Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Admiting the problem is the first step to recovery

I think that while Karl Marx's solution might have been wrong, his definition of Capitalism as the problem was not. Does that make me a Neo-Marxist?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Utopia Revisited

The Tower of London is a wretched place to occupy in any season, but at least in summer, the thick, stone, walls provide a modicum of relief from the heat and humidity. It is here I will stay until five days hence, when my sentence will be carried out. While I am grateful to the King for his merciful commutation from the barbarous sentence of being hung, drawn and quartered to the less elaborate and time-consuming, and far less agonizing process of decapitation, that sense of gratitude does not translate to lighter spirits.

So it was with great relief that I recognized a familiar voice amongst the clanking and rattling of the guards’ armor as they escorted an old acquaintance Raphael to my dank and dismal cell. “My old friend, Raphael! Your presence does this unfortunate subject of the King of England a great deal of good on this early July day! And pray, tell me how things are in Antwerp?”

Raphael, laboring to catch his breath after the long and steep ascent to my cell stroked his white beard, adjusted his robes, and shrugged with an audible grunt. “Mister More, Antwerp is Antwerp. Nothing much has changed there.” Once the guard had escorted Raphael in to my cell and locked the door behind him, we sat at the small wooden table in the middle of the room. A few rats scurried across the floor as they smelled the package Raphael pulled from his robes. “I did manage to acquire some excellent cheese before I left for England, and I bought some fairly fresh bread from a merchant outside the Tower gate. Please, help yourself.”

As I began to break apart the crusty bread, he withdrew a flask from his breast pocket and handed it to me. I thanked him and at once cleared my throat with a sip from the flask, I inquired, “So my friend, I am grateful for your presence and the chance at some worthy distraction from the reality at hand. What news have you of that strange, far-off land of Utopia? Have you had an opportunity to visit since our last meeting?”

Raphael took a swallow from the flask and smiled as I dropped a few small crumbs of cheese for my furry cellmates to enjoy. They squeaked with gratitude and scurried off to their nest under my cot. “Yes, my friend, I have had an opportunity to return to the shores of Utopia, and I have interesting news. I will be happy to impart to you what I have observed.”

I settled back in my chair and continued to dine on the bread and cheese as he began, “You will remember from our last conversation how impressed I was with the apparent efficiencies and equities that characterized every aspect of Utopian society. From the simplicity of its government to the competence with which its populous functions, it seemed to me to be the closest man has come to perfection in an effort to organize mankind into a socially just and egalitarian society. You can imagine my dismay upon my return to find things so far from the model of order and civility I had related to you when first we met.”

I leaned forward on my rickety chair and with an elbow on the rough table encouraged him to proceed.

“Well when I arrived on the shores of Utopia, rather than being greeted warmly by the dock tenders and port officials, I was instead accosted by armed guards who shoved me along with the other passengers on our vessel toward a large building with roped pathways much as you would expect to find in a slaughter house. They led to a row of benches where uniformed men and women searched each passenger’s belongings and asked a series of questions. They wished to know of my place of origin, and responded with much distrust and hostility having not heard of either Antwerp or London. They only relaxed a bit and showed me some civility once I spoke to them in Greek, which, you may remember is a language and culture with which, thanks to my previous visit, they have some familiarity (More 21).

“Others of my fellow travelers were not so fortunate. It seems as though those from the lands to the south of Utopia are no longer welcome. The guards treated them with the most alarming disrespect and promptly corralled them into holding pens until arrangements could be made to send them back from whence they came.

“The official who was processing my entry sneered as he noticed my puzzlement of their treatment. ‘Onitals!’ He snapped. ‘They find their way here thinking they can partake in our bounty, but why should we share with the likes of them? They do nothing to contribute.’

“He exhibited his disdain by slamming the Utopian seal on the permit, which authorized travel within the confines of the island for one month. He pushed it with great force toward my person and growled, ‘A score and ten days! Not a moment longer!’ I smiled meekly and carried my belongings with me to the carriage quay.”

By this point, I had forgotten about the bread and cheese before me. I sat back in disbelief and asked, “how strange! To what do you attribute this hostility?”

Raphael nodded and proceeded, “Apparently, a mere ten or so years ago, Utopia was attacked by a distant country.”

“The Onitals!” I surmised aloud.

“Oddly enough, no,” he responded. “It was a country to the east— one to which Utopia had sent colonists hundreds of years hence (More 8). The Ademus  addressed the people by way of the senate not a fortnight after the event and proclaimed the attack was for jealous reasons, but some question that logic and attribute in its stead the likelihood that the Utopians who settled on their shores did take sore advantage of the native peoples and their resources.”

“It is then understandable that the people of Utopia would have sharpen sword and doubled the watch, so soon after their sovereignty was threatened, is it not?” The largest of the rats nudged my bare foot with a cold nose and I threw him another handful of crumbs.

“Aye, understandable. But this is but one contrasting observation from my last visit.” Satisfied I had eaten my fill, Raphael broke off a corner of cheese and continued between bites. “The people of Utopia have for some reason been cleaved into two opposing points of view with respect to the basic tenets to which they have governed themselves for these many years.

“On the one hand, virtually half remain steadfast to the notion that all occupations are worthy and that each contributes according to his ability and receives according to his needs (Marx 17), while on the other hand, many have abandoned that sense of community and have instead adopted an ethos of individualism and competition. They feel that the labor of their own bodies, when mixed with the resources they acquire from the land thus makes the resulting produce their “property” (Locke Sect. 26). The diametrically opposed positions have lead to a great stalemate within the halls of the senate.”

Raphael paused to take a swallow from his flask and tossed a scrap of cheese to one of my lingering rat friends. “The whole concept of the commonwealth seems to have fallen away for this contingent, who seem to feel that their success is due not to the dedication and cooperation of community, but instead solely to their own ambitions. And when the magistrate calls for the town to provide labor for the harvest (More 2), this group complains that the government has no authority to do so, even though that authority is clearly indicated on the pages of their social contract.

