This is my last blog for True/Slant. It looks like I'll be blogging elsewhere come September- but since no contracts are signed, I can't really tell you where (hint: it rhymes with Morbes). In the meantime, the LAST column gives me a chance to do something that blogging rarely allows me to do: reflect. And upon reflection, this is what I've learned from my time at True/Slant.
When I first started this column, I was pissed. Bush was still in office, two illegal and imperialistic wars were in full swing, and although the Wall Street Ponzi scheme built on the democratization of debt had not yet collapsed, it was increasingly clear that most of us had been screwed by Neoliberal capitalism. Three decades of tax giveaways to the richest Americans and the destruction of the social safety net meant 80% of us were worse off than in 1980. I was finishing up a book on just that topic (American Plastic) and the more I knew about how in debt Americans were, the more angry I became. It was clearly a case of us vs. them, the working classes vs. the super rich who were robbing us blind. I truly believed that it was time to stop this nonsense, band together as the majority, and take our country back. It was in this spirit that I started "Class Warfare."
Ah, has the world changed since then. Oh, don't get me wrong. The rich got even richer in 2009, the rest of us are worse off than ever, but the idea that there might be a possibility of uniting around our common class interests and taking our country back from the robber barons who have been running it seems so completely disconnected from reality that I want to travel back in time two years and throw a bucket of ice-water into my stupidly optimistic face.
If I had been shocked into reality with a faceful of water, perhaps I would have predicted the success with which white resentment would be mobilized in groups like the Tea Party. The righteous anger of the white masses is not at the bankers and politicians who put us in this mess, but at Mexican immigrants. And if I could have predicted that a huge portion of angry white Americans would have their rage misdirected, perhaps I could have also known that the Obama administration would not be able to resist the lure of military "solutions" to political and economic problems. I might have even predicted that the Obama administration would be given far too much of a free pass by the "Left" to do whatever they saw fit, and what they saw fit to govern as a Centrist Right party, especially without any pressure from their base.
Ah, but I was ever so young when True Slant editor Coates Bateman called me up two years ago and said "Listen, we've got this idea." Of course, I'm ever so much older now and can see that the world we have won is a bigger mess than I could have ever imagined. A good map of the place we're at can be found at today's New York Times. It is a map of the latest vote on military spending in Afghanistan. Just days after WikLeaks released documents to illustrate what a futile waste of life and resources the war in Afghanistan is, the House voted to spend another $59 BILLION dollars on it. And where is the resistance to this total disaster? The usual places- Democratic Vermont, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Some unusual resistance in Florida, Arizona and Texas and then some Republican resistance in Utah and Texas.
The rest of the country? Firmly on track to the end of Empire. Red and Blue armies marching to their doom- too distracted by the promises of patriotism, guts and glory, to notice that the economy is collapsing, the environment is destroyed, and the Empire has already imploded.
But here's the other lesson that I've learned . We cannot give up. There is too much at stake. We can all do things- right now- to protect ourselves and our futures. Here are ten of them. You readers can think of hundreds, maybe thousands, more. In other words, I may be less naive than I was at the beginning of "Class Warfare," but I'm angrier than ever and more convinced that WE must do something about it.
1. First and foremost, we must demand that our government be of the people and for the people; not of and for big banks and big guns. The only way to make this happen is to get campaign finance reform through. Without that, no matter how brilliant and even ethical a candidate, they will be sucked into the inevitable desire to get re-elected and the constant prostitution of themselves for contributions to their campaigns.
2. Second, we must convert the economy to peaceful means. Guns into plough shares and all that. Economic conversion is NOT a pipe dream. It is an absolute necessity because without it, we will always be wasting our resources on getting ready for wars and therefore there will always be a need to have wars.
3. Third, we must reinvigorate labor. Until workers have some ability to represent themselves, Americans will continue to work more hours than anyone else on earth. And working more hours means less time to exercise, to eat real food, to spend with our families, etc. It's not that Americans are falling apart because we live in a toxic food environment, but we live in a toxic food environment because our work environments are toxic. Stop feeling lucky to have a job and realize that without workers, capitalism would not produce profit. The owners of the means of production live off of our labor, and they live well. Let them share the wealth or face strikes, walk outs, and general sabotage.
4. Fourth, we must figure out a way to get single payer healthcare. We cannot even do it at a state level right now because the Obama administration not only shut down single payer as an option at the national level, but insisted that states not be allowed to implement their own single payer systems until well after the patchwork, half-assed system of national healthcare reform gets put into place. States must fight for their rights to have single payer and opt out of the national Frankenstein monster of insurance coverage we're being offered. Healthcare should not be a product sold in the market for profit. It should be a basic human right. Once all Americans have it, we will be able to band together for better working conditions. In other words, a social safety net also allows labor to get organized against greed and exploitation.
