Yesterday, out on the porch after work with a quesadilla on the plate in front of me- mixed mexican queso, avocado just a little under-ripe, vegan cilantro dip, lime, salt, smoky hot sauce and sour cream. The Belcher on Otis Street let out a terrific, huge belch which resounded down to the Thai Temple and back, and brought our conversation about which friend, family member, pet you would eat first (if forced to due to a massive earthquake) to a sudden stop. I kept right on eating, remarking simply “oh, the Belcher’s at it again”, only to discover that my housemates and visiting friends had not been privy to events on this special low frequency. They were having a brand-new experience. Only later when we left on our bikes for the bar did I happen to notice that another character around here- let’s call him “motorized wheelchair man” for the sake of clarity and simplicity, and because that’s what we call him- was sitting in his wheelchair with a brown-bagged beverage at exactly the spot on Otis, in front of the Meth Laundry Lesbian’s place, from which the epic belch had emanated a short time before. It seems increasingly possible that the Belcher and motorized wheelchair man are one and the same person.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about babies. No, not because I have them. Also not because I want them, though as a 35, soon-to-be-36 year old woman who is not a mother but who is married to a man, 99% of the world seems to assume that I do, that I must, and quite pointedly that I should want to be a mother, and should be pursuing motherhood as an urgent imperative second to none. No, I have been thinking about babies because my friends are having them, because the children of my mother’s friends and of my parents-in-law’s friends are having them, and because there is a lot of heavy existential shit wrapped up in choosing a life without children, in accepting a life in which your children choose not to have children. There also seems to be a whole other load of heavy existential shit wrapped up in choosing to have children, but that’s not my area of expertise.
The other, bigger-picture reason why I’m thinking about babies, and about women’s reproductive choices and access to family planning is because I am living in the U.S.A in an era when fewer and fewer women have access to health care at all, and when access to resources such as contraception and safe and legal termination of unwanted pregnancies are specifically further and further out of reach for huge numbers of women. I could conceivably wake up one of these days to discover that my health insurance provider has been forced by the government to stop covering the benefit that allows me access to the birth-control pill that’s allowed me to avoid an unwanted pregnancy for almost 15 years of having sex with men. The pill could become a luxury- an out-of-pocket cost I can’t afford, if it’s available to me at all, to the inevitable detriment of my emotional well-being and my stable and happy (voluntarily child-free) marriage. And I live in deep-blue California. This lack of access to reproductive health care is already a reality for women all over this country and is bound to become more and more dire. I read something a couple days ago about what “back-alley abortion” could mean in a potential (dare I say “probable”?) post-Roe world. Very likely it would not greatly resemble what was commonplace pre-Roe. More likely it would mostly involve drugs ordered off of the internet to chemically induce miscarriages. One would like to claim this would be safer, however, many women who have miscarriages, self-induced or otherwise, require medical care and support. A few months ago I read an article about El Salvador, where all abortions, self-induced miscarriages, etcetera are legally framed as homicide. Even a miscarriage that is suspected to be in any way self-induced can lead to a woman doing years of jail time. This situation basically results in women whose pregnancies terminate avoiding those who could give them medical care they need for fear of being turned over to the authorities, slapped with homicide charges and railroaded through a criminal justice system rife with misogyny where they are presumed guilty based on nothing more than the testimony of neighbors, bitter exes, abusive partners, family members or physicians who can have no presumed objectivity (and don’t need it to be taken at their word). I hear some of you saying “but that’s El Salvador…poverty…corruption…backwards… ” and so on. Here’s the thing though. If (when?) Roe is overturned, we could easily find ourselves in a not dissimilar situation. The difference is there may be wild variations from state to state or even county to county. Example: two college women in post-Roe America. One is a Sophomore at University of California, Berkeley. One is a Sophomore at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Both wind up with unplanned pregnancies and for any number of legitimate reasons (lack of resources, desire to finish education and establish career, income, stable, healthy relationship before having a family, or simple lack of desire to be a parent), both of these young women use the internet to order pills to induce miscarriages at home. Both develop alarming symptoms, fever, hemmorhaging, etcetera, get scared and seek medical help, whether at a campus clinic or a local E.R. Chances are any doctor is going to look at this scenario and know immediately what is going on. The question is, are any of the medical personnel involved in stabilizing this woman- keeping her alive and healthy- going to call the cops on her? Is this more likely to happen at Bob Jones or in South Carolina than at U.C Berkeley or in California? And lastly could there be a mental affect- a fear of criminal proceedings- that could prevent either of these young women from seeking medical help, thus potentially risking extremely serious lasting complications or death?
