Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's just another night

Wishing all of us a peaceful and joyous New Year.

Like the man said, "Let's make it a good one." Occupy the year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Left Side of the Aisle #37

Update on National Defense Authorization Act;stories

Update on Bradley Manning

Outrage of the Week:Pentagon investigates itself, finds itself not guilty

Some thoughts on the "end" of the Iraq war

The TSA strikes again

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Left Side of the Aisle #36

The topics:
Bradley Manning pre-trial


Outrage of the Week


"War on Christmas"

And Another Thing

Friday, December 16, 2011


Christopher Hitchens has died at 62 at the result of esophageal cancer.

There are, of course, the usual accolades, the tributes to his wit and his skill with the acerbic phrase, the "humanizing" anecdotes of kindness, and all the rest.

However, I have to say I lost interest in Hitchens some time back, even before his endorsement of the invasion of Iraq and subsequently of Shrub; those events merely put an exclamation point on the judgement I had previously rendered that he had become "increasingly incapable of stringing two coherent sentences together without someone or something to hate." The attacks of 9/11 just allowed him the opportunity to combine all his individual political and religious hates into one package of "Islamofascism."

There are those who will miss him; while I regret his death as I do that of anyone (as "any man's death diminishes me"), I confess I will not be among them.

For a couple of reasonable but less laudatory looks at Hitchens, try here and here.

Some stuff I didn't have time for #5

Faced with the truly horrendous, horrifying vision of demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in September - especially the prospect of the presence of Old Scratch himself in the form of the Occupy movement - the host city of Charlotte, North Carolina is looking to enact laws based on the determination that insuring quietude for the delegates and power players is more important than Constitutional rights.

The city wants to makes tents in public spaces "a public nuisance," ban other camping equipment, and outlaw "noxious substances," whatever they are. It also wants to limit where protesters can demonstrate (Remember "free speech zones?") and ban overnight stays altogether. The result would be not only to ban Occupy from protesting the DNC but would make Occupy Charlotte's encampment likewise illegal - a nice little bonus.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said dubiously last month that the rule, which could be enacted in January, is not aimed at a specific group.
This despite the fact that a related memo says that "recent issues related to camping on city property" - that is, Occupy Charlotte - have raised the issue of "regulat[ing] this activity during the DNC."

Of course this is aimed at Occupy. Of course this is about looking to make sure all those Important And Serious People do not have to be exposed to the DFHs and the rest of the rabble. Of course this is about protecting business as usual.By attmpting to block Occupy, the city council of Charlotte has instead pointed up its necessity.

Some stuff I didn't have time for #4

GOPpers are forever railing against raising taxes on the rich because it will hurt the "job creators." GOPper Sen. John Thune says "it's just intuitive" that the proposed surtax on millionaire incomes to pay for a further cut in the payroll tax would hurt the ability of businesses, especially small businesses and start-ups, to hire.

So NPR decided it wanted to talk to some of those whose ability to hire would be affected.
NPR requested help from numerous Republican congressional offices, including House and Senate leadership. They were unable to produce a single millionaire job creator for us to interview.

So we went to the business groups that have been lobbying against the surtax. Again, three days after putting in a request, none of them was able to find someone for us to talk to.
So they put up a notice on Facebook and got several responses from some "millionaire job creators" who would be affected by this surtax. And what did they say?

"It's not in the top 20 things that we think about when we're making a business hire," said one.

"If my taxes go up, I have slightly less disposable income, yes. But that has nothing to do with what my business does," said another.

"I, like any other American, especially a business owner, I want to make as much money as I can and I want to keep as much money in my pocket as I can, but I also believe in the greater good," said a third.

Thune insisted those are "outliers" and that "most" small business owners agree that raising taxes hurts employment. It's just that, well, neither he not his business lobbyist friends can't actually produce any.

Footnote: I've mentioned this a couple of times on the show, but this seems a good spot to put it up here.

The notion that tax cuts reduce unemployment is thoroughly bogus. The thing - the only thing - that affects unemployment is demand. Demand for goods and services to be provided by government or the private economy. Not tax rates.

I know that seems counter-intuitive; it seems logical that cutting taxes, "putting more money in people's pockets," would increase demand and thus jobs to meet that demand. But the facts say otherwise. Just consider this:

The so-called "Bush tax cuts," the ones that were supposed to expire at the end of last year (and were intended, we were assured, to stimulate the economy), went into effect on June 7, 2001. At that time, unemployment was 4.5%. Since then, we have 125 months of data (July 2001 to November 2011, inclusive).

Across that time, the unemployment rate was below 4.5% precisely four times. Specifically, it was 4.4%. Never lower. It was at 4.5% just four more times. All eight of those occasions came in one nine-month period from September 2006 through May 2007. Every other month in the time, a total of 117 out of 125 months, unemployment was above where it was at the beginning. That's nearly 94% of the time. Indeed, unemployment has been at or above 5.5% - that is, a full percentage point above the beginning, for 76 of those months. Even if you were to ignore the last 35 months of data (i.e., all of 2009, 2010, and so far in 2011), there are still 41 months out of 90 at or above 5.5%.

Some stuff I didn't have time for #3

New York Senator Charles Schumer and New York State Senator Michael Gianaris want the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland and the T&A to provide "passenger advocates" at airport screening sites in the wake of four elderly women complaining that they were "strip searched" at JFK Airport.

One said she had to raise her blouse and remove her undergarments so a T&A agent could check her back brace. Another was made to drop her pants to check a colostomy bag and a third was required to remove her pants so agents could be sure her diabetic insulin pump was not, I dunno, some kind of leg bomb. The fourth couldn't even get on the plane because her incontinence pad set off alarms.
On Sunday, the TSA denied on its blog that the women had been strip searched.

"TSA does not and has never conducted strip searches, and no strip searches occurred in any of these incidents," the official statement posted by TSA blogger Bob Burns said.
Which seems to depend largely on just how you define the term "strip search," which of course T&A did not do - although I have to wonder if anything short of being stripped naked right on the concourse would qualify in their minds. Maybe not even then, if it didn't involve a little finger-wave action.

Oh, but this is what really ticked me off, the little thing again:
"We truly regret these passengers feel they had a bad screening experience," the TSA said in its blog.
"Feel?" You "regret" that they "feel" they had "a bad screening experience?"

"We are the TSA. We regret that you think you had a bad screening experience. We regret that you imagine you had a bad screening experience. We're sorry that you fantasize that you had a bad screening experience. It disturbs us deep in our institutional soul, truly it does, that you are so out of touch with reality that you maintain this delusion that you had a bad screening experience. We hope you get the help you need. Have a nice day."

"Feel." Couldn't even say something like "we regret their screening experience was unpleasant," which at least would acknowledge the validity of their embarrassment without admitting any legal error. No, it had to be "feel," like "it's all in their heads, the poor dears."


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some stuff I didn't have time for #2

I've remarked on a number of occasions that I often find that it's the little thing that gets me, the little thing that others don't seem to be pointing to.

