On That Nagging Feeling of Being Overwhelmed

by: David Sirota

Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 15:05


My favorite time of the week is Sunday morning. I try to overcome my insomnia-like proclivities and sleep a little later, then get up and make my coffee at an unusually leisurely pace, take some time to make an omlette, and sit at my kitchen table reading the newspaper while my dog, Monty, waits patiently for me to let him have a scrap of leftovers (which I inevitably give him). This time of the week is usually the time I use to "recenter" myself - to rebuild my mind's desktop, if you will. But lately, it's not working as the world feels like it's collapsing all around us.

I'm not talking, mind you, about The World - that mythic place referred to at elite gatherings in D.C. and Davos where the big fear is that democratically elected governments may engage in "protectionism" - aka. protecting regular people. I'm talking about the world: the very real, very mundane place the Rest of Us live in - the place of jobs and commutes and paying bills and vacuuming the living room and doing laundry and putting food on the table. It is that place - the real world - that is smouldering, and no Super Bowl matchup or Bruce Springsteen half-time show can hide the growing flames.

David Sirota :: On That Nagging Feeling of Being Overwhelmed
I opened my local newspaper today to read about our state's health care system teetering on the edge of collapse, as government revenues dry up. I saw a story about those same government revenues being used to subsidize the financial industry's efforts to outsource American jobs. I read about statehouse Republicans trying to destroy even the most minimal rules making sure that oil and gas companies don't destroy the local environment.

And then I read the frivolous front-page dispatch about how having Barack Obama's personal email address is the new status symbol in Washington, D.C. I read the paper's lead editorial (adjacent to the editorial about the scary airport horse), attacking the stimulus bill not for wasting too much money on needless tax cuts, but for "rais[ing] the bar on yearly government spending to dizzying heights" and applauding House Republicans for opposing it.

The same editorial board, of course, applauded the similarly-sized bank bailout back in September, saying it "should result in lasting reforms to our nation's financial structure" and telling wavering congresspeople that - despite the bailout's utter lack of transparency and oversight - "inaction [in voting yes on the bailout] is not an option."

Indeed, those with the luxury of pondering The World gossip like schoolchildren about the president's Blackberry, defend handing taxpayer cash to Wall Street fat cats, and attack those who want to spend money on creating jobs here at home. Meanwhile, the real world burns.

On quiet Sunday mornings all over the world, people are likely reading the same stories in their local newspapers (if they are still lucky to have a local newspaper). And we are all feeling that our worlds are closing in on us as our government laughs - a feeling that is rooted in concrete fact. As Rep. Barney Frank (D) said this morning on ABC's This Week (in one of the rare moments when he's not coddling Big Money), "I don't think there has ever been in American history -- certainly not in my memory -- a greater split between the opinion of people you would describe as the elites in the economy and the academy, et cetera, and the average American."

He's right - and that's an overwhelming thing to swallow. The media/political Establishment - including a new administration brought to power on the promise of "change" - still seems far more interested in making the Great and Serious Ponderers of The World comfortable than in working for the Rest of Us.

And this gets us back to the most basic cliched truisms that every past generation has been forced to face up to at times of crisis: "Power concedes nothing without demand" and "we are the ones we've been waiting for."

No one is coming to rescue us - not Barack Obama, not your senator, not your governor, nobody. When the prospect of American taxpayer money being spent in America is called "controversial," when giving money to Manhattan millionaires takes priority over a crumbling public health system, when bank executives fund presidential inaugurations with their taxpayer-subsidized bonuses, when hiring lobbyists as government officials empowered to dole out money to the corporations they just lobbied for is the norm, it's clear we're going to have to rescue ourselves - because no one else will. And that means making those power players concede what we want.

How to do that? There are a million different ways at every single level of political engagement - but it starts first and foremost by resisting the urge to worship power, and embracing the call to challenge it. If that change in mindset does not happen, then we are all obliviously partying on the Titanic while the iceberg approaches.