5. Fifth, higher education MUST be reformed. The system we have now of poor and working class students taking on ridiculous amounts of debt to get an education and then in half of the cases being forced to drop out of school before they've even finished their degree while upper class students get degrees from elite institutions at the cost of $50,000 a year, graduating with little or no debt and all the connections they'll ever need, is the opposite of democracy. It is an aristocracy- a way of passing wealth- economic, educational, and social- from one generation to the next while the vast majority of us are shut out. Higher education should be affordable to anyone who qualifies and should not require a lifetime of debt. Without this basic mechanism of fairness, the ruling elites will become increasingly dynastic.
6. For higher education to become more fair, we have to make our elementary and high school education more fair. No longer can we fund schools on property taxes- a way of ensuring rich neighborhoods with high property values have far more money for their schools than poor neighborhoods with low property values. Higher education must be funded fairly across an entire state. All students receive the same spending, regardless of the neighborhood they live in. No more kindergartens without paper and crayons while in the next town over kindergartens have state of the art computers and swimming pools. Education that is fair and equal is a basic building block of democracy. Without it, we are doomed.
7. Localize as much as possible. We must opt out of the global economy. Buy local foods, of course, but also move your money out of mega banks and put it in a local credit union, go see local live theater, consider a staycation and spend your leisure time and money where you live. This is good for the environment, good for your money, but even more importantly, a necessary brake on the madness that is globalization.
8. As long as we're localizing, we might as well get involved. Social psychologists are showing us what we already know: Americans are a socially isolated and therefore unhappy bunch. And coupling does not solve our isolation- in fact, coupling may increase our social isolation. So we must go out and join a local knitting group or even a religious group, invite your neighbors for dinner or start a community garden. We cannot solve our social isolation by technology- social networks, blogging communities, and online dating are fine, but we actually need to spend time in the same physical location with other human beings.
9. We may have screwed up the earth beyond repair, but we better start working now on creating real alternatives to the oil economy or we're going to burn up in a blaze of global warming as we drown in seas of oil. In the same way that we must force the government to convert the military economy to a peaceful one, we damn well better force them to convert the oil economy to a sustainable one. We have to force the state to regulate oil, tax gas, and invest in public transit and clean energy technologies. Period. Or we all die.
10. This is the most important one so pay attention. I know this is a long blog and kinda preachy, but it's aimed as much at me as at you. Anger is a far better response to threat than depression or apathy. We ought to be angry and we have to utilize that anger into action or we will perish as a country and possibly as a species. We cannot afford to wait and see. We cannot afford to allow half of the country to flirt with fascism. We have to work now to convince our fellow Americans to stop worrying about imaginary threats and focus on what's really going on. We have to work right now to focus ourselves on what our real interests are and not get distracted by pretty little pieces of plastic- like our new i-phones or our new breast implants. We have to band together as a class of people who are less economically secure, less environmentally secure, less emotionally secure than ever. Even if we don't figure a way out, at least we'll perish knowing that we're in this together.
And it is that human connection, the class as a group with solidarity and support for itself, that can move us from Class Warfare to class action.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"][/caption]
As I sat in a bar to watch the Ghana/US football match on Saturday, I was struck by the intense optimism of the young American men milling around the TV sets. Their faces painted red, white and blue and their large, corn-fed bodies tensely focused on the game, they really and truly believed that the US could win the World Cup. Their chants of USA and "You Suck" toward the enemy team were a stark reminder that not just masculinity, but national identity too is being created and performed in the ritual of televised sport. And then just as suddenly this boisterous gang of American men were quiet, fear showing on their faces, as the realization that America could lose hit them. These same young men who imagined America as heroic in all things- from football to war- suddenly looked like they might cry. The US lose? To Ghana? To the Taliban?
Increasingly, the reality of Afghanistan is sinking into an increasingly sober Obama administration and US Army. The Taliban is not going to be destroyed. Instead, it will be accepted as part of the mess the US will leave behind in Afghanistan. This is being described as a necessary response to the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government.
The approach amounts to "Afghan good enough" instead of an overly-idealistic "Afghan impossible," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In Washington and NATO capitals, there is now "more willingness" to reach an accommodation with middle and lower level members of the Taliban, as well as trying to peel away some senior figures if possible, he said.
Or, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, the Taliban are part of the "political fabric" of Afghanistan. Continuing the sports/war metaphor, the Chair of the House Subcommittee that oversees Afghanistan, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens) told the New York Daily News
The strategy in which we're engaged is certainly not a slam dunk. We're doing the best we can with a bad situation with players that we don't - and didn't - have the expectation of being able to completely control."