Are we going to see a whole branch of the FBI dedicated to cyber-surveillance of purveyors and purchasers of the drugs that are used to induce miscarriages? Are we going to see sting operations to round up and arrest those staffing underground warehouses that ship these drugs to desperate women all over the country? are we going to see women spending years in jail for ordering these drugs on the internet?
These are the things I think about around Mother’s day. The never-ending war on the rights of women to decide if and when to have children. The tiers of pressure and coercion. The first tier is the soft coercion of the way girl-children are socialized. The dolls and the “playing mommy” and the toy kitchen, and the expectation of play-caretaking which is designed to lead to a life of caretaking, i.e unpaid work, in particular the unpaid work of motherhood. Incidentally, if my mother wanted me to produce grandchildren for her, the first mistake she made was basically allowing me to be a genderless feral child and do whatever the hell I wanted to do when I was very young. I didn’t have an inborn interest in playing at being “mommy”, I was never made to or even especially encouraged to play “mommy” and I never developed an interest in being “mommy”. I think these things are related. I don’t doubt that there are some children, and some people, who have a natural gravitation toward the role of being a parent. I also feel fairly sure that there are many many people who only become parents- and specifically women who only become mothers- because of a combination of early coercion in their socialization as children combined with enormous pressure to become mothers in their child-bearing years, all topped off with lack of availability and/or affordability of reproductive health care. Put it this way- the fact that I have a cat and I love her does not mean that I want to have a baby- (though I wouldn’t mind a possum. Or better yet, a baby sloth).
So why does the government want to force me to have a baby human being? It has occurred to me that there may be a simple answer: economics and demographics. Late capitalist economies require constant growth. Economic expansion is not possible without demographic expansion. You get demographic expansion in one of two ways: Babies, or immigration. In countries that are sour on immigration for any number of reasons (hewwo, Brexit, hewwo, Trump’s America), the attempt of legislators/pols/patriarchal stringpullers/old white guys to keep the old engine of capitalism chugging away and hopefully stave off fiscal disaster as the baby-boomers come into their long stretch of waning dependent years is to stimulate demographic growth by taking away women’s access to reproductive health care and forcing us to have children whether we want to or not.
and we find ourselves full-circle, right back where we started, pre-womens movement, pre-suffrage, pre-enlightenment, pre-mass female literacy, pre-women in the professions… right back to the beginning of civilization where a woman is nothing but a uterus to be locked up, guarded, bought and sold and discarded if not in proper working order and so on and so on. This is the premise upon which all these efforts to pressure or force women to have children (and to groom little girls for motherhood) are based: the premise that for women, biology is destiny. You are not a human being. You are an object. An incubator/milk machine. A Uterus that will serve at the pleasure of state and patriarchy, which happens to exhibit some very human characteristics at times. The ideology is so pervasive (and so important a component of the algorithm of capitalism) that it even has girls and women pressuring each other, using the ancient instruments of ostracism and shame to coerce compliance. I feel grateful that I actually live in one of the least oppressive places in the world (reading this article today about the situation my sisters in Saudi Arabia find themselves in snapped things back into perspective), but I see the erosion of what’s been built up over centuries of progress and I regularly experience the toxic effects of continued patriarchal and capitalist control of society’s ideas about women’s autonomy and about the legitimacy-and legality- (or lack thereof) of the choice female-identified humans may make to not be mothers. We cannot afford to harbor any illusions about how very far from innocent and how dreadfully consequential the ideology of required motherhood is.
Back at the beginning of this post, I mentioned the heavy existential shit. I intended to talk more about it, but then I started going on and on about all the other stuff. Luckily, it can be summed up briefly. It is tempting to have children because we human beings are the only animal (as far as we know) with an awareness of, and therefore an unshakeable fear of, our own mortality. We are going to die, and we know it, and this scares the shit out of us. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could at least create another person who looks a lot like us, who will still be alive after we die, who will remember our stories, pass on our legend? wouldn’t that be kind of like not dying? Better yet, if that person could make another person who might look kind of like us, who will be alive even longer… We do it all “for the children”, but hey, they were saying that back when I was a child! (As Norm Macdonald says on this topic in his new standup special, which is hilarious: “I recognize a Ponzi scheme when I see one”).
yup, the problem is having children doesn’t actually solve the human dilemma, which is awareness that we are going to die and ultimately, everything we do will disappear without a trace. Knowing that, how can we attribute meaning to anything we do in life? Having a child may make you too busy to think about it, at least for a couple decades, but it’s not going to make it go away. Having grandchildren is not going to make it go away, either. Personally, I’m hoping that reading and re-reading Epictetus and Lao Tzu and Yeats, for 80 years if I’m lucky, may help me to make a dent in this smooth hard wall of nothingness. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay, because none of it matters, anyway, and I’ve got this furry zen master curled up in my lap right now, showing me (again, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating) how to just fucking relax.
