Even peaceniks get angry sometimes

August 21, 2008

OK, so yesterday’s post was pretty vitriolic.  Being a pacifist doesn’t absolve me of being angry when I see as breaches of sanity.  That John McScum can be leading in any poll besides a poll of wealthy people who want to elect somebody who will continue to protect their interests at the expense of the rest of world is one of those breaches.

I really just don’t get it.  While Sen. Obama might wear fancy suits and talk like the Ivy-League educated person he is, it’s abundantly obvious that: (1) he understands the conditions working people face much better than McScum does; and (2) he’s much more interested in working to improve those conditions than McScum is.  What’s hard about this?

I can already hear McScum supporters crying out in rage.  McScum, according to them, recognizes that we have to enhance our own security before we can worry too much about the rest of it.  McScum recognizes that we have to solve the oil crisis by letting oil companies produce more (by drilling in places that even the most optimistic “experts” realize can’t produce enough oil, not to mention can’t produce it quickly enough, to make any difference whatsoever within 7-10 years).  It’s classic supply-side economics, for which there’s never been even a shred of evidence to demonstrate that it works.

Someday the voting public is going to recognize that the Republican party doesn’t even pretend to operate in the best interests of anybody but the rich.  The Culture Warriors have done a great job (if you can count as “great” the utterly unethical and dishonest claims they make about everything) of mobilizing large blocs of voters against their own interests by appropriating the terms “values” and “morality”–as if praying in school is going to put food or medicine on anybody’s table.  It’s lunacy of the first order.

As an advocate of non-violence, it’s difficult to respond to the violence that conservatism does to anybody who stands in the way of its benefactors.  These are people who have no qualms whatsoever about killing (unless we’re talking about unborn children), destroying, pillaging… because they live in a Hobbesian world where the social contract exists only to make sure (what they see as) human nature doesn’t overwhelm everybody.  Those of us who reject violence as a strategy/tactic find it difficult to respond to violence, especially when proponents of violence bend over backwards to provoke it–because they’re better at it, and because it’s all they (seem to) understand.

As peace activists, we can’t simply ignore the attacks and provocations.  One of the reasons I was so mad yesterday is that I’ve been suppressing my own feelings about the current and potential-future Republican regimes and how nasty, dishonest, unethical, murderous (could keep going, but you get the idea) they are.  I want to believe that being stronger than they are is a matter of waiting them out, letting their violent fury run its course until they can think humanely again.  But as long as conservative activists keep stoking their fury for short-term political gain, and as long as the mainstream news media profits from that anger and conflagration, our task of waiting them out is awfully hard to fulfill.

The slogan “Be the change you want to see in the world” cuts both ways.  More often than not, it’s a mantra for passive resisters (don’t let yourself get drawn into violent conflicts if you’re committed to peace), but that’s not the whole story.  Most of us in the peace movement recognize that peace requires action, not just inertial blockage of badness.

So the trick, at least part of it, is to begin turning that anger about conservative nastiness into positive action.  I’ve written elsewhere about the need to act in accordance with our principles, and I believe more strongly every day that the key to remaking our culture in terms of decency and humaneness begins here.

[Added 9:45 am] This article on today’s YahooNews site affirms McScum’s out-of-touch-ness with working people.  He doesn’t even know much property he owns, and his wife is worth more than $100 million.  Yes, that’s $100 million; that’s more than 100 times what the median-income worker in the United States can expect to earn over the course of an entire CAREER! 


Losing faith in electoral politics

August 10, 2008

This post is likely to be a first run through what will eventually be a really incoherent babble.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things up front.  I vote, regularly and dutifully.  I pay attention to campaigns and issues.  I work for candidates I support and against candidates I don’t.

OK, with that on the record :)…

I don’t know how many people would agree with this, but Grover Norquist’s “let’s shrink the government until it’ll fit down the drain” and Karl Rove’s “let’s build a permanent Republican majority” have taken root.  Another day, I’ll sort out the fact that the two major strategic elements of neo-conservativism are flatly contradictory, but for now, suffice it to say that the far right has managed to alienate most of the voting population from the power that’s supposed to be fairly distributed in a democracy.

As a result, as I think we all know (whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not), there’s almost nothing to accomplish by staying within the system of electoral politics, at least not exclusively.

