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?

 

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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.

 


Boy, did I misunderestimate

June 5, 2010

Back in January 2005, I wrote an editorial for the Philly Inquirer about my experience at the second inauguration of George W. Bush.  I’d faced some angry folks before, in my days as a Greenpeace canvasser, but nothing I’d ever seen had prepared me for the bile, anger, and general insanity of the crowd in Washington, DC.  I, a pacifist, told some loudmouth the world would be better off if he were dead.  People yelled profanities back and forth; protesters from both sides displayed Nazi insignia drawn onto posters.

My editorial was an exhortation to people at all points on the spectrum to ratchet down the anger a notch.  I registered my own anxiety at how I’d behaved and didn’t accuse anybody of being “wrong.”  I thought we’d all just gotten stressed out and needed a reminder that the tone we were taking with each other wasn’t healthy or useful.

I should have known I wasn’t getting anywhere when a week later 3 anonymous death threats showed up at my house.  Even then, I assumed the people making those threats were aberrations.  When I called the editor at the Inauirer about writing about the death threats, his response was, “I’d recommend you not do that.  You kicked the rock once and they poked their heads out.  Kick it again and there’s no telling what they’ll do.”

Fair enough.

Flash forward to 2008.  Sarah Palin didn’t invent hate, but she sure capitalized on it as she made an entire campaign out her detestably angry hatred towards everybody in the world who isn’t just like her.  Or put differently, she kicked the same rock I did, but she kept on kicking and kicking, ensuring that the nasty slugs who live under it came out.  Along with Rush Limbaugh, the entire staff of Fox News, and other rightwing media mavens, the loony Right has done little for the last couple of years besides firing up the hate machine and its victims, um, consumers.

Today’s news from Prescott, AZ for some reason just infuriated me, maybe more than anything else these monsters have done in the last few years.  If you haven’t seen the story, a rightwing radio talk show host who also serves on the Prescott City Council provoked his listeners to drive by a grade school at which there was a mural depicting the ethnically diverse student body.  This talk show host got people yelling racial epithets, very explicit ones, at kids in the school yard in an effort to get the black and Hispanic faces painted white.

It worked.  I don’t blame the principle of the school–not really, although I’d certainly have liked to see him fight this.  His rationale for caving in is that he worried about the students–remember these are grade-schoolers–exposed to that level of hatred and potential violence while they were outside being kids.

No, my real problems are with: (1) the talk show host and councilperson who provoked all this–why haven’t the citizens of Prescott run this asshole out of town on a rail? and (2) the idiots who thought it was a good idea to drive by a school screaming racist names at little kids.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Some good thinkers seem convinced that this level of racism is a product of economic insecurity.  Maybe, but so what?  Frankly, as much as I’m almost a socialist, every act of racism like this one makes me care less about people who are such racists.  Sure, economic instability might be enabling their racism, but in order for that to be true, the racism had to be there in the first place.  There are plenty of poor, hungry, scared people who don’t act like that and never would.

It’s high time that those of us with brains stand up to these idiots and let them know that kind of behavior isn’t welcome in our universe.  If they want to go hide out somewhere, learn to use their weapons, and kill each other, it’s getting harder for me not to say, “Go to it, assholes.”

UPDATED 6/5, 10 am.:  The Prescott News reports that radio station KYCA has fired Steve Blair, the councilman/talk-show host whose provocations led to this–

http://www.prescottenews.com/news/latest/steve-blair-fired-by-kyca


McCain’s Principles, or Lack Thereof

October 13, 2008

[The essay below is a ZNet Commentary.  I post it here because it’s extremely astute and important.  If you like what you see here, consider going to znet.org and becoming a Sustainer.  –Seth]

***

Fear McCain

Oct 12, 2008 By Paul Street
Paul Street’s ZSpace Page / ZSpace

The thought of [John McCain] being president sends a cold chill down my spine.

—United States Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi)
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, some voters in the critical political battleground state of Pennsylvania are leaning towards Barack Obama because economic matters are trumping candidate “character” in determining their choices in the presidential election.

If “the economy” hadn’t become the overwhelming issue, the Tribune reports, these voters would be going with John McCain because of his supposed superior personal qualities.

The voters are worried about Obama’s moral fiber because of his past connections to such supposed moral monsters as the black pastor Jeremiah Wright and the former SDS Weatherman-turned education professor and charter school advocate Bill Ayers.

The Tribune story is titled “Character Counts; Economy Counts More” (J. Tankersley and C. Parsons, Chicago Tribune, October 9, 2008, sec.1, p. 13).

