Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Enigma That Is "Mitch" Romney

I've noticed the few times I've been able to check in to the Intertubes lately that there are a number of posts and articles circulating about Romney's religion, specifically its controlling and authoritarian nature and the fact that Mormon church missionaries and officials are essentially enjoined to "lie for the Lord" as part of their calling.

The behavior of both Ann and "Mitch" Romney (h/t Letterman) has been a demonstration of both characteristics from the get-go, and the fact that people are only now beginning to connect the dots is something of a mystery. I was certainly out front in noting that "lying for the Lord" was something that Mormons do, and in some cases are expected to do. It's part of Mormon culture.

I also pointed out that when "Mitch's" father was endowed in the Church, there was a vow of vengeance against the United States for the murder most foul of Church Founder Joseph Smith and his brother.

Note has been made of the fact that "Mitch" is himself a "high official" in the Mormon Church, but a Mormon bishop is not the equivalent of a Catholic or Episcopalian one, and a Stake President isn't quite the same thing as an Archbishop. The issue for "Mitch" is not that he holds a position within the church hierarchy -- which he does -- it is that he is in direct and apparently frequent contact with the Mormon Highest of the Mighty. He's quite proud of it too. (The link goes to a very revealing radio interview from last December. It's... interesting.)

So the question is raised about whether a President Romney would serve his church or the nation. Would he act on the Vow of Vengeance? Would he take direction from the current crop of wrinkled old men who run the Mormon enterprise from the shadows?

Now of course I remember the same sort of questions being asked about John F. Kennedy when he was running for president. Anti-Catholicism was still very prominent in this country, and electing a Catholic to the highest office in the land was considered too horrifying to imagine for many Americans.

I don't know that there is nearly as much anti-Mormonism abroad in the land today as there was anti-Catholicism back then, and that makes questioning Romney's religion problematical. To me, it's worth understanding some of these matters, but it's not, ultimately, all that important, in part because there are probably as many admirable aspects of Mormonism as there are questionable ones. As far as I'm concerned, all organized  religions are cults of one sort or another, and for believers, their cult is always the Best.

No, my issue with "Mitch" doesn't revolve around his religion. Instead, I question his mental acuity. In other words, the man doesn't appear to be very bright. Cruel, certainly. Bright, not at all.

Which makes one wonder how exactly he managed to accumulate more money than God (well, in a manner of speaking), and to become the boon companion of such luminaries as Netanyahu and the rest of the Neo-Con crowd, let alone become the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Of course cruelty has become the standard necessity for political success these days, so that explains that. But he seems to have social and other difficulties (some of which are being snarkily attributed to early-onset dementia) that I doubt are really new but have probably always been part of his make up. The dude is mean and dumb.

So how does someone like that rise so high? Why does anyone else in his class tolerate him?

Speaking of class, I've noticed that Ann's behavior is distinctly nouveau. This woman may have gone to private school, but she obviously lacks breeding and could not have come from money, at least not old money. Say what I will about Bar-Be'elze-Bitch, mother (so they say) of the Bush Boys, she at least knows how to play the Grand Dame and can actually pull it off most of the time. Ann Romney can't. If this were an audition, she would have been thanked and sent packing long ago. Same with "Mitch" for that matter.

The enigma, for me, is how these people manage to rise as it were at all. "Mitch" and his wife are clearly not... "made" for what they have accumulated and seek to acquire. In some other role, they might be fine, but in the roles they want, they are abominations.

What's up with that?

[Note: Cat bite is healing thanks to powerful antibiotics, but it's one nasty mutherfugger; there have been no more wasps. Unloading of excess stuff continues.]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

OT: On Cat Bites, Wasp Stings, Memories and Other Things

 Cats eye

This past week was quite an adventure what with all the activity attendant upon getting ready for the final move to New Mexico.

Even though we've been gradually taking care of the myriad chores necessary during the past few years, there is always much more to do than we can anticipate in advance, especially when we've lived in one house for nearly 25 years (the longest, btw, we've lived anywhere.) Not only has a lot of stuff been accumulated, some of it was buried and squirreled away in odd corners, behind other things and what have you and was essentially forgotten. Coming across it has been like discovering buried treasure, and also something of a challenge, in part because at the point of discovery, everything stops for a while as the contents of this or that box are gone through piece by piece, the object -- whatever it might be (like a Chinese calligraphy set in a velvet box) -- admired and puzzled over ("Where did this come from?"), or various and sundry pieces of literature (a wonderful play from Australia, for example) are read or at least skimmed and pondered.

While removing the contents of a file box, I came across a cigar box I recognized but couldn't quite place. I opened it and said... "Oh my god." It was a box full of pictures and mementos from my childhood and adolescence, and even some things from my father's childhood. I have not seen these pictures, letters and other things for many years, decades I would imagine, so it was kind of stunning to come across them. At one time, this box also contained fool's gold and quartz crystals I had picked up during various mountain excursions into the Gold Country years and years ago. What happened to them I don't know; I probably gave them away. But many memories were triggered -- not all of them pleasant -- by the contents of this box. So after a cursory inspection of its contents and a bit of heavy breathing, I put it aside...

I mentioned the injuries a while back and pointed out that they were minor -- or seemed so at the time -- but one, at least, the cat bite, has turned a bit ugly. Yes, well. One of us was bitten -- it wasn't me -- while trying to do a good deed for a cat that moved into our garage after our former neighbor had apparently abandoned her. She'd been skittish though friendly enough, but our resident black and white cat had been harassing her and making her feel unwelcome for a year or more. She also has had what you might call motor problems during most of that time, sometimes losing her balance and having difficulty righting herself. That's what happened the other night -- over a week ago now -- when she was being fed. She fell and wasn't able to get up immediately, so, to help her, La Senora Ché tried to help and the cat panicked, biting and scratching her hand.

At first -- and until yesterday -- there was no sign of infection, and the wounds seemed to be healing fine. She didn't want to go to the doctor for several reasons, 1) we don't have health insurance any more; 2) the wounds appeared to be healing; 3) any sort of animal bite becomes a complicated issue with Authority; 4) bad enough the cat panicked, medical professionals can sometimes be worse.

Yesterday, however, one of the wounds developed signs of infection though at first we didn't know how severe. The wound had been cleaned and re-dressed about 4-6 hours before, and the dressing wasn't removed until we got to the doctor. What we saw initially yesterday morning was that her hand had swollen considerably and she was feeling more pain than she had before. After checking with a clinic where she couldn't be seen until October, we went to the neighborhood Urgent Care where she was seen within half an hour or so, and the bandage was removed for inspection of the wound.

Oh my.

Since being re-dressed a few hours before, her hand hand had turned an angry red and the wound was filled with pus. The doctor was alarmed -- to say the least -- but contained her panic (bless her heart) and went to work draining the wound and re-dressing it. She also provided a prescription for strong antibiotics and a recommendation that we go to the ER if there are any signs that the wound is getting worse. We also did a report to the health department and animal control. Which -- of course -- will lead to bureaucratic complications (let's hope not as extensive as the bureaucratic hoops I went through because of a misdiagnosis of TB).

Of course, we're a little concerned about rabies. There are plenty of wild creatures around here -- racoons, possums, squirrels, and even a river rat from time to time (no skunks that we've seen, though). As far as we know, the biting cat was healthy enough, though skittish by nature. She never showed signs of illness, just motor problems that she'd had for a year or so. We don't know whether she was ever vaccinated.

We haven't seen the cat for a couple of days, however. The last time, she seemed perfectly fine. But where she's gone since then, we don't know.

Even if the infection is controlled -- which it seems to be for now -- there is still a chance of requiring a rabies series if we can't find the cat. Human rabies, they say, is almost always fatal, and yes, we are more than a little concerned about it. Prayers.