Or put another way…  The day after the 2004 election, I had a conversation about it with one of my classes.  It wasn’t so much an expression of my frustration with the outcome as it was with the notion that many of my students hold–that democracy happens on election days, that “if you don’t like what the government is doing, vote the bastards out.”  I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment, but it occurred to me during that conversation that the sentiment doesn’t go far enough.

We have national elections every two years, every 730 days.  If democracy happens on election days, what happens on the 729 days in between?  I asked them this, and it seemed like it was the first time any of them had thought about it.  Nobody had a very good answer.

And as I’ve thought more about it, I’ve come to believe that because citizens have been alienated (strategically) from governmental power, that the way we express that power, the way we “do democracy,” has to change as well.

The first change, as I’ve begun putting it in bumper-sticker terms, is that we have to “Live what we believe.”  Can you imagine how much different this country would be if the citizenry actually lived in accordance with the principles so many of us say we’re committed to?  If the Christian Right actually acted Christian?  If people who chanted “No blood for oil” at anti-war marches actually sold their SUVs and used more mass transit?  If people who railed against “big government” realized that “big government” is responsible (at least in part) for our current imperialist violence and anti-Constitutional power-mongering?  If people who support unions stopped shopping at Wal-Mart and Starbucks and other places that work overtime (so to speak) to make sure their employees can’t organize?

That list could go on damn near indefinitely.  For now, let’s just say that until the citizenry reconciles its beliefs and its actions, what happens in electoral politics won’t make much difference.

If the media were really liberal, this wouldn’t be newsworthy

August 7, 2008

CCPM stalwart John Grant joined a group protesting at John McCain’s visit to PA the other day. The article below appeared in the Norristown Times-Herald. John is actually happy about the coverage; for the first time in a long time, an anti-war spokesperson isn’t taken out of context and made to look more radical than he is. Weee!!!!!

Protesters greet presidential hopeful during his visit here

By: MARGARET GIBBONS, Times Herald Staff


WHITEMARSH – Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain Monday morning visited Montgomery County to meet privately with small businessmen and tour a business headed by a major county GOP fundraiser and contributor.

In the absence of prior publicity, only two spectators – anti-war protesters from Plymouth Meeting – were on hand when McCain, accompanied by his wife Cindy, and their motorcade arrived in front of the National Label Co. on Joshua Road in the Lafayette Hill section of the township.

However, by the time the 90-minute visit ended, more than two dozen protesters, many of whom were union members, as well as a handful of spectators, were there – kept across the street by police and U.S. Secret Service – to view the departing couple.

Amid hoots from union members and chants from supporters of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, McCain waved and then gave the thumbs-up sign with both hands before entering a sports utility vehicle.

Press coverage was limited to pre-selected “pool” members for the tour and brief remarks by McCain at the conclusion of the tour and no press was allowed when McCain met with small business owners.

As a result, anti-war protesters John Grant and Lou Ann Merkle, a married couple from Plymouth Meeting, attracted a crowd of reporters and cameramen standing outside of the National Label Co., which was draped in an oversized American flag.

Ironically, as two hawks twice circled over National Label that had McCain election signs up and down its Joshua Road frontage, the couple voiced their displeasure with McCain’s support for the war in Iraq.

“I think he needs to know that the situation in Iraq has to be addressed seriously,” said Grant, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Philadelphia Area Chapter 31 of Veterans for Peace.

“The war is over and now we are just an occupation force,” said Grant. “We need a different approach. We should be talking to ratchet things down, not sending over more troops.”

“While I respect and honor him for the agony he went through as a prisoner of war, we need a president who is smart and understands the world,” said Grant. “It concerns me that he does not seem to know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and does not have a better grasp of the geography over there.”

“We are just doing our democratic bit here,” said Grant.

Merkle said she has opposed the war from the outset, claiming the real reason for the conflict was not to fight terrorism but to secure that country’s oil resources.

“The human cost of this war, for American soldiers and their families and the Iraqis and the financial costs, with us just pouring our wealth into this unjust war cannot continue,” said Merkle.

The couple was joined in their McCain watch some 20 minutes later by about 15 gold T-shirt-wearing members of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“His (McCain’s) insistence on following through with policies consistent with the George Bush administration show a great insensitivity to working people and a total disregard for working families,” said union spokesman John Meyerson.

For example, Meyerson said, McCain supports the taxing of employer-provided health care as income. He said the union, which already has endorsed Obama, also opposes McCain’s positions on trade and offshore drilling.

Amy Neering and Phlebe Cornog, a mother and daughter from Whitemarsh, sported signs opposing the war and supporting Obama.