While I am no particular fan of Obama’s personality and neoliberal politics, I find the Tribune article’s angle and title distressing.  I do not expect mainstream voters or reporters to follow me (a left Marxist since age 18) in feeling little shock at the crimes of Ayers (decades ago) and in having little problem with the rhetoric of Wright. I get it that most Americans are in no position — morally, ideologically, or in terms of information received — to share my understandings of why Ayers briefly became a (rather hapless) ultra-left “terrorist” and why Rev. Wright is angry at U.S. policies (and crimes) past and present.

What is more difficult for me to swallow is that anybody could identify John McCain with anything remotely connected to positive moral character.  The candidate atop the current malicious Republican presidential campaign — increasingly reduced to the preposterous claim that Obama is some sort of “far left” enemy of “American” values and institutions (my recently released book “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics” is an antidote to that charge) — is a characterological catastrophe.

As Tim Dickinson notes in a recent Rolling Stone profile of McCain, the Republican presidential contender has demonstrated a shocking lack of principle with his recent policy contortions.  McCain’s campaign positions have shifted drastically to the hard right on the Bush tax cuts (for the rich), court appointments, oil drilling, the religious right, and torture.  Having once found it politically useful to oppose all of these things, McCain now embraces them.

The supposed centrist “maverick’s” swing to the far right has found grotesque expression in his running-mate selection — a viciously stupid evangelical hit lady whose only qualification for office is her ability to energize the GOP’s white-nationalist messianic-militarist and  pseudo-Christian base.

“Straight Talk” McCain has recently undertaken politically calculated rightward leaps on immigration/border policy, gay marriage, lobbyist power, and “talking to our enemies.”  He has shifted positions on financial regulation and the AIG nationalization in response to financial capitalism’s deepening crisis.

In detailing McCain’s recent wild and rightward policy swings, Dickinson quotes numerous Republicans who told him that the candidate’s only real concern is personal advancement.  Former Republican U.S. Senator Lincoln Chaffee and McCain were once the only two Republicans to vote against Bush’s tax cuts.  He joined with a differently calculating McCain in opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to George W. Bush’s most reactionary court appointments. Now Chaffee says that “John has made a pact with the devil.”

Besides being monumentally inconsistent and unprincipled, McCain is a loose cannon who would pose grave risks on the global stage if he were to reach the White House.  By Dickinson’s account:

“At least three of McCain’s GOP colleagues have gone on record to say that they consider him temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief.  Bob Smith, the former senator from New Hampshire, has said that McCain’s ‘temperament would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger.  In my mind, it should disqualify him.’ Sen. Domenici of New Mexico has said he doesn’t ‘want this guy anywhere near a trigger.’ And Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi weighed in that ‘the thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine.  He is erratic.  He is hotheaded'” (T. Dickinson, “Make-Believe Maverick,” Rolling Stone, October 16, 2008, p. 70).

Along with being perceived as dangerously selfish and reckless by a number of leading Republicans, McCain appears to be something of a vicious bastard.  He cussed his wife out in the vilest terms imaginable in front of three reporters in 1992.

He joked at a 1998 GOP fundraiser about the “ugliness” of Chelsea Clinton, attributing her physical appearance to the fact that the lesbian Attorney General Janet Reno was “her father.”

In April of 2007, McCain responded to a voter’s foreign policy question by singing “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” to the tune of the old Beach Boy’s tune “Barbara Anne.”

It’s all very consistent, Dickinson shows, with McCain’s pampered youth as the legendarily irresponsible, boorish, and stupid son and grandson of four star admirals in the U.S. Navy. After graduating 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy, McCain became a notorious party-boy who repeatedly crashed Navy planes.  Any flier without McCain’s would have lost his wings.

McCain was able to achieve notoriety and build a political career around the claim to be a “war hero” because he managed to get shot down while bombing the civilian infrastructure of North Vietnam.  Contrary to his carefully cultivated myth of special and holy “sacrifice for country,” McCain received favorable treatment by informing his Vietnamese captors the he was the son of a top U.S. military official (Admiral McCain head of the U.S. assault on Vietnam by the early 1970s). He divulged military information (the name of his ship of origin and the target of his assault) other American POW’s refused to release under torture.

McCain’s subsequent career and highlights include:

* The vicious abandonment and divorce of his first wife after she suffered a crippling car accident and the 42-year-old McCain became smitten with his future wife – the 24-year-old former USC cheerleader Cindy Hensley, a wealthy Budweiser heiress.

