[Self] Pep Talk

March 10, 2011

[WARNING: the “pep talk” part of this takes a while to get to…and it’s probably not all that peppy, but headed in the right direction I think…]

Hard to watch or read any news for the last few weeks and not feel a growing sense of doom for those of us who strongly support labor–not just “working people” or “the middle class” (which are categories so diffuse that they don’t capture much anymore), but Labor, as a movement.

Yesterday we took hits in Wisconsin, which most of us know about, and Michigan, which took me by surprise.  The day before, PA’s new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, offered up a budget proposal that slashes state funding for public universities (already hovering just over 30% of our operating budgets) in half; demanding salary and benefits givebacks from public unions (at least he said it directly); and so on.  We know about the passage of SB5 in Ohio, which will likely pass the House and be signed into law soon.  Idaho legislators have voted to strip K-12 teachers of collective bargaining rights.

And this is, as we all know, just the beginning.  Actually, no it isn’t.  The effort to kill labor has been growing, steadily, for a long time now.  Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers’ union is a more (but still not entirely accurate) marker of the onset of this strategy.  We can leave it to the labor historians to duke out dates, but the point is that what we’re seeing right now isn’t new; it’s more frontal and more public than we’ve seen–as far as I know, we haven’t seen this level of attack on organized labor since about the 1940s)–but it hasn’t popped up from nowhere.

A lot of my liberal friends will disagree with me here (although a lot will agree, too), but one of the major enablers of the current attacks on labor is the national Democratic Party, which has taken Labor for granted for a very long time now.  And that’s partly Labor’s fault, too, for living in an “At least they’re not Republicans” paradigm.  Dems know Labor won’t desert them, so they vacuum up campaign contributions and organizing/mobilizing energy during elections and then do nothing to support Labor in between.  The Dems could have passed EFCA quite easily had they wanted to, instead of just sweeping it under the rug.  The Dems could have told the Republicans to shove the Bush tax cuts up their bums because we need that money to pay things that actual human beings need.  But they haven’t, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in any future I can imagine.

So where does that leave the actual working people, the people on whose labor this country depends, to turn for support?  All that’s really left, it seems, is each other.  There are millions of us.  We don’t have the cash that Waltons and Kochs and Gateses and Soroses have on hand.  We don’t have the weapons that wingnut militias have lying around.  We don’t have legislatures in our pockets like our self-appointed neo-liberal corporate masters have.

And you know what?  I’m finding myself less and less troubled about those problems as every minute goes by.  Why?  Because the institutions they ru[i]n only continue to work as long as we the people continue to support them.

Whose money are the rich stealing?  Ours!  How do we stop that from happening?  Don’t spend money on stupid crap; buy from union shops; tell the bad guys that you’re boycotting them; make a stink in every setting where people are giving money to culprits of exploitation.

Why do corrupt quasi-representative government institutions continue to sell us down the river?  Because we let them–by voting, or not voting, and then pretending like we’ve discharged our duty as citizens until the next Election Day.  We have to make demands and fight for them.  We have to confront lawmakers and executives face-to-face.  We have to demand that the self-annointed answer hard questions in public, and lambaste their empty answers.

On Facebook yesterday, two of my friends started calling for a General Strike, and quite honestly I think we have to start thinking about that.  If Labor, as a movement, is going to mean anything in this country, it’s time for its proponents to think really hard about throwing down the gauntlet.  For too long, our culture has subscribed to the “What’s good for _____ [fill in the blank with corporate quasi-capitalist behemoth] is good for America” logic, and it’s proven time and again to be a lie.  Why not, “What’s good for American workers is good for America?”

What’s so damn hard about that?

Or put another way:  We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as a “special interest” for too long.  What could be less “special interest” than the basic economic security of the huge majority of the population?  There is only a small cabal (the real “special interests”) to whom our basic economic security doesn’t matter.  We can no longer wait around for those very elite, wealthy, selfish, solipsistic, inhumane people to come to their senses, to wake up, to have an epiphany, to see the Lord (or Karl Marx, or Lech Walesa, or whoever).  We can do this without them.

 


Let’s talk about sacrifice

March 6, 2011

So the buzzword of the year so far is “shared sacrifice.”  Scott Walker says he can only balance the Wisconsin budget if those greedy public employees would just be willing to sacrifice a little.  John Kasich of Ohio says the same–at the same time he and his legislature define university professors as managers so they can’t belong to unions, but anyway…  Democrats and Republicans in Washington spew the same line of crap, that in hard times we all have to sacrifice together.