Nearby residents also came out with cameras in hand to record McCain’s visit to their neighborhood.

James H. Shacklett III is the chief executive officer of the family-owned National Label Co. Shacklett is well-known in Montgomery County GOP circles as a fundraiser and a major contributor to area GOP campaigns.

Margaret Gibbons can be reached at mgibbons@timesherald.com or 610-272-2501 ext. 216.

Conscientious Objection and Drafts

July 25, 2008

Ever have one of those arguments in which you insist on arguing your side of it only because you know the other person is right and don’t want to admit it?  Ever find that you’re more likely to do this if the stakes of the argument don’t really effect you?

The other night, my wife Ann and I had a lengthy argument about the philosophy and legal status of conscientious objection in the face of a hypothetical draft.  A little background–when I was about 16 years old, I realized I’m a pacifist.  When I registered for Selective Service at 18 like the good little Boy Scout I thought I was, I also began collecting materials for a prospective CO claim.  Because I didn’t know the law, I wound up sending that file to the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department; I can only imagine the laughs it drew, if anybody actually ever opened it.

At any rate, I’ve long been a supporter of CO.  Ann isn’t.  Her position is that in the event of a draft, everybody has to respond to it.  She’s willing to consider the idea that people who are morally/ethically opposed to killing can do other forms of service, but she contends that they have to be inducted into the military, face the same risks and unpleasantness as soldiers, etc.

As the argument proceeded, I had a hard time disputing her position.  Well, not exactly–I had a hard time answering her position, although I continued to dispute it.  We danced around the circle for a while, repeating our positions without really answering each other’s, until finally she made the point that if CO’s really are opposed to any kind of connection to the military, then in the event of a draft they should have to make their resistance civil disobedience.  That is, if we’re willing to make a commitment to non-violence, we should do so whatever the cost to our persons.

As I’ve thought more about this in the last couple of days, I don’t really like the idea, but I can’t really figure out why she’s not right.  Yes, current law allows for CO, but in principle, I think she’s right that the current law essentially allows COs to avoid the dangers of soldiering without paying off in any way.  At the same time, I side with those COs who say that any form of participation in a war effort is unethical/immoral, so the compromise position of “do some other kind of service for the military” doesn’t work.

This is a hugely complicated problem, although both Ann and I believe that a draft should never happen.  As she put it, “If you can’t raise an army to fight your war, you shouldn’t be having the war.”  But should it happen, I’ll be prepared to work with COs to think their way through civil disobedience as they figure out how to fulfill their commitments.

Why are we talking about this (whatever “this” is)?

June 13, 2008

Who called who what names? Who hung up on who? Where and when did this and that happen?

I don’t know about anybody else, but the discussion on the blog over the last few days has held out the real possibility of exchanging some ideas about our occupation of Iraq, patriotism and who gets to claim it and on what grounds, the political goals of the CCVM/CCPM, etc. And while people have written things I found distasteful and inaccurate, much of it has been at least on point.

Some of it hasn’t, though, and that’s what I want to talk about now. I hope nobody disagrees with this point–that how we treat each other on the streets, how we talk about each other, etc, are all much less important than the big issues at stake–real life and death. Soldiers, contractors, and civilians are all dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some people are convinced that Islamic fundamentalists are going to attack the US again. Some are convinced that we can’t rest safely until our current military objectives are achieved; some are convinced that we can’t achieve those missions, and in fact amplify the risks to ourselves and our friends (such as we have them anymore) around the world by staying in Iraq. There’s blood in the streets, and we’re arguing about phone calls? We’re arguing about who shot videos/photos of what? There are real issues and problems here–the pride (wounded and otherwise) of maybe a few hundred people in a Philadelphia suburb isn’t one of them. Jewish people have a term for what we’ve descended into: pilpul, which means (roughly) elaborate debates about trivia designed to show people how smart you are.

I don’t expect this call to be particularly heeded, but I figured I should make it anyway. At the very least, let’s keep some things in perspective:

(1) We (CCVM/CCPM) aren’t the important people. The people who are actually at risk of dying are. Doc, I know you’ll take this as validation of your earlier point about the Harvard study on troop morale, and we can talk more about that later. The study isn’t bogus, but it doesn’t say what you say it does.

