“Frozen” Progress in Gay Rights

But some of your kids, some of them are gay. And it’s not because society normalized it. It’s not because Disney taught them it was okay.

We might have been the last of the elementary school set to watch the film Frozen. My six-year-old daughter had heard about it from all of her friends, and had even been introduced to the music by her classroom teacher so that when the character voiced by Idina Menzel belted out “Let it Go,” Anna was right there with her last week, singing along to every lyric.

My kids have always been sensitive. My son has a particular reaction to the key of E in music – it’s an immediate guttural response, and renders him to tears without him knowing why. It goes straight to the heart, and is the reason most lullabies are composed in that key. My daughter reacts emotionally to movies, as I do. When she’s older, I’m sure there are PMS-riddled marathons in our future: Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, etc. We’ll wash down salty popcorn with chocolate and tears and revel in our womanhood.

The prequel to this: Disney. Because my kids were so emotionally sensitive, I’ve always had to be careful with what I showed them, so as far as they are concerned, Finding Nemo begins at the “First day of school!” scene and not the one where the mother and her thousands of eggs are killed, leaving baby Nemo motherless and the Albert Brooks character widowed (widowered?) But if I wanted to cut the sad parts out of Frozen, we would have had to come in at the hour forty mark and only watch the last ten minutes. Anna cried until the reconciliation of the last scene.

It was a devastating film, not because the parents died (of course they did, this is Disney!) but because it demonstrated the persecution of gay Americans.

I’ve written before about how important it is to me to encourage empathy in my children.  Someone at Disney was having a similar conversation.

The film centers on Elsa who has a magic power that her parents and society deem dangerous. Even though a group of magic trolls declare she was “born this way,”  she’s hidden away (almost literally in a closet) and forbidden to interact with people. Later, she’s cast from society to live in her own frozen castle of which she can be the queen who lets her freak flag fly in isolation, until her sister shows an act of love and “thaws” the town who learn to accept and celebrate her “gift.”

Disney couldn’t have chosen a better time to premiere this film. Uganda’s brutal anti-gay political stance has reached global awareness with the World Bank delaying much-needed funds.  It took Jan Brewer to veto laws in Arizona that would make discrimination legal.  And in the wake of the winter Olympics at Sochi, where gay rights activists were loud in opposing Russia’s backwards attitude toward gay “propaganda.” What those who change their Facebook profile pics to rainbow-hued Olympic rings might not have realized is that even though progressive legislation has pushed through same-sex marriage in some states, many parts of America are just as, if not more, regressive and punishing toward the LGBT community as Russia. Russia, in fact, legalized sodomy in 1993. A belated right of a wrong, you say? America de-criminalized it ten years after Russia. You might say we are “frozen” in mindset and attitude.

Eight US states have banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Two states (South Dakota and Missouri) have laws that prevent anti-bullying policies. Let that sink in. In Alabama and Texas, teachers are required by law to describe homosexuality as “abhorrent” and “criminal.

Furious anti-gay opponents have come out against the film, claiming it’s an attempt to indoctrinate our children into the mindset of those pushing a “gay agenda.”  They decry the film as trying to “normalize” homosexuality, afraid that if their children recognize gayness not as an abomination, but as a persecuted minority devoid of civil rights in this modern age in a free country, they just might identify a bit. A portion of them might feel okay with any same-sex attraction they feel. They might be tempted to wrestle out of closets parents, churches, and society has put them in.

But most of them won’t. Statistically, most of them are straight. But some of your kids, some of them are gay. And it’s not because society normalized it. It’s not because Disney taught them it was okay. frozen scene saveIt’s not because they were raised by gay parents or because gay marriage was legalized in your state. It’s because they are gay.

Frozen is a love story. It’s about two sisters who come together, recognizing the bond of love between them. It’s about a child who comes to accept and celebrate the gifts she’s literally closeted away from society and eventually castigated for. To use the language of the devout, the broader story shows how we are all God’s children, brothers and sisters.

Some of those children are gay. Not because they have been indoctrinated, but because they have been made that way by a Creator. And to criticize the work of that creator, to say that it is flawed or wrong, or to suggest that it should be banned or hidden, seems a bit blasphemous to me.

But I have hope that with each generation, hearts and minds will thaw.

Jed on Breaking the Set with Abby Martin

What makes Abby so terrifying is that she’s smart, eloquent and calls bullshit when she sees it. She is the antidote to corporate media but too progressive for the establishment.

Having been in the media business for so long, I’m not all that afraid of a microphone or a busy newsroom. The camera is something altogether different and unsettling. Public speaking? Bring it on. Radio interview? I’ll crush it. Television camera? Whoa. Not my thing. Nevertheless, we submitted The Great American Disconnect to the producers of Abby Martin’s RT show Breaking the Set in hopes of snagging an interview. Why? Because I fucking love Abby Martin.

Abby represents the new ideal of the subjective journalist who speaks truth to power and is afraid of no one. As a writer, I don’t fall into the camp of those who offer a wholesale and vitriolic scorched earth criticism of the mainstream media. Don’t get me wrong, mainstream media deserves to be criticized but it can also be effective. There is a difference, for example, between establishment media and corporate media. Every once in a while establishment media (NYT, WaPo, 60 Minutes) hits the ball out of the park. Most of the time, they are fairly mundane. But mundane is necessary even if it’s not all that sexy. Corporate media, on the other hand, is dangerous. (Fox, MSNBC, etc.) These are broad generalizations, but you get the picture.

Then there’s Abby. What makes Abby so terrifying is that she’s smart, eloquent and calls bullshit when she sees it. She is the antidote to corporate media but too progressive for the establishment. She’s a purist. When we spoke after the show, we talked about how important it is to challenge one’s own assumptions and continue to listen and learn. It sounds so obvious, but listening and learning takes discipline and an open mind, things that are lacking in the media culture today.

In Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges chastises the media for being, “plagued by the same mediocrity, corporatism, and careerism ad the academy, the unions, the arts, the Democratic Party and religious institutions.” It’s a terrible truth that is hard to swallow, but a truth just the same. But Breaking the Set is different. Abby is part of a new breed of journalist that I have been fortunate to meet in the past few years. Alexa O’Brien, who reported exhaustively on Chelsea Manning’s trial, is another who comes to mind. Fearless, provocative and growing in influence, they are not afflicted by the same disease that plagues the liberal class. They are pounding back against our corporate oligarchy and breaking through with sheer will, talent and determination. It’s fun to watch and witness. Even more fun to be part of it, if only for 7 minutes and 46 seconds.

A Renewed Discourse on Inequality: Part II

It’s time to embark on a new discussion on the “redistribution of wealth.” It begins with the reclamation of this battered phrase in a way that tunes our collective ear to the sound of justice.

marx-eng6Distributing Wealth
Picking up on Part 1 of A Renewed Discourse on Inequalityan attempt to examine Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s original publication in 1755 through a modern lens—it is logical to extend our view to the theories offered by Karl Marx, another controversial Enlightenment theorist. (There are those who would take issue with this characterization.) At the outset, however, one should distinguish between equality as a measurement of how a society rewards individual behavior and accomplishment from the concept of egalitarianism. An egalitarian society is entirely too utopian (or dystopian depending upon the measurement) of a concept because it fails to recognize inherent differences in human beings. To strive toward an egalitarian society is to presume that every person enjoys a similar level of wants and needs.

Unfortunately, our concept of equality is too often reduced to “redistribution of wealth,” a familiar refrain uttered by talking heads in the media. This is a poisoned narrative lazily ascribed to Marx whose philosophy is an anathema in western circles. Mind you, this impression is not entirely without support. The ideological expressions of Marxist economic theory have failed in practice due in large part to the corrupt legacy of the twentieth century communist states. But there are aspects of Marxism still relevant today with respect to inequality, particularly as they relate to war and capitalism.

Marx viewed both nation states and capitalism as destructive forces that require the suppression of labor and forcible acquisition of land and natural resources. Marx tended to steer away from discussions of morality and justice, preferring a clinical analysis of the clash between market forces under capitalism and the natural tendencies of human behavior. Nevertheless, Marx is viewed as the anti-hero to capitalism and is therefore considered an affront to those who cannot discern the difference between capitalism and democracy. (Another subject entirely.)

That’s not to say Marx had no natural predispositions – he made his feelings more evident to his close associates and in moments of unscripted candor. But Marx should be viewed first and foremost a social scientist who sought to prove that capitalism, by design, would inevitably advance communism once capitalism reached the maximum exploitive potential of both labor and natural resources.

Marx was correct in predicting that unfettered capitalism advances inequality and suppresses the working classes. However, he was wrong that communism was the logical evolution of capitalism. To this, it was Mao Tse-Tung who offered a more insightful prognostication on the decay of capitalism saying, “humanity left to its own does not necessarily re-establish capitalism, but it does re-establish inequality.”

Regarding the aggression of capitalist nation states, Marx speculates that once a capitalist nation had reached the inevitable limits of human and environmental capacity it would be forced to seek these means of production elsewhere, and attain them by force when necessary. This is the part of Marxist theory that has been born out conclusively by the United States. To this end, Marx believed that ending war was possible if workers of the world were united beyond the artificial boundaries and political constructs of nationhood. In theory, workers who controlled the means of production would naturally supersede the economic interests of the bourgeoisie and imperial proclivities of governments.

Marxist theory holds that the animus of nations does not exist in the fraternity of the working class and that any act of aggression would be considered a form of cannibalism and therefore antagonistic to our humanity. Likewise, our humanity is only tenable when the working class is closely linked with production.

When one considers the age during which Marx was most prolific, his logic is more enticing than it is today. Science and reason had shattered the intellectual prism that confined mankind during the middle ages. Empires had crumbled and the church was losing its grip on politics. And while technology had advanced enough for Marx to envisage the terrible consequences of an industrial society, the industrial revolution was in its nascent stages.

What was evident to Marx were the conditions created by capitalism. For the destitute and working classes, the boom and bust cycles of the western economies were apocalyptic. Even those who briefly climbed into the middle class would be frequently thrust back into penury due to the need of the bourgeoisie to maintain wealth during the bust cycles. Ultimately, Marx’s theories would be perverted by communism and the boom and bust cycles under capitalism would eventually be mitigated. Typically, however, these cycles were tamed by policies more associated with socialism than capitalism, particularly in the United States, during the first half of the twentieth century. This nuance has been lost to time as the conservative American movement today seeks to destroy the last vestiges of the temperate regulations instituted with fairly strict accordance to capitalist theory. Which is to say, capitalism is not mutually exclusive of regulation.

Lastly, Marx couldn’t have foreseen the rise of nationalism at the turn of the twentieth century, which would render the concept of a unified global proletariat virtually impossible. Militant Jingoism and xenophobia, manufactured tools of the ruling class, would supplant the possibility of universal solidarity among workers. Continuity can be found, however, in Marx’s theory of alienation.

The underlying precept of Marx’s theory suggests that mechanization and industry would alienate the worker from the process and therefore strip any meaning from his work. As a consequence, labor would become despondent and therefore further detached from its own humanity. The capitalist, forced to pursue greater profits, would continue to degrade working conditions through increased mechanization thereby contributing to the downward spiral of human existence.

Examining this subtext adds layers to the phrase “redistribution of wealth,” a phrase that has been purposely bastardized and cheapened by conservative propaganda.

