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I ♥ Democratic Socialism: Spare mom-and-pop bowling, and they will come

This piece is republished from the new I ♥ Democratic Socialism blog at Daily Kos.  

Yes, I’m for Obamabowl. In fact, I’m for what fairly can be called socialized bowling and other forms of socialized recreational opportunities for working people.

It has been twenty years since academics and opinion leaders started kabuki bemoaning the fact that more and more Americans were bowling alone. Meanwhile, both in dilapidated downtowns and out in the dusty and rusty parts of the so-called “real America” which politicians supposedly care so much about, mom-and-pop bowling centers (even those in the former leading and now bankrupt AMF chain, which put the pinboys out of work) are closing down.

Poor folk who can’t pay the light bill have a hard time paying for entertainment with discretionary funds that aren’t there. If you can’t get a driver’s license because of your court costs, it is hard to get down to the bowling alley and pay the lane costs and bowl alone much less to join a league with cool shirts and buy a modern bowling ball of your own:

Reactive resin is the coverstock formulation that fundamentally changed bowling. Compared to the urethane coverstocks they replaced, reactive resin covers produce significantly more friction with the lane surface, resulting in very big back end motions, increased entry angle into the pocket, and improved pin carry.

With the exception of a small number of urethane balls that are now available, almost all mid-range to high performance bowling balls on the market today have reactive resin coverstocks. While each and every reactive resin coverstock is unique, manufacturers typically classify their covers into one of three groups: reactive solid, reactive pearl, or reactive hybrid.

The modified and more optimistic theory that post-9/11 we were still bowling alone but perhaps uniting in new happy days ways such as Facebook is giving way to a more full recognition by Robert Putnam, and the masses, that economic inequality is at the root of the social capital problem.

Are we supposed to just stand there in our gym socks with holes in them, cook meth, and watch the sport of the Egyptians die?

A British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, discovered in the 1930’s a collection of objects in a child’s grave in Egypt that appeared to him to be used for a crude form of bowling. If he was correct, then bowling traces its ancestry to 3200 BC.

The right has no answer, other than more class and race-based discrimination and more neolibowlism, of course, including tax subsidies for corporations. Presumably, we will not go out on strike if we can’t even try to make a strike.

The trend in bowling is to bring in the prosperous and keep out the riff raff, through pricing and other barriers to entry, including, at one up-scale bowling chain , a dress code that suggests who should not be coming inside:

Dress Code

Since the beginning Lucky Strike has been dedicated to a unique upscale style that combines fun and hip. Therefore Neat, Casual Fitted Attire is required.

We will continually strive to accommodate those whose style and imagination suit our environment but ask that you please refrain from wearing the following:
Athletic wear of any kind including shorts, jerseys, sweats, & hoodies (Call Venue for Game day exceptions)
Headgear (Exceptions for stylish hats)
Sleeveless T-shirts
Plain white T-shirts
Chains
Ripped or soiled clothing
Excessively baggy clothing (Tuck-ins not permitted)
Work boots (Seasonal exceptions)
No Motorcycle/Gang Colors
Joggers

Dress code may vary by location, call venue for details.

I’m for taking some of the money we already spend on the drug war and our numerous other wars, literal and figurative, and the capitalist industrial complexes that sponge off them, and assuring that working people have a decent place to go for fun on a Saturday night.

Call me a left-wing loon (I am usually three strikes short of a turkey), but we have tremendous investment of public resources in providing predominately older whiter wealthier males places to golf, sometime for blatantly racist reasons.

Capital City Country Club was bathed in controversy for years. In 1956, in an attempt to avoid racial integration, the city granted a 99-year lease, at $1 per year, to a private group of members. The move led to a series of lawsuits over the years and the lingering impression the club had membership restrictions.

We even use vast sums of public money to subsidize a chain of NRA-buddying “destination” sporting good stores which discriminate against African American and Hispanic applicants, and which are, ironically bringing with them expensive new aquarium-themed restaurant-bowling hybrids.

I could not give a f$$k about Johnny Morris’s Uncle Buck.