“And the town criers, those individuals who stand in public squares imparting the events of the commonwealth to the people do it in such a way that is biased toward those who provide for their livelihoods. The result is that the people receive a slanted view of reality.”

Having totally forgotten by this point of my impending execution, my only concern now for the wellbeing of Utopia, I asked, “but what of the armed forces? Cannot the Ademus call them into the defense of the Contract?”

Raphael just shook his head and sighed. “The syphogrants and tranibor are almost equally divided amongst these two opposing positions and have over time crafted the rules of engagement to make toothless virtually every recourse. Such a vast majority is necessary in the senate to advance any particular agenda that most times it simply wallows in self-absorption.”

“But surely the people won’t stand idly by while this abuse of order persists!” I was now incensed and the rats scurried under the cot as I planted my fist firmly on the table top. I could hear the guard beyond the door shift uncomfortably. I lowered my voice. “Tell me, good sir, is there nothing that will free these people from this state of impasse?”

Raphael smiled slightly and leaned forward. “There is one thing that might break free this proverbial log jam.” He took a device out of his pocket. It glowed strangely in the dim light of the tower. He pressed a few buttons and slid it across the table. There on the small, phosphorous glass page were messages from Utopians. Not from the ruling class, but from the very people for whom this paralysis most injured. The messages spoke of organizing, of occupying, and of working within the Utopian system to bring about change at the people’s level. Their words seemed to glow with a hopefulness as intensely as the little device’s glass page. I was mesmerized.

“They call it Utopanet,” he said as he carefully slipped the device back in the folds of his robes, “and the authorities have thus far been unable to extinguish its flame. It is providing Utopians with an uncensored source of information with which they may chose their own destiny. It is unclear to me which side will prevail, but it is my hope that the intelligent rather than the ideological on both sides will join together and relegate the extremists back to the pages of their manifestos where they belong.”

I scratched my head, where the lice had taken up residence for the next five days and after a moment commented, “It did occur to me strange upon your first account that the land of Utopia seemed so orderly and at peace, yet brandished such fortification and armament. One also wonders why Utopus insisted on severing the isthmus from the mainland and thus isolating it so. Perhaps there were deeper layers to this garden of Eden than was readily apparent upon your first visit.”

I heard the key as it rattled in the lock on my door and the guard entered. “It is time for your departure, sir.”

Raphael stood slowly and the sound of crackling joints echoed against the stone walls of my cell. “My friend,” he said as he extended his hand, “I wish we met under less unfortunate circumstances. I understand that your predicament might have been easily avoided if you had expressed a few specific sentiments at the correct point in time.” I appreciate your convictions, but it will be difficult for you to witness the perfection that may some day be Utopia from the great beyond.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “Then again, perhaps this is the only way any of us ever will.”

Works Cited

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. London: Millar, 1688. 16. Print.

Marx, Karl. "Critique of the Gotha programme". Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books,    Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2012.

More, Thomas. "Utopia”. Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2012.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where is Spartacus when you need him?

I just read an article for school  by Sue McGreger called Critical Discource Analysis— A Primer, which was quite timely since this is the week that Mitt Romney's secret video came out on the Mother Jones Web site

In front of a room of wealthy potential campaign donors, among other things, Mitt said, 
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it … These are people who pay no income tax," Romney said. "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
McGregor suggests that "CDA is concerned with studying and analyzing written texts and spoken words to reveal the discursive sources of power, dominance, inequality, and bias and how these sources are initiated, maintained, reproduced, and transformed within specific social, economic, political and historical context" (3).  And what a perfect collection of spoken words to work with! 

Let's analyze using McGregor's  three levels of analysis (4). But I would prefer to take them out of order.

Let's look at (c) first: "the larger social context." The cable network Stars has been running a series about ancient Rome called Spartacus. In it, the nobility of Rome plot against each other and vie for dominance over their rivals. They do this plotting, as well as every other activity including having sex with each other IN FRONT OF their slaves, just as one might carry on in front of the coffee table! The series is very well researched, and I'm sure they are probably accurately representing the arrogance of the class, in which there is no need to be "careful" around the help, since they can always be terminated (literally) if they simply react to what is going on in front of them.

Anyway, I bring that up because if you keep that in mind as you watch the video from which the quote is extracted, you will see "servants" busily filling people's water glasses, clearing tables, and doing other "servantly" things— all while Governor Romney is conversing with his wealthy potential donors and talking about people whose economic status is quite possibly the same as these hard-working, low paid laborers. So here is the context: Governor Romney is speaking with the upper echelon of society— literally the 1%. And he is speaking to them as equals, which, of course they are, while ignoring the servants.

Next, let's look at (b) "Discursive practice." Mitt is defining "all the social positions they occupy in life" (McGregor 4), in this case, "they" referring to both his audience and the "other." He is setting up the classic "us against them" scenario. It's as old as society itself. "Let THEM eat cake." "We" are the responsible, respectable, elite. "They" are the lazy, irresponsible, freeloaders, who don't contribute to society. "We" includes all you out there in the dining room and me (Mitt) up here (ironically, with his hand out for campaign donations). "They" are an abstract stereotype designed to be used as a scapegoat for whatever ails society at the moment, "who might also be filling your water glass, Mitt thinks, "as you listen to me deride them".

Finally, let's consider (a) the actual text. First, let's extract some telling pronouns. him, they, them, they, them, they, their. He's certainly concerned with some "other."Have any doubts? How about "those people." Apparently, not "us." So how many of "them" are there? Roughly 47%. They are characterized by:

1) standing by the President " matter what," so they are obviously not critical thinkers. After all, if the President committed some "high crime or misdemeanor," those people would still stand by him.

2) they are "...dependent upon government." This gets a little confusing if in fact you are a critical thinker, because we are all dependent on government, even if only to make sure the shipping lanes are free so we can continue to get our petroleum fix, but of course, there is much, much more that government does for us— even the 1%. But Mitt's on a roll, and if he quickly moves on to the next point, these folks won't really analyze what he just said (not that he gave it any thought ether).

