April 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
For Leah and the girls down in Boston today
I’ve not been “on” this blog for some time. I want to apologize, say I’m sorry, but I don’t know who I’d say this too. And given what we face today, a darkness visible hanging over American culture, it’s hard for me to find the words to get through this. But here goes …
Boston changed everything. Boston brought me back to our interconnectedness, a notion or theme linking all my classes this term, a Writing Workshop and Social Class and the Environment. So that’s what I want to talk about. Interconnectedness.
CNN’s feed — such an influence! — compels me to create my own timeline to my emotions:
1. 3PM – 4PM, Monday, April 15: I was in a deluctible bubble, sitting in my warm, safe and bright college office with a student, engaged in an incredible conversation about social justice, environmentalism, writing and creativity, a healthier future we imagined conceivable.
2. 4:10PM: I learned about Boston — the ugly violence, the havoc and instant suffering, the confusion that turned into a tremendous weight — and disbelief.
3. 5:30PM: On the ride home from school, I learned of the cowardly defeat of the gun bill. A heavier darkness set in. The NRA and Washington cowards intent on keeping power, not saving lives, are more powerful then the voices of American citizens. Washington exists outside our American lives.
4. April 17, two days later: The news of the poison letters sent to Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss) and President Obama. And the darkness reigned supreme, a suffocating feeling.
The winter winds have begun to change in Vermont. Indifferent clouds race across the skies, the air is lighter — you can smell it — the temperature rising ever so slowly, as it does this time of year. Hints of sun remind us that it’s still there laboring to find its way back to us — finally. Something other then death, destruction and callous indifference has to come our way.
5. April 19, Friday: When one suspect is dead and CNN works to fit into every aspect of the unfolding manhunt, a tropical wind is screaming across Vermont. My chickens had a hard time getting across paddocks, pushing against it, literally going airborne and tumbling when the gusts were incredibly harsh. It all felt surreal, confusing. At some point that night, maybe around 11PM, I learned that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second Boston marathon bombing suspect, was apprehended.
During the depressing malay, the chants of Boston Strong, the Red Sox game and Neil Diamond, my brain turned to a movie, The Siege, directed by Edward Zwick. This film is about a fictional situation in which terrorist cells make several attacks in New York City. Despite objections, the US President declares marshal law and the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, under Major General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis), occupies and seals off Brooklyn. People of Arab descent are rounded up and detained in Yankee Stadium. New Yorkers stage violent demonstrations against the army and the racial profiling of the Arabs and the Army fights to maintain control.
The Siege, again, a fictional account — I’m compelled to repeat this, just to pinch myself — is not the Boston lock down, but it gave me pause. Is this what we’re facing, our future? Surveillance. Tighter controls, literally and virtually. A military-like presence in our cities. Fiction has been turned into our lives.
Regardless of the ethnicity of the Tsarnaev brothers, they grew up in the United States. In the West, many fundamentalist radicals intent on following terrorist actions are being bread in our communities. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whatever they did to get to that tragic day that colored the Boston marathon with such harshness, had friends in the community. They had family, went to schools like everyone else’s — even excelled. They went to work, too. In other words, they lead American lives in an American community. They were, at one point, normal, as we like to say.
In an interconnected world, everything is possible.
Welcome. This is our world now.
Where do we go from here, knowing what we now know?
I’m a father of 4. I’m a husband. A son. A brother. And I’m a teacher. This Sunday, April 21, my mind is on the Middlebury Women’s Tennis Team: they took the trek to Tufts, in Boston, yesterday, Saturday, because the original trip, a long weekend of matches, first against MIT, then Tufts, was put on hold by the Tsarnaev brothers. Everyone was on tender hooks. With some anxiety, these beautiful, wanting kids took the trip to Boston. They went to do something they love; they went to meet their responsibilities. That’s what we’re called to do. I know they’re safe, but I can’t help thinking of them because they’re young, like my children. Hell, they are my children — they’re all our children. They’re young and innocent working so hard that it sometimes brings me to tears to watch them grapple with our difficult world. Sometimes we cry together.
I feel totally guilty for the world my generation is leaving behind. It’s a world where neighbors can’t trust neighbors; where important people in important positions, graduates of our most elite institutions, can’t be trusted at all. This is the world we’ve given them, the tomorrows colored by a siege scenario. Unacceptable.
All I can say to them, my students, is I love you. I have nothing else, nothing left. How else can you teach any kid anything today? Love and Health are the only curriculum. What we pass along as knowledge and information makes no sense — not to them, not to us. The material I teach, I find almost irrelevant. In the face of Boston — and the Bostons to come — I’m driven to my knees. I’m sorry, yes, I can say that only to them. I know that now. I love you is what I must say to them and show them, let them know that in their time with me, they’ve been loved, unconditionally; that this is love in this heartless universe — so harsh. We’ve become so harsh and reproachful.
Why are we here?
6. April 21, about 1:40: the girls are on the courts at Tufts. Brazilian Girls: Some people want to burn the world with their greed. We just want to have a good time, all the time.
I had to travel some, today, to get to the Brazilian Girls. Given how dark I felt, after morning chores I turned on Al Greene. His Greatest Hits have a way of lifting me — even though my wife, Nina, laughs. You know nothing about music, she says. My son, Devon, agrees. But Nina is in a workshop in NY and I’m a weekend bachelor, left alone with the weight of things. But Love and Happiness — Love will make you do right, make you do wrong, just wasn’t doing anything for me; it existed somewhere else. Love is, Love is walking together, talking together…
Is it? Can it be?