(2) Nobody cares, or should really, about individual moments of stepping out of line as long as nobody really gets hurt. Sometimes people do and say things they shouldn’t. Duh. With that said, I do believe that the Sheepdogs have adopted a strategy of trying to provoke CCPM members to do/say things we ordinarily wouldn’t. Congrats, it’s worked a few times. Given the nastiness of some of what your group says about us and our members, you probably don’t think your members have ever stepped out of line, so I won’t expect a similar acknowledgment.

(3) As much as the peacemaker in me would love to see this “debate” between Doc and John Grant (and whoever else they could get to participate) materialize, I still don’t see the point. Nobody who’s committed to one side or the other is going anywhere. Doc has said that CCPM is operating without enough information, but he doesn’t seem to understand that we all read, listen, watch, research a great deal. Sure, he might have inside (classified?) info we don’t, but he wouldn’t/couldn’t share that with us anyway or he probably would have. And he’s obviously not changing his mind again either. If Doc hadn’t already established that he “hates” us, maybe this would be different, but there’s not much good to come from inviting somebody who hates you to yell (metaphorically, that is) at you about why you’re wrong. I’m sure you can understand why we’d be suspicious of anything you have to say. I’m also sure you’ll say something like, “Of course you’re suspicious of anything that challenges your [fill in the blank with something evil] worldview.” That’s hogwash, and you know it.

(4) The “sides” here are more complex than many of us seem to think. Supporting “the troops” assumes that all “the troops” agree on the rightness of what they’re doing. They don’t. Supporting “terrorists” assumes that all “terrorists” want the same thing. They don’t. Our group (CCPM) is comprised of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, pacifists, soldiers/vets, and so on–all over the political and socio-economic spectrum. I don’t know any of the CCVM folks personally, so I don’t know how true that is for them; all I know is that Skye is a registered Democrat. Interesting as far as it goes, but that’s not very far. My point is that there’s real, deep disagreement among people who are smart and otherwise (generally) reasonable, and we’d all do well to remember that the people behind the signs and slogans are still people.

Life and death, folks. Let’s keep an eye on that, OK?

ADDED FRI EVENING: A point of clarification.  My agenda in this post isn’t to shut down discussion.  It’s to raise the level of the discussion, to get us out of accusations of “liar” and the like because one person remembers something differently from the other.  That doesn’t help resolve anything, nor does it advance anybody’s understand of the issues.  It just irritates everybody.

Also, I realize perfectly well that I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know in referring to “life and death.”  That’s a reminder, not a preachy comment.

Debates, arguments, evidence

June 12, 2008

As I watch the current argument (see “I must have hit a nerve” posting from a few days ago) unfold between armyanimaldoc and John Grant, it’s becoming clearer to me that there’s just about no way to resolve the issues between the two.  Here are some of the reasons why–

1.  Both participants are very firmly lodged in their positions.  That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself, but one of the first rules of persuasion is that at least one side has to be persuadable.  Nothing, so far, indicates that either is willing to change his thinking.

2.  The standards for evidence are incommensurate.  Doc served in Iraq and saw who knows what.  Some of it he refers to, not in any detail, and keeps playing his first-hand experience as a trump card.  I’m certainly willing to acknowledge that he knows things we don’t.  But I’m not satisfied simply with being told that, without knowing what any of those things actually are.  If we were operating from a blank slate, that is, if we hadn’t heard before the argument that we didn’t need to see the evidence before we simply accepted claims on good faith, this might be different.  But even the most strident supporter of the mission in Iraq has to understand why opponents are suspicious.  John, on the other hand, has some eye-witness knowledge of conditions on the ground in Iraq (and more broadly as a soldier).  Again, without a more detailed explication of his eye-witness experience, it’s hard to know what he’s seen that Doc hasn’t and vice versa.  However, John also turns to historical evidence (other US imperial ventures) as a context for understanding what we’re doing in Iraq, and Doc doesn’t seem interested (at least for now) in responding to that.  I won’t speculate as to why–I skipped my mindreader pill this morning.

3.  As I started to think aloud about in a comment on the “Nerve” post last night, there’s no way anybody besides the two of them will know who said what to whom on the phone.  And even they don’t seem to know since they can’t even begin to agree on it.  What that suggests to me is that both of them heard what they expected to hear, even if it’s not what the other said.  It’s natural (such as “natural” actually exists) to do this.  Our brains fill in gaps, and often we turn to our assumptions and expectations to do so.  Where else would we turn?  In this case, however, because the assumptions are so flatly contradictory, there’s not even a way to tease them out, much less resolve them.