So much has happened since I last weighed in on the state of the world that I hardly know where to begin. Plus, you are all glued to your array of information sources, just as I am, juggling words and images in your brain, shifting from panic to numbness to moments of sweet forgetting. You know how bad it is. Here in Berkeley the rain is coming down like mother nature is trying to cleanse the earth of the foul stench of moral rot. It’s not working. At the beginning of the week we saw the confirmation of Betsy Devos as secretary of education after Senate Democrats actually did their damn job and stayed up all night fighting tooth and nail against it. Not because they’re saints, mind you. Because they want to get re-elected and they know that the huge majority of Americans send their children to public schools and are much more aware of and impassioned over the handling of public education than almost any other issue. Yes, the constituency is quite aware that Devos is a woman who seems to have no appreciation for education, learning, and literacy as good things in and of themselves. Nor does she have any grasp on the role public education can play in creating some socio-economic mobility, some possibility for the realization of big dreams for children who are not born to wealth, as she was, and who do not have access to financial resources. She wants to privatize public education. Which means you can get a voucher for 7000 dollars a year (that’s taxpayer dollars that have been siphoned off from their previous allocation to support and improve Public schools) to send your kid to a private or parochial school. The only problem is most private and parochial schools annual tuition, even for kindergarten, is 15 grand or more. So if you don’t happen to have 8-13 thousand dollars a year lying around (according to multiple recent studies, including this one in Forbes, most Americans can’t come up with 500 dollars in an emergency, no less 8,000 every year) you are shit out of luck. Your kid is going to be one of those shunted off to a public school system that’s been catastrophically defunded. Considering how difficult it is to deliver anything resembling a quality education in the U.S public school system with the current levels of under-funding, over-crowing, teacher shortages, underpaid and overworked teachers and staff, etcetera, it is difficult to imagine the Devos plan leading to anything other than public schools that are little more than holding pens (read: Prisons) for the very poorest of children and teenagers. And even these public schools will be privatized, the way prisons are now. You see where I’m going with this. The whole thing is basically a neat way of transforming our public schools into an expansion of the for-profit prison system. The public schools will become for-profit prisons for poor, mostly black-and brown children and teenagers. And it’s an even better business model than the for-profit prisons, because they don’t even have to do anything wrong (aside from being born poor) to be there! there’s no need to criminalize particular behaviors, substances, ways of dressing, etcetera. These children are forced to be the prison population simply because they’re poor and their families can’t buy them out of it. Furthermore, most families rely on public schools to be the only free child care that exists in our country, enabling the parents to go to work. The dream of pulling those beautiful little people out and taking them for a hike and teaching them to read the best books and ask questions and think critically under the big blue sky is just that- a dream that could only be reality for those priveleged enough to not need to go to work to put food on the table every day. And last but not least, delinquency/failure to attend school can lead to interventions either from DSS or from law enforcement, which leads to those other hells of the foster system and the prison system. Now if this is not sophisticated coercion, I don’t know what is. Isn’t it disgustingly clever? I’d like to think that Betsy Devos is stupid and doesn’t realize the massive profit potential of privatizing public schools, but the functioning part of my brain is sure that she has holdings in private prison companies and whoever manages her portfolio has made her fully aware of how much money can be made by turning the public schools of this country into for-profit private prisons for poor children. I imagine many of the contractors behind the private prison industry are standing in the wings, eager to step in and place their bids as this new business opportunity opens to them.
As I said in my Post ‘Don’t Tread on Us’: “The collective contributions of the good, dutiful, obedient American taxpayer add up to a huge pot of money. After all, there’s a lot of us. It is infuriating to those who want to play with or pocket some of this money (and are used to getting what they want) that we’ve managed to keep their hands off it for so long.”