Feeling so alone, I took to cooking. And somewhere between the chili con carne and the lamb (White Dorper, our own) with lentils, and Bonnie Raitt, Used to Rule the World began to lift the veil of darkness. I began to see, slowly, a bit. Brother lovejoy. Yeah, Raitt’s raspy voice, that guitar — she touched my soul, showed me the way, aching. With her cover of Right Down the Line — You know that I need your love, you got that hold on me – I had 3 dishes going simultaneously — the lamb, the chili and a kale and potato soup. And I was moving to Raitt. She was moving me towards light.
Lucidity. The agony of lucidity.
Lucidity is both a gift and a punishment. Lucid comes from Lucifer, the rebellious angel, the Devil. But Lucifer is also the morning star, the first star, the brightest, the last to fade. Lucid comes from Lucifer, Lucifer from Lux and Ferous, meaning that he who has light, who generates light, who brings the light allowing inner vision. Good and Evil together. Pain and pleasure. Lucidity is agony, and the only pleasure we can know, the only pleasure, remotely like joy, is that of being aware of our own lucidity. “The silence of understanding, the silence of merely being. There, the years go by. There, beautiful animal joy went,” said Pizarnik. Brilliant. (Lugares Comunes, Adolfo Aristrain, Director, 2002)
Lucidity is agony. This morning I sent my students a note, just a quote, something to ponder in this extraordinarily blinding world:
Academics who act as ambassadors of the oppressed are no substitute for enduring arrangements that might enable the oppressed to explain themselves and pursue their own interests as they wish … When humanists claim to set aside crude, worldly, practical concerns for the sake of purely ‘philosophical’ inquiry, they actually fall prey to the optical illusion of a pure thinker somehow separate from the world. (Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the Twenty-first Century, Kurt Spellmeyer, 2003).
I blame myself for the world we have. Us professors, in our elite institutions, have presumed a position that is an illusion: the world is out there, we are somehow living in loftier terrain separate from the world. We have separated people; we have separated ourselves from feeling the world. This false position has created the world we’re in. We’ve failed to describe a world that Don DeLillo gives us in Underworld (1997) where everything is interconnected: the guy making toothpaste and light bulbs is also making nuclear warheads. How do we tell the good from the bad? asks DeLillo.
Our way of life has consequences. Our leisure, our comforts — and discomforts — come at a price; we can’t have what we have unless someone pays. This is what Rob Nixon calls slow violence (Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor; 2011). Struggles for existence, for human rights, are extraordinarily symbolic — as well as physical (banking; military) and intellectual (ideologies; academia). Thus, the overwhelming force of the West has created cultures of doubt coupled to systems burdened by national debt. It’s not a stretch to imagine the rise of terrorism from here.
Now it’s come home; it comes from us. If we are to enter into this age with meaning — to try to understand our complicity, first, then find a way through — the agony of lucidity must be central, and it begins by recognizing that everything is interconnected, as DeLillo would say; that what happened in Boston is not because of some foreign force, rather it’s, in part, due to our own force, our own blindness in our uses of force, the cataclysmic development of structural violence worldwide.
December 19, 2011 § 4 Comments
I seem to be looking for meaning everywhere I turn. But meaning I cannot find today.
Looking for meaning ought to point to something, a thing that corresponds to it. It’s a temptation to try to find some object that we might call “the meaning.” But there is no such object. This temptation — to find the meaning – needs to be cured.
Baffled, I look and wonder about our state of affairs — why we are the way we are, today’s American — and find not a single hint of an answer anywhere. Nothing is predictable. Nothing is obvious. Perhaps, as mathematicians might suggest, the deterministic nature of our system — capitalism flag waving as democracy — does not allow for predictability.
The world is perpetually in flux, yet Americans operate as if it’s static. We speak boldly about Morality and Utility, but these extract demands from our propensity for pleasure — oral, visual, sexual (not so much sensual, which would then move us towards aesthetics and a re-engagement with philosophies concerning Beauty, which would be too much to think about, too complex).
We are very much alone and plugged in — iPads, iPhones, computers, social networks. We are solitary — the self in perpetual solitude. Our experiences, like no other time in history, are profoundly solitary. In solitude we have intense experiences and can, for a short time, transcend the very real flux, the natural course of Being, existence.
Americans are then always in contradictions — solitary experiences that momentarily transcend the flux that is always present. Ironic — we are in a constant state of Irony. The prodigal child of irony is Alienation, a ongoing theme, for instance, in our American Literature that begins with Emerson to Hawthorne and Melville to Henry James and William Faulkner and Wallace Stevens to Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy. Alienation gives us a form of rooted rootlessness, security in insecurity, an sense of alienation that has been historically a confirmation of community.
Alienation, rather then any ideology, is the construct of politics in America today. Alienation presupposes the always ongoing struggle to find the meaning that alludes us. There is no meaning — it’s the temptation we follow.
The rhetoric of politicians, keenly orchestrated to appeal to media, exploits the temptation to find the object that will give us the meaning. No one is telling the truth, though. The only truth is that our masquerading democracy seeks exploitation to survive, using Divine Providence — the false notion that we are the Chosen — to embellish our tendency for denial of what we see — or don’t see.
We signed up and followed Obama’s Change Rhetoric, only to find out that change meant more of the same: a rounding up of the Bush-era foreign and domestic policies and greater intimacy with Wall Street, passed down to us by Reagan. We’ve been lead, with our acceptance, down the wrong path. And the alternative, the crazy, Ahab-like Newt of destruction and the indifferent and the callous and blindly ambitious Romney, who made his fortune on destruction, promise a profound exploitation of resources.
