Banned, Ban Suspended, Rebanned: Immigration & Politics After a Generation

One of the benefits of propinquity are the encounters with the detritus of your neighbors and the capacity of these objects to take your focus away from what’s been preoccupying your mind. ADHD as urban design. The other day a modest pile of 1990s Playboys came into my possession after a routine trip to the laundry room. For me the decade marked my sexual awakening: Pamela Anderson Baywatch, the patience of a Buddhist for dial-up Internet, Adam & Eve mail-order catalogues that tattooed the postal delivery schedule into my mind, and of course those bunny ear head dresses. How could I not delve, at least for an afternoon, into my physiological nostalgia?

For the most part, I got exactly what I expected: monotonous dated texts, consumer electronic ads, Columbia House artist listings, cigarette promos, and busty girls with bad hair. But two issues stood out: May 1991 and June 1992.

May 1991 is the Tweed sisters issue: two long-legged, smiling women whose skin perfectly matches the pantone A7 studio backdrop. It’s a few shades from cosmic latte, giving one the impression that we as banana jerkers are either in a super closeup on the perfect skin of these goddesses or we’re at an intergalactic vantage point of how the solar system is structured: Tweeds all the way down. Competing with the Tweeds for your attention is a Steinbrenner interview, in which he attest his hatred for baseball. But at page 83 a dapper, two dimensional air brushed Asian gangster pinching a cigarette accompanies the title “big TROUBLE IN LITTLE SAIGON” (title capitalization [it was the 90s]) passes the finish line for the most intriguing time capsule of Americana found therein. Jim Goad’s two-and-a-half page article recounts the crime and depravity that has bubbled up in the Vietnamese refugee community in Orange County since the war.

The article opens into a video surveillance tape of a drive-by shooting at a restaurant and the subsequent denial of the event by the restaurant owner, from whom the police investigators are trying to garner evidence. The reader has just walked into a cul-de-sac of American good intentions, bordered by the baggage of distrust for authority that the refugee victims checked on the tarmac following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Remember, in this era, anyone who’s roughly ethnic and partakes in violence with his friends is in a gang. The “gang members” are comprised of young men imagined as roving Asian outlaws on motor-horse back, drunk on the freedom that they’ve only recently acquired. Why do these men turn violence rather than express their gratitude for our saving them? Well, obviously, they lost their family following the war, they are alone, unloved and worst of all, bored. Goad’s narrative fits nicely into the Conservative explanation for all urban violence: the demolition of family values due to broken homes, single moms, welfare checks, urban plight and probably rap music in video games are accounted for in the following article. (Flip page to more nudie girls or…read on!)

Goad brings the article to life by following one gangster, Randy, whose biography oscillates between intra-national crime sprees and imprisonment. Randy echoes the broken home being…broken …broke, like his wallet, he explains his love for this free country; to Goad it’s freedom that he’s abusing through crime. Goad [phrases it, “Spoiled by freedom, they come off like suburban brats on a joy ride.” Okay, it’s like Clueless but instead of the incest, pink convertibles, and Valley Girl upspeak it’s bummed out tattooed skin merging with couch upholstery until violence forces the financial hand. Got it. 

But all of this is in Randy’s rear view mirror. He’s no longer dragged down by his broken home. He’s served his final time in prison; now he’s an honest working American, he’s found the light; the sanctity of freedom, its hallowed delicate fibers have calmed the salvage; Randy is born, again. The article ends with the same topic with which it began: the problematic distrust for authority from newcomers from a primitive world. Succinctly, Goad writes “many Vietnamese are puzzled by the U.S. justice system. When they see gangster back on the street hours after being arrested, they figure that payoffs, not bail, are at work. Fearing reprisal, they clam up.” Our justice system, like our freedom, is simply too complex for these simplistic fisherman to comprehend, is what Goad is trying to say. (Wait, in the 1991, would someone arrested for armed robbery or a drive-by shooting be let out on bail? If you’re paying 10% of the bond of 30,000-50,000, taking inflation into account, SCV Bail bonds and I are guessing the people being let out on bail aren’t the violent, gangsters that Goad’s article is covering.) Again, it’s the 90s and there’s the whiff of “getting tough on crime,” three strikes you’re out and getting down on those gun-loving, drug smoking inner-city gangs throughout this article. But all in all, it’s the end to a saga that started a decade earlier and has resolved as the American Dream. 

I read the article from the vicarious position of a Vietnam veteran’s perspective of experience: Enroll, train, ship off, eat MREs, get jungle boot, shoot at Charlie, take psychodelics, try to maintain a semblance of ethics with the village people by stopping that psychopath in the platoon who tries to kill them and wear their ears as a necklace, go home and suffer PTSD and now this. Ungrateful little brats. Why can’t I just enjoy my Playboy? Ok, good. I’m glad the kid worked it out; now the nudies.

June 1992′s cover advertises the Playmate of the Year, a bleach-blonde with almond-shaped face, glossy blue-green eyes messed with 80′s hairband-permanent, dressed in what looks to be a Martha Stewart semi-transparent white linen summer dress knotted at her abdomen, provocatively plucking the flower petals from a daisy next to the text statement of an interview with Ralph Nader. The PMOY is trash; Nader is golden. He’s laying out all the political complexities that have been batted during this last election and gives a brief historical overview of what he’s been up to since the late 50s. But what’s even more interesting and relevant to this topic of refugees is “Styled in Seattle,” a pictorial subtitled “once a refugee from vietnam, hairdresser angela melini is putting down roots on this side of the pacific” (subtitle capitalization). The paragraph of text that accompanies the half dozen images of Angela in silk sheets of a dusty mahogany living room of anywhere U.S.A. ca. 1970 focuses on the determination and level-headed attitude of the industrious hairdresser. She’s practical, hard working and smart. Her abridged biography is as a child of an Italian soldier who died in the war, she and her mother fled Vietnam in 1974, immigrating to North Carolina where she “began a typically suburban American childhood of bike riding, rollerskating an hanging out at the mall, i.e.“Americanized.” This process, identity, and the historical conflict is the subtext of the pictorial. There’s about 2.5 paragraphs of text. 

Ms. Melini embodies the American Dream. A disadvantaged immigrant struggles to make a life for herself in this Great Country and gets lucky by/after being “discovered.” Fame, fortune, national appreciation by heterosexual subscribers to the periodical. Freedom. Her big hair is nearly a stargate to travel back to the era when a dangerous majority of American women wore such style, the sheer volume being demonstrative of the greatness of the country. The sprinkles of quotes from the hairdresser clear her of any communist residue or foreign sympathies: “’There are plenty of pretty girls,’ she muses. ‘You have to be more than that.’“ Indeed.

Thirteen months apart, “Styled in Seattle” and “Big Trouble in Little Saigon” create a complementary image of how and whom this country accepts, what was expected by Americans accepting immigrant refugees, and how that’s changed over the last 50 years. In these two Playboy issues, this sociopolitical question is removed from a press conference or protest route and placed within the context of a men’s entertainment magazine. That is, these two stories, and the myriad of stories we hear or read about when policy confronts personal experience, really makes us realize how human these decisions can be and how human something like waiting in line at an airport or looking at a magazine is. We can read graphs and look at statistics, but the human story is what will resonate; the story of fear for Randy, or the story of making it ‘big’ for Angela.  These two individuals’ lives were disrupted by the war and then made examples of either side of a systematic concern for who comes to the U.S. and how they exist here; it’s the question that, today, is divisive as ever, it’s the battle over immigration reform, security v. civil rights, either side trying to stake claim to what is “American” and what is “unAmerican.”

One thing we don’t know as “American” is the Vietnam War, known by the Vietnamese as the War of American Aggression. From both perspectives it was a violent, traumatizing experience in longer tradition of military conflict, for both parties. Uniquely for both parties it resulted in the Indochina refugee crisis when 2.5 million people of the 56 million escaped Vietnam to other countries. That doesn’t include the thousands that fled in 1975. As a humanitarian crisis, the Vietnamese diaspora sets the dinner table for the subsequent refugee crises due to war, but only in terms of what’s televised and subsequently collectively feared across a continent that’s glued to dinnertime news. There’s been war refugees since the dawn of war. This fact shouldn’t soften our empathy meter when thinking about the millions of people who are annually put into the most inconvenient position of leaving a place where they can speak a language that’s understood, have their social valuation, and retain some semblance of dignity. Rather this fact of refugees as a constant in our world history should make us realize how inhumane and uncivil our civilization has been and continues to be.

American Dream

The last day of my trip to Viet Nam in 2015, I was finishing the construction of a vo be, a traditional Vietnamese (and found throughout Southeast Asia) fishing apparatus. The man who was aiding in my learning of how to do this, made the wonderful decision to order two crates of beer to celebrate. And he invited the neighbors there in Cu Chi. We gathered in the shed behind his house, a sort of mother-in-law tin-roof structure that had the unexpected amenities of a full kitchen, lieu and eating area. Exactly one person of that group of 10 spoke a basic level of English, but, just as my prior visit, that was no barrier for hospitality. Hand signals, giggles, nods. I understood the drinking ritual, the ching ching, the food sharing. I understood when solicited mouse as a delicacy to try sauteed that I should accept, as it was a sign that they knew the limits to my own culinary culture and wanted to give me the experience. 

Host & teacher, Sơn, testing the vó bè. The party shack in the background. Nephew (Phức Nguyên) in the foreground.

Host & teacher, Sơn, testing the vó bè. The party shack in the background. Nephew (Phức Nguyên) in the foreground.

As we ate and drank, it started to rain, heavily, The earth eroded around the structure and no person’s voice could be distinguished by the pounding above. Only laughter was evident and precise. Somewhere before I reached the point that I must stop in order to responsibly mount the motorcycle to take me to the airport, I realized that, while this moment was absolutely unforgettable, it was also unjustly unique for me. The beauty of this simple gathering was, most likely, not out of the ordinary in Cu Chi. The totality of the environment, food and company was quotidian to my hosts. A deep sense of being on one side of a bridge that had to be intentionally constructed by me, a returning for discovering, came over me. I thought of how many other children of refugees would have to make their own journey back across the war-scarred roads healed over. At that moment, the Refugee Crisis as it had come to be called (as if it was and were to be the only such crisis), was at full boil in Europe. Families broken. Children raised in new lands. A generation without a knowledge of their own culture. I knew certainly about the uncertainty others who would return must experience, abridged by distance but separated by language and culture throughout the visit. A visit it was and would be. And then the rain stopped and I balanced on the back of a bike, holding down the mouse as my driver took me back to Ho Chi Minh. Returning, leaving, waiting in line at the airport. Drinking beers. These are human things. Even dreaming is human. 

 

The "Hell Or High Water" Narrative @gainst the (Oscar) Establishment

Sunrise from a Getaway Car, 2005

Sunrise from a Getaway Car, 2005

During the entire experience of watching Hell or High Water I couldn’t help but suspect that this is probably how Trump supporters view the world. To a liberal New Yorker, it’s almost a horror story, or the footnote explanation for the current political climate...renegade outlaws, Robin Hood tale in which the big bad banks finally bow down to the people they serve. Well, sort of. 

The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, has made a career out of cop shows and movies, which, in the context of this story--which is empathetic to the criminal as much as law enforcement--makes me realize how the genre of cop shows is parasitically dependent not on good guys and bad guys, but on gun rights. This film suggests that justice can be attained through armed robbery but also that order can be maintained by citizen police.  In a parallel reality in which Clinton would have won and Trump lost, this film would be read as a question of gun rights and bank wrongs, not about a power structure that overlooked the potential of the poetic justice found in the robbers' scheme. Sheridan, an actor turned screenwriter, started out on such sets as Walk, Texas Ranger and Sons of Anarchy.  A born and raised Texan, his films tout the rugged individual and duality of good and evil. Sicario (2015), Hell or High Water (2016) and the forthcoming Wind River (2017) all center on law enforcement stories that glorify the pursuit of justice. Although the films are regionally specific, their characters and world views are ubiquitous to the rural experience. In Hell or High Water that world view is necessarily short sighted--focusing on a single bank as an ersatz surrogate of financialization of the housing market.  

Unintended Scorched Earth Policy, 2007

Unintended Scorched Earth Policy, 2007

Although having been nominated for four Academy Awards–Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Original Screenplay and Best Achievement in Film Editing–it won none of them. The productions that dominated the awards this year were La La Land and Moonlight.  It's 2016 and not only is the culture industry politically activated, but there's a President in the White House who's adamant about returning fire.  At the awards ceremony, as well as the theater, the specter of the Trump Presidency shades the interpretation of films we watch and the speeches we hear at the winners podium. Thus, I couldn’t help accusing the bandit Howard brothers of Hell or High Water as Turmp voters. This is who they are, what they look like, the values they have–not simply to break the law, but a sense of justice that is resolutely immediate, applicable on the individual scale and in a landscape that is essentially empty. Rural America. In this light, the film’s potential as a lasting historical document is more compelling as a dying view of the world partially explicated by the story it puts forward, than its status as a well made film or well written script. The way of life is dying because the manner of living in isolation is losing against an increasingly urban lifestyle that is growing not only in population, but also leveraging the rural lives through the very debt against which the brother bandits fight. To put it bluntly, the fiction put forward is that the rugged individual can solve macro economic problems by singularly addressing the problem with direct, (maybe illegal maybe gun maybe violent) action. This is Rambo but on Wallstreet.

The roles of pro- and antagonist are blurred by the two pairs of hetero-white dudes who understand ethical behavior through tribal dynamics: the obligation to moral imperatives where natural laws must be exercised over legislated conditions. This both begins the film and ends the film: the first robbery is framed over the deathbed of the brother’s mother for whom they seek to right wrong; the final farewell is bookended with each survivor of the competing duos agreeing to duel to the death. What better way to characterize the individual than to kill his partner and debase his existence down to his singular obligation of vengeance? I just hope there's no sequel. 