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Maybe we ought to post this at the top of the page on openleft. (4.00 / 11)
And this gets us back to the most basic cliched truisms that every past generation has been forced to face up to at times of crisis: "Power concedes nothing without demand" and "we are the ones we've been waiting for." No one is coming to rescue us


--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


Why should European taxpayer money be spent on US products? (0.00 / 0)
Of course, Europeans wouldn't support hurting US workers at Caterpillar, Cisco, Pratt @ Whitney, General Electric etc when China is the real problem. But if Americans engage in protectionism, this woldn't go unnoticed and unanswered. It's a game that two sides can play. Why don't you mention this simple fact in any of your stories on this topic?

They already protect their industries (4.00 / 7)
But even if you're spot on, so what? The idea that every economy in the world was supposed to be an export economy was always a house of cards lacking only a stiff breeze to show it up.

When countries lose control of the ability to repurpose their economies to their own immediate needs, their economies become unresponsive to local imperatives. That this is inherently undemocratic is something that laissez faire and neoliberal apologists never seem to mention.


[ Parent ]
As I just pointed out to another commenter.... (0.00 / 0)
international trade increases national welfare, and Krugman won the Nobel price for his work in that field. Doesn't make economic sense for a nation to produce everything on its own and shutting imports out. And this doesn't have anything to do with laissez faire policies or neoliberal ideology. I share your view that the apologists of those failed approaches have lost their standing. But this isn't an argument against free trade, as long as one side doesn't exploit unfair advantages. And I guess you don't want to imply that we Europeans are doing this. No cheap labor here, either. China is a problem for the US, sure, but "buy american" isn't a good solution to this. Implement tariffs, pressure their government, fine. But why also hurt Europeans and Canadians? We're already suffering under the recession that the US started, thank you very much!
:-|  

[ Parent ]
What are you talking about? (4.00 / 4)
Doesn't make economic sense for a nation to produce everything on its own and shutting imports out.

Who is suggesting such a thing? This isn't about barring trade, or raising tariffs.  Krugman's work, such that it is, does not speak to the issue of where stimulus money should be spent. The issue is whether money designed to stimulate the US economy should be spent in the US. How does that become an attack on Europe?


Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
US companies profit from EU rescue programs! (0.00 / 0)
So, of course, if the US implements a "buy american" rule, the EU governments would retaliate. Why should our tax Euros go to the US, if this is a one way street?

And imho Natasha is supporting economic isolationism. Or how do you interprete: "When countries lose control of the ability to repurpose their economies to their own immediate needs, their economies become unresponsive to local imperatives."

"Repurpose theri economies"? Sounds like planned economy to me, not like marketes at work. That exludes international competition. And "to their own immediate needs" and "local imperatives" strenghten that impression. Or what do you make of this?


[ Parent ]
I don't interpret the idea (4.00 / 2)
that economies should serve local needs as isolationism (which would mean preventing trade, not regulating it, or regulating things that are not trade, or how the government spends money).

Markets, like governments, exist for people's benefit, not the other way around.  My impression is that you are hostile the democratic efforts to ensure that markets serve the needs of people. Markets are not pre-political institutions - they are created and shaped by governments. People yell "planned economies" when governments take certain actions, and not others. The result is usually to complain when government helps out the bulk of the people, and to not complain when it helps out the elite.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
Wrong: I'm only hostile to wrongheaded "soltions" that would make matters worse. (0.00 / 0)
And, btw, markets are not created by governments. They are created by people, and react to supply and demand. Of course, it's necessary that somebody implements some rules to prevent unwanted extremes like monopolies. German citizen of course had good insights into both planned economy in the East, and social market economy in the West, and the overwhelming majority suports the second approach.

[ Parent ]
? (4.00 / 2)
"China is a problem for the US, sure, but "buy american" isn't a good solution to this. Implement tariffs, pressure their government, fine. But why also hurt Europeans and Canadians? We're already suffering under the recession that the US started, thank you very much!"

So all the rich countries should get together and implement programmes that hurt the poorer countries? :) They already do this.