Meanwhile, back at the game, my table, a bunch of unAmerican types, joked about the End of Empire, but quietly, so as not to make the young men angry, but also so we wouldn't make them cry. After all, these beefy young men might be going to Iraq or Afghanistan. And even if they weren't, their friends were. It's one thing to lose a game; it's quite another to be killed in what is now being described as the Ignored War.
At $6.7 Billion dollars a month, Afghanistan ought to be a source of pride and prejudice for these young men. Instead, like the game on the TV, everyone, even the people running the war know it cannot be won. With tens of thousands of casualties (even though the US media usually only counts military casualties, there are far more Afghan civilians killed every day than soldiers), this is not a war to be celebrated.
And yet, like the US defeat at the World Cup, the best defense is a good offense. Soccer sucks. Who wants to play it anyway? Afghanistan? Let's either turn it into a real American style football match and kill the bastards or get the hell out of the game. As Ross Douthat points out in today's New York Times, there are apparently only two possibilities open to the US: soccer or football. If we continue to play soccer, we fight the counterinsurgency with strategic violence. If we play football, we kill indiscriminately and therefore "win."
This grim possibility is implicit in the Rolling Stone profile that undid Gen. Stanley McChrystal last week. Ostensibly a left-wing, antiwar critique of counterinsurgency, Michael Hastings’s article relied heavily on complaints that the current strategy places too much value on ... innocent Afghan lives. “In a weird way,” the Center for a New American Security’s Andrew Exum pointed out, Hastings ended up criticizing counterinsurgency strategy “because it doesn’t allow our soldiers to kill enough people.”
It's really too bad so much masculinity and patriotism is at stake in war and sport. Otherwise, the US government and the American people could think outside the football/soccer metaphor and see there are all sorts of other games. Like withdrawing all military and feeding the billions of dollars we're spending now on war to aid Afghan groups that support democracy in the region. But that might be too Ultimate Frisbee for the American jocks who run this country. And Ultimate Frisbee just doesn't have any balls.
Representative Alan Grayson (D- FL) just introduced "The War is Making You Poor Act" (HR5353) a bill that is already being dismissed by the right as crazy and by the liberal media as "good for opening dialogue" but "impractical." That's too bad since "The War is Making You Poor Act" is not just propaganda, but a brilliant piece of legislation.
On the right, the response has been to label Grayson "a stand-up comic" rather than a politician and that he's targeting the military who "need" the money to fight the wars (see comment section from news in Grayson's district). But that's just not true.
$549 BILLION dollars is more than the rest of the world'a countries combined spend on their militaries. It's 5x what China (the next biggest military spender) spends and 10x what Russia spends. Why would $549 BILLION not be enough?
In the liberal media, for instance over at the Atlantic, the bill is described as
a gimmick. No, nobody will vote for it. That's for the best, because supplemental spending is necessary to keep our soldiers safe, nourished and effective. But as an effort to shine a light on budget games and to force Americans to see war spending on par with domestic spending, it's a smart piece of PR
But let's ask ourselves what's actually wrong with these piece of legislation? Would it really make our soldiers "unsafe" or "unfed" as the Atlantic piece suggests? I would think that with $549 BILLION being spent, we can feed the soldiers. As for safety, the only way to keep them safe is bring them home. Would the bill end the 9 year war in Afghanistan or the 7 year war in Iraq? Absolutely not.
Sso whether you're pro or anti-war, you should consider supporting this bill. The bill would force the administration to budget their wars within the $549BILLION already given to them (something Obama pledged to do) without using $159Billion in "emergency funding" requests to do so.
Given the length of these wars already, you would think the administration and the military could actually figure out how much they need to spend. More importantly, given that $549BILLION has ALREADY been budgeted for these wars, you would think the administration wouldn't have to request billions more in emergency funds-- billions that are funded through growing deficits. What's the emergency? What could possibly be unforeseen at this point?
Perhaps the only "surprise" is how many Americans don't get it- don't get that we can't spend all our money on guns and still have any left over for "butter." But if the "War is Making You Poor" bill passed, we'd still have plenty of- actually way too many- guns and a wee bit of butter. Grayson's proposal would make the first $35,000 Americans earn tax free for a year by funneling the $159 BILLION dollars directly back to the people.
With most of the supplemental money going to increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan, despite the fact that there is no real exit strategy and no one in the world, not even our closest allies, believe the war is winnable. And yet American optimism in the war in Afghanistan has jumped in recent months, with nearly half of Americans believing the war in Afghanistan is "going well."
