How do you distract the American people from the impending downfall of US hegemony, the coming economic chaos wrought by the disintegration of the petrodollar, the unflinching march toward World War 3 spurred on by decades of geopolitical bullying masquerading as foreign policy, and the US’s refusal to clean up its own mess? Why, football, of course. More specifically, you undermine their confidence in the warm fuzzy patriotism of football, by extension throwing their entire self-concept into question and forcing them to re-evaluate everything they thought was good and true in the world. Order out of chaos - it’s the American way.
Every media outlet on earth seems to be weighing in on the Great NFL Protest, which after Donald Trump’s attacks on ex-49er Colin Kaepernick has spread through entire football teams and into other sports including basketball. Even media outlets that don’t cover sports are jettisoning stories that actually matter in their pursuit of this catniplike mix of pro sports, celebrity, and the great orange sun around which our media is determined to orbit. This is exactly what Trump wants. As the media congregates like moths to his flame, his administration is up to all kinds of horrors in the surrounding darkness.
The choreography of this spectacle is simple. Trump's alt-right lapdogs rail against the protest, invariably using the phrase "love it or leave it" in their takedown of the "spoiled" millionaire NFL players, who owe everything they have to this country and its freedoms and are acting ungrateful by refusing to stand for the national anthem. The anti-Trump brigade predictably takes the bait, forgetting all about the president’s horrifically hypocritical speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week as they rush to call him out for his criticism of the kneeling footballers. “How dare he call Kaepernick a son of a bitch for exercising his right to free speech! Don't the 'freedoms' promised in the Constitution include the freedom to protest? Where was Trump's outrage during the Charlottesville riot?" They have already forgotten the president's UN address in which he paid fulsome lip service to nationalism, actually claiming “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” before clarifying that such nationalistic independence in other countries was only acceptable when it aligned with US geostrategic interests.
Is Trump being hypocritical by condemning the NFL protests and calling for the players to be fired so soon after defending the free speech of “Unite the Right” rally participants? Sure, but his calling out Iran as a “rogue state” spreading “violence, bloodshed and chaos” through the Arab world while the US (along with allies Israel and Saudi Arabia) commits war crimes in Syria and Yemen and funds terrorist groups responsible for infinitely more carnage is hypocritical on a much more monstrous level. Trump calling Kim Jong-un’s six measly nuclear tests a threat to civilization while the US carries out thousands of its own nuclear tests - to say nothing of his refusal to negotiate with the North Korean government until it disarms, a condition which would leave the country defenseless yet surrounded with US missiles - is monumentally hypocritical. Trump’s criticism of Iran for its alleged noncompliance with the 2015 nuclear deal while US ally Israel has not once had its own nuclear weapons inspected or even inventoried is astronomically hypocritical. By allowing themselves to be distracted by this easy-bake insta-controversy, anti-Trumpers are proving themselves useful idiots. Get your priorities in order, please, before Trump literally gets away with murder.
Every two-bit “intellectual” in the blogosphere has used the NFL controversy as a springboard to proclaim their own superiority to the American masses - prefacing their opinions with disclaimers that football is beneath them, that they look down on pro sports, that they are too smart for this sort of thing, but they feel the need to comment anyway. I may appear guilty by association, but this post is an analysis of media (over)reaction to a tempest in a teapot clearly meant to distract from several larger and more troubling narratives, and the question of whether or not I watch football is irrelevant. A vast segment of the US population does watch it, and the national anthem controversy serves as perfect media flypaper - a devastating weapon of mass distraction.
The controversy also diverts us from examining our government’s role in rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Americans are mostly unaware of our uncomfortably colonial relationship with Puerto Rico, whose citizens are not able to vote in US elections despite the territory being under full control of the US government. Decades of extortionate economic policies, including the Jones Act prohibiting foreign ships from unloading cargo on its shores, have plunged the island into $72 billion in debt, the effects of which have been exacerbated by US-imposed neoliberal austerity measures. Forty-five percent of the population lives in poverty - and this was before the storm.
Most US politicians, safe in the knowledge that Puerto Ricans are electorally incapable of holding them accountable for throwing the island under the bus, are uninterested in spending hurricane relief dollars on rebuilding the ruined territory. Immediately following the storm, Trump criticized Puerto Rico for its debt crisis and aging infrastructure in a series of jaw-droppingly insensitive tweets, and he has yet to even send a disaster aid request to Congress on Puerto Rico’s behalf, despite pleas from the island’s governor. While he has ordered some federal assistance, which will cover grants for home repairs and temporary shelter, Trump refused to suspend the Jones Act and allow foreign aid to flow in, and concerns remain about how to pay for aid to the debt-ravaged territory. A referendum earlier this year revealed that 97% of Puerto Ricans favor statehood, but no further action was taken at the time. This vote - the fifth such referendum - seems destined to be tabled like its predecessors, eclipsed by the hurricane's chaos, leaving the island an impotent colony subject to the whims of the US government.
Other stories falling by the wayside in the frenzy to dissect the minutiae of the NFL protest include a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons approved by 120 countries and signed by 42 nations so far. While nuclear-armed powers including the US have opposed it, the new ban’s supporters believe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - now 50 years old and missing several nuclear-armed powers as signatories, including Israel, India and Pakistan - does not go far enough. When 50 countries have signed the pact, it will go into effect, barring signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, or otherwise acquiring and stockpiling nuclear weapons. Supporters cite Trump and Kim’s belligerent rhetoric as a major motivator behind treaty negotiations.
Trump’s staff are in 24/7 damage-control mode as he uses his Twitter platform to poke the North Korean hornets’ nest; Kim and his staff have read the president’s tweets as open declarations of war and have had to be talked down by long-suffering White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Trump seems determined to tweet the US into nuclear war, most recently boasting that North Korean leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its “threats” - fighting words backed by US bombers flying the furthest north of the Korean de-militarized zone yet this century. North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho answered the tweet by threatening to shoot down US bombers outside North Korean airspace. The rest of the world remains on high alert as both sides exchange rhetorical volleys, fearing the dispute could turn ballistic at any moment. But Trump doesn’t want Americans to worry their pretty heads about getting blown up in a nuclear strike, so let’s focus on a few football players “disrespecting” an inanimate object instead.
How do we know this controversy is a setup? Timing is everything. Kaepernick has been kneeling for the national anthem for over a year in protest of institutionalized racism. Michael Bennett joined in earlier this month because of his own experience with racist police. But why have so many other players suddenly opted to take a knee before the game? Did they all experience a crisis of conscience at the same time? Since his inauguration, Trump has proved himself quite savvy in the art of generating political theater in order to distract the American people from his administration's faults and failures. By calling Kaepernick a “son of a bitch,” he united footballers’ sentiment against him, growing the protest from a few players kneeling in opposition to racism to a large group of players rallying to the defense of a colleague. By framing the players’ support of Kaepernick as “anti-American,” Trump has parlayed a garden-variety Twitter insult into a media virus.
If you support the players’ protest, this controversy is great! Other players - particularly in sports outside football - joining Kaepernick’s protest is great! Trump revealing his hypocrisy, trying to quash protesters’ free speech with demands that they be fired, is great! Let’s discuss something else. We’re staring World War 3 in the face right now. US foreign policy is a disaster, and our economy is poised on the brink of utter destruction. Puerto Rico is a mess, and it’s our government’s responsibility to rebuild it. There are matters that deserve your attention much more urgently than the protest actions of pro sports players.
If you oppose the players’ protest, this controversy is also great! Your president agrees with you! NFL ratings are down eight percent! Americans are fleeing the sport in droves! You’ve discovered the sordid truth about “America’s sport” - that it’s not the bastion of patriotism you once thought it was - aren’t you glad you’ve escaped such deception? Let’s discuss something else. We’re staring World War 3 in the face right now. US foreign policy is a disaster, and our economy is poised on the brink of utter destruction. Puerto Rico is a mess, and it’s our government’s responsibility to rebuild it. There are matters that deserve your attention much more urgently than the protest actions of pro sports players.
I hope this “controversy” causes American football fans to rethink their love of the sport. I hope they opt to use the time they spent following, watching and discussing “the game” to read a book or otherwise improve their minds. As a student of human nature, however, I find this possibility extremely unlikely. Could the backlash to this protest put a damper on cities’ eagerness to throw taxpayer money away on the construction of boondoggle stadiums like downtown Brooklyn’s hideous blight-bringer Barclays Center? As America’s infrastructure crumbles, municipalities still find the money to fund the construction of expensive, unnecessary sports arenas, gifting billions of dollars in funds and tax breaks to teams and management organizations that are already filthy rich. This practice must end. Our cities cannot afford to subsidize the lifestyles of the rich and shameless while our bridges and tunnels disintegrate and American citizens - in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida or other pockets of dire poverty like Camden and Detroit - languish without basic shelter and necessities.
Professional sports are irrelevant to the lives of the vast majority of Americans. There is no reason to continue covering this inconsequential story while the world inches closer to nuclear war. We don't need to spend our days in a state of panic, but we cannot allow manufactured controversies to distract us from our reality.
As we stand at the threshold of World War 3, it can be difficult to figure out which vice drives America above all others. For a country which was founded on such lofty ideals, our descent into iniquity is all the more painful to behold.
Is it hypocrisy? We never tire of pointing out territorial expansionism and imperialist tendencies in others. Americans were the loudest voices criticizing Putin when he annexed the Crimea following the area’s Ukrainian residents voting in a referendum to join Russia. The decision was framed as a warlike act of imperialism, a violation of the right to self-determination of Crimeans, despite the fact that 90% of voters in that referendum chose to join Russia. On the US side, we have Puerto Rico, an administrative commonwealth of the United States whose residents cannot vote in the country’s elections. A recent referendum on statehood revealed over 97% of Puerto Ricans were in favor of statehood, but no action has been taken, and they continue to languish in legal limbo with fewer democratic rights than a convicted felon.
Is it greed? The story of the 2008 financial crisis need not be told again, and other countries were involved besides the United States, but only we chose to reward the criminal too-big-to-fail financial institutions with $700 billion, refuse to jail or even fire most of the perpetrators, and basically continue down the same bubble-laden path that got us into the mess. The $700 billion gifted to the banks by TARP was only the beginning of the no-strings-attached bailout (the few regulations which made it through the legislation process were toothless and laughable) and Wall Street has not changed its business practices since the crash. London, too, saw a few token firings and fines, but the city of London does not pretend to be a free-market haven of lifting oneself up by ones’ bootstraps. The US claims anyone can make it - that our economy is a meritocracy - then picks up the losers when they fail, fail big, and fail with other people’s money. If you have the right connections, you are not only allowed to ruin the average citizen’s life - you are rewarded for it.
Is it belligerence? Since the death of JFK and the rise of the CIA, it seems America has never met a country it didn’t want to bomb, overthrow, or otherwise meddle with. From regime changes and neoliberal economic imperialism in South America to supporting and training Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the Middle East to propping up murderous dictators in Africa, US foreign policy makes sure our weapons get around. We demonize any head of state who dares conduct his own missile tests or defend his country, but we give ourselves wide latitude to kill at will.
Is it hubris? The US seems to think that not only is it always correct in geopolitical or economic matters, but that it has the right to impose its view by force and that it will win any conflict, whether ideological or military. This has led to a number of military quagmires, from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan, in which our opponents saw things differently and continued to see them differently no matter how much we bombed them. The US is pathologically incapable of learning its lesson.