4.  One requirement of persuasion, at least ethical persuasion, is trust.  Not only does the audience have to trust the speaker–otherwise you won’t believe anything they say (duh?)–but also the speaker has to trust the audience.  Speakers who don’t trust their audiences tend to do one of two things.  Either they simply bludgeon the audience into submission in hopes that the audience will accept the message out of fear or frustration, or they attack the audience’s motives for disagreeing with them in the first place.  Both of those strategies are troubling because they automatically rupture any possibility of reasonable exchange.  In this case, neither CCVM nor CCPM trusts the other side for long lists of reasons.  Obviously, from my point of view, CCPM is more trustworthy (gee, what I surprise!).  For Skye and others to claim that CCVM hasn’t harassed us because we don’t have it on video is simply disingenuine.  Wasn’t in Donald Rumsfeld who said, “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence?”  On the other hand, if the members of CCVM *really* believe that CCPM wants to overthrow the government, support terrorism, etc, then it’s no surprise they won’t trust us.  And it doesn’t matter how much evidence we muster to demonstrate the absurdity of their claims because they’ve simply decided already.

By the way, I did cruise the Sheepdogs website the other day and saw the victory dance somebody was doing at the discovery that I claim Marxism as a field of study.  Gee, ya got me!  Of course, without asking me what my interest is in Marxism (which, in point of fact, is more to debunk it than to propagate it), you wouldn’t have any idea what I teach or study about it.  Which is yet another example of my point–the assumption that studying Marxism is the same as subscribing to it is just wrong.  But that didn’t stop people from saying it anyway.  Hope this clarifies that issue!

Enough for today.


June 7, 2008

I’ve been thinking for a long time about the kinds of anger and hate I discussed in yesterday’s post.  As I’ve written before on the blog, CCVM didn’t invent this.  For at least 20 years now, people like Rush Limbaugh have propagated this kind of attitude, and the work of conservative pundits like Ann Coulter, Thomas Sowell and Michael Savage have capitalized on it.

As I commented to armyanimaldoctor yesterday, I’m not terribly interested in understanding or sorting out the psyches of the hate-filled–even if I thought I could.  Yes, as somebody who studies and teaches rhetoric for a living, I realize it’s important to understand an audience you might need or want to persuade.  But in this situation, members of the Sheepdogs and CCVM just aren’t part of that audience.  There’s nothing I can say to them, or they to me, that’s going to convince anybody to change our minds.

With that said, I do think it’s important to talk about their claim that they’re the “true patriots.”  No they aren’t.  Not that they aren’t patriotic–they seem to believe, at least, that they’re working for the good of the country.  But they don’t get to own the term “patriotism” just because they say they do.  They have no right to determine or make declarations about other people’s intentions; they have no right to silence people they disagree with simply because they disagree.

Or put another way: we can’t stop them from hating us.  Armyanimaldoctor makes quites clear that he hates us, and I have to imagine he’s not alone.  But hate isn’t patriotism.  In fact, I believe it’s exactly the opposite.  What CCVM practices isn’t patriotism; it’s hate-triotism.  Clearly, they no respect for the freedoms that many of them (those who have actually done military service) say they risked their lives for.  Clearly they have no  respect for people who don’t blindly subscribe to their culture of fear and violence.  Patriotism is about loving your country, not hating it.  It’s about loving your fellow citizens, whatever disagreements you might have with them, not hating them.  It’s about loving the exercise of freedom, not hating it.

I can understand, on some abstract level, how somebody who has seen combat might resent (or even hate) anybody who thinks war is wrong.  And that’s their right.  But that’s not patriotism.  And it’s wrong for them to shroud their own, individual, psychological responses to their combat experiences in American flags.  They don’t own our country; their combat experiences don’t give them any right to assert moral superiority over anybody else.  Combat experience gives them two claims I can’t make for myself: (1) they have the courage to stare down the barrel of a gun (in either direction), which I don’t have; and (2) the very specific type of discipline, which I’m glad I don’t have, that comes from being soldiers.  That’s all they get.  In return, they should be compensated fairly and well taken care of when their service ends.  They should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to monopolize claims to patriotism.  And they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to do so simply because they hate people who disagree with them.

There are lots of ways to be patriotic, and most of them don’t require military service or combat experience.  And the courage to face danger and death doesn’t authorize military members to decide how freedom gets taken up and used in our own country.  Thanks for your service, but until there’s a military coup, you’re not in charge here.  Hate me all you want, but as long as we live under a civilian government, that’s all you get.