On the Ghost of Reagan at DNC 2016, or, Be Careful What You Wish For

July 30, 2016

I’ve been trying to sort out my mixed reactions to the jingoistic displays of patriotism at the DNC for a couple of days now. As a peace activist, I’m very unhappy about the gleeful waving around of military might. However, in some ways, the Democratic Party was giving the peacenik left what we’ve been asking for since, oh, about 2003.

I used to be one of the folks who stood at the central intersection in downtown West Chester every Saturday to vigil against the invasion/occupation of Iraq; the group that organized the vigils, the Chester County Peace Movement, also used to have regular meetings and other events at which we would talk in really wonky terms about how to do more than just witnessing and arguing with the proto-Tea-Partiers across the street. The question we almost always got stuck on was, “Why has the GOP been able to claim ‘patriotism’ for their side?” We love and respect the United States as much as they do, we said, and we believed that it was patriotic to fight back against an unjustly installed government committing unjust horrors against another sovereign nation. Hence the chant: What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.

The last time I remember clearly being actively involved in that conversation was in the early days of this blog, 2007’ish, with a couple of the right-wingers who were furiously insistent that we were “traitors” because we didn’t “love our country” because we didn’t “support the troops” because we “criticized the war effort” because I’m one of those “dangerous radical leftist academics” because…. Point is, aside from a snarky cheapshot at people I hadn’t tried to talk to in years :), it’s been a long time since I’ve thought hard about what a Democratic Party committed to showing the larger voting public how patriotic it could be would look like.

And what I saw this week at the DNC wasn’t pretty. That’s not the patriotism we were hoping for. It is, however, an entirely predictable outcome of a process by which a mainstream US political party decides to show the country that it can outdo its main rival–especially when the rival party has given over its identity to a creature (OK, he’s a person, but I’m only willing to concede that grudgingly) whose patriotism extends exactly to the point where he’s willing to praise Putin and Saddam Hussein.

So in short–I’m not unhappy about the strategy of claiming, “We’re just as patriotic as you, GOP, if not more, and it’s possible to love your country while you support progressive economic and social policies.” I’m not very happy that there wasn’t any effort, not that I can see anyway, to make patriotism about anything other than threats–and acts–of mass violence.

[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.


An open letter to Rep. Eric Cantor

January 21, 2011

Dear Representative Cantor:

For your sake and mine, I’m going to keep my point very simple.  In a recent interview, you claimed that the Senate isn’t listening to the American people’s call to repeal the Affordable Care Act because the Senate won’t conduct a repeal vote on the House’s repeal bill.

While the problems with the GOP’s repeal effort are legion, I want to focus on two.  First, you’re lying (and no, that’s not hyperbolic) when you and other GOP leaders continue to insist that the November election was a mandate for you to repeal the ACA.  No, it wasn’t.  Poll after poll after poll after poll after poll demonstrates beyond even the least shadow of a doubt that the citizenry as at best deeply divided about what it wants to happen with healthcare reform.  But what’s abundantly clear from those polls is that almost NOBODY wants a full repeal.  So when you passed a bill to repeal the bill fully, you flatly, flagrantly, ignored the will of the people you pretend to represent.

Second, given the number times Senate Republicans have blocked, held, threatened to filibuster, and otherwise derailed legislation, even legislation with extremely strong popular support (DADT repeal, 9/11 First Responders Care, the list goes on and on), don’t you think it’s just a little hypocritical to accuse Senate Democrats of refusing to take up legislation that is, in fact, not popular?

No, of course you don’t think that.  Because you’re a myopic, dishonest attack dog that can’t see beyond the boundaries of your own twisted world.

As sincerely as I’ve meant anything,

Seth Kahn [thankful that I don’t live in a Congressional District that would elect you]



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.


APSCUF election results, and some musing on implications

April 20, 2010

This past weekend (April 16-17), APSCUF elected its officers (Pres, VP, Secretary, Treasurer) for two year terms.  The electees (I don’t like the term “winners” because it implies that those who didn’t win are “losers”) are:

President: Steve Hicks, Lock Haven

VP: Ken Mash, East Stroudsburg

Secretary: Helen Bieber, Kutztown

Treasurer: Chris Hallen, Bloomsburg

Ken Mash is the only new officer, replacing Amy Walters, who stepped down.

The re-election of Steve Hicks as President is significant for a number of reasons.  I voted for (SPOILER ALERT!) Steve and Ken (Helen and Chris ran unopposed, so those votes weren’t nearly as dramatic) because I’ve been satisfied with the work Steve has done in his first term as President, and with the work Ken has done as statewide Meet and Discuss chair.

Are they perfect?  Of course not, and the campaign run by Rob Mutchnik for President and Debra Cornelius for VP aired some legitimate concerns–if you’re reading this with much interest, you already know what they are, so I won’t air them again here.  I hope, and fully expect, that Steve and Ken will take those concerns more seriously than simply to nod their thanks at Rob and Deb for raising them.

I also hope, although I didn’t vote for them, that Rob and Deb will continue to fight on behalf of APSCUF.  The vote tallies were decisive but not overwhelming, which tells me at least these two things: (1) in general, Legislative Assembly delegates are satisfied with the current administration; but (2) Rob and Deb struck enough chords with the delegates to demonstrate that there’s still plenty of work to be done moving APSCUF forward–especially in the near term, as we move into negotiations season, but also in the long term.

