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Zinn in Chicago.

This past January the 27th was the anniversary of Howard Zinn’s death.  For all who knew Howard, be it through his books, speeches or from marching along side him on the restive streets of protest, his was a difficult loss to have suffered.

Trained as a historian at Columbia University, Howard wrote many books, most notably, A People’s History of the United States.   While not breaking ground the way his late colleagues Eric Hobsbawm or E.P. Thompson did, Howard’s book was widely read and critically acclaimed.  Selling over two million copies, each with a dust jacket donning praise from the inimitable Eric Foner, one might be inclined to think Howard only had a cortège of admirers.  Of course this was not the case.  While there had always been a handful of detractors who polemicized against his book when Howard was alive, there is one such critic who has done so two years after his passing.  Worse yet, this particular reproof was from a teacher who was not only suggesting that Howards book was rife with inaccuracies, bias and should not be taught in public schools, but was also published in the American Federation of Teachers’ journal, American Educator.

 

To be clear, his critique is not without merits.  For instance, Howard’s book did not have footnotes, though as a high school student I don’t recall being assigned many books with footnotes.  Or more concretely, that some of Howard’s historiography may be slightly off.  Speaking as someone who was first drawn to history partly by Howard’s book I have no problem admitting any mistakes Howard may have made and, as with any history, always look to other academics to round out the historical record.  Moreover, as someone who can well remember the first assigned high school history book that had a galvanizing impact upon me, Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett Jr., I will not even attempt to redress any of the questions the critique raises because I well understand, as Howard helped to teach me, that when a text awakens a young mind by making sense out of what is a seemingly nonsensical world, this is not just an extremely powerful experience but can be the most powerful experience of all, which is realizing the power of ones’ own self-agency.  As a matter of fact, that is why Howard wrote his book: not to give voice to the voiceless, but to help the voiceless find their own voice; not to help enfranchise the disenfranchised, but to help the disenfranchised enfranchise themselves.

You know, defending Howard’s posthumous assassination is not as easy as it seems.  Perhaps I need a little help.

Howard had masterfully written a one man play called Marx in Soho, where Marx is reincarnated as himself only in modern-day Soho, New York.  In it, Howard gives voice to Marx who makes critical observations of the present world, just as Marx did in his day and just as Howard had in his.  In this spirit, let me conjure Howard back as best I can and see what he might have to say about the current situation.

“Oh my that is good!!  How I have missed Dunkin’ Donuts coffee!  You know, that was always a guilty, little pleasure of mine?

“Well, where are we?  So the financial crisis has exacerbated in Europe and growth in the United States is concentrated at the top while obscene levels of unemployment is official policy just as is asking ordinary Americans to shoulder the burden of bailing out the banks.  ‘Austerity’.  I’ve always loved these Orwellian words.  For instance, it is good to see that President Obama’s ‘Good War’ is winding down . . . Or is it?

“So, it appears that my book is causing consternation yet again.  You know, I have never been surprised by such criticisms, of which there have been many.  After all, I have been arrested and imprisoned more than once by people critical of my views.

“However, this instance does sting just a little.  I mean, look around.  It is not as if the state of public education does not merit plenty of close examinations.  The same year I died, as a matter of fact, as if to play a cruel joke on me, Texas insisted that Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address be assigned the same gravity as Lincoln’s.  Can you imagine?!  Or in Virginia that same year, state sanctioned textbooks taught students that ‘loyal slaves’ took up arms on behalf of the confederacy.  No wonder 48 percent of Southerner’s fail to understand that the Civil War was fought to end slavery!!  Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s school privatization flimflam allows for Creationism and other Bible related curricula to be taught as a hard science, usurping millions of dollars of pubic funds in the process.  Yet it is my book is being rebuked?  This would be laughable if it weren’t so grave.