Meanwhile, we donated our suddenly non-running car to the Catholic charity down the street, and during the process of its removal, a wasp-nest was discovered and disturbed, leading to some stings -- both to the man picking it up, and to my own self. I haven't been stung by a wasp since I was a child, and all I recall of it was that it hurt like hell. The tow truck driver was stung first and he said it didn't bother him. A few minutes later, I was stung. I didn't realize what had happened initially. Then I noticed I was surrounded by angry wasps. Oh.

Surprisingly, it didn't seem to hurt that much, and after the first few minutes, it was almost an exhilarating sensation. I don't know how else to describe it. Probably the venom had had a chance to circulate, and I was feeling some kind of odd wasp venom reaction high. It was the strangest thing.

I expected the possibility of an anaphylaxis reaction, as I have become very sensitive to certain stimuli and have gone into anaphylactic shock more than once. I got ready to take Benadryl if necessary, but there was no reaction beyond the interesting exhilaration. There was no swelling, only the slightest reddening, and even that went away within half an hour or so.

We received a call the other day from a friend in New Mexico who's been looking after the animals there and keeping tabs on the house. She said someone was using concrete blocks on the property to attempt to close gaps between the fence and buildings. She thought it was distinctly odd, especially when she heard a child's voice which she thought was coming from a house nearby, though she said she never saw the child.

She heard the voice saying that "They're killing your cats, you know." She said it unnerved her. She said she heard a lot of other things while she was at our place, but that was what stood out. There have been feral cats in the area for as long as we've owned the house, and their population grows and declines with the seasons. Some have been trapped and transported elsewhere (about six were taken to a lady's barn some miles away where they immediately set to work ridding the property of rats and mice.)  Some move on, some don't make it through the winter. We're not the only ones who feed them as a number of neighbors say they like having (a few) cats around. But there is one neighbor who doesn't like them at all, and at one time she was quite vocal about it. Now she's clammed up, refuses to talk to our friend or anyone else about much of anything. But if the cats are being killed, we suspect she has something to do with it. It's not a pleasant thought.

There are lots of other things going on; it's a very complicated period, but these are some of the things that have kept us on edge -- and kept me from doing much blogging.

It's likely to be like this for at least the next few weeks....

A little reprise of Clint Maedgen and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in honor of, well, everything:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "47%"

While I was doing my other tasks, I was listening to the coverage on NPR of the Great Gaffe of this Campaign, Mitt Romney's statement in Boca Raton last May that forty seven percent of the voters are a lock for Obama because they pay no income tax and are dependent on government for their support which they believe they are entitled to.

I think that's a fair paraphrase of what he said to his $50,000 a plate audience (reminding me of Bush's comment about his base, "the haves and the have mores." At least he was honest about it.)

The coverage of the brou-ha-hah was striking for the fact that in every report -- and there were many -- the reporters and bureau chiefs and commentators were making excuses for Romney and explaining "what he really meant to say." Which came out the same as what he said only polished up a little bit. Not only that, but over and over and over again, the "47%" meme was reinforced, as if it were propaganda.

As I was listening to the coverage, I wondered if perhaps this was the first time most people had ever heard of the fact that "47%" of Americans don't pay income tax and are dependent on government. Those of us who pay attention to political matters have been hearing it from the Rightists for a long time, as they constantly whine about the poors, the olds, the halts, and the lames who "don't pay taxes."

But does everybody hear it? I don't think so. Now that it's "out there"  -- thanks to David Corn and Mother Jones -- everybody, potentially, has heard it, and if the other news outfits have been covering it like NPR has been covering it, making excuses for Romney, and reinforcing the meme, then the propaganda no doubt will be effective.

Which, given some of the stories I've heard about both David Corn and Mother Jones, may be the intent.

It's been used by the Rightists to claim that there are all these freeloaders who simply get money for nothing (and their chicks for free? ;-) from the Government as "entitlements." It's Alan Simpson's complaint about Social Security ("a milk cow with 300 million tits") and Reagan's canard about Welfare Queens cheerfully conflated with the suggestion that only Those People (you know the ones) vote Democrat, and they're all dependent because they "don't pay taxes."

By spreading it far and wide this way -- and explaining it in great and almost obsessive detail -- it becomes CW which is then used to -- ta da -- broaden the base and lower the rates of taxation.  Which is code for shifting the tax burden from them that's got to them that's not. Which has been the plan all along.

Basically, the rich who have the most money, goods, and chattel sincerely believe that they should not be subjected to the burden of taxation because they see it as punishment; they certainly don't believe that they should be forced to carry so much of the income tax burden in this country. Never mind that the income tax was established specifically to tax the incomes of the highest earners and to exempt the incomes of the lowest earners. They claim it's unfair and immoral to tax the incomes of "successful" people so as to give money (their money) to the "failures."

Charity should suffice. If it doesn't, oh well, too bad.

It is, after all, the way things were organized back in those Glory Days of Yore when there were no curbs on corporate rapine and the abuses of the moneyed elite.

The reasons why so many Americans don't pay income taxes has little to do with dependence but the coverage has successfully conflated not paying income taxes with dependence to the point that I wouldn't doubt those who do "pay taxes" are outraged.

There was another factor in the coverage that was troubling to say the least. Time after time, as one or another NPR bright light bustled to the microphone to explain what Mitt really meant, the topics of the debt and entitlements were raised, and once again the two were conflated --as in  "the entitlements are driving the debt, yadda yadda" -- with hardly a mention about the numerous wars of imperial aggression and all their collateral costs and damage, and none at all about all the extortion and tribute being paid to the Highest of the Mighty financiers.

None of this ever gets mentioned in any comprehensive manner in the mainstream media. This issue is always presented as one of dependent people who "don't pay taxes" and "entitlements."

There has been very little effective counter.

As Romney doubled down on his comments, clearly his handlers have decided that he's presenting the issue correctly for the purposes of propaganda, and as his statements and those of other Rightists are spread far and wide and repeated over and over again, he seems to be getting plenty of mileage out of it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

On Vulnerability and Power

Screen Grab from Nate's stream, 9/17/2012, on Broadway, just north of Wall Street.


Was watching a bit of the morning's festivities at the Wall Street protests, and as the march reached the hallowed thoroughfare the sight of ranks and ranks of police, behind ranks and ranks of barricades -- I counted four rows of police and four rows of barricades -- blocking off access to the metaphorical financial center of global misery. Rows and rows and rows of police, the final row mounted on horses, blocking off an empty and dreary street in lower Manhattan.

Not only is access to the street blocked off, but the police, herding the crowd on the sidewalk, becomes obstreperous, demanding that the people keep moving all the while forcing the crowd into smaller and smaller areas, sectioning them off, forcing them along in pods with their batons and shouts and demands, just like herding cattle at the stockyard -- or slaughterhouse, for that matter.

The sidewalk is almost magically cleared for almost half a block and marches -- indeed pedestrian traffic of all kinds -- is halted in all directions.

Police have been grabbing people from the crowd at random, pulling them out of the crowd and arresting them much as was happening the other day but not quite so brutally.

The chant goes up: "Ah! Anti! Anti-capitalista!"

Another chant: "We are unstoppable, another world is possible!"

Marches merge and converge all over the financial district. As police control one area, protesters take another route and overwhelm the police and take to the streets.

"Whose street? Our streets!"

It sounds like there are tens of thousands marching through the canyons of Lower Manhattan, but it is impossible to tell from the narrow view of the livestreamers embedded in the swirling, shouting mass. Nate says there are marches "everywhere" in Lower Manhattan, and he's only showing part of what is going on this first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.

The crowd takes Water and Wall Street (it sounds like) and starts chanting, "Ah! Anti! Anti-capitalista!" The Rude Mechanical Orchestra play airs.