The heroism of the film, if there is any, is located in the inception of the ingenuity of the Robin Hood scheme, rather than a critique of the housing subprime loan crisis borne of (neo)liberal capitalism, which is better addressed in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Rob who’s robbing you, pay them back and make them your servant. That's essentially the plan. Get your family out of generational poverty, even if it kills you. Okay, that's fatherly. Hell or High Water follows two rebel brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard, who’ve targeted a local banking institution to methodologically rob. But they don’t just want the money, they seek justice. The brothers’ intend to steal the enough money from the bank to pay off their deceased mother’s property, which is in foreclosure from the same bank. The scheme really seems like a story told in the 1990s about gangs, when America was struggling to be both more politically correct and tougher on crime, but this story is with Texan ne'er-do-wells. One brother's an ex-con, the other a failed father. But Hell or High Water tries to be recall bandit classics like Bonnie and ClydeNatural Born Killers and Badlands, and it's with these comparisons that are more fruitful. All three comparative films were innovative for American filmmaking. Bonnie and Clyde promised the American equivalent of the French New Wave style of Goddard and Truffaut. French New Wave was stylistically aberrant because of the sociopolitical slant of the producers; anti-Hollywood, anti-big production, Truffaut and Goddard deeply influenced Bonnie and Clyde. American cinema was stagnant, in crisis, formulaic and more interested in filling theater seats than expanding the medium. Released in 1967, the influence of admixture of youth culture and French cinema proved successful for writers David Newman and Robert Benton.(1) Comparing just the demographics that were attracted to Bonnie and Clyde and those represented in the Trump contingent via Hell or High Water, we see basically the opposite part of the American populace. Americans 25 and under overwhelming supported Sanders and later Clinton. 55% of young voters preferred Clinton; 37% preferred Trump. (2) Natural Born Killers (1994), the murder satire aptly critiques the media's irresponsible action, aggrandizement and perpetuation of violence. Itself a prodigy of Bonnie and Clyde and cinema violence, Stone was forced to address the real world scenarios of his film when copycat killers took off across the country. In defense of the film, Stone stated his purpose was critique of media, not suggesting of a solution. (3) (Ironically, the news coverage of the copycat killings paralleled the exact role Stone claimed the media played.) The message of Natural Born Killers is categorically opposite to that of Hell or High Water. One critiques the frenzy of violence on the screen while the other promises violence to be saving grace. 

Contrasting Terrence Malik’s picturesque landscapes in Badlands–which was woven together from three directors of photography: Brian Proby, Tak Fujimoto and Steven Larner–that seems to stretch almost as wide as 70mmfootage, Giles Nuttgen, Hell or High Water’s director of photography continually degrades the rural Texas landscape with decrepit fences, broken down homes and rusting industrial equipment. Although the aspect ratio of Badlands is less rectangular than Hell or High Water,1.85:1 and 2.20:1 respectively, the latter feels crowded and claustrophobic in the landscape frames. While in Badlands, the landscape appears as an idea stretching to the hard line horizon, Nuttgen’s images are all too present, upfront, in the foreground, a place that is hopelessly inhabited and stretching outward. In keeping with the repetition of billboards targeted at the indebted society, the images we see depict the slow implosion of the pioneer lifestyle–that final fart of westward expansion, the actual footprints of settlers in the legislated colonization of North American West.

Tolerated racism pervades the film through Marcus Hamilton, the cop on the verge of retirement, played by Jeff Bridges, who constantly reminds his partner of his ethnicity. The all too familiar rapport found in small towns, one in which the personal proximity of someone you know fairly well confronts your maintained ideological stereotype, forcing you to both express the stereotype and excuse the recipient as the exception to the alleged rule, Hamilton’s racism toward his partner, Alberto Parker, is complicated by his “natural” duty to avenge the latter’s murder. Hamilton’s obligation can be juxtaposed with Tanner’s insulting of the Native American in the first casino scene, in which the brother blankly concludes that the Native American is his eternal enemy. Two forms of natural law: one that binds, and one that makes boundaries.

Intentionally stoking the racial tension of the Big Star State, the sociopolitical transformation can be summarized in abridged history uttered by the sheriff’s deputy, who’s of Native American and Latino descent: “150 years ago, all this was my ancestors’ land. Everything you can see. Everything you saw yesterday. ‘Til the grandparents of these folks took it. And now it’s been taken from them. ‘Cept it ain’t no army doin’ it. It’s those sonsuvabitches right there [pointing to the bank].” In this sociological model, the conquest of peoples first with guns over those without, then the domination of those with guns by those with contracts is subverted by the well-intending rebel with a gun. Should this story have taken place 160 years ago, the only required change to the script would be the mode of transportation for the getaway.

Perhaps the biggest fantasy of Hell or High Water is the alleged victimization of the rural poor white man in the 2010 American housing crisis. The reality is that urban blacks, not rural whites, were disproportionately affected by predatory subprime lending practices. Blacks were three times more likely to be given a predatory loan as a reasonable loan; Hispanics twice as likely; whites had about a 50/50 chance to get either a good or bad loan.(4) With this in mind, the scheme to rob Texas Midland bank to save mom's house and get the kids new shoes and a college degree makes Hell or High Water less a Robin Hood film and more just a robbery film that hopes to stroke our conditioned distaste for the banking industry.

Sunset on Rural America, 2005

Sunset on Rural America, 2005


Notes

  1.  "Riding the New Wave," Elaine Lennon, Senses of Cinema, February 2006 khttp://sensesofcinema.com/2006/feature-articles/bonnie_and_clyde/
  2. "Behind Trump's Victory: Divisions of race, gender, education," Alec Tyson and Shiva Maniam, 
     Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016
    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
  3. "The business of murder," Tim Lawrence, The Independent, October 1994
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/film-the-business-of-murder-oliver-stones-satire-natural-born-killers-has-spawned-a-mini-industry-of-1445214.html
  4. "Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis," Jacob Rugh and Douglass Massey, American Sociological Review,  October, 2010
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4193596/

Week 2 of Drumpf: Believe Me: The Last Thing We Need is Trump to Drop Dead from Natural Causes

Typically the Republican Party, the GOP, the Conservatives of this country propound the preservation and importance of religion. This last election was unique in that both parties–the religious right and liberal (sometime secular) left perceived the candidates on the poles of good and evil. Thus, the failure of the Democratic party and many Clinton supporters was not just an election, but the victory of evil over good. The question of civil society and civil rights is the domain of the liberal left, but why is the fight against Trump being framed as a right/wrong, good/bad concern? 

What are the dangers of viewing politics on a good/evil axis? I think it’s useful to look at two dissenting voices from the left of center and right of center to see how nimble the debate around Trump policies can be, whether seeing them as ethical or judicious makes sense strategically. 

A recent email exchange between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris can serve as an example of how framing something in the context of good and bad (via good and evil, see Nietzsche “Beyond Good & Evil) can predetermine the sorts of answers that appear to force a concession of one moral value for another. (I didn’t follow the entire stunt of email bating/debating with Chomsky, but the entire discussion seemed to inappropriately concede to Harris’ desired framework, which is a binary between Western values and “non-Western values.” I should stipulate that I actually haven’t read any of the books, in their entirety, that these two authors have produced pertaining to politics. On one hand the dispute between them is an exchange of both referring the other to a book the former wrote, on the other hand the exchange comes off as a PR stunt on behalf of Harris to garner more attention to his platform from Chomsky fans and/but on a third, prosthetic hand that forces the hands of both of the other hands, and on which I’m qualifying my admitted lack of reading either of their books, both have an excess of non-literate media sharing their political perspectives, media that has communicated in the very least that it isn’t necessary to read their books because, if this media is purposeful, effective, and functional, it (the media–interviews, podcasts, speeches, et al.) can disseminate their political perspectives at least as sufficiently as their books. )

A Generalization of Chomsky & Harris Perspectives on American Foreign Policy as It Pertains to the Point of Trump Dropping Dead by Natural Causes

Noam Chomsky’s critique of American foreign policy is that it’s imperialistic. We uproot dissent in foreign countries through covert CIA and/or overt military operations for the goals of imperialist domination and subsequently economic benefit. The banner under which the U.S. government declares its violence against other people–Terrorism, Freedom, Democracy–as part of the manufacturing of the domestic population’s consent, may change but the motivation is constant. The inaccurate rhetoric of American foreign policy is found not only in the inconsistency of how these banner themes are applied across the globe–i.e. some Muslim countries being our enemies while other being our allies–but also in how our own country does not adhere to its own rallying dogma. While U.S. politicians wage war in the name of Democracy, the same politicians may be countering democratic processes at home. Chomsky’s repeated references abroad are to the CIA interventions in Nicaraguamilitary support of the genocide of East Timor by Indonesia, the invasion of Iraq under the guise of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and World War II. 

Sam Harris’ stance on U.S. foreign policy is that it’s the U.S.’s duty to police the world, to protect civil society and this can and may and at times must be done through militarization and tough love (i.e. secret missions, assassinations, et al.). To secure civil society, we must fight against those who oppose it, e.g. Putin. Because there are regimes that do not recognize human rights, its the duty of HR proponents to fight against the tyranny of the opposition in order to affirm women’s rights, create secular governance and end dictatorships. In the debate with Chomsky he emphasizes the “good intention” of the American foreign policy. His references abroad are much narrower than Noam’s, focusing on the Middle East and Russia since the Cold War until the present. 

Harris’ argument is pretty close to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” which was the popular framework around the 9/11, Iraq War. It’s a world picture that appealed to George W. Bush. We, the West (Western Europe & North America), are culturally incompatible with the non-West, but really they mean Islam. Asia’s fine. They make our stuff. This clarification is the first of many. It’s not just Islam, but Middle East, and just Middle Eat but Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt at times…who else…Yemen? Ok, it’s ad hoc. They could have said, “They’re in our way to drive to Kazakstan and must be destroyed,” and it would have been more accurate. You’ll notice, this is the basic road map for Trump’s “Muslim travel ban,” and it’s echoed by many European nationalists. But before I get to how this doesn’t float as a logical argument, I want to return to the fantasy of some good grace shining upon North America, just below the 48th parallel. 

Trump & the Grim Reaper

Ok, so with the context of these two interpretations–Chomsky & Harris–‘twer Trump to drop dead, flat out on the floor of the oval office, not resting but stone dead, deceased of natural causes the entire opposition, the rational center, the apprehensive Michiganders that cast no Presidential vote, the Left and Ultraleft would have no other alternative but to revive the idea and belief of Divine Intervention. There would be no room for secular belief. It would simply not be tenable to have the electoral college hand to leave this flaming paper bag on our doorstep and then, suddenly, not have to deal with it. It would be none other than “miraculous.” Thus, both the right and left in the U.S. would collide in religious fervor. The discord of U.S. politics since the mid 20th Century would simply evaporate, having reached a boiling point with in an orange burst of 5th Avenue egocentricity of smoke and mirrors. You think I’m kidding, but there would be no protection for civil society through/on the grounds of secular or non-belief; there would be only “believers.” Civil society would equate to Christian society in the U.S. The conservative right would simply continue their born-againing, and the left, well, they would born again also. The illogic would be…illogical. Here’s how. 

"The Prepared Burglar," 2004

"The Prepared Burglar," 2004

The claim that defending Muslims or Islam in America or the rest of the world by the liberal left while aspiring to secularism, human rights and equality, or at least separation of church and state, is contradictory, according to Harris. (More than Chomsky Harris engages in debate with the religious and spiritual communities as part of the New Atheist movement.) But first and foremost, this is a stereotype about any religious society, not just Islam. What about Buddhists? Are Confucians ‘ok’? Second, to view a society solely by their religious makeup is anti-intellectual, as it discards any other valuable assets of that society. I watched the first Sean Hannity interview with Trump, you know, the one where Sean basically tricks the old fart into agreeing to pardon some people he knows, and what’s more interesting than any of that hour rehearsed interview is that a youtube commercial by the Islamic society directly followed the video. It correctly explained the many contributions to the world that Islam has made. For example, the idea of zero. Where would be without zeros? But the point is that any society, regardless of their origin stories, afterlife beliefs or distinctions between “science” and “religion” (this is a Western distinction, BTW. See ‘China’) have great contributions to the world, knowledge, food, history, language. Third, can you secure secularism while securing a freedom of religion? *(And I should clarify that I’m an atheist, more over secular). The answer is ‘yes,’ and it’s possible only through example, at probably through law, which is what most of these countries that are worried about Muslims already have. They have a higher standard of living which sets the example for people in poorer countries to say, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to go there, or, ‘wait, no one is getting killed there, that’s an example of my kind of neighborhood.’ As for laws, you vote on them. It’s democracy. For those of us who cling to secular society just because we believe it’s superior than sharia law, well that’s is just as dogmatic as those who cling to another belief system. 

Having given the Harris-teria a few nods, it’s important to return to Islamophia directly, because it’s pertinent in not just the U.S. What is actually going on here? That is, what’s really at stake right now: is there an overtaking by Islam, or an ebb of civil rights? I’d say, ‘no.’ There is no coordinated effort for Islam to finish the job of the Crusades. In real numbers, no European country crosses 11% of Muslims.  What’s the bigger danger, some head garb or fascism turning against the civilian population. Fascism is alive and well in the U.S. and Europe. Why is this a bigger concern? Well, discriminating against 100% of society because you have 10% you don’t like is sad math. 

As pointed out during the Weapons of Mass Destruction campaign and Bush: Deux, Islam isn’t the enemy, as we have allies in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco…actually, most of them, at some time. If you’re worried about Islam, go make a friend who’s Muslim and you’ll be happier. If you’re worried about extremist–whether black, brown, or white–the answer is to improve their standard of living. In fact, for you Europeans who are thinking of protecting your country against the influence of refugees, just know that that’s exactly what George W. Bush would have said. You hated that guy. So did I. Don’t fall for him. You’re better than that. Use your creativity and innovation to deal with this in an un-Bush-ly manner. 

And when compared to our current and recent allies, the Clash of Civilizations model simply doesn’t hold water. I didn’t buy the rhetoric during Bush Deux and I don’t buy it via S. Harris. Reagan didn’t buy it either, as he sent weapons to Afghanistan to fight the clash with the other spectre: Communism. Not even Trump really buys it. Actually, most of the countries we are fighting in, have been fighting in, funding military conflict, or have special operations aren’t Muslim, they’re Christian. As of 2014, the U.S. had around 134 countries that SOCOM, SOF, training of foreign militaries that was going on. Central & South America. Southeast Asia. Pacific Islands. 

Christian countries by percentage

Christian countries by percentage

Apart from their selective cartographic interpretation, they (Bush, Harris, Huntington, but not CIA) also completely omit the civil rights issue pertaining to discriminating against Muslim Americans, which can be traced back to Civil Rights movement, Louis Farrakhan, Malcom X, et al. Discrimination against Muslims is not only illegal under Constitutional right to  the Freedom of Religion, but it savagely and disproportionately effects people of color. If Harris preferred a logical, historical continuity, the lines of discrimination are much more ardent than the clash between civilizations in this country and others. And so, calling it the BS that it is catalyzes the liberal left’s defense of Islam: that it’s a false pretense. 

The contradiction of Harris, and much of what’s come to be the Nationalist movement across many European countries, that declare the inhumane treatment of outsiders (refugees, immigrants, even citizens of other cultures), is quickly shown outlined in the uncivil actions necessary to maintain the alleged civil society. (But then, is it still civil? Was it ever?) Logically, it’s congruent to the camp that believes the death penalty is necessary to ensure that killers don’t kill in a society where killing isn’t allow or you have to bomb to get peace. What’s curious about Harris and Nationalists who advocate violence to ensure peaceful society is that they never advocate for greater support of non-military organizations whose missions more acutely align with these proposed ideals: Amnesty International, for example, works for human rights not only abroad but also within these “civil societies.” They are just one of the many organizations, non-military organizations, that work to do exactly what this contradictory camp suggests, though without contradiction.