3) "who believe they are victims." I get the sense from the tone of this rant that Mitt believes the 1% are victims of these freeloaders, as well as being victims of big government, taxes, and regulations. I guess the 47% don't have a monopoly on victimization.

4) "who believe that government has a responsibility to take care of them" I can site literally dozens of instances where corporations and wealthy people have expected the government to take care of them. How about all those multimillion dollar oceanfront homes that get wiped out every hurricane season only to be rebuilt using government-subsidized flood insurance? Or how about the wealthy investor group that builds a stadium in the heart of the city in exchange for huge tax breaks and subsidies? How about huge federal subsidies to the oil industry even in years of record profits? 
5) "who believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, you name it..." Well, OK. He's more familiar with his audience than I am. Maybe they really don't think health, food, and shelter are human rights. Maybe only 47%  of the country does.

6) "These people who pay no income tax," Actually, many people in his audience probably don't pay any income tax either, because they live off of dividends. They pay capital gains taxes instead. Others exempt from income tax are those who are retired and receive less than $25K if filing singly and $32K if filing married (from the SS Web site). And those who are actually so low on the pay scale that they don't make enough to pay income tax are still paying payroll taxes, sales tax, state and local taxes... So here is an instance where Mitt is actually using language to "make unbalanced power relations and portrayals of social groups [that] appear to be commonsense, normal, and natural when in fact the reality is prejudice, injustice, and inequities" (McGregor 5).

7) "My job is not to worry about those people." THOSE PEOPLE. The workers. The laborers. The commoners. The peasants. The servants. The slaves. The other.

8) "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Because they aren't us.

Obviously, Mitt knows better. He knows there are many Obama supporters who pay income taxes. He knows that there are hard-working people who don't make a lot of money. He encounters common laborers frequently, like those who installed the elevator in his garage, those who fill his boat with gas, his landscapers... he can see how hard they work.

So is he intentionally creating a scapegoat to encourage his wealthy prospects to part with some of their capital gains? Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, like the ancient Romans in the Spartacus series, he just doesn't notice the slaves and servants around him.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

VICTORY! Nicaragua withdraws from the School of the Americas

News from my comrades from the Nicaragua Network...

September 5, 2012

The meeting came our last evening of a 9-day delegation co-sponsored by Nicaragua Network and the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) with 20 participants from around the US, as well as from Canada and the UK. Among the participants were SOAW Council member Ken Hayes, long time SOAW activist Mary Anne Perrone and SOAW activantes Amanda Jordan and Alejandro Ramirez. The delegation visited Esteli and Managua and met with many sectors of society, rural and urban communities, women and youth organizations, health and education centers, cooperatives, religious and ex-pat organizations. We also met with government officials, human rights representatives, media and opposition leaders.

In the  meeting with President Daniel Ortega we shared how impressed we were with the positive strides to alleviate poverty  that were strikingly visible to us: new homes, roofs, roads, water systems, as well as in the very upbeat and positive spirit that seems to permeate the country, especially among women, youth and sectors which were formally marginalized.  We also shared that we were concerned that Nicaragua had continued to send troops to the SOA under the current government. This is surprising given the fact that the Somoza dictatorship was held up in large part due to National Guards trained at the SOA. We did note, however, that since our previous meeting with Ortega in 2008 their numbers of Nicaraguan students had dropped dramatically from 78 in 2008 to 5 in 2011.

President Ortega shared with great honesty what a challenge it is to be such a small and impoverished nation with so much historic economic dependence on the US, while also lacking the natural resources that many nations of South America have. "We are a very fragile nation" he shared. He stressed the importance of the growing unity and support among Latin American nations, and expressed gratitude for their economic solidarity. This is, however,  still not sufficient enough to allow Nicaragua to be totally independent of the US, a nation that continues to punish Nicaragua for any slight step out of line by withholding their funds while also blocking other international funds destined for Nicaragua.

In spite of these extraordinary challenges, President Ortega affirmed that his country was taking a stand for sovereignty and dignity in many of its decisions, such as their recent decision to withdraw from the military pact of the OAS known as TIAR (Spanish acronym for  Interamerican Treaty of  Reciprocal Assistance).

In regard to the School of the Americas, President Ortega said:
"the SOA is an ethical and moral anathema. All of the countries of Latin America have been victims of its graduates. The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror. We have been gradually reducing our  numbers of troops at the SOA, sending only five last year and none this year. We have now entered a new phase and we will NOT continue to send troops to the SOA. This is the least that we can do. We have been its victims."
After a long applause from the group, Alejandro Ramirez of Honduras asked if he could speak. With deep emotion, he thanked President Ortega in the name of his people of Honduras who continue to suffer grave repression under the regime that took power after the 2009 coup organized by SOA graduates. He passed the president a note that he had written before the meeting, saying that this was the greatest expression of solidarity that one Latin American nation could offer to another. He went on to tell him how his father had crossed borders from Honduras to Nicaragua to fight with the Sandinistas in the 70's, until the 1979 victory. Ortega was visibly moved and gently pocketed the note and sent warm saludos to his father. I asked Ale how he possibly knew that President Ortega was going to respond affirmatively and he told me:  I never lose hope, pointing to his shirt. It was a well worn t-shirt with the face of Tomas Nativi, the disappeared husband of COFADEH director Bertha Olivia, the light that has given her the strength to stand up for human rights for two decades and counting.

We left the meeting both exuberant for this new victory and mindful that this is the first Central American country to withdraw its troops from the SOA. Once again in history, tiny Nicaragua sends a message of hope, of tenacity of integrity of solidarity and deep courage to Latin America and to the world. Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, ahora que vos sos libre te quiero mucho mas*

* famous song that says: Nicaragua, little Nicaragua, now that you are free, I love you even more

Note: Today Daniel's wife Rosario is going to make the announcement by radio on her show. He asked Miguel D'Escoto (at whose home we met) to help prepare the statement.
Also, Elane Spivak Rodriguez recorded the entire meeting.
It was excellent.

