Avatar: a story that is a story is allying, or a story that is appropriating?

by Thea Lim ♦ acronym march 2010
note: this article was originally published at Racialicious

How do you know when a story is allying, versus appropriating?

In other words, if someone of privilege writes a story about the political oppression of a group they do not belong to, what is the difference between:

a) a story that brings marginalised voices to a wider platform and advocates for their rights, versus
b) a story that simply appropriates a political conflict for a writer’s own end, taking advantage of the fact that communities who experience marginalisation are rarely ever allowed to speak for themselves?

Apart from the fact that a story that appropriates usually winds up grossly misrepresenting a marginalised group, this is my yardstick for telling friends from foes:  one of the central purposes of a story that acts as ally, is to use one’s own privilege to tell another’s story, in the hopes of ameliorating the others’ situation.  Meanwhile, a story that appropriates just wants to spin a good yarn, get some adulation, and uses another’s story in order to do so.  An ally story is giving, an appropriating story is taking.

Quit jabbering Thea, you may say.  It’s easy to tell the difference between stories that appropriate, and stories that ally! We don’t need a yardstick!

Not true.  At least within mainstream opinion, it is startling and depressing how many stories that appropriate get passed off as political progressive, as allies.  Like Not Without My Daughter.  Or the documentary Born into Brothels, which purported to tell the story of the children of sex workers in Calcutta, but really just seemed more interested in showcasing the magnanimity of the American photographer who worked with the children.* Or another documentary, Paris is Burning, about the black trans/gay vogueing community of New York City, which brought immense praise on the white outsider director, but painted the community as tragic and hopeless, while bringing little benefit to them.  I’m sure you can think of loads more films like this.

Including…(drumroll)…Avatar. Which I finally saw last week, in all its headsplitting 3D glory.  And it fulfilled all the negative press I had read over countless months, from anti-racist and anti-ableist camps among many others.  But seeing how my esteemed peers did a lot of the deconstructing work for me, I was left to ponder another question.  If Cameron is as leftist as claimed, why didn’t he tell the story of an actual conflict between big business (or colonialists) and an indigenous group? Why use blue allegory?

Hollywood films have a generally untapped power to sway how people think about political events.   Packaging a political story within the rhetoric of emotion (and also I guess, within face-blasting special effects) is often the best way to get people to swallow arguments they would otherwise reject.  Hence a movie that – at least at face value – is very anti-war, anti-military and anti-capitalist is demolishing box office records with hardly a peep from conservative viewers.

Can you imagine the impact that a movie like Avatar could have, if Cameron had used all the CGI to recreate (for example) any area of the Americas the way it looked before first contact with the Europeans, and instead told the real story of an indigenous group struggling to protect themselves from genocide?  Imagine the kind of support it could create for indigenous rights.

So why not go all the way Cameron, and tell a true story, instead of inventing a weird, azure copy of a familiar history?

Well, because Avatar ain’t allying. It’s appropriating.  Along with the fact that Cameron’s version of indigenous people is quite insulting (they are monochromatically spiritual but stupid, and would die without a cunning but smart “civilised man” to save them) the answers to my question make it clear that Avatar is an appropriator, not an ally.

And responses to this question include but are not limited to:

1) Because making a movie about a real indigenous group would require work and resources that Cameron preferred to devote to special effects.

2) Because it’s one thing to do as Avatar does and make an argument that has already gained mainstream popularity – i.e. the war in Iraq is bad, our rate of consumption is untenable, people should be concerned about the environment** – it’s another to go way out on a limb and make an argument that is considered childish leftist faffing: i.e. that some meaningful political action should be taken to improve the conditions under which many indigenous people live, conditions that are a direct result of colonisation.

I am hard pressed to find a card-carrying liberal who will say “The native genocide on which our country is based is an atrocity that we all continue to be benefit from,” without hedging statements like “but hey, what are we going to do, move back to England?”  That kind of zero-sum reasoning distracts away from the fact that many First Nations people in Canada, my own country, live under third world conditions in a first world country,*** meaning (among many other things) poor access to clean water and safe housing, with suicide rates 2 times and infant mortality rate that is 1.5 times the rest of the country.  Throw in the fact that communities are still reeling from the residential school system which only came to an end around 1996, and the horrifying numbers of indigenous women that go missing or are murdered yearly, while the justice system does very little about it.

Surely there is a political option to remedy this beyond shameful situation, between ignoring it and moving back to England.  (Speaking of political options of even the most lipservicey variety: in 2007 when the UN tried to pass the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People the US and Canada were among only four countries to refuse to sign.)

While Cameron is willing to dabble in native politics, he’s not willing to commit.

3) Because you might have to get permission from the native group you were representing to tell their story, if you wanted to do it in a way that still allowed you to look “progressive”.  You might even have to let them get involved in the filmmaking, God forbid! And this would mean that…

4) Because you wouldn’t be able to manipulate the story for your own purposes.   Though we should note that representing real life indigenous people and doing research into their plight did not stop Mel Gibson from grotesquely skewing the history of the Mayans in Apocalypto.

5) And most of all, because writing about real life indigenous people would prevent the kind of feel-good, Disneyfied ending that Cameron wanted for Avatar. While four hundred years later, First Nations people in the Americas continue to survive and resist the ongoing erosion of their cultures, it is a massive understatement to say that things did not  turn out for them the way they did for the Na’vi.

In other words, if Cameron had based Avatar on real people rather than blue ones, he would not have been able to use that story for his own purposes.  Again, for his own purposes.

While Avatar has more subtext than it knows what to do with, its biggest facade is that it is a political movie.  It most definitely is not, because it has zero interest in mobilising political action.  Its storyline is much too farfetched to be giving any kind of clear instruction on what the average viewer can do to stop environmental degradation, the war in Iraq or work for native rights.

It is a movie that hijacks the ongoing struggles of real people with far less privilege than Cameron, in order to hook as many audiences as possible.  But how is a story of native struggle an easy sell to worldwide audiences, you ask?  The tale of swarthy white man saving unenlightened savages is such an old cultural meme that it quickly hooks our brains.  That’s why Avatar has drawn countless comparisons (and multiple accusations of plagiarism): it’s a common story for our culture, a story we can’t get past because those of us who are settlers cannot reconcile ourselves to the horror of our history.  But don’t be fooled; that doesn’t mean Cameron is interested in that history.  He’s just capitalising on the story’s draw.

This is what theft is, in intellectual or artistic terms – rather than get someone’s permission to tell their story, tell a corrupted version of their story and then pass it off as original genius. Cue accolades.

In recent weeks we’ve heard stories of how indigenous people have begun using Avatar to talk about their own struggles.   Most famously, indigenous Bolivian president Evo Morales has shown unreserved praise for the film.  This article from Survival, an international organisation devoted to advocacy for tribal peoples, talks about how multiple Indigenous groups are trying to make clear the parallels between their own histories, and the fictional Na’vi:

A Penan man from Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, told Survival, ‘The Penan people cannot live without the rainforest. The forest looks after us, and we look after it. We understand the plants and the animals because we have lived here for many, many years, since the time of our ancestors.