In The Ship chapter of Moby-Dick, Melville tells us that, “For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.” What we chase is profoundly irrelevant, says Melville.
We long for men that promise the meaning; we chase after their ambition, as poor Ishmael did when he stepped onto the Pequod and said, “this ship is for us.” But the Pequod is not a democracy; in its appeal to be considered the meaning, what we find, as a microcosm of American culture, in 1851 and 2011, is a totalitarian regime disguised as a democracy fully grounded in self-reliance. And nothing could be further form the truth, which is where we find ourselves today in America — far from any sense of truth.
In the end, now, as did Ishmael, we are orphaned, floating in a sea, only the sharks do not have “padlocks on their mouths.”
January 9, 2009 § 2 Comments
for the Afghans of Middlebury and Simons, the Afghan Writers (in Afghanistan), and friends of Afghanistan in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and in Kabul
I received a text message a few weeks back from one of my Middlebury students. She is an Afghan and she texted me from Pakistan where she had entered illegally. She and her two sisters, one younger and one older, snuck across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to obtain American visas from the US Embassy in Islamabad. Many Afghans–our allies–risk their lives to obtain visas to the US. It’s a way of life so far from our own.
Police in Islamabad held them. No documentation. They talked themselves out of the mess without even paying a bribe, she told me with a “ha ha ha” and a “;-)”, her texting forms for a special–and delightful–grin she has that always says, “I can get out of this,” something in her special DNA that has evolved from confrontations with war and aggression, the reality that someone is always looking, especially if you’re a woman; someone is always coming after you.
They hid in Islamabad for three days waiting for their visas. This is American diplomacy in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, two of the three young women did not receive visas. They applied as “tourists.” Now they must re-enter this process, only this time with their I-20′s in hand, the only conceivable way to begin their dreams of being vital citizens contributing to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
Let’s not forget that we’re speaking about women, here, who are routinely deprived of basic rights and necessities. (See also: the Plight of Women in Afghanistan and (very disturbing) Images of Women in Afghanistan). We know from studies done by the United Nations that when women are educated, the quality of life increases.
Why do we advocate for women’s rights on the pulpit but act in contradiction when called to action?
It’s always innocence that suffers most in times of war and violence. The main function of war is to suppress, even destroy the organic process–and promise–of change brought about by the basic human rights of education and knowledge. War turns allies away, the opposite approach we need in Afghanistan.
This past summer I received an email from the same student, this time she was guiding an Afghan-Middlebury freshman into Pakistan–same thing, visas (before the US Embassy began issuing visas in Kabul). Anything can happen on this treacherous border crossing. “We saw the Taliban waiting in Pakistan,” she said. The young women scurried, eyes down and heads covered, and got as close as they could to a family, making believe that they were all one group. The Taliban let them through.
Then comes the very dangerous job of choosing a driver to take them into Islamabad. “You never know where you’ll end up,” she wrote.“They ask for money. They can hold you hostage.”
An American Embassy exists in Kabul and this past summer began issuing single entry visas to Afghans coming to the U.S. to study. Students from all over the world obtain multiple entry visas. Not Afghans. When I wrote to my representatives in Vermont about this—Leahy, Sanders and Welch—I received a long letter from the US State Department saying that the reason for not issuing multiple entry visas to Afghans is security but that they were doing their best.
Presumably, a terrorist can enter the US from any point of entry, no? Terrorist cells can exist anywhere, yes, that’s the definition? Three years ago when I was in Buenos Aires Argentina doing some work with Middlebury students at the AMIA, bombed in 1994 by Iranian terrorists, it is now known, I learned about the triangle, a lawless tri-border region in Northern Argentina, Iguazu Falls , a hot bed of potential terrorist threat, where Islamic fundamentalist groups–Hezbollah profiting from the drug trade–exist in the jungles of Paraguay just a short walk across the water where it’s knee high in spots. It was believed then that at least one 9/11 terrorist crossed that border. I stood and stared, almost touching Brazil and Paraguay beyond the dense subtropical foliage, the wild sounds of exotic birds high in the trees.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban train in Pakistan—9/11’s evil seed was grown here and in Afghanistan but we turned to Iraq instead and left causalities behind. (see also: Pakistan Loosing Fight and Pakistan Surrenders — the paper trail on this issue is extensive). Pakistan’s government and military are rife with rogue elements. We’ve turned a blind eye and we’re living with the consequences, deceit and confusion–and corruption in Afghanistan (see also, “Winning the Battle, Losing the Faith“).
We need to collaborate with the Afghans; we need to work closely with them at the village level, helping with governance and infrastructure, education and healthcare, otherwise we’re not going anywhere. Afghans need to come here, too, this way honing skills and gaining knowledge that will serve their society–and on their terms, not ours, such as we’ve learned from Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea (see, for instance, “Military Finds an Unlikely Adviser in School-Building Humanitarian | by Yochi J. Dreazen“.)
In “The Other Front,” Sarah Chayes, the former NPR correspondent, author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban and living and working in Kandahar where, in collaboration with locals, she has created a cooperative, Arghand, as a means to fight back the poppy business, wrote for the Washington Post that, “The solution is to call to account the officials we installed here beginning in 2001 — to reach beyond the power brokers to ordinary Afghan citizens and give their grievances a fair hearing.”
Not being able to enter the United States with multi-entry visas is a grievance–as is the humiliation experienced at the hands of Homeland Security, particularly by women.
Our policy has been to force Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. (We did this 50 years ago when we drove Fidel Castro into the hands of the Russians.) “More and more are severing contact with the Karzai regime and all it stands for, rejecting even development assistance,” says Chayes. “When Taliban thugs come to their mosques demanding money or food, they pay up. Many actively collaborate, as a means of protest.”