It’s time to embark on a new discussion that takes into account the shortcomings of Marxist theory but includes the best part of its intent. It begins with the reclamation of this battered phrase in a way that tunes our collective ear to the sound of justice. An economic system that functions properly while preserving our morality does not rely on redistributing wealth; rather, it relies on creating equitable access to wealth. An economic system based upon increasing alienation is doomed to failure, particularly when the political system supports such a divide. A system that rewards work and industriousness with participation in both the political and economic process is sustainable.

When food is used for fuel while children are “food insecure” is not simply immoral, it’s bad economic planning. When rampant speculation causes spikes in the price of food and fuel, it punishes the lower economic classes disproportionately. “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciating,” writes Steinbeck at the end of his Depression era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. “There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates­—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.”


Jed Morey is the author of The Great American Disconnect: Seven Fundamental Threats to our Democracy
Image: Portrait of Marx and Engels. Source: Marxists.org

A Renewed Discourse on Inequality

Apathy is a direct corollary of inequality. Most of us are too busy and under too much financial pressure to remove ourselves from the cycle of madness. It’s the capitalist way


Vive la Corporation!
Suddenly, it is in vogue to discuss economic inequality. The idea of inequality and how it is interpreted today is relatively new in human history and has its roots in the Enlightenment period. By the same token the discourse surrounding it is old enough to have evolved greatly since this period to where it has finally entered the public consciousness via the mainstream broadcast media today. As usual, now that the quicksand is up to our chins, we have decided it’s time to start looking for help.

In many ways, having a rational conversation about economic inequality is like trying to have a rational discussion about climate change. Both have reached a consensus within their respective scientific communities that these issues are influenced by human behavior. Problematically, both are also highly charged and emotional matters being debated in high definition by a shallow pool of uniformed talent that panders to the lowest common intellectual denominator among us.

Many of the themes examined by Enlightenment philosophers, scientists and scholars remain highly relevant and are worth revisiting. These figures attempted to define the role of man in civil society, which was revolutionary thinking as civilizations emerged from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. From the mid-17th to the mid-19th centuries, philosophers such as Descartes, Locke and Rousseau, scientists from Newton to Darwin, and writers such as Dostoevsky, Dickens and Melville created enduring masterpieces that challenge our concepts of liberty, democracy and the rights of man to this day.

Yet while understanding the foundations of inequality is instructive when examining it through a modern lens, there is a disruptive shift that has occurred that cannot be overlooked. The idea that corporations enjoy the very liberties we associate with humans is a dangerous departure from the theories suggested by the intellectual luminaries highlighted above.

Before we move further on, it is important to acknowledge that inequality is multifaceted and takes on several meanings depending upon the context in which it is raised. Gender and race, for example, are significant topics that move the discussion in meaningful directions but often correlate to the level of agitation. As economic inequality can serve as both the underlying cause and product of these factors, it therefore provides a more complete template for analysis. Without the polemic that surrounded the nature of liberty and man’s place in society, we would have little concept of equality and therefore no ability to debate tributaries such as sexual orientation, gender and race.

Another reason it is important to become familiar with the arguments proffered by the great Enlightenment thinkers is that their words informed the founders and subsequent leaders of this nation. For many, America represented the living enlightened experiment across the sea. This great ideological laboratory, theoretically free from old world constraints was a curiosity to Enlightenment theorists and a danger to established secular and theological rulers.

At times, the distance between this period and present day is incredibly short. To wit, the celebrated, and at times rancorous debate between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine still plays out today, though diminished in both eloquence and erudition. Yet no matter how diminished our discourse has become and how far we have traveled from the egalitarian notions that inspired our founding,America as the “Enlightened state” is a portrayal we hold dear to as a people.

To be useful in today’s circumstances, any renewed discourse must begin by focusing on the nature and definition of equality in moral and economic terms before attempting to prescribe solutions to inequality. Until we evaluate our national sentiment toward inequality and determine what exactly we are striving for as a society, any practical solutions will be lost in the toxic ether of our rhetoric. Gross inequality is no longer a theoretical exercise, nor is it exclusive to underdeveloped or developing nations. It is a global phenomenon and one that is best illustrated by conditions in the wealthiest nation on Earth.

In purely economic terms, inequality is both America’s greatest challenge and number one export.

In an effort to focus the conversation on economic inequality in advance of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam International released a new report on the widening economic gap in the world. Its findings are hardly startling, but they are staggering. The report, compiled from numerous sources, concludes the following:
• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
• Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the United States, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

These findings seem more like verdicts; judgments handed down on capitalist society from the high court of natural law. How we act to reform these conclusions relies on our willingness to objectively interpret them and decide whether these are acceptable characteristics of modern society.

The Original Discourse
The title of this piece and much of the sentiment found within is drawn from the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work A Discourse On Inequality, published in 1755. In it he attempts to establish the nature of inequality by distinguishing between the perceived rights of “savage” man and civil society. The savage man, he claims, lives predominantly in a state of nature that values present existence and subsistence above all things. The civilized man lives within a system of laws designed to protect artificial geographic boundaries and places an economic value on property beyond what it provides for subsistence.

“Savage man,” he states, “will not bend his neck to the yoke which civilized man wears without a murmur; he prefers the most turbulent freedom to the most tranquil subjection.” At its best and most functional, Rousseau believed civilized society exists to organize principles and laws around the natural rights of man within the context of modern civilization.

According to Rousseau, the nexus between a natural existence and the need for civil society is founded in the concept of property. He begins the second half of A Discourse describing the evolution of human existence from savage and free to civil and enslaved with the following: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, thought of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society.”

Yet Rousseau sees civil society—when laws are meted out evenly and economic protections are in place—in more sanguine terms than other philosophers of the Enlightenment period such as Thomas Paine or later Karl Marx. In fact, A Discourse On Inequality, was intended as a defense of his hometown of Geneva, which he regarded at the time as the best example of progressive civil society and governance in terms of protecting man’s civil liberties. (Rousseau would feel differently after the same government he extols in A Discourse would later ban his work and accuse him of sedition. In this, Rousseau’s experience can be viewed as a cautionary tale regarding the vagaries of political corruption, but one that doesn’t diminish the intellectual scope of his earlier work.)