‘The Na’vi people in ‘Avatar’ cry because their forest is destroyed. It’s the same with the Penan. Logging companies are chopping down our big trees and polluting our rivers, and the animals we hunt are dying.’

The photo at the top of this article is from a protest by Palestinians against an Israeli separation barrier, where Palestinians dressed up as Na’vi to get their point across.

It just goes to show that when resistance is a way of life, you make the most of imperfect advocacy, of stories that are only pretending to be your ally.

Sympathy or even empathy that is not coupled with power-sharing is meaningless.  Any story that purports to show solidarity or uplift marginalised groups, but is not willing to let us tell our own stories in our own way, is not a friend.


Some notes:

* The reason why I say this is because I was troubled by the lack of context the film gave for the children’s situation. Rather than looking at the poverty and pressure their parents were under, it seemed to demonise the parents for not wanting their children to get an education, without looking at the reason’s for that behaviour.  It was willing to show the cute and loveable children, but their parents were apparently not photogenic enough for the camera.

After writing this paragraph I looked up the film on Wikipedia, and found more depressing news:

However, Partha Banerjee, who worked on the film as an interpreter, has disputed the claim that the children’s lives have been improved. In a February 2005 letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he says that many of them ended up in worse circumstances than they had been in before their involvement in photography classes. Critics argued that the lives and family circumstances of these children were too complex to be revolutionized by educating one family member in photography, or even by sending them to boarding school.

**I’m not saying that all these precepts are beliefs everyone holds.  Lord knows there are countless people who continue to support the war and believe global warming is either a myth or a natural occurence that has nothing to do with how humans use resources.  However the cultural trend right now is that many more people oppose the war than when it first began, and that people should care about the environment; even if only in the most silly ways, like Walmart’s Sustainability Goals or buying a hybrid H3.  There is no cultural trend to support native land rights.

***We usually use the term “global south” at Racialicious in favour of “third world” – I used “third world” because it is the term that First Nations people themselves use to describe conditions on reserves.

Earth to Obama: 5 Reasons Nuclear is Nowhere Near Sustainable

by Alex Knightacronym march 2010

Last week President Obama announced an $8.3 billion loan of taxpayer dollars for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia. He has also proposed tripling the loans for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion in his 2011 budget.

In his announcement he argued, “To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple.”

Sadly, Mr. Obama is mistaken on all points.

If by “we” the President means to speak on behalf of his Wall St. advisers and the industrial capitalist system he represents, “our” energy needs are not growing. They’re shrinking along with the economy. And while preventing the worst consequences of climate change is necessary, nuclear power is not.  It’s not necessary by any stretch of the imagination.

Here are 5 simple reasons why nuclear is not a sustainable solution to the energy woes of the 21st Century:

1. Nuclear is Too Expensive.

In economic hard times such as ours, we need cheap, readily-available sources of energy to create jobs and keep the lights on.  Nuclear is the opposite. Nuclear reactors require billions of dollars of government subsidies just to be built, because no private investor wants to throw their money into an expensive and dangerous project that might never produce a return.

To grab those government subsidies, nuclear companies regularly low-ball their price tags, knowing they’ll have to beg for more money later and that the feds will always give in. The recent TIME article “Why Obama’s Nuclear Bet Won’t Pay Off” explains:

If you want to understand why the U.S. hasn’t built a nuclear reactor in three decades, the Vogtle power plant outside Atlanta is an excellent reminder of the insanity of nuclear economics. The plant’s original cost estimate was less than $1 billion for four reactors. Its eventual price tag in 1989 was nearly $9 billion, for only two reactors. But now there’s widespread chatter about a nuclear renaissance, so the Southern Co. is finally trying to build the other two reactors at Vogtle. The estimated cost: $14 billion. And you can be sure that number is way too low, because nuclear cost estimates are always way too low.

Environment America’s report, “Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming”, explains nuclear’s faulty economics further:

Market forces have done far more to damage nuclear power than anti-nuclear activists ever did. The dramatic collapse of the nuclear industry in the early 1980s – described by Forbes magazine as the most expensive debacle since the Vietnam War – was caused in large measure by massive cost overruns driven by expensive safety upgrades after the Three Mile Island accident revealed shortcomings in nuclear plant design. These made nuclear power plants far more expensive than they were supposed to be. Some U.S. power companies were driven into bankruptcy and others spent years restoring their balance sheets.

At the end of the day, there are much cheaper and better ways to produce energy.  The TIME article points out, “Recent studies have priced new nuclear power at 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, about four times the cost of producing juice with new wind or coal plants, or 10 times the cost of reducing the need for electricity through investments in efficiency.”

Instead of pouring billions of dollars into something the market wants to keep its distance from, why not spend that money on efficiency improvements or wind and solar, for which there is a growing market and massive public support?

2. Nuclear is Too Inefficient.

A big part of why nuclear is so expensive is that it’s incredibly inefficient as an energy source, requiring a high proportion of energy inputs as compared to what it produces in output.  Between the cost of building the plants and equipment (tons of steel, concrete, and intricate machinery), mining the uranium, enriching the uranium, operating under stringent safety regulations, disposing the radioactive waste, and eventually decommissioning the plants, there is a tremendous about of energy and money poured in to nuclear reactors, making the energy they produce proportionaly less impressive than is often touted.

Because of all the secrecy and bureaucracy involved in nuclear operations, we have no thorough documentations of exactly how much energy must be invested in order to produce a return (this fraction is sometimes called Energy Returned on Energy Invested – EROEI).

Gene Tyner carried out one such study called “Net Energy from Nuclear Power” and estimated that “an ‘optimistic’ one‑plant analysis shows that one plant may yield about 3.8 times as much energy as is input to the system over a 40‑year period.” The “pessimistic” estimate was just 1.86, meaning less than twice the energy expended is returned through electricity.

Once again, these statistics are significantly worse than for wind, solar, or increased efficiency, each of which would produce much more net energy with the same level of inputs. Wind, for example, could reach in excess of 50:1 EROEI.

Nuclear’s energy numbers are only going to get worse as time goes on and the quantity of high-concentration uranium in the world continues to be depleted. Mining lower-quality uranium, in more difficult environments, will further reduce the net energy that nuclear can produce. Indeed, this is a whole separate problem, but nuclear is unlikely to be any kind of replacement for fossil fuels in the long run anyway, with studies stating that Peak Uranium will be here “before 2040 at the latest.”