An example of that is something I talked about on this week's show, the fact that the day before they moved in to break up Occupy Boston, the police barred food from entering the site. No one seemed to take notice of that - but I immediately thought "By what authority?" What empowers police to simply say "you can't bring food there just because we said so?" And why is that assertion of unfounded authority seemingly regarded as unworthy of comment? What does that say about our media and our society?

Here's another example I wish I'd had time for:
The audience at Saturday night's Republican presidential debate gave their loud seal of approval to the idea of removing restrictions on child labor.

For over a week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been suggesting that poor children should be in the workforce. He has said that janitorial jobs are appropriate for children, and has lauded the idea of 5-year-olds working.

"If you take one half of the New York janitors, who are paid more than the teachers. An entry-level janitor gets paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher. You take half those janitors, you could give lots of poor kids a work experience in the cafeteria, in the school library, in the front office, in a lot of different things. I'll stand by the idea young people ought to learn how to work."

With that, the Republican audience erupted with applause.
So why is the idea of revoking "stupid" child labor laws popular among GOP primary voters? Because of the adjective which they clearly hear but which has been overlooked in most commentary: "poor." They're not applauding the idea of children working, they're not applauding the idea of five year-old children working, they're applauding the idea of five year-old poor children working.

What's more, Grinch specifically referred to New York. You think that when he talked about "young people" learning "how to work" that folks in the audience were conjuring up images of the children of some white dirt farmer in Appalachia or Mississippi? Or even some down-on-their-luck white family in Indianapolis? You know damn well they weren't.

Because, y'see, it's them. It's those people. Those other people. The "not us." You know who we mean. They have no work ethic. They don't know how to work like we do. They are all shiftless, lazy. And so their kids are the same; they, Grinch claims, "have no habit of working ... unless it's illegal."

One of the few who I noticed addressing the "poor" aspect of this directly was Jesse Jackson, who pointed out that "83 percent of poor children live in households with at least one adult who works" and that poor working parents often work more hours than wealthier counterparts. Then there is the fact that according to David Cay Johnston, the average number of hours worked yearly by folks in the poorest fifth of the population has gone up by 26% in the past thirty years.

Jackson called Grinch's statements "ugly and stupid." I'm more than a little surprised that he didn't also call them what they were: transparently racist. And the response of the audience, the same.

Footnote: I expect the fact that Lizard Grinch's plan would also involve firing a lot of "unionized janitors" was icing on the cake for that audience.

Some stuff I didn't have time for #1

As I noted earlier, in the interim between posts of shows I'm going to be posting some stuff about things I would have liked to have included but felt constrained by time. Here's one.

Joe "I just loves me some TV face time" Arpaio, the soi-disant "America's Toughest Sheriff," may be at overly long last facing the end of his ill-deserved plaudits.

The proverbial straw appears to have been the revelation that his office either botched or just didn't give flying damn about hundreds of alleged sex crimes, in more than two dozen of which the victims were children. Most of those complaints, revealingly, were in Latino neighborhoods.

There already has been an on-going criminal investigation of him and his department for felonious abuse of authority, centered on a bogus "anti-corruption" squad that by all appearances primarily existed to launch phony but intimidating investigations into anyone who got on Arpaio's wrong side.

Now there is what is described as a "scathing" report charging him and his office with a pattern of civil rights violations against Latinos and a “systematic disregard” for their Constitutional rights.

There's even an internet petition calling for his resignation.
John Doughtery, a Phoenix New Times investigative journalist, who launched the campaign against Arpaio, explained his reasoning in a press release.

“Joe Arpaio has already cost Maricopa County more than $100 million in misspent funds and $43 million in settlements for claims arising from abuse in the county jails,” said Dougherty. “Since 2006 Joe Arpaio has allowed child molestation cases to take a backseat to his publicity stunts, racial profiling based roundups, campaigning, and a reality TV show. This is a clear example of government waste and abuse of power that must not be tolerated.”
Arpaio is a sfaming scumbag racist who deserves - at best - to be treated as he treated many Latino prisoners: forced to wear pink underwear while housed in a tent, surrounded by guards speaking to him in a language he barely understands who punish him for violating orders he didn't comprehend. We are much better off without him.

Left Side of the Aisle #35

The topics:

Update on voter suppression and photo-ID laws,0,4981922.story

Update on National Defense Authorization Act:

Update on Stop Online Piracy Act

Update on Occupy Boston, plus other Occupy news

And Another Thing: Search for the Higgs boson

Bradley Manning

Friday, December 09, 2011


There are some changes here.

What they are ain't exactly clear.

Well, pretty clear, anyway.

I've been focusing more on my cable TV show, as the lack of posts here surely has made apparent. But I definitely don't want to drop this. So this is what I'm going to do or at least which I intend to do, my limits on Blogger space permitting:

Each week, I'm going to embed the YouTube video of my show. It should be up by late Thursday. (If I start to run out of available space on Blogger for video, I may have to switch to it being a link to the YouTube site.) With that video will be a list of subjects covered in the video plus a list of links to the info used in putting the show together. I won't guarantee an exact 1:1 correlation between the video and the link list, as last-minute changes may result in some links not being used or something being included for which a link does not appear in the list - although I will try to correct for the latter.

During the days between, I intend to post on things that I wanted to mention on the show but didn't/couldn't because of time constraints or some other cause. Just be aware that for that reason, those post may not be the latest, hottest thing - but I hope they will at least be relevant.

Left Side of the Aisle #34

The topics:

- Good news on gay rights

- Dealing with the USPS fiscal crisis,0,3691570.story

- Threat to freedom in the National Defense Authorization Act

- Occupy news

- Continue the payroll tax cut?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

You asked for it!

Really. You did. Or a few of you, anyway.

I've mentioned a couple of times that I've been doing a weekly half-hour of commentary on my local cable access channel and a couple of folks have asked about seeing it. Well, I have finally - after first getting around to it and then dealing with a few hassles - done it. The show is called Left Side of the Aisle and now it is going to be on YouTube every week.

So here's the first one up, show #33.

Be careful what you ask for.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Oops - forgot one

Some traditions are more important than others.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

And another thing....

One other thing for your T-Day pleasure, with thanks for Rumproast for the link.

Happy Turkey Day

Gather 'round the campfire, kiddies: As a T-day present, I'm going to tell you the true story of the "First Thanksgiving." Now, there have been a number of places claiming to have had the first Thanksgiving, but when we say the phrase, we're all but invariably thinking of an event that took place in what's now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621. So that's what I'm referring to.

I'll begin by citing a book with the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and procedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

It's popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation. In that volume, published in England in 1622, there is a letter from Edward Winslow to a "loving and old friend" in England. Winslow was a Mayflower passenger, one of the original settlers of what is now Plymouth. The letter is dated December 11, 1621 (old style).

This is quoted from that letter:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Got that? The thing you need to know, friends, is that that is the only contemporaneous account of the event known to exist. The only other even near-contemporaneous account of which I'm aware was penned by William Bradford, another "first comer," who wrote in the early 1630s, ten or twelve years after the event:
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned, but true reports.
That's it. That's all we know. Well, that and the fact that based on other references in those two sources, the 1621 feast took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest. Everything else is based on assumptions, interpretations, and guesswork - some of the latter informed, some (too much of it) not.