First Anniversary. I never thought Occupy would get this far or last this long. Given all the news reports of its demise ("Good idea, but it didn't have staying power, yadda yadda.") Occupy seems to be able to turn out crowds when need be, where necessary.

The power of the People seemed to dissipate, the vulnerability of the financial elites and the police who protect them and their treasure sites seemed to fade.

And yet, for a shining morning in September, the ranks of police and the system they're protecting seem more vulnerable than ever, the Power of the People more secure. For a moment. For now.

"Get up, get down, there's Revolution in this town!'

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On the Anniversary of Teh Revolution(!)

Haven't had time to get caught up with the News of the Day this morning; don't even have the radio on -- somewhat unusual for me.

I spent a few minutes watching Nate's streams from New York last night before going to sleep, and it was a fairly dismal recapitulation of NYPD's usual thuggishness toward OWS or anything that might resemble OWS or might be construed as OWSish or hint at support for OWS -- or, most horribly, show a pup tent. Nate was clearly distressed at what he was witnessing and documenting. The videos were titled "March against OWS" -- which I thought was odd, but after opening one of them the full title was revealed, "March Against OWS Suppression." Ah, of course. Naturally, suppression had to occur.

From what little I saw, the suppression consisted of the now time honored police tactic of "snatch-and-grab," literally pulling people out of the march at random and arresting them. NYPD did this hundreds if not thousands of times during the later stages of Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, and it was clear then, as it is now, that it is a terror tactic designed and intended to suppress protest and dissent. "Snatch-and-Grab," along with mass arrests, infiltration, non-stop surveillance, intense police violence and brutality, public torture, and other methods were used successfully to shut down the encampments and prevent the emergence of a unified and coordinated revolutionary force.

These efforts to shut down OWS in New York were mirrored by (sometimes led by) similar efforts on the part of police departments throughout the country. It's striking that there is still debate over whether the federal government coordinated the crackdown against Occupy. Of course they did. It was obvious. Tactics of suppression were tried out in various cities (including my own fair city); "what works" and "lessons learned" were shared widely -- and quite openly -- through federal channels, and the the information was archived and no doubt studied intensely -- by DHS and the many other agencies that support the National Security State.

We live in a Police State.

And yet it is still debated -- because it's not as "bad" as the rest of them.

Of course the whole "(non)violence" debate served the purposes of that State nicely. By essentially claiming that the presence of people wearing black or bandanas or shouting at the police (or on very rare occasions breaking windows or committing other acts of vandalism) was "justification" for the police crackdowns or at least lost the Movement the Moral High Ground, the self-proclaimed "nonviolence" advocates actively split the Movement everywhere they could and in as many ways as they could, performing their role to ensure that the Occupy Movement did not become an effective Revolutionary Movement.

Old-line Socialists and a very diverse community of anarchists collided from the very beginning of the OWS efforts in New York and many other places, with the Socialists insisting that the anarchists were "doing it wrong," and the anarchists insisting that if the Socialists were an effective revolutionary force, we wouldn't be in this mess now. Many mutual anathemas ensued.

And yet the Movement inspired a raft of experiments in Future Living, something that we haven't seen in this country for decades. The Future, after all, was cancelled by the Reaganites back in the day, and there have been few public efforts to revive the concept of a Future. Now that Occupy provided a framework for the coalescence of Futurist visions and efforts -- yes, even the Zeitgeist and Venus Project people -- the most valuable and ultimately useful outcome of the initial phase of the Movement-Becoming-Revolution is the idea that there can be a Future, and that it will be better than today -- if we want it.

Another World Is Possible.

People all over the world are making it happen.

There is a march going on in New York right now highlighting the environmental degradation caused by fracking and the many other resource extraction and transport activities, including pipelines (Spectra in New York). Environmental issues have been at the top of the list of Occupy interests, along with civil liberties, democracy, ending wars, preserving and enhancing communities, preventing the systemic abuse of everyone who isn't part of the "1%", and so on.

I encapsulated the values of Occupy -- some growing out of the values expressed during the Arab Spring uprisings -- as:

  • Dignity

  • Justice

  • Community

  • Peace

 Seems those are still the guiding values.

Still working on the implementation phase...

We are unstoppable, another world is possible.

[Back to the packing for the big move for me... my friend may have been right. This is harder than I thought and I can't do what I used to be able to... old age is a bother..]

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Crunch Continues

We're still in Crunch Mode here at Casa Ché, only now with (minor) injuries!

There's far more to this 'moving out' business than I anticipated (isn't there always?) but the Goodwill down the street is delighted with us and wonders when the donations will stop.

A friend, of course, calls to cheer us on: "Don't forget," he says, "you're Old now, and you can't really do even half of what you think you can." Well, thanks, I say. Thanks a lot. Now sit down before you fall down and break your own hip. Heh.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Drumbeat

 "Counting bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums" -- do not play if you don't want your head to explode.

Do you hear it?

The drumbeat? Not even subtle anymore, the drumbeat of war is pounding harder every day. We're on the precipice again (when aren't we?) Someone must be attacked and soon, for the sake of the election, for the sake of the nation, for the sake of the world.

There must be more war.

The Romney campaign is asserting the usual Neo-Con claptrap and warmongering. Over in Jerusalem, Netanyahu is getting restless again to go Nuke something in Iran -- or somewhere where men wear beards and women wear veils. Obama is clearly itchy, and Mrs. Clinton has not exactly been shy or retiring in the face of the perils of Muslim Extremists.

 I am surprised that the embassy attacks haven't been directly attributed to Iran by this point in the news cycle. Perhaps on Fox they have been, I wouldn't know. But such attacks cannot go unanswered in our carefully scripted election drama. There must be revenge, in blood. Preferably with the blood of the innocent and brown. Somewhere. Anywhere. No matter what the repercussions.

More and more reports are coming out that suggest the video that sparked the outrage that (apparently) led to the embassy attacks was a deliberate provocation and that the attack in Libya was planned well in advance, as if... 

Coincidence abounds.

We've been down this road so many times.

How long, O Lord...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Collapse

Interesting sites in Lower Manhattan via Teh Goggle.

[Not having a whole lot of time to write these days, I'll make this one brief.]

The linkages between the attacks on 9/11/2001 and the ultimate economic collapse of 2007-08 might benefit from further exploration. Or maybe not. There are certain things we just don't want to know.

At the time of the attacks, after all, it seemed to me that the target in New York, the World Trade Center, was a hub, if not the global hub, of financialization -- what amounts to the creation of "wealth" out of nothing and the transference of wealth (in the real sense) from workers to the leisure class.

The target was perfect for messing with that whole scheme. Whether doing so was in anybody's mind or not, I don't know, but for a time, there was panic among the financial class. And shortly there would be demands, demands of billions upon billions of dollars in compensation for losses that day -- not from insurance companies but from the government, as if the government had some culpability somehow. Hm. Who'd a thunk.

And then there were the wars in the aftermath of the attacks, wars in which scads of money, cash money, featured prominently -- pallets of $100 bills famously shipped to Iraq, for example; guest houses along the Tigris found stacked to the rafters with $100 bills; showers of hundred dollar bills dropped over Afghanistan among the Northern Alliance, etc. It was money war, in which "sides" were bought and sold like commodities.

The American economy shifted into overdrive, not to satisfy the needs of warriors overseas but to satisfy the extortion of the the financial class -- which, after all, had suffered directly from the attack in New York on 9/11.

