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Talk Nation Radio: Aspen Baker on Abortion and Being Pro-Voice

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-aspen-baker-on-abortion-and-being-pro-voice

Aspen Baker is the author of Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, and spokesperson for Exhale. She discusses how to transform discussions of abortion. Her website is http://aspenbaker.com

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

How Can This Still Be Happening in Our World?

How does war impact people who believe in it?

What does it do to people who live through it?

How does it feel to begin to doubt it?

SanctuaryThePlay.com

This play is a flood of sensations streaming out of the madness of militarism half-aware of itself.

"I'm going to create a Sanctuary, a place inside myself first where I tell the truth," says a character toward the end, as if telling the truth to others openly would be a difficult, second step to someday follow telling the truth to oneself.

For how many people is that true?

How many of them might it help to hear someone else tell the truth in a room of someone elses listening and appreciating?

Watch this:

Talk Nation Radio: Kayaks and Soap vs. Big Oil and Trash

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-kayaks-and-soap-vs-big-oil-and-trash

Bill Moyer is cofounder and executive director of the Backbone Campaign. He discussed the kayaktivists who have taken to the water in Seattle to oppose Shell's planned artic drilling. See http://backbonecampaign.org

Diane Wittner is the Baltimore-based owner of a new zero waste, all natural, locally-based cleaning powder business Echotopia LLC. She also discusses the campaign to stop the largest trash incinerator in the U.S. from being built in Baltimore. See http://www.echotopia.org and http://chesapeakecitizens.org And Joseph Brodsky's poem "New Life" is here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/04/26/new-life

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Que Pasa, New York?

The Nation magazine recently republished an old column by Jean Paul Sartre in which he described the myths he had been told about Americans by American culture, and compared those with what he observed. He was supposed to see eternal happiness, but instead, as he wandered around New York, he saw "the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes." "[A]nd we know," he wrote, "that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people."

Sartre was once described as one of the last great writers willing to expound at length on a subject without bothering to learn anything about it. As a frequent practitioner of the same practice which is far from dead, whether it's done greatly or not, I think something can be said in Sartre's defense. Of course he could not accurately detect astonished good faith based on faces, and of course he had confused New York with the United States. But he could recognize human beings, and he knew some things that were true of just about every human being he'd known. Based on that, he could consider carefully the possibility that American propaganda accurately depicted real people, and he could reject the idea. In fact, he could conclude:

"Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life."

Sartre could have discovered that about the United States without leaving France, as he discovered most things. It's possible there's still something to it.

I used to live in New York and now just visit, recently quite a number of times. I was also recently in Cuba where I had a hard time convincing one man I spoke with that any U.S. street had potholes. The representation of life in New York is often not that of what I see: third-world infrastructure, trains so slow you expect the mayor will have kept a campaign promise by the time you ever get somewhere, medieval inequality of wealth, racial segregation surrounded by inter-racial advertisements, environmentalism with hardly a hint of the natural world in sight, an unnatural world so unremittingly ugly that the beauty of its human inhabitants stands out.

And of course the people and their incredible mix of cultures and personalities have next to nothing to do with the world they live in, and in fact notice it less and less the longer they've been in it -- hearing the cacophony of noise pollution only through its absence when having left the city. In New York one finds friendliness, neighborliness, the shattering and the upholding and the skewing of every stereotype. And, I think, despite the endless dissatisfaction of a consumerist society, one finds here a certain satisfaction not always present elsewhere in the United States and born of a belief in lying at the center of the universe.

Being Pro-Voice

The abortion debates is the last place I would have looked for inspiration in methods of handling the major political and social problems of the world. Politically I've always thought of abortion -- the topic of abortion, that is -- as part of a fraud. A so-called democracy is limited to two political parties, both of which serve corporate monopolies, both of which invest primarily in war preparations, both of which cavalierly sacrifice the future habitability of the planet as well as the immediate survival of numerous species, both of which advance income inequality, both of which strip away our civil liberties -- and yet, the two of which are depicted as diametrically opposed, supposedly offering us a world of difference at the polling place. And how is this done? Easy, one of them is pro- and the other anti- abortion! I can't count how many people have listed everything they oppose about a presidential candidate and then begged me to vote for that same candidate in order to determine the abortion issue in the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Aspen Baker's book, Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, comes as a pleasant surprise. To begin with, this book causes me to recognize another reason I've had a distaste for the abortion debate. I don't mean that there's not really any clearly desirable position to take on it; I already realized that. I mean that the abortion debate is exceptionally simplistic, dishonestly so. And the reason for this, brought out I think by Baker, is that people who have abortions do not talk about them. There is such a stigma attached to it, that the experience of having an abortion, including the decision making process gone through, including the days and years after the abortion, including the impact on other people involved, is basically unknown. And that vacuum is filled by slogans dedicated toward legislative ends.

