In his long and varied career, David First has performed at Carnegie Hall and the United Nations, released a three-CD album of drone music, created sound installations in Belgium and Denmark, composed an opera, been apotheosized as a guitar god by Time Out New York, been named one of the top 100 New Yorkers  for his post-9/11 song “Jump Back,” won grants from the Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts (an organization founded by John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg), the National Endowment for the Arts, the Copland Foundation, and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust; and, perhaps most notably, influenced the musical stylings of Sonic Youth’s then-youthful Thurston Moore.

Congress is the 1 percent.

If I’m off here, I’m not off by much. Two-thirds of our senators, and over 40 percent of our congressional representatives are millionaires. The family of the average member of the House of (Non-) Representatives has about five-and-a-half times the wealth of the average American family. 

It is from that exalted perch that laws are handed down which tend to benefit. . . the 1 percent.

Surprise? Not really.

Politics has always been a rich man’s game. And I’m not being gender-neutral here, because for the most part what I’m writing about isn’t gender-neutral. Money as an access point to politics—and wealth as a consequence of wielding power—is nothing new or different: see Washington, George; real estate deals.

Nor should we reflexively smear anyone and everyone simply on the basis of income or origin:

Roosevelt in 2012!

But this severe economic skew in the makeup of our leadership class has serious consequences in terms of what our representatives think of as baseline normal. I am less concerned about the pernicious effects of “the Washington Bubble” and more concerned about the effects of “the Money Bubble.”

Congress decidedly does not feel our pain.

And they need to, if they are to properly diagnose and understand what ails us as a society.

We tinker with the Constitution at our peril. It has long been true that the Bill of Rights could not survive a popular vote: Americans are strongly in favor of free speech and freedom of religion, for example. . . except when people say things we don’t like, and excluding—you know—those weird UnAmerican religions. The Founders couldn’t possibly have really meant to permit them.

Having acknowledged the dangers, I would still propose three constitutional amendments to put the U.S. House and Senate back in touch with the day-to-day realities of “we the people.”

1. The mandatory medical plan for members of Congress and their families shall be Medicaid.

They think funding for Medicaid is adequate? Then they should get perfectly good care there.

2. Anyone serving in any public office—national, state, or local—shall have their children enrolled in public school.

We’re defunding kids? Fine. We’re defunding your kids, too.

3. There shall be created a Congressional Battalion, made up of the sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of every person elected to Congress (no substitutions please; spouses or exes not accepted). In any American military action, the Congressional Battalion shall be the first unit put into service.

Congress seems indifferent to its constitutional responsibilities regarding declarations of war; presidents more or less get to do what they want.  One suspects that substituting their own for the children of other people would make them a little less blithe about the exercise of U.S. power abroad.

I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to a Cadillac and a vacation condo; I do believe everyone is entitled to healthcare and education. That’s not just soft altruism: you build a strong society, a strong economy, on the foundation of a healthy and well educated population.

While I am often skeptical about military action, I’m not a pacifist. But I am disturbed by how freely our politicians spend the lives of other people’s children on causes to which they would be loathe to sacrifice their own.

We get the word “society” from the Latin word socius, meaning “companion.” We get “companion” from the Latin com and panis, “with bread,” meaning people with whom we break bread.

And when our leaders eat cake and the people get crusts. . . ?

That bodes well neither for the fate of our society nor for the fate of our leaders. 

 

In the fall of 2006, I spent a semester in Prague studying in a program called Art and Social Change.  It was a terrifying time to be a progressive American, and an especially strange time to be abroad.  I was a twenty-year-old American studying social movements in a country that had been occupied for most of its existence.  It felt strange to talk to Czechs about my feelings of helplessness in politics when they had lived under an oppressive communist regime from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Where in the World is J. Angelus Dust?

I don’t know if anyone else noticed this, but TNB’s celebrated advice columnist, the pseudonymous J. Angelus Dust, seems to have vanished from the site. It’s been many weeks since his last, somewhat erratic, post. Where could he be? Did his book ever come out? Is it called Thomas World, or something else? More importantly, is Fabian okay?

(Speaking of which: I am not The Dust, and while I have had the privilege of corresponding with him on several occasions, I not privy to his actual identity. If I had to guess at who he is among writers in the TNB Universe, my money would be on Spitznagel).

Well, we know Dust is a radical leftist. We know he’s an activist. We know he’s been increasingly sickened by the goings-on in this country, as his posts got ever more political in nature. I think he’s one of the leaders of the leaderless Occupy Wall Street movement. The timing, the politics, the nature of the beast…call it a hunch, but that’s my belief. And this recent push to “relocate the nexus” of OWS to Oakland suggests that Dust could well be in the Bay Area as I type this, perhaps huddling under a tent, perhaps handing out fliers at Berkeley.

Anyone else have any theories?