Fred and Barney, Laverne and Shirley, the Dude, Donny (of I forgot, he died), and Walter Sobchak can’t afford to bowl anymore and increasingly have fewer traditional bowling alleys in which to ply their crafty hobby. Happy endings should not be restricted to sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll:

Walter and the Dude go to the beach to scatter Donny’s ashes. Walter turns an informal eulogy into a tribute to the Vietnam War. After accidentally covering the Dude with Donny’s ashes, Walter hugs him and says, “Come on. Fuck it, man. Let’s go bowling.” At the bowling alley, the story’s narrator (Sam Elliott) tells the camera that Maude is pregnant with a “little Lebowski”.

I was going to write a personal reflection on bowling as a way of connecting with the cherished bowlers of my past, especially how I always think of my cousin David every time I go into a bowling alley, and how I wish I had gone with him that last time when he, so sick, asked me to go with him and his partner to bowl, and how I politely passed, what a chicken shit ignorant moran I was, as if I would somehow catch the disease he had or be invited to do things on South Beach, and two months later I was going to his funeral. But, I’ll save the Nostalgiarama.

For now, I will say in David’s honor, if you want us to unite, let us bowl mutherf$$kers.

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So I just formed this Daily Kos group called “I ♥ Democratic Socialism”

because I do. (Here is the group link.)

Here is the logo, from a famous book———————>

Here is the profile:

In “Why I Write” (1946), George Orwell wrote a sentence that inspires this group: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” Democracy and socialism belong together, and neither democracy nor socialism is deserving of its name without incorporating the other. This group discusses and agitates for both, together. Without democracy, what was often labeled “socialism” was actually state capitalism and easily led to totalitarianism. But neoliberal triumphalism is not justified. Without socialism, what is often labeled “democracy” is legalized bribery and shallow electioneering easily controlled by the powerful few who can manipulate politicians and the people through divide and rule. Because it does not subject the economy to democratic control, such a society is not actually democratic. Rule by the people, to be meaningful, must not leave out the material conditions that affect the lives of the people and the sustainability of the beautiful planet upon which we will always depend. In other words, democracy must be deep and reach the economy or it will be more fiction than reality. Ostensible “democratic” self-rule with actual rule by either powerful state or powerful market capitalists is not consistent with equality, freedom, justice, human welfare, and both enjoying and preserving our planet for the future. Without justice there is not going to be peace, and human lives and massive amounts of resources will be wasted on war and the military industrial complexes of nation states. Achieving global justice and peace will not be easy, but it will not come without democratic socialism.

Here is the link for the referenced lovely Orwell essay, which changed my dark little life, filling me with radical impulses, rays of light, beacons of hope, etc., with lines such as these:

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am a little fat man myself, but I will not ride such horses and forgive Mr. Blair for that last line because I know his heart was pure. Please take my hands. We all need company to cook up the peaceful democratic revolution, more specifically, several billion, f/k/a, the masses. Continue reading

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Weird Al, creative democracy, and our gyro wheels of objective conditions

This diary was first published at Anti-Capitalist Meetup a week ago on Easter Sunday.

Freestyle dance with me if you will on what is for many the close of a sacred day. Let us let our hair down, if the shoe fits, so to speak, and embrace what Rosa Luxemburg called “a positive and creative spirit.”


Wherein I Channel My Best (Socialist) Carl Sandburg For the Oddly Lincolnesque Weird Al

Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic was born in 1959 two days before yours truly (by my calculation, we were both spawned, albeit separately, the month the victorious Fidel cruised into Havana). Since many of us first heard his goofy music we have felt validated in our own awkward creativity sometimes called weirdness. Continue reading

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Camaraderie, reading, and “a queer socialist poet”

This piece was first published for the Anti-Capitalist Meetup group at Daily Kos on March 1, 2015. I am finally getting around to republishing it at gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com.