“Inequality,” Rousseau believed, “derives its force and its growth from the development of our faculties and the progress of the human mind, and finally becomes fixed and legitimate through the institution of property and laws.”

In linking “progress of the human mind” to inequality, Rousseau tacitly acknowledges the inevitability of inequality while arguing the need to protect some semblance of natural rights, lest our humanity be consumed by man’s insidious greed. “A devouring ambition, the burning passion to enlarge one’s relative fortune, not so much from real need as to put oneself ahead of others, inspires in all men a dark propensity to injure one another, a secret jealousy which is all the more dangerous in that it often assumes the mask of benevolence in order to do its deeds in greater safety: in a word, there is competition and rivalry on the one hand, conflicts of interest on the other, and always the hidden desire to gain an advantage at the expense of other people. All these evils are the main effects of property and the inseparable consequences of nascent inequality.”

Rousseau’s pessimism regarding ambition and greed informed his belief that a civil society is one in which our natural impulses are restrained by a just system of laws dispensed in an equitable fashion. This coincides with traditional Aristotelian theory that politics ordains all human sciences and artistic pursuits and therefore, “this end must be the good for man.”

If we are to submit, as Rousseau did, to the idea that civil society exists to contain the human impulse of greed that grows relative to progress, then we must also surrender to the idea that we can never return to a natural, or “savage” state. Put simply, liberty—in its truest sense—can never be achieved within a civil society. The best state it can attain is equity in terms of man’s access to, and representation by, the system.

To this end, we must therefore conclude that a system that restricts access to capital and social mobility regardless of talent—one that places the means of production and extraordinary profit in the hands of a few individuals—can then only be defined as the opposite of civil society. Inequality is a form of social and moral anarchy.

Slaves to Corporate Masters
In the United States, inequality is exacerbated by the extension of our natural and civil rights to corporations, which are organized solely for profit and therefore exist in a state contrary to the good of man. The rise of corporate influence further alienates us from our rights as well as the means of production. Furthermore, we have allowed corporations access to the political process while extending protections to corporations previously reserved for the people. Corporate personhood and the civil and criminal protections it affords, accompanied by the ability to craft legislation and pour unlimited funds into the political process diminishes all civil political theories that revolve around democratic principles.

Some in this country are awakening to the fact that our understanding of capitalism cradled within a democracy bears no resemblance to the world we live in. They have rightfully concluded that America is no longer a democracy, but a corporatocracy. Most of us, however, continue the grand delusion. We prefer to be spoon-fed comfortable ideological anachronisms while debating the symptoms of inequality with little or no relation to the underlying cause.

This is not a criticism; it’s an observation that recognizes that apathy is a direct corollary of inequality. Most of us are too busy and under too much financial pressure to remove ourselves from the cycle of madness. It’s the capitalist way. You snooze, you lose. Thinking is for the weak. Hard work and perseverance is enough. To question our corporate overlords (as Chris Hedges refers to them) is to commit economic suicide and to risk being ostracized from the system. It’s why so many marginalized people come to the defense of the very masters of their subjugation.

Even Rousseau recognized this phenomenon: “The rich man under pressure of necessity conceived in the end the most cunning project that ever entered the human mind: to employ in his favour the very forces of those who attacked him, to make his adversaries his defenders, to inspire them with new maxims and give them new institutions as advantageous to him as natural right was disadvantageous.”

Ultimately, a corporate system ensures that there is no fail-safe for penury beyond what the government provides. And if corporations, which by definition require growth at any expense, subsequently seize complete control of government interests, inequality ceases to become a word. It becomes a foregone conclusion.

The Age of Political Psychosis

And the world turns and iPhones capture our every thought and experience, despite being built upon what Louis CK describes as “Asian suffering.” Welcome to the future. Sure looks a lot like the past.

Happy Birthday Mac!On this, the 30th birthday of the Mac, I believe it’s time for some reflection. Steve Jobs has become the patron saint of college dropouts; his penchant for the aesthetics of technology is the stuff of legend. We mourn the loss of an American visionary, and sweep the bad stuff under the carpet of good taste. It’s best not to speak ill of the dead, or to mention the unspeakable horror their advancements have brought into the world. After all, Jobs certainly didn’t invent low-wage factory workers, and those in China (happy new year!) who need safety nets strewn between buildings to catch them from suicidal plunges might just as well have been in a similar situation creating other types of products had Steve Jobs never walked this earth.

Those are legitimate arguments and I agree with them for the most part. Except for the fact that the enormous profits made by Apple executives might have gone to make effective changes in the lives of the factory workers. He might have taken his dynamic vision and applied it to the working model so that suicide nets could just be there for show.

No matter. He’s dead and they’re not. And the world turns and iPhones capture our every thought and experience, despite being built upon what Louis CK describes as “Asian suffering.” Welcome to the future.  Sure looks a lot like the past.

But hey! – that’s capitalism. That’s the system. And to criticize that system is to invite catcalls of the “patriotic” who throw words like “socialist” at you, with the same vocal inflections that one use might to say, “Asshole” – even if they can’t precisely define socialism beyond a widely circulated Facebook meme.

The broader implication of our mass consumption of Apple products is the disconnect between our decisions and their effects on human beings. It exemplifies an increasingly self-interested citizenry. Author and education advocate Henry Giroux calls this “Zombie Politics,” and its tentacles reach into all facets of our culture. “The notion that profit making is the essence of democracy,” Giroux said in an interview with Bill Moyers in November, “the notion that economics is divorced from ethics, the notion that the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism, the notion that the welfare state is a pathology, that any form of dependency basically is disreputable and needs to be attacked, I mean, this is a vicious set of assumptions.”