The location of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza may have been happenstance, but it was striking how close it was to the site of the holes where the trade center towers had been. It was within a block or so of the long delayed "Freedom Tower" that is intended to replace the collapsed and vanished towers. While the demonstrations and protests were focused on Wall Street abuses, the point was made by many observers that "Wall St." is not the financial center it once was, that the chief players have long since moved their headquarters elsewhere, and the Stock Exchange itself is almost a stage show; the real action is not there anymore. Nevertheless, the physical Wall St. and Zuccotti/Liberty Park suffered greatly in the attacks and building collapses of 9/11; they were too close to escape the fall-out.

In the end, we've all been suffering from the multiple collapses during the past almost inconceivably eventful decade plus one. What's been happening didn't begin on 9/11, but it was vastly accelerated as a consequence of those attacks.

And always, it seems to be about the money. Not so much about the lives and the property destroyed, the entire nations put to the torch and the hundreds of thousands or millions sent to their doom.  It's about the money.

How much, how fast, and who from.

Friday, September 7, 2012

They Are the Po-Po Troopers, Vigilant Guardians of Citizen Discipline

Screengrab of Nate's live stream of last night's negotiations.

Rather than watching the political conventions when I had time to watch anything, I watched live streams from the streets of Tampa and Charlotte. Far more interesting what was going on in the streets.

Political conventions really haven't had much appeal to me since oh, about 1960, and the magical-seeming invocation and roll-call of the states:

"Mistah Chah-man! I rise from the Great State of Kentucky, home of the bluegrass, quarter horses, and the Most Bew-tee-full Women in the South, to cast Kentucky's 14 votes for the Next President of the United States of America, God's Own Favorite Son... "

You get the picture. I assume they still do that, but I don't think they show it on the teevee any more.

I have attended a few political conventions in California, as a protester and as a volunteer. They have their moments. But I don't recommend the convention process as any kind of ideal of political consciousness. In fact, it is my impression their role is to induce a kind of mass hysteria or trance, to induce unconsciousness in a word. What I call "mindless loyalty" -- what some others erroneously call "tribalism."

A Digression:
For those who don't know, a reminder: My grandfather was a Democratic Party chair in Iowa for almost 40 years, and my father stood for office as a Democrat, though he lost. My involvement in politics is much lighter in that I reject the Party apparat as far too corrupt and corrupting. In California, I've taken to the streets too many times to count, and I've largely been an equal opportunity protester, never limiting my protests to particular party affiliations -- and usually refusing to participate in scripted demonstrations organized by parties.

I've never stood for office, but I have served on numerous boards, commissions, formal and ad hoc committees, task forces and what have you, and have had long and intimate dealings with local, state and federal officials. I've been a government employee as well as a contractor. I know some of the ins and outs of what goes on, though there are times I would really rather forget.

I've voted in every election since I became eligible. In general elections, I vote Democrat. This makes me a Yellow Dog.

I've long been aware that the American electoral system is rigged in such a way that you don't really have a choice of ideals or policies and candidates are typically so similar that if they didn't have a (D) or (R) next to their names, you wouldn't be able to tell with which party they affiliate. This is by intent and design. The candidates are running for your approval to serve in the Government; once elected, their first loyalty is to that Government no matter what. Thus, Government interests come first, always.

Our Government, like most in the Developed World, is a wholly owned subsidiary of a relative handful of corporate and billionaire interests. We the People have very, very limited access to its power centers and even less influence over them.

This sad fact stands in defiance of the myth of America that proposes some sort of Democratic Republic always sensitive to and responsive to the Will of the People through the electoral process. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Elections matter because style and personality matter at least as much as policy considerations, and in American elections, you're voting on style and personality almost exclusively, almost never on actual policies. That's because those policies are determined way above the electorate's pay level, by people we've probably never seen or heard of. And in most cases those policies, once determined, are then sold to the rest of us like household products.

Who gets to determine what policies will be adopted and sold is a mystery in plain sight. We can see the workings of the machine, even some of its operators, but never quite witness what starts the whole thing in motion. Avoiding detection and responsibility seems to be a hallmark of those at the very top of the decision-making chain.

In most cases, you and I -- or the electorate in general -- are not included in that chain at all unless an election is required for implementation, and at the federal level that is very rarely (essentially never) the case.

Those who are included, however, pay attention when what's happening in the streets causes them significant discomfort and disruption. This will typically involve money. If their money flow is interrupted or it becomes significantly harder to raise the funds necessary to remain a viable office holder, then more than likely the office holder will do whatever it takes to accommodate whoever is providing the bulk of the money.

It's not just the appearance of corruption, it is corruption, outright. And it is corrupting to the political process not to mention what it does to the soul.


Observing the theatrics of the conventions from the view point of the streets as opposed to the images of what was going on inside reminded me of a lot of previous actions I've been involved in, and yet it was very different, too. The police presence was deliberately overwhelming, as has become customary in National Special Security Events such as WTO conferences and political conventions. But it was so overwhelming as to become ridiculous.

This was made manifest in the somewhat startling -- and funny -- appearance of squadrons of Po-Po Troopers in Tampa, dolled up in the most fashionable anti-riot military gear, assigned to protect the march of 8 Westboro Baptist Church members through the otherwise empty streets. It was absurd.

It was also the last time the Po-Po Troopers appeared in full get-ups in Tampa, and they never appeared at all in Charlotte. There were just far, far more police on view there, often three and even four rows deep on either side of a march. But none, as it turned out, dolled up to suppress armed insurrection.

For one thing, there weren't very many people in the streets at any given time. This is quite a change from previous National Special Security Events, and the reasons why there were so few demonstrators need to be explored. I don't have an answer at the moment.

In both Tampa and Charlotte, Occupy served as a kind of logistics hub, but it was not the central factor in such demonstrations as took place. Those who have been in Occupy knew the ropes and could help with organization, facilities and care, but for the most part they were not the ones putting on the Show. That was left to others, primarily a pretty vibrant anarchist contingent that went to both convention cities and put on essentially the same protest against the System in both cities.

There were, of course, exceptions to this rule.

The discipline imposed by police on these protests and protesters had a surprising effect, at least in my view.

People were allowed to march and carry signs and chant quite rudely ("1: Fuck Obama, 2: Fuck Obama; 3: Obama is a Fucking Traitor!" eg.) pretty much as often, long, and loud as they wanted, pretty much anywhere they wanted to do it, as long as it wasn't too close to the sites of the conventions. They were allowed to get within sight of the conventions, though, and if they chose to, they could stand within Protest Cages and carry on to their heart's content while delegates could observe them as if they were creatures in a zoo.

For the most part, protesters refused the Cages, so they marched and chanted and carried their signs well away from the convention action, always accompanied by extraordinary numbers of police. In Charlotte, there were so many, they generally outnumbered the demonstrators by 7:1 (at least that's a number I heard.)

Every march I saw, particularly in Charlotte, was corralled and tightly controlled with bicycle barricades, that is to say, by officers standing side by side with their bikes, forming a wall on each side of the march, a march that was confined to one lane of the street. Any street, whatever street. Behind the walls of bikes were ranks and ranks of police, some on foot, some on motorcycles, some (in Tampa) on golf carts. There were emergency vehicles along the routes (I guess in case somebody got heat stroke) and there were squadrons of helicopters overhead. Repeatedly, police would close off some preferred route with their bicycle walls, and there would be a confrontation, a stand off that might last a few minutes, or it might last hours. Neither side would budge. But off to the side there would be some sort of negotiation going on between a police representative and a protestor, and frequently -- it seemed anyway -- the police barricades would be removed and the march would continue on whatever route it had originally intended. In other words, the police backed down after receiving certain assurances of "peacefulness."

This was very different than the scenes four and eight years ago.

This year, nobody was bludgeoned, nobody was gassed, nobody was electroshocked or shot in the head with flash-bangs, there were no mass arrests. In fact, there were very few arrests at all. The police did not attack protesters the way they have numerous times in the past. The protest headquarters encampments were not harassed. Spontaneous and planned marches took place several times a day, sometimes taking seemingly arbitrary routes, and police simply accompanied the marchers. So far as I know, there were no incidents of vandalism. By some accounts, most of those who were arrested (and it was a very small number) got arrested deliberately as part of their protest action.