The first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." In the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one every year would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's intentions. What this was instead was a very traditional, very secular, very English, harvest feast. It was a tradition that if you had a good harvest, you would have a feast, to which you would invite everyone who had been helpful to you in your fields that year. As the natives had been helpful, they were invited.

True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. At that point, they knew they were going to survive, they could feel confident they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration.

As for the eternal question of what they ate, we don't know for certain as nothing is specified. But based on the sources we can make reasonable guesses.

They surely could have had fish, specifically cod and bass. Waterfowl - duck and goose - seems likely and yes, they probably did have turkey (Bradford says "they took many" so they were certainly available). They may have had deer; Bradford mentions "venison," which at the time meant "hunted meat" - which of course includes deer. (The deer the natives brought may have been part of the meal, but it's unclear if they were brought in time to be butchered and prepared for the feast or were they a later thank you for having been "entertained and feasted.") Lobster and other shellfish is another possibility; elsewhere in the letter Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which they could take "a hogshead" (a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid) "in a night." (Yeah, that's likely an exaggeration: Winslow was like that.)

More tentatively, there could have been a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit brought from England. Salads made from other stuff from the gardens is a fair bet, too.

To drink it was likely mostly water. In the same letter, Winslow says the barley grew "indifferent good" - i.e., it was a so-so crop - and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer. Not much barley, not much ale. So they might have had some ale, but again is was likely mostly water.

So that's pretty much it, kiddies. Not a lot to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Now for the reason I bring this whole story up: Every year around this time, unfailingly, I come across revisionist histories of the event. Years ago in grammar school I along with everyone else got fed tales that roused images of noble settlers and savage natives. Now, there are those who want to change that to a tale of savage settlers and noble natives - they want to simply flip who were the angels and who were the demons. We are regaled with tales of bloodthirsty settlers and how Massasoit brought 90 men to the feast because he was afraid that without a massive show of force he would be kidnapped or killed.

That's bunk, pure and simple.

In fact, relations between Plimoth (as it was often spelled at the time) and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement they made in the spring of 1621. (See the Footnote for details.)

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest single reason was disputes over land there were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives (whose culture had no concept of land ownership) and the English (to who land ownership was an everyday concept). The peace finally, irrevocably, broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the "First Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.
Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:
We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
(Just to be certain you know, "quick of apprehension" does not mean quick to be afraid. It means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something.)

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed. If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months earlier, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. From Mourt's Relation:
But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.
Simply flipping who is an angel and who is a demon is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither was a saint, neither was a devil.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology instead of information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of history, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides believed this yes, was going to work out. That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope - but it did exist. And considering what Europeans of various sorts have inflicted on the natives of North America over the ensuing couple of centuries - well, that is more than bad enough to make exaggerations and false claims unnecessary.

So I quite frankly resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda. And I decided to express that resentment by laying out what we do know.

So I hope you enjoy your Turkey day, I hope you have time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621 - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the only thing that can make that future a better one.

Oh, and as a PS: You want to help build hope, and I mean real hope, not the phony manipulative "hope" proffered by those who want you to think that the political advancement of this or that politico's campaign is the be-all and end-all of the future of justice? Then Occupy!

Footnote: According to Mourt's Relation, this was the 1621 peace agreement:
1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.

2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender, that we might punish him.

3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people are at work, he should cause them to be restored, and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the likewise to them.

4. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him; if any did war against us, he should aid us.

5. He should send to his neighbor confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.

6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them, as we should do our pieces when we came to them.
Expressed simply, it came down to "You won't attack us, we won't attack you. You get attacked, we'll help. We get attacked, you'll help. One of us does something wrong to one of you, they go to you for punishment. One of you does something wrong to one of us, they come to us for punishment. Deal? Deal."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Here are two more

And for those of you old enough to be nostalgic or who would like a little historical perspective, try looking up some stuff about the Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice. Just for the heck of it.

Here is a video that deserves to go viral

Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor. - Thomas Jefferson

Illegitimi non carborundum! Or, supposedly somewhat more correctly, Illegitimus non carborandum est! But what the heck, don't let the pedants do it, either. Just pick up the torch and carry it on.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who are "they?"

Okay, in the previous post I said the Occupy movement is something "they" don't know how to ignore so "they" want to crush it because "they" don’t know how to contain it. "So," I can hear some of you saying "Who are 'they?'"

It's a legitimate question so I'll answer it: "They" are the 1% who own 40% of the wealth in this county along with their minions, their bought-off enablers in government, media, and academia, their Walter Mitty followers filling their time with daydreams of how rich they will be someday, and the drooling mouth-breathers who populate most of the right-wing reaches of the Internet.

"They," in short, are the Empire and its foot soldiers, including the bought, the buffaloed, and the buffoons.

Various among them get their marching orders - rather, their thinking orders - from one of the three main Corps of the Army of the Empire, each of which has its own battle cry in the war against Occupy and all it stands for (like economic justice and fairness).

First is the Government Corps. Its battle cry is "Unsanitary Unsafe." Officials go on and on about how they "support free speech and the First Amendment" but they can’t allow the "unsanitary unsafe conditions" supposedly found at the Occupy encampments to "persist." One such example comes from Occupy Vancouver (Canada), where, tragically, a 20-year-old woman was found dead of a drug overdose. The mayor declared that proved the Occupy camp is "unsafe" and must be shut down. The question with the obvious answer is that if this same woman was found dead of the same cause in some alley or doorway, would the mayor have declared this proved the city is unsafe and must be shut down?

Several cities, including San Francisco, have now said that the camps have become a magnet for the homeless and people with drug problems, which is why, they say, the camps are "unsanitary unsafe" and must be emptied. Yet if that's true, another question with the obvious answer is that doesn't that mean by their own logic that they know their cities have problems of homelessness and drug dependency but are mostly concerned with keeping them invisible rather than doing anything about them?

Certainly, there have been problems with sanitation and/or drug use at some of the sites and in many of those cases the Occupiers have tried to provide what help they can to those who need it, even as they lack the resources to do so effectively - but instead of dealing with such problems or trying to work with protesters to solve them, officials are using them as excuses to shut down the protests completely.

That was the tack New York took:
After weeks of fruitlessly trying to talk to the protesters through intermediaries, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, the mayor’s top political aide, said he was thrilled when he received a call in mid-October from Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein of Central Synagogue in Midtown Manhattan [who] had been approached by members of the demonstration’s “comfort working group” seeking the city’s permission to set up tents and portable toilets.

Mr. Wolfson agreed to a meeting immediately, but it took two weeks to arrange one with the demonstrators....

On Oct. 31, Mr. Wolfson sat down in a carpeted conference room owned by Trinity Church across a table from five members of the protest, an imam and the rabbi looking on.

Mr. Wolfson hoped to work through the Bloomberg administration’s problems with what it saw as an increasingly lawless and unmanageable campground in the pulsing heart of the financial district. The protesters only wanted to discuss the need for toilets and tents. Mr. Wolfson told them their requests for permits had been denied, and the negotiations were over before they had begun.