US foreign policy truly crossed the rubicon in the aftermath of September 11th. Even if you believe the official story, you must admit the event was expertly manipulated to create favorable circumstances for both the military-industrial complex and the national security state - it certainly looked like they had been preparing for just such an attack. Indeed, the documents of the Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative group, cite just such a “new Pearl Harbor” as a necessary condition for pushing through the Patriot Act and other police-state-enabling legislation. This order-out-of-chaos methodology surfaces time and time again in US policy, both at home and abroad. Before the dust had settled in downtown Manhattan, we had the Transportation Security Administration conducting intrusive patdowns at airports across the country, libraries keeping records on patrons who checked out “subversive” tomes, warrantless wiretaps legalized down to the lowliest local police force, and soldiers on their way to Afghanistan to keep the world safe for democracy.
What many don’t remember about the aftermath of 9/11 is that the Taliban actually offered to turn over Osama bin Laden for prosecution - if we just gave them some evidence that he had been responsible for the attacks. Bush blustered that he didn’t negotiate with terrorists and continued with the invasion. If the US government was so certain - and they certainly acted as if there was no doubt - that bin Laden had masterminded the attacks, surely they could have pacified the Taliban with a shred of evidence or two without compromising their case. After all, bin Laden was an Afghan citizen and a foreign government can’t just extradite a foreign national without some sort of evidence that there is a case against him. But the US does not feel itself bound by international law. As the world’s greatest hypocrites, we demand that all other countries follow it to the letter while flouting it ourselves.
After the Taliban fell, the US installed Hamid Karzai as our puppet president. Karzai, the brother of notorious opium trafficker Ahmed Karzai, ran a notoriously corrupt government dogged by accusations of election fraud, among other crimes, and was openly despised by the Afghan people. Despite the high-minded rhetoric of the Bush administration, which assured Americans we would be hailed as liberators after taking out the authoritarian Taliban, Karzai’s rule merely succeeded in driving the Afghans back into the arms of the Taliban; when they began fighting the US in the insurgency that continues to this day, it was with the help of many Afghan citizens, who saw the US army as an occupying force with no business “nation building” in their villages.
Afghanistan produces 90% of the world’s opium. Under the Taliban, in 2001, opium production had fallen to its lowest level in years. Over the past 16 years, it has risen to 40 times that number. US soldiers openly stand guard outside poppy fields as the drug is funneled into the US. The opiate problem stateside continues to grow, as overdoses outpace even car crashes as the leading cause of death. Mention this link, of course, and you get called a conspiracy theorist, but a population too drugged to function is a nice, docile, manageable population. Now that fewer and fewer Americans are turning to religion, the classic opiate of the masses, it’s time to pacify them with, well, opiates.
Afghanistan was irresistible to the US military complex for a number of reasons. Its location in the center of the Eurasian continent made it strategically valuable, especially with regard to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “global chessboard” view, and as the poorest country in Asia it appeared to be ill-prepared to fight the world’s largest military. It was also ideally situated for the construction of a pipeline which would have brought oil into Europe from the Middle East while bypassing Russia, allowing the US to cash in on that continent’s energy needs while cutting out its mortal enemy. Still, they should have learned from the mistakes of the Russians - after all, it was the US which funded and trained the mujahideen in order to cripple the then-USSR - Osama bin Laden began his political career as one of the CIA’s best pupils - and it was those mujahideen who grew up to found al-Qaeda. If Russia, with all its military might, couldn’t take Afghanistan, why should we think the US could?
Worse still, and showing the world just how much we have failed to learn our lesson, the US is doubling down on its Afghan quagmire. Donald Trump, elected president on an America-first non-interventionist platform, has done a 180 regarding the war in Afghanistan, which he called a “mistake” among other derogatory names while on the campaign trail. Under the influence of the generals with whom he has packed his cabinet because of a misguided and tragic military fetish, he announced he will be increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and possibly expanding the conflict into Pakistan. Why have one war when you can have two? This is America - clearly, more is better.
The rationale for entering the Iraq war was even more tenuous than Afghanistan, if that is possible. The US had been thirsty for Saddam Hussein’s blood ever since the first Gulf War, when we leveled the country but left the dictator in power. Congress passed a 1998 resolution officially supporting regime change, and all that remained was to find a rationale for war that would pass the smell test with the American people. When Hussein had the audacity to sell Iraq’s oil to a group of European nations in Euros instead of the hallowed petrodollar, we saw it as an act of war and stepped up the timetable. A slapdash chain of cause and effect was constructed in an attempt to link Hussein to al-Qaeda following 9/11, and we relied upon the obviously false and dubiously-motivated accusations of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi to declare the Iraqi dictator was plotting nefarious things with weapons of mass destruction. War green lighted, we swarmed into Iraq high on self-righteousness, expecting an easy victory.
Saddam Hussein was a polarizing figure. He was a brutal dictator who murdered thousands of his own people, but he was also a strong nationalist who brought Iraq into the modern age. He nationalized its oil wells and used the proceeds to modernize infrastructure and expand free education (particularly to girls). His secular regime quelled the eternal sectarian tensions between the country’s Sunni and Shi’a populations. The US had even considered him an ally in the leadup to the first Gulf War, siding with him during the Iran-Iraq War. When he prepared to invade Kuwait, Bush stood back and allowed the invasion, only crying foul after it was too late to stop. Accompanied by a heavy-handed tearjerker propaganda campaign that claimed Iraqi soldiers were rampaging through Kuwaiti hospitals, grabbing premature infants and ripping them out of incubators to die on the cold ground, the US stormed into Iraq and essentially destroyed the country. As Hussein tried to rebuild in the aftermath, he agreed to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction in return for the repeal of US sanctions, which were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children by hunger and disease.
Heavy-handed propaganda once again got us into war with Iraq, as the New York Times and other supposedly reputable outlets pushed stories of yellowcake uranium, aluminum tubes, and other specious evidence that Hussein was plotting something apocalyptic. Bush made his famous Axis of Evil speech, lumping the country in with its mortal enemy Iran and far-away, unrelated North Korea. The US military arrested, tried, and executed Hussein; Bush stood in front of a laughably premature banner and declared our mission “accomplished.” The insurgency began - the sectarian tensions quelled by Arab nationalism had flared up again in the absence of Hussein’s strongman rule - and rather than hugs and flowers we got IEDs and ambushes. No proof of WMDs ever surfaced, and the Bush administration tied themselves in logical pretzels trying to shift the rationale for war over to everything from human rights abuses (which Hussein had committed while an ally of the US during the war with Iran) to a claim of “divine inspiration” (Bush actually claimed, with a straight face, that God had inspired him to “hit at Saddam”). Realistically, analysts have suggested that in addition to control over Iraqi oil, the war was fought to establish a US military base in the region, though Iraq’s proximity to America’s bosom-buddy Israel calls that idea into question. Regardless of the real reason(s) for war, US contractors made billions rebuilding the destroyed country. We got what we wanted - never again would Iraq try to sell its oil in a currency other than the petrodollar.
Iraq also served as the springboard for the next great bogeyman in US foreign policy - ISIS. Like any drug, fear requires greater and more frequent doses in order to have the same effect. The fear of al-Qaeda experienced by the average American in the aftermath of 9/11 had dwindled significantly over the years, as constant red and orange terror alerts and 24-hour news coverage wore heavily on our cortisol system. Something new was needed to jolt us back into a properly terrorized state. ISIS is a cartoonishly evil group, kidnapping westerners, selling women as sex slaves, beheading prisoners, inducing children to behead prisoners, setting prisoners on fire, and releasing expertly-edited videos of all these acts. Not only were they brutal killers, but they were exceptionally skilled in Final Cut. Clearly, these were scary people. ISIS came onto the terror scene in Mosul, where their initial confrontation with the Iraqi army went off without a shot fired. The Iraqi soldiers, trained by the US Army (who had since returned home, cutting their losses), merely laid down their weapons and fled before this new, superior US-trained force (the CIA and Special Forces had trained ISIS leaders in Jordan).
Iraq also marked the point at which international relations began to noticeably deteriorate. Despite our “Coalition of the Willing,” those countries the Bush regime was able to blackmail or otherwise intimidate into joining in our war of aggression, the peace movement both domestic and international was massive and many countries that usually followed the US line (including France) refused to back us. Remember Freedom Fries? The Bush regime’s rhetoric - “you’re either with us or against us” - won the country no friends, and it took years of Obama’s expert lying and intellectual veneer to repair some of those relationships. Many countries still look down on us for our imperialistic foreign policy.
Libya was the first example of a unilateral act of unjustified regime change. Obama, who had sailed into office buoyed by the anti-war vote and a public sick of the Bush regime’s toxic belligerence, proceeded to out-Bush Bush, continuing all his wars and starting a few more. Some coverage has lumped Libya in with the Arab Spring - a string of nonviolent “color revolutions” beginning in 2011 that overthrew a number of authoritarian Arab regimes - but the Libyan regime change was anything but nonviolent.
Muammar Gaddafi was an eccentric but mostly beloved autocrat who had created a technologically- and socially-advanced society admired by the rest of Africa over almost 40 years of rule. His Libya saw levels of gender parity unequalled in the region, with free education and healthcare for all citizens; Libyans also received a percentage of the profits from the sale of the nation’s oil. Gaddafi had a heavy hand in dealing with dissenters and protest, but he also kept a lid on terrorism and Islamic extremism and indeed was considered an ally to the US in fighting terrorism in northern Africa. Relations between the two countries had normalized somewhat in the 10 years leading up to the invasion, with Gaddafi dismantling his nuclear weapons program in return for the easing of US sanctions. Unfortunately, in his drive to raise the standard of living for all Africans, Gaddafi proposed a pan-African gold currency for all oil-producing nations in the continent - a direct attack on US oil hegemony.
With NATO-backed no-fly zones providing cover for anti-Gaddafi rebels based in the leader’s home town of Benghazi and US dollars and weapons arming rebel forces, Libya was transformed from the most advanced country in Africa into a failed state within a year. Protests inspired by the Arab Spring centered on corruption and unemployment but were manipulated to skewer Gaddafi, whom western media outlets accused of crimes against humanity. There is still no unified government; chaos reigns as the rebel militias duke it out for regional control and the Islamic terrorism suppressed by Gaddafi rises to the surface. The country’s infrastructure lies in ruins - a state-of-the-art desalination plant that had allowed Libyans to convert a desert region into arable farmland was bombed, as were the standard targets of hospitals, factories, and wedding parties. Gaddafi was brutally murdered while Hillary Clinton chuckled sociopathically. But at least that pan-African gold currency would never come to be.
After the Libyan debacle, even the warmongering Obama was reluctant to initiate another unilateral regime change via military means, despite his administration clamoring for war in Syria. For reasons still unknown, he failed to follow through on his “red line” ultimatum, which promised military intervention should Assad use chemical weapons. Immediately after that speech in 2013, there was a chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which the US lost no time in blaming on the Assad regime despite a paucity of evidence. UN weapons investigators eventually uncovered proof that not only were the anti-Assad rebels responsible for the attack, but the weapons had come from the US and UK; perhaps Obama’s reluctance to jump off from this fraudulent “red line” led to his refusal to intervene via an official war for regime change. Regardless of his reasons, Obama restrained his administration to funding anti-Assad rebel groups, misleadingly designated “moderate” - terrorist organizations such as al-Nusra and the White Helmets responsible for terror campaigns across the country and the lion’s share of refugees. US media paints a simplistic picture of the Syrian war in which the US-funded “moderate rebels” crusade for truth and justice against ISIS on one side and thuggish Syrian army forces loyal to Assad on the other; the reality is more of a two-sided war, with Assad and the Syrian military trying to maintain order while American and Saudi money floods into rebel terrorist groups running the spectrum from White Helmets to ISIS.
