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Personal Message

You don’t know how much you love them until you need them!

Rick Scott says nice things about public sector workers…still screws them

 

My wife and I were watching the Weather Channel today, keeping track of Tropical Storm Debby. Rick Scott was being interviewed and I was surprised to hear him mention the great job that Florida’s state and local emergency response personnel were doing.

Wow! Governor Scott saying something nice about public sector employees. It wasn’t long ago that these folks were a drain on our budget and needed to be fired. They were overpaid, requiring their salaries and benefits to be cut.

Don’t worry, conservatives. Governor Scott hasn’t backed down on his cut and slash policies. But just because he’s screwing public sector employees in the capitol, doesn’t mean he can’t offer them a patronizing pat on the back now and again.

Attention, Governor Scott: Part of creating a “business friendly environment” in Florida is having folks around who can deal with natural disasters.


Remembering Alan Turing

All of Him!

Google was right to pay homage to Alan Turing on the hundredth anniversary of his birth with a “Doodle” of the famous Turing Machine. Indeed, without Turing, it is likely that Google would not exist, at least in its current manifestation. The life and work of Alan Turing made the icons of computer advancement, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. possible. Add on top of that the thousands of lives and countless contributions made by those saved by Turing’s efforts during World War II. It could be said that Alan Turing is one of the most underappreciated contributors to history.

Alan was born in England on June 23, 1912. Even as a youth, he demonstrated passion for science and mathematics, often to the distraction of his mother. He attended King’s College, at Cambridge where he was influenced by the works of John Von Neumann and enthralled by the new and mathematically tumultuous universe of quantum mechanics. He was also inspired by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s masterwork in mathematical logic, the Principia Mathematica.

The Principia Mathematica was an attempt to amalgamate all of the rules of mathematics into one, complete, logical method. It was Russell’s and Whitehead’s belief that all of mathematics could be understood through logical axioms. The Principia remains one of the most important works of logic and mathematics in history, but fell short of its lofty goals. Two theorems of “incompleteness” developed by Kurt Gödel shattered the aspirations of admittedly exhausted Russell and Whitehead. Gödel challenged the possibility of a complete logic of mathematics by positing a logical statement, “statement x cannot be proven.” If statement x can be proven, then it is inherently incorrect, but if the statement cannot be proven, then though the statement is correct, it demonstrates the incompleteness of the system. This awkward logic then led to Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem, that no mathematical system can be used to prove its own consistency.

Now the above may only be interesting to fans of logic, and largely alien to the rest of us, but it was an important conundrum to Turing. He became interested in determining whether or not there was a method by which a mathematician or logician could prove if a given axiom was provable. He determined that such a method would be excruciatingly tedious to a human “computer.” Was there a way to mechanize the process of computing, however? This thought experiment became known as the famous Turing Machine, an algorithm-making device that could perform endless calculations. Through this mind experiment, Turing proved Gödel’s inconsistencies to be correct. No such complete device could be created, thus no such method could exist.

However, the possibilities of such a machine became a focus of Turing’s work. Yes, perhaps a computing machine had logical limitations, but at the same time it had a virtually limitless potential. The Turing Machine became the conceptual bedrock of modern computing on which all of modern society depends, including the very process of writing and presenting this blog.

Turing continued his contributions to modern computing, designing actual computing machines, though never fully developed, and creating the first programming language, the Abbreviated Code Instructions. His boundless imagination set upon the potential “intelligence” of these calculating machines. Is the human brain simply another kind of Turing Machine? If so, at what point might a human-made computer machine be considered intelligent? Turing imagined computing machines that could perform complex tasks like playing chess, but also were capable of learning. His work in this area is foundational in the modern pursuit of artificial intelligence.

He even created the famous “Turing Test” for determining if a machine was intelligent. The test is simple. Allow a person to question both a computer and a human, without being able to see either. If, based solely on the responses of each, the inquisitor is unable to differentiate the computer respondent from the human respondent, then the computer has achieved intelligence, not just computational power.

Turing was also the first mathematician to use a computer in his theoretical work, in this case, to help him understand the mathematics of genetics. Before Watson and Crick, Turing wrote The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis in an attempt to compute the very algorithms of life. There was no limit to the directionality of Turing’s probing mind.

As incredible and life advancing as the above contributions were, Turing could also be described as a war hero. In 1939 Turing, a lifelong fan of ciphers, joined the ranks of British intelligence at the famous Bletchly Park. The primary mission at Bletchly was to break the notorious German Enigma code. These coded communications were key to breaking Hitler’s U-Boat stranglehold over the North Atlantic. England’s brave stand against tyranny in the Battle of Britain rested on successfully deciphering these communications. With Turing’s help, the Enigma Code was broken. The first electronic deciphering machines were developed. These would ultimately become the first computers. Shortly after breaking the Enigma Code, the United States and Britain gained control of the North Atlantic and were free to prepare the invasions of Nazi occupied Europe.

Turing remained an active member of Britain’s intelligence community for a number of years after the war. This is where Turing’s noteworthy life turns tragic, however.

Alan Turing was gay.

Turing’s sexuality was a rather open secret. During the war, his value to the war effort was the best blinder to the certainty of his homosexuality. After the war a peculiar brand of homophobia developed. Because of his sexuality, Turing was considered a national security threat. He lost his top-secret clearance, an action that hurt him deeply.

But the post-war Puritans were not done. Turing was put on trial for his homosexuality in 1952. The most damning attribute of his “crime” was the fact that he offered no defense for his actions. Indeed, he saw nothing wrong with his sincere desires and affections. For this, he was coerced by the court to undergo therapy for his deviance and invasive hormonal treatments to diminish his libido. These invasions against his person, his privacy, his social standing proved too much for this great mind.

He committed suicide in 1954.¹

Alan Turing’s life was important in many ways. Consider, for a moment, all of the lives that were enriched if not saved by the products of his vivacious mind. This is not only true with regard to Turing’s service during World War II, but also with regard to the technological fruits of his conceptual labor. Think of the medical innovations alone that could not have been created had it not been for the “Turing Machine.”

It is, however, contingent upon us to acknowledge the injustice of his death if we are to celebrate the contributions of his life. The fruits of one’s mind, one’s contributions to history and society, is not enough to offer protection against the pervasiveness of bigotry and ignorance.

_______________________________________

¹ Turing committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide, a very painful way to die. It is said that the Apple logo, an apple with a bite missing, is a secret homage to Alan Turing. I have not been able to confirm the validity of this claim. To paraphrase Roscoe Lee Brown in the movie Cowboys, if it’s not true, it ought to be.


Teachers: You Never Know Who You Are Reaching

The Letter on Their Report Card Does Not Describe What They Learned

I always ask a survey question on my final exams, answerable in essay form, explaining what the student is taking away from my class. I want to know what lessons they learned that may have influenced them in some meaningful way. There are a few formulaic responses, but I’m often awed and humbled by many of the comments.

Of special interest to me are the perspectives of those who did not do well in my classes. I want their opinions so that I might understand better why I was unable to reach them. Perhaps there are changes that I can make to better serve my future students. Interestingly, I find that those students who did not do well are often very critical of themselves, taking full responsibility for their own grades. However, I find that even those students who did not pass did not entirely waste their time. Below is a survey answer from one of my non-passing students from this school year.

As the year tagged along I disliked you more and more every day. Since the beginning of this year I believe I have matured a lot and noticed you’re a great teacher. You do your job fairly well and you’re probably the smartest man I’ve ever met. Besides that, I feel this class had more of a meaning behind it besides history. 

You’ve made me come to realize we make history every day and we are going to be the history to our grandchildren. As the generations proceed more history will be made. Obama is the first black president. In 50 years my grandchildren will be in awe to hear about that piece of history. 

As a student I exceeded the level of laziness, but I still acknowledged your ability to teach naïve students. I learned that you don’t have to do extraneous work. Just work smart. You’re a great teacher. Thanks for everything.

As a teacher, you never know when you reach a student. Grades are poor proxies for learning.


Imagine 7 Billion People all singing in harmony

United | Playing For Change from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

My new favorite website is playingforchange.com. I love the concept of people all over the world playing the same beautiful music.


