murphy claims that economic growth cannot continue indefinitely. physical limits assert themselves. resources—particularly energy, thermodynamic issues

Occupy protestors are filling the streets, decrying the corporate crime wavesquatting in foreclosed homes, fighting for the public, and opening free universities.

The systems of corporate control (the Empire) is striking back.

Five young men from Cleveland are now in jail, accused of plotting to “blow up a bridge in the Cleveland area,” according to the FBI’s triumphant press release/criminal complaint. As is always the case with FBI terror stings, the “sting” part involved the bureau’s informant/agent provocateur mostly inventing the plot the accused have now been arrested for.

The five planned to detonate smoke bombs as a distraction as they “toppled financial institution signs atop high rise buildings in downtown Cleveland.” But the informant (as usual, a sketchy unnamed character with a checkered past) strongly pushed the group to seriously consider different, more extreme plots.

The FBI’s affadavit suggests that there was never actually a serious “plot.” The gang tossed around the idea of “taking out” a bridge in order to stop people from getting to work, but they also thought maybe they could use their (pretend) C4 on a Klan rally, or a neo-Nazi organization, or an oil well, or the Federal Reserve Bank.

Many people question the radical responses of protestors to the (much more radical) corporate persons.

“How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense – the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!”

History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police. Protest movements wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. They envision a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.

  1. The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of existing political institutions.
  2. The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order.
  3. The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy.

Most Americans are far more willing to embrace radical ideas than anyone in the established media is willing to admit. The basic message – that the American political order is absolutely and irredeemably corrupt, that both parties have been bought and sold by the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population, and that if we are to live in any sort of genuinely democratic society, we’re going to have to start from scratch – clearly struck a profound chord in the American psyche.

The worldwide protests have focused on four targets—extreme inequality of wealth and income, the impunity of the rich, the corruption of government, and the collapse of public services. And rapid population growth means a bulging youth population.

Employment growth is simply not keeping up with this population surge, at least not in the sense of decent jobs with decent wages. The unemployment rate for young people. In the United States, the overall unemployment rate is around 9 percent, but among eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds, it is a staggering 19 percent. As always, this does not include the part-time underemployed, underpaid, or the overqualified also burdened with student loan debt.

They have created an entire generation of progressive activists worldwide.

It’s not just the vast wealth at the top that they are questioning, but how that wealth was earned and how it’s being used to twist politics and the law.

Inequality of income has also led to inequality of political power, leading to governments that simply don’t care enough about the working class and poor to make the needed investments on behalf of the broader society. We have a vicious circle instead. The rich get richer and also more powerful politically. They use their political power to cut taxes and to slash government services (like quality education) for the rest of society. Wealth begets power, and power begets even more wealth.

The United States, alas, is a case of massive political failure. American society has everything imaginable: a huge, productive economy, vast natural resources, and a solid technological and educational base. Yet it is squandering these advantages because the rich have lost their sense of responsibility and are far more interested in their next yacht or private plane than in paying the price of civilization through honest and responsible taxation and investment. The result is an American society that is increasingly divided between rich and poor, with shrinking social mobility between the classes.

The political power of the rich has also led to an environment of impunity in which the Wall Street tycoons feel that they can break the law and get away with it.

Then again, a complete rejection of compromisebiases politics in favor of the status quo, even when the rejection risks crisis. I advocate using conservative rhetoric to fight conservative lies. Utilize O’Reilly-style railroading, ad hominem name-calling, and projection onto your political rivals. At least when we accuse them of waging a class war, there’s evidence to back it up.

It isn’t hard to argue, considering that the bailouts gave corporations trillions of our money, that neo-conservatists and corporatists are the real socialists. They socialize their debt, while binding corporate and governmental action together by secretive and elite means (but not too conspiratorial, much of this is all out in the open).

Do they really need trillions stored up? They’re not investing as much as they claim, and we don’t really reap any benefits, so stop lying to us about it!

I advocate pulling together the sane elements of Occupy, the old Alex Jones vanguard, and yes, even the Tea Party, to protect our constitutional rights and civil liberties. We should engage and contribute to building a society for everyone! Those sticky social issue debates aren’t going anywhere, and we’ll be contending with them for a long time. Don’t let any authority lie to you with twisted facts and ideologies and distracting messages.

It seems an odd strategy on their part, to push so hard to the “right” for austerity and the rich. It can only backfire and bounce back to leftist ideals (France, Greece). It seems an odd strategy to push hard anywhere, unless we’re just pushing back for our own survival, unless we’re just trying to get back to a rational middle-ground!

