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Monthly Archives: March 2010

I have been jubilant having discovered that Rush Limbaugh, of whom I’m a huge fan, recently threatened to defect to Costa Rica if health care passed.

Trust me, Rush, I deeply considered your threat when I was advocating my position on health care. God knows we’d hate to lose you, but it seems a Democratic majority has forced you into drastic measures.

Vaya con Dios. (That’s Spanish for “go with God.” You’ll need that in Costa Rica.)

But one thing still presses on my mind. I know you’re busy, Rush, preparing for your expatriation from the United States, but (darn it all) I have to know. Did you not know when you made your drama queen statement that Costa Rica is a country that offers government-run, universal health care?

Far be it from my place to question your judgment, but I have to question your judgment. What the hell were you thinking? Did you really believe that Latin America offered a respite from the “intrusive” government politics you were so against? Or were you simply banking on the hope that some non-descript foreign country might be a good, conservative haven?

Or maybe you weren’t thinking. Maybe you were just trying to make a dramatic point. In which case, I guess in a fucked-up way you made it. You’d leave rather than suffer health care for the underprivileged. But we have to hold you to your word. You promised to evacuate. So pack those bags. You couldn’t kill health care in the U.S., but maybe Costa Rica is just waiting for a conservative crusader like you to pontificate your way to a new Costa Rica that puts health care into the proper hands, the wealthy middle class and them alone.

Just be sure to learn Spanish. God knows you never forgave a Spanish speaker in the exclusive country club you called America.

Democracy is a funny thing. For ages upon ages practical wisdom considered rule by the demos–that’s Greek for ya–an anarchic idea that could only result in social chaos. Even the Greeks, who instigated the idea amongst the Western world sought many means by which to ensure their demos was limited to a select few.

Not a fuck of a lot has changed since then. Recently the Supreme Court gave a huge boost to the idea that corporations are human entities capable of casting their monetary ballot (who the hell doesn’t admit politics is money-driven?) in American elections.

Corporations are people; we’ve only just come out of the idea that blacks weren’t wholly people. Anyone who considers civil rights a dead issue since the sixties has been asleep. To be black is to live for jail not college. We profess equality under the law but our prisons operate on a firm affirmative action-turned-over policy.  Liberty for McDonalds; lockdown for minorities.

Our nation’s poor get a handout now for health care. No more waiting until the situation becomes dire before one sees a doctor.  Who dreamt of a situation where the sick get help before they become SICK? Conservatives are fuming that extended access to health care violates their civil rights. Civil rights for what? Against social responsibility for the underpriviledged? Yes, that’s pretty much what it amounts to.

Democracy means fuck the poor. Let them pull themselves up by the bootstraps, to use a common phrase. If the poor weren’t so lazy they’d be rich. Because God knows America is going to amply reward everyone who works hard (say, working two full-time jobs.) People who work in minimum wage jobs just don’t work hard. Places like McDonalds and Walmart cater to their employees by letting them get by by slacking off. Rich motherfuckers like Paris Hilton represent the *really* industrious members of society.

Okay, I’m being sarcastic. Sorry. But how else do you expect me to respond to the logic of our era?

The bloody rich play roulette with the economy and when the bet is lost the whole American economy plummets into a recession. American workers (i.e., those who do real work) see their jobs fly overseas to boost the profits of the owning class. Wall Street begs for mercy for the government to cover their losses, meanwhile welfare rolls are cut for those who lose employment. Protect the owners of capital, leave the masses to adjure to individual responsibility.

Republicans blast unions for siphoning off the worker’s paycheck. They say every member of society ought to be free to bargain with property owners, the capitalists, on their own individual terms. Collectivism is portrayed as tyranny. One should fight against the aims of union leaders, but one should submit to the will of the propertied class.

It’s a radical notion that a democratic society can exert control over society itself. Traditional, “classic liberal” thinking believes that an individual citizen has rights against intrusion by the government. They say that so long is government is kept in check all members of society will have the liberty to seek their independent interests. Thomas Jefferson never advocated for the rights of the lower classes, so why should we?

The fact is, Jefferson dreamed of an America where everyone could own and farm their own land without feudalism or monarchy. But this is not the America of today. Today we have wealth and property condensed into increasingly fewer and fewer hands. Citizens are granted irrelevant rights like the right to carry weapons, but are denied the power to influence economic interests. That, we are told, is left to the ever shrinking class of the wealthy, who are permitted by law and custom to advance their own interests by rule of law.