3. Nuclear Emits Too Much CO2 and Other Chemicals.

Nuclear is often touted by corporations and politicians as a “clean” energy source because the electricity generation process itself produces little to no carbon dioxide, the most notorious greenhouse gas responsible for driving our climate into chaos. However, nuclear does emit substantial greenhouse gas pollution, of both carbon dioxide and other chemicals, if we look at its complete production profile:

the nuclear fuel cycle does release CO2 during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most CO2 intensive industrial operations and as demand for uranium grows CO2 emissions are expected to rise as core grades decline. According to calculations by the Öko-Institute, 34 grams of CO2 are emitted per generated kWh in Germany. The results from other international research studies show much higher figures – up to 60 grams of CO2 per kWh. In total, a nuclear power station of standard size (1,250MW operating at 6,500 hours/annum) indirectly emits between 376,000 million tonnes (Germany) and 1,300,000 million tonnes (other countries) of CO2 per year. In comparison to renewable energy, nuclear power releases 4-5 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced taking account of the whole fuel cycle.

Aside from radioactive wastes, other waste and pollutants from the manufacture of nuclear reactor fuel include mercury, arsenic and cadmium, which are disposed of on and off site, and hydrochloric acid aerosols, fluorine and chlorine gas, which are released into the air.

None of this pollution is acceptable. Mercury and arsenic in particular are known carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer, along with birth defects and other devastating illnesses. The location of the plants, as is typical, tends to distribute the negative health effects primarily to poor communities and communities of color, making this an environmental justice issue as well.

It just doesn’t make sense. Why invest in a technology that is excessively dirty when compared to genuinely clean sources of energy like wind or solar?

Quoting once more from Environment America’s report:

Building 100 new reactors would require an up-front investment on the order of $600 billion dollars – money which could cut at least twice as much carbon pollution by 2030 if invested in clean energy. Taking into account the ongoing costs of running the nuclear plants, clean energy could deliver as much as 5 times more pollution-cutting progress per dollar overall.

4. Nuclear Risks Radioactive Disaster.

So far we haven’t mentioned the traditional argument against nuclear reactors, that they 1) produce radioactive waste which we have nowhere to put, and 2) have the potential to melt down or be struck by a terrorist attack, which could cause almost inconceivable ecological calamity.

Few Americans realize how close we came to having to evacuate most of the Eastern Seaboard if the partial meltdown of the reactor at Three Mile Island in 1979 had caused an explosion in the core.  This nearly happened, and the warning that the Three Mile Island disaster has given us about the extreme danger of nuclear reactors needs to be recalled today.

The reality is that even without an apocalyptic Chernobyl-style or 9/11-style event, nuclear fission everyday produces hundreds of poisonous and radioactive toxins which did not exist on Earth before the 1940s. Each nuclear plant creates approximately 1,000 metric tons of high- and low-level waste yearly, which will not fully degrade for literally thousands of years. And this is only the most controlled aspect of the problem.

As Harvey Wasserman explained on Democracy Now! Thursday, lesser-known radioactive leaks are sadly a regular occurance at nuclear facilities:

There’s a huge fight going on, by the way, in Vermont right now, where the people of the state of Vermont are trying to shut the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which has been leaking tritium. And if you’re not aware of this, twenty-seven of the 104 nuclear plants in the United States have been confirmed to be leaking tritium now. These are plants that have been around for twenty, thirty years. If they can’t control more than a quarter of the operating reactors in the United States and prevent them from leaking tritium, what are they doing turning around with this technology and pouring many more billions of dollars of our money into it? It’s an absolute catastrophe, and we will stand up to it.

An update on Wasserman’s story – yesterday (2/24) the Vermont Senate voted to close the Yankee plant in part due to these concerns about radioative leaks.

The bottom line is that while billions of dollars can be spent to secure the radioactive fuels and waste, there will always be a risk that things will go wrong due to technological breakdown or human error, and the consequences could be dire.

The only safe way to deal with nuclear reactors is to shut them down.

5. Funding Nuclear is Another Corporate Bailout.

So if nuclear energy is too expensive, too inefficient, too polluting, and too dangerous, why in the world are our well-intentioned political leaders like President Obama promoting such a technology? Have they lost their minds? No. The better question, as is usually the case in Washington, is who stands to benefit from this decision?

And the obvious answer is the nuclear industry, which has relied on government subsidies for half a century, and continues to swindle the public out of our hard-earned tax dollars with outdated lies about cheap, abundant, clean nuclear power.

Just like the defense industry or the banks, nuclear companies like Exelon use their high-placed connections in Washington to secure government contracts, loans and bailouts behind the backs of the public, and it doesn’t really matter whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in the White House.

Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! reported on the Obama Administration’s ties to Big Nuclear:

Exelon is not just a nuclear power industry generator, it’s the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the United States. I think it has seventeen. And the firm was a major—has historically been a major backer of President Obama. And two of his chief aides have ties to Exelon. Rahm Emanuel, as an investment banker, helped put together the deal that eventually merged, created Exelon. And David Axelrod was a lobbyist for Exelon. So there are very close ties between the chairman of Exelon, John Rowe, and the Obama administration.

We need to understand the actions of politicians within their context. The context for President Obama’s announcement of $8 billion in loans to a nuclear reactor in Georgia and tripling the federal government’s funding of nuclear energy in his 2011 budget, is a nuclear industry that’s been on the run from its crippling problems for 30 years, and needs a big boost from the taxpayers in order to compete with less expensive, less controversial energy sources like wind and solar.

Then you have the reality of a failed political system that relies far more on corporate donations and advertising than it does on genuine democratic participation, so that politicians like Obama are structurally dependent on pandering to corporate/financial donors to get elected and stay elected, and you have a recipe for systemic corruption and giveaways.

Ben Schreiber, climate and energy tax analyst of Friends of the Earth, put it succinctly, “The last thing Americans want is another government bailout for a failing industry, but that’s exactly what they’re getting from the Obama administration.”

So what should the government be putting its (our) money into instead?

I’ve made the obvious suggestion of wind and solar power, which are cheaper and produce energy more efficiently than nuclear. Wind and solar also have the added benefit of being appropriate for local, small-scale energy production. Given the resources and trained in the skills, communities can install wind towers and solar cells, maintain them, and distribute their output themselves, without the intermediaries of corporations or government. This not only creates many thousands of jobs, it also opens up possibilities for a 21st Century that could be more democratic, locally-rooted, and decentralized than the last one.

What are your ideas? What would YOU do if you were in Obama’s position and could throw $50-some billion around towards an actually sustainable economy?

Alex Knight

February 25, 2010

Angels, Aliens and Accountability

By Anonymous ♦ acronym march 2010

Many rhetorical quips have been chirped out across media venues all over the United States in recent months.  Such pearls of common sense justice and morality can be found in blogs and emails across the web; catch phrases like “fiscal responsibility”, “financial accountability”, “self-discipline in spending” and all other manner of popular cliché’s as they relate to people’s individual spending behavior and the economic downturns we’ve been experiencing since 2008.