Why do we do this? I can only speak for me, but I do it not only to foment revolution–a worldwide peaceful one of justice in the service of love brought about by direct and indirect action–but also for the camaraderie. NancyWH reminded me of that in a comment she made last Sunday night in a chain under annieli’s latest diary for this group (an amazing educational piece, read by very few at the time, I am sad to say):

Every journey starts with one step (4+ / 0-)

I hear. Now I have two! I will end up having so many tabs open, I’ll get confused. So I have a word document where I stash links, so I can find them again later.

And I am apt to come back early tomorrow, and find people came along and added other suggestions after I went to sleep. It was that comradery that drew me here in the first place.

And that comment got me thinking about “camaraderie.” I volunteered to do this diary a day later because we needed a writer for this week, thinking that I could come up with something, but as usual not knowing what it would be. I do love this unpredictable journey of socialist sharing with comrades, some of whom are now living across one big pond or another from the U.S., and none, to my knowledge, within hundreds of miles of me, a lonely watermelon in a highly un-“red” part of the Deep Red South. To me, it does not really matter what specific anti-capitalist theme I write about or one of my comrades writes about, but it does matter that we are together, sharing our bad ass love for humanity, including for each other.

Of course, Daily Kos writ large has an agenda which should bring some solidarity, and any group blog at Daily Kos has some camaraderie around a profile, and some profiles are more or less expressly aimed at camaraderie. Because of responsibilities, I don’t often get to participate in Saturday night’s WYFP?, but when I do, I am always uplifted by the fact that people bring their problems to each other there and receive encouragement from others. It is quite beautifully real and sometimes brings me to tears.

So camaraderie,

Stuck in my atrophying mental space, based on NancyWH’s comment, was this subject of camaraderie. I have never spent much time thinking about socialist camaraderie per se, but I have known some camaraderie in my day, most of it decidedly un-socialist and un-progressive–a “wide gamut,” everything from little league competition and bench-warming of the “worst” “teammates”; to high school locker room glory days, where one fits in by not only performing on the field or court but also by committing or ignoring bullying of the smallest “teammates”; to goldfish-swallowing beer-guzzling fraternity “good times,” where one fits in by committing or receiving bullying given the more grandiose name of hazing; to beer-guzzling adult softball team after-game carousing and what not–then again, it dawns, maybe I don’t know shit about camaraderie, sure haven’t had much of it that wasn’t involved with competition, cruelty, or both. Continue reading

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Mardis Gras Materialism: Dialectical New Orleans, “Rebel” City for Capitalism’s Causes

I wrote this aesthetically ugly little diary from New Orleans Sunday morning during the last Mardis Gras weekend and first published it that Sunday night for Anti-Capitalist Meetup. After returning to Nowheresville, Deep South, out of the flood plain, I thought I would give it another whirl on the day, “Fat Tuesday,” and added a word about the people of a sad place that is special to me. (I am finally getting around to publishing it at gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com a month later.) The republishing at Anti-Capitalist Meetup on Fat Tuesday was dedicated:

to the people of the Ninth Ward, past and yes present. Whether they live in the Ninth Ward still or are scattered to some other southern ghetto, materialism has dictated that they will live very hard lives. After hurricanes, from the Redneck Riviera to Fire Island, the wealthy rebuild, courtesy of federal and state socialized programs. I am all for getting at the root causes of why people live in places like the Ninth Ward to begin with, but the truth is, if “we” as Amurikka are going to redline places in our country and our world vulnerable to hurricanes/Climate Change and not worthy of protecting and rebuilding, political power will dictate that this means where “they” live and not where those with the power live. And where is that Jobs Program that the poor people of New Orleans and all of Amurikka so obviously need? Is our plan to avoid “love thy neighbor” by getting rid of the neighbors who don’t have jobs and nice places to live, out of sight and out of mind? Sorry for the buzz kill, but for me Lent is beginning a day early. I am sorry brothers and sisters, we have let you down and chosen the easy path of spreading the lies of the powerful who look down at you and blame you for being the necessary byproducts of their own system of organized fear and greed.

Krewe of Iris beads

“I can see that we’re going to have a great deal of trouble capturing the conservative rural redneck Calvinist vote.” Reilly, I.J., facetiously summarizing the failure of his address to the inattentive dancing assembled prospective members of the newly formed Peace Party.