I see people on the left resist this, not stridently enough, by reminding audiences that “sacrifice” is happening largely on the backs of the poor, working and middle classes.  And it is.  But maybe we can make a little better version of the point by asking a slightly different question.

What are the rich sacrificing in any of the current budget proposals?

Nothing.  They get: more tax cuts, tax incentives, tax breaks.  They get: reduced labor costs via union busting, decreased safety and environmental regulations by defunding regulatory agencies.  They get: bailouts when they mismanage their businesses into the ground.  They get: nearly exclusive access to the mechanisms of power because they have all the money they’ve stolen and the leisure time to use it since they don’t do anything useful with their time.

Name one thing that any of this budget voodoo costs the rich.  One.  And then ask yourself who’s making the policies.  And then ask yourself who’s paying the price.  And then ask yourself why we aren’t burning these people out of their houses (Because we’re more ethical than they are?  Apparently).  And then, finally, ask yourself how long you’re willing to continue putting up with a situation in which every single decision coming from a conservative-dominated system hurts YOU and EVERYBODY YOU KNOW, unless you’re one of the wealthy.

The talking heads like to talk about having to make “hard decisions” in difficult times.  Well, for those of us who are actual human beings, who are sick of seeing our humanity and dignity spat on every day by rich people who don’t care whether anybody else lives or dies, we have to ask ourselves a hard question too–how long do we wait?

 


Shining some light on the dark underside

January 13, 2011

I read the text of President Obama’s speech in Tucson last night and watched it just this morning.  If you haven’t actually listened to it yet, you probably should.  It is, as he’s given to from time to time, a remarkable performance–humble and sad, visionary and inspirational, humane, all the characteristics of the Obama that drew us to him during the campaign and all too often get washed out by the noise of daily politics.

From cruising around the blogosphere last night after the speech, I gather that even some of the more conservative punditocracy were praising the speech.  I haven’t seen any reactions from Republican members of Congress, but when Charles Krauthammer gives a Democrat the nod, the Democrat must have done OK.  So let’s just say, for the sake of conversation, that Obama’s call for renewed civility and decency in our political discourse made a mark on the people with the loudest (that is, the most mass mediated) voices: elected officials and pundits.

Then I made the mistake (or, faced the demon–choose your metaphor) of beginning to read comments sections of stories about the speech.  I don’t know if YahooNews draws an especially nasty crowd or what, but it didn’t take 2 minutes from the end of the speech before screeches of “traitor” and “communist” and “worst President ever” and “he wasn’t even born here” showed up.  Today, out of the first ten comments, two of them say, “Google FEMA Concentration Camps and find out what Hussein means to do to YOU!”  Nobody explicitly calls for his assassination or violence directly against him, but let’s just say that his call for decency seems to have fallen on some deaf ears.

One of my favorite bloggers, Ed at Gin and Tacos, wrote the other day that one of the big problems in our current political scene is that nobody seems willing to call out the crazies.  What the hell is wrong with them?  How can anybody listen to a neighbor (much less a Congressperson or respected “journalist”) propagate the kind of insanity that we’ve come to take for granted without responding to it?  And I’m not just talking about the militaristic metaphors and the “climate of hate” that’s been flying around for the last few days.  I’m talking about somebody I defriended on Facebook because they thought it was hilarious when Barack Obama got his lip split playing basketball and said something like, “Damn, I wish I’d learned to play basketball so I could have smashed his face in.”  About the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!  If one of us peaceniks had said anything of the sort about George W. Bush, we’d have been accused of being TRAITORS (gasp).  In fact, some of us did say terrible things about George W. Bush (if there were an emoticon for a raised hand, I’d use it here) and were routinely called traitors.  Of course, we were also called traitors when we said nothing at all about GWB, but that’s another story…

Anyway, so my question for now is this.  If the big voices in our country got the message last night, and have begun to realize that the way we talk to each other is counterproductive, horrifying, unworthy of us, call it what you will, how do we get that message to the people who really need to hear it–our neighbors and co-workers, the people stockpiling weapons caches in case they need to revolt, the people who hide behind anonymity to threaten others’ safety and well-being, and so on?  There’s an argument to make that it took decades of building up to this level of anger and viciousness and that it will, therefore, take decades to build it down.  We don’t have time for that.  How do we accelerate that process?

I guess another way of asking the question: how do we, as activists, organize in our own communities (physical, virtual, professional, …) to support a more productive, humane discourse?  How do we even begin to talk about rebuilding trust, believing that what people who think differently are doing isn’t automatically an attempt to destroy us?

Once trust has been breached, it’s very difficult to rebuild.  At least right now, that’s the biggest challenge I see.