The majority of people tend to point their fingers at “big banks” and other large corporate entities and cry out, “villain”, “thief” and “elite tyrants” with an almost psychopathic glee.  While the second largest target of this self-righteous finger pointing are minorities, particularly “welfare” recipients and illegal aliens. And of course the ever familiar chanting from the right about, “Those damn liberals – all they want to do is throw our hard earned money at worthless causes and losers” or from the left, “Those neo-conservatives have their proverbial sticks so far up their proverbial asses they don’t give a crap about saving their fellow man.”  There is so much blaming and hyperbole flowing through the digital soup, it makes one likely to feel sick to their stomach after a spoonful or two.

But yet NO ONE seems to wish to unclothe the emperor or call out the real mammoth in the room.  Denial, mirroring and projection seem to be the new addiction and epidemic in this fine country of ours for which the only cure seems to be in the total and complete annihilation of our current societal structure.

Most people (and I say that loosely, because another propensity of current human culture is to find every reason under the sun to disagree with each other just for the sake of being disagreeable or proving “the other guy” wrong) are not willing to take a long, hard look at their own complicity in the impending death of humanity.  You may think I am some fringer or nut in saying and completely believing that, but I think it is practical, not prescient, to understand that unless something HUGE and significantly culturally altering occurs in the very near future we each will be responsible for helping usher in the literal destruction of humanity as we know it.  NONE of us are willing to take an inventory of our own contributions this horrible miasma of crap we created, nor are most of us willing to make the simplest of changes in how we view each other or the world around us.  We want what we want, and dammit, it’s our RIGHT and not only is it OUR right, but it’s ALWAYS the other guy’s fault.

So I ask you, please, to consider the following for a moment.  Hate on me if you like, vilify me and scrutinize every word I’ve written to find some righteous justification to bare your fangs and rip another piece of flesh from a fellow human being.  But please, all I ask, is that before you do that…at least take a few minutes to really READ what I’m suggesting below and let it sink in enough to consider it.

1) The idea that this planet can produce infinite, unending resources is a denial myth.  No matter how quickly we try to come up with ways to extend the FINITE resources this planet provides, no savior of religion, science of technology can perform alchemy by changing “finite limits” into “the infinite”.  And simply pretending this is not a problem does not cause some angel or fairy or yet-to-be-seen aliens to come and wave their magic wands or energy rods to magically replenish this planet with resources every time we bankrupt them.  When we have depleted every square inch of soil, polluted every ounce of water and killed off every edible living thing there simply will be NO MORE.  And then, rich or poor, wise or silly, religious or completely faithless – we will all cease to be.

2) Understanding that population control – a responsible willingness by all to realize this planet can only sustain so many living, breathing humans on it at any given time – is not an agenda item at the latest ‘elitist conspiracy convention’.  It is not the rhetoric of some diabolical and godless minion of the ‘evil one’ nor is it simply a talking point for some dippy hippy.  It is a simple and immutable FACT. Think of the world as a pizza, and all of us as guests at one giant pizza party.  Bottom line is no matter how much we deny it isn’t so, that pizza can only serve so many people. No matter how small you cut the slices, eventually, if the number of guests invited to the party continues to grow, there will be no more pizza left for anyone.

3) NO ONE is born better or less than anyone else.  NO ONE has a value that is greater than another’s. You can think this rhetorical crap all you want – but THIS thinking is the greatest evil we have ever foisted upon one another.  The idea that any one living, breathing being is MORE valuable or LESS valuable than another may have originated from instinct and the biological constant of “survival” – but ultimately serves our continuing movement toward self-destruction.  As we slide down the slippery slope of obfuscation by applying any number of complex arguments and situations to this simple ideal, we lose sight of the basic facts.  Whether you wish you were the only person alive, or you think only you and people LIKE you deserve <insert resource or benefit here> it does not CHANGE empirical evidence.  WE ARE ALL EQUALLY valuable and EQUALLY expendable.

And yet, cannot survive without one another.  Yes, each of us, individually, can indeed do many things – but we learned long ago, since the time we first walked erect, that traveling and working together in groups, extended our chances for survival against wild beasts and the elements exponentially.

4) For all our so-called advances in science, technology, industry, manufacturing – all of these and any others you can name, NONE OF THEM can make a valid, fact-based case that nullifies the concept that simplicity IS a sustainable means to an end.  The layers of complexity in our quest for becoming more “advanced” or “sophisticated” are nothing more than our ridiculous and selfish desire to conquer the unconquerable – DEATH.  No scientific discovery, no re-engineered cells, no dark matter or Boson Higgs particle will CHANGE yet another immutable fact – to everything there IS A SEASON and to EVERYTHING there is a beginning and an END.  Understanding and accepting this FACT with a sense of seasoned responsibility and dignity, will ultimately be our SALVATION, not our destruction.

This planet was once populated by large groups of indigenous “simple livers” – Native Americans, the Inuit, the Aborigines, the San Bushmen to name a few. But instead of learning powerful wisdom and practical application from understanding how these groups lived so well in tandem with the world around them in a sustainable fashion, we destroyed their simple way of life to replace it with a “better” more “sophisticated” quality of life.

We teach our children to “follow the golden rule” and that there are consequences for each choice and action we take, both good and bad, and yet somehow, as adults, we seem to lose sight of these teachings.  In the ultimate example of “Do as I say, not as I do” (and we know how effective that is), we deny the truth of these statements as we cross the socially movable line of childhood to adulthood.  Apparently these things are nothing more than whimsical, rhetorical quotes and ideological frosting best served on cupcakes for kids.

Until each of us takes responsibility for our own contributions to the horrible downward spiral we’re all swept up in, nothing can save us.  Blaming the other guy for the ills of the world may serve to mollify our self-righteous indignation or may help us feel less guilty as we continue to take actions and make decisions that fatten each of us individually, while starving others, but it will do nothing to help stem the pandemic we’ve created.  So the next time you point that very shiny, steady and glowing index finger of “responsibility” and “accountability” at someone, make sure that the same measurement tool by which you use to judge the guilt of another is the exact same measurement tool by which you can be judged and called to account.

Corporations are FAT because we ALL purchase their goods and services.  The evil and biased media is created and sustained by our continuing to tune in and be spectators and collaborators of their content.  Real Estate moguls who “ripped us off” do so because we are their consumers.  Big pharma and medical companies reap unholy riches off of our willingness and desire to defeat mortality and live forever and government is corrupt because we continue to allow them to be.  So the next time you call out “thief”, “crook” or “charlatan”, how about taking a look in the mirror of your own soul.  While painful, it can be both a humbling and enlightening experience.  And one that will likely change you forever, enabling you to become a part of a potential solution, rather than an aider and abettor to the on-going decay of life on this planet as we know it.