Lisa Sullivan

Monday, August 6, 2012

Making it up as He goes along

In one of my doctoral courses, we were assigned to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is considered the world's oldest recorded "novel." It describes the life of a human blessed by the gods and his adventures with his man/beast friend Enkidu. Assignment 2 was to read a few chapters from the Bible, including Genesis.

I recently read Genesis over the spring break. The famous underground comic artist, R. Crumb has published Genesis in comic book form. The artwork is amazingly detailed and he has become somewhat of a biblical scholar, so he footnotes passages where there are discrepancies between various translations, but it is a very faithful and reverent rendition of the Book. With that as a foundation, I read the King James version for this assignment.

Not having paid attention to the Bible in general and Genesis specifically since my days in Sunday school (I was probably about 10 then), I was intrigued to revisit these stories. The first impression after all these years is I'm not sure where the whole omnipotent God myth came from. It seems to me that God had some major flaws in his plan from day one. These are just the observations of an uninformed agnostic who is less familiar with the text and all the collateral assumptions that go along with it.

First, there's the whole idea of putting the tree of knowledge in reach of Adam and Eve. Shouldn't God have known that "human nature" would make tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil inevitable? He designed Adam and Eve, didn't he? It's kind of like the mind reader who has to ask you your name. Shouldn't she just know?

Then, flash forward to the Noah story in chapter 6 when God decides to "reboot" the whole thing. In golf terms, he's taking a mulligan— a do-over. He made a mistake. But I thought God didn't make mistakes. Blame it on the "giants?" If he is the one God, then aren't they part of his creation, too?

Then in chapter 11. Man gets too "uppity" so God makes different tribes speak different languages. He couldn't see that one coming? Part of God's plan? He is making it up as he goes along.

And what's this about Abram pimping his wife off to the Egyptians in chapter 12. Why would God look favorably on someone who exhibits that sort of behavior? When Abram/ham pimped his wife in Gerad, (is this the same story as in chapter 12 with different names, or was this a scheme Abe used whenever he needed to add to his wealth?) God punished the guy who thought he was dating Abe's sister, and rewarded Abraham. Again, I question his reasoning.

Then in chapter 19, when the citizenry from Sodom decide they want a chance to meet the three newcomers (angels), Lot offers them his virgin daughters instead. And God doesn't raze the city with him in it? Seems to me that God had a serious lapse in judgement when he let Lot leave with his family. The daughters? Sure. The wife? I didn't hear her defending her daughters. She gets hers when she turns to see what happens to Sodom, but Lot not only gets a pass, his daughters get him drunk later on and sleep with him. Apparently they didn't know he was going to entrust the preservation of their virginity to the good people of Sodom. Had they known, perhaps they would have had other plans for him once he passed out.

I suppose my observations could be taken as offensive to some. But think of me as the proverbial alien dropped down among you trying to make sense of it all. After reading Gilgamesh first, it puts the Bible in a different perspective. I guess maybe it is just a random sequence of events that made it so that when you open the nightstand drawer in a hotel room, there is a copy of the Bible and not a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Those who don't learn from the past...

In a course on creativity I am taking for my doctoral program, one of my colleagues asked the following question: "are there more new-original stories to tell in your discipline? Or have all the stories been told and all there is left to do is add new twists and turns to reinvent/retell the same old story? Here is my reply.

New-original stories in my area of interest? Hardly. I am reminded of that Bill Murray movie Ground Hog’s Day. The following are two extremely summarized accounts contained in Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. I interviewed Bill Blum, the author back in 2003 for a paper in one of my classes in my Master’s program. Each of the 56 chapters highlighting individual US intervention in the affairs of foreign, mostly third-world states is all well documented.

Iran, 1953: Two years after Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister nationalized the oil industry, the CIA staged a campaign to vilify the Prime Minister as a mad man and a puppet for the Soviet Union. Their covert actions and active support of opposition forces within Iran lead to a coup and the installation of the Shah. This lead to years of brutality against the Iranian people, which lead to… well, you know the rest of the story (Blum, 64-72).

That same year in Washington, the legally elected government of Guatemala was branded “communist” by the Eisenhower administration and was targeted for overthrow. “In the midst of the American preparation to overthrow the government, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Guillermo Toriello, lamented that the United States was categorizing ‘as communist’ every manifestation of nationalism or economic independence, and any desire for social progress, any intellectual curiosity, and any interest in progressive liberal reforms” (Blum 73). Post-colonial independence apparently has strings attached.

Once again, the CIA ramped up it’s propaganda machine and flooded the media with stories of a Soviet-sponsored, Communist dictatorship. But this time, as US Ambassador to Guatemala John Peurifoy noted, it was located “between Texas and the Panama Canal” (Blum 73). Unlike what triggered events in Iran, the motivation for this coup wasn’t oil. This time it was fruit. “The United Fruit Company, much of whose vast and uncultivated land in Guetamala had been expropriated by the Arbenz government as part of [a] land reform program” (Blum 75) put significant pressure on both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to defend their interests. The Eisenhower administration did and after a bloody coup, installed the much more agreeable Castillio Armas, who until his assassination in 1957 ruled through terror and torture. But the United Fruit Company got their land back.

The same basic story plays out again and again throughout the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Costa Rica, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Haiti, Guatemala (again), Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti (again) Venezuela… The names of the players, the locations and some of the situations change but the story is essentially the same.

It’s a tired old story, but you can bet somewhere in the world, the alarm clock flips over to 6:00 AM and Sonny and Cher begin singing I Got You, Babe and a leader of a post-colonial, third world country is about to walk into an all-too-familiar nightmare.


Blum, William.  Killing hope: U.S. military and CIA interventions since World War 2 . London: Zed, 2003. Print.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Which country is the dictatorship?