Toole, J.K., 1980. A Confederacy of Dunces. Louisiana State University Press.

Dear Communiss Readers:

I had high hopes for this diary. Although I love this beautiful mess of a city, some things about New Orleans make me want to unsheath my scimitar, and I wanted to tell you about them in a scholarly manner. Continue reading

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The Pope’s Possible Future Role in Cuba

January 5, 2015, one day later, late at night postlude/preface: I probably in writing this post let my duty to socialism take too much of a backseat to my religious idiosyncrasies and natural tendency to be flippant and cynical. But I hope that I have at least been honest in my imperfections. The comments to this post at DailyKos have caused me to think a lot. As I more or less mentioned in an update to the post early this morning, I have been concerned about the immature and strident nature of the post, and especially at the possibility that it would be divisive to Catholic brothers and sisters on the left. I want to be an instrument of peace with respect to my world and do deeply appreciate all those on the left, including Catholic leftists, some of whom are dear friends or otherwise directly or indirectly have had a profoundly positive personal influence on me. And I do have hope for the first time in a long time that, because of Pope Francis, this amazing and highly imperfect institution of the Catholic Church, with its 1.2 billion members, might be made to be less of an instrument of oppression and reaction and more of an instrument of human solidarity, equality, and justice in the service of love for all of “God’s” humans and other creatures. Bottom line, though, is that I am, for now at least, going to leave this post just the way I originally published it, and trust that my brothers and sisters, be they Catholic or otherwise, will forgive me for where I have strayed (or, if you think it fits, sinned). Please do not hesitate to send me a pointed message, email, or comment. I think that our personal dialectics sometimes have to be played out publicly to get the best result, so I am leaving it all hanging out there and feel that I am by doing so testifying the best I can. Peace and justice dammit, Francisco aka Galtisalie

There can be no immaculate conception of socialism …
[Aneurin Bevan, 1945]

or of our posts about socialism.

I had hoped this post would be the fabulous coming out ceremony for a pamphlet I have been working on in my spare time for over a year on the need for a global social compact. I view Pope Francis as being a potential key Gramscian player in this prospect. I was going to highlight how Cuba may present a unique opportunity for the global social compact paradigm. But, as they sometimes do, real world events in my little world have taken precedence over the Holidays, and the pamphlet is not complete. Nonetheless, I feel I can still take an abbreviated stab at the post I mentioned week before last in a comment on MrJayTee’s excellent Cuba post:

a look at the Cuban constitution, Cuba’s survival of the fittest/meanest capitalist island neighbor immediately to its east, and the potential helpful role of Pope Francis

(My patient, kind but busy tovarishch MrJayTee prefers I keep my posts short anyway, so perhaps this is divine providence.)

Before I get into the meat of this post, I need to get some slights, and caveats, out of the way. Let me begin by “apologizing” to socialists who happen to be Catholic for the Immaculate Conception invocation, but it seemed to fit my situation, and, 55 years into both experiments, it seems to fit Cuba’s as well. That cultural reference got Aneurin Bevan, the founder of Britain’s National Health Service, in trouble with this important left subgroup seventy years ago. But what the hell, Bevan, and after him the Castro brothers, did more to help the working class have earth as it is in heaven than any pope or archbishop of Canterbury in my estimation. So, please accept my laurel and hardy handshake and nonpology.

As for caveats, for stinging critique by me of the Catholic Church’s anti-women, anti-GLBT, and in general anti-human policies, and its tendency to produce smarmy moralizing with little or no praxis to produce change, please see here and here, respectively, including ditty about:

the unelected Constantinian conservative RC majority of the SCOTUS, the Republican Party’s politburo, the vanguard in robes of U.S. political corruption and global neoliberalism, his humble flock, who put capital unction into the grotesque shunning of humanity that is institutionalized social repression

In a nutshell, while I have taken the gloves off with Pope Francis’s street cred, I believe in working with him too.