The solution, says Chayes, is to bring perpetrators who want to carve up Afghanistan to the table.
But in order to do this we Americans must take responsibility for the way we treat our friends, the Afghan people. We cannot want protection from illegal immigrants in our country while then creating illegal immigrants in other parts of the world. The consequences of war are exile, differenchisement and the creation of helpless nomads looking for subsistence–all fodder for extremism. “Existence today,” says Homi Bhabha in The Location of Culture, “is marked by a tenebrous sense of survival, living on the borderlines of the present…” This is our method, to make survival dark and the world wide and foreboding.
The way we treat Afghan students that come here to learn so as to be better equipped to lead Afghanistan’s rebuilding efforts is nothing short of immoral. Three weeks ago, I accompanied yet another Afghan student to the airport and witnessed a Homeland Security officer look at her passport, then ask if her last name was Islamabad, written on a line that reads, “Country of Origin”! This was followed by a humiliating and extensive search–everything, all personal items strewn for all to see, her arms spread wide. I stood on the other side of the glass nearly in tears. “This is a person I care for,” I was screaming through the glass. “A Muslim woman, for God’s sake!” No one heard. A woman walked past, noticed me, looked at the student and shook her head in shame as if to say, “No. No, this can’t be. “
In our zealousness and fear we corrupt ourselves and others. Slavery worked this way; colonialization works this way, too. “The ‘middle passage’ of contemporary culture, as with slavery itself,” says Bhabha, “is a process of displacement and disjunction that does not totalize experience.” We therefore guarantee that those that come to us from Afghanistan–or try to–are disenfranchised because we deny them their “totalize(d) experience(s),” which requires that we acknowledge our role in their lives.
In the “Fate” chapter of The Conduct of Life (1860), Emerson’s most prodigious work–and most difficult–the sage asks, “How shall I live?” And then exerts the challenge, “We are incompetent to solve the times. Our geometry cannot span the huge orbits of the prevaling ideas, behold their return, and reconcile their opposition. We can only obey our own polarity.” That is, our limitations. Once we accept our limitations, the only recourse is to reach for the heart, which is where we live, what matters most. Our hearts.
We have to first grapple with our own demons, ask ourselves why we make the most vulnerable and good hearted suffer, and then change our ways. “We are sure, that, though we know not how,” says Emerson, “necessity does comport with liberty, the individual with the world, my polarity with the spirit of the times.” I trust he’s right. And hope we can come to this in time for all my Afghan students to return to classes this spring–one more remains in Afghanistan still. I’m holding my breath for him. And he’ll arrive, Inshallah.
September 15, 2008 § 1 Comment
Disorder and uncertainty are the guiding principles of our world today, made more so by violent storms and the unpredictability of the environment, the mortgage crises and the constriction of world finances, and always war and the threat of more war and violence in different parts of the world. Instability reigns supreme.
The voting citizenry, almost too late, last minute, gives Obama a healthy victory.
Some of the very wealthy–not all, the golf course set mostly–in the top 1 to 2% of the population, fearing a capital gains tax and estate taxes, vote for McCain believing that our national debt and growing financial uncertainty can be solved by reducing taxes, the myth of Republican Fiscal Conservatism. The golf course set turns its back on the history telling us that this has never worked.
The next socioeconomic rung (we begin to understand that we live in a class-based, racist society; see also the July/August The Atlantic) finally realizes that under every Republican presidency since Ronald Reagan, taxes have increased, the debt has mushroomed, defense spending has increased (so have loans to support defense/war), and the size of government–the business of government delving into the privacy of citizens–has grown to an uncontrollable size (and weight).
The working class is divided into two camps, one for McCain and one for Obama. The right wing extremists, the religious fundamentalist who reject science, civil liberties and the unity of knowledge known as consilience, which all thinking persons are beginning to understand as the way to bridge culture and science–and who likewise could never vote for a Black president (somehow this is appropriate for Christians)–vote for McCain (see election 2008, from Salon for interesting insights). (see also how the Republicans want to control the 21st Century, as reported to Terry Gross, Fresh Air)
Convincingly, though, Black America and the working class behind Hillary Clinton, better educated on the relationships between science, technology, evolution and the future that depends on our cooperation and collaboration, vote for Obama.
And finally, students and those commonly referred to as the “educational elite,” as opposed to the “political elite” and the “media elite,” but who also cross these rather bogus lines of demarcation made popular by the lackluster press insistent on reporting only the surface structure of things, vote overwhelmingly for Obama.
The citizenry thus awakens to the fact that from Henry Kissinger on, all those who are advising and working closely with the “Maverick” McCain are lobbyist of the strongest sort; all support and advocate special interests, which in reality has been the hallmark of the McCain campaign, made obvious by the selection of Sarah Palin, a puppet, we finally realize, propped up to excite the extremists that near the end of the campaign are worked up to a frenzy about abortion and (gay) marriage as if nothing else mattered.
The citizenry wakes up to the fact that the first presidential decision made by John McCain, the selection of Palin, puts the country at risk. As Bob Herbert, writing for The New York Times, said, “For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on ‘American Idol’.” We therefore realize that another 4 or 8 years of a continuation of a “Bush doctrine” and Republican control, which is unenlightened and uncreative, would put the country into a tail spin from which we might never recover.
Can we afford electing another half-wit from the bottom of his graduating class? Or should we try something different?
American Culture After an Obama Victory:
Many in America are worried. A Democratic intellectual, the first Black President, is elected. What will this mean?