After Obama’s indecision spared Assad the catastrophe of a US ground war, Russia brokered a peace deal whereby Assad would surrender his chemical weapons. Additionally, the government held a constitutional referendum that revealed widespread public support for Assad and laid the groundwork for democratic elections. By stepping in to Assad’s defense, Russia provided a layer of protection against the geostrategic bullying of the US, forcing it to double down on the proxy war, having missed the chance to score with “boots on the ground.” Iran joined the Assad-Russia alliance, while Israel’s funding of ISIS placed it on the side of the US and Saudi Arabia. The tide of the war was turning in Assad’s favor, as US public and military opinion criticized the Obama regime’s refusal to bomb ISIS in the country (as well as its preemptive leafletings to areas that were about to be bombed, informing them of the impending bombing).
Enter Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to avoid further imperialistic adventures in the Middle East. All it took was one chemical attack under deeply suspicious circumstances to get him firing Tomahawk missiles at one of Assad’s airbases. The Trump regime tore into Assad for the attack, notwithstanding the fact that it was impossible to tell just hours after such an event who was responsible; UN Ambassador Nikki Haley even encouraged further false flag attacks by declaring that any future such attacks would be blamed not only on Assad but also on Iran and Russia. No mention was made of the illogicality of Assad using chemical weapons on his own people at this stage in the war, when he was so close to winning - as a preternaturally intelligent and level-headed leader, he would under no circumstances shoot himself in the foot in such a way. Even Israel had to admit that Assad was on the path to victory - a petulant Netanyahu complained to Putin that if Iran didn’t pull out of Syria, Israel would be forced to “defend itself” by bombing Assad’s palace. With ISIS nearly vanquished in Syria, the country has experienced a resurgence of al-Qaeda, demonstrating that the US has endless terrorist groups waiting in the wings to topple regimes it dislikes. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Who’s next on the US’s military invasion list? Venezuela is blinking red right now. The country has been a socialist thorn in our side ever since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1999; he sharply reoriented the country from a neoliberal, pro-US and pro-Europe business paradise with levels of income inequality unequalled elsewhere in the world into a socialist country focused on ending the IMF’s austerity measures and stemming the tide of privatization. The living situation of the average Venezuelan improved markedly under Chavez’s anti-poverty programs, further irritating the US, which wanted to return to plundering the country’s oil reserves - the largest in the western hemisphere. Free healthcare, free education, and land transfer made him a very popular president until he was imprisoned during a 2002 coup. Interim president Pedro Carmona immediately dissolved the constitution and reversed Chavez’s policies, to the applause of the US, which lost no time legitimizing the coup plotters with recognition. Pro-Chavez demonstrations erupted across Venezuela, storming the palace and freeing the former president within a week. Post-coup investigations revealed, unsurprisingly, that it had been sponsored by the US, and that US groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy continued to plot his overthrow. Another attempt to oust Chavez followed in 2004 with a recall election; the majority of Venezuelans, however, continued to support their president.
Following the coup attempts, Chavez began severing ties in earnest with the US and building up the country’s military to ward off possible invasion. He made no secret of taunting the Bush regime, referring to the country as “the devil” in a UN speech and launching an oil subsidy program to supply impoverished Americans with heating oil. Following Chavez’s death in 2013, the US held its breath that his successor would return to the capitalist fold, but Nicolas Maduro continued down the road of Chavismo. The US tanked the price of oil, which represents a quarter of Venezuela’s GDP, while the country’s business interests manufactured a food shortage. With Venezuelans caught between a rock and a hard place with poverty and hunger, the US sadistically imposed sanctions, an act Maduro decried as “economic war.” Instead of buckling to the neoliberal wishes of the US, he announced Venezuela would dump the petrodollar, instead embracing whatever other currency came along - if buyers wanted to pay in rubles or rupees, yuan or euro, the US would no longer have a say in the marketplace. In effect, he called Trump’s bluff, because the sanctions do not target oil and the US still buys almost 40% of Venezuela’s oil. The Trump regime has stepped up its demonization of Maduro, claiming the recent elections are illegitimate and decrying police violence while turning a blind eye to the much bloodier and more extensive violence of the opposition. Although Trump has mentioned “boots on the ground,” analysts believe he is more likely to follow a Syria-esque line in overthrowing Maduro, funding a proxy “civil” war so as not to have to actually declare a conflict and risk the open disapproval of the war-sick American people.
An Alternative to Military Intervention
The US is not a one-trick pony, and military intervention has largely fallen out of favor as its preferred method for regime change. With the national debt creeping ever upward to the point that Trump, in the wisdom of his quasi-schizophrenic magical thinking, is actually considering discarding the debt ceiling altogether - a catastrophic move that would devalue the dollar and tank the US economy - war is simply too expensive. Color revolutions are the regime change method du jour, especially when a country is too rich, large, or well-connected to be easily toppled by a military invasion.
Color revolutions, as described by Gene Sharp in _From Dictatorship to Democracy_, are nonviolent protest movements geared toward toppling a dictator or authoritarian regime. Color revolutions begin when social groups not aligned with the regime begin protesting, airing their grievances, discussing their problems with the existing society, and encouraging each other to speak out. These protest energies are then channeled against the regime - whatever the problem of that particular group, it is presumed to be the leader’s fault. Outside funding is often channeled to these resistance movements, whether they are student groups, ethnic and religious minorities, or political opposition groups. As protests increase in size and intensity, they receive favorable media coverage and frequently attract international support while the embattled regime tends to respond with police and military crackdowns. Finally, as the protests reach a fever pitch, movement leaders stage a coup. If successful, the people are congratulated on a successful “people power” revolution and elections follow - though how democratic these elections actually are varies wildly depending on the country. Sharp’s methods rose to prominence in the wave of pro-democratic uprisings that followed the demise of the USSR, popping up in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan as well as in Milosevic’s Serbia.
The Arab Spring began in 2011 in Tunisia, a wealthy, secular country in northern Africa with a repressive leader known for his heavy hand with dissenters, his human rights violations, and his pro-business policies. Zine Abidine Ben Ali had ruled the country for more than 20 years as an ally of the US and Europe, but he was sacrificed to provide a blueprint for this series of regime change operations that would change the character of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
The protests in Tunisia began after a 26-year-old vegetable seller set himself on fire in the public square. Police responded to the protests with a violent crackdown, which engendered larger protests, leading to a more vicious crackdown, et cetera - this self-perpetuating feedback loop is characteristic of successful color revolutions, particularly those imposed from without, as it allows the mastermind(s) of the revolution to sit back and watch while protesters and police do all the work. As the movement grew, political figures predating Ben Ali’s government began meeting with foreign groups and non-governmental organizations to plan the future government, though they had no way of knowing Ben Ali would necessarily fall - he was cycling through many attempts to mollify protests, including promises to step down, to hold elections, to appoint one of his ministers as president, and so on. Finally, he was forced to flee, and the political parties that had been banned under his regime re-entered the political mainstream. The first democratic election in 21st century Tunisia saw the surprise victory of the Ennahda party, an Islamic group that had been outlawed under Ben Ali’s secular government. The economy subsequently cratered, as tourism dwindled to zero and terrorism became a problem for the first time. Tunisians responded by voting Ennahda out of power and electing a secular government.
The Tunisian revolution received extensive favorable media coverage, including a great deal of speculation regarding a possible domino effect- wouldn’t it be interesting, they said, if this sparked a wave of revolutions? If all the other Arab strongmen were overthrown by their people? The subtext was clear to the other Arab regimes - stay in line, guys, or the Arab Spring will come to your country.
Egypt was the next country to fall to the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring. Hosni Mubarak’s government was similar to that of Tunisia, a secular pro-business regime with a reputation for a heavy hand with dissenters. Egyptians turned out to protest against police brutality and election fraud in Tahrir Square, protests which went viral thanks to heavy western media coverage, leading the Egyptian people to believe they had truly been responsible for toppling the president. However, it was US ambassador Frank Wisner who actually made the call that Mubarak must go; Mubarak had followed Ben Ali’s line of attempting to placate protesters with promises of elections, promises he would not run again, promises to appoint some lesser minister as his replacement, and so on, but Wisner was adamant that he must step aside. Credit for his ouster was of course given to the Egyptian people.
Much more than Tunisia, Egypt exemplified the flaws inherent in color revolutions. The interim government, run by the military, wasted no time in criminalizing protest and dissolving parliament and the constitution in the leadup to the country’s first “democratic” elections post-Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected president, imposing Islamic law on the formerly secular country and placing himself above judicial oversight. Muslims and Coptic Christians, who under Mubarak’s secular regime had been if not best friends at least at relative peace, began clashing violently under the new hardline Islamic regime. After a year of violence and continued suppression of protest, the military, led by Abdul Fatteh al-Sisi, staged a coup and overthrew Morsi; he was later legitimized in another round of elections.
Color revolutions frequently terminate in this “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” phenomenon, particularly in countries where the government has been authoritarian for a long time. These countries lack the structures to support western-style democracies, and short of importing foreign politicians - a move that would go over like the proverbial lead balloon with political nationalists rejoicing in their overthrow of a repressive dictator - there is no real way for them to develop any rapidly enough to install them in the turbulent aftermath of a people power revolution. The risk is always great that whoever succeeds the deposed tyrant will merely take on the characteristics of that tyrant, not knowing any other way. Al-Sisi’s government resembled nothing so much as that of Mubarak, except with an even heavier hand against dissenters; protesters continued to go missing and turn up dead, and Egyptians just counted themselves lucky they had escaped the Islamic tyranny of Morsi.
Arguably the worst disaster among all regime changes in the past 20 years has been Yemen. The aftermath of the revolution is seldom covered in US media because we are largely to blame for the suffering in that country, which was the poorest in the middle east even before the revolution. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was generally considered a kleptocrat, and the array of anti-Saleh groups ready to join the revolution was vast and ideologically diverse - from student groups to Islamic sects to political separatists to tribal alliances, all with different goals, though many linked to some form of economic justice - in a nation of poverty, they did not want to be poor.
With such a varied group of revolutionaries, it took skilled organizers to channel all that protest energy toward a unified anti-Saleh movement. Tawakkol Karman was just one such skilled organizer - she later took home the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in organizing the Yemeni revolution, which should have been a red flag when one considers that unalloyed warmongers like Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger have also received the prize. Karman spoke out against Saudi interference in the Yemeni revolution, while it was later revealed in the WikiLeaks cables that she had been in contact with the Saudis the whole time regarding their future role in the post-Saleh government - a possible reason for why so few of the revolutionaries’ concerns were addressed when Saleh finally relinquished power. After a year of protests marked by increasingly violent police crackdowns and culminating in an assassination attempt on Saleh, he handed over power to Mansur Hadi, his former Vice President. Many revolutionary groups felt betrayed by the transfer of power agreement, which carved up the country into six smaller areas. One group in particular, a Shi’a religious group called the Houthis, condemned the agreement, protesting that it would widen the chasm between rich and poor and that it interfered with the Houthis’ territorial authority - the borders of these six areas cut through a region which had been under Houthi control for many years.
The disastrous result was civil war. Saleh and his loyalists joined the Revolutionary Council founded by the Houthis, even though the Shi’a group had protested his regime during the revolution, and predominantly-Shi’a Iran also joined the struggle on the side of the Houthis; the new Hadi government was backed by the Saudis, armed with billions of dollars in US weaponry. The extreme wealth of the Saudis should have made it easy for them to crush the impoverished Houthis, but instead the Houthis were able to take the capital Sana’a, forcing Hadi to move his capital city south. Still, the Saudi blockade has resulted in massive suffering for Yemenis, with hundreds of thousands of people affected by famine and disease, mounting civilian casualties, and the rise of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the oil-rich region of Usaylan. As enablers of the Saudi war criminals, the US is responsible for much of this suffering; the media takes advantage of the fact that most Americans have never heard of Yemen or at least can’t find it on a map and pretends that these crimes against humanity are not taking place.
