Our Lives as a Line Item

What we are witnessing now is an inevitable result of capitalism. Our government chooses to reward the capitalist the capitalists by killing off 45,000 people per year and forcing 10s of millions more into eternal fear of medical bankruptcy. Our lives are nothing more than a paycheck for the richest of us. Its a cold, calculated decision to maximize profits.

The question of our time (and probably every other time) is what is the value of a life? Does every person have innate value or is your worth dependent on your accumulation of wealth? Does every human have a right to their life? The in power regime has a clear answer to all of these. A human’s only worth is the wealth that they manage to accumulate. Only those that are able to afford it can keep their lives. These answers are reprehensible. All life has intrinsic value.

This is exactly what a class war looks like. The rich calculating exactly how much they can make by killing us off, while insisting that we must discuss the subject politely. We will not sit idly by and discuss our extermination politely. We can’t play by their rules, they exist to keep themselves in control. We can’t afford that control. We will pay with our lives

The Humanitarian case for Syria

This week, Donald Trump ordered an air strike on Syria. This was following the news that Assad had gassed many Syrians. While this latter is a tragedy, the former is not a proper response.

We must accept that we are not the police of the world. We aren’t morally superior to the rest of the world. We don’t know what’s the best course of action for all nations. In this case, we can easily state that Assad’s actions were reprehensible and illegal. However, we cannot unilaterally decide what the correct response to this tragedy. We can, however, protect as many as possible as the Statue of Liberty’s inscription reads.

While this seems to be the public’s reasoning on this issue, it certainly isn’t the administration. Look at how many genocides our country has overlooked, Rwanda and Sudan to name very few. We’ve never been a country that minds turning a blind eye to the execution of people. Trump certainly doesn’t give a shit about the Syrian people. I won’t speculate on what his motivation truly is but it certainly isn’t humanitarian. It also didn’t prevent future chemical attacks, the airbase remains functional.

It has also clearly given Trump quite the ratings boost. The Democrats have again showed their worthlessness by falling right into line. They are upset that Trump didn’t get Congress’s approval before military action (to be clear this is unconstitutional and should be punished) but, they agree with the military strike. Even Bernie Sanders seems to be mostly fine with it. He just seems worried about the possible future implications. This is of great concern. Trump has shown that he is willing to do anything that makes people like him more. Given that this is the only thing that people have approved of, expect more war.

This is something that we should have learned by now: we can kill, we can’t control. This means that we can’t eradicate an ideology by going to war. We should have learned this in Vietnam. More recently, we should have learned this in the “War on terror”. We’ve successfully killed many, many people and yet a new branch of extremism has arisen, ISIS. The way to rid ourselves of this is not war.

If we really wanted to help the people of Syria, we wouldn’t be potentially provoking war in order to inflict no impairment of their abilities. We would instead be finding ways to bring as many refugees as possible. We’d relax our immigration process in light of the pressing danger that they are in. Unlike the republicans would have us believe, these refugees are not going to be terrorists. In fact, our refusal of refugees increases the anti-US sentiment which in turns leads to easier recruitment for extremists.

The only ethical response to the gassing of the people of Syria is to move as many refugees as possible into the US. Starting a war will not protect the people of Syria and that should be our primary goal. Any deaths in attempts to protect the people of Syria will only cause increased extremism.

The Case for Moderation

I’ve heard a defense of the Democrats this week from multiple sources. It seems to boil down to, the Democrats need to move slowly because they need to work with people that don’t agree with them. Then this is the reason that Democrats are slow to move on things.

Frankly, this is bullshit. Look at the destructive force of this administration. They don’t give a shit about those how aren’t in the party, hell they don’t even care about their own voters. These people that they’re ignoring happen to be the majority of the county. So we now have an administration that is pushing an unpopular agenda at an alarming rate. I’m certainly not advocating that Democrats start pushing an unpopular agenda but, theres no reason to move at a snails pace. Its pretty clear that the Democrats centrist trend to win the hearts and minds of the country is clearly not working.

It also feels very disingenuous. On issues like marriage equality, Hillary Clinton didn’t start supporting it until after the majority of the country supported it. Now, she is only one person but, I remember this being a fairly common position in the Democrats. This is not the way that I want my part to behave. I want them leading the charge on social issues.

On other issues, the Democrats are not only waiting for the majority of the country to support it, they are on the opposite side of the country. Single Payer health care is supported by 57% of the country and yet nearly all Democrats are against it. It is issues like these where it is clear that the Democrats are the central party. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave anywhere for more progressive people to go. Due to our simple voting system, we’re stuck with only two parties and we can pick the status quo or the fascists. That isn’t much of a choice.