The first challenge is cultural, societal.
We have to address the notion that we are divided–we are a divided country. For far too long many people have been kept from the seats of power; too many Americans lacking education and healthcare are disenfranchised. Now we are nervous that we are being asked to trust in a process of change without a light at the end of the tunnel–just trust. Trust the rhetoric. Trust the will of this new leader. Trust the judgment.
Where are we headed?
It is a nebulous time. People are scared and immediately following the election, the extreme right wing begins a relentless media attack against Obama, his policies and his ideas. It’s what the citizenry is used to–media instead of substance. The hopeful remain so, but hanging by a thread. The Clintons, and Al Gore, rally around Obama and Biden.
Wall Street is more optimistic, and since they’ve backed Obama all along, continue to their support.
But within the first 100 days, it’s the citizenry that awakens. Some, the older voters who supported Obama come to realize that they’ve heard this before, echoes of the JFK era (this doctrine was never finished; it never even got off the ground), and thus begin to take leadership positions in communities across the country pushing the notion that this election was NOT about Obama or McCain, but rather about what kind of country we want to work for. This becomes the rallying cry and Americans, slowly, some reluctantly, begin to understand that the bigger, faster, stuffed America of the past is not the way and that we must look elsewhere to find solutions.
We in fact have to look at ourselves for the solutions. Obama provides ideas and methods, processes and procedures, but we, the citizens, have to put our shoulders to the wheel–in America and across the world. Innovation is the only solution to change.
Imagination, will and determination, collaboration and cooperation, consilience, and humanity–these are the new words after the election which help us look at energy solutions, education and healthcare, and the wars. The shift in the American perspective begins within 100 days of Obama’s election–but not without war cries from the opposition entrenched in old models.
Moments after his inaugural address, Obama is pressed hard to drill for oil in Alaska. But he weathers the storm–some people, and oil companies (the Russians and the Venezuelans, too) get angry. It’s the intelligent thing to do, though. As Thomas Friedman says about drilling for oil, writing for The New York Times, “I’ll tell you what they would have been doing: the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant louder than anyone in the hall — “Yes! Yes! Drill, America, drill!” — because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it.”
What most people hadn’t realized is that Obama has surrounded himself, not with lobbyists (only one of his team members even resembles a lobbyist), but with experts in different areas–the environment, education and healthcare, defense, technology and so on. The drilling for oil controversy raises the curtain on how Obama is working to move the culture towards what we know–consilience–making this the beginning of an era that will rely on knowledge and information, rather than the gloss given by media and its pundits, usually advocating for one special interest group or another.
Linking energy to defense and the economy, Obama, with the help of Al Gore and his followers, begins to make it easier to invest in green technologies.
Eric Janszen for instance, “an angel investor and founder of the contrarian market website iTulip.com, which The New York Times credited with ‘accurately predicting that the [internet] bubble would pop.’ Now Janszen believes the American economy needs a fundamental restructuring away from its foundations in finance, insurance and real estate. His prescription: a new bubble based on green technologies.” (Also see Harpers, “The Next Bubble…”)
Literally, all sectors of the economy need to comply–the auto industry, oil and gas, building and construction, local governments, and so on. This calls for mass restructuring but it begins by engaging citizens about what is important. We reach out to other countries, such as the Netherlands, that have far outpaced our evolution into green technologies, and begin collaborative projects.
This is a slow, contentious process but it sends a message to the world that we are indeed operating quite differently than we have in the past. The price of oil stabilizes, though still high because of Chinese demand and because of environmental factors.
Education and Healthcare:
Education: This is a difficult area because the K-12 educational system has mushroomed into an unhealthy and unmanageable nightmare, particularly following the Bush era No Child Left Behind.
First off, Obama places an emphasis on early child care; then on strengthening the next rung. But it gets tricky after: The size of schools and teacher unions make it hard to change or modify existing–and complacent–practices. Obama encourages “innovation” in education, but it’s unclear what this means (I will write on this at another time, in The Uncanny, laying out the challenges and solutions for America’s disastrous educational system, which is, after all, all about class).
On a positive note–since this is going to be even slower then healthcare reform–Obama is calling forth for all citizens to be involved in the education of our children. This coincides with our citizen-roles post the Obama election; however, no sound plan has yet emerged, not in the first 100 days. Vouchers, magnate schools, private vs public, merit pay and accountability, innovation vs the status quo–all these points of contention remain and are the areas of specialization the Obama White House will have to address.
It is a truism that education reform, which is extremely necessary, will be the most painful domestic undertaking in the next 10 years, more painful than healthcare reform. Education is where we can gauge how the rest of the culture is working–another truism.
Healthcare: Healthcare and Education run side-by-side. The way of healthcare is the way of education. This is always true.
But Obama has promised that all Americans will have insurance comparable to that held by government employees. Obama and Biden begin by addressing disparities in healthcare coverage for Americans. This addresses their first theme, “Quality, Affordable and Portable Coverage for All.” A good idea, but insurance companies and pharmaceuticals push back–too much money to be made off illness.
Likewise lowering the costs by modernizing the U.S. Healthcare system–reducing costs of catastrophic illnesses, helping patients in numerous ways, ensuring providers deliver quality care across the board–is important and valuable, but other sectors of the economy have to grow and become healthier since this is an extraordinary expensive venture. And again, given the high cost of providing healthcare in this country, the profits enjoyed by pharmaceuticals and the salaries commanded by some doctors who fear making less and having to change lifestyles, there is significant push back. Obama considers Hillary Clinton’s role in this and she becomes a major policy contributor.