Ukraine holds the dubious distinction of having (temporarily, at least) operated under the only neo-Nazi regime in the world. President Victor Yanukovych, a democratically-elected if weak and corrupt leader, refused to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union, sparking protests by various right-wing Ukrainian nationalist groups in Maidan Square. The United States flooded these groups, which included such quasi-fascist luminaries as Right Sector, Svoboda, and Fatherland, with money and other support, hoping no one would notice the neo-Nazi factor. Svoboda’s Oleh Tyanhybok, for example, had called for the extermination of ethnic Russians, the second largest ethnic group in Ukraine; Svoboda and Right Sector both openly idolized the Ukrainian Nazi collaborators the Azov Battalion. US diplomat and Nurse-Ratched-lookalike Victoria Nuland called for the installation of the pro-US puppet and Fatherland party member Arseniy Yatsenyuk to replace Yanukovych, mostly because Tyanhybok was too much of a Nazi and would raise international eyebrows; Yatsenyuk, she said in a leaked phone call, could still call Tyanhybok four times a week to receive his marching orders. He lost no time in persecuting ethnic Russians, attempting to remove Russian as the country’s second official language; Svoboda, meanwhile, took a third of the seats in parliament.
Ethnic Russians in Crimea, chafing under the increased oppression, held a referendum in which 90% voted to join Russia. The US clutched its pearls and accused Putin of imperialism, expansionism, and a number of other hypocritical crimes one wonders how it could utter with a straight face. While the US imposed sanctions on Russia and its reunited province Crimea, Ukraine cut off all services to the area, leaving it with no electricity and water and even blockading the bridge separating it from the mainland. Pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist forces clashed in eastern Ukraine, in Donbass and Donetsk Province; the bloody unrest continues, though the international spotlight has largely moved on to demonize Putin for his perceived role in “hacking” the US elections. Unsurprisingly, Yatsenyuk’s government collapsed shortly thereafter amid widespread corruption allegations, and Svoboda lost almost all its parliament seats. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
When Regime Change Fails
Sometimes, regime change is impossible. The US does not take kindly to not getting its way. Faced with a diplomatic impasse, it throws a geopolitical tantrum, stepping up failed policies in the hope that maybe THIS TIME they’ll work. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But don’t say that in front of the US government; they’ll arrest you. When even magical thinking fails to yield the desired results, there is always the nuclear option - take your ball and go home.
Russia has been a thorn in our side since the days of the Bolshevik Revolution. No longer communist, it still rubs us the wrong way. Huge as it is, military invasion is impossible; they have nuclear weapons and plenty of conventional arms as well, and like any bully, the US is reluctant to pick on someone who can fight back. The Putin administration has witnessed many color revolutions in neighboring states (Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan) and is extremely vigilant in monitoring the opposition for the beginnings of such an uprising. There was an attempt a few years ago to start a protest movement; Putin cannily refused to legitimize it with a police crackdown, instead merely letting the resisters protest. Deprived of moral legitimacy, the movement faded away.
One avenue in which US aggression against Russia has been successful is sanctions, but even those have had mixed results. By tanking the price of oil, the US did hurt the Russian economy, which relies heavily on that commodity; elsewhere, however, the Russians merely found other markets for their goods. The most recent round of sanctions, passed over Trump’s head while he limply condemned them, have inflicted collateral damage on Europe as well, which trades extensively with its resource-rich eastern neighbor - the US can’t afford to lose any more friends, but we don’t seem to care anymore. The US is also fond of funding Islamic insurgencies around the Russian borders, in areas like Chechnya and Abkhazia and in bordering countries like Georgia and of course Afghanistan.
Our primary weapon against Russia is demonization - Putin is held up as an imperialist, with designs on rebuilding the USSR bigger and stronger than before. By accepting the (historically Russian) Crimea back into the country, he revealed his expansionist tendencies. Only the US is allowed to violate the territorial sovereignty of other nations! But most importantly, ever since the 2016 election, Putin has been held up as the all-powerful bogeyman capable of undermining democracy in the most democratic nation the world has ever seen! Clearly he has some sort of superpower. US media is pathologically incapable of admitting that the Democratic party ran a flawed candidate who could not have win even if running against a bag of flaming dog shit - it is not that Trump won, or had any redeeming characteristics; it is that Hillary lost. Few candidates in presidential history have been so loathed. A disgruntled DNC operative, witnessing the machinations of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in barring Bernie Sanders from the Democratic nomination, leaked the documents. There is no evidence of a Russian hack, and all the investigative committees in the world - no matter how much taxpayer money they waste looking - will find one. The whole process is dangerous, because it takes attention away from Trump’s actual misdeeds, which are legion. If the US media is actually anti-Trump - as his loyalists claim - why don’t they criticize him for what he is actually doing wrong instead of pursuing this Russian red herring? Are they really that stupid?
Iran has a long history with US interference. In the 1950s, they saw their democratically-elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, ousted and replaced with the authoritarian Shah Reza Palavi. Iranians have been on guard against US meddling in their government ever since, deterring a 2009 “green revolution” during the re-election bid by president Achmed Ahmadinejad. Bush never followed through on Iran’s part in the so-called “Axis of Evil,” having been too bogged down in the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires to launch another war, but an invasion has never been far from the US government’s mind. When the color revolution failed, the Obama regime tried a page from the Iraq playbook, offering the Iranians a trojan horse disguised as an olive branch - they would dismantle their nuclear program, discard their uranium stockpiles, and the US would relax its sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani, seen as more pro-western and moderate than Ahmadinejad, readily agreed, and has done away with most of the country’s uranium.
Unfortunately, the US does not seem interested in upholding its end of the deal - not only are sanctions still in place, but Trump has added more, in an apparent bid to goad Iran into backing out of the deal and creating a justification for war. Haley, exercising her characteristic lack of restraint and intelligent thought, let the cat out of the geostrategic bag, whining that Iran was violating the “spirit” but not the “letter” of the nuclear deal. The idea is to make weapons inspections so onerous - so frequent, so intrusive, so inconvenient - that Iran pulls out. The US does not want to be the one to violate the agreement, as if any country in the world still trusted its word, but Rouhani is not stupid and he sees what is going on. In response, Iran is backing away from the petrodollar. Trump’s generals are barking for war and he seems ready to let them off the leash. Rouhani may wish he had those nukes sooner rather than later.
North Korea is the country on everyone’s mind these days, as Pillsbury Dough-talitarian Kim Jong-un launches missile after missile over Japanese airspace and South Korean waters, threatening the US daily in a deadly game of chicken. Clearly, the country is too well-armed for the US to invade. A perk of Kim’s totalitarian rule is the absence of a well-organized protest movement that could be galvanized into a color revolution; there are dissidents, certainly, but they are few and far between and any attempt at organizing is promptly met with the heavy hand of the police.
In the quest to demonize Kim, who unfortunately lends himself to being demonized quite easily with his pudgy frame and tendency to have family members killed, Americans forget that his actions are quite reasonable. North Korea was actually in the process of dismantling its nuclear program when Bush made his Axis of Evil speech - Kim Jong-il, then in power, saw what was happening in his co-axial nations and made the intelligent decision not to allow North Korea to go the way of Iraq or (potentially) Iran. The country is surrounded by American missiles, lined up in the de-militarized zone and on aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, and Kim’s missile tests make perfect sense in this context. The US has imposed sanctions, cutting into North Korea’s coal revenues by preventing it from selling as much of the commodity to primary trading partner China, and Kim is looking awfully lonely out there on the world stage.
This is where the nuclear option comes in. Trump, the latest petulant autocrat in a parade of petulant autocrats, is incapable of dealing with defiance. North Korean negotiators have been completely open about their willingness to relinquish their weapons if the US stands down from its aggressive posture - if it takes down the missiles targeting Pyongyang, removes the aircraft carriers just off North Korean waters, and in general plays fair. We’ve established the US does not like to play fair, but even South Korea does not want war - largely because if the US were to launch a “preemptive” “tactical” nuclear strike (I place the other words in quotes because they do not in any way diminish from the seriousness of using NUCLEAR WEAPONS against a SOVEREIGN NATION), Kim would almost certainly fire off a few missiles of his own at Seoul and Tokyo before the bomb hit. Weapons experts don’t know whether Kim’s arsenal is capable of delivering a nuclear payload to, say, New York or Washington, but I think we can agree that this is not the way to find out. The US needs to grow up and solve its problems like a rational adult. It may not BE a rational adult, but as they say, fake it till you make it.
China is rocketing toward superpower status even as the US totters along on its last legs. The Xi regime recently announced it will start trading oil in yuan, and China has come off a recent conference with the other BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa) with a plan to create a gold-backed multinational currency for the purpose of trading oil without having to go through the belligerent, dysfunctional US. One must congratulate China on forcing the US to taste its own medicine. The country out-produces, outnumbers, and out-arms the US but lacks America’s taste for overseas adventures, making it much more popular among neighbors near and far. Expansionist adventures in the South China Sea are somewhat exaggerated, though the US will always side with Taiwan in any dispute. Indeed, the US encourages and funds any opposition it can find, since there’s no chance that a military intervention against China would succeed. A 2011 attempt at a color revolution flopped, however, with Xi’s police effectively crushing the movement before it attracted any real support. The so-called “Jasmine revolution” (lesson learned: never name your revolution until you’re sure you actually HAVE a revolution, or it just looks embarrassing) began on an overseas message board for Chinese dissidents and no single protest attracted more than 200 would-be revolutionaries. When police began cracking down on the gatherings, protesters were told to hold off on actually, you know, PROTESTING and to instead merely file meekly through the square, preventing anyone from discerning who was even protesting and ultimately dooming the movement.
Sanctions, of course, would backfire hilariously. The US owes China trillions of dollars. All Xi would need to do is call in his debts and the US economy would collapse like the house of cards it most definitely is. And with China, we can’t simply take our ball and go home. They have nukes too - lots of them - and they can certainly hit the US. They also have allies - a lot more friends than we do. The US would be crushed in any sort of conflict with China, but their actions strike at the very heart of our global hegemony. There cannot be two superpowers on this playing field. China is clearly on the rise even as we slide downhill. The situation is at least as precarious as anything during the Cold War - once again we have the US as the unhinged mental patient with its finger on the nuclear trigger, willing to blow up the planet for the slightest perceived infraction. China, and to a lesser extent Russia, are the adults in the room, trying to calm down the dangerous nut before he takes us all down with him. The people of the world are held hostage.
Order out of Chaos?
We can see now that no US intervention, military or people-power, has ever led to a functioning western-style democracy. Instead, we have spread chaos and death wherever we go, frequently taking functional and progressive societies and turning them into violent shitholes. This is in line with the “order out of chaos” policy, the same notion that gave us the Patriot Act - basically create a state of total desperate chaos, destroy all structures (literal and figurative) within a society, leave the people grasping for something to hold onto; then step in to save the day with a government or organization that the people would in better circumstances find politically or morally repugnant. In the US, the government shattered Americans’ perception of safety and untouchability with the murder of three thousand people in an extremely cinematic event that will forever be burned into our collective consciousness; we responded by allowing our freedoms to be flushed down the toilet, embracing the illusion of security while the reality continues to elude us. In Egypt, they convinced the people that their own protests had deposed a repressive regime, then pulled a bait and switch with an even more repressive leader who added religiosity to the oppression. In Afghanistan, they took out the government and forced a corrupt and fraudulent “democratic” process on the people - Afghans know their votes are meaningless, but they vote under the direction of an occupying army that guards their poppy fields and ships the opium back to the US, ensuring they don’t even profit off that.
If US intervention never leads to a stable functioning democracy, does this mean we’re just doing it wrong? Is the US military-industrial complex criminally incompetent, or just criminal? If this was truly a failure of policy - if all our interventions had merely backfired, accidentally creating chaos and repressive regimes - surely we’d have accidentally created a democracy by now! Even a broken clock is right twice a day! But this is not a failure of foreign policy. This is unqualified success. We set out to destabilize the Middle East, and destabilize we have. The region is now safe - for US corporate interests, for other multinational firms, for US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, which hate competition and want to see their neighbors bombed back into the stone age.