T-Minus 0 Days : Misinformation Age

The fallout of all these scapegoats for Trumpaggedon are taking turns in the spotlight. Lately, “fake news” has been getting the finger. I mentioned this in terms of social media being requested to mitigate fake news, effectively being held to higher journalistic standards than entities that actually call themselves news sources. I was really inspired by an interview between Anderson Cooper and fake news writer, Paul Horner, that made me wonder about what is journalism and what is satire and how they may relate to news media and “the information age.”

In the 5 minute plus interview, Cooper tries to pinpoint Horner as deliberately “spreading false information.” It’s a witch hunt. Cooper is trying to discredit the Horner, but really Horner is exempt from the truth/false axis because he’s a writing fiction. Cooper then tries to further discredit Horner by saying that Horner’s motivation is to make money, and Horner replies by saying what news media won’t admit, which is that they spread false (or one sided) information for revenue. Which is true. It’s true in the case of CNN, DemocracyNow, Fox News, The Daily Show, Brietbart; it’s true based on the cartographic limits of what can actually be covered in any day’s coverage; it’s true based on the funding structure of news media; it’s true in the context of how Horner makes money via pay per clicks, just as news sites host advertisements for money, ads of which have information that aren’t fact checked, many of which are totally false; it’s true by all levels–theoretical, local, specific, dire–that news media spreads misinformation, half truths, mediated and intended. (But we still eat it up.) Anderson Cooper refutes that, not just because he can’t agree, but because he doesn’t want to have a conversation, in spite of the format of the program, which is two people’s heads being placed next to each other and the appearance of a dialogue, i.e. one person speaks and another addresses the information enclosed in that speech. (Pause for a moment on the fact that Cooper has no idea what an Internet Troll is, 7:15) Horner says something and Cooper moves on to the next point (gotta get that next point in for the silent audience) before the commercial break. 

The two men spar at what is true and what is factual for far too short of a minute, but is really the point is that news media is in a crisis, not only financially but its mode of dissemination and territory. (Just the fact that “real” news has to address “fake” news, i.e. Internet news, shows there’s a crisis. Anyone remember Tosh.0? , the show where a guy on cable TV talks about what’s interesting on the Internet until you, the viewer, turn your head 13 degrees to the right to see your dusty old Dell desktop, portal to the Internet with that and other hilarious videos, awaiting and then that 13 degrees is reversed and you say, to hell with this guy, turn off the TV, waddle over to the Dell, fire it up and cruise through Internet Explorer like a real Viking. Yeah, that 13 degrees killed TV and news media is trying to cut the umbilical cord it has to the broadcast mama whose in even more trouble than they are.)

Writers like Horner are using the appeal and aesthetics of journalism to propagate misinformation. And it’s too easy. The fact that journalism has a “voice” makes it a target for being mocked and impersonated, lifted and utilized for whatever purpose the writer wants. News media want you to believe that their journalists and information is better, but what’s really at stake is the power of news media, and its subsequent monetary gains and people who invested time, money and talent to get into an industry only to learn that their voice is weighed against an impersonator. 

Journalism is in a crisis and has been for decades. It’s in crisis in how it has to deal with alternative information sources (be they fake news or wholehearted conspiracy theories [my favorite is Richard C. Hoagland]); just look at how the journalists deals with Horner: every reference to him is a link to another news media source. They can’t even link to an actual article he wrote. We can’t fact check these journalists (a conspiracy theorist may think he is even an invention of news media), but also his writings and ideas are also in forums or sites that propagate information differently than the more static news media sites; this is an intrinsic difference not only between print and online media, but between forms of information sharing online. The educational structure of journalism has been in crisis for over four decades. Journalists often study “journalism,” which covers what one would expect from a functionary in any industry. But why are they reporting on anything other than journalism? Prior to that transition in the 1970s to j-school, a journalist would be an expert on a topic and then do a post-graduate program for the skills of journalism. A classic critique of j-school is Michael Lewis’s “J-school At My Brain,” (1993). 

News media is in crisis. You can look at the last three years at its disbanding print publication tactics, but also its invasion into social media, like Twitter. At first, news moving to social platforms really helped it, even providing an advantage that its previous forms lacked, such as new reaches to audiences around the world (e.g. Al Jazeera having a North American viewership) but in recent years the platform has been turned against not only news media but liberation movements propelled by facts; instead they’re being employed and curtailed by surveillance and oppressive regimes. Evgeny Morozov writes about this in The Net Delusion (ironic, I know, that I link to a news site). In short, social media and potentially the Internet more generally can be used for emancipating people’s oppression but it’s also able to be even more oppressive because it can be applied in mass, owned by few and disseminated quickly. And the information may be, uh, misinformation. 

News media was in crisis before the digital migration to websites and social media; we were worried about the monopolistic nature of companies like News Corp. Whatever happened to making fun of Fox News? Wasn’t ostracizing viewers for being misinformed useful? Remember the comparison of how many Fox News viewers still believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction compared to NPR listeners? NewsCorp’s overtly political and social agenda seemed to contrast independent news sources to such an extent that even satire like John Stewart’s The Daily Show were juxtaposed as beacons of truth and hope in an otherwise dark period called the Bush Junior era. Wait, satire? John Stewart is going around giving talks like an expert on American Democracy, for being a satirist, while Cooper is trying to lynch Horner. Is the messenger or message being hung here? Is the medium the message?

Why are we even watching news at all? Well, if trends toward wanting to know what’s “really” going on in the world rather than just what you already agree with, i.e. echo chambers (a recent distinction between pre- and current social media eras for information acquisition) suggest anything it that at least at one point it was presumed we watched it for true knowledge. I’m not so sure. If news media is expanded from the topic of politics that this article implies to say a nice neutral topic like news, it doesn’t get any clearer, but more confusing. Why is there a weather channel ? Is that news? Why does my uncle in San Diego watch the weather channel when the weather is basically the same year round save a few fires? Why does he care if the Northeast is having some weather event? Does news really just want you to keep watching the news? Is that too easy of a diagnosis? Do they ever say: “Look, this horrible thing is going on and your citizen duty is to get out there and stop it.” No. It’s always, “Stay tuned in,” to various degrees.  

This short article makes the argument that there has always been some form of transferring knowledge of events from one point on Earth to another where a human wanted the information. If we concede that that’s really what news is, i.e. a phenomenon and not an industry, then it seems the Internet bares a closer resemblance to Julius Caeser getting news of what’s hip in Greece than Anderson Cooper 360 (degrees). Personally, I’d guess that the form of news media, how it’s instrumentalized both by stakeholders and by forming beliefs of a literate public, has its origins in the colonial era, in which one part of the world needed to know about certain parts of the world and didn’t care about the rest of the world, which may explain why, aside from the occasional natural disaster, different countries get different news, differently even today. Now quit reading this and go save the world.

T-minus 11 Days : Speech Rights, Lies & Promises

Trump’s failure to keep Carrier in the U.S. is being read, at least by Democrats, as his broken promise. I expect his supporters aren’t even aware of the accuracy of his claim to victory that was partial. But I suspect, not only will this be the first of Trump’s attempt to rephrase broken promises as wholesale success stories, but that his failures are actually indicative of a much larger, situational problem. 

Let’s keep in mind that Trump really had no fucking clue of what he was talking about throughout his campaign, so of course any promises he made were ill-informed. That’s the first point. He was not aware of any of the complexity of what he spouted about. But does that let him off the hook? No, of course not. That’s why he a demagogue. That’s exactly what a demagogue does: makes impossible promises and false claims to gain power. That is the Trump recipe. Moving on. 

As a figurehead and cult of personality, each President makes promises in the campaign trail and it’s only after HIS term(s) that we are able to measure HIS efficacy as leader. This is part of the problem of the our democratic process for leadership in the United States. It’s almost always a de facto reality for which we vote. 

Obama promised to close Guantanamo. The journey of why he failed can be helpful in understanding why Trump will fail in his promises. First, Obama did try to close Guantanamo. In 2009 in a Presidential memorandum he moved to federally purchase Thomson Correctional Center in IL. The problem with transferring Guantanamo detainees to Thomson was blocked not only by the Justice Department but also Congress, which claimed the move to acquire the prison was a political move by Obama seeking re-election. At least two hurtles there, and no budging. But even had some success regarding moving the detainees from Cuba to Thomson been able, that wasn’t really what was implied in Obama’s promise, or at least didn’t address the grievance of anti-Guantanamo activists. The issue with the detainees wasn’t and isn’t their location. It’s the illegality of their detainment, specifically the suspension of habeas corpus. It would have been a play on words for Obama to formally close Guantanamo but just move them to another prison be it down the road or in Illinois. The total failure is decorated with grade E for ‘effort’ scribbled on the report card. In terms of numbers of prisoners held, he did greatly reduce the population, down to 45 as of January 17, 2017. 

Okay, now back to Trump. Obama had political experience and even in his second term, against a Republican majority, couldn’t really expect to fulfill his promises as they were believed to mean by his supporters. Why would we expect Trump to be able to fulfill any of his promises when he has zero political experiences? 

Again, the point isn’t to give grandpa Trump a “pass” for his ascension to power on the back of poor decision-makers. The point is that pointing out his broken promises eludes the bigger issue which is even with all the power players on board, conditionally, the United States can’t return to its previous role of economic top dog who can do anything that it wants, even in its own country. That’s not the world we live in. In the example of Carrier moving to Mexico, we’re talking about the costs of labor, many of the company’s suppliers are already based in Mexico, and the fact that it is the company is the largest producer of air conditioner, heating and refrigeration equipment in the world. These are variables that no President is going to change. Add to the fact that the largest client of Carrier is the Pentagon doesn’t necessarily mean leverage if other variables outweigh this fact; instead, a 30% tariff to re-import would just mean a budgetary question in Trump’s government having to purchasing the equipment at a higher price. 

The conditions that are most concerning, I’m arguing, are not the fulfillment of the promises from Trump, Obama, George W. Bush or any other elected official but the increasing difficulty for the United States to shape the world, i.e. it’s position as a power player on the world stage. Ironically, Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” alludes to the fact that America is in decline, which I agree with. It’s a well known fact, even among supporters of Clinton, that the “end of the American Empire,” is approaching. Some read this as a rise of contending economic powers, some read this as a descent into immorality, I read this as a question of power to shape the world to our desired ends.  

The question then becomes what are the results of political impotency? What are the actions of people in positions of supposed power but powerless, is it corruption? What is the role of country in a world that is losing power?

Neither Clinton nor Trump could or can change the falling trajectory of the American empire. It’s at least a relative, comparative situation in which other countries are gaining power beyond our ability to control them and at most a title predicated on unsustainable arrangements of wealth and power distribution among Americans. The differentiation between Trump and Clinton is representational: Shall we go into the night with the dignity of our masks of ethics and taboos, or shall we self-immolate as a tinder of defeat? Practically speaking, whichever ideology we choose is really a question of expediency to the bottom. And since, as a country of the worst polluters on the planet, perhaps TWA-Trump in a tailspin will not only embed us in the valley floor but, through our ensured, profound and fast descent, we will actually avoid greater contribution to the other pending disaster, climate change. Is that optimistic enough?

Shame On You, Shame On Me, Shame Online

There’s a duality of shame in our Internet culture, a duality that reveals both traditional victims and traditional perpetrators. While cyberbullying targeted at girls and women’s via revenge porn approximates hate crime status, online shaming headlines parallels the usage of humiliation, only targeted at public figures, as a legitimate form of social exchange. These two contradictory forms of social justice seem to be in a battle to use Internet technologies in order to arrive at a new sort of social norms. 

The activity of sharing private information in the online public is, in itself, ethically ambiguous. That is, it can be interpreted as a cry for justice or an unfounded, digitally violent action; it’s no wonder that people who may not have a history of psychopathy become the victim–either wrongful initiator or target–of online shaming. 

What we’ve learned in the dichotomy between public and private spheres from which we have contend for a lionized collective common is that maybe it wouldn’t necessarily be that great. In the United States, where the tradition of the commons has often been mourned in comparison to a European collectivity, we see that the sheer existence of a commons isn’t the sole entity of a desired social or political voice. Collectivity, in basic quantitative terms, appeals to certain political models. In the digital commons this is complicated to equate to collective voices that a site and their community have been structured to engender. But was there ever a commons that functioned differently from another commons? Could shaming occur without collectivity? Does the size of an online community effect the impact of a shame campaign? How did shaming occur in the commons prior to the cyberscape?

Another element of online shaming is the uneven disclosure of the Real, either in content or identity. Ridicule is aimed at what someone may believe that others hold to be untrue. Implicit in the urge to correct a fact or person is that information, specifically online, should approximate truth. The Internet is neither fiction nor fiction, but the presumed unbiased voice of the documentary. This is perhaps the least troublesome of an impulse that, when applied to doxing, the disclosure of true identities, culminates in real world consequences, or at least intends to, such as physical harm or psychological discomfort. 

In both collective targeting against a user and doxing there is a recollection to early Western forms of punishment. The tarred and feathered. The stripping of honor. The pillories. These are the forms of punishment that much of society as moved away from in daily jurisprudence but aptly approach in the digital context. Is our digital weapons a reaction to failed legal structures that don’t meet our sense of justice, or are we just clumsy with the lack of responsibility that we have online?

Politicking shame and humiliation have been popular tools of journalists, politicians and citizens. Mobilizing scandals have been our society’s version of assassinating the emperor (that’s a metaphor that makes one wonder whether Roman emperors were immune to scandals, whether scandals were allowed and if not, why they are allowed, even necessitated today). And when a public figure in a position of power isn’t swayed by directed scandal we think of them as immune to populous, or agents of impunity, even if the scandal isn’t necessarily illegal. 

While political muckraking aims to destabilize an individual or party’s power, shaming aims to encourage normality and conformity. Again, the norms to which the humiliated are expected to adapt are contingent on the community in which the humiliation is occurring. 

While humiliation isn’t isolated to humor online, I’m surprised how much comedy is based on humiliation, that is how often we’re encouraged to laugh at someone rather than with someone. I’ve long enjoyed the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, but both are primarily based on humiliation tactics. Ironically, Trevor Noah was himself a target of shaming for tweets in the transition period following John Stewart, even though they predated his move to Comedy Central. Juxtaposed with Stewart’s equally unpopular replacement of Craig Kilborn, I wonder how much shaming has grown in the last two decades. Last Week Tonight’s entire format can be described as such: a selected topic is presented as an exposé; individual people or corporations are named, juvenile comedic tangents and simile’s are sprinkled between otherwise heavy points and the show closes a political call for action. The humor between the lines is that a show that isn’t really journalism expects to 1) convince their audience who knows it’s not real new that this issue is important so that/and 2) the audience will dedicate time and energy to take up that call for action, at least before the next week’s episode. Both the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight are more reminiscent of proto-propaganda than actual news agencies that adapted the technique more than a century ago. 