2011 a Difficult and Honorable Year

…A year for the history books

 

For me, 2011 will always be the year that democracy took a deep breath and long stretch on its way to awakening. That this was a global movement inspires me with awe. That this awakening began with a fruit peddler in Tunisia rather than in an American university or political think tank is even more revealing of the nature of man and the tenacity of humanity’s greatest idea. Through this we learned that freedom, equality and a respect for basic human rights and dignity are the driving forces for all people all over the world, regardless of culture, religion or heritage. Democracy is not the exclusive domain of “Enlightened” western Christians; it is also the hope of a Muslim, North African working man who was willing to give his life for an ideal. From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Iran to Madison, Wisconsin, to Liberty Square, NYC, the principles of democracy have re-awakened after generations of repression.

The United States opened its sleepy eyes to its own anemic democracy. It became obvious that the game was rigged when the government stumbled all over itself to bail out corrupt corporations from their own financial malfeasance, then left common people to suffer while our so called representatives debated the most reasonable austerity measures for the struggling masses. In cities throughout the country, we heard protestors shouting, “They got bailed out! We got sold out!” What used to be the bailiwick of the radical left, that our government is nothing more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate elite, is now a topic of mainstream discussion.

This is thanks to the outstanding Occupy Movement. In the Occupy Movement many and disparate voices came together in assembly to redress their grievances. Perhaps they were anarchist, socialists, progressives. Often they were just young people wondering if there were any opportunities left in America; young men and women who did what they were told, worked hard, went to school, did their homework, only to be told that they were just going to have to settle for less than their parents had—austerity…times are tough, don’t you know. Some were the same folks who were shaking their fists in Chicago, 1968 and Seattle, 1999. There was union support, teacher support, even police support. Many voices added to the growing chorus of democracy throughout the United States saying, “here we are! You cannot ignore us anymore! We are not leaving!”

In some cases the homeless joined the ranks of the Occupiers, perhaps in solidarity, but more likely for access to food, shelter and security. After all, the homeless, regardless of circumstance, are still part of the 99% so lauded by protestors in the streets.

And yes, there were the dingbat Zionist conspiracy theorists and requisite loons that go with any movement and seem to get the lion’s share of attention by the media. We cannot, in fairness, discount them.

Regardless of who showed up for the General Assemblies, who populated the many and varied working groups, who arrived on the scene to showcase their own opinions, the underlying theme was the same. There’s something fundamentally wrong with our country when the overwhelming majority of people are left to fend for scraps that fall from the bounteous tables of a tiny, elite minority.

This is what Mohamed Bouazizi was saying when he set himself on fire, his immolation giving birth to the Arab Spring. There is something wrong with my country. This is the refrain of protestors in Madison, rioters in London, Paris and Greece. There is something wrong with my country that it does not represent me, my neighbors, or any universal principles of human decency when it demands that the masses suffer for the largess of the few. This was the message, which the media refused to acknowledge, of the Occupy Movement.

The corporate controlled media, the fourth estate, sneered at the occupiers, whining that a growing protest movement throughout the nation was without a message. Without a message? Without a message? Yet the corporate media could not explain how a movement without a message was spreading so rapidly. Of course, there was a message, one that the corporate elite refused to acknowledge. The message was, “there’s something wrong with our country.”

There’s something wrong with our country when we must bribe the “job creators” to create jobs; and after they take the bribe without creating more jobs the only suggestion made by our punditocracy and price-tagged politicians is—bribe them some more. There’s something wrong with our country when a corporation is recognized as having the same rights as an individual, but real individuals trying to speak, to assemble, to vote must struggle to against the state for a fraction of that recognition. There’s something wrong with our country when there are almost four million homeless people in a nation with eighteen million empty homes. There’s something wrong with a country that would sacrifice its teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses, social workers before it will raise the taxes on the wealthy even one quarter of one percent. There’s something wrong with our country when politicians are willing to poison hundreds of thousands of people, countless ecosystems, just to maintain a dying petroleum industry. There’s something wrong with our country when those who crashed the economy of the entire world can continue to live in lavish luxury while thousands guilty of nothing more significant than smoking the wrong kind of plant languish in jail. There’s something wrong with our country when corporate executives, responsible for killing countless people throughout the world, destroying the lives of millions more are allowed, nay encouraged, to perpetuate their corruption, while men like Troy Davis are executed based on tarnished evidence.

For the most part, the assessment of what was wrong with the country was accurate. Our nations have put their faith in markets rather than in people. Our wealth has been squandered in search of short-term profit, investment schemes, dwindling resources rather than being invested in the long term best interests of everyone. We have so called republics that represent the smallest fraction of the top 1% while the 99% are belittled as lazy, uneducated, unmotivated. The economic crisis was blamed on poor people, black people, civil servants and teachers, rather than on the very culprits who caused the crisis. Not surprising. You don’t accuse your dining buddies of skullduggery, especially when they are certainly guilty. It’s uncouth. Our world is, more and more, settling under the thumb of a great corporate behemoth. Governments fall in line, becoming inconsequential in addressing the needs of common people.

The democratic demand of people all around the world was “represent us!” Again, the corporate run media refused to hear. Like idiots, mindlessly repeating the last thing they heard, they kept asking, “what are their demands? They have no demands.” And the people in the street shouted through the human microphone “represent us! REPRESENT US!!” and the mindless media trumpeted in return, “what are their demands? They have no demands.”

Last year also revealed what those of us who believe in democracy are up against. It’s one thing to gather en masse in tri-cornered hats, prattling nonsense about watering the tree of liberty and second amendment remedies. If you are regurgitating far-right, conspiratorial talking points about saving the country from socialism and Kenyan/Muslim Manchurian candidates bringing Fascism to America by taking over health-care, even if you are armed, then you are not considered a problem (and, of course, you shouldn’t be). Your rights are protected so long as you exercise them for nothing more than spouting absurdities.

If, however, you have the audacity to demand a redress of legitimate grievances, and you refuse to stop demanding redress, then all the power of the state will come down on you. Throughout the world tyrannical governments did everything they could, through propaganda, through violence, to suppress the democratic voice. The United States was no exception. Peaceful protestors throughout the nation were subject to ridicule and lies, called dirty hippies, spoiled children, criminals. They were tear-gassed, pepper sprayed, clubbed, beaten, shot with rubber bullets. This done in the name of “public safety and sanitation,” as if littering was an excuse for paramilitary assaults.

Regardless, the legacy of 2011 will always be the rise of democracy as a global phenomenon. This movement does not end with the coming of a new year. They are ongoing. In the US, Occupy has laid the groundwork and networks for limitless, innovative forms or activism such as occupying foreclosed houses. In Egypt, religious uncertainties and an entrenched military aristocracy challenge democracy. People are still dying in the streets of Syria. In Europe, people are waking up to the cold realities of failed austerity programs.

The foundations are set for a global mind-shift toward democracy, toward an awakening of human self-worth. Yet many obstacles remain in place, dented, but unmoved. It is impossible to know the direction this new route of history will take us. One thing is certain, however. Where democracy takes flame, where human beings act collectively to demand respect and a recognition of their rights you can expect that corporations and the states that represent them will use any means in their power to stamp the fires down.

It is also certain that such trespasses of power won’t work in the long run. We no longer quietly accept the lies and constraints of governments. We no longer have faith in markets. Thanks to 2011!

 

 

 

 


 


I Want to Know Why the Corporate Conservatives Hate America!

And insist on their brutal and destructive “austerity” policies

 

Somehow, conservatives have sold the idea that national health care, unemployment insurance, retirement, and economic assistance is government over-reach and an encroachment on our freedoms. Entitlement programs are a breath away from the scourge of tyranny (despite the fact that nation providing much more lucrative entitlements are among the freest on earth). However, according to conservatives, to take away these entitlements or transferring the oversight of these programs to private, for profit, institutions, is nothing of the sort. A government that provides for its citizens during times of crisis is big government Stalinism, but the same government imposing punitive austerity on the same citizens is a bastion of liberty.

Why do conservatives hate America and Americans so much that they are willing to make the suffer for the sake of keeping a few bucks in the vaults of the rich.

After all, isn’t that what Soviet Russia did? Enforce bitter austerity to mitigate the nation’s economic inadequacies?

What will those Stalinist conservatives do next? Impose rations?