Nothing portrays the situation we’re in quite like the Reagan-era war on drugs. Drug dealers are jailed and attacked by social institutions for causing massive harm to our society. There’s a general consensus that the free market of drugs needs to be curtailed by government intrusion, via the police, to protect our society from a dangerous element. But what happens when an entrepreneur or industrialist acts in a way that is harmful to workers or the environment. So long as their not peddling drugs capitalists are protected. Causing social harm, through systematic poverty or environmental damage, is given the a-okay by conservative members of our government. A community wrecked by drugs is, by reactionary logic, different from a community wrecked by economic decision making.

But there is hope. There is no class privilege which can’t be overcome. There is no Constitutional protection for private property owners against the masses of workers. Radical democracy continues to challenge the belief that gays cannot serve in the military, that blacks should be driven towards prisons and that access to a doctor is the right of a particular class.

Hail democracy! And a grand salute to all those who believe that in America there must exist equal protection under the law and under the circumstances prompted by a system of government. Hail to a country that freed the slaves, made education a right, and granted one vote to all for the power to influence national issues.

Now is the time for polemics. The right is launching a relentless attack on our government’s movement towards a universal health care policy. Whether they’re calling it “socialism” (which it ain’t), “government tyranny” (which it ain’t) or, as NPR reported recently, whether the Tea Party movement is reacting against the “niggers” and “faggots” who work at the Capitol.

So let me be polemical too.

1. Republicans, you do not represent America. You claim that your protests represent the will of the people, but where were these people when the last round of elections went off? You lost the presidency and congress, how far back in the denial closet have you gone to call yourself “the party of the people”?

I know very few people who don’t support this bill. Practically every friend I have, my family, my veteran grandparents, my Catholic church, my co-workers. Our voices all stand behind this bill. We voted for representatives who pushed for it, we wrote our leaders, we opined frequently in the media and elsewhere.

2. Your claims that this bill violates your liberty is b.s. Where in the Bill of Rights do you draw your reactionary claims? What legal precedent?

And where were you when the Patriot Act was passed?

“Liberty” is a principle, not a flag you can wave. We’ve stood agape as you repeatedly violate the principle of individual rights against government intrusion in the name of security, against gays and lesbians, and egalitarian programs.

3. Your outrage can’t stop a fundamental and democratic change in America. This new step in the universality of health care reflects an ideological shift that is as American as it is necessary under social conditions.

America has long “socialized” itself, to use your words, in the name of equal rights. We can look for precedent in recent changes in the public takeover of education. Society and government have repeatedly affirmed that in the name of democratic equality education be provided as a fundamental right for all Americans.

Likewise, the populist movement toward universal health care is based on the idea that every American ought to have access to security of their health as a fundamental right. We deny the conservative belief that access to health care should exist only for those with a certain degree of wealth. We defy the sociological fact that lower-class Americans, under a free market system, have faced great instability, bankruptcy, familial chaos due to exclusion from markets.

Under contemporary and universal concepts of democracy the individual person/citizen is no longer protected merely from government intrusion, but also protected from the inequalities that arise from the private sector. Public education, anti-discriminatory measures, Medicaid, the right to organize unions… health care is just another step in a long trend of measures to curb the anti-democratic nature of a free market economy.

On a recent trip to the library I picked up a biography of Mao Tse-Tung. Part of my ongoing education of the history of communism so as to be a better communist. What a shocker. Experiencing the socio-political situation in China (1949-1970s) is like being dragged through a plane crash, a slaughter played on repeat.

Recently I made a post denouncing Stalin. Stalin was a tyrant who disregarded the sanctity of human lives to obtain his dictatorship. Mao, on the other hand, flipped those means and ends. For him dictatorship served to destroy human lives. Even garden variety sociopaths show greater empathy. How he managed to rule for decades without being assassinated baffles me.

I’ve always been a conflicted socialist. On one hand I’m gaga and bleary-eyed with Marx and Engels, the American labor movement of the ’30s, the Catholic Worker, Steinbeck’s americana… On the other hand: Stalin, Mao, North Korea. One can draw a clear division between authoritarian communism and grassroots communism without sophistry. Totalitarianism is evil, it was evil in the Communist sphere of the last century, just as it was evil in the capitalist dictatorships of Latin America in the 70s and 80s.

But the fact is, speaking of “communism” always carries the tags of gulags, Cultural Revolution, bread lines and failed states. And what good is being a “communist” if your very name repels people even before they hear you out? I think it boils down to a time-and-place decision. It’s a loaded term but it’s the only one that fits. Re-naming is disingenuous; I’d be a hypocrite for taking on a euphemistic term when I frequently lambast conservatives for trying to replace “capitalism” with “free enterprise.”