How humiliation and shaming integrates into the topics of news, politics and sociality is the divisive outcome in audience formatted media. While critiquing someone or some idea may be motivated to assert truth over falsehood, when aimed at individual and/or identities, the effect is alienation of that individual or perspective from an audience. These mediated critiques are not neighborhood interventions. No one being ostracized is staying tuned in. And they don’ have to. Ridicule isolates; dialogue congregates. If we apply this rational to broadcast news networks and media outlets specifically, too often we see single-sided interpretations of information rather than dialogue and comparison. The minority programs that represent more than one social or political perspective are deemed “centered” or “moderate” in the political sense, even if the guests are talking passed each other and not with each other. As a format, broadcast news and relating of world events has a history of oppositional positioning: Democracy Now in response to Fox News; Brietbart in response to Al Jazeera. MSNBC in response to Crossfire. Not that any of these really grew directly in reponse to the other, necessarily. These misleading origin stories are less important than the near categorical opposites these entities occupy. 

The result of polarized media outlets is a homogeneous audience; an effect that in the social media context has already been concerning to socialists who found that users tend to connect with like-opinioned users, indifferent to their familial or real-world social networks.

Day 13 Privacy, An Overlap of 3 of the 4 Political Parties

The right to privacy is usually portrayed as a freedom from the intrusion of the government and private parties into personal affairs. It’s worth noting how dominant political parties apply this right, defend it in certain contexts and deface it in others. As a political position, privacy seems to be the mainstay of the libertarian stance on government, if not the the entire formula for the raison d’être. And when we’re thinking about political distinctions, often poles come to mind; we conceive of a line, a range or spectrum by degrees of separation between nodes or points. In this diagram libertarians would be be a point against which the Democratic party’s goal toward governmental regulation of the economy as well as a contrary pole the Republican party’s regulation on individual identity and civil rights, as they pertain to the interpretation of Judeo-Christian ethics alleged to be universalized. Yet strangely, the point of privacy is unifying right to all parties, as well as an abandoned necessity by Republicans and Democrats in the context of surveillance. I expect if there were a larger libertarian representation in the U.S. government, that is they were actually held accountable in contending toward a majority count, they too would appeal to surveillance over privacy at least in times when the question of security is flaunted about. 

During the campaigns, the notion of privacy was inconspicuously absent, even in the rhetoric of computers being hacked, emails being lost/eliminated and tapes getting leaked. Why wasn’t this on the debate floor? Between the candidates, there was no difference in their stance and this may be due to singular vision that from a governing perspective today, privacy is seen through the lens of surveillance and security. That is, the governing body of elected officials have an imposition by their constituents to suppress a terrorist threat and they believe that invasion of privacy is the best way to do it.  

Yet, from this perspective of surveillance, the affront to privacy is it is the hyperbole that one doesn’t have anything to hide it isn’t a necessity. This is the ideology subscribed to by Republicans and Democrats. But this contempt for the right privacy elucidates the true function of the common decree: to inhibit the growth the government into a hypothetical new realm, a private place–a space voluminous or psychological, spiritual or biological–to allow the person, the individual, and personal affairs to lead the curious excursion into this unknown realm. Privacy itself is such an ambiguous term, and deliberately so. Rather than being defined, it’s boundaries get determined by the negation of other things more quickly described, e.g business, speech or property. At a time when new ideas, technologies and possibilities are constantly being introduced, this puts an enormous strain on the 14th Amendment. That is, that governmental control should not precede the experiments of the citizen, that governance frames and portrays the uncharted territory in a binary of legal and illegal, more easily prohibiting by law than liberating through right by nature of legal language’s specificity over its unintended ambiguity. 

What’s curious from a populous perspective is there is no unified privacy movement nor is there a unified anti-surveillance or pro-surveillance platform, in spite of its appeal to both Republicans, Libertarians, and Democrats. There are times when the public discourse gets back to that in the U.S.–the NSA scandal (which was well known in the hacker community even as early as the mid-1995s due to the two keys to every Windows OS; one was even called the “NSA Key”), or when Apple refused to help LA police de-encrypt the phone of the couple that shot up their workplace, but it foments from an interdepartmental exchange, rather than a cross-party supporting outcry. In these heated moments everyone thinks and talk about it, they sort of agree that there’s a horrible invasion of privacy, a movie comes out about it, but everyone just goes on using Google or acting in good faith that there isn’t an enormous plot going on. There is no solidarity or collective demand to reposition the party lines or even a leadership that rises up from the support of these citizens against an invading government. 

In the context of most pressing topics of voters, “security” doesn’t get close to the top of the list though if ‘privacy,’ a pertinent component of security were even poled, it maybe one of the few that citizens across the spectrum agree on, as it pertains to their own governance. Instead, ‘terrorism,’ is distinguished from security, which portends an offensive/defensive distinction, as in ‘our security against their terrorism.’ Terrorism is unique compared to the other issues because it is one of the non-economic category that isn’t predetermined by party. (Arguably, terrorism’s cause maybe economically related)

Going down the list (with stereotypical, cursory accusations):

Dissatisfaction with Gov’t: Everyone, but while Democrats are dissatisfied but their solution is to elect a new person but the Republican/Tea party say getting rid of gov’t is the sole solution.

Race relations/Racism. The Democratic party has been the advocate of racial minorities since the Civil Rights movement.

Immigration. Both talk about reform, there Republicans usually defer to ‘Keep the Mexicans Out’ Rhetoric while Democratic areas rely on immigration for economic development. 

Election Reform. Democrats have been supporting the National Popular Vote movement to reform the electoral college, Republicans oppose. Republicans create obstacles for voters while saying Democrats have dead people voting. 

(National Security & Terrorism appear here in 4th and 5th place.)

Healthcare. Republicans like private healthcare, Democrats gave us pseudo-public. 

Ethics/Moral/Religious Decline. Republicans espouse this, Democrats want to put it in the context of civil rights. 

Crimes/Violence. Republicans use this platform for incarceration, Democrats to earmark social services budgets

Aid/Foreign Overseas. Democrats claim for diplomacy, while both parties support wars

Education. Republicans: more competition, Democrats education for all, in the end higher student loans for graduates and parents saying the education stinks

Lack of respect for each other. This should be more discussed

Unifying the country. Both sides use this to insult the other side for being too partisan.

Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness. An issue that will never be an issue, which is strange considering you’d think it’s related to the most important issue, “The Economy.”

Below this poll is an interesting summary by Gallop. It’s a confidence vote in either the Republican, Democratic, or Neither party, compiled since 1954. What’s strange is that since about 1991, while Americans waiver between which party is worse or better, never does “Same/Other/No Opinion” surpass the two parties. This would suggest that, while confidence is low, one of the two main parties is a possible solution. A pessimistic reading of this table is that at no time does either party surpass 49%. Again, since much of the Republican platform is about reducing governmental influence on society (sans civil rights), it could be interpreted that support for the Republican party is support against any government. 

The hurtle for the privacy as a platform is the absence of discussing why and how national security and terrorism, two popular concerns, intersect the suspension of our constitutional right. Of course this would require some thoughtful, human interpretation of terrorism and even reversing the dehumanization of persons deemed as terrorists. Ideologically, this may be the greatest obstacle of the Department of Defense because its support is largely garnered from the hyperbolic assumption that America and American interests are ‘good,’ that is right, ethical, ordained by God. Could an appeal to unconstitutional activity by the government on its own citizens override those civic beliefs that U.S. military actions are ethical?

Abraham Miller’s Terrorism and Hostage Negotiations (Westview, 1980) frames terrorism as a diminished guerilla struggle that failed to gain political power and instead attacks soft targets for symbolic victories in a war that can’t be won. How different this is from the criminal or psychotic accusation by the Defense Department and media. Yet by considering terrorists as liberation fighters without a sufficient mass, an idealistic avenue opens up for diplomatic negotiations. 

The U.S. government’s stance against negotiation with terrorists is rooted in the worry that to negotiate is to encourage violent protest motivated to commence negotiations. What’s contradictory to this perspective is we see that, even with this non-negotiation stance there is violent protest. The counterargument, the presumption that to commence negotiating with violent protesters would cultivate more violent protesters is contradictory to the belief by the Defense Department’s usage of surveillance, namely that, while the invasion of privacy in unconstitutional, can be effective by focusing it on certain demographics that are prejudiced to be prone to violent protest. That is, if surveillance is so effective against terrorism, why is there a need to maintain a non-negotiation stance? The counterargument would now be synonymous with what’s at stake if negotiations with violent protesters were policy: Would this demographic shift, decrease, increase, make surveillance unnecessary, more necessary? Would other constitutional rights necessarily be suspended, or would at least one, the currently trespassed, constitutional rights be restored? And what if changing the negotiation stance were not what was changed, but something else was changed, something that was politically at odds with the current violent protesters, the motivation for their discontent? Would that be effectively solving the problem without negotiation?

Day 12 Failed Logic of the Rust Belt Critique of Politics

Michael Moore explained and justified Michiganders not voting for Clinton or any Presidential candidate.  His perspective focused on the condition of the working class, is echoed by Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell who’s stated Clinton’s campaign missed the clues of Trump’s victory. In short they both present an everyman working Joe who is just scraping by and trying to survive but the government doesn’t work for them.  They are probably right.  However,  the explanation doesn’t do much in defense of the intelligence of their decision or the logic of pursuing that line of reasoning in the long run. Not only because it is just the Rust Belt Michiganders that aren’t getting by with their low-paying jobs, New Yorkers that overwhelming supported Clinton also are overworked and underpaid, as the New York Times articles has covered. I’m more concerned with outcome of the the anti-elitist attitude that permeates much of Republican American, and implicitly Mr. Moore’s beleaguered Michigander voters.  

Here’s the hypothetical thought process with a mythical, satisfying government:

Joe: Life’s hard and my government isn’t helping the condition.  

Gov: What would you like?

Joe: A good paying job so I can support my family.

Gov: Done.  I just pulled some strings now you make ten times what you did before.  What else?

Joe: I want out of debt,  pay off the house and credit cards.

Gov: Understood.  We just bailed you out, like we did for the banks. Anything else?

Joe: I want my kids to go to a good college and have a future in this country.

Gov: I totally understand. It’s no problem, I just called someone.  Your kid is now in University of Michigan.  It’s a great school.

Joe: And their debt?

Gov: Yes,  well,  at this point in order to be competitive in the marketplace, potentially earn enough to pay off their debt and maybe buy a house,  your kid will probably have to do graduate studies.  Would you like that?

Joe: OK. Which is the best?

Gov: Ivy League in most cases but not necessarily.  Depending on the focus.

Joe: OK.  

Gov: Great. Anything else?

Joe: Well, you’ve done so much already, how can I ask for anything else.

Gov: That’s what we’re here for. Wait, one last thing. Your kid just told us he’s studying political science and plans to run for office in a few years. Do you plan on voting for your kid?

Joe: Absolutely not, he sounds like an elitist.

Another analogy is simply in working class America.  Let’s say you are a mechanic.  A guy opens shop next to you who has never touched a car.  A car pulls up and it’s driver says it needs its oil change.  Which is the better bet, you the mechanic,  who knows the cars inside and out,  whom to order oil from, has relationships with other mechanics or the guy who has no contacts and no experience?

Implicit in libertarian leaning Republicans is the suspicion that government work isn’t a skilled job.  Well as elected positions are largely the law making arm of government, they are lawyers who know how to write,  read and interpret laws.  So it’s  a skill.  

The misconception of these broadly applied terms like “elitist” is that they assume the person’s origins are equally elitist, which undermines any governmental effort to create social mobility. Another way of putting it is those who have not are obstructing those who have worked. As you can see it’s a counter productive stance, and at the same time a hallmark of American suspicion of government. 

Day 11 Goodnews: Yes, He’s Racist; Badnews: You Are Probably Racist Also

The polarizing topic of racism has surpassed race. It existed before and after the presidential race, but it also has permeated supporters on either side. That is, even people who are targets of racist policies are supporting these policies. And in the the ever more dividing America, the claim that someone is or isn’t racist, whether coming from an antagonist or defensive point of view, makes an the opposite inverse true: people who are fighting against racism are also, statistically speaking, racist. Conclusion: if both those who support accusatively racist political representatives and those opposing them are racist, you’re going to have racism.

Here are some examples. First, there’s the very cursory but entertaining episode of the Last Week Tonight about school segregation. If you haven’ watched it, enjoy it, because in an upcoming post I’m going to critique the air and attitude of the show in general, so get it while it lasts. The point of the episode is contrary to popular (Westcoast/New England) belief, the Southern U.S. schools are less segregated than the socially liberal New York City system. LWT claims that New York is actually the most segregated school system. If you consider the trends of private schools, charter school, good public schools and not as good, it’s actually very easy to palate.

Then there’s a more nuanced and expansive study by the Pew Foundation that focuses on where people live. When looking at these tables, it’s important to really think about what the segregation entails. What is segregation? How would you define it? For the Pew study, they define it as “share of low-income households residing in a majority low-income census tract,” or upper-income in upper-income tract, meaning people who make a similar amount of money as their neighbors. So not necessarily pertaining to race, but because of some statistically correlating truths, they are basically saying, “X race(s) makes X amount of money and lives near X race(s), while Y race(s) make Y amount of money and live near Y race(s).” As the title states, the trend of living near people who make the same amount of money as you is increasing. More interestingly,– and this relates back to race– there’s a correlation with immigration; cities with greater income-segregation have a greater immigrant population. I expect this corresponds over seas, as the Guardian writes their eye-grabbing headline:World’s Most Segregated Cities. In conjunction with this study that found poor whites tend to live in more expensive neighborhoods than middle-class blacks and Latinos, one wonders what the motivation to break from that trend might be. There are two sides of this last report: one, poor white are afraid of living in poorer, (black, Latino, immigrant) communities, which is motivated by racism and/or middle-class black prefer to live in poorer (black, Latino, immigrant) communities because of a non-classist preference, rational cost of living, absence of stigma in their social sphere. Just a note, in the Guardian’s article, Madrid won as the most segregated city for a very boring explanation: a shortage of affordable housing, which brings me to my third and personal point: The Bronx.

Prior to the election, my partner and I would regularly discuss the reaction to people when we answered one of the trilogy introduction questions of New York: Where do you live. (”What do you do?”, and “Where are you from?” are the other pins that attempt to triangulate you value, trajectory, interests, et al. in this city social web.) The reactions were nearly consistent. Disbelief and confusion. So many people–white, black, Latinx–can’t believe we live in the Bronx because of all the mythology about the place, or, actually let’s just call it what it is: prejudice. In both directions. Prejudice about the place and prejudice about people, prejudice about us. Many recent-arrivals to New York, many visitors, many first generation inhabitants have never visited the Bronx. And Bronxites are sort of used to this norm. The majority of those who have come to the one borough connected to North America, from our walks of life, disclaim their visit with a memorable Yankees game, the New York Botanical Garden, or an exhibition at the Bronx Museum of Art. That is, rarely is it to ‘visit a friend’ or ‘go to a club.’ In contrast, the neighbors that I’ve befriended, crossed paths or shared gym equipment, have lived in the Bronx for decades.  