“The city was interested in engaging in a dialogue,” Mr. Wolfson said. “It was made clear that that was not something that Occupy Wall Street was willing to do.”
So a meeting is arranged to talk about tents and port-a-potties, the folks from Occupy come wanting to talk about tents and port-a-potties, the city dismisses the idea out of hand, and uses that as an excuse to claim that Occupy Wall Street refused to "dialogue." What really happened is that the NYC Division of the Government Corps refused to give up its battle cry.

Next, there is the Ideology Corps, the battle cry for which is "occupy a job." It's enough to make you laugh, the number of wingnuts who have used exactly that phrase. (Try doing a search on the phrase.) There's even a Facebook page with the name.

Not only does this harken back to the '60s, when no demo or picket line was complete without some one driving by and shouting "get a job," it's absurdity on top of absurdity when you recall not only that many of them are employed, but that unemployment is one of things people are upset about.

Of course, this is not surprising as the Ideology Corps is often confused: It in one breath declares the movement is composed of anarchists who want the government to control every facet of our lives (figure that one out) and in the next declares it's not a "real" movement because it was started by unions which since then have "hijacked" the "original" OWS.

Finally, there is the Media Corps, the enforcers of orthodoxy, the empire’s own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It's battle cry now is "increasingly violent protests." Every fracas, no matter how minor, is played up. Every crowd scene that involves police shoving or hitting or tackling and striking protesters is described as protesters "clashing" with police. Every incident of vandalism or destruction is portrayed as being done by "occupy protesters." For one tragic and egregious example, the fact that those involved in the shooting in Oakland - one of over 100 murders in Oakland this year - had at some point been at Occupy Oakland was enough in some accounts to connect it to the movement.

This is an important point. On my show, I had previously mentioned the unexpectedly "respectful" media coverage I found early on, describing that as a sign of the movement's unexpected strength. I referred specifically to a protest in London where some trouble occurred which was described by the media as having been "infiltrated" by trouble-makers who tried to "hijack" a peaceful march. Now when it’s clear the protests are not just a cute fad, not just a 21st century version of phone booth stuffing or goldfish swallowing, not something that was going to fade quickly when the novelty and fun wore off, but a real, serious, movement reflecting real, serious, concerns about economic injustice and inequality, those distinctions between protesters and "hijackers" are no longer being made.

In fact, CBS News actually covered how so-called "black bloc" protesters can hijack movements by instigating violence and drawing the media’s attention away from less dramatic but more meaningful actions - and then they went ahead and did it anyway, letting black bloc protesters in Oakland commandeer media coverage. That is, CBS ignored its own reporting because it didn’t fit the script being written by the Inquisitors.

(Sidebar: My own opinion of black bloc protesters is that they are politically infantile egomaniacs wandering in revolutionary daydreaming who think that breaking the windows at a BoA branch is a significant political act. I also like the first two definitions here and would include the fifth if it was to be said in a sarcastic tone of voice.)

Unfortunately, as is too often true, The Inquisition appears to be having the desired effect, at least according to the linked survey from Public Policy Polling, which says while support for the movement's goals remains steady at 33-35%, opposition has risen to 45%. Considering that the same outfit says it has found overwhelming support on issues the movement by its very existence addresses (such as raising taxes on the rich), both the shift and the dichotomy itself can only be ascribed to how the movement is presented by the Media Corps. That is, the more The Inquisition focused and continues to focus on the cheaply dramatic as opposed to the substantive, the more its attention and description are based on the level of noise rather than the level of dedication, the more it issues its battle cry, the more likely that shift became.

But despite everything, protests go on and continue to spread. There is also some perspective to be had in the fact that during the dreaded '60s, anti-Vietnam and other protests were quite unpopular - even as their message penetrated and came to be adopted by clear majorities. The bottom line is that a lot of people may not like the Occupy camps but they like what we have to say. So carry it on - because the Army of the Empire is not invulnerable; it can be defeated.

Footnote: I have some doubts about the poll I cited, since PPP had OWS at the same level of support a month ago, at a time when other polls were showing majority support -besides which, it's done via automated phone interviews, which means landlines, something which itself could skew the results toward a less sympathetic pool. However, the immediate issue at hand is the shift in attitude rather than the actual numbers.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Threat #2

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. - Thomas Jefferson

Updated On my weekly local-access cable TV show I had taken to referring to the official push-back against the Occupy movement as "the Empire strikes back." It turns out that I was righter than I knew.

Over the past two weeks, more than a dozen cities have moved to evict Occupy protesters from city parks and other public spaces using disturbingly similar claims and tactics.

An early case was the violent, unprovoked attacked on student protesters at UCal Berkeley on November 9. I won't bother with the particulars as I'm sure you've seen the video. Bottom line is that the students were standing with arms linked, just standing in one place, taking neither any aggressive action nor any aggressive stance whatsoever, when police suddenly began viciously ramming their nightsticks into the students' midsections - something which, in a bitterly amusing aside, some outfits such as AP referred to as "nudging" or "prodding" the students.

(Interestingly, it develops that in use of clubs the body is divided into three zones, designated green, yellow, and red. The abdomen is a yellow zone and close to two red zones: the groin and the solar plexus. Even by what are supposed to be the standards of police practice, this was an illegitimate attack.)

Creepily, Margo Bennett, the captain of the UCal police, justified the attack, describing the students as taking a violent stand against police.
"The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence," [she] said. ... "[L]inking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest."
UCal Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau agreed, saying in a statement that what the students did - that is, standing still in one place - "is not non-violent civil disobedience." Which leaves us with the image of heavily-armed police beating non-threatening students as an act of self-defense. Frankly, I don't think either Margo or Bobby have the philosophical or emotional maturity to be lecturing others on what constitutes nonviolence.

But that, in a way, set the stage for the wave of forcible closures of Occupy sites that took place starting over last weekend.

On Saturday, it was Occupy Denver (20 arrested), Occupy Salt Lake City (19 arrested), and Occupy St. Louis (27 arrests).

On Sunday, it was Occupy Portland (more than 50 arrested) while Occupy Philadelphia was faced with beefed-up police patrols amid ominous noises from the city about "dramatically deteriorating" conditions at the camp.

Over the weekend, Occupy Burlington (Vermont) was also shut down.

On Monday, Occupy Oakland got the hammer (33 arrested).

And on Tuesday, of course, it was Occupy Wall Street that got targeted with a military-style, middle-of-the-night assault. Nearly 200 were arrested, bringing to total number of arrests in NYC to that point to clearly over 1000. Mayor Michael "I'm just an ordinary, everyday, subway-riding billionaire" Bloomberg gave a nice surreal touch to events, saying that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters. In other words, "we came in the middle of the night, threw you out, arrested you, and destroyed your stuff - all for your own good." I'm sure that made them feel much better.