Attention Police Officers…

You are the 99%…

…and according to a Justice Department Report, twelve thousand of you will be out of a job next year.

I know you are acting out of fear, or coerced conformity when you attack your brothers and sisters with tear-gas and rubber bullets, but the state you serve (often valiantly) has made it plain that it does not serve you. Your bosses serve the 1% who pad their coffers.

Pretty soon you’ll be unemployed, replaced by private security, discarded. Don’t wait until that time to stand by the Occupiers you now oppress. If you will ultimately be standing shoulder to shoulder with us, why not start now.

Do your duty. Defend the Constitution of the United States, your own states and the principles they represent. Disobey your orders and stand for on the side of right. Stand with your brothers and sisters and occupy the city streets which you have sworn to protect.


This is What Democracy Looks Like!

Images from Occupy Fort Myers Rally, October 15, 20011

Yesterday was a great day for me and for participant democracy all over the world. The Occupy movement spread worldwide as common people everywhere shouted in the face of power, informing the top tier, the top 1% (and the minions thereof) that we know that we are being exploited. We stated informed the world that we are not going to stand by idly any more. While the global elite bask in the rewards that they reap from immoral labor practices, from the destruction of environments, from endless wars and manufactured crises, from perpetual economic catastrophes, from blackmailing taxpayers into propping them up because they are supposedly too big to fail, common people are opening their eyes grift and graft that is the lifeblood of the 1%. From New York to San Francisco, Tokyo to Sydney and yes, even little Fort Myers, this movement is catching steam like nothing seen before.

“This is bigger than anything I was in in the sixties…” one man at the Fort Myers demonstrated said to his friend as we made our way around the downtown area shouting “This is what democracy looks like.”

This is what democracy looks like, at least from my little microcosm of the Occupy movement. According to the News-Press, five hundred citizens from a very conservative corner of the country showed up to protest. I would estimate that it was at least twice that many, but the reader can be the judge.

We started out at Centennial Park. We arrived to a throbbing welcome of drums. It made me wish that I had brought my own. As can be seen from the pictures, this was an eclectic gathering. Every age group from infant to elderly participated. It was a largely white crowd, but not exclusively so. Were there “hippies?” There may have been a few, but the right wing, FoxNoise stereotype of the unwashed hippy looking for a handout does not apply, and never has.

A play and parody of the Tea Party.

Contrary to the imbecile ravings of FoxNoise and the right wing punditocracy, the Occupy movement is not asking for government handouts. We are asking for government representation. An overarching theme at this march is the collusion of government and the economic elite, for which “Wall Street” is the short hand. In this, the 99ers offer a much more sophisticated critique of government than anything the Tea Party has come up with. Instead of the “government bad” mantra of the Norquist Right, occupiers recognize the problem to be collusion between corporations and government. “They got bailed out…We got sold out,” was the rejoinder. It’s not about big government. It’s about a government that is responsive to the needs of the people.

I would offer that none of the people at the rally were “lazy hippies.” Perhaps if the Rushites actually showed up at these rallies they would see the truth. Of course, it’s doubtful that they would report the truth, but at least they would see it. Ahhh. Never mind!

We marched under the US 41 overpass. Here, a man in American Legion regalia heckled us. “You’ll be sorry!” He shouted. “This is what we fought against in Germany!” Well, there it was, the requisite Nazi reference. We can’t really call it a protest if someone doesn’t call us Nazis. In this case, we got it over with right off the bat. In fact, I have to admire the gentleman’s courage. He was alone, facing a line of hundreds, speaking his mind. That is also what democracy looks like. In fact, there were very few critics speaking out along our march. Most of the response we received from passersby was supportive, beeping horns with thumbs up out the window. I only heard one person lean his head out of the car and yell, “Freaks!” while he was driving. I wouldn’t put that in the same category of courage as our American Legion friend, but again, this is what democracy looks like.

Five hundred my…um…yeah, it was more than five hundred.

Corporate greed and monopoly, unemployment, unresponsive government, economic inequality, critiques of trickle-down economics, anti-war sentiment, end the Federal Reserve, tax reform. These are just a few of the messages presented in this march. The mainstream media and the pundit class criticize the 99ers by suggesting that there’s no coherent message, that there’s no one thing that we are focused on. This is a false criticism, a rhetorical slight. All of the above are symptomatic of unchecked excesses of corporate power, the imbalance between the representation of the elite and voice of the people. It is a single message for anyone who has the wherewithal to examine the issues, a wherewithal that the corporate media is lacks. Sorry pundit class, the message of the 99ers cannot be boiled down to a single-sentence sound bite. I guess your viewers will actually have to analyze the issues. We’re not trying to sell advertising space; we are speaking to the ages.

Interestingly, one thing that I couldn’t help but notice was the expressed conviction that those who didn’t understand the Occupy movement were brainwashed by the corporate media. Of course, this is the very same critique made by the Tea Party and the right wing, only they use the terms “liberal media” or the Palinesque “lamestream media.” If nothing else, this demonstrates a consensus that there is something awry with American media.

Nobody wants to do away with corporations. (all right, maybe some want to do away with corporations, but not all of us) We want corporations to stop corrupting our government.

Wow! Poignant. Almost a Foucaultian critique.

Our first stop was the Bank of America building. If there is a company that is emblematic of corporate excess, it is Bank of America.

This dog was off the leash and walked with us the entire way. I’m not sure who the owner is, but what a good dog. I think he was hoping to take a bite out of bankster.

So much for the America hating hippy stereotype.

This was a huge gathering, but very organized. We made room for drivers who were just trying to go their own way, often stopping our march to let them pass. Some of us at the head of the line even picked up a fallen table at one restaurant before the line of marchers reached that point. On one hand, it was a helpful thing to do, on the other hand, we did not want the Occupy movement to be accused of “knocking over tables at a local restaurant.”

Our next stop was the Wells Fargo central bank.

This gentleman’s t-shirt caught my eye. It’s a picture of Bush W stating “I screwed you all. But thanks for blaming the black guy.” Poignant. A reminder of this crisis’ origins as well as a racial critique. To what extent does race play in blaming Obama for an economic collapse that happened before his administration?

Past the Federal Building.

Notice the critique of big government. Liberalism is not about a big government that takes care of everyone, as the right-wing punditocracy would have you believe. Liberalism is about a government responsive to the people. There were two masked gentlemen on this march. The other wore a shirt labeled “socialist.” According to the right wing, one person identifying as a socialist means that everyone was a socialist. Of course that’s ridiculous. Everyone, however, did have their say. Oh, and socialists are against big government as well. Critics of socialism often know nothing of this philosophy.

The police presence was very light and very professional. Yes, in New York and other places there are plenty of examples of bad police behavior. I’m sure there are also examples of bad behavior among the Occupiers. Where there are enough people involved, there’s going to be bad behavior. We must remember, however, that these police officers are also part of the 99% (so to speak. I’m not statistically comfortable with the 99% designation). These officers followed us the entire way, conversed warmly with some of us, but otherwise maintained their distance and their professionalism. Kudos.

Indeed, US Senators are the most highly inflated commodity in the world thanks to Citizens United.

And this is my nomination for the best sign at the rally. This pretty much sums up the state of political debate for the last four years.

Overall, this moment was a wonderful and refreshing exercise in democracy. Who knows where this is going, but if hope has been in short supply since the end of the great anti-war movements of the Bush Administration, hope is renewed today. I had the pleasure of seeing two of my high school students on the march, supporting the cause, smiling and having fun. Maybe these students can tell their friends that participating in democracy is not the kind of onerous, boring task as presented in the classroom, but rather a fulfilling adventure. Having fun. This is the advice of the late, great Howard Zinn. Protest should be fun.

Another friend of mine, an immigrant from the former Soviet Bloc, told me, “I feel so energized now. For so long I was feeling so depressed. I kept asking, ‘why aren’t we in the streets?'” Well, we are now in the streets. Let’s stay there. Democracy is of the streets. Democracy is a movement of the people, not a function of government. This is what democracy looks like!


Occupy Fort Myers

For those of you readers who are in the Southwest Florida area, join me and many others at the first Occupy Fort Myers event. To my knowledge, this is not a protest, but rather a planning event. We will be meeting at Centennial Park, downtown Fort Myers at the picnic benches.