The new poll indicates that 44 percent of the public says things are going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan, with 43 percent saying things are going badly."That's a huge 23-point jump since last November, when two-thirds thought that things were going poorly in the war," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Forty-eight percent of people questioned now support the war, with 49 percent opposed. This is the first time since May of 2009 in CNN polling that opposition has dropped below 50 percent.
Odd that American support for the wars seems to have nothing to do with costs- real opportunity costs in terms of what we cannot do for Americans suffering from the economic collapse- and also the real cost of sending young, primarily working class and poor Americans, to die. While the cost of war is being felt by the vast majority of Americans, one way or another, there are a few Americans, like the ones who own Haliburton or General Dynamics, who are able to make record profits while our country goes further and further into debt to finance the dream of "winning" these nightmarish wars.
If only we would wake up and demand that a thoroughly sensible bill like "The War is Making You Poor" be passed.
Have you seen this video put out by a bunch of American soldiers in Afghanistan?
That's right, some seriously hot boy soldiers took some time to have some fun being super gay with Ke$ha's "Blah Blah Blah." The video is funny, but it's also kinda serious because the soldiers chose this particular song, performed gayness to it, and then overlaid it with their own disavowal of gayness-- a cultural enactment of the military's own conflicted relationship to masculinity and homoeroticism.
Let's consider some of Ke$ha's lyrics to get an idea of the "serious play" at work here:
Coming out your mouth with your blah blah blah.
Just zip your lips like a padlock and meet me at the back with the jack and the jukebox.
I dont really care where you live at just turn around boy and let me hit that.
Dont be a little bitch with your chit chat just show me where your dicks at...
So just hush baby shut up
Stop stop stop talking that...
If you keep talking that blah blah blah blah blah.
Boy come on now "
These lyrics are, of course, a perfect summary of the military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy. Just don't name it, don't speak it, stop with your blah blah blah. The soldiers also end the video by assuring us that "no one is this video is gay... that we know of." Which of course they must, because no one is allowed to be openly gay under the DADT policy.
All of which is extremely interesting in terms of timing since both the House and the Senate will vote on the repeal of the DADT policy within the next few weeks, but with midterm elections looming AND a recent letter from Secretary of Defense Gates stating that he would like to wait till a report is complete in December before changing the policy, it is possible that Congress will not have the carrot nor the stick to repeal DADT this year.
All of which leads to the real question: what are we to make of a bunch of shirtless male soldiers dancing to bad pop music in a variety of ways that are meant to elicit homoerotic desire?
Obviously, this is NOT what the military will look like if DADT is ended and yet we are left with some lingering questions. Would allowing queers of various sorts to serve openly and even flamboyantly in the military actually change what the military is? Would the military be less homophobic, less racist, less misogynist as a result?
Personally, I'd love to believe that the military could be saved from its historical role of "making men" - men who primarily kill poor and brown people to show not just that they are men, but straight American men.
But if masculinity were removed from the equation, what would possibly motivate men- or women for that matter- to join? In other words, the military can entice a variety of people- men, women, queers and straights- to sign up in order to "prove themselves" as tough, invulnerable, courageous, and willing to sacrifice- all qualities generally assigned to masculinity. The military does not use traditionally feminine qualities like cooperation, communication, or nuturing to recruit.
As long as those are the qualities that are mobilized to get people to go through boot camp, end all signs of individuality, and then go off to war, the military will remain a masculinist space, regardless of the sorts of individuals who serve. Female soldiers did not fundamentally change this about the army. In fact, female soldiers often say they want to prove they are "not typical females" (i.e. that they are masculine women). Here's what an American female soldier said of her time in Afghanistan recently:
They view American women as the 'third gender,'" she said. "They hold respect for us. They treat us like men.
Respect comes, in masculinist institutions, from behaving in ways that are marked as masculine. Disrespect comes from being a "pussy" or a "fag." The military will remain masculinist and the people who serve in it, regardless of gender expression or sexual identity, will have to man-up if they want to succeed.
So sadly, Blah Blah Blah is all that queers in the military will mean, even when they're finally allowed to serve openly.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"][/caption]
Last night someone loaded a Nissan SUV with a bunch of compressed gas and propane and parked it in Times Square,. Apparently the hope was that the SUV would explode and kill a bunch of tourists. Thanks to a tee shirt vendor, who noticed that the vehicle was smoking, who notified a mounted police officer who smelled gunpowder and called for back up, the bomb did not go off, theater goers were not killed, and New York City and the US once again avoided the inevitable terrorists attacks.
