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July 15, 2010


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It is the new "Lathe of Heaven". When we cannot share a common understanding of the past and the present, let alone agree on a common vision and path, all that remains is to dream our separate, alternate realities . . . and to create new dystopias that eventually decay into chaos.

In today’s ‘reality’, one hears “restore our fisheries” and “let us start drilling again” in the same sentence. In Arizona, the faith of fences and the cult of individual liberty clash in individual and collective minds. We eat and drink our children’s futures. How can a common understanding be achieved in the face of such pervasive, desperate irrationality?

The story right-wing America tells itself is juicy and dramatic. There was a beautiful country, rich beyond all measure, that somehow crashed on the rocks of political correctness and "socialism". The story, at best, is crude and inadequate. But it serves the purpose of corporate propagandists since their economic advantage is calculated in ways that rot the commons while rewarding the rotters. During Katrina, the formula worked magically. Allege scary black men shooting at helicopters and firefighters and the white working class hears the message with dog-whistle clarity.

The political divide in this nation is not Democrat vs Republican or liberal vs conservative. It's urban vs rural/exurban. Last week I was in Oregon, which is a mostly red state with bright-blue islands like Portland and Eugene. The timber industry, the ranchers, and the retirees in Bend encompass archetypes we're all familiar with - guns, God, trucks, and white skin. The right-wing narrative is not about any possible future so much as a forlorn nostalgia for a seemingly homogeneous nation.

I can be optimistic about demographic trends and the relentless cultural churn that remakes this nation every year or so. Even here it's possible to see how change is not battling inflexible stasis. Right-wingers now like Jews, pre-marital sex, rock 'n roll, and porn. They pretend modernity is a conspiracy against "values" they themselves only sometimes uphold. In actuality, anxiety about social status and the economy is what's driving their incoherent nostalgia.

Obama hoped to be their therapist, a nation whisperer who would massage middle America's fears with calmness and fairness. Instead, he became their scapegoat, someone who doesn't command respect because his placidity itself seems weak. Indeed, liberalism that coddles instead of rouses does seem weak. As a nation, we're halfway to genuine social democracy, but without a testosterone boost, we might not get there.

Maybe this is a process of discipleship where we pick our causes and advocate for them. There's something to be said for selective focus. There's also the opportunity of providing whoever listens with better information than they've got. Example: if there is better understanding of Arizona's profligate use of water, we might awaken more folks to how this came to be . . legally and politically.

"if there is better understanding of Arizona's profligate use of water" - Jim Hamblin

Jim, as you may well know, it is impossible to separate the issues of water and energy in Arizona. Therefore, it is impossible to separate the issues of energy and water for the entire Southwest. Therefore, it is impossible to separate the issue of this and foreign nations' migration of unsustainable populations into this region.

Our nation will have to decide whether it can continue to support large coastal populations, while it also decides whether it can continue to support large desert populations. It is doubtful that these decisions will be made explicitly.

There is no question that the garment of our country is unraveling. We can see the loose threads all around us. I have often wondered where the first seam would give way, thus exposing a critical part of our anatomy.

I had the opportunity to have a one on one discussion with a person who holds doctorate degrees in history and theology. He had been a professor in the California university system for the past thirty years. He recently gave up his tenored post and moved to a mountain community in AZ. Why did he do this? It is his prediction that California will be the first state to secede from the union, thus starting a chain of events that will be quite traumatic to the country as a whole. He said 40% of California's economy is now being transacted on a cash basis, thus no taxes collected. At the local level, there is no association with being part of America, just being part of the immediate community. There is no allegience to city, county, state or country. None.

My little BSBA mind is overwhelmed. Too many loose threads. No wonder so many people say, Oh my, so many problems, "tomorrow I'll think of some way,...... after all, tomorrow is another day."

The real fun starts whenever the Republicans control the federal government again, perhaps as soon as January 2013. Tasked with both fixing a sputtering economy and slashing federal spending, the GOP will be forced to make decisions that will be politically viable (e.g., cutting welfare or cutting taxes) without ever being able to make the politically suicidal choices (e.g., passing another stimulus bill or cutting military spending) necessary to solve the problems of a lifeless economy or an unsustainable national debt. Maybe then, the two-party structure will die a painful death.

More likely, however, is that the GOP will sell the shit out of whatever they're selling. And the people who currently exhibit Obama Derangement Syndrome while deriding the "Blame Bush" crowd will continue to blame Obama well past his presidency. You can already cut the hypocrisy and the cognitive dissonance with a spoon.