That, my friends, is the beating heart of the drive to privatize all that is public. It has driven them crazy for too long that they haven’t been permitted to put their hands in this money. Privatizing is just inserting a middle-man who will take a cut for himself and his share-holders (of which Devos is sure to be one), and who in so doing will pull even more of the meager resources allocated to poor families away from them and into some Cayman Islands account far out of the reach of the IRS.
Then there’s the confirmation as A.G of Jefferson Sessions, one of the most KKK-loving, black vote suppressing, power-abusing, white supremacist motherfuckers to ever be refused a seat in the federal judiciary of the United States due to the aforementioned KKK-protecting, suppressing of the black vote etc.
The day this man became the head of the Federal Justice Department should be regarded as a day of national tragedy, shame, and sorrow. To think that we will need to fight AGAINST the USJD to secure equal protection under the law- to secure JUSTICE- for all our people. Whew. Excuse my language, but that is fucked up. We are living in some dark and twisted times when Jeff Sessions is Attorney General. It’s so mind-bogglingly messed up and infuriating that I can’t even be articulate about it.
And to top it all off, 45 has another executive order coming through today or tomorrow, which is worth taking a look at. It’s just a couple pages, so you can really read the fine print. The thing to focus on (I think), is the huge discretion given to the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, notorious racist and supporter of white supremacist terrorist groups in this country, to determine what constitutes an insupportable level of resistance to “local law enforcement”, and to alter the criminal codes in order to “protect local law enforcement” from what he feels is an undue amount of resistance, lack of compliance, lack of cooperation etcetera. That sounds to me like drastically expanded criminalization of protests, marches, and resistance activism generally. In particular resistance to White Supremacy in this administration (such as, I dunno, the Justice Department halting it’s investigations into local PDs all over the country murdering unarmed black people with impunity?) We are about to see the new COINTELPRO. We are about to see Black Lives Matter surveilled and brutally attacked the way the Black Panthers were in the 70’s. This Executive Order is just one of the things- this designation of authority to the racist A.G – that might just make it all “legal”. We must remain vigilant and be prepared to fight. If you’re Black, start thinking of yourself as a warrior (you probably already do)- if you’re White, start thinking of yourself as a human shield, and get good and comfortable with the idea of putting your body on the line to do all we can to protect our Black family. There will be no sitting this one out.
Oh, just one more thing. Every Authoritarian regime needs a propaganda arm, and 45 took care of that (or at least laid the groundwork) with his stealthy, Putin-esque re-structuring of the Voice Of America. This one is gonna be a slow burner, folks, but the importance of an entirely regime-controlled broadcasting arm has never been a thing to scoff at, from Hitler to Pinochet from Rwanda to North Korea to the USSR to Putin’s Russia, so it’s probably a good idea for all of us to pay attention to this. Hats off to Rachel Maddow and her team at MSNBC for this invaluable piece of real reporting.
Also, just in case these assholes are over there, making a file on me- put this in there, will ya?
*painting by Hans Memling, 1470
I should start by saying I am indebted to a couple of things I read recently for the brain-storms behind this post: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st century, and the Wall Street Journal of Monday, November 14, 2016.
So… “Make America great again”. Let’s dig into that for a minute. What does it mean? Sure, to many it means a return to a world in which straight, white, cis-gendered, gentile men ruled over us all and didn’t have to worry about anyone successfully elbowing in on their hoarded stores of power, money, respect, freedom, and basic physical security. Maybe some of those people would like to re-live the thrill of the rest of us stepping off the sidewalk, curtsying, and hiding in the shadows in shame. But there is more to that time, that time that is so great in the collective memory of these former masters of the universe. In fact, there were some things in that time- the middle of the 20th century- that did hold a promise of greatness, if yet to be fully realized in equitable distribution, particularly to non-white people. Specifically, as Thomas Piketty shows, it was the only time in history that wealth has been re-distributed from the top percentiles of earned income and more importantly from the greatest inherited fortunes, to a middle 40%- the much touted great American Middle Class, which has been in decline since roughly 1980. During that great time in the mid 20th century, Private Capital, through unprecedented high post-war tax rates on the top decile that has always held a great majority of the wealth of all nations, became Public Capital in the form of subsidies and support- the G.I Bill and all of it’s provisions being an important example- in Social Security, Medicare, a well-funded public education system that was affordable to all, through the University level, a well-funded and powerfully unionized Public Sector from Teachers to The Postal Service, to Public Utilities, and on and on. The Quality of life and broad prosperity of that era were due almost entirely to the transference, through taxes, of Private Capital into Public Capital. During this same era, and again, in large part due to government aid as part of the G.I Bill, a significant number of American families were able to build equity through home-ownership.