Color revolutions, while generally less violent than military interventions, similarly lead away from democracy in most cases. As mentioned earlier, these revolutions take place in countries that have little to no experience with democracy and lack the structures to support it. The temptation to fall into old patterns of corruption and repression is immense. It’s easy to hold a democratic election but hard to govern democratically. Additionally, protesters, experiencing the rush of success that comes from toppling an autocratic regime, tend to relax once the dictator is out of power. This is exactly the wrong time to relax. Pressure must be maintained on the new regime so that they do not backslide and become that which they replaced. Otherwise, it’s an endless cycle of meet the new boss same as the old boss, and all the effort of the revolution is for naught.
What the US has accomplished in the last 20 years is pitiful. Aside from millions of corpses, both combatant and non-, we have squandered the political good will we had previously built up over the centuries. The US began its life as a nation founded on admirable ideals - the concepts of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion had not hitherto been used as the basis for a country. It was extremely rare for the average citizen to be able to send a representative to the halls of power to vote for his interests. Hundreds of countries adopted various elements of the US government over the years, democratizing and opening their own nations. We were a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world. Now, we are a nation governed by war criminals, a nation that spies on its own people, that criminalizes whistleblowing and other forms of dissent, that sees nothing wrong with murdering our own citizens with drones halfway around the world without the benefit of a trial, or confiscating property without charging its owner with a crime, or locking people up for the rest of their lives for nonviolent drug offenses. We continue to propagandize our children, telling them that Americans are the good guys, that the government only wants what’s best for you and the world, that our army is out there helping people and fighting for truth justice and the American way, and that voting accomplishes something. Basically, we lie. Lying is really our national pastime. We lie to ourselves, we lie to others, we live in denial and refuse to honestly examine ourselves. When misfortune befalls us, we always blame the other - it is not possible that we can be wrong - that our government has spent the better part of a century going down a very wrong road, stripping us of the freedoms that once defined our great nation and rendering us a nation of disenfranchised serfs laden with crippling levels of debt and a ruling class that exploits us and expects us to pay for the privilege. The concept of “democracy” has been hollowed out and perverted in service to this disgusting state of affairs. The term has become meaningless.
Trouble at Home
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America is broke, morally and financially. We have wasted trillions of dollars on these wars, leaving the nation in a disastrous state, with decaying infrastructure, no jobs, no future to look forward to, healthcare and education systems that resemble nothing so much as a bad joke, and a corrupt political class that cannot be removed through the traditional means of voting. We have been “meet the new boss same as the old boss”’ed twice in the last ten years, with Obama riding to power on anti-war sentiment only to start even more wars than Bush, and now Trump ascending on an America First platform only to dump that for Afghanistan and Israel First. Is it any wonder that there seems to be a color revolution taking place right here at home?
Groups like Antifa and By Any Means Necessary have one fundamental difference with the standard Sharp color revolution, however - they do not shy away from violence. Sharp advises against the use of violence primarily because the state has a monopoly on it - the regime owns the army and the police and will necessarily win in any armed confrontation. Instead, revolutionaries are advised to approach the government on a nonviolent platform in which they can be more evenly matched - or even outmaneuver the regime. Otherwise, though, the stage is certainly set for a color revolution. In addition to the dedicated anti-Trump groups, you have other protest movements like Black Lives Matter that began as a response to the murder of unarmed black civilians by police officers but now seems to have aligned itself with the anti-Trump movement. You have various feminist groups that have also thrown their hats into the ring. You have the dubious, nebulous leaders funding movements like Antifa that seemed to come out of nowhere after the election and whose roots can’t be traced. These movements are suspect because until we know who is funding them we do not know where the revolution is driving - or who’s driving it. This is extremely important. We do not want the anti-Trump protest energy to be coopted to further yet another criminal agenda. We do not want to be dupes, like the protesters in the revolutions in Egypt and Yemen.
Most importantly, any revolutionary must keep in mind that it is not Trump who is the problem. Trump is a symptom of the problem - the most visible symptom of the problem, yes, but the system that created Trump is the source of the oppression. The ruling class and its attack-dogs the military-industrial-police complex are the ones robbing America blind to fund these foreign adventures, beef up their stock portfolios, destabilize nations, and collect rewards. We are nothing but cattle to these people. They do not expect cattle to rise up. Take the element of surprise and run with it.
In case anyone was still wondering about the purpose of the hyper-publicized violent clashes between “white nationalists” and Antifa, the Trump administration’s latest move has made it painfully clear. Attorney General and 1950s throwback Jeff Sessions announced that the administration will resume donating “surplus” military equipment to state and local police forces across the country. Americans bludgeoned into a condition of fear by the unrelenting coverage of Charlottesville and its aftermath over the past few weeks are expected to welcome this rollout of the new and improved police state with open arms. After all, neo-nazis are scary, and the ADL says they’re all around you. Liberty is once again to be traded for security. After almost two decades of gratuitous flogging, the word “terrorism” no longer strikes fear into Americans’ hearts; nazis and white hate groups are the fear stimulus du jour meant to drive us into the arms of the police state.
Even Trump’s most fervent supporters have a difficult time making excuses for Sessions, an unreconstructed drug warrior who wants to turn back the clock on marijuana legalization despite paying lip service to states’ rights. Sessions also favors ramping up civil asset forfeiture, the one policy democrats AND republicans can agree has served as the incentive for the most hideous abuses of power by local police forces in the past few decades. It’s no surprise he is an enthusiastic supporter of police militarization. Sessions historically shies away from a fair fight, refusing to go after Hillary Clinton for an encyclopedic list of crimes despite Trump’s campaign promises to “lock her up,” but loves an unfair advantage, pushing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Mandatory minimums have stuffed the nation’s prisons with victimless “criminals,” disproportionately poor and nonwhite, and have not led to a reduction in drug use, but drug addicts and dealers are easy targets for a bully like Sessions. Outfitting police with the best the US military has to offer - one-third of this “surplus” is brand new equipment - and siccing them on the American people is right up his alley.
The distribution of military equipment to civilian police was curtailed by Obama in 2015 in the wake of nationwide protests following the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by police. Rather than calling for the prosecution of those officers for their crimes, the president ended the program that had gifted over $18 billion worth of grenade launchers, bayonets, tanks, drones, armored trucks and other combat equipment to police forces across the country. This token gesture saved him a confrontation with his pet police state, as departments were allowed to keep their toys with nary a slap on the wrist for using them to murder unarmed civilians and quash the resulting protests. Body cameras, which soon revealed an unfortunate tendency to go dark when shots were fired, were lauded as the solution to the epidemic of police misconduct, and 25% of jurisdictions adopted them by the end of that year. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continued to vociferously gobble up Americans’ civil liberties unopposed, prosecuting whistleblowers at a higher rate than any previous administration as its security agencies wolfed down our metadata and conversations via warrantless wiretaps (fun fact: Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now in charge of the farcical “Russiagate” investigation, spearheaded the Obama FBI’s expansion of warrantless wiretapping).
As Rand Paul, one of the few congresspeople who does not make me want to projectile vomit, outlines in his op-ed concerning Sessions’ announcement, further militarizing police forces will lead to more unconstitutional warrantless searches, more no-knock raids, more innocent people killed by cops, and further swelling of the prison population. Private prisons are already holding their host counties hostage, threatening to liquidate hundreds of jobs if states don’t fork over hundreds of prisoners. For a nation that calls itself the land of the free, we imprison more people per capita than any other country on earth, an irony which is utterly lost on Sessions and the Trump administration.
Police already operate with impunity in this country, as demonstrated by the lack of convictions (and in most cases even indictments) for the murderers of Brown, Garner, Philando Castile, Paula Bland, Akai Gurley, and countless other innocent victims. Outfitting them with military-grade weaponry goes beyond the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring their crimes and rewards them for a job well done. Trump praised police brutality in a speech to Long Island cops, admonishing them to be less “nice” when arresting suspects, and pardoned former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero in law enforcement circles for his brutal and humiliating treatment of prisoners. The police are an occupying army, a phalanx of uniformed thugs paid by the ruling class with our tax dollars to keep the American people in line. The Trump administration's reinstatement of the military surplus program makes it that much more obvious.
Ever since the 2016 election, “white hate groups” have been the darling of the mainstream media. Even independent journalists, who should know better, have spilled metric tons of (digital) ink over this phenomenon. After Hillary Clinton crashed and burned in the 2016 election, the mainstream media spent millions crisscrossing flyover country dredging up the most reactionary hicks they could find in an effort to convince America that “white hate groups” were on the rise, emboldened by Trump’s win. As these fine specimens were pulled blinking into the light from their parents’ basements, they dutifully spouted their hate for the CNN cameras while anchors talked up the new threat lurking in the country’s trailer parks. When their best efforts failed to increase the fear level of the average American and the electoral college stuck to its votes, the media reluctantly rolled the yokels back into their caves and shifted to trumpeting Trump’s “collusion” with Russia and Putin, a baseless narrative that has only recently come crashing down around their ears with the revelation that the information supposedly “hacked” from Democratic National Committee servers was actually leaked by a disgruntled DNC technician upset over Clinton’s theft of the primary from Sanders.
The neocons, so worried in the runup to the election that Trump wouldn’t give them their wars that they defected to the Clinton camp, lost no time in taking Trump under their wing after the election. They alternated between carrot and stick, hounding him with accusations of Russian collusion while dangling their support if he would just wipe Syria off the map. Just a little favor for our friends in Israel, eh Donald? Trump dipped his toe in those waters with a strike on a Syrian airfield the day after another suspicious chemical attack was pinned on the long-suffering Bashar al-Assad, but while his Deep State tormentors stopped pushing the Russia narrative for a day or two, they quickly resumed pressure when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to go any further toward regime change. The backlash from his supporters had been immediate - here was the president they had elected to keep the US out of yet another middle eastern quagmire, succumbing to Deep State pressures to retaliate against what was obviously a false flag chemical attack with a missile strike that looked an awful lot like an overture to war - and the few non-neocon advisers still present in his administration cautioned him against starting something he wasn’t prepared to finish. Fortunately, Trump stepped back from that ledge. The Russian collusion narrative continued to play 24/7, with investigation after investigation failing to turn up the incriminating material the media tried to convince us was everywhere.
The Deep State has not stopped calling for war in Syria. Nikki Haley, Trump’s inept ambassador to the United Nations, practically welcomed further false flag attacks with her belligerent, idiotic tweets suggesting any further chemical attacks would be blamed not only on Assad’s government but also on Russia and Iran without proof, an investigation, or any of the other usual measures observed before launching a war. Trump has mostly capitulated to the neocon hectoring, inflating the military budget (already larger than that of the next six countries combined), including some truly fulsome language in that budget document about “our commitment to Israel,” and saber-rattling against not only Syria but Iran, North Korea, and even Venezuela. His disillusioned base thrown under the bus, Trump clings to the neocons as the only friends he has left.
Fast-forward to August 12th. The white hate groups are back, and boy are they pissed! A so-called “Unite the Right” rally to protest the removal of a statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA degenerated into carnage when James Fields, one of the “white nationalists,” drove his car into a group of Antifa protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The cops not only allowed but encouraged the violence between protesters and counter-protesters, funneling the groups into a confined space after declaring the entire event an “unlawful assembly” and telling everyone to get lost; VA governor Terry McAuliffe had declared a “state of emergency” 20 minutes before the rally’s scheduled start, negating the organizers’ hard-won permit (which had been revoked at the last minute and only reinstated following an ACLU lawsuit).