I’ve lived in four of the five boroughs and honestly, in every other apartment in the other boroughs over the last decade, all those rooms, shares and sublets, all those contracts and leases, they have all felt like a legal formality before being jumped in an empty parking lot, beaten and waking up to find your driver’s license left in your otherwise empty wallet. The Bronx was, when I moved in three years ago, a breath of fresh air. It was affordable, quiet, clean, unpretentious, human and humane and loaded with amazing architectural spaces that have for the most part maintained their original floor plans by virtue of being overlooked. My point is that the rationale, the explanations, the excuses and attractions I’ve heard for living in other neighborhoods where many of my contemporaries of age and industry live are hodgepodge, ad hoc at best and most easily and elegantly explained as racist. And I don’t mean a blatant spoken racism, but an indirect, subtle, racism. It’s not the fancy Trump at podium racism. It’s concerned about saving face. It’s a defensive state of mind. It’s a preservation of the status quo, a status quo that is racist. It’s useful to go into specifics here, because there are functional elements to this indirect discrimination that are educational. Let’s start with Brooklyn.

If you’re an educated, mid-twenties to early-thirties coming to the city, you enjoy some activity, but also plan to spend a few hours inside your apartment before work and at the end of the day, it’s likely Brooklyn will be your borough of choice. I’m supposing that you’re coming with the idea of developing some hypothetical career and social life. But when the name of ‘Brooklyn’ is brought up in this demographic, we’re really talking about a handful of neighborhoods–Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick Bedstuy, Redhook, Crown Heights maybe maybe Cobble Hill if you are moving with a partner who also earns a decent salary and perhaps even Carrol Gardens if working from home is an option.

Here are all the neighborhoods you probably wouldn’t move into:

Flatbush
Weeksville
Ditmas Park
Bath Beach
Bay Ridge
Bensonhurst
Borough Park
Dyker Heights
Mapleton
New Utrecht
Barren Island
Bergen Beach
Coney Island
Flatlands
Gerritsen Beach
Gravesend
Homecrest
Marine Park
Mill Basin
Plumb Beach
Brownsville
Canarsie
East New York and its five mini-neighborhoods
Highland Park

The point isn’t that you wouldn’t move there because blacks or Latinxs might live there (there are other communities like Russians), the point is these places aren’t even on your map. They aren’t there because the places that make it to your map are put on your map by word of mouth, social media, hearsay in your circle, TV, movies, et al., until you meet someone like me who has deliberately chosen to not live there. What’s implicit here is that most of us talk on a regular basis with people of our own socioeconomic status. Ok, so you’re living in a shithole in Brooklyn, you’re paying $800/month for a room that fits a full-size mattress, two dressers, a desk and some shoes. Maybe it’s been renovated inside the apt., but the common area, like stairs are a mess. Maybe just the door doesn’t have a buzzer. Why are you living there?

The clues come in metrics. In the Bronx the same rent gets you a room twice the size, more windows, an elevator, maybe a doorman, roach free and good transportation. But the clear metrics of cost per square foot and domicile features quickly slides into another explanation as to why you love your apartment. Your neighborhood. “The Energy” (translation, young people I identify with who are go-getters, unpaid interns, get parental financial support and aren’t afraid of using the word “hashtag” in a sentence); “Services” (restaurants, bars, entertainment. True, the Bronx doesn’t compare with Brooklyn. But honestly, do you need five on a block? Isn’t two within walking drunk distance enough); “Hip” (translation, socially mobile young people of white or Asian descent); “Infrastructure” (subways, roads, hospitals, clinics, grocery stores. Actually, parts of the Bronx offer more infrastructure than most parts of Brooklyn). In short, choice of living is not only the apartment, but how you as a person interface with the public sphere and the people in that public sphere.

If you live in Brooklyn, you’re probably beginning to think this tirade is inaccurate, or slanted, or that your choosing to pay more for a worse apartment in your neighborhood of choice than you’d find in a poorer neighborhood doesn’t make you racist. And there’s likely very little proof I can provide to show that your actions, rational may not be directly discriminatory but in fact perpetuate city segregation. Trump supporters would similarly defend their identity as not being a racist or perpetuating racism. Similarly, it’s unlikely we can convince them that by their overlooking racist, misogynistic rhetoric vomiting from the mouth of their candidate but instead focusing on whatever preferred narrative of economic progress they choose they are indirectly perpetuating a racist country. 

But here’s the clencher to bring this back to actions and decisions that affirm the status quo. The reason why Madrid is found to be so segregated is actually the opposite in New York. That is, there isn’t an affordable housing shortage for most employed individuals in New York City, in spire of all the talk; there is an affordable housing shortage in areas of the city that those people want to live in. In 2016, you can still rent a studio apartment in four of the five boroughs for under $1,000. You’re just going to be spending time on the subway and/or walking to the station. But commuting to Manhattan isn’t the sole reason people choose to live in these areas; nor are simple calculation that are comparable to other cities; instead the flock of variables afford those who can choose to live where they want, appear as ad hoc explanations for arguably irrational decisions. The result is, in part to an income-based segregation plan that follows racial lines.

I began this treatise on the topic of the presidential race and here’s how it connects. I keep hearing people say, “The country you live in today isn’t so different from the one you lived in before Trump got elected.” There are two interpretations to this statement. The inspiring version is, “Your neighbors haven’t betrayed you, there is still solidarity, still good people.” But the other version is wrapped up in the dream that if Trump didn’t win, everything would continue to be hunky dory. Well, it wasn’t. We still live in the same country as before Trumpaggedon, a country where police murders of unarmed black people was addressed not be holding these police accountable but debating the expected value of body cams, a country where blatant Islamaphobia is perpetrated by Christian extremists while educated liberals fight to protect rights of Muslims, separation of church and state, but wouldn’t live in the Muslim immigrant neighborhood.

The dubious question for the American Left, and I’m assuming Clinton supporters are lefties, is how can we, those willing and persuaded by reason, become less racist, tear down racist our own racist norms and not falsely presume that just because we fight against overt, vocalized racism doesn’t mean that we live, work and depend on a racist configurations. The affront to politics in the Trump campaign was being vocal, impolite and politically incorrect. If the battle is about maintaining face with the assumption that if people don’t say things, they can’t think it or incite others to believe the same, we’re fighting a battle of imposed silence where persuasion is as symbolic as the mute arguments we’re suppressing. This isn’t a critique of political correctness or a drive to retake what’s acceptable to say in a political campaign. It’s an appeal to use this moment to learn from our opposition, to begin dialogue when anything can be said and to reconstruct deliberately.

On the bright side, it should be noted that, with the exception of the KKK, it seems that being called a racist is an offending insult to either political pole. We haven’t entered an era without racism, but we have entered an era where it’s not acceptable to be one (unless you’re a demagogue). That’s some sort of progress. But we have always known that we weren’t fighting words or labels, but the dark, unseen, unheard, elusive immaterial mechanisms that carry on in the undercurrents. By accepting we all perpetuate these injustices by proxy is the first step to disavowing their power. With this echoes of a leader who with whom we may not agree, I hope we can transform the sound waves of his amplified anger into waves of change.

Day 10 COP 22, Trump Organization

I’ve been watching Democracy Now’s coverage of the Conference of Partners in Morocco. Every topic seems to hover in regard to Trump, particularly the climate. And there’s a sense that the Paris agreement made between 195 nations, supported by President Obama will be legally binding during the Trump administration. In spite of climate change denier Myron Ebell being part of the transition team to appoint an EPA administrator who will replace Obama’s third appointee, Gina McCarthy. McCarthy followed a heated chapter in which Obama’s initial appointee, Lisa Perez Jackson, resigned due to Obama’s support for the Keystone pipeline. Her statements about fracking have been used by the media to support the practice. She was criticized by her support for BP’s Corexit method of dealing with the Deep Horizon oil spill. It wasn’t a good eight years for the environment, although the Paris accord did get signed. 

From what’s been discussed with officials and representatives at COP 22, Trump can’t legally pull out of the agreement, but he can be a deadweight. Should this be his approach, we can only hope that his actions will impact his business in those countries (existing or planning in Canada, Panama, India, Germany, among others). 

We can only hope that, like most of his promises, Trump won’t actually follow through with his plans to revitalize the coal industry and dirty energy. One of the highlights of COP 22 has been China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, pointing out that China had not invented the idea, but that it started during the Reagan/Bush senior Republican administration. The Washington Post found this memorandum dated February 9, 1989 that lays out the concern for climate change’s impact on the environment, health and natural resources. Thanks  G.H. Bush. 

When Leonardo di Caprio was appointed UN Messenger of Peace, I wonder if they already has his role in the National Geographic documentary, Before the Flood, in mind. The most riveting, attempt at inspiration in the film is his visit to President Obama, who frankly states that people will make the rational decision to curb climate change once they have to start fight for resources. I wonder how many conflicts and civil discontents have already been caused by climate change. There’s a contentious theory that the Syrian civil war was linked to an unusually bad drought. The immigrant crisis of Europe follows, and the rebirth of fascist politics there and in the U.S. Currently, we think of climate change in regard to a static, human-friendly ecosystem that has been influenced by form of pollution, waste, and activity–mostly rooted in one way or another to industrialized production. Would a more expansive view put not only the direct conflict caused by quantified climate change include, say, Japan’s invasion into China in World War II along that continuum. That is, rather than viewing just the impact of production, like factories and products, like cars, and the byproduct of greenhouse gases on the environment, include also the era in which acquisition of raw materials was a sort of exotic foreplay to climate change. The narrative that is being undermined (and it is a narrative because what else other than an abridged story can encompass the irrational actions of war) is the ethnographic, economic or patriotic explanation for state-conflict. 

Day 9: Zuckertrump, WHCA, Breitbart

The message is clear and two fold: Prez-elect Trump is concerned about media and keeps his friends closer than his enemies. And by “concerned” I mean media is on his mind, more than it keeps him up at night. It’s a priority of his, as well as a tool. Brush up on Society of Spectacle in preparation for the next four years. 

During that hilarious exchange between John Stewart and Trump, I couldn’t help imagining the bankrupt billionaire swaddled in 4,000 thread-count gold bed sheets that match his comb over, squinting at an iPhone screen, trying to eek out a tweet that summarized both his confusion and late night spite in thecomedian’s 140-character chosen battle ground. 

Throughout his campaign, it’s hard to explain the numerous fuck ups and rescinds of tweets coming from a professional, hired staff member, someone who 1) knows how to convey ideas across the social media sphere, 2) has any concern for public reception (PR?) and/or 3) has his/her job in mind, based on the potential subsequent fallout. That is, I think the official Twitter account is accessed, at least in part, by the incoming commander in chief. What a pleasure and danger this is!

The White House Correspondence Association is irked that Prez-elect isn’t allowing the usual press to accompany his travels.  And, on a personal level, you can imagine Trump is probably tired of the mainstream media attacks that have been trying to undo their own work in the last six months. The mainstream media (hereafter ‘Dr. Frankenstein’) aren’t even allowed to see an unexperienced politician try to make a transition team! I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. But Dr. Frankenstein needs the viewers. Dr. Frankenstein wants to set things straight. That’s the carrot that leads Dr. Frankenstein, keeps him up at night in his laboratory, lit by lightning flashes, well rested from his extended holidays while he just ran entire speeches of the demagogue over broadcast TV. Meanwhile, in hate forums of Brietbart, alt-right–so far right not even Glenn Beck will go there–those offscreen, middle America, basement dwelling support groups have their leader exalted to a plush seat at the table. (Bannon & Beck have a poor history of vying for the diminishing pool of invigorated, working-class live at homes. And if we can learn anything from the Yemeni civil war, it would be send Cruz and Beck in to fight Trump and Bannon.)

Stephen Bannon is at least as adventurous a media hate monger as Trump. Both white stallions ready to be put out to pasture, they’ve come back to the online world of 20 somethings who grew up on this and should know it like the back of their hands. They should know the aesthetics of logic and credibility. The fight is underway, with Breitbart, social media, Trump and Bannon and it looks like a fifth-installment of The Expendables where also gets a cash prize. That is, America is aging and it isn’t graceful, but social media may be aging more quickly.

This week Facebook’s CEO rebuts claims that he/they intentionally suppressed fake news from conservative accounts, particularly regarding Clinton. It’s fun to watch the wording here, because everyone–journalists, pundits, Facebook–are all trying not to say, “Yes, we know that there was tons of misinformation on Facebook and disproportionately about Clinton because who would believe this trash other than Trump supporters? Who would tout this crap? How could this be expected?” Point to Breitbart. Twitter is also coming under attack for the increase in hate speech from users, some of which is just illegal. They haven’t banned Bannon, yet. It’s equally funny/not funny that social media, which isn’t held to journalistic ethics, is being pressured to keep the facts straight, to abide, while actual news sources have been pretty much accepted as nodes of misinformation, blatant lies, intentional manipulation or rewording and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. What’s worse is that the media itself is/has been manipulated by the likes of “Groucho Marx Democracy.”

Following the election, news media and social networks exploded, not literally, unfortunately. Everyone wanted first to figure out WTF happened and how to deal with grief and/of/or flaunt their moment of unexpected victory. And there was and still is tons of misinformation circulating on social media. Many Clinton supporters are re-posting articles that are years old, but with headlines that still, somehow, are relevant, inspiring or conspiranoical. Yes, history repeats itself, but hopefully not that quickly. God, we have to live through this, right? If I see Jr. elected I’m going to fucking snap. I mean, what if Trump’s victory day was repeated like “Groundhog’s Day?” #dayMare #BillMurray2020 

In my own outdated media drawls, I stumbled into a video by Zizek where he makes an interesting point in the last ten minutes about politics becoming depoliticized. He’s talking about Berlusconi and how candidates are being measured on apolitical grounds, “empty spectacles.” What better description for Trump’s entire campaign than this? The purpose is to create smokes screens that facilitate a military authoritarianism not abroad, but within the country. Trump’s first day in office, and most viable promise, is the deportation of illegal immigrants beginning with those with a criminal history. This is less distinct from Obama’s deportation tactics (Obama holding record of most deportations of any President), but only through the vocal platform that intends to instill fear in those living here and conjure hatred in those supporters. 

Aaron David Miller’s explanation as to the end of great presidents nears Zizek’s conclusion of the depoliticization of politics, only in focusing on the criteria by which we weigh candidates. Rather than looking at policy and experience, we’re faced with making a decision on Presidents compared to non-presidents, like rock stars, actors or billionaires. This becomes a recipe for cults of personality, which goes back to Day 4′s post regarding a better form of democracy. Why are we electing one person who basically gives speeches and flies around the world posing for handshaking photos, but then appoints a huge number of members of his candidates whom we have little knowledge of in advance and no say in their politics to lay out law in this country?

Day 8 Conflict of Interest: The Plot Thickens, Edward Snowden, Divisions of Division

Donald Trump Jr. (hereafter ‘Jr.’ for short) boldly and firmly stated that there would be no conflict of interest between this father’s presidency and Trump International. I’ll take his word on it and move onto the next conflict of interest: Putin’s Russia and Edward Snowden. 