With soldiers and CEOs, protestors and religious zealots, it’s a damn shame that the nefarious few make the rest of us look so bad. Don’t be radical! Be moderate! Be reasonable! We don’t like tyrants, or terrorists, or demagogues or idealogues… Look outside (what may be) your own close-minded worldview, and always be self-critical, try to falsify your own precepts to make them stronger and weed out the bad ones. Just use your critical thinking and your innate moral compass to lead you to what is fair, just, and right.

So it doesn’t matter if you’re Jaime Dimon or the Koch Brothers or the GOP or Barack Obama or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the European Union or Al-Qaeda or Scientology or Loki, we refuse to bow to your wealth and power.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” –Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Will the Student Debt Movement Legitimize Occupy?

The mainstreamies out there are pretty occupied (pun intended) with working more hours for less pay, mortgage foreclosures and a host of other pressures. But for my money, the predatory lending practices, price hikes and unfair or outright fraudulent policies regarding payment, interest, or consolidation will bring Real America closer to realizing the progressive changes we need for the middle class to survive and the country to thrive.

It is the aspiration of nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or creed, to attain higher education. It helps us expand and diversify our minds, meet new and interesting people, live free and wildly independent, study under the tutelage of wizened mentors, access courses, books and topics they otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience. People of any age go to school to grow philosophically, gain skills, learn seemingly secret or arcane knowledge, or, as the marketing departments tell us, to get better jobs and make more money.

Of course, it doesn’t really work that way, with an American workforce still in the shitter, skilled jobs scarce and a growing economic class of people below the rising line of college affordability. Parents and guardians, also burdened with co-signed loans, want what is best for their younger generations, but are crippled by Draconian corporations. A feedback loop of greed has been created by big education dealers like EDMC, usurious loan companies like Sallie Mae, and the collections agencies that sometimes fall under their own banner (not exactly a conflict for Sallie Mae, but a matter of compounding debt and problems for the indebted). If one were to be thoroughly conspiracy-minded, it wouldn’t take much to add a dystopian vision of private industry fueled by underpaid workers (a la Foxconn) enslaved by the debt of their overpriced and now apparently useless education, the return of debtor’s prisons in a private prison industry!

But enough slippery slope arguments, for the tamer future reality is nearly as frightening. No massive conspiracy, but hundreds of small ones perpetrated by the psychopathic CEOs at the top tiers of the power structures in this country, with no regard for the populace “below them” or indeed the very future of the country, the planet, or our species. This is what Occupy is all about, but this message hasn’t entirely translated to the mainstream America who gets their news from Fox, or more likely, doesn’t care to get the news at all.

You will undoubtedly see people criticize any progressive movement on the left, and decry any debt absolution, industry regulation, activism or protest movement as leftist propaganda and overreaching government attacking poor, defenseless billionaires such as Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae. For every true story told at occupystudentdebt.com, one could likely find a snide youtube comment tearing them down. There will always be reactionary bullies and their herds of sheep. A perfectly natural (and primitively primate) revulsion of the youthful vigor for liberty.

Fortunately, the facts are overhwhelming, as student loan debt in America tops $1 trillion, some are seeing their loans triple due to interest, face ridiculous fees, with no way to negotiate, no bankruptcy protection, and no regulation. Since 1980, average tuition for a 4-year college education has increased an astounding 827%. Since 1999, average student loan debt has increased by a shameful 511%. Student debt collectors are incentivized to violate federal aid laws, and even Obama (who topped the list of those fighting for student debt reform) and the Department of Education rely on debt collectors profiting from student debt. And Republicans are again trying to double the interest rates for student loans. Which is really the overreaching government action?

If it looks like a bubble and acts like a bubble…

Unfortunately, as we have seen with issue after issue, facts do not necessarily sway voters. We need to reframe the issues, changing perceptions and public opinion, alter the very conversation in this country of where the money is going and why the prices are fixed as they are.

The student loan corporation heads (like all the clueless and insulated rich) must have received quite a shock upon realizing that the protest movement of their victims is coincidentally somehow both young and educated.

But once the bubble of student loan debt bursts, and make no mistake, it will, Americans will watch as the same drama plays out again with corporate bailouts and vulture capitalism that nearly wrecked us so recently.

Prices for education will not drop (they haven’t for homes), as the economy takes another hit unemployment will rise with no regard to the educated, skilled, or fealty to young innovators, things we once valued and prized in this country. Even the parents and grandparents will take up their torches and pitchforks if and when the shit makes such total abstract art of the fan. The first economic shitstorm of mortgage usury took everyone by surprise, and an unaware America could be fed nonsense and propaganda contrary to the facts or their better interests. But as George W. Bush once stated in his American dialect, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Years later, Americans are more skeptical of rushing off to foreign wars in Iran or Syria, compared to our gullibility in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re more savvy if we’ve lived through it once before in recent memory.

