Saturday, October 11, 2008

ON THE SIX-MONTH ANNIVERSARY OF SHARED SACRIFICE INTERNET RADIO

The following is the editorial I read today on the show.

In 1964, Herbert Marcuse wrote the following in his classic social criticism, One Dimensional Man:

"A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress."

Fast forward to 2008. Still unfreedom, to be sure. But no longer smooth. No longer comfortable. For the materially comfortable are worried right now, and the masses of the materiallty uncomfortable are angry, with eyes towards the privileged.

And transcending the question of material comfort, we are all spiritually uncomfortable. Almost everyone senses the alienation we feel from ourselves, one another, our various conceptions of a creator, our governments, our communities, and the products of our labor and craftsmanship. We are uncomfortable, distraught, and angry. We don't trust each other; don't trust the other side, politically. There is even some truth to the notion that all of this is mere projection, meaning we really don't trust ourselves.

Indeed, what is there to trust, anymore, about ourselves or our leaders? The economic crash is not merely a series of mistakes (although it probably is that). Rather, it's a real phenomenon that exposes an illusion so deep and embedded in our consciousness that it's not likely to be seen as "exposed illusion" for quite some time. This illusion cannot be summed up in just a few words. Part of it is the assertion of the fundamental "correctness" of global neoliberalism. Part of it is the myth of self-reliance, of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" that has always justified blaming the poor for being poor. Part of it is a less definable, more imaginable world inhabited by folksy father figures like Ronald Reagan, and uncomplicated stories of good and evil like the clown prince of crime Saddam Hussein or the Tolkeinesque War on Terror. Part of it, a vital part of it, is the mandate we've been under for the last eight years to feel rather than think, hate and fear rather than study, engage or listen. University of Texas rhetorician Dana Cloud put it best in a 2003 essay that still rings true today:

"There is no separation between grief and policy, emotion and reason here. The only way to adjust appropriately to the shock of U.S. vulnerability is to resolve to act against those that targeted us for terror. Any other adjustment – for example, the desire to study the history of U. S. foreign policy to discover what abuses have generated the terrorists’ desperation – is suspect."

In other words, the illusion, the one that has finally been bursting at the seams these last several months, but which threatens to reassert itself if we are not careful, is: trust capital, trust the president, hate the enemy without thinking about it, become lost in the fantasy, and become lost in emotions.

But somewhere in the transition from 2007 to 2008, things started to fall apart. The stage walls collapsed. The facades began to tear. Only somewhat coincidentally, my colleague Gary Barkley returned from Iraq, struggling, with his new-found breathing room, to put the things he'd figured out into words. Knowing that these were things he could not figure out or express solely on his own, he started this radio show.

More than anything, "Shared Sacrifice" has been an attempt to chronicle the bursting of that flat-earth, distopian illusion of the right. Let’s be honest here: The tragic, unwarranted events of September 11, 2001, were the best thing that could ever happened to conservatism. Those events justified a new (actually very, very old) way of thinking: the closing of the universe of open discourse. The condemnation of all critical and independent thinking. War hawks and economic Manicheans circled their wagons and said to themselves: “Now, finally, now, we can crush dissent, prop up capitalist orthodoxy, and demonstrate that the only alternative to our hierarchical, exploitative power-grab society is a bunch of people who fly planes into buildings and do all other atrocious things too. It’s us or them, folks.” That’s the flat-earth distopianism I’m talking about. It’s what we’ve been against, what we’ve struggled against with every fiber of our being on this show.

The conclusions which best respond to the events of the past eight years are progressive conclusions. Conclusions that say America is special because we are capable of criticism, self-reflection, and change. Conclusions that say people all over the world have more in common than not. Conclusions that say we need not be slaves to the so-called free market, or the barrel of a gun, or a barrel of oil. Conclusions that say we can do better.

Because of this conviction, we’ve interviewed the most dynamic and influential progressive candidates and activists in the nation on this show, from Cynthia McKinney to Gordon Clark to Jeff Key to Brian Moore, and a whole lot of others. Although their perspectives are diverse and their conclusions rich in their own life experiences and knowledge, they have a few things in common, a few main points that form the basis of what progressivism means in the 21st century. Let me try to synthesize those thoughts into a coherent blueprint for the ideology of progressivism, the political message and mission of “Shared Sacrifice:”

First, human beings have rights. Corporations don’t have rights. Governments don't have rights.

Second, your rights, your social and spiritual importance, don’t hinge on your financial worth. We believe in “one person, one vote” not “one dollar, one vote.”

Third, although many of our brothers and sisters in uniform are heroes, those who have deployed them on their last two missions are not heroes. Support for our brothers and sisters in uniform requires a ruthless and constant criticism of the ruling class of this country. Opposing ill-conceived military adventures, and the use of the military as a first resort rather than a last resort, is not a failure to support the troops; it’s a prerequisite to supporting the troops.

Fourth, we must purge from our thoughts, our politics, and our social vision all vestiges of old-world prejudices. We categorically reject racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. We look with disgust on a McCain campaign that silently accepts racism in its futile struggle to beat Barack Obama. We look with suspicion on an Obama economic circle that includes corporate executives. We look forward to the success of progressive third parties who will help shape a future beyond prejudice and hierarchy—a future where my children will grow up and be judged not by the content of their wallets, their sexual preferences, or their skin color, but truly by their character.