I do need to add one last preliminary sting:

No, Pope Francis, I do not buy that you did all you could to protect your own priests from right wing killers/torturers in Argentina’s Dirty War. I will not battle that history out in this post, but suffice it to say that you could have placed your prestige, and your body, on the line to protect them, but failed to do so.

To see how a real moral leader leads by example, please read Gramsci’s 1925 speech directly to the face of Mussolini and the Italian parliament.

Moving right along … Continue reading

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Anti-Capitalist Cuba Chat: Support and Recruitment for Granma’s Next Voyage

Why I Write Personally and Plainly About Democratic Socialism

Note: This is an excerpt from a lengthy essay on Cuba I wrote around eighteen months ago when, without my knowledge, the U.S. and Cuba entered secret negotiations to reestablish relations. It was part of my political coming of age pamphlet I published later that summer, which can be obtained in English or Spanish at gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com. (To read about my Cuban American ancestors, including my radical ancestor tío Pancho and his sobrina, my very own wonderful Cuban American Granma, mi abuela Laura, please go to the pamphlet!) I republish now the parts of the essay that most relate to Cuba’s future and the future of socialism–in celebration of this historic moment, and also in hope that the future will not be an end to the socialist revolution, much less a capitalist takeover, but a new glorious phase in Cuba’s history that can be an example of deep democracy to the entire world. I dedicate this republication to the revolution my Cuban American ancestors dreamed of, and helped pay for twice, and to my dear close Cuban-born friend mentioned in the essay.

The Granma was invincible, like the spirit that moved within its deck! There were forces at work in addition to purely physical ones, and they too withstood the storms and drove the boat onward to its destination. One thought, one common ideal, one single desire, was projected in a single direction: the soil of the enslaved homeland.

Pérez, F.

I have no doubt that the voyage of that nearly sinking yacht, grossly overloaded with filthy and seasick would-be liberators, represented the dream for Cuba of my ancestors and hundreds of other forgotten families like them who came to the U.S. during the 19th century to provide workers for the newly-established domestic cigar industry. That is why the year before the voyage Fidel Castro came to Hillsborough County, Florida for several days to raise money. By then most of my West Tampa ancestors were only in the memory of mi abuela and a few other scattered relatives, their gravesites long since placed beneath a highway by the City of Tampa. All Granma-related propaganda and superstition aside, it is nice to think that they were part of a universal spirit of deep democracy that “moved within its deck!”

As we cautiously begin to improvise the next voyage of our Granma, this one to provide deep democracy to the whole earth, it is important to search for this spirit. One way to find it is to remember that the roots of the Cuban revolution extended beneath the Florida Straits to poor Cuban-American working families who were socialized to believe that they were part of something that included more than them and their own serious crises. They were militant labor people, and many of them were also socialists, communists, anarchists, and various mixed versions of these uniting in anti-capitalist views.

Their dream was not the hollow U.S. corporate version of freedom still ruling Cuba when the 82 revolutionaries set their feet on Cuban soil. That version of freedom had repressed them just as it continued to repress those in Cuba when Castro and his comrades came ashore. That version of freedom, in typical reckless boom-and-bust circumstances discussed by Marx generations before, had caused the Depression that variously put them out of work. Then that version of freedom became cozy with Franco. When Castro came to town, that version of freedom was Batista’s. Thus, by the time Castro got there to solicit funds, generations of cigar workers and their families in West Tampa and Ybor City had never hesitated to collect from what little they had in mutual aid to each other and to the causes of true freedom in Cuba and Spain.

Some of my family probably walked to and from the factory not only dreaming of a better day but also whistling the Internationale. Over a century of demagoguery and repression in the U.S. repels most of its inhabitants at the mere mention of the name Karl Marx. Capitalists who Marx aptly described snicker at their own cleverness. They thank mammon that Stalin, Mao, and other exemplars of totalitarianism practiced their inhumanity as “communists” and “socialists” with some words twisted from Marx and inverted to their own ends. I do not agree with some of the things I have learned about Marx’s beliefs, and he certainly failed to work out a mature system for socialism. But he was a humanitarian and not a promoter of cruelty or totalitarianism.