One result of keeping abortion shameful and secret is isolation and suffering for those who have abortions. One goal of creating telephone talk-lines and websites and media coverage, as Baker's group Exhale has done, is to bring human friendship and compassion to people isolated by politics and treated as political tools by two opposing groups. Now, if you are fervently dedicated to the "pro-life" or "pro-choice" position, then the emotional state of women who have abortions may seem secondary, and how it's addressed may seem worth judging primarily in terms of how it advances or impedes another goal. But what if, without hurting your pro-choice or pro-life goal, a pro-voice approach began to create a little reconciliation between the two camps, and what if that began to create some new goals?

I began reading this book skeptically. I found myself asking why a book-length account of the value of telling specific stories didn't instead just tell a few of those stories. Eventually it did, at least in excerpt form. And what happened around those stories began to seem important as well. Exhale created greeting cards for people who'd had abortions, something now also done for queer and poor families and single moms. Creating understanding and acceptance of women who've had abortions, regardless of your view of abortion, is a valuable contribution to a discussion, a negotiation. Do you view abortion as murder? Well, murderers too should be treated as human beings, and some day we may advance our understanding that far as well.

Baker claims to have influenced the discourse so much that conservative groups have reduced their talk about "postabortive women" and "postabortion syndrome," choosing, Baker writes, to speak about "healing from grief and loss, rather than seeking forgiveness for a sin." And organizations have arisen to help women that include both pro-choice and pro-life staff people. In fact, Baker writes, most Americans are both pro-choice and pro-life. When Exhale advised an MTV program featuring three women's stories, the result was positive reviews both from serious feminists and from Fox News commentators. "It was not a cavalier decision she made," commented one Fox News host on one of the women featured by the MTV show, noting in effect that the woman's experience resembled reality more than common caricature.

What if we all read stories like these? What if the conversation became an open one? We should, I think, all have enough confidence in our political agendas to believe they would succeed in the light of day with full information. And in fact they might. The horrendously bad aspects of abortion could be made known in a real and credible way -- much more persuasive than pro-life myths. The overwhelming moral justifications for abortion in many cases, could be more widely understood.

And what if those who shout from one side or the other then began talking with each other?

And what if reading the stories of women struggling through difficulties resulted in some political awareness of the extent and nature of those difficulties and how they impact each other? Women lacking access to good education, jobs, income security, healthcare, and so on (part of only a small fraction of the stories, which really come in infinite variety -- though perhaps a larger fraction among the stories that never reach the internet)  -- those are women in need of more than just common human decency. But common human decency sure is a good place to start.

The Decline and Fall of the United States

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--Robert Frost

After a speech I gave this past weekend, a young woman asked me whether a failure by the United States to properly surround and intimidate China might result in instability. I explained why I thought the opposite was true. Imagine if China had military bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the United States and ships in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Would you feel stabilized? Or might you feel something else?

The U.S. empire can continue to see itself as a force for good, doing things that would be unacceptable for anyone else but never to be questioned when performed by the global cop -- that is, it can go on not seeing itself at all, expanding, over-reaching, and collapsing from within. Or it can recognize what it's about, shift priorities, scale back militarism, reverse the concentration of wealth and power, invest in green energy and human needs, and undo the empire a bit sooner but far more beneficially. Collapse is not inevitable. Collapse or redirection is inevitable, and thus far the U.S. government is choosing the path toward the former.

Let's look at a few of the indicators.

FAILING DEMOCRACY

The United States bombs nations in the name of democracy, yet has one of the least democratic and least functioning of the states calling themselves democracies. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout among wealthy, and lower even than many poor, countries. An election is looming for next year with leading contenders from two aristocratic dynasties. The United States does not use national public initiatives or referenda in the way that some countries do, so its low voter turnout (with over 60% of eligible voters choosing not to vote in 2014) matters all the more. The U.S. democracy is also less democratic than other wealthy democracies in terms of its internal functioning, with a single individual able to launch wars.