When We Do It, It’s Democracy; When You Do It, It’s Tyranny

January 12, 2011

[Let me make perfectly clear, at the outset, that I’m not laying specific blame for Jared Lee Loughren’s actions at the feet of Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck, or….  Not that I expect this disclaimer to matter much.  As I’ve been reading blogs and comments sections over the last few days, it’s pretty much impossible even to mention one of the right-wing heros without drawing immediate defensive responses that have little or nothing to do with what actually got said.  But hey, it’s worth a try.]

An extended version of a discussion that just started on my Facebook page when I posted a link to Sarah Palin’s statement re: the Giffords’ shooting.

Apparently, in Palin’s world, exercises in vicious rhetoric are “healthy debate” and “democracy” when Republicans do them.  Witness–

Some signs from Tea Party rallies (there are zillions more of these, of course, but I’m trying to make the point quickly)

When Rush Limbaugh says, “What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country. He’s sitting there in jail. He knows what’s going on, he knows that…the Democrat party is attempting to find anybody but him to blame. He knows if he plays his cards right, he’s just a victim. He’s the latest in a never-ending parade of victims brought about by the unfairness of America…this guy clearly understands he’s getting all the attention and he understands he’s got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he’s not convicted of murder – but something lesser.”

When Sarah Palin herself posts an advertisement with crosshairs over the districts of Democratic incumbents whose politics she doesn’t like.

When Palin’s spokesperson denies that the crosshairs are gunsights.

When Joe Wilson yells “You lie!” at the President of the United States during a speech in front of the entire Congress and nation.

When Sarah accuses then-candidate Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists” (Former Weatherman Bill Ayers)

When Sarah adopts the riff of “real Americans” as a central campaign theme in 2008, as if to suggest that anybody who’d vote for Obama isn’t a real American.

Endless criticisms of mainstream media for “gay-friendly” depictions of relationships, leading to the degradation of marriage, the evils of children everywhere, wars (oh, hi, Westboro Baptist freaks!), and so on.

Referring to the Affordable Healthcare Act as “socialist” and claiming that it will install “death panels”

The orchestration (largely organized by Freedom Works, although many Tea Partiers may not know that) of disruptions all over the nation at health care Town Hall meetings

This list could go on and on and on and on and on.

You could (I won’t, but it’s possible to) make an argument that, in fact, these are healthy exercises in democratic process.  As Palin herself puts it, democracy requires vigorous debate and exchanges of ideas; if you don’t like what somebody does/says, vote ’em out!  And that’s true.

The problem with Palin’s statement is the double-standard it applies.  That is, it’s fine for Republicans/conservatives to depict Obama as Hitler; to blame entertainment and news media for the collapse of “family values”; to disrupt Presidential speeches by accusing the President of terrible things; and so on.  But it’s “irresponsible” (gasp), unconscionable for anybody to explore the possibility that the extremely vitriolic, vicious, violent language that she and her ilk (Beck, O’Reilly, Limbaugh and the gang) deploy at just about every opportunity, might have had even the least bit to do with what happened on Tucson on Saturday.

So when you and your friends say it, it’s democracy.  When my friends and I say it, it’s “irresponsible,” or as you and Rush often like to put it, tyrannical.

As I concluded the Facebook post this morning (this is about as concisely as I can say it, which is why I’m just using it again)–

Be quiet, Sarah. Unfortunately, the same arrogance that makes you think we care what you say keeps you from understanding when you need not to talk.


Extremism on both sides? Let’s make this perfectly clear

January 9, 2011

I wrote a post about a month ago in which I disputed the “liberals and conservatives are equally vitriolic” claim, but feel like it’s worth saying something else about that.  A friend posted this link on Facebook this morning, and I (not to put too fine a point on it) DEFY any of you to develop evidence that liberals have planned, attempted, and executed this many acts of horrific violence–just in the last TWO YEARS.

Or put it this way: sure, there are plenty of angry lefties.  I’m one of them.  But the “Both sides are just as bad” argument is total bullshit.

 


Where were the Tea Partiers when…

January 7, 2011

This list flies around e-mail distribution lists from time to time.  A debate I was having on Facebook last night with a high school friend who’s very conservative made me think about it; I’m glad I saved it the last time I received it.

Subject: YOU FINALLY GOT MAD…

You didn’t get mad
when the Supreme Court stopped a legal
recount and appointed a President.

You didn’t get mad
when Cheney allowed Energy company
officials to dictate Energy policy and push us to invade Iraq.

You didn’t get mad
when a covert CIA operative got outed.

You didn’t get mad
when the Patriot Act got passed.

You didn’t get mad
when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.

You didn’t get mad
when we spent over 800 billion (and counting) on said illegal war.