There are other options, of course, than utter collapse. Floating Universities and Open Education Resources are becoming more popular online for a fraction of the cost of similar coursework and lectures. Certain degrees in technology are being offered by once-exclusive institutions at affordable rates (even cheap as free), and tuition can be pre-paid or locked-in early to save money. Blogging itself is increasingly being seen as a scholarly activity. Some incentives exist to get courses for cheaper, though overall, scholarships and federal grants for financial aid are diminishing, and even community college costs are rising. And despite their innovation and necessity, let us not allow such cost-saving measures deter us from fixing the regulatory holes hemorrhaging the system.

A current bill is being proposed by Rep. Hansen Clarke, who might lose his seat due to Republican redistricting, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 (H.R. 4170), that would give those Americans a way out debt by letting them pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 10 years. America is slipping behind with every year in education! We all need to educate ourselves, get informed, and act! Sign a petition, write your congressmen, or march in the streets if you can, to occupy our very right to be educated.

In the end, if worst comes to worst, they may not even call it Occupy, and they may not consider it ‘legitimized.’ But the looming financial hubris cannot be sustained, and unregulated will come to a point where no American can ignore it.

TO THE FUTURE!

We’ll glean some idea of what futurists and musicians predict in relation to environmentalism, race, science, the cyber war, protest movements, politicians and even sexy space lounging as we attach either our stylin’ headphones and/or augmented reality time goggles, and dream of tomorrow!

All that and robot dinosaurs, on this week’s Stranger in a Strange Land!

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King (Terramix) – terraon
I, Robot – Alan Parsons Project
Future M B End-Gem – Shiva Chandra
Future Legend/Space Oddity – David Bowie
Forecast Fascist Future – Of Montreal
Here & Now – RjD2
Future Shock – Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions
I Can See The Future (Ski’s Main Mix) – Incognito
Dark Future – Cyrus (Random Trio)
tomorrow comes today – Gorillaz
The Future, Wouldn’t That Be Nice? – The Books
Tomorrow Never Knows – Daniel Johnston
Strange – Built to Spill
Tomorrow – Thievery Corporation
Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now) – The Flaming Lips
In a Future Age – Wilco
Cyborg Control – Man Or Astroman
Someday – The Joe Beats Conspiracy
Bionic Kahaan – DJ Shadow Djmedjyou
We Are the Future – Non Phixion
Voyager – Zombectro
A Better Tomorrow – Automator
Post-Apocalyptic Rap Blues – Busdriver
Future – Sun Ra
In the Year 2525 – Zager & Evans
The Future Belongs To The Children – Gandalf The Grey
Tomorrow’s Gonna Be A Brighter – Jim Croce
In A Spaceage Mood – JG Thirlwell
Tales of the Future – Vangelis

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-02-24: TO THE FUTURE! by The Stranger on Mixcloud

A bunch of rich white males just decide every day a bunch of things for the rest of us.

These reactionary right-wing corporatist dudes want to fight against the future, but who will save it? Does it even need saving? Already the future is happening all around us! Synthetic organs and bones being printed, and the first robot-human handshake has occurred in space! Futurists have predicted this, technology nuts have written on the subject, dark prophecies have been foretold, time travelers have secretly brought us back information, and social protest movements are coordinating and organizing with the speed of free electrons!

The Old World Order has been consistently on the wrong side of history in regards to immigration and discrimination, the devious threats of economic inequity, rising food costs, basic services, civil liberties, civil rights, constitutionality and privacy. Zealots with myopic bigotry (and a tendency to project) finding any excuse to marginalize or persecute gays, muslims, minorities, the poor, and women, even fighting to ban contraception based on their own ridiculously specific religious viewpoints. Technologically and scientifically, the archaic policy-makers are dead in the water, feeling victimized in the wake of internet protest because they’d rather see things go back to the way they used to, or else use those systems against their “lessers” instead. Shrugging the very real field of climate science with very real conspiracy and very false rhetoric while exhausting our fossil fuels in an intense refusal to change with the times, entitling themselves to their own set of facts on evolution and science, revisioning American history with Orwellian language and Fox News, they want to go back to the days of feudal Lords keeping worker serfs, or perhaps even the days of slavery (with the rise of the private prison system and the return of debtor’s prisons). It is a tiered system protecting those at the top, the politicians, the military, the media, the rich, and mostly the super-rich defining the ‘status quo’.