Fifth, and finally, we need more heroes from all walks of life who are willing to stand up to unequal power—not merely to rebel against it, but to deny its inevitability.

It’s in that light, that call for new heroes that I want to conclude this anniversary editorial by reading from an Associated Press story. The story concerns Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart, who is refusing to evict renters whose landlords have had their properties foreclosed. These aren’t people who have failed to pay their rent—they’ve paid their rent in full, but due to the economic and housing crisis; their landlords have defaulted and have lost the properties. I’m going to read the story in full:

Chicago's Cook County won't evict in foreclosures
By DON BABWIN – 2 days ago

CHICAGO (AP) — The sheriff here said Wednesday that he's ordering his deputies to stop evicting people from foreclosed properties because many people his office has helped throw out on the street are renters who did nothing wrong.

"We will no longer be a party to something that's so unjust," a visibly angry Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said at a news conference.

"We have to be sure that when we are doing this — and we are destroying some people's lives — we better be darned sure we're talking about the right people," Dart said.

Dart said he believes he's the first sheriff in a major metropolitan area to stop participating in foreclosure evictions, and the publisher of a national foreclosure database said he's probably right.

"I haven't heard of any other sheriff unilaterally deciding to stop foreclosures," said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of the Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac, Inc. He said the sheriff in Philadelphia helped push a moratorium on foreclosure sales, but that involved owner-occupied homes and not renters.

Dart said that from now on, banks will have to present his office with a court affidavit that proves the home's occupant is either the owner or has been properly notified of the foreclosure proceedings.

Illinois law requires that renters be notified that their residence is in foreclosure and they will be evicted in 120 days, but Dart indicated that the law has been routinely ignored.

He talked about tenants who dutifully pay their rent, then leave one morning for work only to have authorities evict them and put their belongings on the curb while they are gone.

By the time they get home, "The meager possessions they have are gone," he said. "This is happening too often."

In many cases, he said, tenants aren't even aware that their homes have fallen into foreclosure.

This week, an attorney asked that Dart be held in contempt when his deputies did not evict tenants after determining they were not the owners and did not know about their landlord's financial problems.

A judge denied the attorney's request, Dart's office said, and Dart said that after talking to the Cook County state's attorney's office, he is confident he is on solid legal ground.

"My job as sheriff is to follow court orders, absolutely," he said. "But I'm also in charge of making sure justice is being done here and it is clear that justice is not being done here."

The state's attorney's office said it would not comment on conversations with Dart because his office is a client.

Foreclosures have skyrocketed around the country in recent months and Dart said the number of foreclosure evictions in Cook County could more than double from the 2006 tally of 1,771. This year the county is on pace to see 4,500 such evictions, he said.

Dart warned that because the eviction process on foreclosures can take more than a year, the number is sure to climb even higher.

"From all the numbers we have seen, we know (they) are going to be exploding," he said.

Sharga said there are more than 1 million U.S. homes in foreclosure — with about a third of that number occupied by someone other than the owner.

"That number will continue to get bigger," he said.

Dart said he believes banks are not doing basic research to determine that the people being evicted are, in fact, the homeowners.

He said that in a third of the 400 to 500 foreclosure evictions his deputies had been carrying out every month, the residents are not those whose names are on the eviction papers.

Nor, he said, are banks notifying tenants that the homes they're renting are in foreclosure. He added that when banks do learn the correct names of those living on foreclosed-upon property, their names often are simply added to eviction papers.

"They just go out and get an order the next day and throw these people's names on there," Dart said. "Whether they (tenants) have been notified, God only knows."

Evictions for nonpayment of rent will continue, Dart said, explaining that those cases already have gone to court, his office is confident the people being evicted are who the landlord says they are, and there is no question the tenants are aware of what is going on.

Dart said it's only fair for banks to give occupants of a foreclosed property adequate notice before forcing them out.

"You are talking about a lot of people in rental situations living paycheck to paycheck," he said. "To think they are sitting on a pool of money for an up-front deposit, security deposit, is foolishness."

Now, Gary and Jason, and all you folks out there listening: I submit that Tom Dart is a hero, a new hero for a new age: the age of Shared Sacrifice. He refuses to implement or enforce a law that unjustly hurts poor people. He can’t do any more than he’s doing. A mass movement against evictions or foreclosures of any kind would be appropriate. A moratorium on foreclosures, sure, I’d vote for that. But Tom Dart is doing everything he can to help people rather than hurt them, and that makes him one of us. We need more Tom Darts, just as we need more Jeff Keys and Jacob Lynns and Lydia Kadishes and Chris Rothfusses and Adam Kokeshs.

The conclusions that are most correct, most appropriate, fresh and relevant to our age, are progressive conclusions: We are better together than apart. We must cooperate rather than ruthlessly compete. We must measure the worth of humans intrinsically rather than economically. And we must have true democracy, not fake “vote-with-your-dollar” democracy. These are the principles that we’ve been hearing from our guests for the last six months, and will continue to hear until they no longer need to be said. We will no longer accept “unfreedom” in exchange for material comfort—because we know that’s a false promise. We will no longer hate or fear simply because we are told to.

George Orwell wrote that “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” We hope that “Shared Sacrifice” continues to commit such treason every week.

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