A police affidavit put the number of attendees at around 1500, itemized to include between 250 and 500 KKK members, 500 “3% Risen” (a neo-Confederate group), 150 “Alt Knights” (alt-right Fight Club fetishists affiliated with the Proud Boys) and between 200 and 300 “militia”; a far-right monitoring group cited but not named by the Guardian estimated attendance between 500 and 1000, while Democracy Now reported between 1000 and 1500. No numerical estimate could be found for Antifa members, though Democracy Now claimed they outnumbered the white nationalists. More importantly, no one bothered to count the media figures; some reports suggested the rally was so packed with journalists that Antifa activists mistook them for white nationalists and assaulted them. More than 100 cops were present, including city and state police and the National Guard. Given their numbers, there is no excuse for their inaction in the face of both sides’ violence unless they were explicitly told to stand down. The media has repeatedly linked the death of two officers who crashed their helicopter seven miles away to the event, though whether this is intended to distract from police’s egregious mishandling of the protest or simply to further demonize the organizers is unclear.
The internet predictably took the bait, losing its collective shit over the specter of White Hate haunting America under Trump. An examination of the facts, however, reveals a few holes in the narrative. Jason Kessler, the rally’s organizer, is a former Obama supporter who worked with the Occupy movement until late last year, when he experienced an ideological conversion on the heels of Trump’s election and posted an article on his since-deleted website condemning Charlottesville Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy for calling for the removal of the Lee statue, among other crimes against “white culture and history.” Kessler appears to be a provocateur, providing an easy target with his white-pride rhetoric and smearing the entire Right he supposedly sought to unite with the rally. Meanwhile, James Fields, the driver who mowed down the Antifa protesters, was on psychiatric drugs - a prerequisite for mass shooters and other media villains - and lived in his mother Samantha Bloom’s basement until a few months ago. In an unintentionally hilarious interview, Bloom said there was no way her son would have been involved with white supremacists because “he had an African-American friend, so…” and that she thought he had said he was going to an “albright” rally. The following day, TMZ revealed Bloom had called 911 several times in the past to report her son threatening and attacking her. A high school history teacher revealed that Fields had displayed Nazi tendencies at a tender age. The narrative would be humorous if people weren’t being hurt and killed.
As for white hate groups, the New York Times reported in 2011 that the National Socialist Movement was the largest white supremacist group in the country, comprising an anemic 400 members in 32 states. That’s .000133% of the population. Even if such groups have gained members in the wake of Trump’s election, they represent an extreme minority, and investigation of the so-called “hate crime wave” following the 2016 election revealed that many of those “hate crimes” were either perpetrated by the supposed victims or invented out of whole cloth.
Clearly, both sides of this rally needed beefing up, and newspaper ads have since been discovered seeking actors to pose as protesters for the princely sum of $25 per hour. Antifa - that ironically named group whose more-fascist-than-fascist tactics of street violence, property destruction and censorship have earned it zero ideological converts and discredited the entire anti-Trump resistance - has been known to inflate its ranks with paid agitators, notably at an anti-free-speech event seeking to block sophomoric alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance earlier this year at UCLA Berkeley. Antifa emerged from the mists following the 2016 election, clearly with the help of large wads of cash; whose large wad remains uncertain, though conservatives have fingered their favored bete noire George Soros. The ruling class had every reason to pay for agitators to swell and disrupt the ranks of both sides. Violence provides an excellent excuse for law enforcement to crack down on protesting, while the presence of bogeymen-du-jour neo-Nazis (real or fake) fans the hysteria of those already inclined to crack down on free speech. Following the rally, GoDaddy and Google announced they would no longer host cartoonish white supremacist website Daily Stormer, and video game chat app Discord shut down its popular AltRight server as well as several associated accounts. Leftists gloating at the Right’s misfortune should be aware that they are next. One need only look at YouTube’s recent demonetizing and quarantining of all but the most mainstream-friendly political content on the right AND left, as well as Facebook and Twitter’s increasingly capricious bans in reaction to controversial political statements.
It remains unclear who instigated the violence at the rally prior to Fields committing vehicular homicide. The white supremacist groups will most likely be bused back to their trailer parks until they are needed again, and it doesn't take a genius or even a politically-aware person to denounce "white nationalism." These groups are low-hanging fruit, walking cartoons, reactionary throwbacks. Antifa, however, is more insidious; it doesn't take too many brain cells to be against the neocon-in-sheep's-clothing that is Donald Trump, but in this case the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Antifa is not a liberal organization. Their use of violence against ideological opponents is diametrically opposed to the principles of liberalism. Any person or group secure in their opinions allows the opposing side to speak, confident that their own arguments are sufficient to win people over. Antifa merely completes the job political correctness started - from stifling free speech in academic discourse to shouting down campus speakers they disagree with to beating up those who dare speak up in protest on the streets. As a result, Americans are running from the ideological left en masse. Antifa serves the same purpose on the left that neo-Nazis serve on the right.
The excessive media coverage of the event tells the whole story. Dozens of Bernie Sanders rallies drawing tens of thousands of supporters during the 2016 election were given zero mainstream media coverage because Sanders’ message did not serve the interests of the ruling class. The clash between 1000 “white nationalists” and an equal or lesser number of “anti-fascists” was plastered all over every news outlet, preempting more pressing matters like the looming threat of nuclear war under Trump’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy, the ongoing revelations confirming that the media’s beloved “Russian collusion” narrative never had any basis in reality, the Deep State's endless angling for war in Syria and Iran, and so on. Incidents like this rally feed the divided nation paradigm, keeping the Left and Right at each others’ throats by broadcasting the most unflattering image of each. Just as most people on the right don’t identify with white supremacists, most on the left don’t condone the wanton violence and speech suppression of Antifa. But the ruling class is screwed if we ever decide to come together.
Ever wonder what festivals will be like under the coming totalitarian regime? Now you don't have to guess. Gratitude Migration, a regional Burning Man event by New York promoters held on a New Jersey beach, has come out ahead of the pack in embracing police state technology. Guests were issued RFID-enabled wristbands at the gate, which they could load up with their credit cards in order to pay for food and $14 drinks (no BYOB allowed). A uniformed police officer searched attendees’ bags, performing not merely the security-theater eyeballing familiar to veteran festival attendees and meant to catch explosives, weapons and other egregious violations, but an intricate ballet of intrusiveness intended to sniff out the drugs that basically fuel such festivals. Many guests had their substances confiscated, though no arrests were made - at least, not publicly.
Burning Man itself is commerce-free - nothing can be purchased at the entire festival except $1 bags of ice. Gratitude, on the other hand, boasted a cluster of high-priced food trucks, several bars selling the aforementioned $14 drinks, and a sprawling bazaar at center camp with stands selling clothing, jewelry, art and accessories; every checkout counter was equipped with a chip reader, creating an airtight cashless controlled economy. Guests merely placed their wrists, palm down, on the chip readers and their accounts were debited. By normalizing this gesture, these wristbands served as an intermediate step towards full-on "mark of the beast" chip implants, the likes of which are already in use at a few trendy clubs in Madrid and Barcelona frequented by the rich and gullible. As festivalgoers become acclimatized to placing their wrists on chip readers to pay, subdermal implants begin to seem almost reasonable.
Why was Gratitude chosen to showcase this police state technology? Burning Man originated as an alternative lifestyle in the truest sense, an attempt to live off the grid using “radical self-reliance” and other virtues that have degenerated over the years into meaningless buzzwords. Now crawling with tech-bros and celebrities, Burning Man is a mockery of itself, and Gratitude is merely a logical extension of this devolution. Ticket prices nearly doubled from last year, though it was hard to tell where the money went - if anything, there were fewer attendees, fewer dance floors and a similar quantity of art installations. Security patrols did seem stepped up, and golf carts patrolled the beach lackadaisically warding off unauthorized boat landings; fences were higher and extended into the water to prevent intrepid interlopers attempting to swim their way in. One wonders how much of a profit the organizers took home.
Discussions with festivalgoers revealed relatively little concern about the privacy and civil liberties implications of RFID wristbands. “It’s convenient,” one guest opined, as if that excused whatever abuses could follow. Others groused that the chips didn’t even work half the time, rendering the rationale of ‘convenience’ moot. Some vendors quietly rebelled by accepting cash payments for their merchandise, eager to voice their concern with the intrusive technology when asked. But for the most part, the New York burner crowd could be counted upon to willingly swallow the totalitarian trappings of the festival, proving an ideal softening-up point for the introduction of the technologies into society at large. Festivals like Gratitude are trendsetters - where better to plant the seeds of the idea that “chipping” is not only OK but desirable? Burning Man has spawned countless trends as attendees return home fired up about their festival experience. Gratitude is an ideal dissemination point for acceptance of these technologies.
Burning Man doesn’t even issue wristbands and that event is spread over miles of inhospitable desert, where a guest who gets lost without adequate water supply could actually die. Gratitude takes place on a small, temperate beach in the middle of civilization. A guest couldn’t get into a life-threatening situation on festival grounds if they tried. Outside the beach is another matter. Keansburg is an economically depressed area that was hit hard by hurricane Sandy and never really recovered. A teenage girl was stabbed there a few days before the festival. One might conceivably argue that guests need protection from the locals, but one could also argue, far more logically, that security is already employed to keep the locals out and should a guest wander into town in search of reasonably-priced food or drinks, the presence of an RFID wristband could signal to a prospective mugger that the individual has money worth stealing and therefore makes a juicier target. As for rapists and murderers, an RFID tag isn’t going to discourage them from their potential crimes.
The Burning Man spirit is one of gifting, sharing, and cooperation, not one of exploitation and cashing in. Yes, this is New York and paying the rent is a major concern, but the financial goal of a party should be merely to pay for itself. This means adequate compensation for musicians, DJs, performers, bartenders, security and other staff, not lining the pockets of the promoters. Forcing guests to pay $14 for cocktails (and insulting their intelligence by claiming bringing their own alcohol was against New Jersey law) merely proved the point that the festival has become a cash cow for the promoters who took over this year from the event’s founder. Last year, a free pina colada stand was set up on the beach complete with blender, ice, rum, frozen fruit and juice. People bartended for their friends and a large number of guests cooled off in the Sunday morning heat without being charged a dime. There is no logical reason why this year’s organizers should have sought to prevent this from re-occurring.
Attendees were encouraged to arrive by boat, though they were instructed to register their craft on the event’s website. In order to control for the “piracy” factor, all toilets were stationed outside the security perimeter, forcing those well-meaning souls who truly believe in the “leave no trace” edict to make their presence known to security every time they wanted to take a leak. These measures didn’t stop infiltrators, as several reports surfaced of locals sneaking in, disrupting performances, harassing guests and otherwise making their discontent apparent. One person blocked a row of port-a-potties with his vehicle, stating his wish to disrupt the festival and telling guests they were not welcome in Keansburg. It’s hard to fault the locals for their resentment - the fences and security, not to mention the 24/7 pounding house music and the fact that attending the festival was economically out of reach for the majority of residents, created a definite Gaza Strip/occupying force vibe, with security guards swaggering up and down the perimeter while residents observed the party from the sliver of beach they had left to themselves. The town of Keansburg has welcomed the festival back two years in a row because of the economic stimulus it has brought to the area, but clearly not everyone is benefiting from the yearly invasion of privileged burners. In future years it might be wise to offer discounted tickets or day passes to locals (I do not know to what extent security and vendors are hired from the area, but if they aren’t already they should be). Gratitude will have to make peace with the locals if organizers don’t want hostilities to escalate, unless they plan on arming security guards next year and really ramping up the totalitarian flavor of the proceedings.