Please understand, this is not a liberal movement. This movement is open to all those who recognize that there are profound inequalities at work in our nation and that this current economic crisis, as with all other such events, is a direct result of these inequalities.


Remembering 9/11

With Our Eyes Open to the Truth

“In war, Truth is the first casualty” – Aeschylus

About a month ago I was asked by a local reporter how I, as a high school teacher, planned to handle the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 in my classroom. I can’t remember the exact answer that I gave her, but I know it was simple. I handled the commemoration of this tragedy in exactly the same way that I handled it in the moment.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was the high school teacher at a Fort Myers private school. I had an intimate class of six students. That morning I was leading the students from the classroom when my Program Director intercepted me. She informed me that an airplane had just struck the World Trade Center in what was believed to be a terrorist act. My first thought was that it was a small plane with a misguided pilot—an accident, nothing more. The Director told me that the other teachers were planning on keeping things quiet and that some parents were on their way to pick up their kids, but I was free to handle things as I saw fit.

I did. Keeping things quiet is not my style. I simply must know what’s going on and I promote the same from my students.

My class and I returned to the tiny classroom and endeavored to get the television working. Ours was a developing school. The television was old and there was no cable hook-up. The students took turns serving as antennae, holding a wire hanger in the air and adjusting themselves until the picture became reasonably clear. Through the cloudy image on the screen, we saw footage of a commercial airliner, Flight 11 it turned out, colliding directly, and with an eerily palpable intent, with the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was almost 9 am.

Within minutes the anchor interrupted his own reporting. Another plane had just struck the South Tower. This was no accident. This was an attack. All of us felt as if we were punched in the stomach. There were no tears, just a stunned silence. Yet the bad news kept coming, like a nightmare you try to wake from, but can’t. The Pentagon, a plane crash in Pennsylvania, maybe even more planes coming. We watched both towers disintegrate in real time. It simply would not end.

I feared for the future of my nation as well as the future of the world. My little boy was still three months from being born. What kind of world would he inherit? The possible consequences were dizzying. It wasn’t long before I started to see the raw emotion surging from my students. Anger. Fear. Hatred. One girl intoned that there was definitely going to be a war. She put her head down on the desk. I don’t know if she was crying for I was distracted by one young man exclaiming, “Good! We need to blow the crap out of them!” Another young man suggested that we “nuke them,” “Make them pay.”

Nuke who? Make who pay? And even if we knew who perpetrated this, which at the time we did not, how exactly could we “make them pay?” My students were submersed in the emotional trauma of the event. The horror stimulated all of the banal, subconscious instincts that drive reaction over reason, striking out over thinking things through. The reality was that we didn’t have to react. We didn’t have to strike out. We were, almost certainly, perfectly safe in our little classroom in Fort Myers.

It turned out to be a great opportunity to teach living history. “Wait a minute. Hold on.” I put my hands up and directed the focus of the class. Fear, anger and sadness were legitimate emotions under such circumstances, but we had to put these emotions in their place before they devolved into hatred and irrational, spiteful actions.

I asked, “What do we know?” The students couldn’t answer. I told them that when I’m confronted with something that I’ve never experienced before, especially something frightening or dangerous, I go over what I know. I think instead of react, and the outcomes are always much better. So I asked again, “what do we know?” As a teacher it was my responsibility to steer the class toward using their knowledge, to cultivate and nurture their thinking. My responsibilities do not change in the face of tragedy. Every moment is a learning moment in a classroom.

“We know someone attacked us.” One student stated, still visibly angry.

I nodded. Someone certainly did. But who? Was it another country? My students decided that it was not another country since other countries have missiles or bombs, otherwise they do not attack. Therefore, this was not just an attack, but an act of terrorism. I remember writing “Usama bin Ladin” in black dry erase marker on the white board. This was before his name was mentioned on the news, but I figured it would certainly be brought up soon. We discussed terrorism and the difficulties of combating organizations that were not necessarily affiliated with nation states. After all, our entire military apparatus was designed to fight another nation, Russia specifically, not an organization that could be in Pakistan one day and Malaysia the next.

We all knew that there was going to be a response. It was my point that this response should be thought out, should be reasonable rather than reactionary. It was one thing to be afraid and angry, but quite another to react to these emotions without thinking. In order to think effectively we needed all of the facts that we could get. At that moment we just didn’t have them. I informed my students to be very careful with the information we received in the foreseeable future. It was unlikely that we would have access to reliable information for at least ten years.

Here we are, ten years later, and what do we know?

On 9/11 my students learned how to deal with tragedy through reason. They (and I) learned how to accept understandably muddled and confused emotions, anger, fear and hatred, and the foundations of these emotions and then move on to reasoned analysis and decision-making based on knowledge. This learning did not end at the close of school that day. We continued our discourse as we entered into what would be America’s longest war.

I was openly and publicly against the war the war in Afghanistan. Most of my students supported the war. The kids learned how to discuss their opinions respectfully, even when many parents who objected to my public position could not. American values such as patriotism, freedom, privacy and speech were subject to debate and discussion. Meanwhile, some parents attempted to stifle this discourse, claiming that I was indoctrinating my students with my liberal bias. Would I have been accused of bias if I had embraced the war and spoke out in favor of it? It’s funny how it’s only “bias” when it’s an opinion one disagrees with.

Not only did parents have a low opinion of minority opinions, but they also underestimated the ability of their own children to formulate their own informed opinions. The assumption is that if a teacher expresses his views to the class the students will be indoctrinated with those views. Of course, this is perfectly acceptable if said views are of the accepted discourse. In fact, many of my students disagreed with me, and before we were through they were able to formulate reasonable arguments to defend their opinions. My students demonstrated that they were not blank slates soaking up “bad” knowledge. They were critical, and when they were included in the discussion, they were invested in the issue.

As is always the case, the drama that plays out in the classroom is often a microcosm for the drama being played out in the society as a whole. After 9/11 an accepted discourse was established. We were attacked because of our wealth and our freedom. If you do not support the United States government in its “war on terror” then you are with the terrorists. Any action taken by the United States in retaliation for 9/11 was justified, including domestic spying and torture. Finally, American citizens must accept that we’ll have to give up certain rights and freedoms in exchange for the government keeping us safe.

Those who questioned the validity of the above claims were marginalized as pacifists, recalling Neville Chamberlain, or demonized as anti-American or pro-terrorist. There was even a list compiled of academics considered dangerous because of their radical views. Afghanistan had to be attacked, despite their being not a single Afghani on the planes that fateful day. Afghanistan was refusing to give us bin Laden, making them complicit in their terrorism. Of course, this wasn’t true, but to say so was un-American. Iraq had to be invaded because Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was intent on delivering them to al Qaeda. This wasn’t true, but to say so was un-American.

Only the accepted discourse was to be heard. Alternative (dare I say accurate) dialogue was not tolerated. We now understand more clearly the consequences of blind following, of silent acceptance of the status quo. More often than not, the dialogue in my classroom was more open and honest than anywhere in the mainstream after 9/11. There, any question was could be asked, any observation could be expressed, and any course could be pursued to improve understanding of what’s going on in the world. My students grew in knowledge and character while American citizens became compliant, conformist and childlike.

For ten years 9/11 has been the mantra of American quiescence. Instead of pursuing the truth, we marched in lock step with the mantra, 9/11…9/11…9/11. What is a mantra? It’s a form of indoctrination. And my students were among the few who were not indoctrinated. Since 9/11 my students of the time have thanked me for the way this horrible tragedy was handled in our classroom. Other students have informed me that their teachers told them nothing, addressed nothing, shared nothing. They were in the dark until they got home. Of course, that was the state most of America was in, left in the dark like children, too fragile to cope with something as intense as 9/11, our own tragedy. In that darkness we were taught to be afraid, to turn to the government from protection, but never question what it takes to provide that protection. In the darkness we lost sight of what it means to be an American, to have rights, to stand for something greater, to be a beacon of freedom throughout the world.

My students didn’t forget then.

And my students will not be allowed to forget now. In my classroom, I will handle 9/11 with knowledge…unvarnished. In my classroom, I will handle 9/11 with openness. In my classroom, I will handle 9/11 with the truth. I will not lie to my students, and I will not allow my students to lie to themselves like so many Americans have lied to themselves in the last ten years.

