Tag Archives: Chris Lehmann

THE BLACKEST FRIDAY

21 Jan

 

 

 

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Illustration courtesy of Anthony Russo

 

 

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”*

Paying attention to the shit stream of information, polls, false news, Facebook hysteria and hand wringing and thankfully, eloquent opining on the forthcoming Bedlamite Reign (which is now at hand) it would seem that a great many of my fellow citizens are dismayed.

Include me in.

HL Mencken’s apparently prescient observation not withstanding, that such a nightmare should come to pass is a shock to the system. As it happens I have
spent some time (when not diverting myself from the impending darkness with literature (textual and filmic) watching the confirmation hearings ( being extremely thankful for Senators Warren, Franken and Saunders) and attending to the small circle of observers who I count on for spirited (and yes, humorous )commentary. That group includes Charles Pierce,, Chris Lehmann, Keith Olbermann, Andy Borowitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, George Scialabba, Rebecca Solnit, Henry Giroux and on occasion, Gail Collins. One wonders what Molly Ivins and Christopher Hitchens would have made of the evolution of neoliberalism.

 

Theme song for Dark Times

There is also Howard Zinn’s half century of dissidence  which offers many clues as to how he would view current events. One of the principles he held dear is expressed in this articulation of  Edmund Burke’s remark on activism.

History is instructive. And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.

 

Keith Olbermann has been cvertainly been around the media block. Currently, he is affiliated with GQ ( yes, the slick Conde Nast glossy) and his outpost in cyberspace is entitled The Resistance (which is a good a rubric as any, I suppose). Forgoing his penchant for bombast, Keith recently offered this bulletin to Trump supporters

 

William Greider, in the Nation in a piece called “Donald Trump’s Presidency Will Be a Fiasco for Donald Trump” mordantly suggests a note of hope;

… If Americans wanted a performer to run the country, why not pick George Clooney? Instead, we got a slightly demented carnival barker with gilded hair and a bloated ego. The fright and gloom are understandable, but I have a hunch Donald Trump has already peaked. He won’t go away, of course—he will be Mr. President—but the air is already seeping out of Trump’s balloon. The president-elect has amassed a huge inventory of dubious promises, and I expect this powerhouse of American politics to get smaller and less influential as the broken promises pile up…

…his governing vision, it was usually limited to 140 characters. His longer speeches, if you listen closely, are always about the same subject—the greater glory of Donald Trump. We still don’t know how much Trump knows about governing. Or how much he cares…

 

 

 

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The Fortiefifth President of the United States

 

…President-elect Trump doesn’t seem to understand that governing is a team sport. It requires complicated cooperation and fluid policy arguments. Small details produce awesome differences. In other words, for Trump, it’s boring. Trump is a big-picture guy who treats the politics of governing like it’s high-stakes mud wrestling. And it’s all about him. He shows little interest in or knowledge of policy specifics and spews gratuitous scorn and ridicule on his opponents…

…Now he is to be our president, and Trump’s “magical realism” is about to collide with the hard earth of mortal politics. The president-elect and his staffers are already busy trying to distance themselves from some of his more explosive promises, hoping they get forgotten in the excitement of a new party’s taking power….

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Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of books (From ‘Lying to Leering”:

Trump was the candidate so weak that his victory needed the disenfranchisement of millions of voters of colour, the end of the Voting Rights Act, a long-running right-wing campaign to make Clinton’s use of a private email server, surely the dullest and most uneventful scandal in history, an epic crime and the late intervention, with apparent intent to sabotage, of the FBI director James Comey. We found out via Comey’s outrageous gambit that it is more damaging to be a woman who has an aide who has an estranged husband who is a creep than actually to be a predator who has been charged by more than a dozen women with groping and sexual assault.