The middle class in America lost a huge part of the equity that differentiated it from the bottom 50% (those with no equity, no capital, nothing they can pass on to their heirs) in the subprime mortgage/foreclosure crisis of 2008. A massive amount of housing stock at that time became bank-owned and was then auctioned off to already-wealthy venture capitalists, leading to a boom in the rental-market for these re-couped single-family homes. Many Americans now are not even given the option of owning a home, even a fixer-upper in an undesirable neighborhood. They must rent, and the main difference between renting and home ownership is that through home ownership one can build equity and potentially have something of value to pass on to one’s heirs, improving the lot of the next generations, if not ones own. In the rental scenario, one is forced to pay and pay to a (increasingly likely to be corporate) landlord just to stay housed, while building no equity, and probably not saving anything for future generations.
The loss of equity in home ownership left the middle 40% (and even the bottom 50%) with one precious resource. Increasingly the only thing we, the bottom 90%, own. Though we own it collectively, and not individually, we do own it. We paid for it, and continue to pay for it, together. That is our “Public Capital”- Social Security is our collective savings account for retirement. Medicare is our collective safety net for our medical needs in our old age. Our Public Education system is a collective investment in the care and education of our children. When we look at our paystubs and see certain dollar amounts accruing to these programs, we have a level of confidence in that investment. We are okay with handing over that money, because we feel confident that we are going to see that money again, that it will be properly safeguarded, will accrue a little interest, and will do us a world of good someday when we really need it. Enter the Republican Congress intent on “privatizing” Medicare, Social Security, The U.S Postal Service, our Public Education system, etcetera etcetera. The argument, as far as I can gather, is that the private sector will far more efficiently manage our money. If we turn the huge well of taxpayer money in Medicare and Social Security over to portfolio managers on Wall Street, they will most certainly maximize returns in morally defensible ways, and we will all benefit. Never mind the bailout they so recently required for their recklessness. Never mind the 401Ks so recently reduced to crumbs by their shitty greed and life-lived-in-blinders-made-of-money. Supposedly the Postal Service will benefit from privatization. Really though, The idea seems to be a brilliant way to (As with the privatization of public schools and elimination of the Teacher’s Union) phase out one of the last good forms of public-sector employment, one that offers job-security, good pay and benefits, and enable the replacement of employees one is obliged to take care of with temporary workers to whom one has no such obligations. I’m sure it is an added enticement that privatization of the Postal Service can happen simultaneously with the selling off of Post Offices themselves, since they are public property- one piece of the physical infrastructure that is part of our “Public Capital”- the things that all the people, including you and I, own. Our Prison system has already been largely privatized, which has led only to an impetus to grow the prison population through racist policing practices, to keep that federal money flowing into the pockets of investors and the private prison industry. Our State-funded mental hospitals were privatized by Ronald Reagan, and the result is that we have a huge and ever-growing population of homeless individuals with untreated severe mental illnesses on America’s streets. Our Public Universities have been largely privatized, and the result is annual tuition hikes that make higher education a giant debt-trap for anyone whose parents can’t fully foot the bill, if they’re even able to get there at all.
All of this push to privatization means a fire-sale of public capital- all we, the people, have left of the middle-class equity built in the mid-20th century, to the highest private sector bidders. In other words, to the people who already own everything else. We will continue to need these services (or at least to want them. I guess we’ll find out how much we need them when we no longer have access to them), but from the moment they’re privatized there will always be a middle man taking as large a cut as he can get away with. There will always be some asshole on Wall Street playing with a chunk of your paycheck and my paycheck, and maybe giving some of it back to us down the line. Or maybe not. It depends on how he’s feeling.