But perhaps the single most important, long term possibility exists in Obama’s plan to fight for new initiatives. Not unlike the environment–and what’s necessary in education and still missing–new advances in science and technologies, advances in biomedical research, as well as continued and renewed support for the fight against AIDS worldwide create an approach to healthcare based on a delicate balance between prevention, intervention and treatment–and this includes mental health care.
To say that Obama and Biden inherit a nightmare is an understatement. The first item on the agenda is to move away from a Machiavellian approach to foreign policy, but which will reinstate the United States as a strong and competent ally.
Though Obama was accused of lacking experience during the campaign, his foreign policy approach calls for a bipartisan, consensus building journey of renewal. The problem has been that the carrot and stick approach has not worked, so we must find new or different ways. Obama calls for more dialog, even with “enemies,” thus enabling us to have better grasp of the challenges ahead–something totally alien to the Bush Administration, which would have been the policy followed by McCain.
The key to Obama’s plan is bipartisanship and an open approach, this way we can all contribute to the complex world we all live in. Diplomacy must be used first and foremost, and it’s the only way to continue a relationship with, say, Iraq, since within 11 or so months after taking office, troops leave and only a small group remains for consulting and training.
But the biggest mess is Afghanistan, particularly following the increase in violence and attacks into Pakistan–and Iran–perpetuated by the Bush Administration between September and the end of December of 2008. Pakistan has become hostile to the US for the attacks; likewise, the country has become increasingly unstable.
While bringing troops out of Iraq, Obama and Biden must stabilize rising insurgency in Afghanistan, as well as the instability in Pakistan. This is the new front. It has of course always been there, but the Bush Administration–which McCain supports–kept it off the front burner until moments before the presidential election.
Thi is a citizen’s election–our electin; it is about how we feel about our country and in what direction we want to go. Nothing more, nothing less. It is clear that an Obama victory brings challenges. This is because he, unlike McCain, is asking that we participate, that we involve ourselves in our domestic as well as global problems. We can’t do this any other way.
McCain, on the other hand, is a salesman doing the two-step around a faulty model–we’ve been here. It’s true, during the last 8 years we’ve allowed a failed student, a failed businessman, and a rather unsuccessful governor rule our country. Bush boasts about his place at Yale, a place that was held for him not because he earned it, but because his family gave it to him. The same holds true for McCain. He graduated 5th from the bottom at the US Naval Academy, a place guaranteed him by his father. McCain went on to destroy 5 aircraft. At one point killing over 100 people on an aircraft carrier; his flight fitness report described him as “less than average.” But he went on to be given the honor of being a flight instructor. How does that happen? Daddy, family, the business as usual of privilege. Yes, he suffered greatly and he acted with great honor in Vietnam. Unfortunately, these are not qualifiers for the presidency. McCain is no maverick, this is obvious; he has been a part of the privileged mainstream, which awards blood not merit.
Isn’t it time we tried something else, please, for our sake this time?
August 21, 2008 § Leave a Comment
When we cast a vote, we are in fact saying that, based on what candidates have said during the campaign, we believe a particular vision for the country. I took it upon myself, then, to try and imagine this vision based on positions and policy statements made by John McCain and Barack Obama. If one or the other candidate were to be elected–a sure thing–what would America look like in the coming years? What are we facing?
Below is my first prognostication, a John McCain victory. In the coming week or so, I will do the same for Barack Obama.
In each case, I had no pre-conceived notion of what I would say–or should. I am an independent voter, beholding to no political group. I don’t join political action groups or lobby for one person or another. I do, however, take positions based on my understanding of the issues, the concerns of my family, community and students, and my sense of where America should be in the not so distant future. I read a lot, study the issues, and think. The cause or issue I feel strongest about is education. And I can say unequivocally that neither candidate is even remotely close to understanding what’s happening in our schools. Of course, this issue is secondary to the devastation our move into Iraq and our disregard for Afghanistan has cost thousands upon thousands of people here and there.
As a theme, I took it upon myself to try and see how each candidate is going to try and move us away from the politics of destruction. This is the outcome.
America’s Future After a McCain Victory: Descent Into Darkness
Disorder and uncertainty are the guiding principles of our world today. This is what gets John McCain elected by a narrow margin. Somehow he convinces the electorate–including the intellectual class–that the sense of being adrift can be pushed back with his approach to the future, a conservatism based on letting market forces dictate everything from the welfare of veterans to the running of schools to the environment, and the continuation of a Machiavellian foreign policy.
Contradicting his promise during the summer campaign, McCain continues (quietly) filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). And since oil consumption in America dropped as Americans reacted accordingly to the high cost of their consumption, and gasoline prices at the pump leveled at just below $4 a gallon, McCain sees this as a sign of change, a sign that we have somehow turned the corner on our reliance on oil and we’re moving in the right direction. America is changing for the better, assumes McCain.
So John McCain proposes A National Strategy For Energy Security. But this does not include any incentives for alternative energy development, putting him at odds with Al Gore and the science of global warming. (see also What is Global Warming?)
John McCain is a proven conservative, and his strategy will not rely on subsidies, rifle-shot tax breaks, line-items for lobbyists, or big-government debacles. It will rely on the genius and technological prowess of American industry and science. McCain thus relies on outdated rhetoric that will continue to effectively build on the policies of the previous administration. But since gasoline prices dropped, the complacent (unconscious?) electorate believes him and goes along with his plan since it’s no strain on Americans–not for now, the immediate.
McCain appeals to American’s propensity to think short term.