“Of course the North is no better.  Just look at Philadelphia or any number of major northern cities and all you find closures and spurious privatization schemes.  Right now, in fact, Chicago is ground zero for school closures.  Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, in line with the ‘Race to the Top’, which reaches squarely into the Oval Office, will oversee the shuttering of 53 public elementary schools.  These are mostly in the West and East sides of town and the affective class will therefore be both poor students and teachers of color.  The Chicago Public School Board employs its own Orwellian euphemism, ‘underutilization’, to justify this injustice because how can it say, after all, that Black and Brown students don’t deserve small class sizes the same way its white, suburban counterparts do?  How can it otherwise say that to now get to school, these students will have to walk miles through drug-infested and crime-ridden ghettos; ghettos that only American policy planners, from postwar segregation and deindustrialization, to neoliberal drug wars and the prison-industrial complex could birth?

“Fortunately the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) along with the broader community is fighting back.  I would like to think that my book might have had something to do with this, even though over 100 Chicago public schools are sadly without libraries despite the fact that the CTU has found the school system running a large budget surplus, but I will not be so presumptuous.  After all, my book had nothing whatsoever to do with Tucson, A.Z. public school’s Mexican-American Studies Program that was enriching Chicano student lives, enhancing their school and civic participation, greatly decreasing drop-out rates—Latino’s comprising the greatest demographic to leave school prior to graduation— and increasing their performance on the Holy Grail of assessment metrics: standardized tests.  It is here that we in fact see the hypocrisy of the ‘failed’ public school rhetoric disinterred.  As soon as students self-indentify, taking an interested and active role in their own lives and education, to the point where they were willing to chain themselves to desks inside the Board of Education, the state still went ahead as planned and banned the Mexican-American Studies Program calling it, ‘racist’.  If anything in Arizona is racist it is the state government’s SB1070, a bill that legalizes racial profiling.  Besides, if we are to call Mexican-American studies ‘racist’, perhaps we should call Native-American studies racist?  If Native-Americans constituted a threat to Republican hegemony the way the Mexican-American voting bloc does, I’m sure they would.

“Similarly, CTU President Karen Lewis, CTU rank-and-file members, students, parents and community members took to civil disobedience yesterday, attempting to stop the new Chicago Democratic machine from bulldozing schools and their communities into the ground.  And make no mistake; this is not just about one locality or one sphere of society either.  Public sector unions, whose members are overwhelmingly people of color, are the bulk of the unionized workforce today and as such, the last bulwark against the dismantling of the New Deal and the main obstacle of the wealthy to place full onus for the financial crisis they caused on to the backs of working people everywhere.

“This is why it is imperative to stand in solidarity with Chicagoans and the CTU’s preemptory fight against school closings.  If working people are to have some modicum of security or even maintain their increasingly tepid footing in this precarious society of ours, it will only come through our solidarity with those most disaffected.  Required is our tireless effort to see that, just like states are trying to roll back the Voting Rights Act, whatever hard-won right, like the eight-hour workday, our endeavors have earned, it will eventually be swallowed by the insatiable hunger that is corporate greed.  And if we are to realize the last tenant of the civil rights movement, which is economic equality, it will necessitate revisiting post-racial and post-feminist notions as well as all concepts of hierarchical power domination, including the relationship that governs the state and our children.  After all, the liberal institutions of governance will fire a teacher or close a school based on test scores, which have been shown to be fatuous, but will not ban high-capacity assault riffle magazines—let alone assault weapons—even though our children’s lives are routinely cut far too short while they are in the supposed safeguard of these same schools.  This last point underscores the agenda of our corporate and government leaders vis-à-vis our children: profit is paramount and there is plenty of money to be made in school privatizations, lest Bill Gates and the Walton family would not have such vested interests.  So please, stand up and stand with the CTU!!

“The CTU today, the CTU tomorrow, the CTU forever!!”

Dead Wild Roses

I suggest you go to Counterpunch and read the whole article, but here we see the benefit of Marx’s analysis of capitalism.