If I had my druthers (and it’s my blog, so I get to indulge my druthers) I’d call this not Zombie Politics but “Psychopathic Politics.” And it just might be because I just watched the series finale of Breaking Bad. I came late to the Breaking Bad party and I enjoyed the recent Netflix-given phenomenon of binge watching where my husband and I subjected ourselves to all six seasons in just a few weeks.

Quite a few things struck me about Breaking Bad, but for our purposes here, I’ll focus on the killers. I lost count of all the murder victims, but I noted three types of killing: pragmatic, emotional, and apathetic. Sometimes these overlapped, like whTodd-Alquisten a victim was offed for a practical reason (he posed a threat) but the murder took an emotional toll on the killer. The more gut wrenching it was for a killer, the more dramatic the scene. The exception here is the character Todd, who killed people with an emotionless vigor, an emptiness that was truly terrifying. He didn’t bat an eye whether his victim was a child or a young mother, and even scarier, he never stopped to consider his alternatives. This was the only character who killed not for pragmatic necessity, but because he simply could. And that was most terrifying aspect of the show.

The name for someone who displays a complete lack of empathy is psychopath.

We witnessed this in one of the Columbine killers. While one of the two suffered from depression, which is a sense of rage usually turned inward, something fairly common among Americans, the other – the leader – was a full-on psychopath. He could not feel.

The truth is that few of us will ever come into contact with a full-on psychopath. Yet, it’s a psychosis we could extend to the encroaching culture that has tentacles that reach into our governing body. It’s a lack of empathy for the poor among us, a disconnect from the sick. It shows itself in victim blaming. A killer would rationalize by saying the victim “had it coming.” Politicians do it by justifying cutting food stamp programs for children with economics. As if money were the beginning and end of it, and empathy and ethics were inconsequential.

Ask any nursing mother to describe what happens when if she leaves her baby at home for a few minutes to run to the supermarket for diapers. Ask what her body’s reaction to a crying baby in the next aisle might be. A child she has no connection with, doesn’t even see. She’ll tell you that her breasts will automatically fill and begin to leak. It’s an embarrassing condition for those of us who have been there, but what it reveals is that we have an inborn, physical natural response to feed the hungry. It is in our very human nature. To divorce that from policy is unnatural. I might go so far as to say, inhuman.

Or we can give it a psychological diagnosis: psychopathic.

The larger question remains: is there a remedy? And can we ever wrestle control from those who withhold treatment in time to save ourselves?

Time to Put 2013 on a Shelf

Yes, the people who railed against a spy in our midst as evil and corrupt introduced a puppet, one who quietly recorded information about children in the privacy of their homes and reported it to a central division where that intel was documented for later use.

original2013 was a year of epic news stories. From the bombing at the Boston Marathon and New York’s Weiner/Spitzer political candidacy circus to Bradley Manning’s harsh sentencing and gender changeover to Chelsea, we were all glued to our televisions, smart phones, and Twitter newsfeeds. But the game changer, the story that broke and laid broken perceptions in its wake, were the revelations by Edward Snowden reported by then-Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald. My Facebook newsfeed was overtaken with articles opining about Snowden, statuses offering two-cents on Greenwald’s reporting, until the collective attention span was overridden with the next shiny object: Christmas.

The reactions to Snowden were as varied as the people reacting. Some christened him a hero while others dedicated their Facebook statuses to calling for his head. Some were blindsided by the insidious implications of the NSA spying program, so much broader than any of us dared to imagine, while some of us were nonplussed, having already figured that all that was private was ripe for plundering in the name of national security, and stating plainly that if you have nothing to hide, you had nothing to fear.

The reactions spanned the ideological fault lines. Liberals who had voiced loud opposition to the Patriot Act were largely silent as its expansion occurred on their beloved President’s watch and couldn’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of a one George W. Bush. California senator Dianne Feinstein was staunch in her anti-Snowden stance, calling for no clemency. And none other than Glen Beck tweeted, “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” I think he meant for whom he has waited.  (I’m resolving to be less snarky about grammatical errors in 2014, but since it’s still ’13: for whom, for whom, for whom, Beck.)  The Republican Party, not usually constrained by pesky civil liberties, is torn between defending a spy program that promises the utmost in national security and pretend outrage because they don’t want to miss a chance at jumping on a perceived blunder by the president. There was little room for both views of Snowden under the same blanket of “patriotism.”

This argument about whether he was a whistle-blower or a spy was shifted aside by the friends who show up on the newsfeed of my social media info-blasts. The merging of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah into Thanksgivakkah interrupted the outrage and philosophical discussion. What came on its heels was a fairly recent tradition. An elf.

Upon a shelf.


Apparently, the day after Thanksgiving an elf appears in many (Christmas-celebrating) homes across America. Its job is to keep watch over the children and report any misdeeds to Santa, who would come down on them with swift punishment of the coal-bringing variety. The idea is that the children would adjust their behavior so that it would never get to that point. They would live in fear the five or so weeks before Christmas, well-behaved and docile, and then reap their rewards, American-style (bought on sale over the trampled bodies of the weak at Walmart.)

The pictures of the elf, moved nightly to show that he had flown to the North Pole and back after having a brief tete-a-tete with the Big Guy, became the staple of my Facebook newsfeed. He was often a trouble-maker, making messes all over the house, dutifully recorded by creative parents. Here he was in the bathroom, having squirted out all of the toothpaste. There’s a photo of the little guy TP-ing the Christmas tree! Now he’s in the kitchen where it looks like he’s shitting Hershey kisses onto thumbprint cookies.



A welcome break from Snowden indeed.