Yesterday, Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games for claiming he "loves Fidel Castro." Recently, in an inner city school in Michigan, eighth grade teacher Brooke Harris was fired for discussing the Trayvon Martin case with her students, and helping them to organize a fundraiser when they expressed sympathy for his family. And last year, the Tuscon Unified School District in Arizona shut down their Mexican-American Studies program, because it was "in violation of the law." The law, ARS 15-112 bans classes designed for a particular ethnic group that "promotes resentment toward a race or class of people." it is difficult to see how any African-, Native-, or Mexican-American course could be taught without raising some feelings of resentment.

It is ironic that in a country that prides itself on its first amendment, a certain segment has such a difficult time actually allowing free speech. And yes, while Limbaugh took some flack for referring to a young female student as a prostitute, he still has his job, so it's not quite the same. Even so, we should be willing to defend anyone's right to their opinion-- even assholes. That's the thing about a free society. Even the assholes are free.

Getting back to the Miami situation, it is, of course the Cuban exile community in Miami that is up in arms in reaction to Ozzie's comments. And they are not content with a five-game suspension. They are demanding his dismissal. It is exactly this attitude that led to the Cuban Revolution, and got Batista's supporters exiled in the first place. Had they been more tolerant and willing to listen to the concerns of their equivalent to our 99%, there probably would have been no need or support for the Revolution.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is Kant Channeling Nostradamus?

"After the guardians have first made their domestic cattle dumb and have made sure that these placid creatures will not dare take a single step without the harness of the cart to which they are tethered, the guardians then show them the danger which threatens if they try to go alone. Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all further trials" (Para.2).

Either things haven't changed all that much, or Kant had the powers of Nostradamus with which to see the future. Through the superficiality of 24-hour cable news reporting and USAToday-style sound byte coverage, the "cattle" only gain the most insignificant and rudimentary perspective with respect to the important stories of our time, and how those stories have an impact on their well being. By making the details and nuance difficult to find and then more difficult to comprehend, the cattle are less likely to seek the truth, and through it, enlightenment.

Kant advances the assumption that freedom is the key to enlightenment. "if only freedom is granted enlightenment is almost sure to follow" (para. 4). And that may be true, depending on your definition of freedom. Today, even while technology and automation promises to provide more free time, the working class has generally not used it to pursue a path to enlightenment. Perhaps the reason is that while freedom prevails, and free time is more abundant, security is in decline. The division of profit between labor and management has increasingly leaned toward the latter, and the expense of the former. Higher education has become more critical to ensure economic survival while becoming less accessible. And while advances in medicine provide the potential for a longer life, it is out of reach for more that 30 million of us, and for the rest, it is contingent upon employment. Hence, there is no freedom from anxiety.

Meanwhile, political operatives on both sides of the spectrum attempt to garner support by vilifying the other side and portraying their opponents' policies as a direct threat to the well-being of the working class. Each side claims, given the opportunity, the other will destroy our middle-class way of life and create an environment whereby enemies of the state will be able to take advantage and bring to an end the experiment called the United States.

So while the typical occupant of the middle class worries about maintaining her precarious economic position, in addition to worrying about those remote threats which have been represented by the "guardians" as imminent, she takes solace in distraction. Voyeuristic entertainment in the form of reality TV allows her a momentary sense of superiority as those she sees as inferior- if not in terms of economics, at least in common sense- act out their pseudo lives for the masses. She becomes engrossed in sporting events that pit one geographical region against another in harmless and meaningless (albeit lucrative to the upper class) competition.

Kant asserts, "we have clear indications that the field has now been opened wherein men may freely deal with these things and that the obstacles to general enlightenment or the release from self—imposed tutelage are gradually being reduced" (Para. 8), he is correct in that obstacles to which he is referring are those once applied by Church and State. Conveniently, they are no longer necessary.

"The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men" (Para. 6). But for this to be true, one must be paying attention. Today, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, human beings are barraged by over 3000 messages a day. It would be easy for that one enlightened voice to remain embedded in the white noise of pop culture. The "intentional artifices" (Para.9) need no longer be made while the unintentional ones prevail.

Kant represents an optimistic point of view in his essay, "What is Enlightenment," and one hopes that it is based on some preternatural, Nostradamian process.

As nature has uncovered from under this hard shell the seed for which she most tenderly cares — the propensity and vocation to free thinking — this gradually works back upon the character of the people, who thereby gradually become capable of managing freedom; finally, it affects the principles of government, which finds it to its advantage to treat men, who are now more than machines, in accordance with their dignity (Para. 10).

So far, I don't see it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You’re On Your Own, Cratchit!

As it is for most children from families who celebrate the holiday, Christmas was a special time of year for me: the colored lights, the presents, the carols, time off from school… all the things that one remembers fondly when looking back on that magical time in a child’s life. But the thing that stands out for me the most is how I felt watching Scrooge wake up on Christmas morning realizing it’s not too late to make up for years of greed and selfishness. To this day, it doesn’t matter whether I’m remembering the sound of my mother’s voice as she read the story straight from the Dickens edition of the Harvard Classics, or I’m watching the masterful Barrymore performance, or George C. Scott’s, Patrick Stewart’s, or even Mr. McGoo’s, once Scrooge realizes what a jerk he has been, and vows to redeem himself, I well up.

Looking back on the 50 plus years of my life, I can honestly say that this one story had more to do with setting my moral compass than all the Sunday school classes and bible studies I was subjected to as a child. More than any other person aside from my parents, Dickens instilled in me the foundational ethos that would later accommodate the Liberal philosophy that informs my perspective today. He taught me that there is more to life than material gain. That for many, while the main dish at the Christmas feast might not be a prized turkey, the love of one’s family and the support it provides is a fine garnish, and also that all too often, it’s just not enough. And, it taught me that while there are men like Ebenezer Scrooge on the day before Christmas, there are others, equally successful who realize that, “there but for the grace of God go I,” and find it in their hearts to “make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute,” and to always remember that “[m]any thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts” (Dickens 5).