Low public participation is not the result of satisfaction so much as recognition of corruption, combined with antidemocratic barriers to participating. For years now 75% to 85% of the U.S. public has been saying its government is broken. And clearly a big part of that understanding is related to the system of legalized bribery that funds elections. Approval of Congress has been under 20% and sometimes under 10% for years now. Confidence in Congress is at 7% and falling quickly.

Recently a man, expecting to lose his job at the very least, landed a little bicycle-helicopter at the U.S. Capitol to try to deliver requests to clean the money out of elections. He cited as his motivation the "collapse of this country." Another man showed up at the U.S. Capitol with a sign reading "Tax the 1%" and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Polls suggest those are not the only two people who see the problem -- and, it should be noted, the solution.

Of course, the U.S. "democracy" operates in greater and greater secrecy with ever greater powers of surveillance. The World Justice Project ranks the United States below many other nations in these categories: Publicized laws and government data; Right to information; Civic participation; and Complaint mechanisms.

The U.S. government is currently working on ratifying, in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which empowers corporations to overturn laws enacted by the U.S. government.

WEALTH CONCENTRATION

A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations.

The core of the U.S. sales pitch to itself is that, for all its flaws it provides freedom and opportunity. In fact, it trails most European countries in economic mobility, self-assessment of wellbeing, and ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, according to Gallup, 2014.

DEGRADING INFRASTRUCTURE

The United States contains 4.5 percent of the world’s population and spends 42 percent of the world's health care expenses, and yet Americans are less healthy than the residents of nearly every other wealthy nation and a few poor ones as well. The U.S. ranks 36th in life expectancy and 47th in preventing infant mortality.

The U.S. spends more on criminal justice and has more crime, and more gun deaths than most countries, rich or poor. That includes shootings by U.S. police that kill about 1,000 per year, compared to single digits in various Western nations.

The U.S. comes in 57th in employment, stands against the trend of the world by providing no guarantee of paid parental leave or vacation, and trails in education by various measures. The United States, however, leads the way in putting students into debt for their education to the tune of $1.3 trillion, part of a wider problem of personal debt.

The United States is #1 in debt to other countries, including governmental debt, although #3 per capita. As others have pointed out, the U.S. is declining in terms of exports, and the power of the dollar and its use as currency for the globe are in doubt.

DROP IN POPULAR OPINION ABROAD

In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America. In fact, the United States is less generous with aid but more profligate with bombs and missiles than other countries and trails generally in how it treats the rest of the world.

The United States leads the way in environmental destruction, trailing only China in carbon dioxide emissions but almost tripling China's emissions when measured per capita.

The second U.S.-backed dictator in Yemen in the past few years has now fled to Saudi Arabia and requested the bombing of his own country with U.S. weapons, a country in chaos in significant part because a U.S. drone war has given popular support to violent opposition to the U.S. and its servants.

ISIS produced a 60-minute film depicting itself as the leading enemy of the U.S. and essentially asking the U.S. to attack it. The U.S. did and its recruitment soared.

The United States is favored by brutal governments in Egypt and around the region, but not by popular support.

MILITARISM FOR ITS OWN SAKE

The United States is far and away the leading selling seller and giver of weapons to the world; the leading spender on its own military, with expenses having skyrocketed to now about $1.3 trillion per year, roughly equivalent to the rest of the world put together; the leading occupier of the world with troops in almost every other country; and the leading participant in and instigator of wars.

The United States is also, far and away, the leader in incarceration, with more people and a higher percentage of people locked up than in any other time or place, and with even more people on parole and probation and under the control of the prison system. More African-Americans are locked up than were slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. The U.S. is likely the first and only place on earth where the majority of sexual assault victims are male.

Civil liberties are eroding rapidly. Surveillance is expanding dramatically. And all in the name of war without end. But the wars are endless defeats, generating enemies rather than any advantage. The wars empower and create enemies, enrich nations engaged in nonviolent investment, and empower the war profiteers to push for more wars. The propaganda for the wars fails to boost military enlistment at home, so the U.S. government turns to mercenaries (creating additional pressure for more wars) and to drones. But the drones boost the creation of hatred and enemies exponentially, generating blowback that sooner or later will include blowback by means of drones -- which the U.S. war profiteers are marketing around the globe.