If there is a lesson to be learned after ten years of the post-9/11 world, that is it. Knowledge, truth, openness. This should not come as a surprise. Every lesson of history has been the same.

 

 


A Commercial Announcement!

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My novel, Stone is not Forever, is now available on Nook and Kindle for $7.95. All of you cyberbook fans, check it out, download it, read it and love it!


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Sorry for my absence

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but lack of time and general fatigue have taken their toll over the last couple of months. I have plenty of topics on my mind and should be coming out with a bunch of posts soon. Please be patient and thanks for hanging in there. I’m sure most of you are working people and/or students, so you know that sometimes you just get tired.


What Liberals Mean by “Democracy”

And why conservatives hate and fear it!

 

Recently, the United States relearned some old lessons in democracy. Currently we experienced the culmination of a generation long process of stripping from the United States the vestiges of liberal democracy; consequently we learned that the conservative promise of individualized freedom and free market utopia was at best wrong-headed ideology, or at worst a colossal con perpetrated by an organized elite against an unwary public. Either way, the conservative paradigm was revealed as a shallow promise; the universal prosperity expected to trickle down on us all turned out to be a more odious matter bringing only economic collapse for those not fortunate enough to be in the top 5%-10% of households.

The victims of American foreign policy were the first to raise their fists in the face of power. Beginning with a sandwich peddler in Tunisia and spreading throughout North Africa and the Middle East, vast democratic movements took to the streets to demand an end to their tyrannical governments. To the profound embarrassment of the United States, these tyrannies were the subordinate tin-horns propped up by the United States in exchange for the preservation of American interests in the region. The United States, the self-appointed harbinger of freedom and equality, was thus in the awkward position of having to condemn our erstwhile collaborators in our imperial pursuits, or openly own our hypocrisy by turning our backs on the very values we claimed to embrace. Though most Americans were not savvy to the awkward arrangement of historical affairs, the irony here was not lost on the mobilized millions throughout the Moslem world.

This political double-bind found its way to the United States in the last few months, rising from the streets, or should I say classrooms, of Wisconsin. No amount of political spin and obfuscation could hide the true motives of the contemporary conservative clique; that is the complete subordination of working people to the whims of the wealthy. Step one of the plan was the destruction of the unions, but only those unions that tend to vote liberal, like teachers unions and labor unions. Traditionally conservative unions, like the Police Benevolence Association, were left off the cutting block. The focus of attack was collective bargaining, the primary check against corporate overreach. Teachers were to be the first to face the ire of conservative politicians. A smart move, as disempowering teachers equates to disempowering the young, and a guarantee that future generations would be well versed in the benefits of blind conformity. Destroy the teachers…destroy the generations!

Yet conservatives found that cutting the legs out from under hard fought democratic rights would not happen without a fight. Movements from the streets were energized by the conservative colossus menacing and insulting all working Americans. If the teachers were subject to debasement, disempowerment and dispossession, then who was next? And the streets became crowded with well-organized protest against the insults of power.

The response of the conservative punditocracy was predictable—a full frontal assault against the very concept of democracy and against those liberals who held democratic principles. As I’ve written in an earlier post, an effective democratic movement was the last thing that conservatives wanted. This was not specific to contemporary conservatives. Distrust of democracy was always central to the conservative ideology.

In the face of such democratic response, conservatives feel compelled to remind us that democracy is a dangerous idea akin to mob rule. They suggest that democracy leads inextricably to socialism and then to tyranny. To punctuate their discourse they revert to the old reliable discursive formations of the Founding Fathers. We are reminded that the vaunted Founding Fathers feared democracy almost as much, if not more so, than they feared monarchy and tyranny. To avoid the scourge of democracy the ever-wise Founding Fathers established a republic that specifically limited the voice of the common classes. They did this in such a way as to presume that “We the People” agree that our own voices should not be taken seriously. In essence, “We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, do sublimate our social investment to the needs and wants of the economic elite who are the only ones wise enough to protect us from our own destructive, democratic impulses.”

Indeed, the Founding Fathers did fear democracy and put certain structures in place to ensure that The People would have nothing more than an indirect influence on their own governance. To pacify The People a House of Representatives, where the popular will could be expressed, was created. By popular will, the Founders meant propertied white males as early laws were specific that if your skin was dark, you had no voice in America, and if you were a woman, don’t even try. Some conservatives
today have expressed nostalgia for this doctrine. A Bill of Rights was ratified to convince The People that the Constitution was their document. Of course, the Founding Fathers undercut those very amendments almost immediately—a process exemplified by the Alien and Sedition Acts. So yes, the Founding Fathers were inimical to democracy. They established a government for the “people” that excluded almost all but a select few, and of that select few most were relegated to a single chamber.

Specifically, the republic established by the Founding Fathers…as is the case with most republics…was one specifically designed to ensure the dominance of a propertied, ethnically dominant elite. Elite representatives were appointed to the Senate for six years, as opposed to the two-year terms for members in the People’s House. Presidents were selected by an electoral college, ensuring that only those who served the elite would occupy the highest seats. The Supreme Court was appointed by elite presidents and confirmed by elite senators, becoming a seat of elite interests with a history of supporting elite causes such as defining people as property in the Dred Scott case, legitimizing segregation in the Plessey case, restricting speech in the Schenck case and culminating in our most recent confirmation of “corporate personhood” in the Citizen’s United Case.

So conservatives are correct when they claim that the Founding Fathers, with few exceptions, were wary of democracy and established a republic for the purpose of containing the caprices of The People. To which we might add our own radical voices by asking, “So what?” Why should we give a damn that white slave owners got together two hundred years ago and structured a governing body that supported their own interests at the expense of working men, women and people of color? Yes, the Founding Fathers were exceptional men in many regards, but not in all regards. Yes, the Founding Fathers established many great ideas, but that does not mean that they were perfect in their ideology. Yes, we can say that the Founding Fathers were great men, but our understanding of their accomplishments should not carry the weight of an idolatry currently vouched by the right wing.

The founders established a framework, a liberal framework considering the structures and strictures of the day, but a framework that largely secured elite interests in the face of revolutionary consciousness. Since then an incessant evolutionary pressure toward greater democracy emerged. These movements were the scourge of the American elite for almost two hundred years. Liberalizing forces established universal male suffrage, and ultimately universal adult suffrage. They ended slavery and legalized segregation, established and entrenched ideals of tolerance and equality that few argue against today. Standards of treatment and remuneration were enacted for working people, with an expectation of adequate leisure time to be spent as they pleased. Because of movements like unions arising from Main Street, we developed a middle class. We gained health standards for our food, medicine and other goods. We gained protections for our environment to ensure clean air and water. Millions benefited from these democratic movements arising when the mass of people had had enough and were willing to sacrifice in the face of overwhelming elite power organized against them.

And this is the essential difference between conservative “republicanism” and liberal “democracy.” It’s not that democracy is inimical to republican government or desirous of inefficient and potentially oppressive majority rule. Democracy requires representative government not unlike that established by the Founding Fathers, a multi-chambered governing instrument with elaborate checks and balances against the possibility of abuse. The key difference is in whom this government actually represents. Whereas conservatives see the role of government as perpetuating elite interests, it is the objective of liberal democrats to ensure that a representative government serves the interests of the common, working classes and that it recognizes the plight of the nation’s dispossessed and disempowered. It is a dangerous error to assume that the interests of all citizens are the same. Yet to listen to the conservative argument one would think that the health of the nation rests solely on the wealth of the corporate class. They hold to this position despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Primary to a liberal understanding of history and governance is the truism that governments are established to perpetuate elite interests. This has always been the truth from the earliest civilizations and their warrior caste system, through classical landed patriarchy, to feudalism and now capitalism. There is no reason to assume that this tendency among governing institutions will change. The only check against this elite bias in government is an organized, common resistance among the governed. The revolutions of the 19th century and early 20th centuries serve as constant reminders that when The People demand recognition they will be heard, they will be respected. There is no greater check against elite power than a mobilized commons. Unlike the elite, who buy their influence in government, the commons must demand representation by their willingness to disobey, disregard and dismantle the government when justice is not being served.