Ah Is Not a Whore, Mamma!

by Flo Joeacronym march 2010

Ah’s so mad at Mamma right now, ah could spit! Yesterdy when ah droppt of tha kids so’s ah could go on ma date wit Carl Wayne an his girlfriend, Mamma was asleepin’ so’s ah tolt tha kids to shush theyselves an not ta drink her whiskey ‘gain ’cause they’s teachers got mad tha last time ah took ‘em ta Wendsdy night Sundy school drunk, even when ah tolt ‘em it were a assident. Jes’ as ah sees Becky Rea at tha Waffle House like we was plannin’ so’s we could grab some grub ‘fore bowlin’, here comes Mamma running up tha road in she’s nightgown a cussin’ up a storm. “Goddammit Flo Joe,” she yelt, “Getcher whorin’ ass here, right now! Ah tolt yoouu, ah’s gotta date a mah own t’night wit Reverend Dean an ah cain’t watch yer sorry brats t’day!” Well, ah don’ gotta go on an on like a billy goat stuck in a cattle guard ta tell yoouu, ah coulda kilt her, specially ’cause Becky Rea saw tha whole thang and she already thinks she’s all high ‘n mighty ’cause a tha fact that she gets ta live wit’ Carl Wayne.

Ah tolt Mamma ah don’ need her sorry ass anyway and ta send tha kids along then. When they ran up, they was sayin’, “Mamamamama, can we go o’ver to cousin Gene’s? Meemaw says they gots a pig an ay wanna ride it sooo bad! Mamamamama, please!” “Now Carl Wayne, Jr. yoouu knows Carl Wayne cain’t take yoouu in his El Camino all tha ways o’ver there jes’ so’s you can see a pig!” Ah tolt him, but he wouldn’t see no sense. Then Ray Jean started in , “Please, please, please, Mammma Joe?” “Cut it out!” they made me yell. Ah done had enough. “Now sit yer asses down in the booth so’s you can get you can get yer waffle.”

After Jina Paige brought us we’s Dr. Peppers, ah tried to figger out what we’s gonna do. By this time, Becky Rae’s boyfriend was sittin’ wit us. Carl Wayne was gonna be there any minute an’ we knew iffin’ we didn’t figure this shit out, an quick, then they’s gonna be hell ta pay when Carl Wayne showt up. When it were time ta pay, ah pullt ma money from ma pocket and wondert why we’s total was $9.34 instead of $12.27, the usual, and realized ah didn’t know where Avery Ron were. Ah yelt, “Has anyone seen ma baby?” Jes’ then, ah saw Carl Wayne’s orange El Camino pull inta tha parkin’ lot and all’s ah could do was run.

While ah wuz runnin’, ah figgert only Jesus could help me out of this mess an ah jumpt behind a bush an’ waited ‘til Carl Wayne was passt ‘fore ah started ta pray. “Dear Jesus, Ah’s in a bind an’ ah need yoouu ta send me an angel.” Jesus whispert in ma ear, “Yer mamma would help ya right now, but she thinks yer a whore fer sleepin’ with Reverend Dean, so ah’s sorry, Florence Joe, you’s gonna hafta figger it out fer youself.” “Shit, Jesus. Go fuck yerself,” ah yellt. When ah saw tha coast was clear, ah ran o’er ta tha Circle K an’ callt ma Sugerdaddy Fred Rick an he came an pict me up in his pickup. Later, when we was fuckin’ ah jes’ had ta yell, “Ah is not a whore, Mamma!”

TRAVEL: Tom Waits Opens The Get Out Inn, A New “Couch & Lunch” Establishment

By Ara Von Niv (originally published at The Umpteenth Times) ♦ acronym march 2010

You know, there are some nights where you just don’t want to head home and be hassled by your old lady,” said singer, Tom Waits. “And some nights you don’t want the formality of a bed.  And you sure as hell don’t want to be up before 1:00 pm.  That’s what drives the ‘couch & lunch’ concept.   You need a place to crash and it ain’t home.”

imagesThe new establishment, located in New York’s Chinatown, is aimed at gentlemen who have lost the keys to their hotel room, can’t recall which city they’re in, or who are not presently welcome at home.

Waits explains, “This just sort of came to me one night, out of the blue. Surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.”

Amelia Gladbonnet, editor of Bed & Breakfast Weekly, expressed a distaste for such a concept and insisted her magazine “refuse to evaluate this particular establishment. It is most likely as unseemly as it sounds. I shudder at the thought of such a place. I daresay the crumpets will be stale.”

“We don’t have crumpets,” Waits responded, upon hearing of Ms. Gladbonnet’s opinion. “We’ll have a couple of Bibles lying around, just in case some of the, you know, customers need a little something The Get Out Inn can’t provide. Bibles and crossbows.”

The decor of The Get Out Inn consists of second-hand store couches, a hook for your hat, and thick, heavy curtains that are always drawn, keeping the sunlight from getting in.

Lunch consists of a sandwich, some coffee, and no conversation.

Waits: “Your troubles are your business. You need to talk to somebody? Go see last night’s bartender. They already know your story. We’re not keen on hearing yesterday’s news, even if it’s happening today.”

The ‘couch & lunch’ is managed by a one-handed former South Pacific pirate named Tong, who Waits once met at a bodega in Queens, N.Y., one day when buying a copy of The Daily News. “I like Tong. He doesn’t talk all that much. It’s all business with him, and everything runs likes your grandpa’s pocket watch.”

Patrons of the Inn are also provided some degree of anonymity during their stay.

“We’re not keeping much of a guest registry here. First names only, no dates allowed, cash preferred,” explained Waits. “Just a place for the fellas to come and sleep it off. Not a cave, exactly, but you’re not imposing upon anybody at The Get Out Inn. That said, we like our visitors to adhere to our two-night policy. Anything more than that and you either need to read the roommate-wanted list or drag a sizable cardboard box to the park.”

Guitarist of Some Metal Band Dies, As Some Other Metal Band Calls It Quits

By Victor Vittiriti (originally published at The Umpteenth Times) ♦ acronym march 2010

NORWAY—According to the Norwegian-based Metal Maniacs magazine, a long running source for metal news, some guitarist of some metal, they forget which one, died this week, due to either a drug overdose, suicide, complications during surgery or death by hanging.

005“It’s unclear to us who this guitarist actually was and which band he played for, since it seems everyday at least one person in the metal world dies,” said editor-in-chief of Metal Maniacs, Vonn Glernsternbon. “It’s uncanny. And as far as we know, we haven’t a clue as to how he died. His family has said he was depressed and died of suicide, his bandmates insist he was hooked on heroin and died of an overdose, and his management claims he was having minor surgery on his liver and died accidentally. We’re not sure who to believe and who these people are that we are believing. We don’t know what’s what.”

Funeral services for this unknown guitarist will either be held this weekend or next week. It has yet to be decided. Also, fans can send condolences to fellow bandmates, who have yet to be identified, by addressing their letters and emails to Santa Claus, who oversees the world and knows everything about everyone. According to Metal Maniacs, that’s their best bet.

Whether said guitarist will be replaced has yet to be determined. There apparently is a chance he will and apparently a chance he won’t.