But things are changing… as the future inevitably holds a collision course with entropy.

Because though there are those who would try to own the present, the future belongs to all of us, this diverse range of genetic variance and political ideology, hurtling through space and time at a rate of sixty seconds per minute.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Thinking about tomorrow, but of course it isn’t tomorrow if you haven’t slept yet…

Progger (Prog Rock + Prog Politics)

With so much trouble in the USA, I’ll need some complex and conceptual instrumentation to help my concentration in relation to the the shifting paradigms and persecutions perpetrated by the status quo!

With Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) holding hearings on contraception and religious freedom that produced the now-famous picture of a table full of men called to weigh in on access to contraceptives, barring women from testifying like a strict theocratic state in the Middle East!

With police arresting the victim of wrongful foreclosure simply for demanding a place to live for his family!

With our elected officials answering to the wealthy instead of the rest of us, or better, all of us equally, their priorities shift dramatically, often against the American people!

With cyberwar hype fuelling a cybersecurity-industrial complex! With private corporations pushing for stricter criminal penalties for smaller crimes to fill the coffers of their prison-industrial complex!

Angry political ranting, longform chaotic musical experimentation, space-time exploration, and run-on sentences abound in this very progressive episode of the Stranger in a Strange Land!

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Electric Light Orchestra
Departure/Ride My See-Saw – Moody Blues
Stagnation – Genesis
Dharma for one – Jethro Tull
The Idiot Bastard Son – Jean-Luc Ponty
Myopic Void – Captain Beyond
No Good Trying – Syd Barrett
Cops & Robbers – Wild Man Fischer
A Story of Mysterious Forest – Ain Soph
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX) – Pink Floyd
Stoned Guitar – Human Instinct
South Side Of The Sky – Yes
Alucard – Gentle Giant
2112 – Rush
Promenade – Tomita
From the Beginning – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Epitaph – King Crimson

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-02-18: Progger by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Though you may hear progressive chants on anything from income equality to prisoners, racist police brutality to corporate fraud, bought-out politicians subverting our democracy or people getting kicked out of their homes or nonviolent small-case drug offenses leading to convictions or student loan justice… the message is clear. We don’t want non-elected and/or bought power-mongers controlling us and corrupting every inch of our once-free and once-great nation of laws and justice.

We need to be wary of all kinds of things that will lead us into a totalitarian dictatorship, or the patriarchal oligarchy that enslaves us to the fanatical right-wing beliefs of a select few. Did the people of Weimar Germany know what would be coming a few decades later? And before you accuse me of unfairly applying Godwin’s Law, I’ll also use France as an example. Did the violent revolutionaries overthrowing the rich monarchs know that a militant megalomaniac would conquer much of the world in a few years’ time? I’m not invoking nazis to compare any modern group to them, (that would make me Glenn Beck) just as an example that we are NOT on some liberal march as a species to a better tomorrow. While awareness of human rights has been relatively progressive overall, heinous acts still take place not only in third-world nations but in every nation in the world, and if history is any indicator, a great period of civil liberty can be followed by evil Emperors or cruel tyranny.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Because “progressive” in this day and age, just means trying to keep us from going backwards.

When does fucking the system cross over?

Is it better to be Stephen Cooper, and steal your money in obfuscated, technically legal ways hidden behind corporate espionage and litigation? Or D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a plane, extorted hundred of thousands, and leapt into the sky with a parachute and much badassery, never to be seen again? When does fucking the system cross over from skullduggery to douchebaggery?

This debate can be seen on the political stage between left and right, and even within the debates for the GOP nomination. More and more, the elite are attempting to distance themselves from their unpopular corporatist takeover, while still retaining their record-level greed and avarice. Within the movements of the left, the debate rages on protest methodology and ethics. Many hacktivists are ready to embrace the Robin Hood image, while others simply fight for privacy and liberty, others greedily attempt to get rich as unethically as big banking cheats, and others still just want to watch the world burn. Clearly, written in the faces of the police who clash with protestors, the conflict is very real and very painful. Most of us (except for wealthy policy-making plutocrats) did not have much choice in our positions, socio-economically, politically, or in some cases perhaps even ethically.

Guy DeBord’s Situationalism (which I have studied for years… on Wikipedia) tells us that each generation is in a futile cycle, in which is rises up against the entrenched dominant patriarchy, reclaiming their language and symbols as their own in the social battle, eventually doomed to grow up and become what they hate, usurping and claiming the language and symbols of the young in their corporatist regime. We saw some social, sexual, secular and popular culture advantages to DeBord’s revolution of the 1960’s, but many of those counterculture types sold out and got white-collar jobs, and many of their progressively populist politicians now accept tremendous bribes. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, as the old saying goes. This is also known in tropes as ‘the Bad Guys Won.”

