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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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.


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


President Obama and the House Republican Caucus

January 30, 2010

So, I didn’t watch this meeting yesterday (Fri, 1/29) but have read several articles reporting and analyzing it.  And I’ve read some of the transcript, and understand that I may have to update my thinking about this once I’ve gotten through it all.

In the meantime, though…

First reaction: I’m glad they did this, and did it on live TV.  There’s so much (mutual) sh*t-talking among our major parties these days that it seemed important to get them face-to-face, in a room, in front of cameras to see how PrezO and the Rs would react to each other in real time.  Whatever else I have to say about this, now or later, it’s a (sadly) momentuous event in US political history, and I agree strongly with the calls for more of it, with both Republicans and progressive Democrats.

Notice that because I’m echoing the call for PrezO to meet with progressive Democrats, I’m contending (and will until almost all his policy stances change) that Obama IS NOT A PROGRESSIVE, much less a socialist or any other such nonsense.  The jury has long been in agreement on this, and the only people who say otherwise are those who are saying it simply to be inflammatory.

At any rate, although I don’t have especially high hopes that one meeting will change the tenor of Washington politics, I do think a couple of things about the outcomes of the meeting.  First, I think PrezO clearly established himself as the voice of reason, at least up against the barbaric attacks he’s faced in the last year and change.  That was already true, of course.  Even though I disagree with his policy positions on almost everything, he’s certainly more reasonable (as a listener, thinker) than just about anybody else in the public domain right now.

When Republican opponents of healthcare reform, for example, accuse him of turning a deaf ear to “the American people” (who they routinely proclaim to speak for, even though almost every single national poll disputes this notion), they’re simply lying.  It’s very clear that he wanted a very different package, had he been able (well, willing) to script this process himself; instead, he sold various pieces of the package to a variety of constituencies in the name of being open-minded, fair, and committed to democratic practice.  Whether that’s exactly why he did it we’ll never know, of course, but to accuse him of “not listening” is, not to put to fine a point on it, bullshit.

A second outcome from yesterday’s meeting (I hope): a retreat from the brinksmanship (apologies for the gendered term!) that has passed for discussion/debate in the last 5 years, maybe longer, in this country.  Not that I expect the Republican party machinery to ratchet down their (so far successful, depending on how you measure such things) strategy of complete negation.  But it seems, from the reports I’ve seen, that even some Republicans demonstrated a sense of calm reasonability during the meeting.  We’ve suspected all along that there were still members of the party who think the Tea Partiers and Palinites are dangerous, wrong, and need to shut up; a couple of them might have shown their faces publicly yesterday.  Let’s hope the Michael Steele/Rush Limbaugh/Fox News machine doesn’t flush them all down the Memory Hole once again.

One problem I’ve had with coverage and some discussion of this event: I see too many Democrats and PrezO supporters proclaiming it a “beat down,” a “victory,” a “smash,” and other fightin’ words.  This troubles me on two levels.  First, while the reptilian core of my brain likes to exact painful revenge just like most people do, I like to think that what we saw was instead the first real moment of actual exchange that PrezO’s been calling for since he started his campaign.  Second, and closely related, I don’t imagine that PrezO himself would either use these kinds of terms, or be happy that anybody else is, to describe what happened in Baltimore yesterday.  That is, even if in the dark recesses of his brain he enjoyed the clear control he exhibited over the Rs, he’d NEVER say so out loud, and he wouldn’t want anybody else to talk about it that way either.

It serves no purpose except to re-inflame the exact nastiness that made it so newsworthy in the first place.

Short version–I strongly recommend, especially to PrezO supporters and Democrats, that you BACK OFF a little from the victory dance many of you seem to be doing.  That kind of oppositional discourse does little except to reinforce itself; as many of us pacifists say, violence only gets more violence.  Same principle here, folks.


Where did the USA go?

October 31, 2008

It’s probably too close to my bedtime to take this question up, but I have to get it out of my system…

At the DNC, Al Gore’s speech asked why this campaign is so close.  I wonder that too.  How on Earth is it possible that anybody could vote for that ticket?  How is it possible that they might win?  Can anybody *really* imagine Sarah Palin as President?  Can anybody really imagine John McCain with the authority to make decisions about war and peace?  Does anybody who isn’t already filthy rich really want to hand more of our hard-earned money to people who already own everything?  Does anybody really believe that making the rich richer will help anybody but the rich?  Does anybody really believe that offering health insurance tax credits to middle and low-income citizens will help them get insurance?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, we don’t live on the same planet, much less the same country. 

It’s unspeakably frightening and sad that anybody believes a word that comes out of the mouths of those liars. 

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are no princes, to be sure.  But both are committed to giving our country back to the people it should belong to: US.

Or in the punk-rock anthem terms of the Dead Kennedys’ “Stars and Stripes of Corruption”:

“This land I love it too/I think I love it more than you/I care enough to fight the Stars and Stripes of Corruption.” 

God (Gods/Goddesses) bless Jello Biafra.


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