RESISTANCE GROWING

Resistance to empire does not come only in the form of a replacement empire. It can take the form of violent and nonviolent resistance to militarism, economic resistance to exploitation, and collective agreement to improve the world. When Iran urges India, China, and Russia to oppose NATO's expansion, it is not necessarily dreaming of global empire or even of cold war, but certainly of resistance to NATO. When bankers suggest the Yuan will replace the dollar, that need not mean that China will duplicate the Pentagon.

The current U.S. trajectory threatens to collapse not just the United States but the world in one or both of two ways: nuclear or environmental apocalypse. Green energy models and antimilitarism constitute resistance to this path. The model of Costa Rica with no military, 100% renewable energy, and ranked at the top in happiness is a form of resistance too. At the end of 2014, Gallup of course did not dare ask again what nation was the greatest threat to peace but did ask if people would ever fight in a war. In many nations large majorities said No, never.

The United States is growing isolated in its support for the institution of war. Last year 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations declared that they would never use war. U.S. support for Israeli wars has left it virtually alone and up against a growing campaign for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. The United States is increasingly understood as rogue, as it remains the lone or nearly lone holdout on the treaty on the rights of the child, the land mines treaty, the covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights, the International Criminal Court, etc.

Latin American nations are standing up to the United States. Some have kicked out its bases and ceased sending students to the School of the Americas. People are protesting at US bases in Italy, South Korea, England, and at US Embassies in Philippines, Czech Republic, Ukraine. German courts are hearing charges that it is illegally participating in US drone wars. Pakistani courts have indicted top CIA officials.

EXCEPTIONALISM ON THE ROPES

The idea of American exceptionalism is not a serious claim so much as an attitude among the U.S. public. While the U.S. trails other nations in various measures of health, happiness, education, sustainable energy, economic security, life expectancy, civil liberties, democratic representation, and peace, and while it sets new records for militarism, incarceration, surveillance, and secrecy, many Americans think of it as so exceptional as to excuse all sorts of actions that are unacceptable in others. Increasingly this requires willful self-deception. Increasingly the self-deception is failing.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death he wasn't warning us. He was warning our parents and grandparents. We're the dead.

Can we be revived?

To End Government Spying, Stop Buying Stuff

The thrust of Robert Scheer's new book, They Know Everything About You, is that the U.S. government's mass surveillance and permanent storage of everything you do on the internet is piggybacking on Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, AOL, Yahoo, and other companies that suck up and permanently store every scrap of information about you that they can lay their virtual hands on -- and that this data mining is driven primarily by the profit to be gained from carefully targeted advertising.

In other words, corporations' desire to place the ideal piece of consumer crap under your nose has facilitated the government's ability to intimidate and preempt activism, and to prosecute and convict on the basis of impressively technical circumstantial evidence. This is unfair in at least two ways. First, and most obviously, it is a gross violation of our rights, an assault on self-governance, a move toward totalitarianism. Facebook is openly running experiments manipulating users' emotions. The Pentagon is buying similar studies from the same academics of how to prevent activist movements -- studies that equate peace activism with violent terrorism. Google is deciding which news you should see and hiring the head of DARPA to head its own private DARPA. The owner of the Washington Post has a much larger investment in providing Amazon's services to U.S. spy agencies. Privatized spy agency contractors (a gift of the Bill Clinton presidency) are hacking into computers around the world with hostile intent and with zero public authorization. The Chamber of Commerce apparently has a free pass to target its critics with hacking and smears and traps set with false leaks. Reporter Michael Hastings dies mysteriously when investigating government tech contractors, and Barrett Brown lands in prison just for linking to embarrassing information. All of this is beginning to be understood and resented. Scheer's book is a great primer on much of it.

Second, and perhaps less obviously, it strikes me as unfair that people like me who have never ever, not even once, clicked on an advertisement or bought anything displayed to me in an advertisement on any of my electronic devices, have to have every move we make surveilled, just because the rest of you are tolerating advertising, clicking on advertising, heeding the commands of advertising, and buying shit. I've had to show up at a nonviolent peaceful protest of war and have the New York Police Department officials make clear to me that they had been reading my email earlier that day, because you thought that some shiny new product you had absolutely no need of was adorable. Does this seem fair? Does it seem like a wise setting of priorities? When politicians urge shopping as civic duty, shouldn't we hear in that not only the maintenance of a perverse economic system but also the development of a surveillance state the Soviets never dreamed of, driven by profit, and co-opted by a government that has merged with Silicon Valley until nobody can tell where one stops and the other begins?