The oil industry, in the quarter following McCain’s election, reports even greater profits than the year before. The Bush-Cheney presidency, therefore, is defined as extremely successful by the oil company CEOs–as well as by conservative think tanks–because the mantel has been effectively handed over to “the right person,” John McCain. He will continue the Bush-Cheney agenda in energy and the environment.
And just to make sure, McCain promises that should Americans be worried about the upcoming summer fun, since disorder and uncertainty are of primary concern, he will once again ask Congress to suspend the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2009.
Americans flock back to their vehicles, some to their outdated S.U.V.’s, but others to new hybrids and more efficient models. Consumption increases and McCain points to this as positive because there is an increase in revenues for rebuilding the highways and bridges across America–a sign of hope, a sign that America is back to where it once was. We’re rebuilding America! America is moving again!
But suddenly, before the first one hundred days are up, the stock market, which has been fluctuating up and down, eventually declines and oil prices tick upward again and reach unprecedented levels.
Terrorism affects diversification strategies in the market. Political volatility in the Middle East keeps energy traders on edge. Climate chaos, including weather swings, increasingly becomes a major element in evaluating the outlook for everything from agricultural crops to energy use, and even to energy production in offshore oil rigs (puts a damper on drilling in Alaska, which becomes more costly than anticipated and doesn’t affect the price Americans pay at the pump or for fuel for their homes–a tragic irony!) and refineries located by seaports. Matters darken. Nature’s whims affect financial markets, the ups and downs of our understanding of wealth. No stability is apparent. The poor in the cold regions of the United States suffer in unprecedented ways.
Our collective belief is that we are vulnerable, more so now then ever before in history. At one hundred days, McCain’s approval ratings are way down. Congress, dominated by the Democrats, is in a frenzy. Stalemate. Nothing is moving forward.
A slow but definitive brain drain, for the first time in American history, is noticeable: those Americans who can afford it, leave the U.S. for other lands–some for Europe, others for developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, believing that the future is elsewhere and since globalization is built on the “knowledge industry” coupled to technology, their work–engineering, science and medicine, the arts and education–can be done from anywhere, and at lower human and environmental costs.
Education and Healthcare:
Education: John McCain issues his premise that Excellence, Choice, and Competition in American Education is what’s necessary to stop the increase in drop out rates, particularly among minorities, and make American children more competitive in the future. To accomplish this, McCain says that public support for a child’s education should follow that child throughout the education chosen by the parents.
On the one hand, McCain increases the demands placed on schools by No Child Left Behind and, on the other, he manages to get through Congress a bill supporting the movement of children from the less competitive schools to the more flexible, student-centered schools, free of violence and that are focused on character-building. The education double bind that spells disaster for learning is strengthened.
The poorest of American neighborhoods become even poorer, their schools even more deplorable. Those that can afford to leave for better schools do, for others, much like school busing in the ’60s, going to another school means tremendous sacrifice. Drop out rates increase, as does crime among kids 11 to 21.
John McCain persists and says that the cultural problems in our education system – is a system that still seeks to avoid genuine accountability and responsibility for producing well-educated children. He blames the administrators and teachers, and the parents for lack of involvement, failing to understand the socioeconomic-familial make up of the communities he’s addressing. The promises of education are now a distant, unreachable dream for many–the unreality of many poor.
Advocates of education criticize McCain for being totally out of touch with the poor in urban centers whose unemployment is 6 to 8% higher than in other parts of the country
Educationally, the gap between the haves and the have nots widens. Some of the most challenged urban centers in America deteriorate further. On the other end of the spectrum, competition for elite colleges and universities increases, particularly given the new financial aid policies of these schools, enabling them to pick from the cream of the crop. The rest are left for the second and third tier schools.
There is an increase in online schooling; likewise, some students learn that Europe offers a competitive higher education model and go there where they are welcomed with open arms.
A more stringent–and obvious–demarcation between the classes ensues. Status reigns supreme; it is the calling card. Class, not race (though this is still the unspoken problem in America, especially after the election), becomes the central issue separating Americans.
John McCain argues for standards based education on a massive scale and points to his success in getting Congress to approve the “let the money follow the child ” model of competition in education as beginning to move children–and America–in the right direction.
Mayors from urban centers gather and complain even more forcefully that the Federal Government has totally forgotten them. Governors of states with large urban centers follow suit. Cities have lost Federal grants for infrastructure needs, the money being channeled to Iraq and the chaos in Afghanistan.
Healthcare: Healthcare and Education run side-by-side. The way of healthcare is the way of education.
John McCain pursues a policy that is similar to his education policy–let competition settle the problem. This is seen as the right direction by the pharmaceuticals since they are really the managers of America’s healthcare system.
Since 2000, the number of Americans without healthcare has increased by almost 9 million–16% of the population without healthcare. Given the economy, the loss of jobs and the increase in unemployment, coupled to the gutting of inner city neighborhoods, under McCain’s watch, the number of uninsured rises.
Following this “competitive model”, even those who are employed lose healthcare coverage. In 2006, 37.7 million workers were uninsured because not all businesses offer health benefits, not all workers qualify for coverage and many employees cannot afford their share of the health insurance premium even when coverage is at their fingertips. By the start of 2010, McCain’s second year in office, this number increases by 2.5 million workers.
Americans that can afford it seek healthcare services abroad, where it’s cheaper and increasingly just as good. Why put up with expensive, run-of-the-mill health care at home when you can be treated just as well abroad?
McCain’s healthcare policies exacerbate America’s brain drain, on the one hand, and more so than ever before, globalization begins to affect the cash flow in the U.S.: investors place their money in foreign companies in developing countries. More investment capital leaves the U.S..