Yes, the people who railed against a spy in our midst as evil and corrupt introduced a puppet, one who quietly recorded information about children in the privacy of their homes and reported it to a central division where that intel was documented for later use. Those who voiced support for Snowden as a heroic figure instrumental in bringing to task an overreaching NSA program whose methods defied the very Constitution it seeks to protect brought in an elf to listen in on private conversations. If our children don’t flinch at the building of a monstrous compound full of every phone call/email/ and social media comment ever uttered in their lives, might it be because they’ve been conditioned?

Instead of making idiotic arguments of a fictional Santa Claus’ racial integrity, why don’t we look into the political implications of the elf. Or we could just tell the kids that if they have nothing to hide, they’ve got nothing to fear.

But that elf looks pretty damn creepy to me.

When an Empire Falls in the World, Does it Make a Sound?

We must address the colonies of dispossessed Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and stop thinking about colonizing cheap labor pools of distant nations.

empire fallsMargaret MacMillan’s latest book on World War I, The War That Ended The Peace, opens with the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900. Countries from around the globe gathered in Paris to reveal inventions and works of art and to generally boast about nationhood. The event was underscored by political tensions but fueled by a collective optimism that technological advancements, many of which were on display at the exposition, would bring the world closer together and usher in lasting peace on Earth.

Fourteen years later, the world order collapsed. The Great War engulfed the very nations who proclaimed the 20th century as a new and peaceful era. Within five bloody years, vast empires had crumbled, maps were redrawn and a generation of men was decimated.

Great Britain entered World War I as one of the most impressive imperial empires the world had ever known; incredible given its size. Much of their greatness was attributed to being the greatest naval power in history. After the war, it was never the same. There are obvious parallels to be drawn between the position of the United States today and Great Britain’s a century ago. There are lessons to be heeded from their story.

Our disastrous wars in the Middle East at the beginning of the 21st century are akin to the Boer War fiasco Britain was embroiled in at the turn of the 20th century. The Boer War engendered near-universal antipathy toward the aging lion. Most notably, it drew strident criticism from the German people and Kaiser Wilhelm, which contributed to the burgeoning schism between the two nations.

One of the most striking similarities between the two eras is the manner in which Britain and the United States approached empire-building at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, respectively. Britain was suffering from growing pains related to over-colonization as its empire stretched around the globe. The U.S. is experiencing similar aches in its attempt to recover from naked imperialism under the guise of spreading democracy for the past 60 years.

Both nations display a paternalistic attitude toward “lesser” nations and believe a western style of governance was easily adopted through what Franklin Henry Giddings termed, “consent without consent.” In doing so both empires wore out their welcomes abroad and maintained relations strictly through fear of violent reprisal or loss of economic trade.
The British government was increasingly pouring resources into maintaining the largest navy in the world while ignoring the domestic cost of an aging population. Instead of cutting back on imperial pursuits and bolstering spending at home to stabilize its economy, it engaged in an arms race with Germany and sought new economic alliances in the event the two nations proceeded down the path to war.

Sound familiar?

The problem with military power is that it creates a desire among world leaders to employ it. Just as Capitalism requires constant growth, the suppression of labor and consumption of natural resources, the Military Industrial Complex requires conflict in order to sustain and justify its very existence. Despite famously being credited with the phrase, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick,” President Theodore Roosevelt sent America’s Great White Fleet around the globe to impress the world and privately lamented the fact that he did not preside over a war while serving in the Oval Office. His successors would put America’s new-found might to use, however, as the United States embarked on a century of unprecedented warfare and imperial harassment.

The dawn of the 20th century was rife with warmongering characters such as Roosevelt, who shared his attitude toward war. This idea is perfectly encapsulated in the words of Count Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf of Austria-Hungary: “The army is not a fire extinguisher, one cannot let it rust until the flames are coming out of the house. Instead it is an instrument to be used by goal-conscious, clever politicians as the ultimate defence of their interests.”

Naturally, the madness of these nations is somewhat clear. In hindsight, though, these are not the exclusive circumstances that led to the Great War. Nevertheless, one can’t help but experience déjà vu when examining the behavior of the Bush administration and the continuum that is the Obama administration. President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” is eerily similar to Britain’s thirst to tap into the faltering Chinese and Ottoman Empires of its age. Moreover, its effort to marginalize its perceived enemies through new and aggressive trade alliances is comparable to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated in secret between the U.S. and many of its so-called “client nations,” such as Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.

The TPP is essentially an attempt by the U.S. to constrict China’s growth in the coming years by allowing TPP-participating nations access to labor forces in poverty-stricken parts of the world. It would function much like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in that the subordinate nations would be subject to the economic and human rights abuses of the more dominant nations.
Those familiar with the neo-liberal treatise called the Project for a New American Century will rightly view the TPP as the next logical evolutionary step in the process toward maintaining U.S. hegemony in the world by any means necessary. Where military interventions have failed us, a new form of economic warfare is stepping up to take their place.

the-war-that-ended-the-peaceFor its part, China is responding as one might imagine—with a show of force and steady shift toward economic policies that bear a closer resemblance to Capitalism, though this may never be fully recognized. President Xi Jinping’s 10-year plan is called “The Chinese Dream,” which obviously borrows from the American Dream in its scale and ambition. Implicit in the Chinese Dream, as in the American Dream, is economic growth and continued technological progress. Inevitably, this will lead China down a familiar path.

Growth is addictive and when it is no longer possible to grow through economic policies and market forces, empires do what empires do best: expand and acquire. Evidence of this strategy already exists, as China was more than happy to procure oil and gas contracts from nations, such as Iraq, that U.S. corporations walked away from after a decade-long struggle to obtain by forcible means.

Yet despite provocations between China and the U.S., there is a presumption that war is impossible given the interconnectedness of the world economies.

In an op-ed titled “The Great War’s Ominous Echoes” in The New York Times, Margaret MacMillan ruminates on this very theme, saying, “It is tempting—and sobering—to compare today’s relationship between China and America to that between Germany and England a century ago. Lulling ourselves into a false sense of safety, we say that countries that have a McDonald’s will never fight each other.”