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While I did have fun at the festival, mostly due to circumventing the police-state measures described above, Gratitude in a way made me ashamed to be a New Yorker, especially following as it was so closely on the heels of the decade-old Philly-run regional burn the Philadelphia Experiment. PEX uses wristbands, sure, and guests are required to sign waivers at the gate, but there are no bag checks, no RFID chips, no cash bars, and no security standing between campers and port-a-potties (no security at all, really, except for the rangers who volunteer in lieu of paying for their tickets); bringing one’s own alcohol and food is encouraged, and tickets cost $75 less. If Gratitude embodies the spirit of the New York burner community, it’s because it distills all the worst elements of the city and filters them through a pretentious, pseudo-spiritual Burning Man lens. High rent, over-policing, price gouging, monopolies, crass commercialism, pretension, preoccupation with appearances/surfaces, blatant classism, solipsism and so on - what exactly are we supposed to feel “gratitude” for?
"WHAT DO YOU DO?"
Some of us have a prepared bullshit answer to that question - something vague yet glamorous, with a grain of truth to it, that casts our mundane everyday existences in a flattering light. You work in film, you say, neglecting to add that it’s for a catering company that sometimes supplies food to the sets of big-budget shoots. Some of us mention our artistic pursuits while leaving out our so-called “occupation” only to have our inquisitor push for just that - you play guitar? but what’s your day job? Some of us tell the unvarnished, uninteresting truth about our job as a copy editor for a non-profit that educates veterinarians about the existence of transgendered cats. Sure, it’s not what we went to college for, or what we wanted to do when we were growing up, but it pays the bills, and it’s mildly diverting, and we have some interesting stories from the office, would you like to hear them? You would, of course, because your job as a features editor at the gourmet dog food magazine probably has some interesting and amusing parallels, and maybe you can form a meaningful bond discussing your work stories, and maybe it’ll lead to something more. Say, are you free next Friday? My band is playing at Bowery Electric, and…
Your band? But I thought you were a features editor at Woof Magazine? What is this “band?” Meet the central pitfall of the WDYD paradigm - how it reduces your identity to your occupation, collapses who you are as a person into what you do to pay the bills in an attempt to streamline surface banter and maximize conversational utility. After all, would you have kept talking to that girl if she was a prison guard, or a janitor, or some other incompatible profession? You would? So the question does not maximize conversational utility at all? If you’re interested in that person, you were interested before you knew what they did to pay the rent and will be afterward - barring any truly horrifying, conversation-ending answers like “port-a-john technician” or “fluffer” (and even then, you can probably rationalize your way around them, depending on how much you want to get in their pants) -so why force them to summarize their identity by merging it with their paycheck? What purpose does this serve?
It’s not your fault, of course, that you’ve been conditioned to open conversations with this line. The Neoliberal Conversational Gambit is extremely effective at rewarding those who play the capitalist game and belittling those who don’t, and its innocuous tone renders it suitable for any situation and useful for near-constant reinforcement.
Most so-called “professionals,” particularly those outside of so-called creative fields, have an artistic interest or three, whether it’s acting, painting, music, or something else. These interests are looked upon with something between indulgence and scorn, as one might view the irrational whims of a spoiled child, and termed “hobbies.” Even the unpaid housewife who spends her free time sewing clothing for her kids is patted on the back briefly by her husband and then shown all the spots she missed while vacuuming.
Even self-help books seem to conflate “human being” with “human doing” - not that we should all strive to just hover in stasis, but there’s a wide gap for most people between what they are paid to do, which they would not do if not compensated, and what they would do of their own volition.
By forcing us to identify ourselves with our “occupations,” the favored greeding [Freudian typo] of neoliberal capitalism (What Do You Do i.e. What Purpose Do You Serve i.e. What Do I Stand To Gain From This Encounter) reduces one’s artistic or creative inclinations to the status of “hobbies,” something to be indulged but condescended to, as the whims of a child. Many public schools no longer even offer arts programs, while even private schools designate them “electives” and therefore expendable. Colleges in turn advise students to select majors based on the earning potential of a job linked to that degree - a problem compounded by the necessity of repaying the ever-looming ridiculously expensive student loans required to pay for a university education. As a result, we are watching come of age a generation that, left to their own devices, does little but play video games, watch TV, and get intoxicated. To avoid and ameliorate this problem it is imperative to separate occupation and identity. Doing something should not require either the carrot of money or the stick of punishment.
The average person, trapped in a job she does not particularly enjoy by economic factors, spends a good portion of her free time merely decompressing from job-related stress—by the time she feels sufficiently relaxed and clear-headed to tackle an artistic project or creative endeavor, the weekend is over and it’s back to the office/factory. A sort of tunnel vision develops as a coping mechanism to allow her to effectively compartmentalize her personal and professional lives and god forbid the twain should mix. Encountering friends while dressed for work brings on a sense of vertiginous shame. She may not even immediately recognize them, or they her.
The Neoliberal Greeting may occasion a sigh, a dancing-around-the-issue, or an outright lie in all but the person who has most successfully merged his personal and occupational identities. Some of these are the lucky ones who’ve managed to make a living doing “what they love,” but too many are those who’ve convinced themselves to love what they do merely because they spend so much time doing it that it would be cognitive dissonance to immerse themselves so thoroughly in an idea they hate, almost a form of temporal Stockholm Syndrome in which one is held hostage to the job and the system that hands out the goodies that allow one to live the good parts of one’s life. Others may answer the question with the contents of their artistic endeavors even if said art is not their “day job” - one would be hard-pressed to find an aspiring actress who admitted to new friends that she spent most of her time waiting tables - but she knows she is not being entirely truthful and the gap between what she IS and what she WANTS TO BE yawns ever wider, exacerbating her personal dissatisfaction and perhaps pushing her away from the artistic path and towards a more financially rewarding, socially acceptable “occupation” - one she doesn’t have to lie about to friends, one her family members will be proud of, one that will support her and her children in future years.
It may seem obvious but we need to remember that we are not the sum of what we are paid to do. Our culture needs to divorce itself from this cradle-to-grave conditioning, this linking of personal worth to paycheck size. Many of us have contributions to make that those in power do not value but those without power value immensely. What would life be without music? Without art? Yet compensation in these fields is limited only to the most “successful,” who all too frequently reach that status based on connections rather than merit. I wish I knew what the solution was. Patreon-type donations seem to be a step in the right direction. But on a personal level, we can start by not opening a conversation with that question unless we are interested in a genuine answer that reaches beyond the crass realm of economics.Add a comment
Restless? Nervous? Need a way to let off some steam? You could be like the rest of the human race over the past tens of thousands of years and fidget with whatever object happens to be within easy reach - a pen, a paper clip, your phone, even a loose flap of skin on your finger are worthy vessels for your excess nervous energy. Or you could do the modern thing and pay “$5 and up” for the hot new toy that has swept young and old alike - the Fidget Spinner.
1. Because we clearly need more objects in our lives! The average contemporary household owns 300,000 things, at least twice as much as it did 50 years ago. How many more thousands do YOU have? Clearly, you need another - that fidget spinner is so lonely without you.
2. Because you’re not allowed to learn to be comfortable spending time alone with your thoughts. Our society is 100% outward-directed and from a young age we are socialized to consider “loners” to be at best misguided weirdos to be led (or medicated) back into the social fold and at worst dangerous loonies to be forcefully socialized via behavioral or chemical intervention. Taking time to think about some pressing matter in your life - whatever it might be that is inspiring the excess of nervous energy driving you to fidget, perhaps - is frowned upon. You must divert your attention at all costs. The fidget spinner is perfect for those few situations where whipping out your phone to browse social media is a non-starter (during meetings, say, or if you’re caught with that horror of horrors - a dead battery).
3. Because toy “fads” have a time-honored tradition of hooking even the most resistant kids into a lifetime of consumerism, of defining themselves based on their possessions relative to those of their peers. There is a thriving community on YouTube of kids demonstrating the tricks they can do with their spinners, what cool spinners they have managed to either buy themselves or guilt mom and dad into buying for them, even unboxing the spinners. The unboxing videos have an unsettling erotic subtext that would explain why amazon can get away with charging three times the street price for the same spinner (which, sold off tables on the streets of New York, comes without a box).
4. Because the idea of buying an item from a corporation to alleviate your excess nervous energy reinforces society’s externalization process, the seeking of outside solutions to internal problems. As children we are taught not to solve our problems ourselves but to go to the teacher or another authority figure. As adults, if we have a conflict with another person, we are taught to go to the police or to file a suit in court rather than dealing with the other person on a more basic level. If we are poor or in need, we are taught to go to the government rather than to ask for help from family, friends, or neighbors. The entire paradigm consists of an externalization of all problem solving with the end result of forcing the individual to become dependent on the state. The state then tidily washes its hands of its responsibility for its citizens, citing the “free market” while it pays billions out to its preferred defense contractors in lieu of funding domestic programs meant to lift people out of poverty. One elevates poor people to the middle class - the other simply kills them - both diminish the number of poor people in the world, but I’d hope the majority of humanity can agree on which holds the moral high ground…
Don’t mistake the marketing of the fidget spinner to young and old as an attempt to cross generational lines, either. The product is for arrested-development millennials on the higher end of the age scale and the ever-growing ranks of ADHD children on the lower age. Parents who pick up their child’s fidget spinner for a guilty pleasure will not reveal to their children that they have done so unless they want to utterly annihilate the spinner’s utility as a tool to calm their child. Watching mom spin the hot new toy immediately renders the toy lukewarm, even cold, and the anti-fad will spread like wildfire through junior’s classmates. Even the non-arrested-development adults (the boss, for example) will twirl a fidget spinner while on a smoke break to make themselves look cool to their employees (and maybe put off giving them that 5% raise they’ve been asking for). Did i say smoke? i meant vape. No one smokes anymore.
The inventor of the fidget spinner, who is currently writhing in horror as her invention rakes in millions for various faceless corporations just a few years after her patent on the invention expired, created it after watching children throw rocks at policemen in Israel, ostensibly in an effort to keep kids out of trouble. Docility in the face of authority is the primary purpose of this fad and its relatives. The fidget spinner captures that elusive segment of the population - technology-resistant parents and their “free range” kids - and lures them into the dominant paradigm. If something makes you feel uneasy, fidget till you don’t care anymore! Later on, of course, they can become happy consumers of pharmaceuticals, but mom and dad aren’t going to go for a course of antidepressants or amphetamines if they won’t even let junior have a smartphone, so we’ll have to wait till he’s out of the house to start writing prescriptions. Maybe we can have his classmates give him a handful of oxy’s and get him that way. Damn these techphobic parents and their well-adjusted brats.
Fidget spinners are the ultimate gateway drug - to consumerism, to passive acceptance of the dominant culture, to looking externally for the solutions to your problems.
“But they’re just toys!” sure. and Bloomberg is just a businessman, and Bill Gates is just a computer programmer, and Donald Trump is just a reality TV star; the bible, koran and torah are just books, printed on dead trees; a cigar is just a cigar. Use your imagination if it hasn’t been totally atrophied by the fidget spinners and their more sophisticated digital cousins of the world.Add a comment
I am a feminist in the sense that I believe that females are entitled to the same rights as males. My identification with the term ends there. I do not consider myself a victim of the patriarchy. While I feel sometimes that less has been expected of me as a woman, my experience has been that other women have been at least as guilty as men of expecting less of me and other females. It can be argued that this is due to the pervasive nature of the patriarchy - that women are conditioned to expect less of other women because our society perceives them as less-than by default - but the degree to which this trickles down into individual interactions suggests that this is less imposed from outside than internalized, willful behavior.
To put things more clearly - when in a position of power, women are more likely to fuck over other women than men are. In my interactions with authority figures, I have been “oppressed” much more egregiously by women than men. Women seem to take special pride in crushing the hopes and ambitions of their fellow women - I do not know why this is, but it has been my experience time and time again.