Anyway, the name isn’t important. The heart of communism is a theory. It’s the idea that capitalism, class division, wealth inequality, Wall Street causing recessions, unemployment, these things are not necessary evils, that history doesn’t end where we’re at. If you believe it, you’re a communist. Where you go from there is essentially a matter of opinion and taste.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day today. Being that I am neither Irish or a drinker, I haven’t much to do with the common celebrations. As a Catholic my favorite saints are the mystics, the repentant ones, of which St. Patrick is neither–he’s kind of dull. So I wasn’t planning to make a special blog today, but while surfing around I came across Irish author, John Banville’s list of his favorite Irish literary works. Included on his list was a novel by Samuel Beckett, and I thought, “great! I’ll write about Beckett.”

Beckett is one of my favorite playwrights. Like most people who are not in the theater scene, my first and primary exposure to Beckett came from his play “Waiting for Godot,” a play so notoriously obscure and highbrow, Sesame Street has parodied it (you can find it on YouTube along with excerpts from serious Beckett performances.) The play itself is somewhat of a cultural litmus test: those who “don’t get it” accuse the play of pointless nihilism and willful obscurity, while those who claim to get it often praise it with the same degree of platitude Beckett had meant to subvert.

So if you’re not “hip” to Beckett I’ll give you the five minute explanation. Beckett focuses on human beings who human beings who cannot meaningfully communicate with each other. Jokes fly over heads, profound statements are ignored, complaints fall on deaf ears, and pessimism runs rampant. There’s always some degree of anticipation for a moment that never comes, or more Beckett-ian, doesn’t exist. In “Waiting for Godot” there’s only waiting, and “Endgame” famously begins ““Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.”

What I love about Beckett is that you can laugh at his plays but at the same time you know he’s talking to you. He’s calling you out for all your banal small talk, the way you try to express your feelings and come up short, your awkward pauses and reliance on cliches. And I’m not as pessimistic as some people who believe meaningful communication is dead in an era of commercials and trite Twitter-ing, but I think we’re more guilty of failure more often than we may think.

Went to my library and picked out a book of Beckett’s fiction to read over the weekend. I highly recommend that if you’re looking for a book to pass the time with you do the same. Meanwhile enjoy this.

Conservatives love to talk history. You can see it in the far right’s conjuring of the Boston Tea Party to idealize their latest movement, or you can draw the conclusion from the word “conservative” itself.  The GOP is the party of nostalgia, always reminiscing of the days when government was small.

Recently conservatives in a Texas school board uncovered something awful. The history books we’ve been giving to our kids contain the contaminant of a “liberal bias.” Oh no! You can tap into a variety of news stories to find out what and where these supposed liberal biases are. I just want to focus on one.

One of the board’s decisions was to remove Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who influenced the intellectual foundations of the country. In doing so they removed the one and only American who was on their list. In his place they appended St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, non-American theologians.

It’s a very comical irony that Texas Republicans can’t trust the “Founding Fathers” to speak for themselves. American history can only be “de-liberalized” by ridding it of Americans. And what a promotion for Thomas Aquinas! That a 13th century Italian priest could trump the author of the Declaration of Independence in historical relevance is quite the correction.

Another justification put forth by the school board is that textbooks have over-emphasized the Enlightenment. Jefferson certainly falls into the category of an Enlightenment thinker, but how much less important is Jefferson compared to Thomas Hobbes or Charles Montesquieu, staunch monarchists yet on the school board’s list of acceptable thinkers?

This attempt to teach American civic history completely from a set of secondary, non-American sources is preposterous. And trading in the deep historic influence of Jefferson for a couple irrelevant theologians is a pathetic attempt by the right to a justify a theocratic society. Their enemy isn’t Deists like Jefferson and Paine, it’s the First Amendment to the Constitution that states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

War and Peace is Leo Tolstoy’s marathon epic, a story of the Napoleonic war between France and Russia. The story follows the lives of a number of Russian aristocrats, and is quite an involving story if you can stick out the 1000+ pages. When Tolstoy comes to the end of his novel, in the epilogue he pulls a twist, the author speaks directly to the reader about the history of mankind.

Tolstoy’s view of history is worth repeating. Essentially, he argues that events in history have no cause, per say, because the idea of cause is nothing but the product of prior events. Basically, he’s saying neither the chicken or the egg. History is nothing but an infinite regress of events and accidents.