You’ve got an axis (let’s refer to the WWII terminology here) that created a haven for dissidents based on the relation between two cults of personality–Obama and Putin–and now that axis is suspended. Where will the resistance go? Venezuela? Sweden? Then you’ve got Giuliani, a hard ball authoritarian who believes the best way to solve an issue is get a bigger hammer. He’s a likely candidate for Secretary of State, and already part of the transition team, meaning ‘tough’ will be interchangeable borderline unconstitutional in terms of approaches to security. He’s got his own conflict of interest since he’s overseen foreign governments projects in Qatar, Canada and Iran. You’ve still got Dakota Access Pipeline police who are trolling Facebook event attendees trying to determine how to implement an Orwellian reality on the central plains. Let’s just put the historical human injustice treatment to the side for a moment. Meanwhile, Wikileaks allegedly hacked the DNC emails and, in tandem with the FBI arguably leaned the final days toward a demagogue. #TechPrivacy, #pyrotechnics, #homelandPirates. It gets worse.

This is a recipe for a best seller. Here are the main characters, entrenched in their own love triangle / conflict of interest: Will Putin hand over Snowden to Trump’s government who, based on the authoritarian nature of the future secretary of state and the switch of social media from enterprising protest to surveillance ? And what part did Wikileaks play into an ever-surveilling government’s hand? This Business Insider article July 2016 follows the Twitter exchange between Snowden and prior collaborators Wikileaks, moderated by the American Left’s conscience-meter, Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald essentially takes the stance that, while digital critique of power is important, there is too much at stake in the 2016 Presidential Elections. And it’s an important point to take because, although this is basically irrelevant given the reality that’s unfolding, as a Sanders supporter, Greenwald indicates that between Trump and Clinton, of course Clinton is the obvious choice. 

Snowden maybe the closest thing to a hero this generation is going to get. He lived a life in front of a screen like so many frustrated young people who regularly hear from the hippy generation that political protest can’t happen behind a laptop. He’s a regular at cultural events–SXSW and even takes place in debates via VOiP. A small minority of Reagan-esque Republican youngsters may view him as a traitor, but the fact that his actions were not motivated by personal profit of any kind, more view him as an important whistleblower. 

But what’s really coming to light is a division within a division of hacker community. We thought of those spotlight critics of power–Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Anonymous, Wikileaks, Julian Assange–as a joint front that against the hegemony of the U.S. at home and abroad. Not only did we want this picture, we needed this picture. Culture producers responded by giving us Mr. Robot. But the picture of tech-resistance was really a blind omission of the tech and war technology more generally. There are the XIT schools (Rochester, Mass) that turn out potential military technology, but there are even more defense contractors who are the major counter-resistance-tech industry. So there’s not only the dramatic division with the division of conscientious objectors, but before we even get to that point, we have to concede the scale is already tilted way away. 

The hacktivist division is similar to the division in the general American populist. It’s obvious now that there is a division, but that the divided are more polarized and themselves divided. According to the Pew Foundation the majority of each party’s members are further from their own party’s median. The fight for governmental influence from either ideological perspective is an aim to drive whatever ‘the center’ is nearer to toward one’s own political pole, but likely to a dissatisfying extent. 

Reminiscent of the civil rights movement–which the American left identifies as continuing in this year’s election–our divided country is broadcast around the world. What are American ideals? Mary Dudziak makes a compelling case that the motivation by the federal government during the civil rights protests was catalyzed not by an ethical compass but by the desire to maintain an image of the U.S. abroad, one that publicized protest brought under fire, particularly Russia. Sound familiar? Only at that time, both countries were debating what was the more humane social–capitalism or communism. Today, that debate has ended (paraphrasing Zizek in “Living In The End Times,” the total collapse of the world’s ecosystem is more likely than the collapse of capitalism), and we must ask what debate is occurring in its place? There are humane, rational leaders, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, but there are also democratically elected criminals against humanity, like the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. The debate then is not which is the more humane, but simply which is legal.

Day 7 Why Education Can’t Help America’s Racism by Itself

I’m an advocate for education. I love learning. I tend to fraternize with the well-educated. I like clever jokes. But counting on a free education as a tool to end America’s issues of racism, bigotry and hate isn’t a failsafe bet. Here’s why:

First, and most convincingly, there are many countries with free or affordable education and still have racism, xenophobia and extremist beliefs. Look at Denmark, Austria, Japan, even Belgian. They all have significant political and social parties that are essentially racist or xenophobic by American standards. Education is very good there and bigotry still persists. 

Second, ever meet a well-educated racist American? I have. It’s horrifying. All those packaged rebuttals you learn in Philosophy 101 don’t really work. And just calling them ‘idiots’ also doesn’t work. The fact is there is lots of literature that can either be interpreted as or simply is racist, or at least perpetuating racism.  

Third, racism, while correlating to IQ may be true, IQ does not correlate to education. Sorry. You can’t un-educate biology, psychology, development disorders or whatever matter that is that composes and/or influences intelligence. Unfortunately, even neurologist, philosophers of the mind and computer scientist who are pursuing the question of “what is intelligence,” or “what is the mind,” haven’t come to a consensus. What’s left at this point is the racism is learned, handed down like old sneakers from one generation to another to trod up and down Main Street in, hollering hate statements. What’s more is in the context of machine learning / AI realities we don’t know if racism would stopped or diminished; so far there is a greater concern that the entire human race would just be annihilated. Let’s wait and see. 

How education may be useful is toward re-skilling individuals. Many Trump supporters voted on his promise to bring back jobs. What Trump is really claiming is he’ll bring back jobs that were outsourced to cheaper labored countries, jobs that require little or no skill. (Trump delivering this promise is essentially impossible. Either by adding a tariff on overseas-produced goods, which would just pass that cost on to the consumer by increasing the cost of any product that doesn’t have internally-located competitor’s product [which is most unskilled labor products] or unskilled laborers in the U.S. would have to work at globally competitive rates…like $3/day.) But if these disenchanted Trump supporters were given training in skilled jobs that pay better, would they be satisfied? Does education equate to training? For those that hate education and learning, would training–like the trade schools that already exist–be sufficient. But who or what is going to keep those skills up? The employee? The company? The government? 

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development focuses on comparative literacies–reading, numeracy and problem solving. Presumably, these are the foundations for creating skilled workers, individuals who will be flexible and adapt to a changing world and economy. But again, you’ll see that at least 9 of the 10 most literate countries in any category still have a significant extremist party. Hatred isn’t solved.

But there’s a great talk between Paul Krugman and George Soros in 1997 that hints at today’s problem. Krugman’s stance, like many economists, defends globalization as a positive force that has brought much of the world out of starvation and poverty. Soros’ point is that the result of globalization is the failure for governments to properly support and control the population. While Krugman’s point continues to be popular today, Brexit and Trumpocalypse are bringing Soros’ point home in a hard way. That is, the ethical Trump supporter could be communicating that globalization isn’t working for them. This isn’t so far from the explanations by Michael Moore as to why Michiganders didn’t vote for Hillary. I’ll take up the danger of pandering to the white working class concern for getting a voice heard as it correlates to their political aspirations and aversions in the next post. 

 In the defense of a free or affordable education a benefit would be that could de-financialize education. Financializiation, e.g. rather than Wall Street investing in products, everything is just turned into a financial tool, including student debt–would have no home in the education sector. This article in American Kimchi does a good job of explaining the attraction to Sanders and Trump in regard to financialization; perhaps supporters of both will see that neither is really the solution. In the case of education, Sanders could have removed at least one variable: the financialization of students, which Clinton’s later campaign framed as the banks turning young people into debt capital. A parallel I immediately see between Sander’s version of saving society is that of Greece’s Tsipras. On a left of center or socially-radical platform, could these overhauls actually be made? In the case of Greece, they folded when the numbers from the EU Central bank came in. What’s strange is countries without a strong financial market (or a more regulated one) are able to educate more of their population, which was one of the motivations of de-regulating student loans in the U.S. Let more live the American Dream of social mobility. But the methodology of financializing a social problem sounds remarkably similar to the same rationale for deregulating home loans, right? 

Rana Fohoohar writes how the financial sector disproportionately reaps profits compared to the number of jobs it actually creates. She states only 15% of the money passing through the financial sector results in business invest. This is a stake in coffin of Trickle Down economics that Trump espouses. Billionaires put their money in the stock market for it to be financialized–not in their companies–and the stock market puts its money back in the market, even investing in debt. Okay, so the trickle is there whether you’re believing in giving the wealthy a tax cut or not. Lose lose for investment in production and business (unless your business is an investment business). 

The history of student loans from the U.S. government is as conflicted as theinstitutional explanations of how we got to this current tuition rate. But what these hangman’s platforms of solving social and psychological problems through finance seem to be cornering the once-free-world into a polarized, ideologue situation where hypotheticals are more appealing than trying to work out the wrinkles in a system we believe may not work anyhow. 

Day 6 Hit Him Where It Hurts #SaveAgainstTrump on Black Friday

The idea is simple: ethical Trump supporters were voting for economic change. We’re going to give it to them. Furthermore, we aim to foster the values that we believe in and must continue to support.

This Black Friday, I’m not going to buy ANYTHING. I will protest in front of shopping malls, Best Buys, Walmarts, and Apple stores–the most visited retailers on Black Friday–impeding traffic and consumerism. I will attempt to educate and inform shoppers of the negative impact of the Trump Presidency.

Black Friday is the largest spending day in the American consumer economy. $616,900,000,000 in one day. Almost ½ of the U.S. population buys. Clinton supporters account for about ¼ of the population. By refusing to buy, you too can sending a clear message: not my President, not my dollar. Statistically, Clinton supporters are more highly educated and have a greater buying power. This means we have more impact on the entire consumer economy. While everyone got one vote on election day, there is a disproportionate dollar-to- dollar power in this country, and it’s in our hands.

Our demands are simple. We will not buy anything on Black Friday or on Cyber Monday 2016 to initiate a clear message. The electoral college must vote for the popularly voted Hillary Clinton on December 19. 

(Given Trump’s appointment of Republican outsiders this is very unlikely.) 

Next: If Trump is voted for in as the next President in December, we will not buy anything during any of the Black Fridays or Cyber Mondays of his Presidency. This will have an enormous negative impact on the consumer economy and force his supporters to seek another candidate for 2020. 

The Senate will not be in session after the electoral college votes until January 11, 2017. If the Senate refuses to vote on Merrick Garland before January 20, Trump’s inauguration day, we reduce consumer spending everyday for four years OR redirect our spending toward charitable organizations and companies that support our ideals: Social Justice, Gender Equality, Racial Justice, Peaceful Protest and Global Citizenship.

We believe by reducing consumer habits we can foster a better country for our future. 

Our ethical austerity should be interpreted as this: Trump supporters threw out our civic and social values against misogyny, racism, threaten our civil rights for LGBT people by allowing a conservative government to first refuse to do their mandatory duty of by not voting on Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and compromising our environment and future with the appointment of Myron Ebell, a climate change denier. In response, we divert their economic value toward our values. Furthermore, the American consumer economy funds other Trump initiatives, like military for an aggressive hate monger, federal prisons (stock in Corrections Corporation of America skyrocketed after his election) which will be housing immigrants who overstep their visas, as well as tax cuts for the very wealthy–who directly benefit from Black Friday spending. 

 

Day 5 Probabilities & Trajectories of the Trump Presidency

I doubt Trump supporters have or will draw a line by which to determine if he fails to live up to his promises to them. He made a lot. Perhaps many don’t expect any deliveries; perhaps the only motivation for Trump supporters was to make sure Clinton did not win. So check that off the list, based on a technicality many don’t understand. 

Trump swore to throw out Obamacare. Seems like he’ll keep most of it. Trump said he’d drain the swamp of Washington and instead did the opposite and appointed longtime Republican politicians to take up posts. Since I don’t see Trump supporters in the streets, they must be ‘okay’ with that. Great!

On the other side of the aisle, I have heard whispers of optimism from some Clinton supporters; some is holding water, and some leaking at other points. Particularly what is coming true is what Clinton supporters read into Trump’s demeanor: his mission of hatred. This is less about his words since election but expressed in whom he is appointing to office. This is about judging character and presuming all the policies that correlate with it. It’s conjectural, but I think it will come into play in social reforms and civil society more than the promises of a wall or “rescuing” the economy. Granted, he did state on 60 minutes that he did not condone attacks against minorities. So maybe there’s a chance?

The danger of the Trump campaign is that it attacks social welfare and the civil rights that Democrats have been fighting for, as well potentially damaging foreign relations that have been built on diplomacy over the last 8 years. Some are reversible, others aren’t. I anticipate there will be a greater impact on the social level and civil society than other aspects that worry Clinton supporters. Trump’s encounter with politics will be deference to people he likes who have some experience and motivation to change their condition. He won’t admit that he has basically no fucking idea about politics, presidential budgets, the economy, or foreign affairs. I don’t blame him, he’s not a  politician. He’s a business man. But politics rule over business, the economy influences businessin some ways. (Business’s influence on politics isn’t necessarily true but and when it occurs it’s corrupt. This is the single message Trump aimed at Clinton and frankly even Clinton supporters aren’t comfortable with that relation…maybe it got lost in the email scandal.) 

The parts of optimism that are leaking are seen in whom he is appointing to office. Stephen Bannon is an anti-Semite. This is serious. Reince Preibus is the RNC chair, so of course he’ll aim at all the vulnerable civil rights that Republicans dislike: prochoice, gun control, gay rights, etc. Paul Ryan mentioned a softer stance on deportation of undocumented immigrants. 

Two last things:

One: we must accept in this post-election season that nobody apologizes for his/her vote. If you’re old enough to remember George W. Bush fucking up Iraq with the supposed weapons of mass destruction, you’ll remember that exactly zero people said, “Oh, I guess my candidate isn’t the right person for the Presidency,” instead many re-elected him. And It wasn’t until mobilizing a disenfranchised demographic that the country got a new party, renewed economy and some semblance of regard for jurisprudence. The best that anyone can hope for in asking for redemption in this messed up reality television show that is the United States, January 21, 2017-January 21, 2021 is, “Man, maybe I should get more active in the community.” This should come from all sides (even the apathetic). I’ve heard a few people say this and it’s music to my ears. 

So if you’re holding your breath for a Trump supporter to say, “Geeze, why didn’t he drain the swamp,” you’ll pass out. It’s not going to happen. Maybe the mandatory aspects of the Affordable Healthcare Act will be thrown out, but I expect much will be kept. Trump has already stated this. No one is going to say, “You know, I gave him a change in 2016 and he really didn’t live up to my expectations, so I’m going Democrat.” Not going to happen. His supporters will give him a second term.  