“In Stack’s “manifesto”, he quotes Karl Marx.  Ironically, Marx is useful here.  Explaining how human labor-power is objectified in commodities, which then become realized as social relations once they are put to use, Marx demonstrates how through our labor, which is our dominant mode of social relation, we are all connected.  Marx was fond of using linen as an example.  A weaver’s social value is realized after a person wears a coat made by the tailor.  That is, these heretofore unrelated persons now share a common relationship.  If we expand upon this and ask how many people today are involved in producing the coat we wear, from the electricity that powers the sewing machines to the petrol used for delivery, the answer is infinite; the answer is…

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At the End of Capitalism’s Rope.

Capitalism has an amazing duality inherent in its structure.  It can build homes in Fordist fashion yet yields homelessness.  It can produce enough food for all yet turns a blind-eye as much of the world starve.  It discovers cures for diseases but denies them to those afflicted.  In short, this polarity is exactly that: profoundly positive at one end and woefully negative at the other.

One of the most shameful aspects at capitalism’s negative end of the spectrum is that far too often its victims are voiceless, nameless individuals.  Here we might think of a starving baby in Mogadishu or an AIDS victim in Botswana.  Although I can still remember as a child pleas from NGO’s and charity organizations that gave some voice to these victims while at the same time legitimating states and corporations by concealing the larger crimes from which such victims are suffering—but that is another part of the larger story.  Instead let’s turn our attention to the 2,500 Greeks who have killed themselves since economic crisis beset the ancient land in 2010 or to US veterans who, unable to find solace either, take similar means toward that ultimate end at a rate of roughly 20 suicides per day.

What is interesting to take note of here is that these are not passive victims, rather they are active in their own demise; they take their own lives.  These people, who once loved and were loved, who laughed and made others laugh, who cried tears of joy and tears of pain, made a conscious decision to end their own existence.  Many might assert that they gave up, they still had a chance, and they could have opted for a different—for any other—route.  And too often people dismiss such victimization as exactly that: they took the “easy way out” and therefore examinations of exigent circumstances aren’t required.  Such thought processes mean we effectively exculpate ourselves for any complicity we may have had in their passing.  That is why when someone leaves behind any insights into what drove him or her to extremes, it is important to look into them critically.

In 2010 Andrew Joseph Stack, an engineer, flew his small airplane into an IRS building in Austin, TX.  Killing himself and an IRS manager, Vernon Hunter, Stack was angered at the IRS, blaming them for being left penniless, compelling him to act as he did.  Let me be clear from the outset, Stack’s action was ignoble as a seemingly innocent life was additionally claimed.  This is something I will return to.  Stack left behind a memo outlining his life and explaining his desperate action, a denouement that unfolds the life of a single person and the history of the United States at once.

As a young man Stack recalls living next to an elderly woman, the widower of a unionized steel worker whose pension was stolen by management, she was left to live off of Social Security and cat food.  Stack brings up Arthur Anderson, the corrupt accounting firm complicit in the Enron Scandal, as having lobbied for the introduction of a regressive, 1986 tax law that rendered engineers like him at a disadvantage.  He goes on to talk of the loss of military contracting jobs in Southern California, a hallmark of postwar growth-liberalism that became a harbinger of 1990’s neoliberalism.  Stack writes at length about rapidity of over-accumulative busts that characterize the neoliberal period and how the rich get bailed-out with “HIS MONEY!!” while the rest of us, like him, “rot and die”.  Left with nothing after a lifetime of giving everything, so it was that Stack took upon himself the unthinkable.

More recently, a member of the LAPD and US Navy, Christopher Dorner left behind another such memo.  As a black man, after a lifetime of enduring abusive racial epithets and witnessing the all-too-well documented racism and violence of the LAPD, as well as being a target of its systematic character assassination for speaking out against such injustices, Dorner, so enraged, is waging a war against his former co-workers and their families.  Again, this is not an act to be defended but condemned as two seemingly innocent people have already lost their lives.  However, this is not our purpose here and I will return to such connections, however tenuous, later.