What makes this wave of attacks on the right of peaceful assembly extra disturbing is a report from Rick Ellis at the Minneapolis Examiner, who said he was told by a DOJ official that the actions were coordinated with tactical and planning advice from federal police agencies, including the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland and the FBI.
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear.
Attempts have been made to downplay or even dismiss the story, with one person at claiming that "[c]iting the Examiner is the journalistic equivalent of saying, 'my friend Bob told me.'" However, Ellis's bio seems to indicate a pretty good background in journalism and the same original report noted that he had contacted the FBI and 14 local police agencies for comment, all of which declined to offer any. What's more, he followed up by talking to "several high-ranking DHS officials on background" and asking specific questions about support and advice DHS might have given to local police, questions the agency still has not answered.

It should also be noted that the main argument seems to be over if the feds "coordinated" the attacks on the encampments, with the DHS denying only that it is "actively" coordinating with local officials - which not only "leaves a lot of room for advice, both tactical and otherwise," as Ellis points out, but could in fact mean that the agency has done so in the past. Like, say, last week. Even more to the point, federal "coordination," active or otherwise, was not the issue. Even Ellis's original source said that
while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.
The coordination was in establishing a common set of strategies and tactics to undermine the encampments and then break them up with minimal press coverage. That sort of coordination also existed among the mayors and police forces of a number of cities with Occupy sites, with AP reporting that
officials from nearly 40 cities turned to each other on conference calls, sharing what worked and what hasn't as they grappled with the leaderless movement.
Beyond all that and perhaps more significantly, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a group with ties to various law enforcement agencies including the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland, has admitted to the group having coordinated of a series of conference-call strategy sessions with big-city police chiefs and mayors about dealing with Occupy protests, one of which took place on November 10 - shortly before the nationwide crackdown began.

But no no no, they cry, there was no "coordination." It was all just a big coincidence.

Really? Are we really supposed to imagine it was all a coincidence? It was just a coincidence that across the country, Occupy sites faced the exact same complaints from city officials and ultimately faced the same massive show of force directed against what officials and police had to know were non-resisting protesters? Really?

We're supposed to accept that the limitations on press coverage were all just coincidence? That is was just by chance that when attack on Zuccotti Park occurred the NYPD deliberately and aggressively kept press and legal observers, including a retired state Supreme Court judge and a member of NY City Council, blocks away from the scene? That when the city shut down the airspace over lower Manhattan that is was just gosh darn it bad luck that it blocked access to news helicopters? Really?

If so, instead of accepting it we should recall that Rick Ellis's DOJ source also asserted that
the FBI ... advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
And when the media are present at the evictions, they are often treated as criminals themselves: arrested and handcuffed despite having and displaying press credentials. The treatment of the media has been bad enough that Reporters Without Borders, which of necessity spends most of its time on places like Rwanda and China, denounced it:
"The attitude of law-enforcement officers supports the theory that not only the movement itself but also coverage of Occupy Wall Street is being obstructed."
So yes, when I used the phrase "the Empire strikes back" I was righter than I knew.

Coincidence? All by chance? Bullshit. What we are seeing is a coordinated, planned attack on the Occupy movement; a coordinated, planned attack on the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. Trying to turn these evictions, all based on the same complaints, using the same tactics marked by the same massive police force, all in the same short period of time, into something just coincidental on the grounds that no one ever said "synchronize your watches" is a foul and transparent lie. The coordination lay in the overall agreement that "we want to break this movement, we want to do it now before it gets too strong, and this is how we can best do it."

The thing of it is, the Empire has learned how to ignore demonstrations. It's learned how to ignore single-day events, no matter how massive. (Just consider how literally millions of people around the world turned out in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, to no avail.) They've learned how to hunker down and let the storm pass.

The problem for them was that Occupy Wall Street, in fact the whole Occupy movement, is something they couldn't ignore and can't ignore. Something they don't know how to ignore. Because it was, it is, in your face, 24/7. That's why they want to crush it - because they don’t know how to contain it in ways that they know how to control and ignore.

So it can't be denied that the movement has suffered setback - but perhaps not in that this was not really unexpected; the Occupiers knew this sort of attack would happen eventually. But the movement will not be crushed so easily, despite the wishful dreams of the empire. Some encampments were re-occupied and thousands across the country and tens of thousands in New York turned out on Thursday for the planned day of actions.

Meanwhile, it's not all bad news on occupy front: Encampments continue in Boston, Washington DC, Albany, San Francisco, and a number of other places even as officials try to raise the pressure on some of those sites. Still, as officials - some of who may be honestly sympathetic - feel increasing pressure to act on the desires of their local power elites, more Occupy sites are going to be abandoned or destroyed. And the thing is, again, that the movement will not be able to sustain itself for the long term on the basis of one-off actions: The Empire has become too adept at controlling and directing them into "acceptable" - that is, non-threatening to the Empire - channels.

The silver lining is that occupations actually don't have to be 24/7: The issue is not and never was the physical occupation of a particular space. The issue is the visibility. The issue is being visible, persistently, insistently, in-your-face visible. That is what is important.

As one minor example, Occupy New Brunswick (New Jersey) felt it wouldn't be able to maintain a constant physical presence. So instead it "occupies" the city three hours a day. Every day. Each day from 4-7 pm there are marches or rallies or teach-ins or some kind of action. And at the end of that time, Occupiers gather on the steps of the local branch of the Bank of America to plan future actions.

The Occupy movement has become important not only to the cause of economic justice but by virtue of the attempts to undermine and repress it, it has become a canary in the coal mine for the rights of speech and assembly. If it is squeezed out of existence, we will know that we are in deep, deep trouble.

Go Occupy something!

Footnote: Mayor Mikey B., ever ready to add his surreal touch, dismissed the protests on Thursday because, he said, a lot of the protesters were not Occupy Wall Street activists. Rather, they were union members, so
"It was just an opportunity for a bunch of unions to complain or to protest or whatever they want to do."
Yup - Occupy folks have nothing in common with union workers, who just want to "complain or whatever," says the man with his finger on the pulse of the public.

Updated with the paragraph about the Police Executive Research Forum's role.

Threat #1.5

It's very late now, I'm very tired. Threat #2, which has to do with the threat to rights of speech and assembly represented in the assaults on the Occupy movement, will have to wait until later today.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Threat #1

In many more or less politically-free societies, including ours, that institutionalized counterforce to the power of elites I mentioned in the previous post is voting: the ability to to choose those who act on your behalf, people who by virtue of that election have, at least in theory, the power to balance and control that of the elites and so preserve the interests and freedoms of the broader populace.

That theory, quite obviously, has failed many times in actual practice as we discover that those we have chosen to represent us have more in common with the elites they are supposed to counter than with those who elected them. But the fact remains that the power of the vote does exist and can be - and at times surely has been - of use, as one source, one means, of progress.

It is that power - the power of the vote to represent, albeit it rather imperfectly, the will of people and the demands of justice and progress - that is under threat.

As, again, I said in the previous post, that threat is organized, it is coordinated, it is conscious, undertaken with knowing intent. It lies in the wave of new restrictive so-called voter ID laws, laws that are intended to make it harder for people to register to vote, harder for them to vote early, harder for them to vote absentee, and harder for them to vote when actually at polls, all by demanding the presentation of certain forms of government-approved ID, often enough photo ID.