David Atkins over at Digby's Place went full Bourbon on the failure of Occupy to "organize" sufficiently to have an impact on the Democratic convention and its delegates, complaining about Occupy's interference with protests by well-organized outfits and groups like Planned Parenthood.

In order to be "heard" by Those Who Matter, claims Atkins -- who was a delegate at the convention this year -- one has to be organized, clear, and present. One has to be "inside" as it were. Like he was.

Occupy's determination to stay "outside" means no one Who Matters will pay them any mind at all.

How après nous... n'est ce pas?

Of course, he and those who think like him don't realize anything of the sort. They don't know they are on the wrong side of history. And they can't see much beyond their own extraordinary selves and the extraordinary lives they are so very privileged to live.

For the kind of changes -- revolutionary changes, systemic changes -- Occupy and others are demanding, being and staying "outside" is a fundamental necessity. There is no other way.

But in the context of this year's political conventions, the interplay between the Po-Po Troopers, the demonstrators, and the alternative media (via live streaming the protests) was an exercise in remarkable restraint and discipline -- as well as disciplining. In other words, the police were intent on disciplining the protests -- ie: making them conform to certain rigid rules and expectations. The demonstrators, for their part, seemed content to adopt their own rules and disciplines in response -- or on their own initiative -- on the premise that conflict with the Troopers (as opposed to principled confrontation) was not in the interests of either side.

It actually seemed more effective -- and may produce more lasting results -- than anything that was going on "inside." Well, except for Clint in Tampa, Clinton in Charlotte. I mean, certain things last.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

David Graeber Explains It All For You -- and Charlie Rose

I have a fairly high opinion of Graeber's thought, though one could say he doesn't really present well on the television machine.

(I remember one of the disputes I engaged in with another Occupy supporter was over teevee appearances by people who don't do television well; she was outraged that someone who was interviewed about a protest action against Monsanto that was going on at the time didn't speak well enough or in the appropriate and expected sound bites, and therefore wasn't communicating. I pointed out that the interviewee did touch on all the important aspects of the protest and said what needed to be said. Expecting everyone who goes on teevee to "speak in teevee-ese" is unproductive. Would the complainer suggest that everyone who doesn't do teevee well should refuse to be interviewed? How would she make that judgement? Needless to say, the person I was arguing with was offended. I pointed out that I know from bitter experience that I don't do television well, and so I personally refuse to do television interviews. But I don't think there should be a general ban on non-telegenic people granting interviews.)

Graeber makes his points -- perhaps a bit quickly and superficially -- in the video above with regard to Debt and Occupy, the nature of the struggle and the death knell of Capitalism (of course we've heard that before!) and he seems to make an awful lot of sense. The problem, of course, is that Our Rulers simply deny it all.

Thus the mess we're in.

The Greek Thing Redux -- Europe Has Gone Completely Mad

There are reports circulating that the Troika that runs Greece on behalf of its creditors (ie: the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) has determined that Greek labor law must be "reconfigured" shall we say to enable/require Greek employees to work 6 or possibly 7 days a week, with restrictions on overtime pay, minimal breaks between shifts at labor, and with sharply reduced or eliminated wages and benefits.

Ah, the industrial model of the late 19th Century returns. What fun.

These recommendations or directives were in a leaked email from the Troika to the Greek Ministers of Labor and Finance, whose only job it seems is to implement the Troika's demands immediately and with a smile on.

These people are crazy. These people are absolutely insane. Europe has been down this path of enforced misery before; it didn't work out so well, not for Europeans and not for many peoples of the world who were, until being plunged back into the darkness, trying to recover from their experience with "European Civilization." (Newsman to Gandhi back in the day: "What do you think of Western Civilization?" Gandhi to newsman: "I think it would be a good idea.")

This is in a country where the official unemployment rate is in the high teens and due to the calamitous economic conditions imposed by the Troika already, it is expected to rise into the high 20s or even 30s soon enough.

In other words, those who can maintain employment for wages will be expected/required to work extra days and hours and with fewer or no benefits, while millions upon millions of Greeks go without jobs, housing, healthcare, education, food and so forth -- in order to satisfy the utterly insatiable demands of banksters.

If the banksters are able to pull it off in Greece, then they can -- and most likely will -- do it anywhere. Germany itself, the Center of the Euro-Core, could easily face the same calamitous conditions and would have no recourse. It is as plain a statement Europe's workers as you could want: "pay or else," nice little country you have here...

This isn't even so-called "Neo-Liberalism." It's straight out extortion.

For a time, I had some hope that the revolt of the Greek People would be able to stop the madness, but that hope has, at least for the time being, proved illusory. The revolt didn't seem to matter. Not to those in power, and certainly not to those who could engineer election victories for the more or less rightist parties (including the Socialists, damn) who would do the rest of Europe's (mostly Frau Merkel's) bidding.

So. Further down the Rabbit Hole.

Madness like this is not likely to end well...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Misapprehension About Occupy

Occupy Poster by Rich Black

Interesting, interesting.

I've been following some of the do's and festivities outside the conventions via that exciting new feature of something known as "the Intertubes" that someone has dubbed "the Livestreams," and it's been both surprising and satisfying (in some ways) that the "Occupy" presence is relatively minor. It's not absent; Occupy is the base of operations, encampment, and Protest Services in a sense, and the Occupy interest in shaming the banking sector is always appropriate and on display -- especially in a place like Charlotte which is nothing but a Banking Sector.

I'm surprised at the relatively low number of participants in the demonstrations, however. Most of the demonstrations and marches I've seen so far in both Tampa and Charlotte attract numbers in the low hundreds, some far fewer. There have been a few that attract a thousand or even two thousand. But it is nothing at all like the numbers of protesters we became used to at previous political conventions. This seems to be a deliberate strategy, by the way, by having a protest presence at (or rather, relatively near) the conventions, but not making a big deal of protesting at the conventions.

Whether that strategy was developed at/by Occupy Tampa or Charlotte or anywhere else, I can't say; the strategic discussions I'm aware of tend to either be about Big Picture or about minutiae, and the only events being discussed among the groups I'm still involved in were/are the Occupy National Gathering and the upcoming S17 Anniversary.

The conventions don't figure in those discussions at all.

After the really outrageous behavior of the police and authority in general at the 2008 conventions in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul, it's no wonder. There were thousands of protesters and there were also mass arrests, pre-crime arrests, raids on participants, police attacks on peaceful protesters, massive police presence, and a general atmosphere of repression. Much of it was sickening. It was emblematic of how sick our political system had become by then, but for those in the midst of the repression, it wasn't emblematic of anything but the fact that they were being beat down, gassed, pummeled, arrested, and locked in cages for days.

The relatively low number of participating protesters in Tampa and Charlotte means that the massive police presence and their fancy Po-Po Troopers get ups looks -- and is -- silly. Oops. This was manifest in Tampa where formations of Po-Po Troopers marched hither and thither for some reason that nobody could figure out, and became an object of mockery and derision that went far beyond the usual choruses of the "Imperial Storm Troopers March" one hears whenever the RoboCop contingent appears.

When Po-Po Troopers by the hundreds protected the Westboro Baptist Church marchers (all eight of them) from the dozen or so Dirty Fucking Hippies (and the many dozen more camera people) in Tampa, the point of all this martial display was suddenly lost, and so far as I know, the the protective services at the Tampa convention never again dressed as if they were Going Off To War, and there were very few hostile confrontations with police afterwards. The most effective demonstration I saw via the live stream in Tampa was the Silent March Against Police Brutality during which there was a silent standoff with police at a blocked intersection, a confrontation that was resolved when the police backed down.