Assumption: we'd like to at least try and 'splain the issues like water and energy instead of just preaching to the converted. If so, I'm suggesting that a better understanding of water as a first step might lead to a better grasp about the related issues if we capture someone's attention. To me, this is a sequential process vs. one of broad form indictments.

As I've noted on my blog, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station annually *evaporates* the equivalent of one-quarter of the annual overdraft of 250,000 acre-feet from the Phoenix aquifer.

* Useful water takes eons to collect.
* Useful electrons rapidly disappear.
* Water is heavy.
* It takes a lot of energy to move water.
* I can count the number of Arizonians I know who capture rainwater for local use on two hands.

Thank you for this interesting and stimulating essay, Mr. Talton.

Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" (1902) is classic, but many modern readers would find the highly topical controversies with which Lenin illustrates his points to be obscure if not positively tedious. So, I'm going to begin by giving a thumbnail sketch of the book's main ideas. This will make it easier to see exactly what does not translate well to contemporary America, and what remains useful and valid (the latter consisting of ideas independent of Bolshevism). Finally, I'll suggest an answer to Mr. Talton's question (not Lenin's), which Jim Hamblin may be surprised to find is very much along the lines he suggested. I'll probably break this up into two comments, just to keep their length manageable.

The thesis of Lenin's book is the power of organization. The point is that collective action, organized by a driven, visionary, *dedicated* leadership, and applied at points of leverage where its effects would be multiplied or magnified, could change history. Mr. Talton's example of union and other activists "from the 1870s through the 1930s...helping to establish a real middle class" is a perfect example.

Don't forget that many of the figures of the Russian Revolution were nobodies. Lenin was the son of a school- teacher/administrator. Lenin obtained a law degree but never practiced professionally; nor did he have any other professional or academic experience or credentials. Trotsky was the son of a successful Ukrainian farmer. I mention this only to demonstrate that lack of social or professional status and personal wealth needn't be insurmountable determents to successful activism. Personal dedication and method can go a long way. Lenin ate, drank, and breathed revolution. He also understood that existing conditions are specific and concrete and that analysis of those conditions should adapt itself to, and take advantage of, specifics, and not be content with vague abstract principles. You don't have to be a complete fanatic to bring similar, useful qualities to issues that are meaningful to you.

Organization consists of the building of shared values and of the resolve to act upon these; networking to establish useful contacts across organizational boundaries; the communication of both information and of inspiration among members; concrete plans of action; mechanisms which allow plans to be put into action without muddle, chaos, or internal division.

This isn't to say that isolated individuals can't brilliantly educate, inspire, and otherwise influence the course of events. It's merely that, where the opposition involves organized political and economic interests, effective counter-opposition must at some point introduce organized collective action against this.

Lenin's "vanguard" party was to be built around an underground newspaper, Iskra (The Spark). This would be used both to educate and to inspire to action -- in Lenin's vernacular, propaganda and agitation. The newspaper board (initially a troika, later larger) determined its message and editorial policy: these constituted the leadership of the movement.

Its agents -- smugglers (since like most anti-Tsarist literature it was banned), distributors, local observers and local writers -- were the rest of the vanguard. They would gather information about local conditions and pass it on to the leadership. They would infiltrate factories and workers' groups and seek to guide them toward the movement's policies, taking a few of the more politically advanced workingmen into the movement as members of the vanguard party.

Another of Iskra's conceived roles was to unify the numerous socialist splinter groups under a single All-Russian party. The existence of numerous, small, local groups, none of them accomplishing much of anything except to get in each other's way and argue over doctrinal minutiae, were to be united by the compelling arguments of a media organ that was the voice of the Party (and to the extent that he could manage it, the voice of Lenin).

It was important in Lenin's scheme that most members of this vanguard should be dedicated full-time to the activities of the movement. Dilettantism tends to disperse and de-focus the energy of a movement, making policy less effective and action less likely and decisive.

The financial support of this vanguard was to be provided by sympathetic contributors from society at large. (There was a fairly broad and deep concensus, especially among educated and urban members of Russian society, that tsarism was cruel, undesirable, and inferior to a republican form of government; and since the Tsar would never allow real power to reside in a parliament, even when this existed, only popular revolution could replace tsarism with real democracy. This is why radical revolutionary groups could gain financial and moral support from society at large and even from wealthy businessmen and socialites.)

At the time the book was published (1902) Lenin still adhered to the traditional Marxist formula, which was NOT to replace tsarism with a socialist "dictatorship of the proletariat" but rather to replace it with a democratic coalition government dominated not by socialists, but by liberals.

This government would eliminate the feudal aspects of Russian society (then largely agricultural), and accelerate the progress of modern industrial capitalism in the country; this was necessary to build the proletariat (e.g., factory workers) into a majority, thus providing the necessary base or prerequisite according to traditional Marxism. The liberal democratic government would also provide maximum freedom of communication (publishing) and association to socialist organisers.