* Using his position as the Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate to secretly negotiate (against the wishes of the Secretary of the Navy) an egregious pork project – the replacement of the aging aircraft carrier “The Midway.”

* Voting in the U.S. Senate against the Martin Luther King holiday.

* Voting to confirm the arch-rightist Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court.

* Calling for the abolition of the U.S. Departments of Energy and Education.

* Championing a bill that eliminated catastrophic health insurance for senior citizens.

* Intervening along with four other senators in 1987 to prevent federal regulators from investigating Lincoln Savings and Loan, a corrupt institution owned by McCain’s leading contributor and friend Charlie Keating.  The S&L collapsed two years later under the weight of Keating’s corrupt real estate dealings, costing U.S. taxpayers $3.4 billion and defrauding 20,000 holders of Keating’s junk bonds.

In the late 1990s, Dickinson shows, McCain dropped his initial post-Vietnam reluctance to support aggressive U.S. wars and underwent a dramatic “neocon makeover.”  McCain’s arch-militaristic conversion was consistent with his initial claims that “the liberal media” had undermined the “national will” and therefore cost noble America a “war it should have won” in Vietnam.

McCain turned into such a “bellicose hawk” that he went beyond Dick Cheney in “spreading bogus intelligence” in advance support of George W. Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.

McCain’s hyper-militarism combines with the sense that he is a loose cannon to prevent top Republican generals like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell from endorsing his candidacy.

For whatever reason, Dickinson does not mention McCain’s likely strong connection to recent reckless U.S.-imperial provocations of resurgent and nuclear-armed Russia.  Dickinson might also have mentioned the Arizona senator’s inflammatory call for the formation of a U.S-led “League of Democracies” to (presumably) replace the United Nations – a body from which McCain would ban Russia and China.

It is common among left commentators – the present writer included – to criticize dominant U.S. political culture’s tendency to privilege candidate character and “qualities” over substantive matters of policy and ideology. America’s quadrennial candidate-centered corporate-crafted  “electoral extravaganzas” (Noam Chomsky’s term) tend to cloak the fundamental corporate and imperial consensus between reigning parties and politicians, focusing voters on superficial differences of candidate style instead of the fact that both of the nation’s dominant political parties are well to the right of the populace on numerous key issues.  The current election year is no exception.

Still, “character counts” when it comes to who is going to hold what is still the most powerful single office on Earth – the U.S. presidency.  The vicious, stupid, unprincipled, and reckless John McCain is morally, mentally, and physically ill-suited for that job in ways that must be made abundantly clear to as many voters as possible over the next three weeks.  It should be emphasized that the 72-year-old cancer (Melanoma)-patient McCain – the infamously “hotheaded” son of a father and grandfather who both died from sudden heart attacks (at ages 62 and 71 respectively) – could very well keel over dead the day of his possible inauguration, bringing us to the unthinkable brink of a Palin administration.

If you live in a contested state, I suggest that you smell with supreme fear what McCain and Palin are cooking and vote accordingly. This ain’t just Democratic Coke versus Republican Pepsi, comrade: it’s Coke versus Crack.
Paul Street (paulstreet99@yahoo.com), a writer and speaker based in Iowa City, IA, His latest book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, order at www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987


Traitors (again, or more of the same)

October 11, 2008

Last summer, across several threads of this blog, I (and people like me) got accused time and again of being a traitor because I don’t support the US occupation of Iraq, because I’m an academic (and therefore must be advancing a revolutionary agenda every time I teach), because I don’t support Israel’s right to kill Palestinians (and for the record, neither do I support Palestinians’ rights to kill Israelis), etc.

At the time, I was infuriated by the accusation.  It galls me to no end for neoconservatives to accuse anybody who disagrees with them of trying to destroy our country.  I’m still mad about it, as you might imagine if you’ve been called one of the worst things in the world.

The last couple of weeks of presidential campaigning have put the nastiness of last summer into some perspective.  For one, I’ve realized that neocons toss around the word “traitor” willy-nilly.  They know perfectly well that I do not actively work to destroy or undercut the Constitution or our country.  They also know perfectly well that Barack Obama isn’t trying to destroy our country.  I guess the short version is that I’ve become innoculated against the charge because they apply it to everything and everybody they don’t like.