What? They backed down?

That's sure what it looked like. First time in a long time I've seen that at a major demonstration.

Most of the participants in the demonstrations at the conventions -- at least the participants in the demonstrations that have been covered by Nate and Tim, the two live streamers I've been following -- have appeared to be anarchists or their supporters. I'm sure there are many others involved in protests I haven't seen or have only seen bits and pieces of. Code Pink is there, Veterans for Peace is there, Planned Parenthood is there, immigrant rights groups and many, many other organizations are represented in the streets. Anarchists are featured in part because they have been crucial participants in Occupy from the outset, and partly because they seem to be the ones who are the most actively and consistently demonstrating.

But there are not -- and never have been -- a lot of them.

What they lack in numbers they make up for in energy, determination and enthusiasm. And don't forget the endless argument and dispute over which route to take now.

But so far as I can tell, the Occupy presence is generally quite small, and it appears to form something of a logistics hub. In its own way, this is consistent with the evolution of Occupy since the violent police raids and repression last year. This caused the dispersal of the "Occupy" idea and Movement far and wide, to the point where it is now pervasive, essentially everywhere. The creativity and innovation that characterized some of the encampments has now become an inspiration for alternative development, demonstration and idea generation in numberless low-key activist camps, squats, hostels, farms, and urban settings. It's everywhere. And no one can be unaware of the effect the Occupy Movement has had on our perceptions of the economic peril we all live under thanks to the renegade banks and the government that serves them. Names and faces have been put to that peril. Powerlessness is no longer an option, nor even an excuse any more.

The Peace Movement, the Immigrant Rights Movement, the Environmental Movement and the Worker Rights/Union Movement have all benefited from the efforts of Occupy to highlight their importance to the future of the country and of mankind. Occupy has been at the center of their resurgence.

 But strangely there are still those who expect Occupy to form some kind of political bloc and to press their case (for what?) in the political arena, and they won't do it. The whole point of Occupy from the beginning has been to defy that system, to work outside it, and to develop alternatives to it.

The idea of Occupy becoming a political bloc, then, is absurd.

But those inside the political system cannot imagine Occupy not doing it, and so they are still puzzled at what Occupy "wants".

It's not about "wants" -- it's about doing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Federal Troops Occupy the California Capitol Grounds, 1894; painting by Mary Amanda Lewis

Yesterday's newspaper editorials and other commentary just got my blood boiling. The anti-labor slant to so much of what was being published in "honor" of Labor Day was a hideous nightmare, an inversion of the whole idea of Celebrating Labor. I look back and I wonder was I contributing to it with my observations regarding union leadership? Leadership which often sux? Perhaps.

The issue that got me into a lather as it were was the editorial in my own McClatchy flagship paper, wherein it was obvious that the paper's most anti-union columnist had been given free rein to dump his excrement on labor unions and order them to reform according to his narrow image of what "labor" (quote/unquote) is for: fattening the bottom lines of the plutocracy.

The illustration above accompanied the editorial; it depicts an encampment of federal troops sent to Sacramento to quell the Pullman Strike which had been interfering with the orderly running of the all-powerful railroads out of sympathy for their comrades in Chicago and elsewhere.

At first the National Guard had been called out, but they refused orders to quell the strike with fixed bayonets and bullets; after all, many in the Guard were railroad workers themselves, or were workers' friends and family. Their refusal to follow orders would result in a mass court martial, said to be the largest court martial proceeding in Guard history (and here I always thought it was the Port Chicago Mutiny that led the courts martial statistics.)

Federal troops were called in to "restore order." Part of their job was to shoot to kill. And they did. It's claimed they were fired on first, but the claim is disputed. Several soldiers were killed, it's true. But how they died is not entirely clear; friendly fire is as likely as striker fire.

At any rate the first train the troops assembled to run out of the Sacramento yards was sabotaged and derailed near Davis, leading to deaths and injuries among the troops serving as escorts as well as among railroad employees. I've read some reports of the aftermath over the years, and I'm going from memory here, so I may be conflating a number of different strikes and incidents, but my recollection is that when the troops heard of what had happened with the sabotage outside of Davis (home of UC Davis, where Pepper Spray Officer Pike was recently dismissed) they vowed to take revenge on the strikers. From what I recall, there was a march of strikers in Sacramento the next day. Troops assembled to block their way (snipers at the ready on convenient high places); when the strikers continued their march, the troops opened fire, killing a disputed number of strikers (as many as 13, as I recall, as few as two by some reports) and injuring dozens, including women and children. This may be where I'm conflating a different strike, but if memory serves, the strikers next assembled peacefully at the Capitol, where they were again fired on by troops, killing and injuring many more. This bloody business effectively ended the Pullman Strike in California.

Combined with the other bloodshed associated with the Pullman Strike in Chicago and elsewhere, the nation was horrified. The Ruling Class was terrified that the breadth and depth of the labor unrest expressed in the Pullman Strike was a harbinger of Revolution, and they sought remedies quick. Grover Cleveland (Democrat, let it be said) was happy to oblige. There were mass arrests and trials, purges of union organizers and sympathizers -- not to mention strikers -- went on throughout the railroad industry, and the likelihood of federal troop intervention in any future labor unrest was heightened.

Labor Day was a bone thrown to the discontented masses, unanimously passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President in 1894, the year of the Strike, to mollify the wounded feelings if not the brutalized (or dead) bodies of Labor.

The attempts to crush the Labor Movement only increased, of course, and there would be strike after bloody strike for years to come until, during the New Deal, the numerous strikes (some put down with almost unimaginable brutality) led to the passage of several labor union sought measures -- primarily curbing capitalist abuses and enabling labor union equity -- and brought to a close the era of official and industry violence against workers. Not that violence necessarily stopped, but at least it was no longer officially sanctioned.

The Labor Union Movement was declared a Success. Yay! The End of Child Labor was nigh. Soon, the 8 hour day would become the standard, along with the 40 hour week. Workplace safety regulations would be instituted. Vacations and sick leave would become the norm. If you believe what you read today, everything Labor demanded back at the turn of the 20th Century was granted and codified into law in the by and bye. Labor was triumphant.

Who needs unions when everything they wanted done was accomplished? This is the standard rhetoric of capitalist anti-labor propagandists. The Labor Movement is dead because it doesn't have anything to do anymore. You see. It's simple.

I argue, of course, that there's much more to do, but labor union leadership is either so cowed by the unbridled power of management and capitalists or is so closely tied to them through financial arrangements and outright bribes, and there have been so many pre-concessions made by them, that the utility of unions under the circumstances is highly suspect.

The editorial that set me off yesterday starts with the mention of the Pullman Strike and its suppression by federal troops, but it puts what happened here this way:

Sacramento saw more strike-related violence than any community outside Chicago. Troops camped on the state Capitol grounds and the city was under martial law for two weeks.

No mention of strikers shot down in the streets -- here or anywhere else for that matter -- and no mention of why there was a Pullman Strike to begin with. Just the usual vague references to "strike-related violence" and martial law. Yes, well. (The strike was over George Pullman's decision to cut his workforce by 80%, reduce the wages of the remaining workers by 25%, yet force workers who lived in his community of Pullman, Illinois, to pay exorbitant rents and fees -- which he refused to reduce along with wages -- while declaring huge profits and paying out extravagant dividends to investors. Not unlike the labor situation today.)

The editorial continues:

Today, we take for granted such things as an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, workplace safety standards, unemployment insurance, health and retirement benefits and more.