The pride of Providence Rhode Island Henry Giroux warns (warning Henry uses big words explicating a dense theory of pedagogy —he is nonetheless worth reading)

The United States stands at the endpoint of a long series of attacks on democracy, and the choices faced by the American public today point to the divide between those who are committed to democracy and those who are not. Debates over whether Donald Trump was a fascist or Hillary Clinton was a right-wing warmonger and tool of Wall Street were a tactical diversion. The real questions that should have been debated include: What measures could have been taken to prevent the United States from sliding further into a distinctive form of authoritarianism? And what could have been done to imagine a mode of civic courage and militant hope needed to enable the promise of a radical democracy? Such questions take on a significant urgency in light of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Under such circumstances, not only is the public in peril, it is on the brink of collapse as the economic, political, and cultural institutions necessary for democracy to survive are being aggressively undermined. As Robert Kuttner observes:

“It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself – his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government. One has to nourish the hope that Trump can yet be contained. Above all, that will take passionate and strategic engagement, not just to resist but to win, to discredit him and get him out of office while this is still a democracy. We can feel sick at heart – we would be fools not to – but despair is not an option.”[1]

Trump’s willingness to rely upon openly fascist elements prefigures the emergence of an American style mode of authoritarianism that threatens to further foreclose venues for social justice and civil rights. The need for resistance has become urgent. The struggle is not simply over specific institutions such as higher education or so-called democratic procedures such as the validity of elections but over what it means to get to the root of the problems facing the United States. At the heart of such a movement is the need to draw more people into subversive actions modeled after the militancy of the labour strikes of the 1930s, the civil rights movements of the 1950s and the struggle for participatory democracy by the New Left in the 1960s while building upon the strategies and successes of the more recent movements for economic, social and environmental justice such as Black Lives Matter and Our Revolution. At the same time, there is a need to reclaim the radical imagination and to infuse it with a spirited battle for an independent politics that regards a radical democracy as part of a never-ending struggle.

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Women’s March 22 January 2017

I could, of course, go on. Hopefully  you have overcome your despair (to which more than a few of my acquaintances have succumbed )and availed your self of useful social media and serious activist organizations to contribute to  coalescing resistance, Otherwise, to quote Edmund Burke:

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

Power to the Peaceful

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  • HL Mencken
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The Baffler: The Blunted Cutting Edge

8 Sep

One of life’s mysteries that evades my understanding is why magazines which give thoughtful analysis and critique to the avalanching dysfunction of modern civilization (especially as exhibited by the most powerful nation in the known world) do not have greater followings and readership. Not least on my list of under-appreciated publications is the Baffler

The Baffler  covers

The Baffler covers

Given the  dissatisfaction, all too frequently misdirected, that citizens and other residents of the US of A we are told, frequently express in opinion polls, you’d think there would be a rising movement to seek out answers in other than the unusual places , from other thah the usual commentators. Another one of the great mysteries I contemplate is how persistent foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky has been effectively marginalized by a huge chorus of apologists and publicists for the regnant “enlightened states” foreign policies.But that is the subject for another time.

 No Future For You: Salvos from The Baffler by editors John Summers, Chris Lehmann, Thomas Frank anthologizes 19 essays and articles from the recently resurrected issues The Baffler website explains:

There’s never been a better time to be outside the consensus — and if you don’t believe it, then peer into these genre-defining essays from The Baffler, the magazine that’s been blunting the cutting edge of American culture and politics for a quarter of a century. Here’s Thomas Frank on the upward-falling cult of expertise in Washington, D.C., where belonging means getting the major events of our era wrong. Here’s Rick Perlstein on direct mail scams, multilevel marketing, and the roots of right-wing lying. Here’s John Summers on the illiberal uses of innovation in liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts. And here’s David Graeber sensing our disappointment in new technology. (We expected teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, and immortality drugs. We got LinkedIn, which, as Ann Friedman writes here, is an Escher staircase masquerading as a career ladder.)

 

No Future for You:  by John Summers  , Chris Lehmann , Thomas Frank

No Future for You:
by John Summers , Chris Lehmann , Thomas Frank

Packed with hilarious, scabrous, up to-the-minute criticism of the American comedy, No Future for Youdebunks “positive thinking” bromides and business idols. Susan Faludi debunks Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s phony feminist handbook, Lean In. Evgeny Morozov wrestles “open source” and “Web 2.0” and other pseudorevolutionary meme-making down to the ground. Chris Lehmann writes the obituary of the Washington Post, Barbara Ehrenreich goes searching for the ungood God in Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus, Heather Havrilesky reads Fifty Shades of Grey, and Jim Newell investigates the strange and typical case of Adam Wheeler, the student fraud who fooled Harvard and, unlike the real culprits, went to jail.