How can know this is a campaign? First off, some 27 states now require some form of ID at the polls. Most of those laws were passed within the last year or two. Fourteen of those states require specific forms of government-issued photo ID; half of those did so just this year. At least a dozen more states considered restrictive ID laws this year.

I find it hard to chalk that up to coincidence, particularly when many if not most such laws are based on model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a consortium of large corporations and GOPper state legislators founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other reactionaries. It's purpose is to create model legislation to advance the corporate-rightwing agenda that those GOPper state legislators then can bring back home.

Why is this a threat? Beyond what I hope would be the obvious objections to any attempts to limit or frustrate access to the franchise for anything less than the clearest, most compelling reasons, the notable fact is that these laws disproportionately affect certain segments of the population, such as the elderly, the poor, disabled people, people of color, and students - groups that, significantly, on the whole are more likely to vote for liberal as opposed to conservative candidates.

In a recent report (the Executive Summary is here), the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law says that these new laws could block 5 million otherwise-eligible American voters from voting. An estimated 11% of eligible voters nationwide - over 21 million adults - do not have the increasingly demanded government-issued photo ID and the percentage is even higher for, again, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, people of color, and students.

Many of those lacking the newly-required IDs would find it hard to get them. First, the underlying documentation - the ID you need to get the ID, if you will - can sometimes be hard to come by and getting it can be expensive: A report in the Washington Post said the paperwork could cost as much as $200. Contrast that with the fact that when the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, it was $1.50 - the equivalent of a bit under $9.00 today.

In other words, this is a deliberate campaign to hinder liberal-leaning voters from being able to register to vote and from being able cast a ballot if they are able to register. It is a conscious plan to deliberately, permanently, tilt the electoral playing field in favor of right-wing candidates.

And how do I know that, how can I be so sure that this is not just a happy but unintended result for the reactionaries? One way is that the claim on which this whole effort is founded, the whole basis, is that it is necessary to protect the "integrity of the vote" against an "epidemic" of "voter fraud."

That claim is thoroughly, completely, absolutely, any other definitive term you care to use and the more definitive the better, bogus! It is a lie. A bold-faced, poisonous lie. The truth is that voter fraud is almost non-existent in this country and the kind of fraud that voter ID laws would address is even rarer.

Consider this: Starting in 2002, the Justice Department required every US Attorney to designate a district election officer, someone whose job it would be to investigate and prosecute electoral fraud.
These officers' attendance was required at annual training seminars, where they were taught how to investigate, prosecute and convict fraudulent voters.
Over the next five years, during which time a scandal broke out over the Shrub administration's pressuring of those US Attorney to initiate prosecutions of electoral fraud, there were only 86 convictions on related charges. That is over the entire country over a period of five years. That is 0.00007 percent - that's 7/100,000 of 1% - of the 122 million people who voted in 2004 presidential elections alone. (Note there were two other federal elections in that period, 2002 and 2006, plus numerous state and local elections.)

Consider this as well: This year, Kansas passed one of most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. The GOPper Secretary of State defended it on the grounds that over a span of 13 years (1997 - 2010), there were 221 instances of alleged voter fraud reported in the state. Now, 221 allegations in 13 years hardly constitutes a crime wave - but beyond that, those were allegations, not actual cases. In fact, only 30 individuals were prosecuted in that time and only seven of those were convicted. Remember, this is over a span of 13 years - which would make what we might call a "yearly fraud index" of something around 0.000025 percent, that is, 25 millionths of one percent. For this we will disenfranchise thousands or more in Kansas alone?

In fact, the Brennan Center has found that the accumulated rate of voter fraud in states with documented cases of such fraud is minuscule: 3/10,000 of 1% in Missouri; 2/10,000 of 1% in New Jersey; 9/1,000,000 of 1% New York, numbers that are vanishingly small.

Then consider this: An MIT study done last year found that problems with voter registration records kept up to 3 million registered and fully-qualified voters from voting. Which means that even if the cases of electoral fraud were 10,000 times greater than the number found by the US Attorneys who were under active pressure to find it, it would still mean that close to four times as many properly-registered, qualified voters were kept from voting as there were cases of fraud.

And remember those seven convictions in Kansas? One was for electioneering (campaigning too close to a polling place) and six were for double voting. Photo ID laws would not have prevented any of those. The truth is, virtually all cases of actual, proven, voter fraud involve electioneering or similar illegalities, not the sort of misrepresentation that a photo ID would address.

The arguments for voter ID laws are myths, they are fakery, they are bullshit, they are a "solution" in search of a problem. And when you have a "solution" in search of a problem, you should always try to determine what is the real "problem" being addressed. Sometimes that's hard to see, but in this case, it's easy: The "problem" is that too many of the "wrong sorts" of people are able to vote - too many, that is, who are not reliably right wing.

There is another way you can know this is a campaign: The arguments are all the same. All across the country, from all these supposedly independent voices, you get the same two arguments, generally in essentially the same words. (Remember ALEC?)

The first argument, as noted above, is to screech unrelentingly about "voter fraud" - and do it, incidentally without ever noting or admitting that the bills you are proposing (especially true with photo ID laws) will not actually touch the kinds of fraud you are screeching about.

The second argument runs along the lines of "an ID is required to board a plane or cash a check or check into a hotel - why not to vote?"

It sounds impressive at first hearing, but give it a moment's thought (which they are counting on you not taking the time to do) and it collapses. For one this, it is a true, classic, example of apples and oranges: two things that might very superficially seem the same but are actually different, as a number of editorial writers have pointed out. (This is one example.)

Cashing a check or getting on a plane are personal economic decisions - they are not basic rights enshrined in a number of state constitutions. Checking into a hotel is completely unrelated to your role as a citizen, completely unrelated to your role in the political process, completely unrelated to your right to vote. They are not cornerstones of representative democracy. And to suggest the ones can be equated with the other is an insult to the electoral process.

And, in fact, it might well be noted that many of the people most affected by these anti-voting laws are the very people less likely to be flying on a plane on any sort of regular basis, to be traveling around checking into hotels, or even in a number of cases to have a checking account.

Even right-wingers sometimes have had to recognize that simple fact. In 2008, Indiana's new photo ID law was under what proved ultimately to be an unsuccessful court challenge. At the appellate level, at the Seventh circuit Court of Appeals, Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, wrote majority opinion upholding the law. He said in part:
No doubt most people who don't have photo ID are low on the economic ladder and thus, if they do vote, are more likely to vote for Democratic than Republican candidates.
That is, Posner (who also wrote that the "benefits of voting to the individual voter are elusive") acknowledged the discriminatory nature of the law, acknowledged the disparate impact on certain segments of the population, acknowledged the resulting bias in favor of one major political party over the other - and, more importantly, of one political ideology the another - and then blithely ruled none of that was a problem.

(Despite that acknowledgment on the appellate record, the Supreme Court upheld the law despite admitting in its lead opinion that there was "no evidence" of the type of fraud the law was supposedly designed to counter.)