Isn't that something? All of those things we "take for  granted" are under fierce and intense assault by capitalists who believe deep in their hearts that workers have it too soft and must be forced to endure worsening conditions in order to ensure an adequate return on investment. Given the number of instances in which employers require overtime of employees but will not pay for it, the "8 hour day" is something of a cruel joke. The minimum wage is evaded constantly, and its purchasing power is something like half of what it was in the 1960's and 1970's. In other words, when it is adhered to, it keeps dropping. Workplace safety standards are constantly violated, to the point where workers are being injured and dying on the job in ever increasing numbers, while employers constantly whine that the safety regulations are way too severe. Unemployment insurance covers only about half of the unemployed at any given time, and restrictions on access to it are growing even as unemployment continues to be shockingly high. Health and retirement benefits have been disappearing for years, a generation in fact. There are more Americans without health benefits that ever, and retirement benefits have turned into a cruel joke for millions.

The editorial makes a cogent point by quoting Timothy Noah:

Timothy Noah, in "The Great Divergence," has noted the effect of this decline: "Draw one line on a graph charting the decline in union membership, then superimpose a second line charting the decline in middle-class income share and you will find that the two lines are nearly identical." The middle class has shrunk significantly, from 61 percent of the adult population in 1971 to 51 percent in 2011, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve.

The middle class is shrinking, and policies adopted by capitalists and the governments they own will ensure that the middle class will continue to shrink for the foreseeable future. The shrinkage in labor union participation parallels that shrinkage, but the one is not necessarily the cause of the other. I point to the lack of "service" by unions and especially their leadership as the cause for the shrinkage in their membership, whereas the precipitous decline in the middle class is due to factors well in advance of union declines. In other words, to policies that unions agreed to or accommodated rather than fighting.

Unions today, particularly public-sector unions, need to go back to first principles. They need to say, and not just to their own members, what they stand for and what their role is in improving conditions for all workers.

In the current climate, they cannot be content to service their existing membership – getting them more money and benefits and policing collective bargaining agreements. They need to do some soul-searching.

Obviously, the editorial board doesn't understand what unions do and have been doing for years. They don't get their members more money and benefits these days, they concede wage and benefit cuts instead. They negotiate how much workers will be required to "sacrifice" and how fast they will be required to do it,  they hardly ever advance claims to higher wages and benefits.  Again, these concessions lead to lower and lower union participation.

Start by reining in excesses. End the hysteria about raising the retirement age to reflect actual working years and life expectancy – or asking workers to contribute to their retirement. That is not anti-worker.

Oh, right. That "hysteria." Given "actual working years" these days, and the flatlining of actual worker life expectancy (especially compared to the life expectancy of CEOs and capitalists) the retirement age should be lowered, not raised, and it should have been done long ago. The whole idea of raising the retirement age is ludicrous, and the rentiers, the capitalists, and  their hired guns in government know this. They figure, though, that the Big Lie propaganda tactic will turn the trick and that people can be convinced of the falsehoods surrounding retirement and life expectancy, and so far they are right. The media as a whole has been a willing -- eager in fact -- participant in selling the lie to the People, and so far, the truth has barely been seen anywhere.

As for workers contributing to their retirement funds, apparently the Big Lie is working here, too. Nearly all retirement plans -- where they still exist -- require direct worker contributions from wages paid; the notion that they do not is an absurd lie that is constantly being bruited about by propagandists against worker pensions. Those few public workers who do not make direct contributions from wages paid make indirect contributions from wages not paid, ie: from taking lower salaries during their working lives on the assumption that their employers will pay the equivalent of higher wages into a retirement fund on the workers' behalf. But surprise, surprise, they don't want to do that; no, they just want to pay lower wages and not contribute to worker retirement funds, despite whatever contractual obligations they may have. So every time some media propagandist says something about "asking workers to contribute" to their retirement funds, what they are really talking about is forcing workers to take an even greater pay and benefit cut than they already do. And that is most definitely "anti-worker."


And just stop proposals like the one introduced this legislative session that said if a firefighter, police officer or prison guard died of heart disease or cancer at age 90 – 40 years after he had retired – a widow or other surviving relative could claim a "work-related" death benefit worth a quarter of a million dollars at minimum. Such plays alienate the public from unions.

I'm not familiar with this legislation, in fact this the first I've heard of it, but think about it: why shouldn't survivors receive a substantial "work-related death benefit" as part of a benefit package? Why shouldn't all workers receive something like this? Instead of trying to restrict benefits such as this, why not expand them to all workers? The argument that wages should be reduced and benefits cut or restricted is backwards; it should be the other way around.

And then:

Address the generational gap. With membership concentrated in the 40-and-older group, what do unions have to say to the workforce of the future – the 20- to 25-year-olds who are experiencing high unemployment rates in the current economy?

It's not just a generation gap. With generally so few workers unionized, it's a much broader gap than that of the generations, and I continue to argue that it is because union leadership has been too often co-opted and does not operate on behalf of members. That has the interesting effect of reducing membership, surprise, surprise, and these constant concessions, often producing a two-tier wage and benefit structure merely serves to reduce union participation further.

Embrace trade. Instead of denouncing foreign workers for "stealing" American jobs, stand by the principle that either we raise standards together or face a race to the bottom. U.S.-led trade and economic growth will help improve labor and environmental conditions in the global economy.

This paragraph is so warped it shocks the conscience. "...either we raise standards together or face a race to the bottom." The race to the bottom is underway, as it has been for a long time. There is no "raising standards together," that was a lie promulgated by the capitalists to justify the trade agreements that have led to endless "adjustments" -- ie: reductions in American workers standards -- for years and endless years. "Improving" standards in the global economy axiomatically requires reducing standards for American workers. It doesn't necessarily result in any improvement to the lives of foreign workers, either. This is what we have been seeing for years and our rulers insist on continuing no matter what.


We are past the riots and violence of late-19th and early-20th century, but also far from the post-World War II era of shared prosperity. American society and the labor movement are at a crossroads in defining a new path for a strong middle class.

This from a paper that has been on a relentless anti-labor propaganda campaign for years and years, day in and day out, a constant litany of biased reports and anti-union screeds, transparent in their determination to destroy the "middle class" once and for all, just as it destroyed its own unions in the 1970's.

And this shameful editorial was presented as a recipe for unions to "rebound" from their current doldrums.

It's actually a recipe for union extinction.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=c

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/09/03/4781267/editorial-to-rebound-labor-needs.html#story

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Cause of the Collapse of American Labor Unions

Whatever happened to Unions?


I've never been a great one for unions, not because I'm opposed to the principle of "In Union There Is Strength," far from it. Too often what I've seen both inside and outside of American unions is a kind of leadership pragmatism that ultimately doesn't serve the interests of workers. It primarily serves the interests of the union leadership. It's that simple.

This problem goes back almost to the origination of labor unions, and we can easily see parallels in the political system. Of course. Those in charge are going to make sure their own nests are feathered first and foremost; everyone else can either wait their turn, or recognize they're going to get little or nothing in the end anyway.

Just like certain Democratic presidents, labor union leaders too often concede the contest before it is even engaged; they dismiss the needs and interests of the rank and file as either "impractical" or "inappropriate." They seem to negotiate on behalf of owners and management, and every time they do, more concessions are demanded from them. A Take It or Leave It contract is then presented to the membership, with the statement from leadership that "this is the best we could do and the best you're going to get, take it or leave it," and nine times out of ten, the members go along because they don't see any viable alternative. "National" has already said they think the contract is a good (enough) one and they won't sanction a strike. And so it goes.

This has been going on it seems like forever. Understandably, workers don't see any point in unions that refuse to lift a finger on behalf of workers. Instead, they are always working out more concessions with management.

That's not what a union is supposed to be for.

So workers abandon unions as useless impediments -- which they often are, though not always.