Second, although some of the folks who were fighting with me on the blog got pretty nasty, it’s nothing compared to the threats that are emerging from (and being stoked by) the McPalin campaign.  Even Republicans are getting nervous about the simmering violence and hate being aroused, especially by Sarah Palin, on the campaign trail.  The Secret Service, it seems, have decided that the freak who yelled “Kill him!” at a Palin rally last weekend probably wasn’t talking about Obama.  Huh?  Who else would he have been talking about?  And with the increasingly violent and frequent shouts of “Off with his head!” and “Traitor!” and “Treason!” and others, why would anybody believe that Obama wasn’t the target?

I, like many, are afraid of what might happen as a result of this increasingly vicious tone.  However, having been the object of a (very minor because I’m not very important, but still…) smear campaign, and having faced death threats because of an editorial I wrote for the Philly Inquirer some years ago, more than fear I feel deep, tragic sadness that the very-far right-wing has come to this.  It wasn’t enough to slaughter innocent Iraqis and Afghans in wars they weren’t even fighting.  It wasn’t enough to see a ruling cabal installed in the White House without even winning an election, and hand over the reins of our government to a small group of people who serve their own interests only.  It wasn’t enough to label anybody who disagreed with them unpatriotic or treasonous.

Now they have to attack a presidential election ticket that couldn’t be less traitorous, less “Socialist,” less dangerous to the core values of the US Constitution, and they have to incite levels of hate and fear to do it.  It’s humiliating, as a citizen not just of the country but of the world, to know that others all over the planet believe these snakes speak for our nation.

So, here’s a plea to all you McPalin supporters who are so angry about Barack Obama’s success that you advocate violence towards him and his supporters–

SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!  You’re hurting your candidates.  You’re hurting your party.  You’re hurting our nation. You’re much more dangerous that Obama/Biden could ever be.  I don’t believe you’re “traitors” any more than I believe I’m a traitor, but your hatred and violence are bad and wrong.

Enough.


Joking about violence is never OK

October 8, 2008
Pat Oliphant editorial cartoon

Pat Oliphant editorial cartoon

My friend Greg sent me this editorial cartoon this morning in response to a thread on my Facebook page about the McPalin incitements to violence.  He asked me if I thought an Obama supporter would ever advocate violence towards McPalin, and I told him I had a hard time imagining that.

This cartoon, in my estimation, is over the line in terms of recommending violence, no matter how satirical it purports to be.  I don’t mean to claim that it’s just as bad or dangerous as the “Kill him” comment at a Palin rally the other day–it isn’t.  Both Palin and Cheyney are avowed hunters, and Cheyney certainly took some deserved flak (pun intended) for his, um, mishap a couple of years ago when he accidentally hit one of his hunting buddies with some buckshot. 

Even the suggestion that Cheyney and Palin should “go hunting” can’t help but evoke Cheyney’s misfire.  Try as I might, I can’t help but interpret this cartoon as speaking the hope that maybe he’d do it to her too.

Enough.


John McCain and Sarah Palin are the terrorists

October 7, 2008

By now, we all know that Sarah Palin’s role in the McCain campaign is to provoke false accusations and threats of violence towards Barack Obama.  Her speech in FL on Saturday, in which Palin accused Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists,” was nothing short of slander.  McCain’s speech yesterday, in which he accused Obama of simply insulting McCain every time McCain questioned his record, was disturbing not just because of its content, which was full of ugly lies and distortions, but more so because of the crowd’s reaction.  I’ve never been in a lynch mob, but I have to expect that it sounds much like that crowd did.

Worse, even, than those was the rally yesterday at which a McPalin supporter yelled “Kill him!” “Him,” of course, is Barack Obama.  A perfect opportunity for Sarah Palin to demonstrate that she’s anything other than a bloodthirsy psychopath, instead, nothing.  Nothing.  Let me say that again.  Nothing.  One of her audience members advocated assassinating a sitting US Senator and Presidential candidate, and Palin said nothing.  Neither has John McCain said anything.

It’s another round, much like the Dayton mosque attack last week, of the McPalin campaign propagating bloodlust among their supporters, and saying NOTHING when that bloodlust finds public voice and action.  These candidates actually support a strategy that results in attempted and threatened murder.

No matter how close Barack Obama and Bill Ayers might ever have been or might ever be, Obama hasn’t done anything near as horrifying as this.

This isn’t just electoral politics.  This is terrorism.  It’s honing in on people’s darkest fears and basest instincts, and letting people like this crawl out from under their rocks.  It’s recruiting bad people to their cause, knowing that at least some of them (and the Dayton mosque attack is evidence of this) will actually follow through on their threats.

More than ever, I’m deeply, deeply troubled that any sane person could consider voting for the McPalin ticket.  If you don’t toe their party line, you could be next.