That's right. A terrorist attack (whether homegrown or foreign) is inevitable. It will happen at some point. At the same time the Time Square bomb was smoldering, a United Airways plane was being diverted because of a bomb threat now described as a "hoax." The next time the tee shirt vendor might not see the smoke or the threat might not be just some stupid "joke." Just like offshore drilling will inevitably lead to oil spills, US foreign and domestic policies will inevitably lead to terrorist attacks. It is the price we pay for Empire.
When people (usually angry men motivated by fundamentalist religions- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Middle Eastern or corn-fed white Americans) feel as if their lives have been destroyed by a state and simultaneously feel that there is no possible way to address their grievances, they will feel justified in the use of terror against the population in an attempt to get to the state. It's a story as old as the Maccabees and as new as last night's incident in Times Square. It is the inevitable price that large states that control huge swathes of land and extract wealth from a variety of populations to finance the military might necessary for such control pay. It is a story as old as Rome and as contemporary as America.
That such an attack is unavoidable and will happen we know. What we do not know is how to respond. Inevitably the initial response will be to fight terrorism with violence- more bombings, more arrests, more dead civilians. Here in Waco or there in Kabul.
But that response is neither necessary nor does it produce the desired result: no terrorist attacks. In fact, if history teaches us anything it is that violence begets violence. Instead, it might be worth thinking about other responses. A bomb in Times Square would be a tragedy, with hundreds of civilians wounded and more than a few casualties. But bombing a village in Kabul or having a shoot out with American terrorists in some village in Texas does not lead to less violence. To the contrary, numerous sites exist on the internet that could convince an angry young person to take up arms against a fascist government as a result of the Waco massacre. And even the Army understands that the more civilians die in Afghanistan and Iraq, the more terrorists will be produced.
So the question is, when the bomb finally does go off in Times Square or another airplane is blown up, what should people who actually want a more peaceful world do? The State will attempt to utilize these incidents for more war- because the state extracts huge amounts of our wealth for the military industrial complex and therefore must justify such expenditures to the people. But we the people can prepare now to put pressure on the State not to respond to terrorism with war-like tactics. Instead, we can think about other responses- like pressure on the State to control a smaller amount of territory, to spend less on military and more on the American people (leading to a much less disaffected group of homegrown terrorists), and to generally scale down the size and scope of Empire.
The lessons of a bomb in Time Square are simple: dismantle the military-industrial complex, scale down the operations of Empire, redistribute the wealth from buying swords to making plowshares. It's a lesson as old as Isaiah and as new as last night's bomb in New York.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Image via Wikipedia"][/caption]
I used to be a "Sovietologist." One of those students of the former Soviet Union who tried to figure out what was going on there and then, sometimes, apply those lessons to here. Unlike my more conservative colleagues, I was interested in what the US could learn about spending too much of its wealth on the military industrial complex rather than infrastructure. I was also interested in the neo-political parties that began to form in the 1980s that seemed to signal an end to the Soviet Empire.
But, after years of living in Moscow, I returned to the US and began to concentrate on this American life. If I were going to continue to apply those lessons, they would be more or less the same: the US cannot continue to spend about half of its tax revenues on the military-industrial complex without facing both financial ruin and the end of its Empire. And when proto-politial parties like the Tea Party appear, the existing and seemingly fixed 2-party system is about to collapse in the same way that the Communist Party lost hold on power.
There are even more important lessons to be learned from yesterday's attacks in the Moscow metro, important lessons about the limits of force. According to press reports, the attacks were carried out by two young women who are part of anti-Russian movements in the Caucasus. The response of the Russian government in the past has been to increase the use of force and military might to "clamp down" on Muslim extremism. Although the current Medvedev regime has spoken of addressing the systemic causes of terrorism (like unrelenting poverty), the man-behind-the curtain, Vladimir Putin, wants to rule with an iron fist.
On Monday... some senior members of Mr. Putin’s political party, United Russia, were already suggesting that the government needed to adopt a stern new plan to combat terrorism...Mr. Putin said the organizers of the bombings were hiding but would be captured. He said they needed to be “dragged out of the sewers into the broad daylight. And it will be done.”
Putin's talk represents the problem, not the solution. Russia's wars in the Caucasus have created a generation of young people who live with the effects of violence in their land. Dead relatives, unrelenting poverty, and a highly-polluted environment that makes the next generation sick and often deformed does not lead to lasting peace. It leads to lasting war, even if that war can sometimes be contained in the Caucasus.