Dorner pens in considerable detail the dates and times of abuses perpetrated by his fellow officers against the most hapless members of our society they are supposed to serve and protect.  These include a mentally ill man and an elderly woman.  Dorner recounts how Nazi songs celebrating the burning of Jewish Ghettos were sang to a Jewish police recruit.  And of course he writes about how casually LAPD members, even in his presence, used the word “nigger”.   When Dorner followed protocol he was abraded, eventually being discharged, left without anything including what was most important to him—his “name”.   Like Stack, Dorner felt there was but one path to take, which is ultimately suicidal.

In Stack’s “manifesto”, he quotes Karl Marx.  Ironically, Marx is useful here.  Explaining how human labor-power is objectified in commodities, which then become realized as social relations once they are put to use, Marx demonstrates how through our labor, which is our dominant mode of social relation, we are all connected.  Marx was fond of using linen as an example.  A weaver’s social value is realized after a person wears a coat made by the tailor.  That is, these heretofore unrelated persons now share a common relationship.  If we expand upon this and ask how many people today are involved in producing the coat we wear, from the electricity that powers the sewing machines to the petrol used for delivery, the answer is infinite; the answer is all of us.  Marx further explains how once the “universal equivalent”, or money, is supplanted as a metric for our labor, that organization of production tends toward profit rather than collective good.

This is a powerful tool in understanding how we share a common relationship with a destitute Greek worker or an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD and/or other psychological disorders.  With wages earned from our labor we purchase German goods, exacerbating the economic imbalance between Germany and peripheral countries like Greece, thereby adding to the extreme suffering Greek workers are being forced to endure.  It can explain how a soldier, upon his or her return home, cannot easily reveal that the jingoist notions of freedom, liberty and security we are all imbued with had no role to play in the killing that we as a society, at least through our taxes, tacitly asked of them.  It can further explain how police can criminalize the indigent for their own victimization.  As Stack described, the loss of jobs from L.A. caused some Los Angelians to lose their already precarious footing in American society, namely Blacks and Latinos.  Combined with systemic, inter-generational poverty and racism, it is all too easy to mistake the symptoms of this malaise for its etiology.

This is not an indictment of particular individuals or as members of society.  Nor is it meant to be a blanket justification for individuals’ improper actions.  Rather it is meant as a wedge to insert into the fissures that each day widens on our societal edifice so that we can widen them further.  In so doing, it calls upon us to examine less reflexively and more critically our own roles we play in society.  It is only through critical inquiries that we can hope to reorganize our social relations in order to minimize human tragedy and maximize human potential.  After all things are never as they appear on the surface and the more we dig, the less most of us like what we find.

Does the U.S. Hate its Own Children?

Does the U.S. Hate its Own Children?

Over the last few weeks I seem to read with increasing frequency news that suggests a particularly pernicious truth in American politics: there is utter contempt and hatred for children.  Before you go on to dismiss my statements as ramblings that only pertain to the somehow less-human children in other countries, let me clearly state that when it comes to children this country does not discriminate.  We hate our own children as much as any throughout the world.  OK, let me be fair and say almost as much.  But we still never miss an opportunity to harm our most innocent and helpless members of our own society.  Examples abound.

Today the Obama Administration announced that it would base whether or not low-income earners would be eligible for government subsidies regarding the ACA mandatory insurance scheme on an individual’s income without factoring his or her family.  Essentially this means millions of poor children will have no health insurance, left to the privations of the neoliberal market.  To be clear, little has actually changed.  Nearly 10 percent of all children in the U.S. currently do not have health insurance—some 7.3 million children.  Additionally, the percentage of children who live in poverty and have no health coverage is 15.4 percent!!  And in 2012 $400 million dollars was cut from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  What is new about this judgment is that it effectively institutionalizes the right of private business to further discriminate against children.  After all, they do cost more to look after and what profit is there in that?  So when 26,000 children die each year, prematurely, because of lack of health insurance I am truly hard-pressed to arrive at another conclusion other than children simply don’t matter.

