November 2008 Archives

From The Nation
25 November 2008

This article is an adapted excerpt of the essay/interview "A Mountain of Snakes," which will appear in full December 1 at

Soon to be Vice President-elect Joe Biden was rallying the troops: "We can no longer be energy dependent on Saudi Arabia or a Venezuelan dictator." Well, I know what Saudi Arabia is. But having been to Venezuela in 2006, touring slums, mixing with the wealthy opposition and spending days and hours at its president's side, I wondered, without wondering, to whom Senator Biden was referring. Hugo Chávez Frías is the democratically elected president of Venezuela (and by democratically elected I mean that he has repeatedly stood before the voters in internationally sanctioned elections and won large majorities, in a system that, despite flaws and irregularities, has allowed his opponents to defeat him and win office, both in a countrywide referendum last year and in regional elections in November). And Biden's words were the kind of rhetoric that had recently led us into a life-losing and monetarily costly war, which, while toppling a shmuck in Iraq, had also toppled the most dynamic principles upon which the United States was founded, enhanced recruitment for Al Qaeda and deconstructed the US military.

Lions and Tigers and Paul Volcker, Oh My!!

Greenspan aand Volcker.jpg
13 March 2008, Alan Greenspan & Paul Volcker share a laugh. . . . At our expense?

Remember back when I said on 1 November the following: "My husband says that the moment Obama passes his first neoliberal policy those tears will dry up? But for now, I just want to enjoy the imagining of something different"? Well, here we are, the first major neoliberal move by Obama. I say "major," because Obama's economic recovery team reads like a Clintonian '90s prelude to NAFTA.

I advise a reading (or re-reading for some) of David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005).


MARK NOWAK (my partner) provides a quotation on Volcker from A Brief History . . .


Volcker, Reagan, Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping all took minority arguments that had been in circulation and made them majoritarian... Volcker and Thatcher both plucked from the shadows of relative obscurity a particular doctrine that went under the name neoliberalism and transformed it into the central guiding principle of economic thought and management . . . (2)

What follows is our friend Jeff Derksen's response to the Volcker choice. Jeff is a poet, cultural geographer, scholar of neoliberalism and a formidable critic of neoliberal practices and policies. Jeff also did a post-doc with Harvey and Neil Smith at CUNY. He is an assistant professor in the English department at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. Following Jeff's comments is a brief excerpt on Volcker from an interview with Harvey by Sasha Lilley of KPFA-Bay Area.



On Obama's Recent Economic Adviser Choice, Paul Volcker

Neoliberalism is a bit confused at this moment -- its central idea has sunk the economy in a too obvious way (as opposed to running it into the rocks earlier by developing the greatest gap between rich & poor in history and telling poor people that they, too, had a chance to get rich!) & so it makes it difficult to continue to say free markets will save the market (or, let the drunk continue driving!). As a default, it has gone into its punish the workers mode! Those unionized car workers! What were they thinking? Living wages, health care, pensions! Now we have to restructure them before we can bail out the Big Three. But CitiBank gets a bailout like an afterthought!

Now, the USA should follow China, which is doing a "New Deal" --maybe then bridges in Minneapolis won't fall down.

Canada is chewing its ass -- at first jerk, it gave a small bailout to banks, now there is talk of a Big Three bailout, but the forestry industry has lost 300,000 jobs (should we buy a mill town in northern BC and become "pioneers"?). And here in BC, the neolibs used it all as an occasion for a tax cut.

I've just started planning a book about the relationship of culture & economics -- i.e., about the neolib cultural project (making neoclassical economics a homology for everything). And looking at artists /writers who have opposed or stoked this.

The consumption / production tension in neoliberalism is out in full bloom again too: citizens are asked to keep up consumption (and to keep their "confidence") in order to avoid a bigger dive in the economy. So just at the moment of national crisis (each nation is coming up with individual economic plans) citizens are atomized into consumers, i.e., Ask not what the state can do for you, but what you can do for Walmart. On the production side, workers will lose their jobs or be restructured, yet are still asked to consume!

What is amazing, of course, is the rapidity and how a nation's wealth is measured by its consumption rather than its production rates, its like if America does not go to the mall 3 Saturdays in a row, the whole economy is down the tubes! You have the state essentially saying, Make the trade deficit bigger or we will be in deep shit!

From Monthly Review Zine
Excerpt on Paul Volcker from "On Neoliberalism: An Interview with David Harvey"

SL: You write that a fundamental feature of neoliberalism is the disciplining and disempowerment of the working class. Paul Volcker, who headed up the Federal Reserve first under Carter and then under Reagan, played a pivotal role in doing this in the United States. Describe for us the conditions in the US in the 1970s -- the array of class forces, so to speak, at that time -- and how Paul Volcker played a crucial role in shifting the balance of power.