According to Scheer the internet has persuaded people that privacy is the same thing as anonymity, and that visibility is far more valuable, as well as that corporate surveillance is of no concern and completely unlike government surveillance. Edward Snowden's revelations, Scheer writes, exposed corporate complicity with government surveillance, threatening corporations' reputations with their customers. But reform proposals that Scheer cites, such as requiring a new click on an "AGREE" button each time a company sells data on you to a third party, have not been created. The European "right to be forgotten" -- that is to have undesired information about oneself removed from the internet -- is not heard of in the United States, and to my mind is in sharp opposition to U.S. belief in the impossibility of redemption, the inherent good or evil of each person from birth to death, and the guilt of anyone accused of wrong doing.

Scheer quotes Lee Tien, attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, "There are no personal solutions to this; there is nothing we can do individually." I assume this is based on the reasonable expectation that you won't all stop buying stuff. But imagine the time and savings and security you would have if you did stop buying stuff. What harm would it do? You don't even have to stop buying stuff. Just stop buying anything that's advertised. Buy non-advertised goods. Consider that your civic duty.

Lower Drinking Age, Raise Killing Age

The United States sends people to kill and die in war that it doesn't trust with a beer.

It trains police in war skills to assault young people it suspects of going near beer.

Here's an idea: Drink At 18, Don't Kill Till 21.

Alcohol prohibition is not working, and creates unsafe drinking by people old enough to vote, drive, and work. A case can be made, and is being made, for returning the drinking age to 18.

But allowing 18-year-olds to join the military has created illegal and immoral recruitment of minors, not to mention deep moral regret, post-traumatic stress, and suicide in young veterans.

Raising the age for war participation (for joining either the military or one of its contractors) to 21 would do more for education and informed career choices -- not to mention reducing drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide -- than banning alcohol does.

Make-Daiquiris-Not-War is a policy based on actual dangers. The problem with alcohol is not responsible drinking of it. Alcohol is not a satanic liquid to be counterproductively made into a forbidden fruit. The problems with alcohol are: drinking and driving, which should be addressed by avoiding the driving, not through an unenforceable ban on drinking; drinking to dangerous excess, which should be addressed through open discussion, not the secretive plotting of contemporary speakeasies; and addiction, which is driven not so much by the chemicals involved as by the life of the person who becomes addicted.

And what could we most easily do to assist young people in leading more fulfilling, less horrific, lives? We could put off the decision to join in a program of mass murder until age 21, thereby giving a young person a chance to consider all the options.

In many nations there is no drinking age. In others the drinking age is after you're dead (alcohol is prohibited). Among those with a drinking age between zero and forever, far and away the most common is 18.  Exceptions are Egypt, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Indonesia, the United States, and various Pacific island colonies of the United States, all of which make the legal age to drink 21.

But how's that working out for them? In Egypt if you happen to witness the police murder someone, you'll face prison or worse, while the U.S. President chats with the Egyptian President promising him more weapons and money, but if you want to drink underage, apparently nobody really minds. The inevitable result of making it legal to sell alcohol to some but not all adults (taking adults to be 18 and up) seems to be either stiffer and stiffer penalties or routine violation. This of course creates both a disrespect for laws and drinking in secret without appropriate discussion of dangers and measures to prevent recklessness.

In Argentina enlistment in the military is allowed at 21, or at 18 with parental consent. In Bahrain and Kazakhstan military enlistment starts at 15. Who's right? Who's respecting the enlistees? Well, according to some brain scientists at MIT -- not that they should know anything:

"As a number of researchers have put it, 'the rental car companies have it right.' The brain isn't fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car."

Scientists at Dartmouth agree. (But they would, wouldn't they?) Not to mention neuroscientists who write books and go on NPR.

So upping the killing age to 21 would be moving in the direction of the wisdom of the scientists and the rental car companies. Why lower the drinking age at the same time? Because alcohol needs to be treated principally not as a means of drunken escape, but as an enjoyable beverage with dinner. Nations with no drinking age at all tend to have less alcoholism than do puritanical nations. The point is not that 18 year olds are qualified to head off to parties at which they'll drink gallons of hard liquor (as some currently do, law or no law) but that alcohol, like other enjoyable and risky parts of life -- from dangerous sports to sex to other drugs to those televisions in airports blasting Fox News -- should be dealt with openly and calmly by parents and teachers and friends, with the actual dangers made crystal clear and imaginary dangers debunked.