Unlike some other delegates, I see the pending negotiations season as an *opportunity* to take on that work, rather than a crisis towards which we’re dashing headlong.  We all know that the negotiations will be difficult, as PASSHE continues to misrepresent the budget situation and its impacts.  We know that we’re entering negotiations with a different kind of process in place, and a different kind of dynamic among the campuses as a result.  From my point of view, given the shift in APSCUF’s ethos over the last few years, all that “uncertainty” actually opens up possibilities for the union, at the state level, to commit to democratic processes, creative mobilizing efforts, and negotiations postures/strategies that would have been very hard to commit to before.

Obviously, preparing for negotiations and possible job actions is hard work no matter what.  If that hard work can, in this instance, have positive short AND long-term effects on our union, I’d rather that than work our asses off for a mediocre contract and no long-term impact.

Vandalism and bumper stickers

August 4, 2009

A while back, I think on the blog but maybe on Facebook, my old college friend Lee and I had a conversation about, in part, acts of vandalism and simulated violence committed by members of various political persuasions.  I think it was on the blog, if I remember correctly, in reference to one of my posts about Sarah Palin whipping crowds up into violent frenzies.  Anyway, Lee and I have known each other for a long time, and while our exchanges occasionally get a little testy, they’re generally pretty respectful and, I hope, interesting to people whose commitments aren’t as entrenched as ours.

With that in mind… it’s been a strange week around my neighborhood.  I was out with the dog about 7 am last Monday or Tuesday, when I noticed a neighbor’s car that had been vandalized.  My neighbor has a Mercedez that had, until recently, an Obama sticker that was partially covering the Hillary Clinton sticker she’d put there originally.  I don’t know for sure that she was making a specific point by leaving the Hillary sticker partially visible, but I expect so–she doesn’t seem like somebody who’d be sloppy enough just to leave a misapplied sticker the way it was.  Anyway, her passenger-side rearview mirror had been all but snapped off, and the stickers were gone.  I couldn’t help but think those were related in some way.  A few days later, I noticed her car parked in the parking lot my landlord owns (there are more spaces than residents, so she rents out spaces to other people).  Not only was the passenger side mirror broken, but now the driver’s side mirror was broken (smashed, but still attached) too.

In the 6+ years I’ve lived in this neighborhood, I can count on one hand the number of vandalism incidents we’ve had; that’s probably the main reason I believed the vandalism to her car was politically motivated.

As it turns out, if it was motivated by her bumper stickers, than the vandal(s) is an equal opportunity property destroyer.  My neighbor’s next-door neighbor was a McCain supporter; he had stickers on both his pickup truck, which he uses for work, and his BMW, which is usually parked on the street (we have very little off-street parking in West Chester).  I didn’t see it, but apparently both the mirrors on his BMW got smashed as well, and the McCain stickers have been removed from both the car and the truck.

I’m no police investigator, but it seems hard to imagine that these acts weren’t politically motivated.  There are plenty of expensive cars in the neighborhood.  There are plenty of cars with visibly expensive things to steal inside of them.  There isn’t anything that pins these 3 vehicles together except that they’re the only 3, at least the only 3 that are around the neighborhood all the time, that had election stickers on them.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but maybe not.  Anyway, whoever you are, you’re an idiot.  If you’re trying to prove anything, all you’re proving is that you’re an idiot.  If there’s some kind of ideological statement getting made here, it’s being buried by foolishness.  Give it up.

Republicans and the stimulus package

February 17, 2009

With Barack Obama’s signing of the stimulus package today in Denver, it’ll be interesting to see how Republican leadership in Congress talks about the legislation, not to mention its inevitable follow-ups.

I know I’m hardly the only person who’s making this point, but I need to get it off my chest.  Republicans who claim that Obama made no effort to cross the aisle in crafting the package are, simply put, lying.  Baldly.  Shamelessly.  Unquestionably.  He asked for their input.  They gave it to him.  He included in the legislation a nonsensically huge round of tax cuts (by some accounts the largest single tax cut in US history) in order to appease them.  He allowed centrist (whatever that means) Democrats to shave off some of the most significant items in the bill.  He included some bones (maybe even pork bones) in order to get some support from Republican legislators.

And all for nought.  Three Republicans, all in the Senate, voted for it.  Not a single Congressional Republican, even those who trumpeted their own success at getting their own agenda items into the bill.

Apparently, Republican party leadership has failed to recognize two important things.  First, US citizens prefer Obama’s economic philosophies and policies to yours, which is why we voted for him.  Second, we prefer his policies to yours because your tax-breaks-for-the-rich-f*ck-everybody-else policies have been abject disasters for which most of the rest of the world will be paying the price for decades to come.

You lost not because white guilt drove lots of Americans to vote for a black man.  You lost because everything you stand for is wrong for the huge majority of the citizenry, and more and more people are figuring that out every day.  There’s nothing complicated about it, and neither is this simply ideological ranting.  You had your way for the most of the last 30 years, and you’ve led us into disaster after disaster.  It’s your right to argue for whatever positions you want, but don’t you dare accuse Barack Obama or anybody else of being “ideological” as if you weren’t.  It’s just a lie, and we’re all sick of it.