In related metal news, some metal band that has been around for at lest twenty, if not thirty years, has finally decided to call it a day. Again, the people at Metal Maniacs have yet to discover which actual band will be calling it quits.

“All we know is that some legendary band, or possibly some band that has been around for a long time but never made the cut, is finally deciding to hang up their spiked bracelets and guitars,” said Glernsternbon. “Again, we’re clueless as to who.”

When question about his staff’s ability to uncover facts and reveal details about each story they cover, Glernbernstern became defensive, claiming that his staff works very hard to keep people informed of what’s happening every day in the world of metal.

“If people don’t like how we cover our stories, then I suggest they challenge us to a sword fight, with fully equipped armor and a dragon as a backup, because that’s our usual form of combat. We fight to kill and we lick the blood of our enemies. And then we go to McDonald’s afterwards for fries and milkshakes. But the blood always comes first. You can’t forget the blood.”

Can You Hear Me Now?

by Dennis Trainor, Jr ♦ acronym 2010

The following is the opening scene from the play I Coulda Been A Kennedy, by Dennis Trainor, Jr.  For more about the play, see the bottom of this post.

The play takes place on one plot of land, shifting back and forth between 1970, 1987, and 2004. The O’Reilly’s owned the land in 1970 and 1987; the Greco’s in 2004.

The Greco home (2004) should be inspired by the design of Adam Kalkin (imagine something from DWELL magazine), while the O’Reilly home should be inspired by the Leisurama homes built in Montauk during the 1960’s (imagine something from SALT WATER TAFFY QUARTERLY). It is important that the design accommodate quick changes from one scene to the next, from one era to the next.


The buzzing of the cicadas fills the theatre. As house lights go to black, the buzzing gets louder. In darkness, the following projections play out as the buzzing gets louder still.


JUNE 20, 2004


The buzzing, now unbearably loud, cuts out abruptly just as the lights bump up on FRANCIS, MARY (both in their early 60s) with their daughter HOLLY (33) in the middle of an animated conversation.

HOLLY: But what if we did kill President Bush?

MARY: Holly please with that. Did you see the wisteria that we planted by the oak out back?

FRANCIS: Article in the paper said don’t plant anything. Cicadas coming.

MARY: We’ll spray. The party.

FRANCIS: Right. The party the party. We’ll spray.

HOLLY: I’m not sayin’ we form a militia or anything like that. But what if he were killed?

MARY: Oh, Frank honey, remind me to call the Williams about the-

FRANCIS: Why don’t you volunteer for the campaign? You don’t want to work,  you seem to have plenty of time on your hands- you want to get Bush out of office-

HOLLY: I work Dad-

MARY: We don’t need to get into that again. Tonight.

FRANCIS: I know some people, some young people I read they are going to Ohio, Florida, working for Kerry-

MARY: Just because your boyfriend wants to kill the president-

HOLLY: Do you like him? Devin? He’s very interesting, isn’t he?

MARY: Is he okay, anyway? He’s been in the bathroom for-

FRANCIS: Holly, Holly. This is a boyfriend? This is his title already?

HOLLY: It was just a hypothetical… A topic of conversation… He likes to debate. He’s a thinker you know. He doesn’t want to kill anybody. He’s not pierced. No tattoos.

FRANCIS: He’s not a very good golfer-

HOLLY: Do you like him?

DEVIN O’REILLY (34) emerges from the bathroom.

DEVIN: This is a beautiful home you have.

FRANCIS: Building.

MARY: Home.

FRANCIS: Building, we call it a- Thank you, Devin. Nice of you to keep saying so.

DEVIN: There is a painting, a print I guess, in your bathroom-

MARY: Oh my God Frank- I told you we should just toss that thing in the garbage. Oh Devin just ignore that monstrosity in there. Oh Frank, we have had the building for- what?


MARY: Seventeen years this fall and well-

FRANCIS: Used the place as a summer rental thing. Paid for Holly’s college.

MARY: The previous owners left a lot of stuff behind- we never cared- a summer rental you see- Place rented itself. Anyway. It was Frank’s idea-

FRANCIS: Every room in this building kept one design element from the last house-

MARY: Right. We knocked down the last house-

FRANCIS: Cheap little saltbox of a ranch house- moldy.

MARY: Frank is a stickler for the germs-

FRANCIS: I’m a stickler for the germs.

HOLLY: Jesus you two. Do you remember the question?

DEVIN: The bathroom. I was just struck by the painting-

MARY: Yes. Yes. Yes. The Artful Dodger. Looks like the kind of print one would have bought in Macy’s or something-

FRANCIS: Buy this love seat, get painting free-

MARY: Yes. Yes. Yes. That’s definitely what it must have been-

FRANCIS: So long story short. The bathroom kept the Artful Dodger.

MARY: No matter how odious-

FRANCIS: Well you kept the Irish blessing thing. Irish poetry on a serving dish- talk about-

MARY: Oh- I like that. May the road rise to meet you-

FRANCIS: Yea. Well. You see, Devin, the design of a new home-

MARY: Building, we call it a-

FRANCIS: – Building. – just like marriage, is a constant process of negotiation.

MARY: Capitulation.

FRANCIS: Mary Mary sweet Mary Mary. Negotiation.

DEVIN: Yeah. I actually like the painting. Print. Whatever.

HOLLY: Dad thinks I should volunteer for the campaign. Kerry.

FRANCIS: It’s not as dramatic as killing the president, but it is still working for change.

Tension. Pause. More tension.

MARY: Frank remind me to call the exterminator in the morning-

HOLLY: The cicadas are harmless, Mom. You don’t need to-  When do they emerge, anyway?

DEVIN: I’m not advocating…Are we still on this topic? Of course if it were my child, or perhaps should I say it’s hard to justify the continued- And okay I’m glad I’m not charged with coming up with all of the answers- Sixty four degrees. When the ground is sixty four degrees, they come out. Cicadas. Kind of a strange passion of mine. Cicadas. The next emergence in seventeen years. But Bush, Bush is advocating preemptive attacks to secure a peaceful future. What are we to say to Russia when they- or more to the point- if you were about to bring a child into this world- could it not be argued, I mean if Bush were eliminated, I mean- Seventeen years from now, what will they be asking? Seventeen years ago, what were they thinking? What were you thinking?

MARY: Who wants coffee?

DEVIN: I’m sorry. How is… Mr. Greco, how is work?

FRANCIS: I’m retired Devin.

DEVIN: Right. Umm… What line of work were you in then?

MARY: I picked up a chocolate chip cheesecake from the-

MARY goes to retrieve dessert.

FRANCIS: Finance. I worked for Cantor- Fitzgerald for some twenty five years. Made a few lucky moves in the market. I was able to get out a little early-

MARY: (off) And we have the brownies from last night leftover.

DEVIN: So you were- Cantor Fitzgerald? So you were… Were you there when-?

FRANCIS: Yes. Yes. Next topic.

MARY: (off) Oh I know! I have a new recipe that you should try-

HOLLY: Dad went back to work for a while and then-

FRANCIS: Holly. Enough.