Certain values must be in place for a functional democratic government to exist. Foremost among these values is the recognition of universal and inviolable rights. To hold that these rights exist by nature is a fundamental axiom of liberalism, but one must recognize that rights do not exist by virtue of one’s humanity as proposed by John Locke. Rather, rights exist because millions of people, acting upon a unified voice, demand recognition and respect and are willing to tear down the ramparts of power if they don’t get it.

Conservatives are willing to recognize the existence of rights—those rights outlined in the Constitution and directly attributable to the Founding Fathers. To suggest a “right” to healthcare, or a “right” to education, or a “right” to work, the conservative argument is, “where in the Constitution are any of these rights enumerated?” When it comes to popular rights, all political progress ended in 1793. Of course, the argument can be made that “corporations” are also not mentioned in the Constitution. Of course, this doesn’t count because there is no limit to the rights of elite interests.

On top of political rights and justice, liberals recognize the necessity for economic rights and justice. A marketplace can be as oppressive as a polity; a corporation can be as tyrannical as a dictatorship. The primary difference between the commons and the elite is access and control of market share. On one hand, liberals see the necessity to level the playing field to ensure that working Americans can benefit from the same economic structures as the elite. On the other hand is the necessity of protecting working people from the exploitation of elite interests. One’s labor is an intrinsic part of one’s humanity, and is the fundamental economic mechanism. Not a single millionaire or billionaire ever achieved his status without the rationalization of individual laborers exchanging their time and sweat for wages. Liberals demand that the wages should adequately compensate the worker for this exchange. Liberals are not inimical to wealth (okay, some are). The problem as understood by most liberals is the existence of vast stores of wealth in the face of large segments of poverty.

Conservatives deplore any attempt at closing the wealth and income gaps as socialism. The obscenely high incomes of the economic elite is described as the result of hard work, not questionable investment practices, favorable economic and labor policies, international trade agreements, lax regulation and legal structures that protect the vast accumulation of wealth, not to mention inheritance. No, wealth is only the result of hard work. By insinuation, if you are not wealthy it is because you are not working hard enough. To cut into the wealth of the obscenely rich is maligned as stealing one’s hard earned money, whereas cutting wages and benefits from working people is justified as necessary to be competitive on the global market. The elite need access to increasingly vast wealth resources to incentivize their investment in the economy. What is the incentive for working people? Wouldn’t access to higher wages equally incentivize them? Well, if workers don’t produce they will lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes, even their families, their health, their rights. So the elite are in a position to demand “incentives” while working people are expected to submit to coercion.

Such hypocrisy is not lost on liberals. Central to liberalism are policies that address the scourge of poverty and corresponding policies that ask, if not demand, that those who benefit the most from society should pay a little more to compensate those who benefit the least. This compensation may come in the form of higher wages, or even living wages and benefits or taxes to promote social programs for jobs, housing, health care and education for the bottom quintile. After all, prosperity on the part of the top tiers of society does not trickle down to the rest of society, but prosperity in the hands of working, common people, always filters throughout all of society, enriching everyone.

Conservatives write off liberals and academics who point out America’s inequalities as engaging in “class warfare.” Indeed it is. Liberals recognize that there is and always has been an ongoing class war. When one group of people endeavors to exploit, dispossess and disempower another group it is necessary to engage in warfare of some kind. In some cases, this warfare is fought with the traditional logistics, but when it comes to class warfare, the weapons and strategies are more subtle, more insidious. Make no mistake, however; the casualties are just as real. In the United States the death toll amounts to about 50,000 people a year as exemplified by the miners in the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine and oil the workers on the Deep-water Horizon who died doing nothing more than their jobs. The different mortality rates between working Americans and the corporate elite should provide all the evidence that is necessary to acknowledge the reality of a class war. That conservatives are currently pushing to increase the retirement age based on the life expectancies of those who have no need for such benefits should demonstrate to all the disconnect between the ideologies of the right and the real life experiences of working people.

Government is the institution tasked with the goal of ensuring political and economic rights. After all, what is the purpose of government if it is not to “promote the general welfare?” Indeed, it is not to promote “elite” welfare. The elite are perfectly capable of promoting their own welfare. It’s working people who need a social mechanism in place to protect their interests. Government can, and should provide that service to its citizens. By this estimation, government is a legitimate means for leveling the playing field between the haves, the have-nots and the have-lesses. This is not to be mistaken as a call for “big, intrusive government” as condemned by conservatives. Rather, government must be responsive to the needs of average, working people. How big does the government need to be? Exactly big enough to serve as a check against the elite interests. The size and power of the government should be proportional to the size and power of the corporations.

As described above, however, the tendency of government is to perpetuate elite interests, not the general welfare. For this reason, a liberal democracy requires an active, vocal and organized polity. The People cannot expect government to be responsive by right, or by moral obligation. Institutions know no obligation except to their own perpetuation. There must be social movements with legitimate access to the seats of power through which to make common voices heard. Currently, unions with collective bargaining rights as well as other social movements that can mobilize large numbers of people and dollars serve as an avenue for legitimate voice between the people and the government. These institutions have been effective in the past at pressing for progressive and positive change in the country.

These networks giving voice to popular demands are the very mechanisms currently under attack by the conservative machine. Destroy community advocates like ACORN and disempower the poor. Destroy collective bargaining and destroy labor. Destroy Planned Parenthood and destroy poor women and children. Destroy any vestiges of liberalism in the media by tagging it as “liberal bias” while defining right wing propaganda (read Fox News) as “Fair and Balanced” and destroy any semblance of reasonable discourse that might produce meaningful social change. Destroy the social safety net and deliver the commons into the vice-like grip of corporate dependence. Conservative political operatives are effectively waging this culture war.

Finally, conservatives must destroy the very functions of government that serve the common interest. This is the “small government” agenda of the Tea Party and other NeoCons like Grover Norquist who endeavors to shrink government to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub. Government is the only institution that can legitimately check elite interests. For this reason alone government must be destroyed or at the very least rendered impotent against the ravages of the corporate elite.

In truth, the corporate elite do not need government at all. We have achieved a level of industrial and technological sophistication that Herbert Spencer would have admired—one in which all functions of government can be satisfied through private institutions. We even have private police forces and private armies owned by corporations. It’s no wonder that corporations endeavor to privatize all government functions. Corporations benefit when government is powerless against them. Working people, however, do not benefit from a government too small to protect them from elite exploitation.

Most hated among conservatives is the dreaded social safety net. Conservatives and their corporate masters decry all forms of social welfare as breeding dependence on the government among the poor. This dependence creates a spiral of poverty from which the individual becomes comfortable in his own poverty, or incapable/unwilling of taking care of himself. Indeed, there is credit to this argument. Conservatives, however, cannot answer to the difference between being dependent upon the government and being dependent on corporations. One argument is that the individual can always leave one employer and negotiate his labor with another employer who pays more and provides better benefits. This is a false argument as capitalism does not cultivate competitive markets, but rather cooperative arrangements called conglomerates or singular institutions called monopolies. By perpetuating poverty and unemployment corporations can increase profits by driving down the value of labor and also maintain dependency upon the working class, too cowed to resist lest they lose their valuable jobs. Corporate tyranny thus reproduces the consequences of political tyranny.

The solution to dependency on a vast government welfare state is not to eliminate the social safety net. The solution is to create programs that maximize autonomy such as education and skills programs as well as programs that guarantee work for citizens at a living wage. A single payer health system would contribute to this autonomy by liberating employees from the tethers of their employer provided insurance plan, allowing workers to leave their jobs to pursue other opportunities without the fear of losing their health care. Of course, this is exactly opposite of the conservative paradigm. Private schools, only the most expensive of which will provide worthy credentials, must replace public education. Health insurance must be scarce to ensure that those Americans lucky enough to have such access will remain cowed and tied to their employers. The right to work will never be recognized beyond the dishonest “right to work” laws that guarantee nothing but the employer’s right to fire a worker without cause. The conservative scheme is to convert the social safety net into a net of a different sort, a snare from which working Americans must always be entangled. This is the conservative promise—the state of “individual freedom” to serve a corporate master.