So I encourage you to enjoy a few moments of shock and irony as you see some friends of yours who supported Trump and whom you anticipate to be on the short end of his stick. For me, a very nice guy I met at a co-working space has become vehemently vocal about his support for Trump and his hatred toward women. I’m surprised. He’s also Black. I asked him what he thought about the KKK celebration parade and he scuffed it off, saying they didn’t have power here. Ok. Right. Hopefully not. But as Trump appoints more bigots, like Stephen Bannon, I anticipate my friend will suffer from that. But prodding this friend of mine will likely just make him more staid in his ways, because that’s the stubborn disposition he has. (I couldn’t help thinking of the Dave Chapelle blind KKK member skit). 

Lastly, take solace in knowing people do make the wrong decisions, and they do so in democracy also. There’s been this wave of people saying, “You can’t call them stupid or ignorant for voting for Trump.” Their point is that it’s counter productive. I agree with that. But there is room to simply say, “You made the wrong decision.” Of course they won’t agree with you, but look, historically democratic processes have resulted in what most people believe were bad candidates. You don’t have to go to the extreme of Hitler to see this. People make bad decisions all the time–all day! Of course they can vote poorly. It’s not anti-democratic to say someone voting poorly. If you’re in a pizza parlor and your group of friends ask what type of pizza you should build and you think all the toppings from their icecream buffet should go on the pizza, well, you’ve just made a bad decision. And Pizza Hut: Please don’t make an icecream buffet pizza.  

Day 4 Blame Game

Get All Your Blame in One Place! 

Perhaps the impulse to find blame is coping with trauma; perhaps is a sense of solidarity for those who can’t find fellows to protest with; ideally it’s a lesson we can apply in the future, something to learn from. The smoke is clearing and it seems we are beginning to move toward constructive planning and a course of action in how to deal with the President-elect. So, just to recap what’s been discussed in the last days, I put together a list of all the paper scapegoats that have walked out on stage for a moment of projecting collective despair. 

The first blame I heard was Black voters weren’t turning out. This was based on the fact that counties were Obama overwhelming won, Clinton lost. I’m not convinced. Urban areas tend to have higher African American populations and they overwhelming voted for Clinton. Also, there are anomalous Black voters who even voted for Trump. The rationale was something like Bill Clinton’s Presidential Three Strikes You’re Out disproportionately incarcerated Black men, broke up families, and the lackluster support for Hillary gave us Trump. More recently, I would expect the first debate when the question of the national police crisis was put forward, Hillary barely touched on the fact of institutional racism THAT EVEN THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT HAS ALREADY UNCOVERED in police departments…not to mention the myriad of studies facts and you know, the video every week that shows police officers shooting Black men. But both she and Trump very quickly transitioned to talking about the need for mental healthcare. Uh, wait. Didn’t that sound strangely similar to blaming a rape victim for her outfit? I digress. But yeah, usually society blames the Black guy first, so in keeping with historical precedence, Clinton fans started blaming Black Americans for Trump. Again, I’m not convinced. 

The next target I heard was “the rest of the country,” i.e. that Clinton supporters lived in a liberal bubble–you know, a bubble of 40 million Californians, 8 million New Yorkers, 5 million Seattlites, 3 milllion Portlanders, 6 million Chicagoans, 1 milllion Austinians…a 62 million person bubble, plus most other large cities…But as we can see from the protests around the country, many people did not vote Trump in many parts of the country. And as the votes keep coming in we see that a growing majority voted for Hillary. So again, I’m not convinced. 

Another scapegoat was the 50% voter turnout. Okay, who was that? Obviously people who felt their voted didn’t matter or they didn’t like either candidate, equally. Maybe they didn’t have any cause that echoed with them, any policy the candidate proposed. Well, let’s say everyone had turned out–the lukewarm people–there’s no telling how minuscule a difference they would have made either direction, that’s why they were lukewarm; maybe they would have split 50/50 or maybe they would have slightly favored one candidate; it could have been better for Trump. As a counterfactual, this explanation doesn’t make use of time or thought, but it does go toward another scapegoat about how in touch each party is with the American people. I’ll get to that.

Another target were the polls. Data journalism failed to accurately project the winner, which caused people to not understand the closeness of the race. Again, from the previous point: if people had been compelled by a cause or a candidate, they would have voted regardless of the level of competition. Another version of this is that people secretly supported Trump but didn’t express their opinion either to polls or in public due to one or many phantoms: what’s politically correct to support and/or believe; what’s least confrontational, i.e. the person who just wants their milk and doesn’t want to debate politics in a grocery store line. What I don’t understand about this variation of voter data is that the appeal of Trump–who is a loud mouth, non-PC, repeating record–doesn’t explain why his supporters would refrain from acting similarly? Is the suggestion that these individuals lionize Trump for overcoming the PC burden that they feel so oppressed by in society? Maybe some. But what’s more interesting about this argument is that data journalism is a field of study that provides statistical projects. These are pseudo scientific claims, but still aim for concrete, hard data. Ironically, Trump supporters have not been persuaded by either data or science. Clinton supporters, like her campaign, were motivated and assured by data. It appeals to them. The obstacle becomes two fold. Firstly, how can an emerging field of study like data science, infiltrate communities that aren’t swayed by data toward the more accurate prediction? Secondly, how can those assured of data be more suspicious and conspiratorial to avoid future trauma? It’s a discipline in crisis. And in a world moving toward Big Data (at least in the urban areas) how will this evolve?

I’ve heard the Bernie card. The problem with supposing Bernie would have won is that the projections that showed him as a sure winner were created by the same data journalism discipline that inaccurately expected Clinton’s win. Why should we believe them in retrospect? I guess some people still feel the Bern?

I heard the Democratic Party is to blame for having a flawed candidate or not aligning with its supporting voting members. This is a variation on the Bernie card but with a slight Trumpian twist: the system is rigged. “The Democrats are political elitists out of touch with Americans and for that reason they failed.” I’m not sure about that. Garnering support is one thing; turning out to vote is another, votes being counted is another. One scion to this argument is to refer to the point of closeness of the race. If people were supporting but thought it was a tight race, they’d turn out to vote, so they must have not supported, therefore the Democratic Party failed to garner support. Well, the Republican Party not only failed to garner support, many of their officials didn’t even vote for Trump. “But the Republicans won,” you say, “even in maintaining the House.” Still, almost 50% of Americans didn’t vote. The reason is likely multifaceted. I’m not sure people know what they want, and/or whether a better candidate would change a personality trait in which an individual lives in a country, operates every day with the assumption of being free to do certain things but then can’t connect the importance of choosing another individual who will create laws that will impact their daily life. This is rather abstract, but I’m basically talking about democratic states. What’s nearer to this question than the idea of a single party failing (when really both failed) is that urbanites are subjected more strongly and directly to laws governing you and the person two inches from you on the sidewalk while ruralites benefit more strongly from rights because the sphere of influence of the right extends until it encounters another individual’s rights and due to less dense populations this can be a larger sphere. In my model, which party is for the suburbanite? It seems the Republicans at the moment. 

Another explanation is voters simply voted for change. Clinton was an extension of Obama and they voted against the continued program. The reason that this argument fails is that 11 Presidents have served two terms, so why didn’t people vote to change them? The ad hoc argument here would be that people re-elect an incumbent because they are familiar and have recognition advantage. Well, 13 served only one term, so that argument fails. You get the picture. Sometimes people vote for change, sometimes they vote for the familiar, sometimes one term sometimes three (FDR).

Then there’s the electoral college. Basically, each state has at least three electoral representatives despite populations that don’t reflect that in the House of Representatives. Secondly, most states have a winner-takes-all system, so 51% of the voters determine how the other 49% of voters are forced to vote. This is the most clearcut scapegoat because it undermines a core belief that American have for America: that it’s democratic. That is, each citizen gets one vote and that vote is echoed in the government. Ironically, this was Trump’s campaign from the beginning: that the system was rigged. So as Clinton and the Democratic party faced lost they adapted Trump’s campaign but with a clearer objective: to unrig the (electoral college) system.

The last scapegoat, and one I’m proposing is simply this: people made the wrong decision. I’m not saying if you voted for Trump you’re stupid. You’re not. I’m not saying if you voted for a Republican you’re a racist. What I’m saying is if you voted against something, you used your vote incorrectly. A vote is not a weapon, it’s an endorsement. When you vote you are saying, “This is what I support,” not “This is what I’m against.” Trump took advantage of this misinterpretation of democracy. His campaign was contrarian. That was his whole point. He was against EVERYTHING. And if you were against anything, you defaulted for him. This argument is similar to people voting for change, but I’m adding a twist. Here it is simply: don’t be a hater. That’s it. Don’t shit on someone’s parade when you’re voting. 

Inherent in my argument is a critique of democracy, but I’m not proposing a dictatorship, I’m not proposing another form of government, I’m proposing a better form of democracy. This is the point. Rather than saying, “I want anything other than X,” how can democracy be position so that the only way to vote is like “I want Y.” The former statement is vague. Anything other than one thing you’re against. You really have no idea what you’re going to get other than not X. The latter statement is specific. You want one thing and if you don’t get other things, that’s okay. The one thing you want is the one thing you’re aiming for. 

For me, the most frustrating aspect of blame is how Trump has, throughout his campaign, evaded it. He just does not accept wrongdoing. This is a personality disorder. The short satisfaction we pursue in punishment and potentially punishing Trump now seems basically impossible. I’m talking about legal punishment for his not paying taxes, I’m talking about his legal punishment for sexual harassment, I’m talking about his ethical punishment inciting hatred, violence and undoing civil society in the name of “economics.” Americans, relish punishment. We call it ‘justice’ most of the time. 

Please share your ideas about whom to blame for this disaster

Day 3 After the Misogynist's Election

Before the chaos of his cabinet gets going too far, it’s necessary to reflect on the meaning of the 2016 Presidential election outcome. In contrast to the plethora of scapegoating as to why he got elected that is occurring within much of the media, I want to unpack what it means. Specifically, it’s necessary to talk about misogyny because as I’ll argue below, the disguising and dismissing of it is exactly why it persists. As a model for other persevering types of hatred, this argument is applicable to racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, et al. And because the presidential outcome is already off to a good start with protests, riots, concerns for whom to blame, how to get Democrats back on track, the missed misogyny may be too easily sidelined.

Implicit in the feeling of devastation of young voters who supported Clinton is the meaning of the election for them. The primary topic is the various forms of hatred the President-elect embraces, specifically misogyny and racism. Misogyny is evidenced in Trump’s recorded conversation about the power he has due to his wealth, which results in women allowing him to grab their genitals without their permission. In addition to that statement, there are a number of women who are filing sexual harassment suits against him. On one hand what he so crudely stated was something that, as a society we mostly already knew, i.e. that litigation against the wealthy is (increasingly) unbalanced, mostly due to the financial burden of bringing a lawsuit in the first place. That is, wealthy, powerful men can sexually harass women, even though it’s against the law. But on the other hand the misogynistic element of his statement and how it functions is two fold: firstly, there is the overt misogyny that he is propounding–the action or statement–but secondly–and this is the insidious nature of hatred more generally–there is his supporters who choose an explanatory narrative which takes his statement outside of the realm of misogyny and illegality. His supporters, many whom are women, created or accepted ad hoc explanations as to why they wouldn’t interpret what he said as misogyny. Specifically, Trump invented the explanation that it was, “Locker room talk,” which is a version of “boys will be boys” but for grown up men. Rationally, there are a number of problems with his and his supporters’ perspective, but the most readily available is simply ‘delusion.’ I mean delusion in the most simplistic sense: that events or characteristics are repeatedly viewed from a single scope. There is no positive here or negative to weigh, there is no variable to consider, there simply a single constant. There are no anomalies, no aberrations, no deviations. In an analogy with buying a classic car the importance of the car as part of a collection or object owned outweighs the fact that parts may not be available, that it could be difficult to maintain, or that it doesn’t really function like vehicle intended for transportation but rather a big toy that may move around.  

The sexual harassment suits are intended to remove the theoretical aspect of Trump’s statement and root it in fact. They are intended to undo the ad hoc explanation of “locker room talk.” The quantity (the last count was at 12) of suits is intended to make his actions appear not only habitual, but enforce the verity of each plaintiff’s claim. The difficult I can foresee in each of these cases is not only the ephemeral nature  of proof in a crime that may have manifested in touching, speaking or writing but linking that proof–which may only be a statement or message written–with the criminal intention. Coincidentally, this is the same difficulty in prosecuting for hate crimes, which Trump supporters who attack immigrants or Muslims should face. For Trump, it will be doubly difficult to prosecute because of another truth that exists in our society: people in position of political power are often immune to litigation. 

In the next post I will write about Donald Trump’s first day as President agenda.

Day 2 Trump America

Day 1 was too depressing to write anything. Focusing on a singular thought other than, “how is this reality possible,” was simply not possible. I spoke with almost no one. The subway was very quiet. I joined a protest in Union square in the evening and found the solidarity a sentiment profound to a level that I never experienced before. Still, the conversations of the second day, November 10, seem too oblivious for me not to put to pen. The media was oscillating away from the topic of this terror, as if business as usual had resumed. The general sentiment of the New Yorkers with whom that I’ve conversed today is one of two perspectives: Native New Yorkers have a sense that Trump won’t do all the things he claims. This includes the perspective of most Americans and most mainstream media I’ve encountered. It’s the perspective that makes me feel overwhelming compelled to write down this moment. The second perspective is that of foreign New Yorkers–visitors, tourists, temporary citizens–who state that this problem is not confined only to the U.S. but that it’s part of a larger problem seen throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Succinctly the feeling is anger with the forms of governance available; feelings of anger result in violence of some kind. 

I found my own perspective worriedly pessimistic. While many Americans assured me that Trump would not do all or most of the things he claimed, I noticed the tone of their voice to be familiar; I had heard it when I was assured that he would not be a primary candidate; I heard it when I was assured that he could not be elected. I suggest otherwise. My gut feeling is not supported by data journalism but with a simple thought experiment. To the Trump opposer certain the next four years will be ‘okay’ I ask a simple question: Why wouldn’t someone assassinate him? The answer is simple: his Vice President and Republican coterie is even worse. But isn’t this Republican Congress the same mechanism that we liberals hope will regulate him? Isn’t this our last moral compass that we hope won’t go to the extreme? Donald Trump is a dangerous man and an even more dangerous politician. Not exclusively for his ideals, but for is capacity to incite violence. He is the riot waiting. For the Republicans he is the imagination of their hatred, an imagination they lacked for the last eight years. And don’t confuse my claim with the idea that he has somehow “tapped” into the American conscious or unconscious. It’s simply he’s a hateful man. His first foray into politics consisted of a full-spread advert to bring back the death penalty. This was the New York Time’s first venture into mercenary media for Trump antics. 

His capacity for violence is already validating his supporter’s anger. Across America, people are attacking minorities and Muslims. These acts which would be considered ‘hate crimes’ under Obama but are thought of as ‘patriotic’ under Trump’s reality. The last six weeks of Obama are unfortunately looking to be polite formalities rather than last minute alterations for a horrific rollercoaster ride. Trump supporters believe their anger is legitimated, that their hatred is a majority and that their power is unchecked as it aligns with their leader. Even in New York, people are telling minorities “go back to where came from” on the subway. 