Thus, while the anti-tsarist revolution was to be led (according to Lenin) by a vanguard of socialist, professional revolutionaries, the new government would be led by liberals, not socialists, and the economy would be one of modern industrial capitalism rather than socialism, since conditions were not ripe for socialism according to traditional Marxism.

The conditions under which the country would become ripe for socialism according to traditional Marxist theory were: (1) the existence of a majority proletarian class rather than the largely agricultural class of peasants which then dominated the country; (2) the education of these workers (by the socialist vanguard) into class consciousness (i.e., the understanding that their interests diverged from those of the ownership class); (3) the inculcation, on top of this, of revolutionary consciousness (i.e., the understanding of the need for a specifically socialist revolution (peaceful and legal through parliamentary methods if possible, or violent if repression made this impossible), and why marginal reforms of the system would neither be adequate nor permanent.

How ironic, given the nature of the October Revolution and its aftermath, than Lenin himself was still insisting, in a letter of 1905 designed to put impatient Trotskyists in their place, that:

"Only the most naive optimists can forget how little as yet the masses of the workers are informed of the aims of socialism and the methods of achieving it. And we are all convinced that the emancipation of the workers can only be brought about by the workers themselves: [socialism] is out of the question until the masses become class-conscious, organized, trained, and educated...Whoever wants to achieve socialism by any other path than that of political democracy will inevitably arrive at absurd and reactionary conclusions both political and economic."

Next: Back to the present, and an answer to Mr. Talton's question (not Lenin's).


The Present:

The practical point of this historical digression is that Lenin's idea for a new party unifying the Left does not translate well to contemporary American society. Then, there existed a tsarist dictatorship; today we have a system of representative democracy; then, Russia was largely agricultural; today in America, we have a kind of late-stage capitalism in which the manufacturing "proletariat" has largely been shipped to China; then, there was strong direct censorship of the press; today we deal with more subtle ownership-related pressures to conformity which determine commercial rather than legal viability; then, political parties in Russia were nascent and primitive (being firmly under the thumb of the Tsar, to the extent that they existed at all); today the two major parties dominate American politics in an entrenched and fundamental way, and behind the scenes control (e.g., by economic interests) involves a different kind of kingmaker entirely.

Yet another major difference us that in Lenin's time Russia was a hotbed of fervent popular political interest, debate, and activity; today in America, by contrast, we have a state of apathy and political disengagement in which we lead the world's developed nations in low voter turnout rates, and (perhaps not surprisingly) one in which the state of Arizona very nearly leads the rest of the nation in this regard.

So, the creation of a third-party is perhaps premature. What is immediately necessary and desirable is the organization of politically active grassroots special interest groups on the Left. Later, these might be affiliated into broader public interest groups (dealing with multiple and perhaps related issues); and later still integrated into a new party apparatus.

At the present time, what is important is for the Left to rediscover at the grassroots level what it means to create viable political action groups (action meaning education of political leaders, journalists, and the general public, as well as agitation for specific reforms, and special projects to accomplish definite goals). The experience gathered in organizing, directing, and maintaining such groups, will be invaluable to what would be the nascent core of a future independent political party.

Goals should be concrete and limited, and should focus on broadly popular public sentiment rather than narrow sectarianism.

We don't have anti-tsarism available to us as a hot-button issue, but here in Arizona it is widely recognized that extremism in politics is ruining the state. It is also widely recognized that in most of the state's political districts, registered voters of a single party (Rep. or Dem.) dominate, such that general elections are non-competitive.

So, the party primary, not the general election, is the place and time to moderate political extremism, by insuring that a more rather than less moderate candidate emerges from the primary. As the Arizona Republic recently pointed out, "some legislators, including top leaders, make it into the general election with only a few thousand votes". Often the only ones who turn out for a party primary election are the most politically rabid and conservative members of the party.

"Independent" registered voters in Arizona are roughly equal in numbers to those registered to each of the two major parties, giving a three-way split very nearly. Independent voters can vote in state primary elections. Furthermore, voters may re-register as independents, and participation in a party primary does not endanger "independent" registration status.

So, here we have a perfect example of an opportunity for progressive activism: a task (moderating political extremism) which is broadly popular across party lines; one which requires organization to accomplish; one where a small group of activists (led by an even smaller leadership/organizing vanguard) can apply itself to a point of leverage, magnifying its influence in a history changing way.