On another front—as in battle-zone— yesterday students in Chicago were subjected to the privilege of a new type of school emergency drill.  In what was called “Code Red Lockdown Drill”, students at McHenry County School listened to the sound of gunshots from a starters pistol as they prepared for what seems like a normality: school shootings.  To be sure, this incident wasn’t taken lightheartedly; debates ranged the usual spectrum.  But how can we expect our children to feel secure, confident and to develop a sound psychology if they are in fear of a shooting all day any more so than they already are?  And it is not as if Chicago student’s don’t know what a gun sounds like anyway.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over a city that has an unusually high homicide rate and a high school shooting rate.  Yet there are easily discernible reasons for this.  Chicago, like many deindustrialized cities, has high unemployment and poverty rates.  Over thirty percent of Chicago’s students live in poverty, far greater than the national average.  This has only been exacerbated by the downturn and the many recent cuts to youth and other social programs, especially since the Stimulus expired.  Chicago may also be, of all of the cities save for Detroit, the one most affected by the engineered segregation that plagued most postwar industrial cities.  In fact, today Chicago is America’s most segregated city.  And like most segregated cities police brutality is endemic (if memory serves it was stated that the city ran a torture machine).  Yet this doesn’t stop the city from placing about 153 police in Chicago schools.  So the predictable outcome of putting the very police who brutalize students in their own neighborhoods—another 200 were added to the streets today— into their schools is that 20 percent of juvenile arrests are now on school grounds, half of which are Black arrests.  The NYU Brenner Center for Justice has found that if a student is arrested for a misdemeanor before graduating they are far less likely to graduate.  Worse yet, so many students are pushed directly and indirectly into the prison system, not just in Chicago but nationwide, that the term school-to-prison pipeline has become ubiquitous.

The problem is execrably worse, however.

The U.S. boasts the world’s largest prison system—one the schools are helping to grow.  One in 26 children have at least one parent incarcerated.  Far more ominous, nearly 80,000 children languish in the U.S. prison system.  And as of 2005 there were 2,225 children that the U.S. had written off, consigned to life, and the death, in prison.  Equally disturbing is that with all we know about prolonged periods of isolation (remember, this technique figures prominently into our torture program), 122 children across 19 states spent up to 22 hours each day in solitary confinement in 2012.  Such developments beg the question in what ways have we failed our children that we are willing to do what almost no other nation on earth will do and imprison them in these numbers and under these conditions?

The answer might be found in yet another example of how we as a society treat our children.

The agricultural business is one that has long thrived off of cheap labor, dating back to slavery and sharecropping.  After the Great Depression, when workers forced American capitalism to put on a more friendly face, there was a provision in the Fair Standards labor Act (FLSA) that allowed for children as young as 12 years old to work the land.  In the intervening years the portion of the farming population has decreased from 40 percent to 1.5 today due to mechanization and petrochemicals, universal in corporate agriculture.  It is these latter two that not only make corporate farming so profitable but also make it so hazardous.  It is also extremely profitable because the agriculture business depends upon precarious workers such as migrant farm workers’ children, who can legally work under the FSLA.  It is not unusual therefore for children to work as many as 12 hours a day in the fields, often missing school to do so.

Daily, child farm laborers face many inimical working conditions, causing great bodily and psychological harm.  Briefly these include mechanical injury, musculoskeletal injuries, wage-theft, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and an unsanitary environment.  As a matter of fact, the majority of work related injures for children occur overwhelmingly in the agricultural sector.  Yet of them, none may be more pressing than overexposure to chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  However, federal regulatory bodies like OSHA and the EPA have failed to enforce even minimal safety and health regulations or penalize employers for their most egregious abuses.  Indeed, while the average fine for abrogating a child labor law was a paltry $212 in 1990, most protective laws are easily sidestepped.    The Worker Protection Standard, for instance, says that while children under 18 cannot directly handle Class I&II toxic chemicals, it bases its overall exposure limits on a human body weight of 154lbs.  This effectively means that there is no regulation for exposure of children to pesticides.  Accordingly, a study in the America Journal of Public Health found of the 18 jobs dealing with pesticides classified by the Department of Labor (DOL) as unsafe for children, few suffering from pesticide-induced illnesses had been performing exempt jobs.  Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center finds that since 1974 the number of Hour and Wage Investigators employed by the DOL has decreased by 14 percent while the number of workers covered under the FSLA has seen a 36 percent increase.  Farmers have boasted that under these guidelines it is easier to pay a fine if caught breaking the law than to implement more safety protections.