And always, union leadership doesn't "understand." Those who are invested in unions blame the workers -- always -- for "voting against their own interests" by voting with their feet. Retaliation against recalcitrant workers -- by the unions -- is not uncommon.

It's the same sort of thing that happens with politicians and those who are invested in the political system. They always find ways to blame the electorate for their insufficient enthusiasm when politicians refuse to serve the interests of the People.

They resist any notion that they should actually do what the people want, actually represent the public interest, and actually fulfill their part of the bargain they made with the People when they were put in office.

Unions and politicians have a tendency to "blame it on Reagan," and while Reagan isn't blameless, the fact of the matter is that union leadership isn't blameless either. They conceded when they shouldn't have; they sometimes fought when they shouldn't have. But worse than that, they became complacent and they were far too easily bought off by the Big Money Interests. It was so commonplace to see union leadership in the back pockets of management and owners that workers threw up their hands in despair. With nowhere else to turn, the workers abandoned unions in droves.

Much the same has happened with the political system. It's easy enough to see that politicians of both parties serve their personal and their party's financial interests first, the People often not at all.

The People tend not to like that, surprisingly enough.

It's probably not possible to reform and revive the union movement in this country. It's similar to the problem with the political system. They don't serve the People, and it may be due to Original Sin; something was not right at the outset, and so that flaw carries on throughout the life of the institution -- and ultimately causes its demise.

A very different model is required, and more than likely the model will derive from the collective and cooperative worker-owned and operated enterprises that have long been common abroad and are not unknown in this country. Part of the point, of course, is to integrate workers.

Rebuilding on that model and building a better future through its utilization will take a great deal of time and patience, but I see encouraging signs that it is happening right now, so I am hopeful that this approach to "labor" will become commonplace, indeed, the expected norm.

The current situation is unsustainable.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Salt of the Earth"


Some Additional Thoughts To Throw In The Mix

America's Favorite
Some additional matters of interest have been swirling around this end game the political class seems to be playing. While they and their owners and sponsors continue to wrangle over how quickly and thoroughly the tattered remnants of the Republic (we have been unable to keep) shall be unraveled, we the People wrestle with a whole other set of circumstances Our Betters have neither the time nor the patience for:

  • Joblessness

  • Debt

  • Hunger

  • Homelessness

  • Stolen Future

  • Endless Sacrifice
And that's just for starters, to get the ball rolling as it were. The situation for many households in America is dire. A report just came out (can't find the link at the moment, but will add it once I do) that points out that California's median household income fell by 11% between 2007 and 2010, a spectacular drop compared to the oft reported increases in median (or sometimes "average") income during this Endless Recession.

I've long been suspicious of any statistical report that claims rising income for Americans in general because it just isn't so. I've witnessed too many cases of household incomes remaining perfectly flat at best during the course of the Endless Recession, and too many cases, way too many cases, of household employment income falling by anywhere from 10% to 50% (and sometimes more) in the course of a few years.

The statistics have clearly been skewed by the fact that those at the top continue to amass gigantic fortunes from which they derive enormous income, though statisticians deny it.

Millions have been forced out of their jobs, and millions have been forced out of the job market altogether; labor force participation is at the lowest point in generations and it continues to shrink. Poverty is at the highest level in generations and it continues to grow. The two are related it seems to me, factors, you might say of one another. Duh.

But in his acceptance speech -- which I have still not seen any of -- the Would-be King Emperor, Shahanshah, declared that when $21.00 an hour jobs with benefits "went away," Americans rolled up their sleeves and took two jobs that paid $9.00 an hour without benefits and they forged onward, uncomplaining, happy indeed to be able to continue the March of Progress -- at least that's a paraphrase of a report I saw. "Only in America," right?

Americans are falling backwards rapidly, and this is due, as I have repeatedly pointed out, to the deliberate policie at the top of the Government which in turn are determined -- if not dictated outright -- by the desires of the Masters of the Universe who crashed the economy to begin with. Those few people still control the United States and they largely control the rest of humanity as well.

Should the RomneyBot and His Familiar succeed in their Pinky and the Brain plan to take over the world -- their plan after all is directly out of the Reaganite-Gingrichite playbook. I've long assumed that the models for the cartoon characters were Ronnie and Newty -- things for the average sod will only get worse, far worse, far more pervasively and far faster than anyone thought possible.

The so-called political "opposition" isn't even playing a rearguard action any more, it's now a rout. The Future -- at least anything resembling a Future as we once understood it -- is gone.

"There's nothing left."

Well, not exactly "nothing." What Our Rulers are attempting to engineer, and the ACA is a perfect example of it, is the subjugation of the American People, through a form of taxation, to corporate interests in perpetuity; it's a form of debt slavery. Whether it is precedented or not I can't say, but in the end it hardly matters whether it's been done before, what matters is that it proceed with as few impediments to those on the top who will benefit from these extractions as possible.

So far, so good.

The New Future of Universal Debt Slavery -- through what amounts to automatic extractions from the 99% on behalf of corporate interests via innovative forms of taxation -- will shortly become the New Normal in part because there is almost no conscious opposition to it. There is opposition but not so much at the root of the problem, the real issue as it were.

Somewhat tangentially, there is a remarkable review by Mike Beggs of David Graeber's "Debt" over at Jacobin that is quite a wonder in its own right, for it does seem to go on forever. These are the kinds of exercises I have long had a love-hate relationship with, for they often add to the consideration, even though ultimately they are as light as froth floating in the air. It's appreciable in its own evanescent right, though what it actually has to say about "Debt" -- apart from the nostrum that "anecdotes aren't enough" -- is lacking... clarity. In fact, Beggs seems to be quite taken with Graeber's anthropological and indeed anarchist approach to his topic, one that makes mincemeat out of economists (who deserve it of course), and provides a comprehensive and comprehensible framework for the woefully uninformed public to understand what is really going on.

But it's not enough for him, he wants something both grander and more granular, and cites a number of works that provide what he is looking for. Ergo, what? Yes, there are other works out there, and isn't it great? Anyway, I didn't mean this to devolve into another criticism of the critic -- one of my favorite pastimes when time was -- but Beggs' contribution to the discussion is something else again. Check it out if you have a few hours to spend on... froth.

Meanwhile, Mark Ames has put out a piece dealing with the nature of the shoot-to-kill kultur that pervades American Authoritarian Society these days and how it relates to both the propaganda culture and the "twerps" who so often are placed in positions to defend the indefensible. It's a rollicking ride than can make for substantial dot-connection. Ames is very good at that.

As is his former colleague at the Moscow headquarters of the late-lamented Exile, Matt Taibbi, who works his gonzo mangler into a perfect storm of revelations regarding RomneyBot and his devotion to loading companies with debt from which many never recover, while he collects fabulous amounts of free money. Automatically. That's what it's all about in our financialized supposed capitalist casino, getting to the point where "I win, you lose" is institutionalized and made permanent.

There's your trouble -- and there's your Future.

Let the Dixie Chicks make it all better:

Finally, from May, a piece from the Occupied Chicago Tribune regarding the Dreaded Black Bloc. Much virtual ink has been spilled on the topic (lord knows, I've done my share), but this is one of the better examinations of the phenom of the Black Bloc and just what it does and doesn't do. Recommended.

"Dance for that Anarchy" -- Po-Po Troopers getting out of the rain in Tampa on August 27 prior to the RNC, while the folks dance for that anarchy in the downpour.

Another Po-Po Troopers in Tampa video. This is actually pretty sad... it's from Indybay.org:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Annual Green Day Post

[This is crunch month for me, so posting is liable to be infrequent at least until September ends. Here's Green Day to lighten the mood... er...]

Ah, I can't just leave it at that, so here's Walter Huston's definitive version of Kurt Weill's and Maxwell Anderson's "September Song."