“Big Government” fear-mongering is the cornerstone of conservative assault against liberalism. The United States has a long history of skepticism with regard to the government, including a fear of oppression and a disdain for large bureaucracies. Such skepticism is well founded and healthy, and a centerpiece of liberal discourse. Liberals do not, or at least should not, “trust” the government. That governments are untrustworthy requires very little effort to discern. History is replete with examples of governments turning their backs on the citizenry. There’s no reason to assume that a liberal government is any less inclined to betray its people than a conservative government. Government is, after all, an institution dedicated to its self-perpetuation and the acquisition of power and prestige.

This is what makes liberalism such a great challenge and such a huge source of frustration for liberals, and fear for elite conservatives. In order to function effectively, a liberal democratic society must maintain a balance between government power and popular voice. Where popular voice is too weak, or too passive, or too contented, or too cowed government will resort to its old habits of pandering to the power elite. This is especially problematic as liberal reforms are hard won by tireless social movements. They are put into place and institutionalized, leading to the relaxation of the social movements that fought for their establishment. Then elite interests move in and disassemble these reforms, often piece-meal. By the time the original social movements wake up to the dangers posed to their cherished reforms, it’s too late (I fear this is happening to the women’s rights and pro-choice movements). Gaining the desired reforms leads to atrophy of the movement with regard to setting even loftier goals. Medicare was great, but Medicare for all would have been better.

On the other hand, if the government or the networks by which the citizens deliver their claims to the government are too weak to give legitimacy to the popular voice, then common Americans have no legitimate means to pursue their ends, to pursue social justice. Such an arrangement leaves the majority of the population subject to the whims of the elite with no legitimate recourse to achieve their goals and enforce the respect of their rights. When this happens, the People turn to illegitimate means of being heard. No force on earth can stop the collapse of a society when the majority of the People decide to burn down an unjust social framework. The results of this are often catastrophic, especially for the very people holding the torches.

Liberals tirelessly dedicate themselves to this balance. When liberals talk about democracy it is this fine and complicated balance that we are describing. Democracy is a leveling of the playing field to ensure that all rights are respected, that all needs are met and that no one is excluded from the benefits of being part of a society, a nation or, ultimately, of humanity. It’s a bottom up notion rising from the street and reaching into the top echelons of power demanding fairness, equity, justice. The satisfaction of these demands is anathema to the elite class, represented today by a global corporatocracy. The last thing they want is the dirty fingers of the unwashed masses reaching into their vaults of wealth and power. That the elite are the members of society truly dependent upon the sweat and skill of common Americans is the awkward secret the elite would rather you not know. So when liberals talk about democracy they are dangerous…dangerous to those who benefit the most from society, yet contribute the least.

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Note: Interspersed in this essay are details of a mural painted by Judy Taylor. It was commissioned for the Maine Department of Labor building and commemorates the labor movement. It was ordered removed by conservative governor Paul LePage. There can be no homage to working Americans at the Maine Labor Department!

 

 


Shout Out to the Unions and the Labor Movement

We need to recognize the benefits we have because of unions and the labor movement. Then we need to work to resurrect this endangered species of democratic checks and balances.

 

Because of Unions and the Labor Movement I was able to take a day off from work to enjoy a special event with my little girl. Thank you Unions!


Tell RUSH the Truth!

elrushbo@eibnet.com

Rush Limbaugh has called all of us who work for a living, who believe we have a right to negotiate our pay and benefits “Free Loaders” and “UnAmerican.” He has millions of viewers and listeners and makes millions a year. Good for him. But when you need an education for your children, is it Rush who’s going to do it? If you are victimized is Rush going to come to your defense? If your house catches fire is Rush putting his life on the line to put it out? If you are sick and your bed-pan needs to be changed or you need to have your vitals monitored is it going to be Rush and his ilk who will work through the night to make sure you are taken care of?

Workers have sacrificed enough in this economy. We’ve had our jobs destroyed, our security derailed, how pay frozen or cut, our benefits slashed. People like Rush and the wealthy elite he represents move jobs to foreign countries and weaken every protection we have. They say it’s about austerity and tightening our belts during tough times, but are you seeing the millionaires and billionaires tightening their belts?

Above is Rush Limbaugh’s E-mail address. If you work for a living let Rush know that you are not a deadbeat!


Help End Geloiocracy

Readers of this blog are familiar with the term “corporatocracy.” Some time ago I suggested that the United States government is moving from a democratic republic, or a democracy to a corporatocracy, or rather a government controlled by a corporate elite. This would be distinguished from an aristocracy as aristocratic control is one that serves the interests of a privileged class, whereas a corporatocracy would serve the interests of corporations and those in charge of those corporations.

Last year, when the Citizens United case was decided, I declared that the age of democracy in America was over. The United States was now, officially, a corporatocracy. I even added the word, corporatocracy, to my spell checker.

Today I was reading the Paul Krugman blog, Conscience of a Liberal, and he suggested another way of looking at the United States Government. He suggested finding a word with Greek root that means “rule by ridiculous people.” Stuff like this is right up my alley. I went to Google Translator and typed in “ridiculous.” I got the translation γελοίος, which is pronounced “geloios” with a hard “g”. So from there we can coin the word “geloiocracy”.

I like it! And I think I will be using it from now on.

We could even modify it by suggesting the United States is becoming a corporatocratic geloiocracy.

Either way, despite my love for this new word, I have to say that I don’t want my children growing up in either a corporatocracy or a geloiocracy. It’s up to the citizenry to re-establish the democratic ideals we have all grown to love.


Speak Out for Change You Really Can Believe In!

One Nation Working Together is organizing a protest in Washington, speaking out for true Progressive/Liberal reforms. It’s long since time that we got active. I wish I could attend this gathering. If you have the opportunity to go to Washington DC this Saturday then pack your bags and go! Click the image below to participate in this crucial movement.


What a great animation by Jeremy Rifkin

For a while now I’ve been exploring history as the process by which human beings are expanding our empathic awareness from tribalism to universalism.  I’m not quite done with this concept, but this video by Rifkin touches upon the salient points.


Let’s remember the real thing!


NOT ANOTHER FACEBOOK GROUP!

Yes! The Journal of a Mad Sociologist is now a Facebook Group!

 

Join the MAD conversation about society at the Journal of a Mad Sociologist Facebook Group! The group will feature thoughts and quick commentaries on today’s issues and an opportunity for members to add their own analyses to the dialogue. Featured blogs and updates from the Journal of a Mad Sociologist will be highlighted.

Also coming soon, the first annual Mad Sociologist Blog Top 10. The Journal of a Mad Sociologist Facebook Group will highlight the top ten Mad Sociologist Blogs based on total number of viewers.

So participate in the madness that is sociology on the Journal of a Mad Sociologist Facebook Group. Click here to join.


It’s not News that Fox News Lies!

So when are we going to learn that lesson?

 

It is my sincerest hope that the current fracas over Shirley Sherrod will lead people, especially the current Administration, that Fox News is not a news organization. Fox “Noise” is, at best, a collection of commentators who are do not hesitate to lie, distort and destroy worthwhile organization or innocent individuals to extend its political narrative.

The current hullaballoo has to do with the “dirt” dug up by Andrew Breitbart reported that USDA official Shirley Sherrod admitted on video to using racist standards in deciding whether or not to help a white farmer save his farm. You remember Breitbart. He’s the guy responsible for launching the ACORN scandal, supposedly uncovering the community organizer’s proclivity for extending help to pimps, prostitutes and sex slavers. The ACORN story was picked up by Fox News and plastered across the political landscape without so much as a peak behind the curtains to determine if the accusations were true. As a result, ACORN was defunded by an unconstitutional bill of attainder and went belly up. The accusations against ACORN were eventually investigated and determined to be false. The claims were made based on nothing more than selectively and creatively edited gotcha video that distorted the truth for the sake of political espionage.

So when Breitbart released video of Shirley Sherrod admitting to being a racist, what else could Fox Noise do but…jump on the video as an unflinching example of racism in the Obama Administration. After all, with Breitbart’s reputation what could possibly go wrong?

Responding to Fox News (yes, I said responding to Fox News!) the NAACP called for Sherrod’s dismissal from the USDA. The NAACP could not take the chance of pandering to a black racist after making a big stink about the Tea Party refusing to distance itself from white racists. That would be hypocritical. Indeed it would. But the NAACP should have considered the source—Fox News and Andrew Breitbart—before taking a position on this matter. They didn’t. What were they thinking? That Fox News is a legitimate news source?