Reading any major American newspaper today would probably be an all-to-familiar experience for Charles Dickens. The disparity between the rich and poor, the unemployment rate, jobs being shipped overseas, numbers of families being forced out of their homes… while the names of the places, politicians and political parties have changes, the stories would surely have a familiar ring. What would he have thought had he turned on the news on March 17, 2010 and saw a crowd of Tea Partiers belittling a Parkinson’s patient who held a sign in support of the Obama Administration’s healthcare proposal?

I was repulsed. “If you’re looking for a hand out, you’re in the wrong end of town.” An overweight, middle-aged man in a ball cap and sunglasses shouted as he loomed over the silent protester who sat cross-legged on the ground in front of him. “Nothing for free over here; you have to work for everything you get.” Another, younger man in a white shirt, tie and Dockers joined in. “No, no. I’ll pay for this guy.” He shoved a bill at the protester. “Here you go, start a pot. I’ll pay for ya.” He threw the money in the protester’s face and stomped back into the crowd. Other’s chanted, “Kill the bill!” and held signs accusing President Obama and his supporters of being Communists (The Political Carnival).
Much to my disappointment and to the disappointment of other American leftists and socialists, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 falls way short of providing the sort of universal coverage associated with socialized medicine. Many of us felt like he sold us out by taking a single-payer option off the table before negotiations even started. And when the “public option,” a compromise that would have provided a publicly funded, government-managed alternative for those who could not afford a commercial plan met with fierce Republican resistance, it too was scrapped without much of a fight. Meanwhile, the right wing filled the 24-hour cable news outlets with hyperbolic claims of government overreach. They propagated a misinformation campaign complete with stories of fictitious death panels, the prediction of financial hardship for small business and thus a further loss in jobs, increases to the already ballooning national debt, and the threat of restricting a patient’s ability to choose his or her own doctor.

The irony of these false claims is that they can actually be applied to our current healthcare system, which under the direction of for-profit insurance companies forces doctors to ask permission before providing many proven life-saving treatments. In this scenario, employees of the insurance providers, who understand that it is more profitable to deny coverage make the decisions on who gets approved for treatment and who doesn’t. The Affordable Care Act in contrast, transfers that responsibility to an impartial “panel of experts [who] limit government reimbursement to only those treatments shown to be effective” (, rather than simply those that have a lesser impact on the company’s bottom line. And as for the Government restricting a patient’s choice of doctor, it happens in the current system, in which only participating doctors are reimbursed by the insurance company, and often, a referral from the primary care physician is required before a patient can seek the services of a specialist. Regarding the economic impact of the plan, the non-partisan government accounting office claims that the approximately $938 billion dollar investment over ten years will actually reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the same period of time (

What the Affordable Care Act actually does, according to is prohibit the insurance companies from dropping someone from a plan when they get sick; it stops discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions, allows young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until their 26th birthday, and as of September, 2010, mandates that insurance companies provide preventive care, including “mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations, pre-natal and new baby care” to their customers with no deductible or co-pay. It guarantees “the right to appeal insurance company decisions to an independent third party,” and the choice of doctor “within the plan’s network of doctors, including OB-GYNs and pediatricians, without a referral, as well as out-of-network emergency care.” And in 2014, as part of the Affordable Care Act, “a new competitive insurance marketplace will be established. The new marketplace will include state-run health insurance exchanges where millions of Americans and small businesses will be able to purchase affordable coverage, and have the same choices of insurance as Members of Congress.”

What is interesting is that nowhere in this legislation does it state that anyone will be getting anything for free. Even in 2014 when the new marketplace is established, everyone will be expected to pay something for coverage. In the case of those below the poverty line, tax credits will compensate for their contributions. So with respect to that concern, the Tea Partier who told the Parkinson’s patient “there is nothing free over here” can rest assured there is no “hand out”.

What makes this possible is a federal mandate that requires all US citizens to have health insurance. As with any insurance model, the larger the pool, the less expensive the premiums can be for all those participating, and the less impact the payouts will have on the pool of funds. It is this caveat that seems to be the major sticking point for the Tea Party and its Republican sponsors. These people are apparently willing to potentially pay more for their own plan through their employer, and run the risk of losing their coverage altogether if they become unemployed, or to choose not to participate at all, rather than to contribute to the commonwealth, which might mean that some stranger may benefit.

I have observed over the past 30 years or so a growing aversion in the US to the concept of the commonwealth. In his Second Treatise on Government, Locke observes, “civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniencies of the state of nature” (Sect. 13). Certainly, universal healthcare, as enabled by civil government is part of that remedy. But for years, the Right Wing has created a caricature of the federal government as a bloated, wasteful fool, driving home the message that it can’t be trusted with our money. In response to bringing the federal deficit under control, which forces the government to pay billions annually on interest alone ( instead of spending money on vital services, this faction maintains it can be accomplished by cutting waste, and further reducing taxes, which theoretically will, they say increase revenues.

History, however shows this just isn’t the case. Kevin Willianson, a National Review Online columnist (hardly a Leftist publication) writes that this claim by the Republican leadership “is not true…that income-tax rate cuts [don’t] pay $1.30 on the dollar, and that revenue has [not] risen mostly because of (rather than despite) tax cuts — and Republicans should stop claiming otherwise.” Being able to blame one’s aversion to paying their share in taxes on waste is one thing, but in the case of the Tea Partiers who harassed the Parkinson’s patient, I think it is pretty clear that they were not worried that their tax dollars wouldn’t find their way to this unfortunate citizen at their feet. It was a simple matter of greed and a lack of compassion.