Anyway, what poor countries need MOST is not free trade or fair trade or no trade - it's the right to create their own policies, both in theory and in practice.  Decolonization doesn't work if your elite gives over policymaking to the U.S., the IMF, the WTO, and other influences.  The only reason why people complain about China is that they've probably done this least (partly from ability and partly from lack of stupidity) going back to the split with the Soviet Union.

That also opens up the space for democracy in those countries, with less Shahs and more Movements.


[ Parent ]
Is China a poorer country, doc? (0.00 / 0)
Per capita, ok. but it certainly isn't a thrid world economy anymore. So I support holding the Chinese accountable to establish conditions that are more in line with fairer trade. The discrepancy of worker rights and working conditions between China nd the US gives the communists an unfair advantage and increases the outsourcing of jobs to their economy. I can understand that this is a problem that the US government would want to cope with. But a "buy american" law is the wrong way to do this.

[ Parent ]
China is a poor country (0.00 / 0)
#61 in 2008 by per capita compensating for the fact that things like haircuts are cheaper in China at $6,100 (cia site).
This ranks with the mighty economies of El Salvador and Albania.  The U.S. is at $48,000 per head by the same measure.  These are rough estimates and you would have to do a lot of work to get a good sense of how reliable this is, but as a broad indicator, it's what we've got on the surface.

Anyway, the trend seems to be in a different direction, but Chinese people, as a whole, are very very very poor - and you are correct that they're probably in the best position of any country in the developing world (e.g. compare #211 Uganda - $1,100 per capita PPP).  Which tells you something about international inequalities and where the U.S. and China respectively fall, and should give caution before making arguments about what a "fair playing field" is.


[ Parent ]
I couldn't agree with you more, David... (4.00 / 1)
In addition, I also have this nagging, queasy feeling about Obama that...well...he's going to sell all of us progressives out.  I was skeptical about him during the Dem Primaries, however for the lack of a true progressive candidate on the ballot, I gave him my support. I deplore his decision to use extrodinary rendition, as well as his many of his Cabinet selections, such as Geithner, Salazar, Gates, Daschell...as well as Rubin, Sumners...and on and on.  I just really do believe this guy is a "fraud".

Anyway, keep up the good work, David! I am a huge fan of yours and always read your columns as I'm sure many, many more progressives do. Thanks


I wouldn't call him a fraud (yet) (4.00 / 4)

 However, Obama's always been exceedingly naive about the media (as are most Democrats), and he seems to really believe that pushing this "bipartisanship" fetish is going to score him points with them, or something.

 Apparently he was in a coma during the Clinton years...  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


[ Parent ]
i think the goal might be to (4.00 / 2)
continue to put out the "bipartisan" message so that you don't get tagged with the results by yourself (which are inevitably going to look bad because of the situation regardless of how good the plan is) and don't get accused of being "too partisan."

What I'm more worried about is when Obama has some more political capital (or maybe that should read comfort with the level of political capital he has), I have no idea what he might do with it.  Literally no idea.  Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps something.  I don't know what though.


[ Parent ]
Right. (4.00 / 1)
He has NO IDEA how savage and unreasonable Republicans are or how complicit the media is.  He slept through Nixon.  He slept through Reagan.  He slept through Clinton.  He was too sensitive to read the papers during the Iraq run up.  He slept through his piece of a Senate term.  He woke up one day, and found himself President.  

Obama isn't the one who is naive.


[ Parent ]
You got me. (0.00 / 0)

 You are 100% correct. Obama presenting a timid, watered-down stimulus bill, slicing it down even more in the face of (completely surprising!) Republican whining, not getting one single Republican vote for his trouble, and having the media declare it a Big Victory For Republicans was all part of his master plan. This will all inevitably result in thunderous Democratic victories in 2010.

 Can't wait to see what bountiful goodies the Judd Gregg appointment yields for us.

 

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


[ Parent ]
Good Write-Up (4.00 / 3)
Meanwhile, over on Politico, we read that House Dems are seething that, after all the concessions they made to Republicans on the stimulas bill, no Republican voted for it...and yet those concessions remain in the bill.