So what could go wrong? The full video of Shirley Sherrod’s speech was uncovered and, to its credit, released by the NAACP. It turns out that when you listen to the whole speech in context, rather than the selected version presented by Breitbart and Fox News, she isn’t admitting to racism at all. In fact, she’s recalling a tale of how she overcame her own racial stereotypes when confronted with the prospects of helping a white farmer. The theme of the speech is that it is not about race, it’s about poverty. The white farmer was interviewed and credited Sherrod for helping him save his farm. This was a story about personal growth, not personal prejudice.

After watching the full video, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous claimed to have been “snookered” by Fox News. Snookered? Really? At this point can any thinking human being be snookered by this organization? Time and again, from “the war on Christmas” to “death panels” “ACORN” “climategate” Fox has demonstrated they cannot be counted on to furnish news and certainly can never be confused as being Fair and Balanced. So why is it that groups like the NAACP and even the Obama Administration continue to react to the stories delivered by these charlatans?

Well, in a postmodern sense, truth is not an objective reality that can be understood through enlightened reasoning. Truth is the subjective result of social construction techniques such as marketing. Truth is that which is understood to be true, not because there exists an intrinsically valid underlying reality, but rather because people en mass accept it as true. People make their decisions based not on examination, experimentation and logic, but on charisma and presentation. It is this charisma and presentation, enhanced by brilliant marketing techniques, that has made Fox News the most trusted name in news. Any con man knows, however, that being trusted does not mean that one should be trusted.

I’m not a postmodernist in sensibility. I believe that there is an objective, underlying reality that can be known and understood. I also happen to believe (perhaps I’m overly optimistic) that ultimately truth will win out. I think the postmodernists have a point in the short term. Marketing can proxy for truth in the short term, but cannot perpetuate a permanent façade. Eventually other voices will be heard. Eventually the debate will be forced. Eventually the truth will find its way to the surface.

For now, however, we must be wary when organizations like Fox News, and Breitbart, and yes, even MSNBC, market themselves as news organizations. In fact, they are sources of commentary. There’s nothing wrong with that. A problem exists, however, when an organization like Fox News has a consistent history of distorting the truth (read lying) to extend its agenda. To compound this problem, Fox News does not hesitate to destroy the innocent to do so. This organization should be suspect. On my end, I find that it is much easier to assume that Fox News is lying and wait until their reports are validated, than to assume they are telling the truth. The NAACP would not have been “snookered” if they had followed this simple tactic.


Happy 4th! Let’s remember all those who make our country great

The 4th of July is an important holiday to remember just what it means to be an American. Our nation was conceived in a radical concept of liberty based on the philosophy of natural, individual rights and limits on government. Albeit, by current standards, the early conceptualization of this ideal was less than perfect, but in truth our founding fathers did make great leaps in our understanding of the role of government.

For many years, however, this day has been dedicated to “remembering our troops” be they our veterans from the past or our current sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, serving in contemporary foreign wars. Regardless of where you stand on the issues of war (this writer has always been against war) it is crucial that we understand that, overall, our soldiery is serving with the best interests of the country and the freedoms and ideas our nation represents, foremost in their minds. This valor and sacrifice must always be recognized.

But it’s not just the soldiers who make this country great. For years now I’ve advocated that the fourth of July not be dedicated solely to the soldier. The independence of our nation and the ongoing chronicle of human freedom, liberty and justice is not specifically a soldier’s story. To recognize only the soldier on Independence Day is to dwell in nationalism and even militarism.

American freedom has been a long contest of wills among men and women who fought not only in the trenches, in our cities and farms. They are activists and protestors, dissidents who dared to defy and deny the primacy of the status quo. From abolitionists, to labor leaders, to civil rights activists. Those who spoke out for the dispossessed and disempowered, whether on the soapbox, or in the streets, through oratory, literature or art, also lay the groundwork for American freedom. Many even gave their lives for their cause.

Today, activists continue to challenge our concepts of freedom and justice, whether they are those in the gay and lesbian movement, to those who recognize that everyone in the world should have the same rights demanded by Americans, to those who suggest that there were rights our founders missed, like rights to health care, meaningful work and a clean environment. Millions of activists and volunteers diligently strive to extend the vision of our founders to all people through a global vision.

Millions more Americans, just through their everyday labors have, like soldiers, dedicated their professional lives to reinforcing the American dream. Police officers, firefighters and EMS workers endeavor to make our communities safer. Social workers and nurses often selflessly tend to those in need. Throughout the country doctors give of their time and knowledge in clinics and in service to the poor. Lawyers take on pro-bono work for the sake of helping the maligned. Teachers struggle to overcome all obstacles to learning so that every one of their students can be the best citizen possible. These and many other every day heroes all contribute to make our nation a better place. Their stories are no less important that those of the soldier in the field.

So this fourth of July let’s dedicate ourselves to the recognition of what makes our nation great, and how to perpetuate the great experiment in enlightened government begun by the founding fathers on this date two-hundred and thirty-four years ago.


Whom does Beck want to eradicate?

A few days ago I posted a blog concerned about the direction of contemporary conservatism. I stand by everything I said in that blog (which will soon be updated as an Agitate article). Some were upset with my assessment of conservatism as leading us into bad times reminiscent of the McCarthy era and the Palmer Raids. That’s all right.

The most vitriol I received, however, (including by family members) was the comments that I made about Glenn Beck. Again, I stand by everything I said. I will offer the caveat that I am not a licensed clinician; therefore I’m not qualified to diagnose Beck (or anybody for that matter) as paranoid. However, I would offer that much of Beck’s discourse can be so categorized. His emphasis that progressives are clandestine communists/socialists intent on establishing a fascist state can be described as nothing other than paranoiac—as well as delusional.

The bottom line is that Glenn Beck did, in fact, state that progressivism must be eradicated as a cancer on society. It was suggested that I’m making too much out of this statement. That it was nothing more than a rhetorical flourish. Perhaps, but his statement met approval. And to my knowledge, has not be condemned by any conservative group or individual (and, to be fair, many liberals as well). It seems that suggesting the eradication of a school of thought is perfectly acceptable. That such eradication must be done by, at the very least, denying rights to thinking and speaking individuals and at the very worst by eradicating the offending individuals themselves, has never been brought into the debate. Fear not. I intend to bring this matter into the public debate.

First, however, I want to make clear just who Glenn Beck is talking about. Because some reading this blog post may not be progressives…at least to their minds…but that’s not the motivating element. The bottom line is that it is very likely that Glenn Beck, and thus his devoted followers, believe that you are.

So who exactly is Glenn Beck talking about when he is suggesting the eradication of this school of thought? Well, of course if you are an Obama supporter you are obviously on the list of Marxist/Fascist progressives. That goes without saying. It’s no far stretch that if you are active in progressive causes, like environmentalism, unionism, anti-capitalism, feminism, then you are almost certainly a progressive.

If you support a public option in health care, or most of the provisions of the health care reform package, as most Americans do, then you are probably a progressive or at the very least duped by progressives (too dumb to see through the progressive fascist conspiracy).

None of the above comes as a surprise.

But it might be a surprise to some readers that if you supported John McCain, you are a progressive. Scott Brown? You’re a progressive! GEORGE W. BUSH!!!! Dah Dah Daaaaaaah! YOU’RE A PROGRESSIVE     CANCEROUS BLIGHT ON AMERICA!!!! YOU COMMIE!!!

Of course, it might not be your fault that you are a progressive. It may very well be that you have been brainwashed by the teachers unions through a progressive curriculum that teaches that America and capitalism are bad. So if you are a teacher, progressive. Support a public school system? Progressive. Send your children to a public school? Pawn of progressive indoctrinators.

Now I’ll admit that progressives have a pretty expansive philosophy which incorporates many and varied perspectives. But Glenn Beck’s definition of progressive is pretty close to all encompassing.

The chances are that if you are not one of the 2 million plus viewers a day who waste their time watching Glenn Beck, or listening to his balderdash on the radio, and agreeing with just about everything he says, you are a progressive and you must be eradicated. In essence, if you don’t agree with Glenn Beck then you are a cancer that must be cut out.

Somehow “paranoid” doesn’t quite say it!