Under the combined daily influences of the corporate media, the pressures of consumerism, and a host of opiates, literal and figurative, good people can be unconsciously converted into forces of reaction. They are kept in debt, in fear of layoffs, and quick to consciously or unconsciously do their masters’ bidding—which include avoiding any rational discussion of the pros and cons of capitalism, socialism, or some reasonable blend thereof. The daily pornography of giveaways to transnational corporations, global financial gamesmanship, economic injustice, the defense industrial complex, cow-towing to dictators who control dwindling supplies of irreplaceable resources, and global warming escape notice.

In the streets of West Tampa and Ybor City beginning more than a hundred years ago, the working people were taking keen note of the world near and far and were not repelled by Marx or other leftist intellectuals. They were politically-oriented, actively participated in electioneering when political institutions were open to them, and wanted to learn the alternatives to capital exploitation. They saw capitalism as a system that potentially fed them but also one of racism, oppression, and imminent abandonment, the deeply flawed heir to imperialism.

Capitalism wanted to treat them like things—just like other things such as Cuban tobacco, but ideally more expendable. Tobacco leaves were not hated, beaten, and fired for striking. Tobacco was a valuable commodity always desired. Skilled cigar makers had some clout for a time, but this only incited greater rage on behalf of the capitalists who hated having to treat workers as human beings. Always vulnerable to oppression, unredeemable union people to the end, by the 1930’s many of them were out-of-work and completely destitute, forced to piece together one meal at time before moving on, if they were lucky, to low paying jobs outside the cigar industry, locally or in other cities like New York, or in the case of mi abuela, Miami. Vicious anti-labor firings and repression, machine production of cigars, consumer shifts to smoking cigarettes, and for the lectors, replacement by radios emitting non-confrontational advertising-fueled pablum—all of these contributed to the end of a now forgotten major portion of Florida history. This history was a major part of the great labor struggle in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries, which for the most part capital won, using any means necessary.

In the early 21st century and still in the southeastern U.S., at least one of the descendants of the losing side is now a socialist. I have learned of and will not forget their lives and values—and the U.S. roots of the Cuban revolution, which is in turn a continuing inspiration to the desperate throughout Latin America and the world. Continue reading

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“Tough S*** [Racist Epithet Deleted]”: Lawandorder, Lake County, Florida, 1972/U.S.A., Today

Surely, great racial progress has been made in the U.S. since 1972. After all, the racial epithet is now deleted. Just looksee above. So, I get some credit, right?

Indeed, some of us grow as human beings, and that is to be valued and encouraged. In 1972 living in Lake County, Florida, raised to be an unquestioning Preacher’s Kid who considered conservative Republican politics to be synonymous with morality, and unquestioningly accepted that Richard M. Nixon, the One, was right on Vietnam and everything else, I never would have imagined that I would eventually grow to reject nearly everything I had been taught. Even my fundamentalist dad has grown, thanks in part to learning to accept the true selves of my lesbian little sister and her partner, although telling him I had become a Democrat a quarter century ago seemed like it would give him a heart attack. He even expressed some remorse last month with the prospect of voting for Rick Scott a second time, although I am so glad to still have him around and talking again (after thinking early this year that he was gone to us for good) that I can forgive him for his long-established rote voting pattern.

Certainly, when he reflects back on his ministry today, my dad expresses greatest remorse for the Southern Baptist church’s reactionary positions and actions on the matter of race. So, forgiveness is in order. And please dear Jesus, don’t let Dad find out that I am a frigging democratic socialist, that truly would kill him, especially with the Dolphins certain to not make the playoffs when they almost certainly lose to the Patriots later today. In our family, the only thing we loved more than conservative Republican politics was the Dolphins, so obsessively following the football team is the one theoretically enjoyable pastime we all still have in common. So, uh, Fins up, even though the 1972 “Perfect Season” seems not only long ago but also ironic given what was happening to the north of Miami in Lake County at the time.