The comparisons to cashing checks and the like are bogus. The right wing knows they are bogus. The right wing knows these laws disproportionately affect the poor, people with disabilities, the elderly, students, people of color, and so on. The right wing knows these laws disproportionately affect liberal voters as compared to conservative voters - and they just don’t care.

Or, more correctly, they do care because that is the purpose. That is the intent. That is the goal: to institute a permanent, structural bias in our electoral system, a structural bias in favor of conservative, right-wing voters and conservative right-wing government, a structural bias in favor of the haves over the have-nots, in favor of the needless over the needy, a structural bias in favor of greed and selfishness and the power of the elites and against any notion of progress or reform.

Make no mistake: That is what this is about. Power. It's all about power. About the power of the few over the many.

And if you doubt that, if you think your vote is safe because if you have all the government-issued photo IDs anyone could want, what in all that’s decent makes you think they will stop at this? Power by its nature wants more power; power is never satisfied.

Still unconvinced? Then think about this: Remember that just a few years ago, and you will remember this as soon as I mention it, and you’ll probably realize you haven’t thought about it for a while, but yes you'll remember how just a few years ago the big concern about voting was how few people were voting, about low turnouts, about how the level of participation in elections in this country was embarrassing, how even in presidential elections the turnout might only be 60% - and considering that only half of eligible voters were registered, in a close election that might well mean a president was elected with the support of less than 15% of the eligible voting population.

All the talk was about how we could get more people to the polls, how we could get more people registered, more people involved, how we could remove roadblocks between potential voters and the voting booth.

Now, just a rather few years of right-wing screeching and lying and media collaboration later, all the talk is about how many roadblocks we can put on that path, how hard we can make it to register and to vote. Or again more correctly, how hard we can make if for some people to vote.

And it's come to the point where the reactionaries are barely even trying to hide what they're doing. This year, Wisconsin passed a strict voter ID law. But supporters claimed this created no problem because the state would provide "free" state IDs to those without them. Besides the fact that you still need the documents to get the document, where did you have to get to to obtain one of these "free" IDs? State DMV offices. Right after the law was passed, Governor Walkalloveryou closed a bunch of DMV offices in largely Democratic districts while expanding the hours in ones in GOPper districts.

So if you think your vote is safe - well, if you reliably vote for the oligarchs it probably is. Otherwise, otherwise.

Now those skies are threatening

Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation - James Madison

Let's start with a sort of technical definition: The US is not a democracy. It's a republic.

In a democracy, the people rule directly. In a republic, the people choose some to represent a greater number and those so chosen rule. Where those representatives are chosen by popular election, those republics are sometimes called representative democracies. To be even more technical, because it also has some facets of a direct democracy (i.e., initiative, referendum, recall), the US could be properly described as a democratic republic.

All that is largely irrelevant except to say that despite the turn of the past couple of decades and the associated assault on privacy which I have decried more than once here (Here are some recent examples that touch on the topic.) , the US remains a relatively politically free society.

But we are now facing two major threats to our continued survival as such. These threats are organized, coordinated, conscious; they are purposeful and focused. These are not foreign threats, they do not involve terrorism. They are purely domestic.

The thing is, just about every society has some form, some degree, of an economic and/or social elite - some portion of its population who have more power, more influence, than others, whose power and influence are out of proportion to their actual numbers. In the case of the US, our elites are big business and the rich, particularly (and increasingly) the super-rich, those now popularly identified as the 1%, those who, according to Joseph Stieglitz, control 40% of the nation's wealth.

That of necessity means that just about every society that wants to be and remain a politically free society must have countervailing force, an institutionalized counterforce, to the natural self-aggrandizement of its elites, that is, the tendency of power to become increasingly concentrated, turning what in structure appears to be (in our case) a representative democracy into what is actually an oligarchy, a government by and for the few, an oppressive government in which those countervailing forces either no longer exist or no longer function, existing only as a sort of morality play, a pretense of representation.

The ultimate force, of course, is the people as a whole: the people’s ability to resist and where necessary revolt, a notion enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
It is in order to avoid getting to that point, to the necessity of outright rebellion, that societies have established those formalized structure to counter the power of the elites, to provide, if you will, power to the people. Two of those formalized structures in our own society are now under attack. are now under threat of being rendered impotent, a mere pretense of power. It is those threats that are the subjects of the following two posts. Read on.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans' Day Post #3

In May 2002, someone on a mailing list I was on posted a message asking people to take a moment of silence on Memorial Day, saying "Let us ensure that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom are not forgotten."

In response, I wrote:
And in that silent moment remember, too, the many nonviolent warriors who struggled, searched, sacrificed, for justice and freedom, who remain without songs or memorials to celebrate their lives or their passing, but who at some moment stood weaponless against the machinery of oppression and showed in their simple “No more” a force that can move history.
It is indicative of how we as a culture regard things that on the whole, we celebrate our soldiers while they are alive and our nonviolent warriors only when they are safely dead. Then again, I'm not so sure we're so different from others in that way.

Veterans' Day Post #2

The first paragraph below was added to this post in 2009. The rest of the post is the original text as it was first posted in June 2008.

November 11 has become so well-known as Veterans' Day that not many people remember that it was originally called Armistice Day. It was intended to commemorate those who died in World War I by an observation of the end of the war, which ended, at least on the Western front, on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." But after World War II, the US changed its day to Veterans' Day and over time it's become not a commemoration of those who have died in war but a celebration of anyone who's ever been in the military. It has slid from a commemoration of the dead and of peace to a promotion of militarism, to the "nobility of sacrifice" of "true" - and apparently the only true, as they are given due unavailable to the rest of us - "patriots."

I've tried various ways to start this, wanting to make sure that I say what I mean and only what I mean. But I've come to realize that there is no way that will not be misunderstood, either accidentally or deliberately, by some. So I gave up trying to do anything other than say it outright.

I am deeply disturbed by the increasing tendency among "progressives" to adulate all things military, and particularly disturbed by the practice of referring to soldiers routinely as "our heroes" or some similar formulation. Let me be clear here: Soldiers are not "heroes." A "hero" is by definition someone who is in some way extraordinary, remarkable, worthy of emulation. It is at best a risky business to define someone as "extraordinary" simply by virtue of wearing a uniform and in fact it is potentially dangerous as it makes it too easy to slip into the militaristic attitude that what soldiers do goes beyond "necessary evil" or just necessary, beyond even honorable, to admirable, to something to celebrate, an attitude that makes it all to easy to promote additional enlistments, additional weapons, and even additional wars.

The root of this, I'm convinced, is that after years of the constant drumbeat from the right that those on the left are "soft" on "national security," that we aren't "tough enough," not ready enough to "do what's necessary" to "protect our way of life," we increasingly have decided to, if you will, fight on those terms; that is, we have absorbed the idea that we have to prove ourselves on "security" issues by proving that we're "tough."

Our means of doing this, a means that first appeared during the Gulf War, was to declare loudly that "We support the troops!" That was our way into the national security debate, a way to (supposedly) oppose the war while, we declared, supporting the men and women sent to fight it. We would prove that we were as committed to the military and national security as the right, just, well, in a sorta different way.