The anthology’s preface provides some background:

The Baffler born in ye olde 1988 was present at the uncreative destruction of American thought and culture.We declined back then to bow before the golden calves of the one and only future, freshly polished and hosannahed by the cyber prophets and generally greeted the messaging campaign of the boom years with a chorus of derisive horse laughs.And when the gilded swindle finally collapsed from the weight of its own sleaziness and the country embarked on its present course of jobless recovery, progress free innovation and unparalleled corporate profits we heard the call. Consensus -makers form both parties woke up in 2008 long enough to rescue the perpetrators of the fraud, then promptly fell asleep while the banks went back to business and we began writing the  salvos you now have lodged between your eyeballs.

Michael Patrick Brady opines in his Boston Globe review

“No Future for You” is by no means a light read — it’s a litany of dark, downcast diatribes that assumes its readers already know that our “postindustrial” society is in the throes of “late capitalism.” But beyond the rhetorical theatrics, the collection serves as a powerful summation of the systemic challenges we face as a nation, and a welcome reminder that we need strong, dissenting voices like The Baffler more than ever.

Of the numerous offerings ( also placed under the rubric of salvos defined as sudden, vigorous, or aggressive act or series of acts) I particularly want to point out John Summers’s The People’s Republic of Zukerstan</em> his articulate unpacking of the realities of the so-called Innovation Economy. Here’s a sample:

And so we arrive at the ultimate contradiction of the Innovation Economy’s mode of development. As we have observed, this new republic depends on reengineering the cultural environment. For the market’s winnings, a frame of acceptance must be created to justify the community’s losses. Irony must erode, so that corporate entrepreneurs can be presented as nonconformists; nonprofits must absorb surplus profit, so that hundreds of millions of dollars in government payments, grants, and contracts, along with tax incentives, subsidies, and exemptions, can be banked for subsequent transfer to the market; even the old method of “clustering” must sound futuristic, so that its actual origins in socialist redoubts like New York’s Greenwich Village (today an innovation hub, naturally) can be forgotten.

The Innovation Economy necessitates such cultural changes, but it offers no independent argument for freely choosing them. Instead, the manifest destiny of business touts innovation as if it were synonymous with progress, rather than one among its many necessary qualities, and leaves it at that.

So you can be sure the next time a wealthy college dropout like Mark Zuckerberg filches a banal idea from a couple of wealthier classmates and wants to beat them to midmarket, he need not ride the golden carpet to Silicon Valley and let Stanford or Cal Tech garner all the credit and cash. In Cambridge, teams of elites will regulate the general production from startup to corporate behemoth and make it easy for him to optimize the same thing today that he optimized yesterday. The new man of the Innovation Ideology will be free to code in the morning, head to the laboratory in the afternoon, and brag after dinner, without ever having to read books.

Innovation for what else? Not for art, literature, music, history, dance, sculpture, painting, philosophy, religion, poetry, or drama, the traditional means by which a diverse community grows conscious and formulates its standards of value. The governor of Massachusetts won’t be stopping by your office to encourage you in your efforts at moral reasoning about philanthropy, the state legislature won’t be allocating millions of dollars in matching grants for your next novel about how the homeless live, and the websites that have replaced the newspapers won’t report on your subway concert. And there is no good reason for this, except this is how business wants it.

Here’s an 2012 conversation with editor-in-chief John Summers:

John Summers [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

John Summers [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

PS: Another salvo

Currently reading The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us by Diane Ackerman (WW Norton)

The New Baffler

3 Apr


By now, if you are the kind of person that I hope you are, you are aware that a great beacon of reason,the modern era’s answer to the Smart Set or American Mercury, The Baffler has been rekindled with a 2/3 of its editorial troika intact. Veteran Baffleroids,Thomas Frank (Pity the Poor Billionaire) and Chris Lehman(Rich People’s Things) join editor-in-chief,historian John Summers (Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, editor ) ,in the resurrection of this much lauded and much needed critical voice.