Sound familiar? Think Afghanistan. Think Iraq. War creates enemies- dehumanized others to be "dragged from the sewers." A few years back I spent some time with a young Chechen man who had escaped Russia's war there. The young man was a surgical assistant who operated on both Chechen and Russian soldiers, as needed. The Russians captured him and tortured him. Buried him in the ground and burned him with cigarettes. Surprisingly, this man held no ill will toward the Russian people. In fact, while he was studying English with a young Russian woman, he was shocked to learn that she thought of Chechens as "animals" and "subhuman." He was also shocked by the glee with which young Americans went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He couldn't understand how anyone could embrace war as a solution.
This young man was right. War creates hate. You can subdue your enemy, but they're still your enemy. The Obama administration might or might not be successful in subduing their enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they will never be successful in creating lasting peace with war.
This is illustrated by the words of Chechen rebel leader, Doku Umarov:
If Russians think that the war is happening only on television, somewhere far off in the Caucasus, and it will not touch them, then we are going to show them that this war will return to their homes."
Sound familiar? It should. It's the same thing anti-American Muslim groups have been promising to do on American soil for decades. What the US needs is a policy of peace, not war. Unless it wants to continue to face the same sort of terror that hit the Moscow metro system yesterday. War does not equal peace. That's the only lesson that can be learned from Russia.
Have you seen [youtubevid id="fzqkOn9YMQ8"]yet? "I'm awesome" is an anthem for our times.
I"m awesome. (No you're not, dude, don't lie) I'm awesome.
I'm driving around in my mother's ride. I'm awesome.
A quarter of my life gone by and I met my friends online...
Can't tweet upon my twitter Cuz I haven't done shit
Bank account red, body ungroomed Only thing good about me is I'm off stage soon...
On my game I'm only about as sexy as John McCain.
This brilliant parody of Americans today- doing badly by most indicators but still insisting that we're awesome- represents a real shift from the "We're number one" fanaticism of the Bush years. No longer under the delusion that "America's the best country in the world" we now know that we have the worst health care of any industrialized country, the most unequal distribution of wealth by far of any industrialized country, and that even amassing the largest military in human history does not ensure us anything like "victory" in the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Because we're so awesome (NOT), we have come to accept the most pathetic baby steps as major victories. Two stories in the news this week nicely illustrate our willingness to accept "lame" as "awesome"- health care legislation and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy reform.
The Progressives in this country, myself included, felt as if some sort of "victory" had occurred last weekend when the "historic" healthcare legislation passed. When I walked by the news headlines announcing the passage of the healthcare bill, I actually pumped my fist in the air and said "Yes!" An acquaintance at a business lunch on Monday insisted that we all treat this legislation as momentous, as if some major shift in this country had occurred whereby we Americans believe healthcare is a human right for all of us. On Facebook, an invitation arrived to join a group that supports the health care legislation. On the left wing news sites, a lot of congratulatory pieces assure us that we have gained huge healthcare reforms.
A similar "I'm so awesome" is occurring over the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military, which while still in place is slightly modified
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the biggest change since 1993 in the military's policy toward gays. He introduced new, more stringent regulations, which will slow - or could even virtually stop - the explusion of gay service members.
I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice," Gates said, "above all by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency, to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved."
MFer, we're so awesome. We can't pass real health care reform. We're awesome, we can't even let queers serve. We're awesome, because those two wars are still going on, people are dying everyday, our educational system is a mess, but there's no money to fix it, and the rich got even richer in 2009 while the rest of us struggled to keep our homes and jobs and dwindling resources in tact.
But seriously, what happened to Progressives in this country between 2008 and 2010? Remember when we wanted to END the wars (not just let gays kinda sorta serve in them)? Remember when we wanted to dismantle the military industrial complex and spend that huge chunk of our tax revenues on schools and infrastructure? Remember when we wanted to take health care out of the for-profit realm and make it universal?
I know, I know. Baby steps. But the role of the Left in any country is to push the agenda forward (it's the progress in Progressives)- forward to a more just, more equitable, more cohesive society and economy. When the Left allows itself to be "awesome" because they make all their friends online and drive around in their mother's ride, they actually allow the agenda to be highjacked by the Centrists and the Far Right.
We're not awesome and we better stop pretending as if we are and demand more or lose everything.
I have made it clear to our forces that... inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission.”
The absurdity of the current US government propaganda push for the "good war" in Afghanistan would be funny if it were in a movie. We'd laugh at the stupid, overly macho, "hero" General who believes that bombing a country into oblivion is a way to "win" hearts and minds (even as he knows deep down that the real goal of winning the hearts and minds is getting to the natural resources).
If only we lived inside the movie "Avatar"- with McCrystal as the robo-jerk marine. But this isn't a movie. It's the real world and "accidentally" killing civilians may be unintentional, but it is also unavoidable.