Willis V. McCall, after 28 years of racist treachery, union busting, and anti-commie/liberal demagoguery as the lawandorder sheriff of Lake County, Florida, where I spent grades 7-9, did not grow as a human being. In 1972, he still had time in office to kick and beat to death in a Tavares jail cell Tommie J. Vickers, an intellectually-disabled African American prisoner who made the mistake of not having the self-control to avoid smarting off to a real southern lawandorder man.

The remains of Mr. Vickers, who apparently had roots in Georgia just like my “white” mother, lie forgotten in a historic cemetery affiliated with an African American version of the supposedly Christ-like fundamentalist denomination I was raised in. He would not have been at all welcome in the church my dad pastored in Leesburg in the early 1970’s.

The Dixiecrat Sheriff McCall was soon to be suspended by the progressive Democratic Florida Governor Reubin Askew. Meanwhile, between the time he was suspended and would lose reelection on the same day Nixon, the One, won big time over that hippie-loving McGovern, he would remain de facto in control. The evil man’s banality in the same county commission meeting that announced “Letter from Frank X. Gliozzo, Attorney, concerning the claim in regard to Tommie Vickers was referred to [the county attorney]” made it difficult to tell whether it was the acting or the suspended sheriff’s requests that were being respectfully rubber-stamped:

Sheriff Meech and a representative of Motorola were present and informed the Board the radio equipment in the Sheriff’s Department tis [sic] antiquated. Mr. Meech advised suspended Sheriff McCall had instituted a study of needed equipment, and the study had been completed. The Motorola representative described the necessary equipment including two closed circuit television cameras at a cost of $21,412 with 6 to 8 weeks delivery. Chairman Windram said this will be considered when the budget is finalized. The Sheriff also recommended that a security screen be installed over the windows in the Jail and requested permission to obtain a price for same. Request was granted.

I never knew Mr. Vickers or learned about his death. I doubt we would have prayed for his mourning family, although I can find no record that the matter of his unfortunate “passing” for the act of dissing the sheriff ever made it into the Leesburg Daily Commercial. But, that’s all in the past, right? Continue reading

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“I Live in Fear”: When the “Rule of Law” Is Not the Point, Mr. President

First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so, we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.

President Obama, 11/24/14, Transcript.

Thus President Obama began his “few words suggesting how we might move forward” after the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. I believe that this “first and foremost” ranking and associated word choices have seriously harmful cultural resonance, and I hope that he abandons them immediately when referring to the nationwide crisis centered upon Ferguson. Although the president quickly, but somewhat superficially, shifted the focus onto the wishes of the Brown family, a giant opportunity was missed to acknowledge at the outset the core principle involved, which was and is not the “rule of law” but “freedom from fear.”

Now more than ever we must begin to know and insist upon our rights as human beings, U.S. “rule of law” be damned. Where human rights are not being protected, as they were not on the streets of Ferguson when Michael Brown was slaughtered, and as law enforcement in the U.S. has shown no propensity to do, suggesting that the rule of law is the defining principle is inaccurate. The rule of law is to avoid compelling human beings as a last resort to rebel against oppression, not to mask barbarous acts of oppression.

While the president is famous for slow starts and strong finishes, now is not the time for a slow start, much less a chide. And, sadly, chide is what he did. Undoubtedly he would have been called a white-hating Kenyan dictator had he begun with the truth, but, as we have learned, he will be called that anyway.

Rather than first voicing the primary need at this time for solidarity with those who have been and are harmed and threatened by police brutality–a fact that President Obama certainly knows based on his own life experiences and years as president responding to repeat instances of law enforcement violence against African Americans–he began with a chide to those who recognize this so-called “rule of law” for the hypocritical mask of oppression that it is.

It was as if the most important message at the time was the need to prevent the breaking of windows, so apparently hallowed under the rule of law and much more important under our system of government than preventing police and police wannabes from killing young African American men. The latter must grin and bear the constant unequal risk that they will be stopped, frisked, and even shot by “demonizing” white cops. But we here in the U.S. of A. expect our cops are going to protect those Swisher Sweets, priority number one.