We have entered a very bad era. As a person whose political consciousness awoke in the election for George W. Bush I can say that the speculation for our survival as a nation is not optimistic but unrealistic. Never have we had so many variables working against the mission of a free and prosperous society. While George W. Bush coaxed empty patriotism for a misled war for oil, Trump incites violence in situ. A Republican majority that aspires to undo internal civil society is something that can be reversed in coming elections, but combined with a demagogue with unchecked access to military power and greed is not something this global village can tolerate, should it transform into warfare. Moreover, as huts in the village become more fascist the worry is no longer a perseverance of democracy, but an actual continuance of humanity, as wars between countries can play out not as nations fighting but as ideologies, as we are seeing in the war on terror. We talking about nuclear armament in an age where you can get a flight from JFK to almost anywhere in the world, directly. An age when the aggression against people in another country who may have family living next door to us is true in most cities in the world. An age where any word spoken or movement can be surveilled accurately and easily. We are talking about warfare and civil war that will not take the form of traditional declarations and treatise, but perpetual violence and violent coverage.

On the bright side, a few mythologies about American democracy were undone this election. Big banks don’t own the results. Clinton had most of the support of big banks and failed. Latinos do turnout to vote. New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland are the only liberal bastions (many more cities are protesting). Minorities and Muslims are not taking over the country. No, we all voted against Trump and still lost. 

Another bright side is despite the EPA’s transitional leader, Myron Ebell of Competitive Enterprise Institute, a climate change denier, Trump may actually help the environment. I’m speculating on this based on the fact that he’ll get rid of the Affordable Healthcare Act, in which Income-based Repayment Plans for student loans (a bubble much bigger than the housing bubble) will be terminated and result in a huge cut in American’s buying power and consumption. I’ll write more on this later. And since there seems to be a faction of Americans who don’t believe that human industry and activity effects the world’s climate, let me put it in indisputable terms: how do you feel about lead poisoning? Do you think that eating lead chips is a good idea? How about for your children? Well, in the 1970s, the lead paint industry fought hard to claim that there isn’t a negative side effect of lead industries. Without regulation on industrial waste from the EPA, lead and any other byproduct get simply thrown into the environment. You don’t even have to think that climate change is real to see how fucked up it is to put this guy in charge. If you do follow the climate change science, you’ll know that Miami is already building infrastructure to deal with rising sea levels, but that won’t change Marco Rubio’s perspective.

Connecting Flights: Day 11 - (Global) Art World

Kurtz reigned supreme in his jungle hideaway. 
When Joseph Conrad invented the character of Kurtz, set in the colonial ivory trade, he aptly critiqued the economic mechanism of tradeploitation. The poignant ending in which Marlow returns to England to deliver the final message to Kurtz’s wife finds him struck by the pettiness of urban life, which he reduces to the simplistic advances stilted on meager cheating of fellow men. It’s exploitation’s homecoming. 

Francis Ford Coppola rehashes the character of Kurtz set a century later within the police action of Vietnam. The making of the film was as epic as the story it recounts. Filmed in the Philippines, beset to disaster both natural and financial and nearly unmade by superstar Marlon Brando’s prima donna attitude and price tag. But somehow it worked and we get a glimpse into a geospatial treaty of the same exchange, on a different continent and different agents, but are are still asymmetrical. The military commander in another context, far from home, far from the average origins of a man in uniform, he becme a cult figure. The story, like the 19th century version from which it was adapted, contests a “flat world” argument. And here, in Ho Chi Minh City, Zoe Butt’s SanArt, reminds me of Kurtz, in a good way. 

I was connected with her via Facebook and, after a few exchanges and time arrangements, she wrote to me just before I arrived asking, “What is it that you want? I can’t remember whether I need to prepare something or not.” I didn’t take this as an offense, but rather a hastily written plea to abide by some sense of professionalism. That was her intention, in the context of the message chats, and this clarification, now, shows both how context is necessary for understanding as well as blinding. So after telling her I was just interested in learning about San Art and the cultural landscape here, I started to ask myself what it was that I wanted. And I concluded that I naively (and I felt naive) just wanted to information. I was curious. I felt naive because I wouldn’t have had such a loose introduction in another context; the purpose would be more concrete. The imperatives would be obvious. But perhaps that’s the attraction of Vietnam: the open space of the unknown and unrealized. And how introductions here, made in passing online, leave doors open. 

Across the bridge from District 1, where commerce and tourism make flags with shining new high rises, just beyond Golden River Towers, a luxury complex development that is underway, into a tiny side street, SanArt is on a mission. And Zoe Butt is a believer. I sat down with her on a Tuesday, just before the next big install. 

Painting by Nguyen Quoc Dung, part of Non-Finito exhibition, SanArt

Zoe says there are basically no commercial galleries (save Galerie Quynh) in Saigon; basically no 501c.3 model non profits. Barely alternative spaces, which they more nearly resemble, as there isn’t much from which to alternate. Still, the hours of operation conform to having Monday’s off, and opening at 10:30-6:30 pm (about 3 hours after the rest of the city gets going for business). She’s Australian and refers to the Viet Kieu as if she’s not included, since she lives here. This pertains specifically as to why and how San Art got started. As she put it, a group of well educated Viet Kieu wanted to return to Viet Nam in order to establish a place that could act as a bridge with the locals. Those individuals were Lê Quang Đỉnh (Dinh Q Le), members of Propeller Group and a few others. So they’re part of this international art world, participating in the Venice Biennial and being the token Vietnamese artist representatives for the country and heritage. They were educated in U.S. MFA programs. 

And while she’s deep in her canned response of the history, mission, and recent developments (Vietnam politics) and shows, that tone of being on autopilot makes me wonder just how much this is an expected move in the cultural colonization that is going on in the world. She lapses into international artspeak occasionally and even mentions how the absence of ‘contemporary’ plays into the communist hands of local traditions and craftwork. Meaning there isn’t contemporary art here and only craftwork and non-contemporary art is made. She brings up the canonical MFA artspeak theorists: Foucault, et al. and mentions how she’s working on a catalog that places key texts next to Vietnamese theorists who haven’t got international attention. It’s in English and Vietnamese and she hands me a proof. It’s a tome. I feel by its weight that should the political bonds be overcome in this country, this text will be for a generation the reader that brings everyone “up to speed.” I rifle through and for some reason can’t recall any of the authors or essays there. I want to say there’s something by Jameson but I could be wrong. 

She mentioned the educational program of the schools here being craft-based. There is some collection of that work by the social elite here. That’s almost reassuring. At least they are buying some artworks…how many degrees is it to get them to buy something that may increase in value? 

"Accepting One's Self," Nguyễn Quốc Dũng

"Accepting One's Self," Nguyễn Quốc Dũng

At the same time I’m happy that there is some cultural producers returning here, and they’re not making identity politics work. Vietnam, like many middle-income level countries, suffer from the brain drain. They send their elite off to study in the U.S. or Europe, in the most elite schools, and then have trouble employing them here, so the educated go where the economic infrastructure supports them. Cultural producers, in a way, have an advantage, as their base of production isn’t tied to the markets of exchange, both cultural and financial, in which they operate. (Or at least I want to believe) And as Singapore (Freeport?) and Hong Kong (Basel), as well as Shanghai gain cultural esteem and sway, Saigon may become an potential center for cultural production. (The contenders, globally, include Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Bombay, Istanbul, et al.) With the exception of political speech, the absence of safety regulations, inexpensive materials, space and labor make it an attractive location. And the food’s great. 

Zoe continues talking about how the space is under shrinkage due to funding being cut and new laws rolling out in regard to foreign cultural producers and audience members. Surveillance. She states the recent landslide re-election of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. I don’t quite understand why it’s a political crisis, as it seems to be forging forward on a staid course, but the cut of two of her three spaces equates to crisis and so I don’t interrupt her familiar art world negativity. Don’t get me wrong: she’s a pleasant person to be around; I just expected a more optimistic and positive outlook without all of the too-cool for school, Williamsburg, LES, Chelsea, designer fashion wearing, VIP list-ism of North America and Western Europe. She’s accessibly brilliant and I’m compelled to sort of offer a note of encouragement about the battles she’s fighting: I mention, would be and are seen as assets in the New York context. 

Introducing Euroamerican cultural thought (really Frankfurt & Birmingham schools) and practices by returning refugees and their children is not unlike Ho Chi Minh bringing Russian Socialism back to Vietnam. I’m not propounding a nativist viewpoint or contending this is ethically wrong; this is how diaspora and cultural pollination have worked for 2,000 years. Viz. Chinese mythology, French architecture, American smartphones (made in China).  What’s curious about this is that the actions are set within a developed post-colonial critique. (One on hand I’d be happy to toss out the failing framework of post-coloniality, as it’s been shown to be either 1) pseudoscience in terms of how its “theories” are not falsifiable and 2) contextually inaccurate depending on the geopolitics. I’m thinking particularly of Indonesia (killings of communists highlighted in The Act of Killing, which was completely misinterpreted by Western audience who weren’t familiar to the Southeast Asian perspective of communism that’s shared throughout Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia) as well as Colombia’s FARC and relations to Spain, and even the expelled Jews settling in Medellín. But yeah, doesn’t really hold water in this country.)

Walking out and past the security guard at the door, I wonder if my suspicion is itself one of these international artworld reflexes. It’s the gag reflex that we learn to fight while on panel discussions, openings, group critiques, reading reviews. Pure acrimony. Genetically unfounded but environmentally cultivated. 

As I get on the uberMoto that will whisk me back over the bridge, I realize that SanArt, as a mission, will be an integral part of connecting the people of this (artworld) remote location with that global network…regardless of contradiction. And that even my presence and motivation meeting her isn’t any less contradictory to these points than her mission. Complicity. 


Notes

“SanArt”http://san-art.org/about/ 

Connecting Flights: Day 9, Equation of the Sun, Declination, Latitude and Altitude.

As the setting sun came earlier than in New York I realized that the earth’s till must be to blame. 

The sun is setting at 6:45 pm throughout this trip and coming up around 5:15 am. In New York it’s coming up about ten minutes later but staying up almost two hours later. Because of declination, the further north one goes in the northern hemisphere, the longer the days get in the summer time while the inverse is true in the south. But here’s what’s confusing in Vietnam: the seasons. It is not the simple reverse of north-lying New York. It’s June and summer in New York and in Hoi An they tell me it’s summer here also. What? Not only is it not the reverse here, it varies by the region. Except Hanoi, the northern lowlands, there isn’t even summer or winter, meaning hot and cold, but rather wet and dry or at best cool and hot. 

Roughly there are four regions with varying calendared seasons: the mountains of the far north, that are dry from October to March then wet from April to September and get very cold in December and January at night. Down the mountains in the north, like in Hanoi the cool and dry winter is from November to April with the coldest months being January-March. But even then temperatures are still 17-22 C in the “winter.“ 

Central Vietnam like Hoi An and Da Nang is hot and dry from January to August, the heat getting up to the mid 30s. During winter the rain comes and there are typhoons. This is between October and November. Yes, two months. So mostly hot and mostly dry. 

The south, like Sai Gon, have a constant weather year round but split between wet and dry season, which begins in November and ends by May. So those afternoon torrential downpours I’m experiencing on this trip are their wet season. 

Vietnam runs from 8-23 degrees north latitude and sea level to 3,143 meters to the peak of Fanispan, the highest mountain in the norther region. There are other climatic factors, such as ocean currents, direction of winds and mountain ranges. That subtle suggestion that weather is really a boring last resort as a common topic of conversation is a little more nuanced here. I don’t mean that I’ve heard locals discussing the weather (I can’t understand them that well), and the little conversation about the weather has been in terms of the heat, but rather that these weather trends reflect largely on tourism, the largest industry in Vietnam. First of all there’s tourism year round and the reason and timeframe for anyone visiting is more about his personal calendar than following weather trends. For example, most Europeans and North Americans vacation in the months between May and September. June-August being the least comfortable is heavy American tourist time. 

In further regards to tourism, the amount of the economy that tourism comprises an area’s economy reflects on the level and expertise of the hospitality there. In Sai Gon 22% of the GNI, tourism is less important and the hotels, were the worst, at least at the bottom price point. Inversely, in Hoi An, where basically the entire economy is tourism, the hotels were the best and least expensive, although almost everything else was overpriced in most parts of the city. This makes sense because the reason to visit Hoi An is Hoi An. The city is the attraction. The Old Quarter are what I would assume to be the “authentic” vietnam, meaning not influenced by 20th century construction. There’s a lot of porticos, French-influenced buildings of the 19th Century but also a decent number of Chinese-influenced Buddhist temples from the 12-century and on. The tourism is temporally driven; escaping the most recent. 


But also one easily gets lost in Hoi An and sees what isn’t even concerned about maintaining its authenticity, meaning the local homes. In a strange reproach to tourism the city lacks identifiable and reliable street signs. The local map shows about 25 streets, which is a fraction of them and the eager entrepreneurs who will help you with directions just before offering you their goods or services give you directions like “turn right and then turn left,” but exclude specifics. The absence of reliable street signs may be due to the aim of keeping street signs “authentic” meaning those that are up from before 1950 are those that will continue to direct us and the rest…too bad. 

So it’s easy to get lost here even with GPS. There are many spaces—like between rice fields—that one wouldn’t presume is a “street” or “road” as part of the infrastructure, but they are. On trying to locate “the good beach” —An Bang—we got severely lost even though it was  a straight shot down the main road. Just locating the road was tedious. 


An Bang was filled with what felt to be a slight jellyfish venom. I spotted a few and even without direct contact they made the water not really desirable to be in, although people were wading and swimming there when we arrived. I spent most of the day sitting in the shade of a circular boat made of a lattice of bamboo bent upward, forming a sort of tea cup shape, that had then been sealed with tar. I saw a man using one, fully standing. They seemed designed for near-shore fishing as it had only one paddle and moving the boat forward was achieved by sort of stirring the water vigorously…I expect a small USB-powered motor would work equally well. 
Behind me on the beach were the crowds of tourists who were renting chairs and umbrellas for 40,000 dong, or $2 USD. Behind them were a row of roofed dining areas that were twice the price of anything else we’d seen in Vietnam. Around 4 pm locals came with their own food and drink as well as tables and chairs and set up long dining areas perpendicular to the water. The intensity of the sun had diminished but still locals were crouching in the incidental shade of objects placed on the beach, like pyramids of inner tubes and boats. 

The night market in old town is a testament to the wonder of the work of Tesla and Edison. It’s basically the same tourist junk as during the day—knick knacks, textiles and souvenirs—but with lighted sculptures of dragons and fish made of paper and placed along the bridge and promenade. We ate banh mi sandwiches for $1 and had drinks for 20 cents each in the child-size seating of the promenade.