This results in what some call the cult of Bernie Sanders. He one of very few truly progressive politicians. His run for president was deeply polarizing on the left due to the aforementioned direction of the Democratic party. This is problematic as he, like all politicians is deeply flawed. While he is pushing for social programs that will benefit everyone, he is completely unwilling to tackle white supremacy. Given the lack of other candidates, he ends up being championed more than he deserves.

The Trump administration has been quickly demolishing the social safety net. They’ve also been attacked women on multiple fronts. They’ve also been stocking the nativist sentiments in their base. Our response cannot be measured. We can accept nothing less than the full restoration of everything that we are losing under Trump and a complete course correction. It must be swift, anything less is decidedly a victory for the regressive agenda.

The Democrats aren’t Allies

Over the last 8 years, what have the Democrats done for us? Where was the fight for progressive issues? There wasn’t any. Remember the Affordable Care Act? It was a perfect opportunity to push for Single Payor or at least the public option. Instead, we got an actual Republican health plan. As we push for the country that we want, we must remember that the Democrats don’t care about the good of the country. They exist solely for the sake of gaining power.

This doesn’t leave us much of choice in allies. On the one hand, we have the party that will do anything for power. This includes tolerating election tampering, selling out the middle class and surrendering to fascism. Or we can ally ourselves with the party that refuses to fight the descent into fascism, that the big pitch is, “What, you’re going to vote for those fuckers? They’ll enslave you in return for fulfilling all of your racist fantasies.” Well, clearly that pitch isn’t good enough. There are enough people that are will to watch the world burn to placate their own bigotry.

That leaves us, the progressives, in a difficult spot. The Democrats refuse to move to us but will deride our attempts to break free. Any third party will strengthen the party of bigotry and they clearly don’t need help to gain control of the country.

Yet, we can not be content with the status quo. We need to move the discourse left and push through our goals. We need to make the Democrats fear that we will splinter off and make a new party. They need to taste the fear of death to make the changes necessary for ensuring the continuation of our country.

Yet, splintering may be too far. It is too much of a risk to create a new party in our current system when one of the parties fails to maintain our democracy. We are stuck in a system comprised of the regressive bigots and the centrist cowards.

Splintering will the only aide the regressive agenda and yet, we have no other way to push the needle left. The Democrats pitch is not enough and yet, it remains true. How do we push for what is right when the alternative is literally nazis. This is the direct result of both white bigotry and white apathy (which I am more than guilty of). We must teeter on the edge of annihilation in order to create a country that we can be proud of.

Yes, I’m a Socialist

I’m a socialist, with everything that goes with it. Wage labor is required for capitalism and wage labor is exploitation. Therefore, exploitation is central to capitalism. I don’t think that the primary result of our economy should be the increased wealth of the upper class. We have the ability to ensure that no one lives in poverty and I feel that we have the moral obligation to do so. This doesn’t mean that I don’t support measures that improve lives while keeping capitalism.

If you’d like to push for a living wage, I’m all for that. While I believe that we need universal income, pushing for a living wage will be a massive positive effect on a huge section of our population. In fact, everyone does better when people earn a living wage except for the capitalists. People are freer to start businesses when they have more money. People are more willing to spend money in said businesses when they have more money. That economic action generates more revenue due to sales tax, payroll and other such taxes. This isn’t hard to figure out.

I believe that universal healthcare should be something that everyone should get behind. While the Affordable Care Act is a massive improvement over what we had previously, we can do better. We pay more our healthcare and end up with worse results. Even for people with insurance, people need to hope that they don’t end up with a major medical condition. It is not moral to leave people with the possibility of losing everything due to an illness. We already have two socialized insurances and they are both well regarded, they just aren’t available to everyone: Medicare and Tricare.

If you’d like to reform the criminal justice system, I’m all for that. I believe that we need to end the war on drugs. Frankly, it is primarily used to put people of color in jail. Furthermore, as the legalization of marijuana in a few states, as shown, it can be a huge source of revenue for the state. This money can be used for many things: addiction treatment and education to name a couple. Moving on from drugs, we need to make it an issue if police kill people. The situations in which I think it is justifiable for police to fire a lethal weapon are very few. In particular, the way that everyone just looks the other way when the police execute a black person needs to change.

I’m fully willing to make changes for the benefit of all even within the capitalist system. For a more complete listing of my views, see my beliefs. The only things that I won’t work on are things that will make people’s lives worse or that will prevent future progress.

Get Out and Organize

It goes without saying that many people in the United States are having a rough time. This administration’s agenda is tailor-made to hurt people of color. Undocumented immigrants are being rounded up, those people that look like they may be Muslim have great difficulty passing through customs (regardless of whether they are US citizens or not). The damage is just beginning. I have gone through periods where I thought things were hopeless yet, there is something we can do. Get out into our communities and organize.