Veterans hospitals across the country suffer along with large teaching hospitals because external competition means a loss of patients. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, still increasing, are forced to seek help from non-governmental sources, even non-American sources, because the U.S. medical system’s infrastructure is chaotic, at best, and inadequate for their complex needs.
John McCain insists on pursuing this approach to healthcare since it’s the method he promised to follow during his campaign for office. In two years, the American medical system is the shame of the industrialized world.
In difficult times, Americans chose John McCain for what he said was his “foreign policy expertise.”
But increasingly, Americans realize that McCain’s understanding of foreign policy is merely the continuation of Machiavellian policies as old as the conquest of the Americas. Americans see that McCain’s foreign policy is based on the fundamental themes of conquest, retaining the strength and vitality of the causes of “savage injustice” for those who fail to go along with America.
For John McCain, putting America first, we learn, defines a predatory foreign policy that in reality puts America at further risk, alienating us from the rest of the world that seeks a more hospitable future.
McCain goes against the wisdom outlined by experts and journalists from the left and the right, suggesting that unbridled Bush-style aggression is perceived by adversaries as a justification to wield weapons of terror. Thus McCain calls for the transformation of the military to a more pliable machine and argues for the first use of nuclear weapons and the right for unilateral use of military power, particularly against Iran. American aggression increases.
Iraq is at odds with McCain because he extends pull-out dates into a nebulous future, which is consistent with Bush-style aggression designed to ensure the U.S. maintain military bases in the Middle East. (US Military Facilities in Iraq)
Afghanistan further deteriorates, particularly since U.S. Special Forces increase clandestine operations into Iran. Brutal violence and devastation increases in Afghanistan because McCain follows the Bush-Cheney model of not going after Osama bin Laden. McCain does not heed the advise given to Bush by senior CIA analyst Michael Scheurer, responsible for tracking bin Laden, that “US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result…it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally”(qtd in Failed States, 23). Indeed.
Afghanistan is in chaos after Karzai loses the election. Attacks by the Taliban on all foreigners, whether military or non-governmental workers, increase.
Pakistan, too, is in chaos, pursuing the Musharraf impeachment. McCain maintains that the military dictator Musharraf is an ally of the U.S. and that he’s been honorable in his pursuit of terrorism; however, Al Qaeda gains unprecedented influence over the Pakistani parliament, finally infiltrating it with political forces sympathetic to their radicalization of Islam.
India gets nervous because Al Qaeda control of Pakistani politics is a threat to their sovereignty. McCain, of course, sees this as a common pattern and he calls forth an alert of strained American military forces.
Israel practices bombing Iran over Iraqui airspace further escalating tensions throughout the Middle East. McCain, like Bush before him, backs Israel’s plans to bomb Iran, though publicly he asks Israel to “cool” their mock military maneuvers.
Throughout the Middle East, even among American supporting moneyed Muslims, there is dismay, an outcry condemning U.S. force , labeling it imperialism.
Europe supports the Middle Eastern outcry and backs away from the U.S.. Even the European wanna be cowboy, Sarkozy, finally pulls French troops from Afghanistan saying that his country had suffered too many causalities amidst NATO chaos.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, an alliance–Chile, Mexico, Columbia and Brazil–manage to isolate Chavez. They pull in the new leftist leader, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Likewise, these same countries increase their investments in Cuba while the U.S. maintains its current anti-Cuba policies, though countless Americans travel to the Caribbean country via Canada and Mexico.
In Africa, the U.S. builds more military bases while China and the EU make huge monetary investments. Throughout Africa, the attitude is to turn from the U.S. and towards a future that promises creative engagement with those partners willing to invest in infrastructure building, education and science.
Russia laughs at the U.S., extending its control over oil and gas meant for Europe; in a sense, tension rises because the Russian bear is seen as aggressive as the U.S. There is nothing the U.S. can do since it needs Russia.
China grows, increasing its military strength as well; the country’s demands for natural resources are extensive, compelling it to move wide and far across the globe, becoming partner to many regimes, good and bad.
Within two years, McCain’s America is effectively isolated.
I had no idea I would come up with these conclusions; however, following what the senator has been saying, laying out a grid of potential results, leads me to these conclusions. History tells us so; we have no reason to believe otherwise since, as McCain tells us as often as possible, he has experience. This is his experience. Facts are facts.
A McCain victory is a descent into darkness. America finds itself in a state more confusing then it is now.
McCain is not an independent person at all, but someone who is deeply entrenched in vituperative politics. How can he be independent when he is beholding to oil barons, the military and military providers, big business–and the list is endless. John McCain is the extreme opposite; he is a product of the elite system that first pushed him into Annapolis, since he was inadequate intellectually (the same as Bush at Yale), and then enabled his rise through the political structure that rewards those of similar make-up.* McCain is just like everyone else; he’s the same product we’ve had for 8 years.
What is most frightening is that the press doesn’t pick up on this, nor follow the obvious. Mainstream media covers only process, highlighting the “ad” tendencies of each candidate, rather than being responsible–and doing what democracy asks–and putting the candidates’ feet to the fire, asking them relevant questions about how to solve America’s challenges.
Essentially, a McCain victory will lead to a further disenfranchisement of America from the rest of the world. McCain’s narrow vision–held together only by aggression and a shallow open market idealism–leaves America vulnerable to those that are ideologically opposed to this, while then enabling narrow self-interest to manage our affairs of state.
I therefore predict, as I said earlier, the beginnings of an American brain drain. Why stay where reason, humanitarian interests and creativity are not wanted? In a global economy, even Americans can work and study anywhere.