And how well do you have to know thine enemy, before you become what you hate most. “We’re not so different, you and I.

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French Revolutionary, a capable articulator of the beliefs of the left-wing bourgeoisie. He was described as being physically unimposing yet immaculate in attire and personal manners. His supporters called him “The Incorruptible”, and although originally inspired by liberal Enlightenment ideals, his adversaries called him dictateur sanguinaire (bloodthirsty dictator). He was instrumental in the implementation of the Reign of Terror, which ultimately ended with his arrest and execution in 1794.

The Republicans are already writing their history books referring to the Occupy movement as “a bunch of goddamned chumps.” When I call back East and South to my conservative friends and family for the holidays, I discover a range of opinions and ‘facts’* ** mostly absorbed from FOX “News” and Glenn Beck. According to them, the “99%” is an unnecessarily divisive scheme of class warfare. Occupiers are lazy, unemployed, and probably on the take. Unemployed people just chose to be. They think that ten percent of the country would rather be on food stamps than find gainful unemployment. The Occupy movement has no clear message, and Anonymous are more than likely terrorists. Their criticisms (legit, illegit, and 2 legit 2 quit), can be easily countered with a few minutes of internet research, or by the shifting focus of Occupations around the country and globe to focus on and vocalize specific issues of economic injustice and income inequality. They are not, despite the false rhetoric, socialists and anarchists, though a radically inclusive movement is bound to have those, as well as gang members and hacktivists. The majority are people who have been disenfranchised both financially and emotionally from the democratic process, at a rate equally proportionate to the eroding of our democracy by corporate lobbying and tax fraud politicians. Many of their key themes, like it or not, are in keeping with the populist Tea Party movement. Occupy has singled out targets of protest, and Anonymous has clearly been keeping a list of individuals and organizations for cyber attack.

The claims that Occupy and others are being ‘bought off’, or on somebody’s ‘payroll’, or as one (particularly absurd) flyer posited, a ‘George Soros Psy-Op’, are patently false. Will it remain so in the future? Though the movement is sometimes split (by its very nature), on how to utilize its collective funds, it is even more contentious when nonviolent resistance resolutions have been adopted. Will these displays of respectful civil disobedience and rational discourse prevail? Or will they eventually be overshadowed by riots, destruction of property, graffiti and cop hatred? Historically, the argument could be made for either approach as more successful. When does it cross over?

The GOP candidates (not including Ron Paul, but there are other issues with him) all seem to be in perfect step with their corporate sponsors and overlords, seeing the proletariat uprising with chagrin, concern, or panic. Having gotten away with so many crimes, they cannot stand to allow the energetic movement to shift the country’s dialogue to the left, or even back into rational democratic debate. The attempts to lift the veil, in of themselves, are as dangerous to the prestidigitatious status quo as jihadist terrorism or communist invasion. So they equate them all using their media powers. They have been fucking them system bloody for so long now, it can be said that any young group is, by default, cast into the role of Robin Hood. That is, unless the system is so very fucked beyond any hope.

And if that is the case, then their runaway train wreck will take the elitists out with it. As journalist Chris Hedges points out, protest movements reach their tipping point when the enforcers (police, military, security) have a crisis of faith and either join the protestors, or cease protecting the elite. Even top military brass are saying that our networks are indefensible.

The inevitability of failure is clear to this ridiculous regime against consumer needs and an middle class class to succor. American love good underdogs, and will take notice once issues begin to directly affect them, especially where  civil liberty and privacy are concerned. Many of the technological threats from the oligarchy are hollow and laughable, with hacktivists ready to take down infrastructures, a deep net of both criminals and innocent privacy-seekers, and readying domestic right wing militias gone unchecked for decades. How will the 1% sustain themselves when the police switch sides, when the cities crumble, and when the serf class they were brainwashing riots in the streets for food, medicine, and pay cable? It is not the mainstream news, or Washington, or Wall Street who ultimately decides. It is not even the various fringe or voluminous protest movements. When the average and usually disconnected American casts their public opinions, that is when change will be forced, that is when the snowball cannot be stopped, and that is when the sides will be defined for the history books.

When does fucking the system cross over? As Robespierre found out, when total madness ensues, and everybody loses their heads.

*”Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, nobody is entitled to their own facts.”

**”You know what they say about opinions… everybody’s got one!”