At the NYT, we see an article from Senate Dems promising that "changes will be made" to the Senate bill, in order to attract Republican support, in a body that is 58-42 Democrat.

And then back on Politico, there is that persistent rumor (this time coming from McConnel himself), that Gregg will be replaced by a Republican.

This isn't change. This is retrenchment. These are the political machinations of a ruling class whose economic & cultural sensibilities just got blown out of water.

Acknowledge nothing, close ranks, and throw a bunch money at the problem, and perhaps the people will get none-the-wiser. And if you start to lose your grip on power, simply gin up angst over some intractable cultural issue...that will give you all the cover you will ever need.


I hate our party (4.00 / 4)
At the NYT, we see an article from Senate Dems promising that "changes will be made" to the Senate bill, in order to attract Republican support, in a body that is 58-42 Democrat.

   This is the kind of stuff that makes one wish a tornado would rip through Capitol Hill during a joint session.

   How often did the Republicans "make changes" to legislation when THEY had the majority in order to accommodate Democrats? We saw Kohoutek more often.

   When a woman gets raped, only the most insensitive beasts would suggest that she "asked for it". But in the case of Hill Democrats, they not only ask to get raped, they go out and procure the lubricant in advance.

   I guess total submissiveness to Republicans is a requirement to advance in the Dem party hierarchy.
   

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


[ Parent ]
Well I don't hate them (0.00 / 0)
it's just a recognition that these people aren't going to accomplish much. Obama et al are still better than the alternative was.

To the extent that there is a fight going on in DC, it is simply a bookend to the election last fall. The stimulus fight isn't about how to rescue the economy, as 1)the bill isn't big enough, and 2)most of its spending is either on protecting those most vulnerable, or on dubious tax cuts (i.e. as opposed to actually stimulating the economy).

I think both "sides" know we are likely to face a very rough economy for many years, and this debate is about what government will look like when we finally come out of that turbulence. The bill is framed to play into a simple, binary choice: government does something, or government does not do something.

Beyond that, the only fight is the establishment trying to steel themselves against change that is as obvious as it is desperately needed. So I guess we're in it for the long haul.

But at 39, I've got another 40 to 50 years left in me; I'll outlast all those bastards.


[ Parent ]
At some point, you have to wonder (4.00 / 1)
if the Democrats really are that stupid, or if they are working into these bills "Republican" items that many Dems want to include anyway (for their corporate benefactors), but prefer the Republicans to own for PR purposes.

Honestly that's the only scenario that makes sense to me at this point because I cannot fathom how the Dems can be as blind and foolish as they currently appear to be. Republicans "trick" Dems into adding their interests to the stimulus bill, vote against the bill anyway, and yet the Dems wont go back and remove those items in conference when they easily could - and then pass that bill with their controlling majorities? I'm really starting to smell a rat here.


[ Parent ]
Agreed, David (4.00 / 2)
No one's coming to save us at all. Now what?

I think we all have ideas, but no idea if any of them will catch hold and actually work. Better to try, though, (she says through clenched teeth and in a wholly unconvinced tone of voice.)

For hope, I actually prefer Mondays. The week has yet to be wasted, everybody's nominally available, and possibilities have a bit of the shiny to them. Sunday seems more like a day for champing at the bit, or pfaffing off completely and feeling guilty about it, but that's probably just me.


Of course, no one's coming! We're all licking our own wounds... (0.00 / 0)
...that were inflicted by the recession the US started, remember? And still, nobody here in irrelevant ole Europe proposes any "buy German", "buy French" or buy "European rules".

[ Parent ]
well here are a few thoughts (4.00 / 1)
1) something like the aurora project
2) Cindy Sheehan, last I read, wanted to create a stronger third party movement.  Establishing the framework for what that might look like is a good idea, which includes the social networking that would make it happen.
3) keep slogging - i agree with you about mondays.
4) keep an eye on structural changes you can implement and thiknking that way - do you want a "buy american" demand or do you want a government industrial policymaking apparatus?  do you want an exstension of national health care along the lines of the system we have or do you want an overhaul?  This is why I think something like a Constitutional Convention when the progressive movement reaches its peak would be a good idea.  Rather than having it accumulate a lot of power and get into an unnecessary violent and costly war.