To the Tea Party, the Parkinson’s patient was the “Other,” and these “Others,” can easily be dehumanized and reduced to stereotypes and caricatures. Bell hooks writes, “stereotypes abound where there is distance. They are an invention, a pretense that one knows when the steps that would make real knowing possible cannot be taken— are not allowed” (341) or simply will not be taken. The Tea Partiers feel that the welfare of this person or anyone else outside of their small circle is simply not their business.  But as Jacob Marley so eloquently stated, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business” (Dickens 14).

The national infant mortality rate may be one of the better indicators of the effectiveness of the concept of commonwealth. For while other factors of Locke’s “state of nature” can influence the collective health of a nation, how its civil government responds to those factors directly impacts that rate. The CIA estimates, according to its World Fact Book, that the United States ranks 174 out of 222 countries in 2012 — 8 behind Canada, and Cuba, and 16 behind the European Union, all of which have some form of universal coverage supported by their respective commonwealths. But perhaps in the United States, infant mortality is of no concern. Here, maybe it is acceptable that approximately 6 out of every thousand infants die each year “and decrease the surplus population"
(Dickens 42).

I have a hard time believing that anyone who grew up reading or watching Dicken’s Christmas Carol each year as the holiday season came upon them could align themselves with the sort of insensitivity and callousness that the Tea Party exhibits. The hundreds and thousands of modern day Bob Cratchits and their families aren’t idol, and they aren’t looking for a hand out. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “in 2009, 5.2 million families were living below the poverty level, despite having at least one member in the labor force for half the year or more” ("Profile of the Working Poor, 2009" 3).
Over the four years ago, the United States found itself in an economic downturn of Dickensian proportion, the effects of which have had the greatest impact on those least able to survive it. The gap between the wealthiest and poorest is greater than it has been at any time since the 1920s (Leonhardt), and many who would prefer otherwise, have no other option than to rely on the social safety net to get by.
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment… ‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more. ‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’
(Dickens 50).
This is not the time when Americans should abandon the social contract and return to Locke’s “state of nature.” The spirit (or specter) of Tiny Tim is all around us in the form of thousands of human beings in need. We can argue about optimal strategies to hasten recovery and ensure long-term stability, but in the meantime, the Cratchits of the world suffer. We cannot fulfill the assumption of American Exceptionalism unless we can treat the least among us with dignity and respect and allow them to share in the abundance and opportunity that is still the United States of America.

Works Cited

"Country Comparrison: Infant Mortality Rate." The World Fact Book. Central Intellegence Agency, n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012. <>.

Chenoweth, Doral, narr. "Healthcare Battle." Columbus Dispatch, 16 MAR 2010. web. 20 Feb 2012. < Link&utm_campaign=Political Carnival&utm_term=Blog&utm_content=Politics, Humor>.

Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 5). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Greenblat, Alan. "The Federal Debt: How to Lose a Trillion Dollars." NPR. National Public Radio, 30 APR 2010. Web. 20 Feb 2012. <>.

"Health Care Reform." New York Times. 08 Feb 2012: n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Health Reform in Action." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012. <>.

Hooks, bell. “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination”. In Grossberg, Nelson & Treichler (Eds.), Cultural Studies (1992):  338-346.

Leonhardt, David. "Income Inequality." New York Times. 18 JAN 2011: n. page. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <>.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government (Kindle Location 171).

United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Profile of the Working Poor, 2009. Washington, DC:
Department of Labor, 2009. Web. <>.

Willianson, Kevin. "A Credibility Deficit." National Review Online. 21 APR 2011: n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

You are what you is.

I live in a small, mostly white rural community in upstate New York and most everyone I talk to is super critical of Obama. But most can't articulate any specifics other than the increase in the national debt, which they hear about on FOX. When I asked them why they weren't so vocal when Bush was promoting many of the same policies that increased the debt, as did Clinton, Bush 1, and Reagan, they just stutter and fumble and then mutter something to the effect that they weren't paying attention then. When I ask why now, they have nothing to say. But I know... And so do they. They just won't say it. That might be the difference between living north of the Mason-Dixon line. People think that if they don't say it out loud, they're not racists.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The confession of a well-intentioned, closet racist

In my virtual class tonight, one of my fellow students posted a link to a story on CNN that discussed colleges that study "whiteness," and how since Obama was elected, some characterize this as a "post-racist" period in our history, which makes the study of white supremacy less relevant. Our professor asked us, "do a few people of color achieving high positions of recognition within a predominantly and historically-long lived structure of white privilege deconstruct a structure of racism?"

This was my reply:

In my opinion, Elise, the answer is no. And those that say racism is over now that we have a black president are ignoring the statistics or rationalizing them via a racist prospective.

For instance, the overwhelming difference between "minority" incarsarations versus white can only be rationalized in a post-racist world by saying people of color are just more susceptible to antisocial behavior. Obviously, if opportunity is the same across the spectrum, there is no other factor that could account for the disparity. This argument, of course is totally racist. I think there should be a line about it in Alanis Morrisette's song (isn't ironic?).

A few years ago, before Obama was elected, I taught a course called "deconstructing the documentary" in Rochester. In it, we watched a different documentary each Tuesday and discussed it on Thursday. We were watching one called (I think) "Persons of Interest." It was about how the Middle Eastern community in Manhattan was treated just after 9/11. The stories were nightmarish.

One of my suburban students was very skeptical. She said, "I'm sure if the FBI knocked down their door, they had good reason. That sort of thing just doesn't happen in America."

I watched as my African American students glanced at each other, and I asked them to react to the comment. To a person, each said they needed to plan to leave home early in order to make it to class on time, since the college was in a fairly affluent neighborhood, and they were often pulled over on their way to class. My white student who originally spoke up,and a few others were shocked and appalled. It was one of those "ah ha" moments that a teacher lives for, and it was the start of a really productive conversation on race relations.

I would like to think it made a difference in how those white students viewed the subject from then on. I wonder if they think everything is OK now that Obama is in the White House. I wonder too if any of them believe that he is a Muslim, and more important, if they think it matters.