DH: There had been, during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, a steady process of deindustrialization, that is, the loss of manufacturing jobs. It was a slow process and in many areas of the country that process was held back by an increase in public expenditures. This was true, for instance, in New York City. Manufacturing jobs had been drained away but public service jobs were booming. And that meant that public funding was needed for that. The federal government -- the Federal Reserve -- had a policy that full employment was a very worthwhile, very important objective of public policy. What Paul Volcker did in 1979 was to reverse that, to say, we're no longer interested in full employment; what we're interested in is control of inflation. He brought inflation down quite savagely in about three or four years, but in the process he generated massive unemployment. And massive unemployment of course was disempowering for workers and at the same time the deindustrialization that I mentioned accelerated. So there was quite a massive loss of industrial jobs, manufacturing jobs, in the early 1980s. And of course that means less union power. If you close down the shipyards and the steel industry lays off people, then you have fewer people in the unions. The loss of jobs in the unionized sector disempowered the unions at the same time unemployment was rising; unemployment disciplines the labor force to accept lower paying jobs if necessary. So Volcker's shift away from full employment strategy at the Federal Reserve to control inflation, no matter what the impact on unemployment, was a major shift in public policy and which we still implement.

The Cambrian Sea

A music video featuring footage from the "Evolving Planet" exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

BY Lars Fields and Jilli Rose of Phlesch Bubble Productions/1:40

Anomalocaris - Spore Creature Creator

"This strange beast was one of the first predators of the ancient Cambrian seas."

BY dananddna1 at

"Walking with Monsters" Episode 1: Water Dwellers

Walking with Monsters (also distributed as Before the Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters or Walking with Monsters: Life before Dinosaurs) is a three-part British documentary film series about life in the Paleozoic, bringing to life extinct arthropods, fish, amphibians, synapsids, and reptiles. It is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and by Avery Brooks in the American version. Using state-of-the-art visual effects, this prequel to Walking with Dinosaurs shows for example how a two-ton predatory fish came on land to hunt. The series draws on the knowledge of over 600 scientists and shows nearly 300 million years of Paleozoic history, from the Cambrian Period (530 million years ago) to the Early Triassic Period (248 million years ago). It was written and directed by Tim Haines.(1)

530 Million Years Ago, Cambrian period, Chengjiang, China(1)


Episode 1 (PART 2/3)


Episode 1 (PART 3/3)


"Walking with Monsters" Episode 2: Reptiles Beginning



"Walking with Monsters" Episode 3: "Clash of the Titans"

Episode 3 (PART 1/3)


Episode 3 (PART 2/3)


Episode 3 (PART 3/3)


Prehistoric Life on the BBC web site. This site has print information, games, and images.

1. Walking with Monsters from Wikipedia. Detailed background information on this documentary series in addition to explanations of the various evolutionary periods.

Walking with Dinosaurs

approx. 60 mins.

Walking with Beasts (Episodes 1-6)


Episode 1 (PART 2/3)


Episode 1 (PART 3/3)




Episode 2 (PART 2/3)


Episode 2 (PART 3/3)


EPISODE 3: "Land of Giants" (PART 1/3)


Episode 3 (PART 2/3)


Episode 3 (PART 3/3)




Episode 4 (PART 2/3)


Episode 4 (PART 3/3)




Episode 5 (PART 2/3)


Episode 5 (PART 3/3)




Episode 6 (PART 2/3)


Episode 6 (PART 3/3)


BBC Science & Nature: This site contains the making of Walking with the Beasts and "The Evolution Game."

Walking with Cavemen (PARTS 1-10)

"Neanderthal Code"

BY National Geographic

PART 1/3

"Neanderthal" (Episode 1: PART 1-5)

approx. 50 mins.

"Neanderthal was the story of the rise and fall of one of the most successful human species that ever lived. A species that survived for over a quarter of a million years, living through and adapting to the most violent extremes of climate. A species that thrived - until modern man came along.

"This revealing two-part drama documentary combined the latest scientific research with a stunning mixture of drama and cutting edge 3D animation to reconstruct the lives of these remarkable early humans. In the second part, the advanced Cro-Magnons arrive and a new Ice Age is dawning." (From VideoSift)

Neanderthal (Episode 2: PART 1-5)

approx. 50 mins.

Yes, We Did!

| 1 Comment


"Change Has Come to America"
Victory Speech by Barack Obama, 4 November 2008

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation's next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics - you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington - it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States of America.

"Bush's Last 100 Days the Ones to Watch"

Jackson GrantPark.jpg
Jesse Jackson in Grant Park, Chicago, 4 November

By Jesse Jackson
From the Chicago Sun-Times
4 November 2008

The air crackles with anticipation. Fingers are crossed. It gets hard to breathe. Hope, for so long locked in a closet, begins pounding on the door.

And throwing caution to the wind, many already are talking about Barack Obama's first 100 days. Will he move directly to the Apollo investment agenda, providing money to refit buildings, implement the use of renewable energy and generate jobs in the drive to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Will he put forth a comprehensive health-care plan or begin by covering all children? Will workers finally be given the right to organize once more? How will he handle mortgage relief and/or help cities burdened by poverty?

But even as our minds, against all discipline, look beyond this day to the possible victory and change, we'd better start paying attention to another 100 days -- President Bush's last months in office.