The collective contributions of the good, dutiful, obedient American taxpayer add up to a huge pot of money. After all, there’s a lot of us. It is infuriating to those who want to play with this money (and are used to getting what they want) that we’ve managed to keep their hands off it for so long. If they do get their hands on it, what will they do with it? An article in the Wall Street Journal on The Alaska Permanent Fund, which manages Alaskan Oil Revenue, gives us a clue. As global oil prices have plummeted, Alaska’s oil revenue has declined 80% over the past 2 years, but the fund made a lucky bet four years ago when it put major funding behind a company (now publicly traded), called American Homes 4 Rent. This company is one of those (mentioned above) that swooped in after the 2008 crash and scooped up huge numbers of foreclosed homes at bank auction. It is now permanently operating as a corporate landlord for single-family homes that, if on the market for purchase, would have been an opportunity for working americans to build equity through home-ownership. The headline for the article is “Alaska’s bet on Housing Bust Pays Off”. My point is, an increase in risky mortgage swap-type financial instruments are the almost inevitable outcome of a de-regulated financial industry (virtually guaranteed under a Trump presidency), and we should have learned our lesson from 2008: investments of this kind, as profitable as they may be in the short term, are risks that cannot be taken with people’s retirement and healthcare savings. Particularly since risky financial instruments are certain to be damaging working Americans in myriad other ways, as the foreclosure crisis shows. Privatization of our public capital and de-regulation of the financial sector, taken together, can only lead to utter ruin for millions of people.
Which leads me to my conclusion. I am fucking pissed. I am fed up to here. I thought I had reached a zenith of fury during the Bush/Cheney war profiteering years, when it was completely clear to me, and I believe, to most Americans, that these guys had illegally invaded and destroyed a country halfway around the world so that they could pillage that country’s oil reserves (Geneva Conventions be damned) and award massive government contracts (read: TAXPAYER’S MONEY- OUR MONEY) to their buddies, or in the case of Halliburton, to themselves, to “rebuild”(not very well) the country they had illegally destroyed. The Iraqi people and all the U.S Military and civilian personnel, including relatives and friends of mine, who were and continue to be traumatized, injured or killed in Iraq, are collateral damage in a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of American people to the top 10%- mostly to the top 1%. I remember thinking at the time “god-damn them, they really will not rest until they get it all”, because the scheme was so transparent. I had already considered going off-grid to avoid paying federal taxes at that point, due to my deep discomfort with war profiteering and my natural resistance as a being with a modicum of self-respect and some healthy moral fibre to the idea that a chunk of my hard-earned and meager paycheck was going into the pockets of the slimy greedy pigfuckers at the top by way of foreign plunder, rape, and murder. I just couldn’t figure out, logistically, how to do it. But if they pull off this privatization crap, I have to figure out how to do it. WE have to figure out how to choke off their money at the source. As long as we all sit down every April and obediently send our few coins down the chute into the pool of grease and blood and deep dark shadows, they will not give a flying fuck that we’re protesting every night. They will wipe their satanic buttholes with all of our petitions demanding equal rights and respect and dignity and an end to wars for plunder and “regime change”. The only way forward is to just stop giving them our money, because if they privatize what is left of our public capital, the collection of federal income taxes will be reduced to mere naked, bald-faced robbery of the poor by the rich. Will we stand for that?
I think it is interesting to ponder the realities of other countries, where rulers and governments are known to be entirely corrupt, leaders known to be eager thieves with fat offshore accounts and golden mansions far from the common thoroughfares: In those places, a majority of economic activity takes place on black markets, thereby entirely surpassing the corrupt government intermediary, and choking off the flow of tax dollars that would be pocketed by the oligarchs in power, never to be seen again. There may be systems of barter and trade in place, and all sorts of under-the-table informal economic arrangements. We here in the U.S would do well to study the informal economies people around the world have designed to bypass the groping hands of a greedy and corrupt central government and its tax authority. We would also do well to remember that the initial inspired rebellion that led to this country’s independence was a refusal to bow under the yoke of unjust taxation.
Another U.S Presidential election is upon us, and more than ever before, technology enables the electorate to see (if it chooses to), even to understand in some measure (if it so desires), the nature of power and disempowerment , political and otherwise, in this time and this place. We are experiencing the humiliation of seeing, if not all of the picture at least more of it than we’ve seen probably ever before, and feeling that there is nothing any of us (the vast majority of the population) can do to alter the picture of Power and its abuses one iota. This is because the outcomes of our electoral politics seem pre-determined. As Thomas Frank points out in the Guardian after reading through the leaked Podesta e-mails, there is an entrenched wealthy elite which controls the economy, the political process, the disbursement of federal tax revenue (often for its own enrichment), the wise and unwise military/geopolitical ventures funded by our tax dollars for the further enrichment and advancement of this entrenched elite that very very rarely experiences or has experienced first-hand the trauma of warfare. As Frank further exposes in Harpers, our media, our “serious journalists”, are mostly complicit in supporting the ideologies and agendas of this elite, and often work to manipulate public opinion in favor of it’s pre-ordained attitudes and courses of action. Frank supposes that these journalists are playing the game out of some sort of aspirational loyalty to it’s relative enlightenment and out of a silly hopeful illusion that because there are also some Ivy League degrees in the rapidly shrinking ivory tower of highbrow journalism, playing nice might net an invitation to the white house, to the Met Gala, to the hollywood afterparty, or ultimately onto the Ark when the next deluge comes (could be any day now).