Consequently child farm laborers incur health risks such as skin rashes and nausea in the near term to far more serious ailments like cancer and compromised sexual reproduction in the long term.  (And children who work in the Carolina tobacco fields are exposed to the amount of nicotine found in 1.5 packs of cigarettes daily, thereby making addiction a near certainty.)  Nevertheless the Obama Administration recently scuttled a bill that would have strengthened child agricultural worker protections, especially regarding exposure to carcinogens.  The point being that our lawmakers are so beholden to assuring the profits of big business that they will disregard children’s lives whether in China, Palestine or at home.

It stands to reason then that rather than address the fact that we have a run-away, for-profit health insurance system that kills 50,000 people a year, address that we have a structural jobs crisis that has resulted in an outright depression for Blacks and Black youth (which is statistically far worse if the imprisoned were calculated into school achievement and employment data), or children literally dying picking food in the fields, the only logical thing to do is further militarize our already militarized schools as North Branford, CT just decided to do.  Never mind that that this tactic has failed—even Columbine had an armed guard— as most inner cities are all too well aware, the U.S. never misses a chance to throw money into militarism and corporate coffers much as it never misses an opportunity to offend its children.

On Breaking the Social Contract.

I heard a really ridiculous analogical defense of the 2nd by a ‘guns rights’ advocate that necessitated a response.  He said that he didn’t hear anyone advocating that we ban flying after 9/11 because it is not the modus operandi of a crime that matters but the motive behind it.

In a sense he is right.  As a matter of fact, George Bush got on T.V and encouraged everyone to fly after the twin towers fell because flying was still safe.  However, it wasn’t our right to fly that was taken away, but something of much more consequence.

After 9/11, breaches to the constitution were commonplace.  I boarded planes many times under ridiculously absurd pseudonyms; I think Mickey Mouse was my favorite.  “Here you are, Mr. Mouse.” laughed the woman selling me my ticket as she handed it to me with about 30 minutes to spare before my flight boarded.  Those days are now long ago and far away.  Today, aside from showing up at least two hours prior to boarding and waiting in absurdly long lines, we endure hazardous body scanners that, while courts have found them not to violate the 4th amendment, undoubtedly since they don’t want to interfere with the lucrative security contracts that former Homeland Security officials will profit from, civil rights groups, and even a GOP lawmaker, disagree.

Of course the post-9/11 abridgements didn’t stop there.

We all remember the FISA scandal.  Yet since that time the security state has only grown more trenchant, especially under Obama, when it comes to upending our 8th amendment rights.  Everyday our phone calls are listened to and recorded, our texts and emails read and stored and we are filmed under NSA, DHS, FBI, CIA and countless other government surveillance programs, and all in the name of security.  Even medical professionals have been asked to spy on us by our government.  Increasingly, we are even incorporating drones into domestic policing.  Added to the cost of our regular military budget, we pay about $1 trillion dollars a year for the privilege of being subjected to espionage.  And meanwhile, if state secrets are revealed, the government reprisal against their former intelligencer is relentless.

This brings me to my last point.

We have a right to both a speedy and fair trial as well as protection from cruel and unusual punishment—read torture—under the 6th and 8th amendments, respectively.  Nevertheless, since the PATRIOT (2001) and Homeland Security (2002) Acts anointed the security state supreme, we routinely hold people in detention both arbitrarily and indefinitely.  Moreover, since the 2006 Military Commissions Act and the more recent NDAA, we also torture them, and do so legally.  Nor does such state criminality apply solely to so-called “terrorists”.  It also applies to American citizens—not that there should be a merited distinction.