Bush and Vice President Cheney represent a failed conservative era -- and they know it. As the administration moves into its last 100 days, there seems to be a flurry of activity: regulations to forestall Obama's new era of accountability; a flood of contracts to reward friends and lock in commitments; a Wall Street bailout that is pumping money out the door.

Consider: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is handing out $350 billion to the banks, drawing a special circle around nine banks -- including Goldman Sachs, the firm he previously headed -- as clearly too big to fail. The money apparently has no conditions, even though the entire purpose was to get the banks to start lending once more to one another and to companies and individuals.

Now it appears that banks plan to hoard the cash, to use it to help pay for mergers with other healthy banks (not weak ones), or to pay out dividends and bonuses. And Paulson, instead of publicly rebuking them, has let it be known that mergers would be a good thing.

Instead of getting the banking system working for small businesses and people again, our money is being used to consolidate the strength of a few megabanks.

There has been a rapid increase in military outlays over the last few months. Is the Pentagon being called on to help bolster the economy -- and perhaps McCain -- in these final weeks? Or, more likely, is the Pentagon pumping out money to reward its friends and lock in spending before the new sheriff gets to town?

The Washington Post reports that the White House is "working to enact an array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January."

About 90 new rules are in the works, and at least nine are considered "economically significant" because they would impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100 million annually. Many will make changes that the new administration will find it hard to reverse for years to come. More emissions from power plants; more exemptions from environmental-impact statements; permission to operate natural gas lines at higher levels of pressure -- the changes could be the last calamities visited upon us by the Bush administration.

Congress -- the old one, not the new one just elected -- comes back into special session right after the election. Representatives Henry Waxman and John Conyers would be well advised to convene special hearings to try to curb what Bush has cooked up for his last 100 days. Let's not let the new dawn that is possible be dimmed by clouds left over from an old era that has failed.

An Election Day for the Ancestors . . .


Obama Back of Head.JPG

For my father who always wanted to live to see a Black democrat for president but didn't. For all the African Americans who didn't live to see this day--if it happens. For my daughter who has a chance today to know nothing but a Black democrat for president. For my momma who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina right smack in the middle of the violence of the Civil Rights Movement. For my Uncle Brother who went from sweeping the floor of a white man's store to teaching white people how to open a store.

For the white woman who called me "NIGGER!!" one day on the streets of Haverstraw, New York just cause I was there. For the boy who wouldn't stay the night after...after, because he said he never really wanted a Black girl.

For the white Polish boy from Buffalo (yes, Joe Biden, a place more forgotten than Scranton, PA) whose friends saw a young Black girl on a bus coming home from school and teased her then called her "UGLY!"--for that Polish boy now a man, my partner for life. He got off the bus and told them "I thought she was pretty" and now he says he's married her.

For me, because I need this day. I need just one day where I walk through a store with my hands deep inside my pockets, one day without the nervousness in public, one day where I don't have to worry what Black people be doing--if it's wrong or if it's exceptional.

For just one day, Obama, just one . . . .

“[Huey Long] would tell how patent medicine men used to concoct a mixture to sell to Negroes as a hair-straightener. The makers called it ‘high popalorum’ or ‘low popahirum,’ depending on how they manufactured it. They made the first by tearing the bark of a tree down, and the second by tearing the bark up. When Huey dismissed two political rivals by comparing them to the two compounds, his amused rural listeners knew exactly what he was talking about.? (T. Harry Williams, Huey Long, Vintage 1981)

Yesterday Mark and I had our monthly brunch with David and Gail Noble. As usual there were strong hugs, immense laughter, and the engagement of four quick wits. I'm no historian, but we were sitting before one of the greatest. At the end of our brunch, I asked David to explain how Democrats became Republicans and what was the socioeconomic and political basis of the shift. Luckily the table cloth was made of paper, because by the time David was done, by the time he made his last eloquent elaboration, I had a table full of notes, which I proceeded to rip off and run away with. From what I understand, and David confirmed this, race was at the root of every economic strategy, every political shift, every social refusal or "offering." Maybe at some point I'll share his arguments and all that he discussed in response to my query, but for now I want to offer a video of a man whose name David repeated every time he began to discuss the 1930s. David called Huey Long the most radical politician of the '30s.


Each time I hear Barack Obama or Michelle Obama speak I cry--and I admittedly cry with a combination of joy and fear. My husband says that the moment Obama passes his first neoliberal policy those tears will dry up. But for now, I just want to enjoy the imagining of something different--and I do believe there will be some that's different though how much could change in just four years? Anyway, I want to keep my head on straight as I go through this election. I need to keep those tears in check. As we meander through the financial thievery of the elite and Wall St. and the elite and businessmen of the federal government, as we approach an election that I thought neither I nor my grandchildren would ever see, I want to remind myself of this comparison Huey Long once made--one based on race--between Democrats and Republicans and the thin line between them. Long reminds me that part of my work after the election will need to be finding ways to ensure that the line gets thicker or even better, to ensure that the line, the binaries become unnecessary.

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