MARY: (returning with a plate of chocolate covered something) We just downsized down to the basics. Probably been coming for a long time- hard to put a finger on the impulse…After that whole thing… It just brought us together, you know. We cut back, but we’re comfortable. We’re new money Devin.

HOLLY: Reagan rich, right Dad? Trickle down democrats.

MARY: If you kill Bush-

FRANCIS: He becomes a martyr, more popular in death, and we get Cheney as president.

HOLLY: Like Kennedy? We benefit because Kennedy was killed? A liberal agenda moves forward? I don’t think so.

DEVIN: He wins a few popularity contests in death-

FRANCIS: You want Dick Cheney to be the president?

HOLLY: We could blow up an election booth or two on election day-

DEVIN: I mean lets just say that Bush isn’t the enemy. Something bigger- the system or something-

FRANCIS: Shipping containers. This house is made entirely from five large shipping containers, a steel beams. We put a solar panel up there. We’re living simple. Pairing down.

HOLLY: And no, we decided nothing, you, you decided to table it.

DEVIN: I mean no disrespect- but even a trickle down democrat cannot deny that the pageantry paid Ronnie Reagan-

FRANCIS: We’re talking about Reagan now?

HOLLY: You voted for Reagan. Right Dad?

MARY: Oh stop it-

HOLLY: The pageantry paid to Reagan is fitting for a man whose economic policies served as the first domino of your cascading good fortune which, good and decent people as we are, do not deserve.

FRANCIS: That trickle down paid for the college education that comes out of your mouth in these deliciously packaged sound bites every time you have a few drinks.

MARY: We don’t deserve this? Francis honey give the house back. You didn’t earn your money.

DEVIN: Well, apologies for the armchair socioeconomic bibble babble, but that is how the system works-

HOLLY: I haven’t been drinking-

MARY: We are hardly rich.

DEVIN: New money, Mary. You said it yourself.

FRANCIS: Easy pal-o-mine pal pal-

HOLLY: OK Daddy-, easy. We are just having a discussion here-

DEVIN: No. It’s OK. I apologize. Right is right.

FRANCIS: This coming from the actor whose claim to fame is that he was almost the “can you hear me now” guy.

DEVIN: I stressed the “hear.” In the callback. Can you hear me now? I thought the ad campaign was trying to tap into some kind of generational angst. Can you hear me now? Too edgy. And I’m not a beer salesman. Commercials free me up to do some real work.

HOLLY: I love how you say that with a straight face.

FRANCIS: Shipping containers. Five in all, a few steel beams. Whala. A home. Solar panels up there, completely wireless and internet ready and yet progressively off the grid. Three bedroom, two baths of feng shui genius.

HOLLY: You’re hosting a fund-raising dinner for John Kerry July 4th. That’s kind of on the grid.

DEVIN: That was one hell of an approach shot on seventeen, Mr. Greco. Holly, you should have seen the shot your father hit into the seventeenth green.

FRANCIS: I had laid up on my second shot, played it a little safe, so I had a good look at getting my third close to the pin.

DEVIN bites into chocolate. HOLLY is now eating them as well.

DEVIN: But a very, I mean, no, really very difficult pin placement. Pear shaped green, water on the two front sides-

MARY: You’re eating chocolate covered cicadas.

FRANCIS: She could not wait to try this recipe!!! Brilliant Mary Mary, there is no way they would have eaten that if you told them what it was-

DEVIN: The bug? The The The insect? Chocolate?

FRANCIS: It is all part of the new order. Our new order. Back to nature. Big risks. Eating exotic foods.

HOLLY: Cicadas? Really mom. Cicadas. Were they cooked?

MARY: Injected them with sugar water and then dipped them in hot fudge. Ghiradelli. My garden club refused to try them. So whatcha think, can I serve them at the party?

DEVIN: Unreal.

FRANCIS: Martha is out of the picture Mary, the whole party planning super Matriarch position is open.

MARY: I always said I would have a second career.

FRANCIS: Full of surprises, my Mary Mary sweet Mary Mary.

DEVIN: Okay right sorry in advance but here it is: What if we, again, not we and I would like to discuss this cicada thing momentarily beautiful creatures but please indulge me for only a moment for reasons that may soon become clear I’m a Libra run on sentences are part of my make up astrologically predetermined but again to the point what if not we personally but some cultural slash political force or some group of men trained in seventeen different types of kung fu and languages and a broader global agenda- a peaceful global agenda- what if they, okay not we they, what if they- without our permission or consent- what if they killed Bush?  A preemptive strike?

HOLLY: Preemption would have been a diaphragm shoved up Barbara’s bush a long time-

MARY: Holly. Really. My god.

HOLLY: Thank you. You’re a great crowd. I am here all week.

DEVIN: Again, not us personally. In the same way that I could not slaughter a lamb but slap it down in front of me medium rare, a little rosemary sprig and a decent Pinot Noir- the South Africans are doing nice things with Pinot nowadays- I’m eating that lamb. Wouldn’t we be better off? Now? In a generation? ‘Cause Bush Ashcroft Cheney Powell- I mean what if your generation did not fail- not you individually, but your wealth built on the backs of the poor and karma the boomerang-but to be articulate even if just for a moment not beat around the bush as it were, no pun: you personally did not fail. Sake of argument and politeness: you personally are not culpable for the mess we are in. You say BEAT BUSH! But that is so short term. A quick fix. A stolen election. Patriot Act. Freedom Fries.

HOLLY: Our children.

DEVIN: Our children’s children.

FRANCIS: Whose children?

HOLLY: Another generation. Things have gotten so far out of balance… Something drastic has to happen. Kerry is-

DEVIN: The point is: What if the Hippie movement slash progressive movement, whatever you call it, wasn’t co-opted and beheaded?

MARY: I wasn’t a hippie. Francis wasn’t a-

FRANCIS: Couldn’t grow a beard. Never really connected on the side. Didn’t really look right.

DEVIN: What if Kennedy, King, Malcolm, and Kennedy again were not assassinated under a cloud of almost certain conspiracy. Even if it was not an agenda being pursued, even if the CIA or elements therein didn’t act like an independent terrorist sleeper cell acting for a greater good- what is the difference? The results are the same. So with that in mind-

FRANCIS: I’m not sure who you think you are. But this was a simple get to know you dinner that went a little too far.

HOLLY: Wouldn’t you consider the possibility that some greater chain of events than electing John Kerry needs to be set off? That he is not the first domino for our future?

MARY: Every building should have a pussy or intra oracular organ. All stunned. Embarrassed. Silent.

FRANCIS: I love it when you talk dirty my Mary Mary sweet Mary Mary.

HOLLY: Mom. Really. My God.

FRANCIS: It is a main architectural principal of the designer. The extra oracular thing.

DEVIN : I know-and you know that the next generation of us, of our family, will be much better off if Bush were gone.