Of course the above mentioned make their presence felt with signature long form essays along with familiar muck rakers such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Rick Perlstein, Dubravka Ugrešić and the wretched of the earth’s newest hero, David Graeber. Additionally, there are a number of enjoyable discoveries, not the least of which is “Omniscient Gentlemen of The Atlantic” by Maureen Tkacik— an enthusiastically iconoclastic expose of the once highly esteemed Atlantic and (David Bradley), its current 1 %er ownership.

Ms Tkacik opens her vivisection by describing her attendance at one of the Atlantic’s Idea Forum (which she points out is one of the, uh, whatchamacallits that are taking the new Atlantic to an unsightly, newly found profitability):

The din of younger colleagues tapping keyboards is never soothing, but sitting in the press room of the Ideas Forum felt like a human rights violation. What could anyone write about something so tyrannically dull— other than an angry elegy for the massacre of meaning? The average C-SPAN 3 segment is a crowd-pleasing cliffhanger by com- parison. Mind flickering between rage and somnolence, I tried my best to keep awake by writing notes.

In the peroration of her piece the well-travelled Ms Tkacik cites a tragically-ignored article by Andy Grove (formerly of Intel) as what I identify asher coup de grace:

The Bradley-subsidized chattering class in- stinctively knows to tune out altogether more articulate assessments of our plight, such as former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s withering indictment of free-market dogma in a sum- mer 2010 Bloomberg Businessweek cover story. Grove blamed the economic malaise on a sick cultural deification of “the guys in the garage inventing something that changes the world” at the expense of anyone involved in what happened afterward. His lament was the most eloquent tribute to the symbiosis of design and production and imagination and reality I’d read since Mao’s 1937 essay “On Practice,” which declared “man’s knowledge depends mainly on his activity in material production.” The Thought Leaders of our own political leadership class would never know about Grove’s broadside, though—it was greeted by a Washington-wide wall of silence. (Indeed, the one wayward D.C. player who did take it to heart—former SEIU chieftain Andy Stern— was reduced to imploring unsympathetic readers of the Wall Street Journal op-ed sec- tion to search online for Grove’s essay some sixteen months after it appeared.)

What mystified Grove was the assertion, voiced by the economist Alan Blinder and others, “that as long as ‘knowledge work’ stays in the U.S., it doesn’t matter what happens to factory jobs.” This was not only inhumane, Grove declared; it was idiotic.

But it is why the ideas, so-called, that inspire the omniscient gentlemen of The Atlantic are flat: their world is, literally, flat. Habitual “bipartisanship” has given way to a tendency to level the playing field between reality and fiction…

And in case you have any questions (you don’t do you?) about what value Ms Tkacik places on the Bradley owned enterprise, she is not hesitant to expostulate:

Comrades: I hope that you want to throw up now, because I have run clean out of bile to waste on the mental morlocks who think up this sort of shit.

Yes, indeed. Which I can assure you is not the stuff of which the Baffler is constituted.

Currently reading Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (Random House)

Brave New World?

8 Mar

Don’t hold it against me that I am commenting on a book review—the obvious situation holds here. One cannot read all the books that cross our path (nor would one want to) but this sampling from the astute Chris Lehmann’s critique
of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age By Clay Shirky (Penguin Press) did hit the mark:

It’s more than a little disorienting—and not a little obscene—in a society of increasingly desperate financial distress and joblessness, to be marched one more time by a beaming missionary through the key points of the New Economy catechism, which holds that the social achievements of the web are remaking the world as we know it remorselessly for the better, abolishing all the old distinctions not merely of intellectual and cultural quality but also of social class,national identity, government regulation and the fabric of public and private life itself.

This quote reminded me of the talking head economist recently interviewed on the TV news opining that ” rising fuel prices could be digested by the economy and did not pose a threat to the [so called]recovery.”

Where do these experts live?