Tolstoy’s particular historicism applied to current events brings out the necessary question: was 9/11 an act of spontaneity or was it a product of historical events?

Historians, particularly those of the left (Chomsky, et al.), view September eleventh as caused by a history of American interaction with the Middle East. They point to the first Persian Gulf war, support for Israel’s displacement of Palestinians, etc. as prompting events for Al-Qaeda retaliation.

If such was the case, why was the U.S. so taken by surprise in 2001? If we knew that our actions in the Middle East prior to September was triggering a hostile response by Islamic fundamentalists, why was this not acknowledged by the Bush administration? How did Bush get away with making such ahistorical statements like claiming 9/11 was an attack prompted by a spontaneous hatred of American freedom?

Tolstoy makes the case that while all historical events are the product of past historical events, he also calls on the notion that abstract ideas–such as freedom, God, justice–attain possibility upon their articulation. A suggestion that before an event comes a historically conditioned idea. Though Tolstoy makes a point that not every idea that forms in the collective consciousness of a people necessarily transforms into an outward action.

Such historicism places 9/11 not as an inevitable reaction or a necessary conclusion, but imbues it with the aspect of fate. What happened was a cumulative sequence of events, but the event itself happened by pure chance.

A fitting metaphor is that of black swans. There was once an entrenched belief that all swans were white. So much that it became a figure of speech. By accident, in Australia naturalists discovered swans that were actually black. The black swan is any event that appears contrary to common wisdom.

9/11 is a perfect black swan. While some ideologues suspected that Islamic militants *could* launch a terrorist attack on America, no one was ever able to predict the actual destructive terror of 9/11. Reconciling Tolstoy with the World Trade Center attack is easy. History can be both caused and unpredictable. Tolstoy himself admits this, claiming that Napoleon was himself a product of history with so many minute causes as to render the absolute cause intangible.

9/11 remains a fatalistic event. No science predicted it, yet it was predictable. So was history a failure? I think the answer is yes and no. Islamic militarism was, prior to September eleventh, an abstraction. A desire that had articulated itself, but which never found a real voice. The destruction in Manhattan was an articulation. A chance reconciliation of desire and action. The real became real.

The conundrum the U.S. now faces is not whether Al-Qaeda can be subdued, but whether the genie can be put back in the bottle. 9/11 was a radical act of speech. The terrorists declaimed that America was vulnerable for all it’s obsession with self defense, and that voice found a violent articulation. September eleventh remains an abstraction manifested. We can’t stop terrorism because we can’t silence that abstraction.

Anti-terror efforts will fail because the U.S. cannot combat anti-U.S. sentiment with force alone. The terrorists react to and gain strength by our military presence in the gulf.  We only strengthen the resolve of those who oppose us. If we follow Tolstoy’s historicism backwards we find the fault lies in our imperialism. We empowered Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to combat the Soviets. We cannot take back their articulations of power, we can only resolve to defeat it through military intervention.

Afghanistan and Iraq will judge us accordingly. We can press for freedom as defined by liberal democracy, but Tolstoy shows us that leaders are not anti-historical. Our resolution is that both countries must adapt to liberalism. But we cannot guarantee anything by historical necessity. Iraq will democratize if it will. Soldiers have never necessitated populist resolve. If Iraq goes for democracy it will have absolutely be a result of radical democracy.

Historicism flies in the face of Bush’s logic that terrorists hate us for our freedoms. It’s an appeal to our nature divorced from our actions. Bush severed history from consequence. They hate our freedoms. Therefore, freedom, not politics, is to blame for September’s destruction. 9/11 was a spontaneous act of irrational hatred.

Only freedom, not reactionary hatred, can save us. The more terrorists push against us, the more we should open our society to Islamicism. If we open the door for anti-American dialogue we channel it’s articulation. If anti-U.S. sentiment is expressed through the media or other channels, we can rely on the natural human desire to speak aloud rather than blow one’s self up in terrorist activity.

All terrorist acts are speech acts. Acts which present us with the ultimate Real, where the symbolic is subsumed. Suicide attacks are the recourse of those who fall into the abstract when the concrete becomes intangible. We need to rethink our Israel policy, we need to rethink our democratic aspirations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We can’t dismiss terrorism as misguided because it is historically conditioned, unlike our “democratic” aspirations. We have to start with the brute fact that Middle Easterners have not been guided by the philosophy of secular, liberal society. Terrorism will remain a black swan for us so long as we affirm the necessity of liberal democracy in the Middle East. As long as there are planes there will be plane bombers.