I feel like these points are so often cited that they have become banal and platitudinous, which is all the more frightening given that there is so little sustained public outrage against abuse of state power.  But when I hear people touting the second amendment with such vivacity, or more often with such vitriolic fear of governmental encroachment into our private lives, I fail to understand why they don’t see that the state has already purloined the bulk of our rights and why they don’t show as much oppositional vehemence to these abuses?

I think it is safe to say that we when a major bank that has laundered money for terrorist organizations and drug cartels can get a free pass from the government yet we incarcerate 2.5 million citizens a year, mostly for non-violently using the drugs sold by these cartels, we already crossed the line in the sand that frets 2nd amendment exponents long ago.

On a Culture Predicated Upon War.

It was a horrific scene to think of: a massacre in an elementary school.  To kill is unthinkable; to kill a child in antithetical every fiber of our beings.  In the tragic aftermath of today’s shootings, FaceBook rightly light up with both condemnations of the perpetrator and expressions of love and gratitude for the safety of ones’ own child.  It was both disheartening and heartening at the same time.  I don’t watch T.V. but assuredly the media is disingenuously asking, “How can this happen?” while politicians can’t even mutter the words “gun control”.

Yet there is a deeper, more structural and more pernicious, component at work here.  This is something that the controlling of small arms can’t prevent.  In fact, in many ways I feel that gun control makes little to no difference at all.

We live in a society that is predicated upon war.  It saturates every aspect of our culture, from how capital is accumulated to how we entertain— or better yet how we inculcate— ourselves.

At a very young age we learn of war and killing.  T.V. and movies, like the recent Bond film, are replete with violence and gore so that we learn that some killing is good, i.e. the bad guy, the terrorist, the thief, whereas some killing is bad, i.e. the good guy, the freedom fighter, the stalwart hero.  We play with action figures; at least I did as a child, which is designed for us to imitate war.  We begin to mentally put ourselves in a killer’s shoes, and then we heed the call for dinner.  Today we play surreal, life-like video games that not only closely emulate war but literally prepare one for the preferential mode of killing: Drone warfare.  Meanwhile we will standby idly as education budgets for our children are slashed while military spending staggers to rates unprecedented in human history.  Then when another war rears its ugly head, the same media chorus that is puzzled by today’s tragedy is all too ready to put a pretty face on war in an attempt to corral the necessary public support.

And so it is that when we hear— or so often we don’t as the case sadly is— that from one of our one thousand military bases around the world a child in Yemen, Gaza, Pakistan,  Afghanistan or Iraq is killed, or even that a child may be starved by sanctions as in Iraq yesterday or perhaps Iran tomorrow, it is little more than collateral damage.  If we as a people can either openly or, perhaps worse still, tacitly, condone our President murdering an American citizen, who happened to be a child, then how can we express principaled disgust at what happened today?

I think that we need to capitalize in times of crisis, to take stock and reevaluate our social relations, because clearly they are not working.

Depoliticized Four Years Ago Today.

I penned this the night before the U.S. election this year.  I hadn’t written or payed attention to politics in the four years prior.  Yet, recharged I thought I’d give it a go.