FRANCIS: Come again. The future of my family?

MARY: Oh, go ahead and kill Bush- just don’t come back to my home for sanctuary.

HOLLY: Your pussy you mean. As an abstract design concept.

MARY: God-damn it Holly, whenever you get your drink on you become so disrespectfully belligerent.

HOLLY: When I get my drink on? (pause) I told you before. I have not had a single drink all night.

HOLLY and MARY exchange a look.
HOLLY looks at DEVIN.
MARY understands.

MARY: Oh. My. Holly Holly sweet Holly Holly. How far along?

FRANCIS looks at HOLLY, then at DEVIN.
DEVIN gets down on one knee in front of HOLLY, revealing a ring box.

DEVIN: Can you hear me now?


ABOUT THE PLAY: I Coulda Been A Kennedy was developed in workshops with the New York based Rude Mechanical Theatre Company under the guidance of director Danny Goldstein and with the help of TONY Award winner Blair Brown, TONY nominee Omar Metwally among many others.. The Rude Mechanicals mounted a full production of the play off-off Broadway in the summer of 2006.

TIME OUT NEW YORK called the production:“…An ambitious yawp of a play, surreal and boisterous and full of political choler…. In a time when political plays typically devolve into name-calling, Trainor actually manages to discover an apposite metaphor for governance”. While THE VILLAGE VOICE said:  “smart, suspenseful tale explores the dark side of the American dream” and NYCONSTAGE.Org said: “The triumph of the evening belongs to author Trainor, Jr. however. The thrust of the piece is exhilarating with just enough period details to keep one on their toes (Vietnam, Iran-Contra, the Bush/Kerry race). The dialogue has a clever, edgy quality….I Coulda… could become a major contender.”

Producers, publishers and other interested parties who wish to peruse the full script should contact DennisTrainorjr {at} gmail {dot} com

Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama

by Chris Hedges (this originally appeared on TruthDig) acronym ♦ march 2010

We owe Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney an apology. They were right about Barack Obama. They were right about the corporate state. They had the courage of their convictions and they stood fast despite wholesale defections and ridicule by liberals and progressives.

Obama lies as cravenly, if not as crudely, as George W. Bush. He promised us that the transfer of $12.8 trillion in taxpayer money to Wall Street would open up credit and lending to the average consumer. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), however, admitted last week that banks have reduced lending at the sharpest pace since 1942. As a senator, Obama promised he would filibuster amendments to the FISA Reform Act that retroactively made legal the wiretapping and monitoring of millions of American citizens without warrant; instead he supported passage of the loathsome legislation. He told us he would withdraw American troops from Iraq, close the detention facility at Guantánamo, end torture, restore civil liberties such as habeas corpus and create new jobs. None of this has happened.

He is shoving a health care bill down our throats that would give hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the private health insurance industry in the form of subsidies, and force millions of uninsured Americans to buy insurers’ defective products. These policies would come with ever-rising co-pays, deductibles and premiums and see most of the seriously ill left bankrupt and unable to afford medical care. Obama did nothing to halt the collapse of the Copenhagen climate conference, after promising meaningful environmental reform, and has left us at the mercy of corporations such as ExxonMobil. He empowers Israel’s brutal apartheid state. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where hundreds of civilians, including entire families, have been slaughtered by sophisticated weapons systems such as the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of victims’ lungs. And he is delivering war and death to Yemen, Somalia and perhaps Iran.

The illegal wars and occupations, the largest transference of wealth upward in American history and the egregious assault on civil liberties, all begun under George W. Bush, raise only a flicker of tepid protest from liberals when propagated by the Democrats. Liberals, unlike the right wing, are emotionally disabled. They appear not to feel. The tea-party protesters, the myopic supporters of Sarah Palin, the veterans signing up for Oath Keepers and the myriad of armed patriot groups have swept into their ranks legions of disenfranchised workers, angry libertarians, John Birchers and many who, until now, were never politically active. They articulate a legitimate rage. Yet liberals continue to speak in the bloodless language of issues and policies, and leave emotion and anger to the protofascists. Take a look at the 3,000-word suicide note left by Joe Stack, who flew his Piper Cherokee last month into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, murdering an IRS worker and injuring dozens. He was not alone in his rage.

“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?” Stack wrote. “Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political ‘representatives’ (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the ‘terrible health care problem’. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.”

The timidity of the left exposes its cowardice, lack of a moral compass and mounting political impotence. The left stands for nothing. The damage Obama and the Democrats have done is immense. But the damage liberals do the longer they beg Obama and the Democrats for a few scraps is worse. It is time to walk out on the Democrats. It is time to back alternative third-party candidates and grass-roots movements, no matter how marginal such support may be. If we do not take a stand soon we must prepare for the rise of a frightening protofascist movement, one that is already gaining huge ground among the permanently unemployed, a frightened middle class and frustrated low-wage workers. We are, even more than Glenn Beck or tea-party protesters, responsible for the gusts fanning the flames of right-wing revolt because we have failed to articulate a credible alternative.

A shift to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader, along with genuine grass-roots movements, will not be a quick fix. It will require years in the wilderness. We will again be told by the Democrats that the least-worse candidate they select for office is better than the Republican troll trotted out as an alternative. We will be bombarded with slick commercials about hope and change and spoken to in a cloying feel-your-pain language. We will be made afraid. But if we again acquiesce we will be reduced to sad and pathetic footnotes in our accelerating transformation from a democracy to a totalitarian corporate state. Isolation and ridicule—ask Nader or McKinney—is the cost of defying power, speaking truth and building movements. Anger at injustice, as Martin Luther King wrote, is the political expression of love. And it is vital that this anger become our own. We have historical precedents to fall back upon.

“Here in the United States, at the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name,” the late historian and activist Howard Zinn said in a lecture a year ago at Binghamton University. “Millions of people in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know, there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean, you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism had a good name. It needs to be restored.”

Social change does not come through voting. It is delivered through activism, organizing and mobilization that empower groups to confront the hegemony of the corporate state and the power elite. The longer socialism is identified with the corporatist policies of the Democratic Party, the longer we allow the right wing to tag Obama as a socialist, the more absurd and ineffectual we become. The right-wing mantra of “Obama the socialist,” repeated a few days ago to a room full of Georgia Republicans, by Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. speaker of the House, is discrediting socialism itself. Gingrich, who looks set to run for president, called Obama the “most radical president” the country had seen in decades. “By any standard of government control of the economy, he is a socialist,” Gingrich said. If only the critique were true.

The hypocrisy and ineptitude of the Democrats become, in the eyes of the wider public, the hypocrisy and ineptitude of the liberal class. We can continue to tie our own hands and bind our own feet or we can break free, endure the inevitable opprobrium, and fight back. This means refusing to support the Democrats. It means undertaking the laborious work of building a viable socialist movement. It is the only alternative left to save our embattled open society. We can begin by sending a message to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader. Let them know they are no longer alone.