A streamlined leadership structure is likely the best way to get things done efficiently. This is not to imply the necessity of a chain of command culminating in some unquestioned absolute leader: that's a formula for dictatorship, not democracy. Nevertheless, there must be leaders: somebody must step forward with coherent, cogent ideas and convince others that their interests follow along similar lines; also, whereas ideas may be approved or disapproved by democratic bodies, they must initially be proposed, argued for, and defended by individuals (i.e., leaders). An organizational structure which offers endless opportunities for votes and revotes and ramification of personal opinions, will spend more time engaged in petty committee work than in real-world action.

Leaders can admit those who accept basic tenets, and exclude those who reject them. No firing squads, just common sense: start your own group if you disagree vehemently about the basics. Don't spend a lot of time arguing endlessly to convince every new prospective member of what has already been established to the satisfaction of the core leadership; at the same time, listen to your members and make sure that they aren't offering a new and convincing argument that requires an organizational policy change.

The first task of leadership, in the above example, would be to figure out what it takes to identify independent voters: is the information free by making a request to the right agency under Arizona's Sunshine Act? If not, how much does it cost? Who might be willing to contribute, among the state's movers and shakers? Then, to organize an effort in specific districts and specific primary elections. Can the Latino community play a role? How does one go about such organizing? The leadership must first establish the concrete circumstances, then address them in detail. Volunteers will go a long way to offset costs. Community colleges are a good source of volunteer labor provided the student body is approached in a way that appeals to their values.

Jim Hamblin has indicated an inclination toward concrete solutions in general and interest in water management and environmental issues as they affect the state and region.


Are you aware that former city manager Frank Fairbanks is running for the Central Arizona Water Users Association Board "because he believes the CAP board will decide the water future of Arizona in our fight with Nevada and California over water rights", according to his campaign spokesman?

I hereby nominate you to become our resident water management expert among readers. Join local, state, and perhaps regional organizations as a citizen activist, where such seats are available. (There is sometimes room for motivated, informed, ordinary folk.) Make yourself useful to those in authority but don't be anyone's patsy. Write "My Turn" columns, and letters to the editors, journalists, and columnists at the Arizona Republic, as well as local and state politicians and political committee leaders. Show up at the "public" water management meetings that only a handful of folks are even aware exist. Get (approved) access to the minutes, and to special reports, thereby and through public information requests.

Start a bi-partisan or non-partisan volunteer activist organization to advance public awareness and worthy goals in the field. Rule it with a wise and tolerant but ultimately iron-fisted (if velvet-gloved) fashion, so as to enforce the Shields and Brooks roundtable debates which you admire so much while keeping out the Kooks.

Organize a "conspiracy of hope" to confound pessimists, and gently educate and (where necessary) correct others, and enlist their moral and/or financial support and active assistance as volunteers.

Someday, Comrade Hamblin, you'll receive a one-line telegram reading "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the Party." You'll know what to do. There might even be a Ministry in it for you, by gad, once we dispense with the standing army and use the cost savings to fund education, health, environment, and other public infrastructure, a la Costa Rica. (I joke, of course, in the spirit of the essay title, because there is no Party...unless there is a Shadow Party whose very existence is a carefully concealed secret. Whoops. Cat's out of the bag. No, still joking.)

I'm with you on northern Europe, and have advised my own kids they shouldn't rule out leaving this country. Unfortunately, just because you don't live in the U.S. won't keep you free of havoc emanating from the U.S. and its profligacy. I'm too old and crusty to flee, and will stay and fight.

One remedial step that's curiously dismissed by almost everyone is reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine for broadcasters. The Disinformation Industrial Complex (DIC) is growing incredibly rich spewing falsehoods, distortions and fear. This industry must maintain a dizzying level of hysteria to retain its influence and cash flow. If the Fairness Doctrine came back, the DIC would have to cede half its hate hole -- as opposed to news hole -- to equal time. I don't think we have much hope of progressing as a nation until the DIC is vanquished.

Thanks for the support, Emil, but I've spent much of the past 10 years advocating for stronger air quality protections and am not quite ready to take on the water crusade. Think I'd better study up first . . it has so many parts. Did a desalination study in Mexico several years ago and gained some insight into Arizona's DNDC (don't know/don't care)attitudes. Shaun McKinnon of the Republic has written long and well about water issues but I haven't read any of his stuff lately. Jon, is he a casualty?

Not sure why I'd post this here:


Looks larger than 89 square feet.

Our future is likely to involve the crime and wealth inequality of Latin America and the oligarchy and lack of political freedom and transparency of Russia. Of course I won't stop fighting, but I have little hope that we'll win this fight. The great conservative project to destroy civil society and miseducate the public in order to remove government as a brake on corporate conduct has essentially succeeded.

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