[ Parent ]
so amusing (0.00 / 0)
I just find it hilarious that corporate lobbyists try to spin the word protectionism into some evil dirty word.  What a failed public relations campaign this one is!

I'm going to pimp a couple of my posts over on EP because they are very relevant:

You Are a God Damn, *%$$%&*()!!* PROTECTIONIST!.

The second is actually covering a congressional hearing with some very good policy/legislative recommendations:

Corporate Citizen - An Oxymoron.

Yes, when the multibillion dollar funded corporate lobbyist teams start their public relations, press kit, misinformation campaigns, it snows bullshit in the MSM.
I would not be surprised in these media divisions refer to their campaigns internally as shock and awe.

NoSlaves.com  


The Economic Populist


President's Day - A great day for a protest?? (4.00 / 1)
I'm happy to resist the urge to worship power and even happier to stay clear of the iceberg. If voting the power mongers out of office doesn't work, I guess its pitchforks in the street time outside of the capitol. A nice Anti-TARP rally seems like great fun and a solid way to work out our frustration. LEND IT OR GIVE IT BACK is a good sign or bumper sticker in the making.  

what a good post! (4.00 / 2)
this is exactly the problem and foretells the solution - the need for a revitalized democratic social movement in the u.s. and this post is evidence that this is both lack and it's getting underway!  (i.e. don't give up the plot :)

John Edwards' constant refrain was "You've got to fight (4.00 / 3)
them".  
But let me tell you one thing I have learned from my experience -- you cannot deal with them on their terms. You cannot play by their rules, sit at their table, or give them a seat at yours. They will not give up their power -- you have to take it from them.

We cannot triangulate our way to real change. We cannot compromise our way to real change. But we can lead to real change. And we can start today.

From the "End the Game" speech on August 23, 2007.  One of his best.
http://johnedwards.com/news/sp...


yes (0.00 / 0)
this piece encapsulates how so many are feeling. very resonating and depressing but so very true

Idle newspaper front page chatter (0.00 / 0)
Obama's email: Very silly story. Belonged on inside page. Why any other paper would FP it I am not sure.

John Dean story: Very easy to wonder why this was published now. I expect Leen at EW's to have asked the question.

Iraqi election story: Belonged on front page.

Chechnya story: Very important and took a lot of work, for all the attention Putin will pay to it.

General impression: Very slow news day.  



Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.  


What is this Post-Dispatch (0.00 / 0)
that you speak of?

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.  

[ Parent ]
What do you mean "we", white man? (0.00 / 0)
The media/political Establishment - including a new administration brought to power on the promise of "change" - still seems far more interested in making the Great and Serious Ponderers of The World comfortable than in working for the Rest of Us.

Would that be you, Mr. Stiff Hair? You're part of the Rest of Us? That's very funny. You'll all downtrodden and stuff. Tell us again about some book you wrote on a subject you don't understand, and how that makes you a real progressive and not a Ponderer.

Too much.


Your open (4.00 / 5)
envy of David's hair is unbecoming.

If you're nice, he might give you the name of his stylist, but this sort of venom will get you nowhere.


[ Parent ]
You got me (0.00 / 0)
I just find the coif hypnotic, because I can't shake the feeling there is something hiding in there. Something wonderful and strange.

[ Parent ]
Terrific post! (4.00 / 1)
This is a good realization to organize on.

It's necessary, methinks. It's also terribly true.

Well done!

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


Obama and Dems to Reach Bargain with GOP on SS and Medciare (4.00 / 1)
even better reason to organize-wapo-obama and dems want grand bargain on ss and medicare with gop. would trim these benefits-
http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

fuzzy piece in wapo (0.00 / 0)
on other blogs this is talked about and its a confusing article. very fuzzy

[ Parent ]
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