And that’s just the Democrats. The truth is, starting with this election cycle or the next one, the U.S will become a one-party system, ruled by the elite class described above. The G.O.P, the “other party”, in a two-party system (which seems to be the most we could hope for here), which ostensibly should have been a voice for the masses outside of Wall Street, the beltway, Greenwich and the Vineyard, has collapsed. In an obviously and increasingly pay-to-play political system, Republican legislators are largely (if not entirely) in the pocket of the industry lobbyists who finance their campaigns and sometimes cushion their paychecks. These interests are by-and-large their only constituents in any significant sense. And interestingly enough these same special interests also finance and control quite a few legislators on the other side of the aisle. Our Congress, as a collection of free individuals who represent the views and interests of human constituents in their places of origin across the country is an illusion. Both parties have foundered on these rocks. The Republicans however, are the ones who are going to fade into utter political irrelevancy, leaving the Dems as the sole surviving Political Party in our One-Party Plutocracy. This is because the G.O.P has also run aground on the twin shoals of racism and unfavorable demographics. As the base of the party becomes ever more vocally racist, xenophobic, essentially manifesting itself as a White Nationalist party, white christians for the first time slip into minority status in the electorate, and will never again be in the majority, since most of the demographic growth in the U.S is among non-white ethnic groups. Soon there won’t even be enough votes to put those spineless G.O.P lackeys in the congressional seats they shit on all day every day when they’re not on paid vacation (which, incidentally, is a lot of the time. And you know who is doing the paying). So that leaves us with one-party rule. Like China. And Egypt. And Zimbabwe. A corrupt, self-serving, incestuous, disgustingly (and increasingly) wealthy, self satisfied, astonishingly ignorant despite their gold-plated academic honors, and in truth, exceeding cruel and morally bankrupt elite will rule this country. They will level more and greater taxes on us while lowering their own tax rates and refusing to tax their own inheritances and capital gains at any meaningful rate. They will slash funding for our education and healthcare while themselves enjoying the highest quality education and healthcare in the world. They will design legal structures and rhetoric to go along with them, and use a militarized police state and mass surveillance to incarcerate us in greater and greater numbers and use us while imprisoned as a slave labor force for their own gain. Worse yet, they will use money taken from the half of use who remain free as tax revenue to imprison the other half, and somehow the check will still be cut to them.
What’s that you say? This isn’t the future? This is happening now?
This is happening now. Right now. At this moment an unknown number of our incarcerated brothers and sisters are participating in a historic strike against Prison Slavery which the elite media is not reporting on. At this moment First Nations and others are standing with the Dakota Sioux in Standing Rock North Dakota against an oil pipeline that a corporation in cooperation with the state and federal government is driving through Sovereign Sioux lands at great risk to that land, to the water that runs through it, and to the sanctity of Tribal Sacred Sites. The Sioux and their allies are standing to protect the earth and water and air for future generations and are being beaten and gassed, attacked and arrested for TRESPASSING on their own ancestral lands. They are under attack from U.S military personnel and from private security forces/mercenaries. Yes, it is happening now. Right now. Not in spite of the election, or because of it, but because this is where we are, people, election or no election. The fact is, this is where we’ve been for 50 years or more. Remember Kent State and Jackson State? Remember the AIM led and brutally put down occupations of Alcatraz and of Wounded Knee? Remember the Black Panthers? Once again the illusions of Democracy are fraying, disintegrating and revealing an ugly picture of Oligarchy, a militarized, racist, classist police state that is willing to kill to quash internal dissent, mass surveillance, war profiteering, and earth-raping. An absolutely nihilist world view, against humans, indeed against all sentient and non-sentient life, which underpins a seemingly unassailable fortress of greed.
This is an intimidating picture, and yet, we must not be intimidated.
This is a discouraging picture, and yet, we can not afford to be discouraged.
We must commit to defend ourselves and each other. As the Panthers said 50 years ago- by any means necessary. As Ice-T said a couple decades later- what the Black man needs is 3 things: Justice, Freedom, and Love. That’s what we all need, and if we can’t get these things by voting, we must, and will- as our parents and grandparents and ancestors did, as our brothers and sisters in the struggle all over this sacred suffering planet are doing-
we MUST seek other ways.