When I was growing up, teachers and professors of both sexes mostly treated me fairly - until I got to college. There were several administrators - always female - and a few meddlesome teachers - also female - who made a special point of either interfering in the pursuit of my studies or actively making it impossible to continue. Administrators at Columbia University contrived to have me placed on medical leave under false circumstances (a baldly sexist, stereotypical “eating disorder”-based narrative that fell apart under medical scrutiny but which they still were able to use to strong-arm me out of campus). This abuse of power makes more sense in light of my later discovery that college administrators are actually paid fees by eating disorder and other “recovery” clinics for the referral of patients, but does not explain why I was singled out. I used to joke that it was a bitter fat woman who saw me eating a donut and wanted vengeance, but my humor may not be so far from the truth. Middle-management types, who have some power yet are insecure in their positions, seek to cement their positions or grasp for more power through the oppression of others; since their power is limited, however, they cannot oppress everyone in their purview. I will admit I stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb at Columbia with my flamboyant outfits and then-skinny ass. My confidence and the joy I visibly experienced living life on my own for the first time may have rubbed certain administrators the wrong way. Was this a witch hunt born of jealousy? Looking back on the character of the two women who orchestrated my removal from the school, I’d be inclined to say yes. Both were dour-faced, aging, irrelevant professionals who served no real purpose in a functioning student body - they were only called upon if students were having ‘problems.’ Too often there is an incentive to create such ‘problems,’ thus reassuring these professionals that they are needed, even valued. If the student body is mentally and physically healthy, they may experience an existential crisis and tag certain students who don’t blend in well enough as victims.
After an all too brief respite from institutional persecution at the New School, I attended and was summarily chased out of graduate school at New York University. Admittedly, I was not adjusting to my return to academia very well and was missing a lot of classes. I approached two of my professors to talk about the assignments I had missed and how I might catch up and they (helpfully, I thought at the time) referred me to a guidance counselor who would help me to better manage my time, balancing schoolwork with my part-time job and the rest of my life. These duplicitous (female) creeps (I might add that none of my male professors ever tried something like this when i approached them to ask about catching up on work) had actually referred me to the medical arm of student services, where two women proceeded to whip out a bunch of medical equipment and try to stall for time while they rustled up a psychiatrist. I left, for obvious reasons, and they had 8 EMTs and 2 cops break down my apartment door and drag me to the nearest psych ward as an “emotionally disturbed person.” How these women-in-power (again, middle management types who serve no function if students are mentally and physically healthy) made the logical leap from moderate absenteeism to inpatient hospitalization is a mystery, but my refusal to submit to a medical examination - calling their expertise into question - must have enraged them. Acting as if I knew better than they regarding my own medical condition brought down the wrath of their pettiness and motivated them to turn the full force of their university-sanctioned power on me so I’d know never to step out of line again. I was fortunate enough to be able to convince the (male) doctor of the psych ward that I was not in fact suicidal or otherwise disturbed, but only after spending the night on the ward, where among other horrors, I witnessed 5 hospital orderlies hold down a screaming man and stab him in the neck with a giant syringe. That night, still somewhat hysterical from the trauma of having my door ripped off its hinges and being bodily manhandled into an ambulance by 10 EMTs (men, in this case - it’s not all so cut and dried - but at least the male cop was willing to stand guard over my violated apartment until the door could be replaced and nothing was stolen upon my return), the female doctor had decided I was definitely a risk to myself and had to be kept overnight for observation. The next morning, somehow, I was all better. One would think a female doctor would recognize that tears are a natural emotional response to trauma in women and that any normal person would feel traumatized having their living space violated by a bunch of strange men, but perhaps she felt the need to appear less sensitive in order to impress someone - perhaps she felt her power threatened, or would otherwise lose status if she let a prospective patient go. I am also certain that at least one of those professors and school nurses received a monetary kickback from the hospital for referring me - I later received a bill for over $1300 which I forwarded to NYU and never heard anything about again. Thanks to these dictatorial bitches, I was unable to finish the semester at NYU and never returned. It was 6 months before I could hear an ambulance slow down outside my apartment without having a panic attack.
I do not think that male administrators would have reacted in the same way to my existence. In my experience, they have been less willing to interfere in the personal lives of their charges. My (male) faculty and thesis advisors at the New School were very supportive and encouraging. I do not feel they expected anything less of me because I was female, and even my occasional class absences were never cause for alarm. At Columbia, a male professor gave me a B in his class even though I never wrote my final paper because I had already received the news I was being kicked out - this was the height of empathy as far as I’m concerned - it would have been obvious to any observer that I was utterly crushed at being ejected for illegitimate reasons from the school I’d looked forward to attending for so long. Of course, neither of the women responsible for that ejection could see (or admitted they could see) why returning to my parents’ home and receiving a year-long course of treatment for a problem I did not have was utterly repugnant to me. I think certain women (women in power, at least) purposefully stop themselves from feeling or expressing empathy for other women because they do not want to appear weak.
As part of a legal case when I was young and stupid, I was enrolled in a six-month course of day rehab in order to avoid jail time. The woman in charge of my case allowed me to make it almost completely through the course, flunking me on a drug test halfway through the fifth month and accusing me of having drank alcohol. The accusation was laughable given the amount of time alcohol remains in the body - I would have had to have imbibed that morning for it to show up in the afternoon’s piss test - but logic had nothing on this woman. She knew I was there basically against my will and resented me for not going to 12-step groups on my own time in addition to the three sessions I already had to attend every week on top of my classes at college. My scorn for the recovery “program” was obvious - I didn’t have a drug problem, and had I had one, this lackluster form of ‘therapy’ would have been completely ineffective. People recover from addictions because they want to recover, not because they’ve turned over control of their lives to a ‘higher power’ or submitted to the regurgitated psychobabble of unskilled “therapists” whose training consists of an 18-month certification program. Clearly, I was the uppity nail here that had to be hammered down. It doesn’t hurt that these recovery facilitators are (again) paid per patient they refer to residential programs. I was told I would be taken to one program, which was bad enough as I did not want to be locked up for 4 weeks for an addiction I did not have, but then taken to another place entirely - kidnapped, essentially. I believe the only reason I was able to return home that day is that the program did not take my insurance and when informed of the amount it would cost for me to stay there I simply said I did not have the money and that my parents would not pay for it as they didn’t know where I was. Unable to milk any cash out of me, they sent me home and told me to go to a hospital because clearly my “symptoms,” consisting of an increasingly rapid heartbeat, were due to drug withdrawal (when I hadn’t even smoked a joint for the last six months due to constant drug testing and my desire not to go to jail). In reality, I had been experiencing mounting panic since realizing I had been taken to a mysterious facility and was wondering if I’d even make it out alive. The (female) nurse who allowed me to leave was utterly unlike the other women in these episodes & I am grateful to her for at least somewhat saving my life. I later saw my original case manager on the subway and she looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to walk out of that inpatient center at all.
Writ large, the phenomenon of female oppression can be seen in the person of Hillary Clinton. Observe her willingness to bomb the living shit out of the Middle East, reducing one of the region’s most progressive countries (Libya, which had the highest standard of living in Africa, a high literacy rate, and a well-educated female populace) to a failed state where women no longer have rights. Or Madeline Albright, when asked if the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was “worth it” in order to topple the secular “dictator” Saddam Hussein, answering in the affirmative. Any human being with the slightest shred of empathy would feel remorse or repulsion having committed these acts. These women and others like them (Victoria Nuland, Samantha Power, Condoleezza Rice and so on) I believe are overcompensating for their gender, trying to be more male than the men and in the process suppressing normal human emotion and behavior. I have no desire to feel solidarity with these dysfunctional creatures and they should not be held up as examples for other women to follow.
This is not to say I feel no solidarity with the average woman. I have plenty of friends who are female. But I also have plenty of ex-friends who are female, united in their tendency to stab me in the back with dishonesty, pettiness, passive-aggression and other underhanded betrayals. I value my friends who are honest women that much more because they are so tragically rare. This idea that all women must compete and take each other down if we want to come out ahead has set us against each other in a way that will require a lot of deprogramming to overcome.
The Crab Claw Mentality references the behavior of crabs in a boiling pot of water. A crab will reach the rim of the pot, trying to escape, and the other crabs will pull him back into the water rather than let him escape. Jealousy is seemingly ingrained even into these supposedly simple creatures. This is not a trait imposed by the patriarchy - this is a fundamental characteristic of humanity, and women are taught to nurture it - that it is somehow necessary in their rise to power or necessary for them to keep their power. Men seem more aware that power is not a finite resource - none of this is a zero sum game. Women are distracted into backbiting and passive aggression while men go on to run companies and countries. The truly great women in history are those who have avoided petty rivalries and power-for-power’s-sake and focused on their dreams and ambitions, collaborating and cooperating when it helps their ends but otherwise avoiding the typical pitfalls of what society defines as femininity. I am ashamed to be part of a crab-claw subset of humanity. Let’s not be.Add a comment
Political correctness sprang from a noble desire to avoid offending women, minorities and other typically marginalized groups through language. Sexist, racist and other pejorative terms referencing minorities from homosexuals to the handicapped were frowned upon, first in academic circles and gradually within the general population.
Unfortunately, what began as a laudable initiative has gone too far. Merely uttering the wrong word in classroom discourse can spark protests and the loss of a professor’s job or tenure. Offending a well-connected student with an online platform to vent their offense can mobilize vast segments of the liberal blogosphere against a hapless teacher, school newspaper, or administration. Entire websites have sprung up explaining the rainbow of politically correct terms for slivers of gender identity that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Internet commenters engage in episodes of “oppression olympics,” trading barbs about the other’s privilege - he grew up black and rich, while she was white and poor and also a queer woman, so who has it worse? Great works of literature with potentially distressing themes - rape, for example, or slavery - now are written into lesson plans encased in “trigger warnings,” lest students respond emotionally to the material in a way they find distressing (a process that might once have been called “making them think”).
When did the emotional maturity of a five-year-old scared of monsters under the bed become a prerequisite for college admission? Like the parents of the child in kindergarten with a peanut allergy, the hyper-politically-correct have come out to demand “safe spaces” on college campuses where students can avoid any potentially hurtful terms, discrimination, or the nebulous “micro aggressions,” these difficult-to-define encounters which seem innocent on the surface but theoretically build up to cause great psychological harm in those on the receiving end, perpetuating discriminatory structures and creating an atmosphere of oppression on campus.
The proponents of “safe spaces” who decry the rampant micro aggressions of the typical college environment are looking to create padded rooms for the next generation, bubbles in which students’ ideas, preconceived notions and identities cannot be challenged - with the result that they will are in suspended animation, incapable of growing and learning as people. Universities are traditionally places to argue over ideas, and arguments require confrontation. Terming any such confrontations “micro aggressions” defangs the intellectual battlefield in the name of emotional well-being. Moreover, the vicious backlash against anyone accused of impinging on these “safe spaces” is hardly tolerant or considerate of THEIR emotional well-being. The micro aggression police are nothing if not hypocritical.
How well, psychologically and emotionally, will these students be when they graduate and are thrust into the real world, replete as it is not only with legions of “micro aggressions” but also REAL racism, sexism, “able-ism” and other forms of discrimination? The safe-space bubble cannot protect them outside the rarified university environment, while those years they should have spent shoring up their identities and gaining confidence in themselves and their ideas were instead spent being coddled by administrations treating the students more like a glass menagerie than a human zoo. Unsurprisingly, rates of depression and anxiety have been on the rise in recent years - a 2014 survey by the American College Health Association notes a 5% increase in just one year of students reporting they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the last 12 months, and the same organization cited a survey of campus mental health directors reporting an increase in students displaying “severe psychological problems.” So much for psychological and emotional well-being.
For a culture that trumpets free speech as one of its defining values, we are systematically dismantling it in the name of political correctness, and this has to stop where it began - in the universities.Add a comment
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