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.
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 by Getty Images via Daylife"][/caption]
Michelle Obama is under fire for her anti-obesity campaign. Unveiled this week, the "Let's Move" campaign sets the goal of eliminating childhood obesity in a generation.
Although childhood obesity rates have stabilized in recent years, 1 in 6 American children are still obese and 1/3 are overweight or obese. Although the evidence is still out on overweight children- since chubby might be the new healthy according to some recent research- obese children will probably have shorter life spans than their parents and a life plagued with disease. It is certainly a serious issue, one worth the attention of Michelle Obama, or Barbie.
For the 2000 Presidential campaign, the Ms. Foundation and Mattel teamed up to make Presidential Barbie. But what kinda platform could Barbie have? After all, she had to stay within her assigned gender role and not offend any potential consumers. Dismantle the military industrial complex? No. Regulate Wall Street? Forget it. So Presidential Barbie, a white doll with a very Presidential brunette bob, made physical fitness her issue.
Michelle Obama, like Presidential Barbie, was forced to find an issue that fit her assigned gender role (as woman and as mother), but poor Michelle also had to find something that would fit her racial position as well. Having been criticized for being too "angry" and too "forceful" (translation: just too threatening as a powerful Black woman), Michelle hit on the perfect issue.
Because we can all agree that obese kids are not healthy kids. And they oughta move. As the First Lady said herself,
I would move heaven and earth to give my kids all the chance in the world for them to be at the top of their game in every way, shape and form.”
Then, unfortunately, the First Lady went on to discuss a time when her own daughters were considered “overweight” by their pediatrician and she made good choices- like no TV during the week and switching to water rather than soda. Michelle/Barbie made sure the First Daughters got slim and stayed that way.
Mentioning her daughters has become “the issue” for many observers. The Daily Mail even ran the headline “Michelle Obama puts daughters on diet before launching anti-obesity campaign.” The article said that it was Malia, not Sasha, who was turning into a fattie. The blogs at major news sites are full of outrage. The want to know how Michelle could personalize this issue by mentioning her own family’s relationship to food and weight.
Of course Michelle should not have personalized this issue- not because of the so-called traumatic effects it will have on her daughters (isn’t being children in the White House a constant exercise in the control of their self-presentation from what they wear to how they do in school to whether they chew gum or swear or pick their noses?).
No, Michelle should not have personalized obesity because it’s not a personal issue. Obesity - childhood or otherwise - is an issue embedded in race, economy and geography.
Obesity rates are so closely linked to income in the US that it is impossible to deny that they are about a hell of a lot more than getting the kids off soda. Poor neighborhoods often have limited groceries available, with very few fresh vegetables and fruits. Fresh vegetables and fruits and whole foods are far more expensive than the food like substances sold throughout the US and marketed as edible.
When the state- as part of a larger neoliberal move to let the market solve everything- stopped regulating things like food safety, but also whether toxic substances could be sold as if they were actual food, it effected poor Americans the most since they were the least likely to be able to resist the toxification of our foodways.
Poor Americans, who are also disproportionately nonwhite Americans, had neither the time, the money, nor the educational resources to push back the way many middle-class Americans did. The result is that obesity is not randomly distributed through the population. Instead, obesity is about class- and therefore race.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services,
Obesity disproportionately affects certain minority youth populations. NHANES found that African American and Mexican American adolescents ages 12-19 were more likely to be overweight, at 21 percent and 23 percent respectively, than non-Hispanic White adolescents (14 percent). In children 6-11 years old, 22 percent of Mexican American children were overweight, whereas 20 percent of African American children and 14 percent of non-Hispanic White children were overweight.
But this fact- that obesity is the result of poverty and therefore racialized in the US- is something that neither Michelle nor Presidential Barbie could possibly speak about. Barbie because she has a plastic mouth and no voice box; Michelle because she must walk on ladylike pointy toes through the minefield that is being a Black, educated, and powerful woman in the Barbielike role of First Lady.
Instead, both Barbie and Michelle must smile their plastic smiles and exhort us to move. Otherwise, we might not buy what the First Lady and Presidential Barbie are trying to sell us.