When I was about 16 or 17, I read every book I could get my hands on by or about the hobo. As a result I became acquainted rather early with the poems of Robert Service, as well as tales of and quotes from many an anonymous bard and philosopher. I recall one hobo in particular, someone who was going by the name “Red”, offering the following critique of modern industrial Capitalism: “Work has wasted more human life and happiness, and cemented the foundations of more inhuman wrong, misery, and oppression, than ever did the combined forces of War, Physics, and bad whiskey”. You can imagine how much this impressed me, since I recall the quote I believe verbatim, some 18 years after reading it. I ran into the same thought a few years down the line in a poem by Octavio Paz (sadly, I can’t recall the name of the poem, though again I believe I’ve still got the part I memorized down word for word):
“mejor ser lapidado in las plazas
que dar vuelta a la noria que exprime la sustancia de la vida
cambia la eternidad en horas huecas
los minutos en carceles
el tiempo en monedas de cobre y mierda abstracta”
or, in english:
“better to be whipped in the public square
than to tread the mill that grinds out into nothing the substance of our life
changes eternity into hollow hours
minutes into prisons
time into copper pennies and abstract shit”.
and I recall Ginsberg also (speaking of eternity): “who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade”…
And now I’m older, and I still have these what consider to be truths etched in my brain. I’ve been reminded recently because I’m reading the collected writings of T-Bone Slim, who was a hobo/itinerant laborer/tugboat captain, who wrote a regular column for the IWW (Wobblies/Industrial Workers of the World) newspaper in the 20’s. Here’s T-Bone in 1926:
“Only recently I read a statement that ‘Truth, alone, will set you free”, and being of an inventive turn of mind, I got to wondering if “Truth” could be harassed so’s to lift one of those heavy hand-cars on the track. My partner suggested I’d better stick to perpetual motion (he’s a sarcastic cuss). That’s what comes of having too many chestnuts in the fire. But I couldn’t very well give up the idea, because if truth can set me free, there must be power- and power certainly ought to put that car on the track. Once on the track we could take it off the track by using a little falsehood. It occurred to me that it isn’t enough that truth sets me free. We got to hitch it up some way so that it will do some of the work.”
And as I’m reading T-Bone, I’m also watching news of the protest against a pipeline on Dakota-Sioux land in South Dakota, and reading of a group of activists in Oakland who were arrested and are now facing up to a decade of jail time and fines of up to 100,000 dollars for daring to live in (and make improvements to) a long-abandoned house.
I am wondering how, when and why human beings have turned (or been turned, more accurately) from the logical common holding and stewardship of land and resources (see the IMF and World Bank offering bribes to the governments of developing nations all over the world in exchange for the privatization and monetization of what has been commonly held indigenous land since the beginning of time). Take a person’s land away from him (or his right to use the land, or as with the Dakota Sioux, destroy the ecosystem, groundwater, etcetera, of the land), and you will almost certainly force him or her to sell hours of life in exchange for the means of mere survival. Through the (quite new and modern) hex of landlessness, you have effectively produced a wage slave- a human being yoked to someone else’s profit incentives, and forced to tread the mill that Paz speaks of….
Here’s a final unedited quote from an e-mail I sent to a good friend this week, just to sum it up in the most bare-naked way I can:
“It’s been such a long time since I was in school for anything, and I’ve never really been in school for writing, although I guess in a way that is what all my reading is for- to inform and shape the writing I do- but my adult life involves so much pressure, mostly financial pressure, and time constraints, that the magical feeling I had at at Sarah Lawrence where work for pay was a minor fraction of life and most of what I had to do was learn and read and think and yes, write…. it’s so far off now it seems like a fantasy. Part of me (a large part) despises capitalism and the pressures it puts on people including myself to essentially waste their best years, the years that should be the most creative, the richest, the most personally productive, just trying to fend off homelessness and hunger. Part of me is grateful that I personally am not homeless or hungry (at least for now), and thinks that it is absolutely crazy and amazing that I got to spend so many years in high school and college essentially just doing what I enjoy, reading and learning and making things, not worrying about food and shelter, which is more than most people on this planet will ever get, so I have nothing to complain about. Why should I be entitled to more than what I have? Why should I have the leisure to think and write? maybe I only deserve it because everyone deserves it. But what are the chances of everyone getting it?”