I recently started doing just this. I’ve found this to be an awe-inspiring experience. There are many people that you will meet that have been working hard against larger obstacles than you. Every time that I meet up with people, I get more inspired and motivated to get to work, working towards what’s right. I can’t help it, I have a lot of work to do in order to catch up with those that have already been doing the work.

It is also the only way to make things happen. While you can call your congresspeople or state government, it isn’t likely to result in action if you’re the only one doing it. Things like 5 calls are great but, if you don’t have people calling with the same message, all of you could be wasting your time. Getting things done in the state and even more so, the local level is much easier and will likely result in a larger gain in people’s lives.

If you’re upset at the current state of affairs, you need to get out and organize. If you’re unable to, do what you can. You can organize online as well but, I’ve found that doing it in person results in a big boost to your psyche. It is an empowering experience, it becomes so clear just how big of an impact that you can have on people’s lives in your community. I’m only saddened by how long it took me to get involved.

We Have Nothing to Fear but the Constant Barrage of Propaganda

We live in a post-truth society now. We live in a time where “alt-facts” exist. In more decent times, these would be known as lies but, we live in an indecent time. The age of Orwellian Newspeak is upon us. Neo-Nazi have a trendy new name, the Alt-Right. The media is now known as the “Opposition party”.

Most of this propaganda is blatantly obvious. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that it is ineffective. Research has shows us that familiarity can lead to acceptance of the material. All they need to do is to continue shoving this shit down our throats and then people will start believing it.

I noticed that this has happened to me. We have been continuously hearing about Illegal Immigrants. It seems that they have become a daily topic. This is very much warranted due to this regime’s inhumane treatment of them. ICE agents are attempting to round them up with any means necessary. This includes going door-to-door asking for people’s papers. Language matters, though. They are not illegal immigrants, they are undocumented immigrants. I found myself referring to them as illegal immigrants this week. I need to be better and everyone else needs to remain vigilant.

In conditions such as these, everyone needs to be hyper-vigilant. We must watch ourselves and the media that we follow and prevent our adversaries from implanting their framing within our minds. We cannot allow them to frame issues in their own terms. We must remember what we want and not let the constant disparate dissuade us from our objectives.

The Senate Betrayed the People

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. She has no qualifications for the job and her plan is to gut the public school system. No one thought that she was qualified for the job. The public outcry was huge and yet only two Republicans were brave enough to stand with the people and vote against her.

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions for attorney general. He was deemed too racist for the Reagan administration to appoint as a judge. The Senate even went so far as to silence Elizabeth Warren when she attempted to quote Coretta Scott King’s letter about Jeff Sessions due to its content calling him racist. Let’s be clear, he is clearly racist. He has worked to prevent and the undermine the voting rights of People of Color. He is also fiercely anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration, and against the legalization of marijuana. He is against many things that most of the country is for.

This just continues the trend of the Trump/Bannon choices to continuously ram immensely unpopular policies on us. Our only hope is to get Congress on our side. They have been continuously betraying us, going along with the Nazis currently in power. Our Congresspeople need to feel our wrath. We must make them listen. They must understand that they must work for us or we are coming for them.

We Have Nothing to Fear but Bigotry

Trump has been president for 11 days and during this time, he has confirmed everything that was feared. He is doing exactly what he said that he would. While this comes at no surprise to those that were really paying attention, it has caught others off guard.

Trump has issued an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border. There is no reason to build this wall. Illegal immigration from Mexico is at a near all-time low. It will also cost in the 10s of billions to construct. There are many better uses for this money. Despite Trump’s claim that Mexico will pay for it, we will be paying for it.

More recently, Trump signed an executive order banning all travel from 13 largely Muslim countries. This order was implemented immediately and those that were currently in transit when the order was signed were detained at the border. This order is specifically target at Muslims. This is wrong. Similar to when we turned away Jews during WWII, we are sending refugees back to die. This ban is not protecting us from anything. Even if it was, it is still wrong. This is only going to cause more people to radicalize and want to do us actual harm.

So far, Trump’s presidency has been marked with hatred. These are exactly the things that he campaigned on. If he has been pushing so hard in the first few days, where are we going to be at the end of 4 years?

Defending Democracy

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

  1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom. 

  2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

  3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges. 

  4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary. 

  5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

  6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev. 

  7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow. 

  8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

  9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

  10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. 

  11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

  12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so. 

  13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can. 

  14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good. 

  15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

  16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports. 

  17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

  18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.) 

  19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom. 20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University