So I remember four years ago tomorrow I had blunted someone’s jubilance by being somber in the wake of a tectonic shift in American politics.  Certainly the election of Obama, taken at face value alone, was epic.  After all, in an allegedly post-racial society it was amazing to see a Black man take the helm of government.  Yet beneath the candidates’ polished yet plebian veneer and vacuous rhetoric his truth was easily ascertainable: there would be little difference between he and Bush.  In writing, especially in publications like Foreign Affairs, Obama made clear that he had no intention of imperial retrenchment.  Thus the Bush wars continued unabated.  Campaign donations revealed further the picture of continuity.  Wall Street had lavishly lined the coffers of the Obama campaign, greater than any candidate to date; there was, therefore, little reason to believe that the prospects for change would reverse trends of financialized inequality, impoverishment and corruption.  The Great Recession saw the hemorrhage of nearly 9 million jobs; of the workers thrown upon the mercy of our demonized yet “generous” welfare state, only half would find work, typically of a far more precarious nature.  Meanwhile, during the first year of the recovery from the Great Recession, 93% of all gains went to the now infamous 1%.  Unlike the austere terms of the auto bailout, Wall Street still receives money from the Fed, without interest, and continues to speculate.  It has, in effect, created vast new sums of wealth while sowing the seeds of our next crisis.  And all this on the heels of thirty years of working-class stagnation as measured by every possible metric.  No wonder the rise of right-wing populist hate groups has proliferated in the last four years.  In the face of unabashed racial bigotry toward the President and civic groups like ACORN, right-wing politicians and pundits have succeeded at making race a scapegoat for our economic and social ills.  This was just reflected in a recent poll, marking a somber national trend.  There are historical parallels to this ominous condition.

Nevertheless, the first signals that the status quo would be preserved came with the appointments of Geithner, Gates and Bernanke, the standard-bearers of unfettered capitalism and war without cause or end.  For those that might argue we have wound down our wars please don’t fail to take into account that while Bush fought two, Obama fights four.  There are far more transgressions of note, too.  Among them, kill lists and the officiated sanction of extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens leap to mind.  Liberals might be quick to defend such state of affairs while conservatives will impugn me for drawing a seemingly unlikely comparison.  Obama is, after all, “a socialist” while Bush the ardent defender of the free-market.  Yet my purpose here is not to castigate anyone nor is it to defend anyone.  Nor am I saying that there is no difference between candidates.  For those who embrace Romney do you truly embrace his assault on women?  Do you truly know what is meant by the euphemism, “big government”?  Do you truly understand that the Ryan plan, as implemented across most of the developing nations and now the cynically termed, “PIGS” nations of Southern Europe, will yield?  Typically I think most on the right share a deserved criticism of how the country has fared over the past four years, albeit both wholly off mark and without the social and racial demagoguery that sadly accompanies it.  However, the change you “wish” to see, the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare with the concomitant tax increase on the working-class and poor, decreased levies on the rich and corporations, rest assured: President Obama will safely execute these in his second term.  Moreover, they will only exacerbate the inequality and fragility of our personal states and social fabric.  No, my purpose is not to alert you to the man behind the curtain.  For too long he has consumed our attention.  Instead, I propose that we take an honest appraisal of our society as juxtaposed to its many, self-assigned signifiers.  For instance we are the freest nation on earth yet we oversee the largest imprisoned population.  We have a democracy yet this election will be decided by a hand full of voters in 1/20th of the states who have been influenced by ungodly amounts of PAC cash at the same time that every effort to disenfranchise people of their right to vote is being made.  We are a peaceful people yet we have waged more war than any other nation.  We are a land of immigrants yet we are increasingly xenophobic.  America is a meritocracy yet we are one of the most stratified nations on earth.  We are a nation of laws yet we have eviscerated the constitution.   And of course the incongruities continue.

If we are to have an honest appraisal of ourselves it should reflect the above paradoxes.  That we are at once at a disastrous and prosperous precipice depending upon how we proceed should not escape us.  And if there is to be an honest appraisal of how we should approach our problems we should recognize that they will not be solved electorally because they were created electorally.  With history as a guide we know that the liberties we share, the ones we have lost, the ones we strive for, have only come through popular struggles, too many to enumerate.  Equally, the aforementioned incongruities have always existed and absent continuous, popular pressure they will not relent.  By all means, go to the polls and cast your ballots, especially for state-level candidates, as this is where our lives are most affected.  In four years, however, no matter who you wish to see as CEO of this country, there is little doubt that without direct action things will be better but in fact much worse.

Let’s check back in four years and find out.