Soldiers are trained to kill without thinking much about it. That's what they do. War is about killing- not building wells or schools. The hearts and minds of the people will be more moved by the dead children in their arms than any propaganda campaign staged by McChrystal and the Obama administration.
Of course the real hearts and minds are those of the American voters. At least for now. Until we can officially hand all our votes to the newly empowered corporation-citizens in the next elections.
But still operating under the old rules that they need voters to get elected, the Obama propaganda machine has been in full swing on the war in Afghanistan (and judging from the corporate media's glowing descriptions of heroic soldiers in the Helmand province, the propaganda is quite successful).
The Obama-ites have also been rebranding the war in Iraq- again, not for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, but for the American voters. Operation Iraqi Freedom has now been changed to Operation New Dawn, even though Iraq is as big a quagmire as Afghanistan and, of course, Vietnam. The supposed 2011 withdrawal date is based on how stable things are in Iraq and right now, things are far from stable with a series of bombings and civilian deaths in the lead up to the next elections.
But none of this is the point- the point is what we American voters "think" and "feel." Hearts and Minds. The question is how long the American people will put up with a military budget of unprecedented proportions in the face of an economic crisis far deeper and far more lasting than anyone in the administration wants to admit.
How long will we put up with an even greater concentration of wealth in the top 1% of Americans? Just in case you haven't noticed because you were too bombarded with heroic US soldiers in Afghanistan, there was an even greater transfer of wealth to the top 1% of Americans in 2009. According to a recent study:
From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation's total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%... Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy's growth was captured by the top 1%."
Due to this, the United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the US population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all time record.
Sometimes- because of the corporate controlled media, because of the fact that Americans work more hours than any people in the world, because of the sophisticated propaganda campaigns for our hearts and minds- it's difficult to see the connection between the transfer of wealth to the top and the wars.
But it's there. Who is getting rich off these wars? Who owns Haliburton and GE and General Dynamics? Who is fighting these wars because there are no jobs and there's no access to university education without high levels of debt? Sometimes it's difficult to keep our eye on the money with so much to distract us. But that's the point.
They're trying to win our hearts and minds so they can extract wealth and labor and lives from ordinary Americans. Bombing civilians in Afghanistan is a glitch in the perfectly planned propaganda of greed that this administration now represents. And sometimes, when there's a glitch in the machine, we can actually see the absurdity-- and tragedy-- of what's going on.
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England is generally considered the birth place of "Free Speech" as a sacred belief and a set of concrete policies and laws that protect it. At the corner of London's Hyde Park is Speakers' Corner, a bit of asphalt on which speakers from V.I. Lenin and H.G. Wells have gathered to stand up on a soap box and speak out about anything that they wanted to.
Speakers' Corner is often used as an example of how free speech works- religious sorts mingle with homeless people and political radicals to yell and shout and convince their audience that they should be listened to, or laughed at, or even shouted back at. The point is- regardless of the speech- it is "protected" in the sense that it is mostly allowed to occur with little or no interference from the state (in the form of the Bobbies who police it). In 1999, Lord Justice Sedley wrote a decision that cited Speakers' Corner as evidence of
the tolerance which is both extended by the law to opinion of every kind and expected by the law in the conduct of those who disagree, even strongly, with what they hear."
But despite long being at the center of free speech, England does not know what to do with groups that openly oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and consider Islam a superior religion. One such group is Islam4UK.
Islam4UK is, according to the British government and much of the press, a band of radical defenders of all sorts of terrorism done in the name of Islam and therefore a "problem." Recently the group planned a demonstration in Wooton Bassett, a town made famous for honoring the British dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Islam 4 UK wanted to march with coffins representing not British soldiers, but Iraqi and Afghan civilian dead.
A current law under consideration would make membership in the group illegal. If passed, the law will make membership in Islam 4 UK or Al Muhajiroun a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
A look at the group's website does not reveal why the group is such a problem that its existence would threaten to disrupt the seemingly sacred English belief in free speech. The group does not, at least on its website, openly incite religious hatred or violence in the name of Islam. At Islam4UK.com, fairly reasonable statements are made such as:
we at islam4uk have decided... that no more could be achieved even if a procession were to take place in Wootton Bassett and in light of this we would like to announce today that there will no longer be a procession through this market town. This does not mean that we will remain silent on the atrocities being committed in Afghanistan under the guise of fighting for freedom and democracy and it also does not mean that we will not continue to highlight the true cost of this war against Islam and Muslims called fighting terrorism...