The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights voices a much more candid message about the pitfalls of proffering a hollow rule of law that does not prevent oppression:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

FDR captured this through the “freedom from fear” concept in the Four freedoms speech, which made it into the preamble:

The ideas enunciated in the Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were the foundational principles that evolved into the Atlantic Charter declared by Winston Churchill and FDR in August 1941; the United Nations Declaration of January 1, 1942; President Roosevelt’s vision for an international organization that became the United Nations after his death; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 through the work of Eleanor Roosevelt.

While President Roosevelt on January 6, 1941 in his state of the union speech was focused on a world at war and accordingly “translated” the concept “into world terms,” freedom from fear definitely applies at the individual “neighbor” level as well as at the international level.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception—the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change—in a perpetual peaceful revolution—a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions—without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

Freedom from fear properly was cast in moral terms, so that, by implication, denying the Brown family and other African American families freedom from fear is itself immoral and outside the intent of having a so-called rule of law. Thus, any rule of law that exacerbates the Browns’ fear and the fear of millions of more families like the Browns is not worthy of respect and we need not and indeed MUST NOT “ACCEPT” IT. So no Mr. President, we do not “accept” the outcome of that grand jury. Continue reading

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Illusions and “the Least of These” in the Japanese and Wholly Walton Empires

I am republishing a new version of this diary, first published last Sunday night for Anti-Capitalist Meetup before it was ready to see the world. I have extensively rewritten it in light of the pointed feminist left analysis of Geminijen. She was right–I was inconsistent in simultaneously empathizing with the victims of the Japanese “comfort women” mass crime while mentioning the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal without acknowledging the associated dynamic of workplace exploitation–and the emerging horrific decades-long Bill Cosby workplace scandal just makes that more apparent. Exploitation of women, in its many shameful forms, is a huge part of human injustice to the vulnerable that should never be overlooked or minimized. The very point of my diary is to pull back layers of illusion in our society. I hope I have now done the topic greater justice.

In the late 1960’s, when I was in about the fourth grade in South Florida, one Sunday night a Japanese “foreign missionary” named Shoji Honda came to speak at the Southern Baptist Church where my conservative Hispanic dad was pastor. Long before the cars with that last name became commonplace on U.S. streets, I knew about the motorcycles. Meeting this friendly and intelligent young man was about the most interesting thing that had happened in my life up to that point in time.

Shoji taught me and the other kids how to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Japanese and Spanish. If we met again I would like to ask him if Jesus loved the “comfort women” the imperial Japanese Army forced into sexual slavery during and after WWII or the undocumented Latin American families who are trying to feed and house themselves in the town in the Deep South where I live today. As a leftist who also happens to be Christian, if there is anything that keeps me loving my version of Jesus (liberating socialist) it is that the answer in both instances would be yes. But by the example of many conservative religious people of yesterday and today in Japan and the U.S., the answers would be “What comfort women?” and a spittle-flaked “Hell no.”

Many of the Christians in my town still are part of the tarnished Tea Party set spouting about the imminent Stalinist state that soon will be in control in the good ole U.S. of A. (The thought that President Obama now is allowing some of the poor brown workers we see every day to become documented and remain here with their families has them in a reactionary tizzy.) I am tempted to tell them that they have it about half right. Arguably a variation on a creeping dictatorship is increasingly in place in the U.S. It is not state capitalist but late market capitalist in nature, and its dictator is not Barack Obama (an empathetic human being of humble beginnings and a big heart with whom I, as a democratic socialist, disagree on many things), nor even one person, elected or otherwise, but the system itself, currently archetypically embodied in the Tea Party’s own funders. But, bad as the Koch Brothers are, it is never good to bandy about comparisons to “Stalin” or that other person whose name is usually mentioned by the Tea Partiers in the same breath. And the Koch Brothers are by no means the only powerful plutocrats in the U.S., although they are among those spending the most to control U.S. politics. They are major multi-tenacled suppliers in chains driven to maintain capitalist exploitation for as long as natural resources last. You and I have roles too–most prominently as wasteful followers of mass-marketed taste, “consumers” in the Wholly Walton Empire. Continue reading