The fact is that prohibiting alcohol leads to more reckless drinking, while prohibiting war participation leads to less reckless killing. We've got our priorities wrong. Let's rework them.

Department of Education Mandates Teaching of Satire

Buried in a regulation produced under the No Child Left Behind Act by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education is an odd and apparently little-enforced requirement that every public school student in the United States be taught literacy in the art of satire.

When questioned about the matter on Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the regulation with some fervor. "Satire," he said, "is at least as critical to success in a competitive world as poetry and probably more critical than civics."

Pressed to explain the remark, Duncan offered what he called evidence of a dangerous shortfall in satire literacy.

"Let's say someone writes an account, for example, of how Bill O'Reilly lies every day about having had to fight off Iranian intruders who were trying to steal his cornflakes at breakfast. A few people will understand that he doesn't really tell that lie every day, that saying he does is an exaggeration for humorous effect. But those few people all work for Bill O'Reilly and the rest of us know better."

"Now what if you're at a meeting with clients you're trying to impress and one of them uses satire but you miss it? Or you're in a big conference where either your boss is coming up with a genius way to generate income or those Yes Men protesters are making fun of you for your acceptance of slavery and child labor. How are American students going to compete if they can't recognize the difference?"

"Did you know that 18% of U.S. divorces and 2% of U.S. wars can be traced to the failure to recognize satire?

"Well, you would if the free market were given free rein to educate in the manner desired and with the content demanded by the uneducated. Who knows better what education is needed and what it's worth than the people who don't have it yet?

"Now, I recognize the argument that Washington, D.C., has passed the point of being satirizable. My answer to that is, just wait till I show you the letters I receive about these comments." 

Blood on the Corner: Dear UVA From an Alumnus

I'm just back from a rally in front of the Charlottesville Police Department at which I heard a black UVA student say that black friends were going to think twice about trying to attend UVA after what happened tonight.

Unless more video materializes we won't know exactly what happened, but we know this: a black UVA student needed 10 stitches to the head. The policemen who injured him have made known no injuries to themselves whatsoever. In fact they've charged him with "obstruction of justice without force." However it may be that a young man standing on a sidewalk obstructs justice without using force, one thing seems clear: he didn't use force. He's also not accused of threatening to use force. Rather, he's charged with "profane swearing and/or intoxication," neither of which justifies ANY action by police, much less the sort of brutality that requires 10 stitches and leaves blood on the street.

As an alumnus and a local resident may I humbly request that UVA prosecute the police officers responsible and seek, not a Department of Justice report telling us what we know, but meaningful restorative justice that involves actual understanding and reform by those involved.

I have to confess, I'm getting a little tired of the scandals, UVA. And I don't mean playing a shooter with a broken finger in the ACC tournament. I mean:

Paying your employees so little they need second jobs.

Jumping at a false tale of rape, damaging true accounts among other things damaged.

Hosting forums advocating U.S. war in Syria.

Bringing Blackwater mercenaries, neocon reactionaries, torture defenders, and warmongers of all stripes to speak at the Miller Center.

Sending law students to observe the Guantanamo human experimentation camp, who find nothing to oppose.

Weakening the honor code.

Empowering a corporate board that attempts coups -- a board that meets this coming Tuesday and should be confronted with a plan for serious reform.

I know it wasn't your cops tonight, UVA. Nor was it your cops who assaulted the young woman for buying a case of water. But it's your response that can set things right. We don't need a scapegoat or more cameras or a "study." We need the University to instruct the police that violence will not be tolerated.

The University has an honor code but exists in the midst of a society in which police are being turned into warriors -- and guess who plays the role of the enemy? The rumor is that tonight's victim had a fake ID for entering a bar -- certainly less than honorable, but something millions of people have done for many years without being attacked or brutalized.

There's video of a young woman being attacked by a policeman at the rally tonight protesting the initial crime. Apparently her offense was standing in a street and being unable to move because of the surrounding crowd. This assault is on video and should be prosecuted without delay.

I'm not going to urge you to restore the honorable tradition of your imperialist enslaving rapist founder, UVA. I want your to aspire to something better than you've been. I think you can do it.