One less important but still revealing example came on Monday during Jon Stewart's interview with Senator Jim Webb. Most of that interview was a discussion about Webb's bill to expand veteran educational benefits, under which, in return for three years in the military, soldiers would receive four years' tuition at their best state college plus the cost of books, plus a monthly stipend. At one point, when Webb said that the least we can do for our soldiers is give them the chance for "a first-class future," the audience burst into loud applause.

And I thought then, as I have before when this bill was being discussed, would there be any chance, any chance at all, of that same sort of reaction if the same proposal was made on behalf of any other group? What if someone proposed paying for four years of college for, say, firefighters? Or cops? How about volunteers in VISTA (now AmeriCorps VISTA)? Or the Peace Corps? The latter two provide some educational benefits for those who put in their time, but nothing vaguely approaching four fully-paid years of college.

What about publicly-funded continuing education for doctors and nurses? Such continuing education is not only a good idea for health care professionals, it's often a requirement for maintaining their licenses to practice. And certainly having doctors and nurses who are up to date on the best knowledge and practice is beneficial to the public. So why not have public financing of that continuing education?

When it comes down to it, why not have public education, tuition-free, taxpayer-supported public education, right up through four years of college for anyone who can show themselves capable of meeting the educational standards for a college degree? Can you seriously imagine a studio audience bursting into spontaneous, enthusiastic applause for someone seriously proposing such an idea?

Why only soldiers? What does it say about us that the idea of paying soldiers' way through college gets ovations while the idea of anyone else getting the same benefit gets at best quizzical stares if not overt sneering rejections? It says that we regard the work of soldiering as inherently more important, inherently more deserving of praise and reward, than the work of others - and the lives of soldiers as inherently more valuable than the lives of the rest of us. That is the attitude we are buying into.

But if it was only things like veterans' benefits, it might not seem particularly important. I say that despite the fact that the amount of money involved in such benefits is not trivial and Webb's argument that his bill just provides the equivalent of educational benefits given to veterans of World War II is quite misleading: For one thing, many of those soldiers had been drafted "for the duration," so it wasn't automatically a matter of three years and out. For another, the avowed purpose of those World War II benefits was to make up for what those soldiers had lost in regard to their civilian careers as compared to those who had not been in the military. That is, they were to insure that soldiers did not wind up being penalized for having been soldiers. They were not intended to give soldiers a leg up over others (or "a first class future") and they most definitely were not presented as being a reward for military service. But that's what they have become over the years and that's how Webb's bill treats them.

I also want to make abundantly clear in case it's not or is willfully ignored that the benefits being questioned here do not include such as medical care, rehabilitation, and counseling for vets wounded either physically or psychologically. But, yes, veterans benefits are too generous to the extent that they become a reward for being in the military. So I am against Webb's bill and I don't give a damn whether it will affect retention rates or not. I am opposed to it so long as soldiers get singled out for an opportunity for higher education that is becoming increasingly financially impossible for many people.

Even so, again, if that's all there was to it, it might not seem like a great big huge deal. But that's not all there is to it, not when we are trying to lay claim to national security chops by out troop-supporting the right, insisting that we're the ones who really support the troops, we're the ones who really support their brave courageous efforts and we prove it by undaunted adulation, blandly treating, with no hint of hesitation, the phrase "have a lot of courage" and the word "soldier" as synonymous.

So we were the ones who loudly decried the lack of body armor and the lack of reinforced plating on military vehicles, accusing the right of "not supporting the troops" as much as we do because of that failure. But as Mark Twain pointed out in "The War Prayer,"
[i]f you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
In war, in combat, as long as the soldiers are there, there is an unavoidable trade-off: The more you wish for them to remain safe, the more you are wishing for them to kill others. That is what safety in combat means. The more you wish for them to return safely, the more you are wishing for Iraqis not to. The more you wish life for them, the more you are wishing death for others. The more you wish that American mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, don't suffer the loss of a family member, the more you are wishing that Iraqi mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, do.

So when we express "support for the troops" by demanding we "give them the equipment to do the job" and "then come home safely" rather than simply and solely saying "get them the hell out," we are offering a tacit - and sometimes not so tacit - endorsement of the killing. For the sake of the blessing of safety and life for our soldiers, we are calling down the curse of risk and death on Iraqis. When we declare support in terms of equipment rather than withdrawal, that is what we are endorsing. In war, there is no other way.

Undoubtedly, there are those who are prepared to declare American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives. I am not among them.

The emotional embrace of "our heroes" as some sort of disembodied ideal has policy implications beyond the immediate ones. Within that embrace, and the effects can already be seen in various interviews and commentaries, it becomes easy to absorb, absorb so deeply that one is unaware of it, the idea that a veteran's take on the Iraq war - and by extension, all things military - is inherently more valuable than that of others not by virtue of knowledge or logic or informed comment but simply by virtue of being a veteran. We regarded it (correctly) as a scandal when media outlets used retired generals who were actually Pentagon-trained PR flacks as "experts" on military and foreign policy questions in the runup to the Iraq War - but an overlooked point is that the reason retired generals were so prominent in that number was that their status as military people gave them added credibility in the eyes of many viewers and listeners. In our pursuit of "support the troops," we have fallen prey to that same attitude, one that regards the statements of Iraq War veterans as more valuable, more telling, than those of non-veterans. It even has become fairly common to hear dismissive references to those who "never saw combat." At first, that was a legitimate argument, directed as it was against chickenhawks, those rightwingers who were eager for fights, ready for wars, provided they did not have to take part in them. But increasingly it has been used as an all-purpose putdown, even against those on the left who have criticized soldiers - as, I imagine, it would be directed against me (a non-veteran and a Vietnam-era draft resister) were my voice loud enough to attract the attention.

But the real danger is that as the attitude persists, it distorts our way of thinking, drops a magnet on our moral compass. In a bizarre mirror image of the fanatical right, we refuse to blame soldiers who commit atrocities, or, more exactly, we refuse to acknowledge them. We refuse to blame those who shoot civilians even when the attacks are clearly acts of vengeance; we downplay the war crimes and the routine cruelties; we make excuses for those who shoot the wounded or torture prisoners; even when official Pentagon reports casually mention how a US soldier summarily executed a wounded fighter and shot another wounded, unresisting fighter twice in the back, we pay little notice - and if we do, it's usually to brush off complaints with that all-purpose "you've never been in combat" defense. "These things happen in war," we say.

Yes, they do. And "our heroes" are doing them. Which is, even as the deniers seem incapable of recognizing it, the point. Just as the right tries to blame the individuals and exonerate the hierarchy, we want to blame the hierarchy and exonerate the individuals, to remove all their responsibility for their own actions. That is an idea we were supposed to have rejected nearly 60 years ago; apparently, we haven't.

Soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things - but the act of putting on a uniform and agreeing to put your conscience in a lockbox for the next so many years does not make your life more important than others, it does not make your opinions and insights more worthy of respect than others, it does not exempt you from moral judgment. It does not make you a hero.

And we should not fall prey to hero-worship.
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