You didn’t get mad
when Bush borrowed more money from
foreign sources than the previous 42 Presidents combined.

You didn’t get mad
when over 10 billion dollars in cash just disappeared in Iraq.

You didn’t get mad
when you found out we were torturing people.

You didn’t get mad
when Bush embraced trade and outsourcing
policies that shipped 6 million American jobs out of the country.

You didn’t get mad
when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans.

You didn’t get mad
when we didn’t catch Bin Laden.
You didn’t get mad
when Bush rang up 10 trillion dollars in combined budget and current account deficits.

You didn’t get mad
when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn’t get mad
when we let a major US city, New Orleans, drown.

You didn’t get mad
when we gave people who had more money
than they could spend, the filthy rich, over a trillion
dollars in tax breaks.

You didn’t get mad
with the worst 8 years of job creations in several decades.

You didn’t get mad
when over 200,000 US Citizens lost their
lives because they had no health insurance.

You didn’t get mad
when lack of oversight and regulations
from the Bush Administration caused US Citizens to lose 12
trillion dollars in investments, retirement, and home values.

You finally got mad


when a black man was elected President
and decided that people in America deserved the right
to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption,
torture, job losses by the millions, stealing your tax dollars to make the
rich richer, and the worst economic disaster since 1929 were all okay with
you,
but helping fellow Americans who are sick…Oh, Hell No!!


Moderates and “Extremists”

October 31, 2010

Just read this piece on cnn.com and it prompted me to post for the first time in, oh, almost two months–

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/10/31/avlon.rally.sanity/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

I didn’t go to the Stewart/Colbert “rally,” and as I read more about it, I’m glad I didn’t.  Although it sounds like it was probably fun, and while I respect Stewart and Colbert as much as you can respect professional entertainers’ political work, the more I read, the more I realize the rally seems to have reinforced one of the great misnomers (read: bullshit) of this political period.

In simplest terms, the notion that “extremists at both ends of the spectrum” have hijacked our political discourse is crap.  Total and complete crap.  No, that’s an insult to crap.

Yes, there are extreme leftists.  Chances are, unless you’re one of them, you’ve never seen or heard of any of them.  There’s simply no equivalent on the left for the lies, hatred, vitriol, distortion, power-hunger, lies, lies, hate, violence, lies, and violence and hate of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner (who, if he’s not one of this gang sure seems to want to be), Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe, …  the list goes on and on and on and on.  None.  Amy Goodman?  Who does a radio show that about 43 people listen to?  At least she doesn’t make shit up out of whole cloth to suit her agenda.  Michael Moore?  He’s a clown, and nobody on the actual left much listens to him anymore (if we ever did anyway).  Barack Obama?  You’re an idiot if you think he’s a liberal.

The facts are quite simple.  Our political discourse has been hijacked by bad people who spew whatever shit is convenient at the time in order to scare people into ceding power to them.  It doesn’t matter if the shit they spew is the same shit they spewed last week, or last year, or whether the new shit as antithetical to the old shit.  These people will say anything (read: ANYTHING) to maintain power for themselves and their friends, no matter what the cost to the nation or the world.  And it’s THEM, along with their corporate-media lapdogs, who propagate the myth that “extremism” comes from both directions.  It doesn’t.

We’ve seen this strategy before.  Conservatives are very good at accusing liberals of doing whatever conservatives are actually doing; it allows them to deflect attention from the fact that they’re the ones doing it.  That anybody actually believes the shit they spew is, quite simply, a bonus.  Their primary purpose is to generate noisy, horrible-sounding static; the goal is to make people stop listening.  And it’s working.  Yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity was, by most accounts, a pretty much content-free feel-good session from which nothing at all emerged.  Yay.

What it will take to send the rightwing extremists back where they belong is simply to shut them off.  I don’t mean that those of us on the left should ignore their existence.  I do mean that we have an obligation to put their hate-filled shit in its proper context at every turn.  Don’t debate them head-to-head because they never, ever listen; and neither do they have any actual commitment to the positions they take, so changing their minds isn’t really a goal.  Instead, we have to make sure that the larger swath of the public, who isn’t firmly committed to left or right (they call themselves “moderate,” while I call them “uncommitted,” but that’s a topic for another day), doesn’t hear the shit unchecked.  Call out the lies.  Call out the flip-flops.  Don’t let their hypocrisy, hate, and lies slip down the memory hole.

If leftist extremists EVER have the kind of bully-pulpit the right currently does, we can talk about finding the “center” and extremism from “both sides.”  Until then, the insistence that it’s coming from both sides is simply right-wing propaganda.