MacMillan is right. Recently, China quietly joined the military fray in a significant way by revealing its first naval aircraft carrier and announcing plans to launch its first domestically built, nuclear-powered carrier by 2020. This announcement, in addition to China establishing a no-fly zone in the East China Sea and issuing several warnings to the Japanese government about its plans to increase its military presence, follows directly on the heels of President Obama’s decision to send American vessels into the region in 2012.

The United States would be wise to tread lightly in the coming years and begin to look inward to cure what ails it instead of continuing on this ceaseless path of imperial madness. We must address the colonies of dispossessed Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and stop thinking about colonizing cheap labor pools of distant nations. We need a better plan to take care of our aging population and must provide greater educational resources to equip our young people with the skills they will need to get by in this world. This is the role of government. No nation can be truly secure until its people are.

When spending on our massive surveillance state and “homeland security” is taken into account along with Pentagon spending, fully 30 percent of our nation’s budget is allocated toward the military. And yet we wrangle over subsidies for programs that assist at-risk populations and cut pensions of those returning from our ignominious missions abroad.

One hundred years ago this year, 65 million men were mobilized in the Great War. By 1919 more than half were casualties of the war, with 8.5 million killed. Few in the world saw conflict on this scale coming. It was considered almost impossible due to the economic relationships between world power, technological advancements and fear that empires might collapse as a result. For those who believe that our financial arrangement renders war impossible, or impractical at the least, I leave you with MacMillan’s admonition:

“Globalization can heighten rivalries and fears between countries that one might otherwise expect to be friends. On the eve of World War I, Britain, the world’s greatest naval power, and Germany, the world’s greatest land power, were each other’s largest trading partners.”


The NRA has made the anniversary of Newtown “Guns Save Lives Day,” with the same amount of tact and sensitivity as the Westboro Baptist Church.

newtownI dropped my children off in front of their elementary school last December 14th, taking notice of two security guards in bright red jackets. “You’re bringing in the big guns,” I said at the time to Mrs. C, the school aid whose job it was in the morning was to make sure parents pulled their minivans all the way through the circular driveway of the school so that traffic didn’t build up in the road. Parents rarely acknowledged her; mostly they slowed their cars to a grinding halt wherever they found it convenient, long enough for their Aidens and Isabellas to jump out in front of the crosswalk and run into the school. The sound of Mrs. C. yelling at the parents and chastising the children not to run was the music of our mornings. But that day, she had backup.

It wouldn’t be until later that afternoon when I would realize how prescient and ironic my “big guns” comment was. By then, twenty children in Sandy Hook elementary would be mowed down by rifle fire.

But my own kindergarten and second graders would be safe.

It is now a full year later. A year where we saw the opportunity for gun legislation reform squandered; a year in which we saw more mass homicides at the hands of gunmen; a year where we witnessed the NRA taking control of the national conversation and steering it away from the protection of children, inviting hysteria not to the fact that we have twenty-times more gun deaths in the United States than any other developed country in the world, but fear that President Obama is trying to usurp our second amendment rights. The NRA has made the anniversary of Newtown “Guns Save Lives Day,” with the same amount of tact and sensitivity as the Westboro Baptist Church.

With the exception of those we laid to rest since last December, we are  a year older now. My daughter, who was five last year, is now the same age as the children buried by devastated parents, while a sorrowful nation watched, holding a bit tighter to our own kids. We opined this year, in editorials and blogs. Mommies marched in Washington, politicians made great speeches. Governor Cuomo passed legislation restricting the amount of bullets a magazine could hold to seven, but later rescinded, as it proved impractical.

A national registry was never born, as it infringed on the rights of gun owners. In a year where NSA revelations showed us that nothing we say, text, or type is entitled to privacy, gun owners retained theirs.  In a year when we vowed to leave no stone unturned in an effort to make this country a safe place for children to go school and for parents to drop their little ones off without their hearts in their throats, we saw roughly 33,273 gun deaths.

In a country that has only grown in gun violence, politicians steer clear of any language suggesting that gun confiscation could have any relevance to the national conversation. We can argue about the reasons why gun culture is so pervasive in the US – whether video games inspire violence or whether violence in our movies, games, and art is simply a reflection of the reality of our lives; whether near-constant war inspires a battle-mentality on the home front; or whether our laws are too little or too weakly enforced  – but what remains is that we have become so desensitized to gun violence that we buried twenty 6 year olds without making one significant change.  The NRA and their supporters have only grown stauncher, more inspired, and more audacious.

Policy- and lawmakers don’t want to rock the boat by asking for an infringement on second amendment rights. And while we waste more time trying to fit the outdated usefulness and rhetoric of that amendment, people die. While gun supporters terrorize their audience into believing that only bullets will protect them from both criminals breaking into their homes and into the executive office, we stand on the sidelines and watch how the Tea Party has co-opted the Republican Party and steered our government to a grinding halt. We have seen districts get redrawn; voters become alienated from the voting process, and trust in democracy diminishes. We’ve already experienced a government takeover. And guns didn’t protect us.

This afternoon, Colorado witnesses yet another school shooting.

It seems to me that the time for tact has vanished along with the wasted time for opportunity. The boat cannot be unrocked.

The masses are the big guns of a democracy. It’s time to bring them out – and to say: We’ve had enough.

Cyber Monday War on Terror

By introducing drones as their premier method to deliver goods, Amazon.com has not only raised the bar on home delivery, but has unwittingly provided the solution and the end to what had prior seemed to be an endless War on Terror.

There’s no debate that the assassination of Osama Bin Laden struck a mighty blow into the heart of Al Qaida. It was a coup for the Obama administration and a much needed win for the Americans in the War on Terror.

But it ain’t over. Not by a long shot.