In this respect we once again appeal to the British public and in particular the families and friends of soldiers who have died or are currently involved in Afghanistan to engage with us in an honest dialogue. There is common ground between us. Just as you grieve the deaths of your sons and daughters, we too grieve the deaths of thousands of ordinary Muslim men, women and children, just as many of you are aware of the injustice and oppression being carried out by the US led alliance in Afghanistan (of which the UK is a part) and do not agree with your children being in this war, we too demand the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from this Muslim land...
the procession is against the British regime and in particular Gordon Brown who has utilised the emotions of the ordinary families of soldiers to glorify the reasons why they were in Afghanistan stating that they died for freedom and democracy or to keep us safe back here in the UK which are evidently lies, albeit comforting for the families. Rather the presence of the US and UK forces in Afghanistan is a cause of instability in the region and a cause of insecurity back home in the UK and orchestrated to establish military and economic interests in the region regardless of the loss of life by the occupying forces.
Just as Tony Blair has been exposed as a liar regarding Iraq and the so-called weapons of mass destruction. for which he has the blood of hundreds of thousands of Muslims on his hands and for which he needs to pay, Gordon Brown wants us to believe that the security of the British public begins in Kabul and that the murder of people in Afghanistan will keep people here in the UK safe.
I'm fairly certain I or any person who believes the wars are immoral have said very similar things. In addition, the group goes out of its way to disavow violence:
In this quest islam4uk and Al-Muhajiroun do not call for any violent or military activities... the claim that we are inciting racial hatred is absurd since Islam transcends the boundaries of race and ethnicity although we have the right (even supposedly under your law) to deem our belief superior to others and advocate it as a better alternative. Surely if you believe that something is good for you and wish to share it with others it is a noble thing.
No doubt the Islam 4 UK members are true believers in the superiority of Islam. They are even, perhaps, offensive in their defense of Islam and Muslims. But to make membership in such groups a criminal offense, to attempt to shut them up as "dangerous" to the country, is a crime against the secular religion of Free Speech.
Clearly not all speech is protected speech. Dangerous speech- the yelling of fire in a crowded theater or encouraging people to strap bombs to their backs and walk into crowded places- is not protected. But the sort of free speech that is critical of these wars and insists that we see the human costs on the ground must be protected, whether at Speakers' Corner or on the internet, if anything as sacred as "democracy" is to be saved.
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I know a bit about burlesque. In fact, in The Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, I wrote the entry on burlesque.
I did not know this about burlesque: it will save military marriages during these endless wars and endless deployments.
That is at least the hope of a growing number of military wives who are learning how to vamp it up with feather boas and high heels in hopes of keeping their marriages with their soldier husbands alive.
Operation Bombshell, a series of seminars started by stripper-turned writer- turned military wife Lily Burana, is an effort to teach military wives how to put on some heels, some sexy lingerie, and do a routine for their returning soldier boys.
The idea for Operation Bombshell came to Burana about a year ago when she met a young saleswoman at a Victoria’s Secret store who was wearing her deployed husband’s dog tags. “I had this bizarre wacky moment of divine inspiration to give these women an escape by doing what I do best,” she said.
To Keep Home Fires Burning, Grab That Boa - NYTimes.com.
My first response to Operation Bombshell is that it was a terrible idea, a way of further commodifying sexual relationships (burlesque was always a commercial form). But the more I think about burlesque as military marital aid, the more I like it. Like Ms. Burana, I too have found inspiration at Victoria's Secret as well as at burlesque shows the world over. Burlesque, as I said in the encyclopedia,
like nearly all of popular culture, began in the hurly-burly of the Victorian age. Industrialization, the creation of a large working class in opposition to a newly powerful middle class, a new mass culture of consumption, and a system of racial and national hierarchies within an empire created the perfect climate for burlesque, a working-class entertainment in which all rules could be broken for comic effect and profit. Indeed, it was exactly this “slap in the face” aspect of burlesque that made it such an important part of the growing entertainment industry. Burlesque routines rewrote so-called higher art forms, such as opera, as comedy and farce.
In other words, burlesque is exactly what the soldiers and soldiers' wives need: a source of bawdy humor that is also a social critique, a slap in the face, to the powers that control their lives. Like working class men and women a century ago, today's enlisted soldiers are being screwed by a system that sends working class Americans to war after war after war, while the ruling classes (myself included) would never consider risking our lives for a system from which we benefit the most.
Burlesque has a way of making the absurdity of such power hierarchies funny and sexy. Burlesque- like carnival- also has a way of overturning those hierarchies- of mocking the high and mighty and making us desire the "dirty."
By stripping and teasing and mocking, these soldiers' wives might just get their soldier husbands turned on to more than their bodies. Burlesque as military marital aid might just get soldiers turned on to the body politic as well.