Addendum: as I reread this after posting (which seems to be the only time the typos stand out) I discovered some racism in my own writing. I charactized my skeptical white student as "suburban" as though an African American student couldn't live in the suburbs. Is racism dead? If this good-intentioned, white liberal is still susceptible, I think the answer is clear. My apologies to my "colleagues of color."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ain't it the Pits!

During the lead up to the 2008 presidential election, I was teaching at Ithaca College. I had a 2-hour commute through some of the poorest rural areas in Upstate New York. I was shocked at the number of McCain/Palin signs planted on the front lawns of run down shacks and weather-stained mobile homes with rusted-out cars in weed-infested driveways and patched and ragged t shirts and jeans waving in the breeze from sagging clothes lines. Here lived the very people who for the past thirty years have suffered under the false hope of trickle-down economics.  And yet here they were supporting the party that originated and promoted the myth that says if you take care of the rich, their consumption will drive the economy and provide opportunity for the rest of us.

There has been a great deal written about why the middle and lower classes are so easily convinced to vote against their own interests, but I think Plato may have nailed it when he wrote the Allegory of the Cave. In it, he describes a group of people who have lived their lives in the bottom of a dark cave in restraints so that they cannot move and can only look straight ahead. The lack of stimuli would be maddening, except for the good fortune of having a multimedia production crew working behind them to project shadow puppets on the wall in front of them. According to Plato's description, these were more than shadow bunnies and birds. This was big-time entertainment. The only problem is, shadows have no substance. There is no texture or depth. Yet this was all that these poor people had that passed for reality.

Just as Plato imagined what it would have been like for one of those individuals if they were suddenly released from their bondage and brought to the surface, I wonder how those people living in abject poverty in the back hills of Upstate New York would react if they could see past the elaborate shadow play created by the free market propaganda machine and the ruling oligarchy.

Would their eyes sting as the sun illuminated for them the fact that when their government calls their sons and daughters to take up arms against a foreign enemy, the only freedom being defended is that of the multinational corporations' right to safely access, extract, and transport the world's natural resources? And as their eyes adjusted to the light and they began to navigate their newly perceived reality, how would they react to the knowledge that they are supporting an economic system that socialized all the risk while privatizing profit?

Would they feel compelled to return to the depths of the cave to tell their fellow dwellers that for every Bill Gates-style success story there are millions of other men and women with equally great ideas that never get a break? Could anyone convince those left behind who were being served a steady diet of the American Illusion that they are being duped into thinking they have a chance of some day benefiting from the Bush tax cuts for the rich?

As I read the Allegory of the Cave, I realized we are all living in the cave. So move over Plato. It's a little crowded down here. Ain't it the pits!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

SOA Watch delegations to Mexico, Chile and Venezuela

And now a word from a very important organization...

SOA Watch delegations to Mexico, Chile and Venezuela
2012: Uniting Our Struggles

Saludos calurosos desde Santiago, Chile! Warm greetings from Santiago, Chile, where the the summer of the southern hemisphere has just begun.

As this new year unfolds, we often take the time to think about our hopes for our family, our country, our planet.

My own hopes for my country and for Latin America and the Caribbean are overflowing. Just as the Arab Spring brought a spark of hope to many parts of our planet, so the Chilean Spring brought a burst of light to our region. The source of that light: the youth of my country.

A full generation after General Pinochet forced a rapacious economic system of privatization on my country (costing the lives of 3,000 Chileans), the students of my nation have begun to push back, effectively. The daughters of those who were disappeared by SOA graduates, along with the sons of those who were imprisoned and tortured (as was I), have joined their fellow students in taking the streets to say BASTA! As they demand the right to a free public education they have been so eloquent, so brave, and so effective that all have taken notice: even the mass media)

Delegation to Chile, March 15-23

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me in experiencing this new and youthful hope arising in Chile. From March 15-23 I will be leading an SOA Watch delegation to Chile, organized by our local Chilean SOA Watch group. In addition to meeting with student leaders, we will be meeting with leaders of the original Mapuche people who are struggling to reclaim their native lands. We will also visit the homes of poet Pablo Neruda and singer-songwriter Victor Jara, another victim of the SOA. Today, their poetic voices of hope mix with the new voices of the youth and the original peoples of my land. Download a PDF of the delegation flyer here.

Delegation to the Mexico-US border, February 12-19

I also invite you to consider joining SOA staff on two other delegations to Latin America. Fr. Roy Bourgeois and SOA Watch Field Organizer Nico Udu-gama will be bringing an SOA Watch delegation to the US/Mexico border from February 12-19. Just as the SOA has become a concrete expression of unjust US policy towards Latin America, so has the border become the symbol of injustice, violence and tragedy unleashed on Latin America under the guise of the "War on Drugs". In the midst of tragedy, however, local groups have been coming together to bring peace and dignity to their communities. I invite you to take a stand and experience both this heartbreak and this inspiration by coming to the border of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso.

Delegation to Venezuela, April 5-14

SOA Watch Latin America Liaison Lisa Sullivan will be leading another delegation to Venezuela, where she has lived for 26 years. The delegation (click here to download the PDF), co-sponsored by the Marin Task Force on the Americas will take place from April 5-14, in conjunction with the tenth anniversary of the people's overturn of the 2002 coup. This historic victory for Latin American sovereignty unleashed a decade of similar struggles that has culminated in last month's inauguration in Caracas of CELAC, a new organization that brings together all the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Another focus of the delegation will be on initiatives of food sovereignty. Immediately following this delegation,the Summit of the Americas will be taking place in neighboring Cartagena, Colombia, and participants may elect to add this trip to their itinerary. Or, consider taking your knowledge, returning to DC, and lobbying your representative during the April Days of Action!

Please contact Lisa Sullivan ( for information and applications on any of these delegations.

Hope is rising in 2012 from every direction. I invite you to experience the hope that is rising from the South, a flicker of light that refuses to extinguish, even in the midst of challenge and turmoil.


Pablo Ruiz,
SOAW Latin America Coordinator