Before his forced resignation after the Rolling Stone article penned by Michael Hastings that shed light on covert and sometime insubordinate military operations, General Stanley McCrystal led surge tactics to bump up force on enemy combatants. We can argue about how successful he was, (Hastings, however, can no longer participate in this discussion) but what remains is that Al Qaida has regrouped and has grown in strength since. And that traditional methods of curbing their threats have stagnated.

So I say, change routes. The military industrial complex is overblown as it is. With the economy in tatters, it’s best to put our dollars in private business. Besides the refreshing lack of governmental bureaucracy, it’s the patriotic thing to do.

I’m not suggesting we reinvent the wheel here. Amazon.com has provided the template from which we can combine two of America’s most vested interests: military bloodshed and shopping. By introducing drones as their premier method to deliver goods, Amazon.com has not only raised the bar on home delivery, but has unwittingly provided the solution and an end to what had previously seemed to be an endless War on Terror.Amazon Drone


It works like this: The United States has a number of key enemies who have plotted against us. Now, all we have to do is make a small purchase (I think you might need to upgrade to Amazon Prime as well) and send it via drone to alleged terrorists.

For instance, by ordering a Hutzler Banana Slicer for Hassan Izz-Din, one of the terrorists responsible for the bombing of TWA Flight 847 who is living in Lebanon, we help to prop up the US economy, and eliminate one of America’s Most Wanted.

I would order a Bic Cristal for Her ballpoint pen for Abdul Rahman Yasin, who is at large for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

I’m buying a gallon of Tuscan whole milk for Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil who is wanted by the United States in connection with the June 25, 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia. Not because I know he likes milk, per se, but because the reviews on Amazon are hys-terical.

Besides a drone in his stocking, Ayman al-Zawahiri is getting Accoutrements Horse Head Mask because although I’m sure the Godfather reference will be lost on him, since he’ll be dead, I amuse myself. Again, the comments.

And finally, for Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, believed to be responsible for the 1998 US Embassy bombing, I will send Uranium Ore via drone. Because what could go wrong there?

By cutting out the US Postal service in this endeavor, we give a nod to private corporation. By cutting out the US military in favor of Amazon.com, we send a strong message to the US public: shop local, act global. This is what real patriotism looks like.

Conspiracy: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

I think it’s fair to say that in the wake of the government shutdown and the laughable antics of the Tea Party, the GOP had their asses effectively handed to them in this latest election. Tea partier Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia was summarily defeated. So too Dean Young of Alabama. New York City elected its first democratic mayor since the early nineties. Democracy reigned across the land, despite voter ID laws designed to keep minorities and Democrats from voting.

All of it: the shutdown, Ted Cruz’s filibuster, the obstruction led by Tea Party wing-nuts has badly shaken the President. Except – it hasn’t. Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye. As it stands, this fringe element of the GOP shouldn’t have nearly the voice or the power to sabotage the US government. Yet, thanks to redistricting and gerrymandering, they have infiltrated congress to wield their strange and horrible revenge.

obama-coolBut something about it doesn’t sit right in my stomach. I suspect the story goes deeper than we’ve all been led to believe and that maybe Obama’s calm exterior is the clue we need to put it all together. Remember Syria? That country somewhere across the water from us, in the middle of a whole bunch of other countries that I can’t pronounce/know who they are? Remember how they were going to throw us into a third foreign conflict that had conservatives beating the drum wars (have the ever stopped?) and liberals picketing, recycling our fathers’ protest-wear of the 1960s?

In short, it was a chess game, the likes of which none of us saw clearly until the hand was dealt in John Kerry’s “slip” that if Syria was willing to give up their chemical weaponry, we were going to launch the missiles that were aimed at Syrian targets. It sounded to the world like an offhand comment, an impossibility, and an excuse to pacify the itchy fingers at the helm. But Syria, with Russia’s support, surprised us. They agreed. And most of us let out a sigh of relief.

And it was only after the smoke cleared that the public was able to see why Obama was able to keep his cool in the face of another bloody war: he knew what he was doing. He saw three steps ahead of any of us and played it out. Nothing to get all nervous about folks. I got this.

And so when I see that coolness in the face of domestic conflict in Congress that has organized opposition to every single thing he has ever proposed, I wonder how he doesn’t snap. Just once. Just a bit. An eye-roll. A bitten lip. A shouted obscenity.

But no.

So let’s look deeper at the actual result of the Tea Party’s invasion of the GOP. They have hijacked a powerful political party and taken away their credo of fiscal responsibility and small government and replaced it with a religious dogma that would stump Jesus. Conspiracy theorists have only grown more staunch in their assertions that Obama is really a Muslim socialist intent on waging war against the very country he purports to love. They’re waiting for the axe to drop. They think it might have something to do with his healthcare reform, that there has to be a sinister element to his attempt to revamp a disastrous and corrupt system and put affordable provisions in for the less fortunate among us.

Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman haven’t stopped to take a breath in their campaigns to enlighten the people to his evil doings. Fox News, in their fair and balanced efforts, pauses naught in their anti-Obama “news,” and Mitch McConnell has vowed to never stop his wave of obstruction. It’s enough to make a leader flip the eff out.

But not this guy.

Consider for a moment how his calm exterior has been a Teflon cover to which none of their vitriol sticks. Consider how the Tea Party-led GOP has succeeded in defeating food stamps for the very poor in hard economic times while clinging to tax breaks for the very wealthy, how redistricting has made their racist motives apparent to the masses, and how they shut down the entire government just to stage a temper tantrum that served only to illustrate how contemptible their positions have grown. Finally, consider how the Tea Party has succeeded where no Democrat ever could: in dividing a once-powerful club whose power was unmatched by anything the world had ever seen. Consider Obama’s ability to play a long game. Consider his chess-playing acumen.

Then tell me that Obama isn’t the biggest sponsor of the Tea Party “patriots.”

(Slow clap, Mr. President. And don’t worry – I’ll keep this between you and me.)