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.

Veterans' Day Post #1

So Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann have gone after nutbag GOPper Jim DeMint because he was the only Senate vote against a new proposed tax credit for hiring veterans. Rachel wouldn't even have it when Chris Hayes said DeMint at least should be given credit for ideological consistency; to her, the very idea of voting against something to benefit veterans - who Maddow spent quite some time literally gushing over at the opening of the segment, going on about their "amazing" skills and "amazing" deeds - anyway, the very idea of voting against something to benefit veterans was too much for her to take.

Well, sit down for this: I'm on DeMint's side on this one - that is, on the same side of the vote and on that side to the extent that I do not believe veterans should be singled out and even more to the extent that I reject the view championed by both Maddow and Olbermann that veterans, for no other reason than that they are veterans, deserve to have jobs more than those who are not. And yes, dammit, that is exactly what they were arguing, although I doubt either would be honest enough to say it that directly.

Now, it is quite true that veterans have a higher unemployment rate than the labor force as a whole, although the figure is 9.8% rather than the 12% Maddow claimed. However, the unemployment rate among teens is 25%. In seven states and in DC it is above 30%. Should there be a special new tax credit for hiring teenagers? The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is nearly 17%. Should there be a special new tax credit for hiring folks with disabilities?

But if the unemployment rate, then, is not itself the real driving force here, what is? It must be said again: It's that they are veterans and therefore are more deserving of having a job than the rest of us.

And that simply is not true; in fact, I find it ethically offensive. Vets, like everyone else, deserve to get the help they require - but they should not be singled out for a benefit unavailable to everyone else. I will add that anyone who responds by saying if I object to "singling out" vets, I must also oppose, say, affirmative action programs or set-asides, I will answer that if you can show me how military veterans have faced a centuries-long pattern of active discrimination, you will have a point. Which you can't, so you don't.

I do want to emphasize here that the issue at hand, the one Maddow and Olbermann both addressed, was this proposed tax credit, which was just one part of the overall bill. Many, perhaps most (I haven't read the whole thing) parts of that bill are worthy proposals, including one to improve transitional assistance and training for people re-entering civilian life. They are not at issue here.

(By the way, this does go back to Maddow's effusive praise of vets' "skills." Part of the problem vets face is that many military skills have no, or very limited, civilian applications. So after, say, two years in the military, a vet comes back to civilian life in essence two years behind in education and/or experience non-vets of the same age - which would seem to explain a fair amount of the higher unemployment. In fact, Sec.222.(a)(1) of the bill calls for a study "to identify any equivalences" between skills obtained in the military and "the qualifications required for various positions of civilian employment." Apparently, at least some are aware of precisely that problem.)

One good thing about this is that it reminded me - I almost forgot - to put up the following two posts, which I now put up every Veterans' Day. The first is, I think, especially apropos since the title of the bill in question is the Pledge to Hire Heroes Act, a title which, for reasons which the following post I hope will make clear, I find at least disturbing if not offensive. It was first posted under the title "Heroics" in June 2008 and has been re-posted every Veterans' Day since. The second was originally for Memorial Day but I think it fits here as well. It, too, has been re-posted on previous Veterans' Days.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Elect this!

Updated I haven't been around much lately, I know, but I had to drop by to celebrate some of the good news that came out of Tuesday's elections. I particularly wanted to do it because I'm a lot more used to being on the losing end of things so this really did cheer me up some.

First, though, a bit of good news on a different front:

You likely have heard about the Keystone XL project, the plan to build a pipeline across the plains states in order to transport tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to a refinery in Texas. You also likely know that tar sands are about the dirtiest, most environmentally-destructive ways of getting oil that there is and that the project is opposed both by environmentalists and by people living in the region to be affected.

Well, three things have happened recently on that front:

First, TransCanada, the company behind the project has been forced to admit that its projections of the number of jobs that would be created were seriously inflated and even misleading: It develops that the "jobs" were measured in "person-years" - so that if, for example, one of the construction jobs lasted two years, the company counted it as two jobs. The predicted jobs have shrunk to less than half the original number. What's more, according to an independent study, the project may destroy as many jobs as it creates.

Second, it turns out that a consulting company involved in the environmental review of the project listed TransCanada as a "major client" - and a lobbyist for TransCanada worked on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. The questions raised are serious enough the that the State Dept to say it will have to re-examine the procedures it followed in handling consultations because of the possibility of wrongdoing.

And third, on this past Sunday some 12,000 people formed a human chain around the White House, calling on Barack Obama to refuse to approve the project, backed up by another thousand or more people at support actions around the country. The thing to remember in this regard is that this is totally an executive branch decision; Congress is not involved. So if PHC* capitulates to the oil industry, he gets the blame; if he stands up to it and blocks the pipeline, he gets the praise.

The target date for a decision is December 31 but it may not be met.

Okay, on to the elections.

The first piece of good news was, I'm tempted to say of course, the rejection of Proposition 2 in Ohio. Had it passed, it would have confirmed the notorious SB5, the bill stripping collective bargaining rights from public employees that former FauxNews host and all around right-wing flake Gov. John Kasich pushed through the conservative-dominated legislature in the spring. With the failure of Prop2, the union-busting bill goes poof.

While the result itself was not a surprise, the margin of victory - a whopping 22 percentage points - exceeded expectations and was a wonderful thing to see.

On the other hand, the second good news was a surprise. A ballot measure in Mississippi proposed to amend the state constitution to declare that "personhood" began at the moment of conception. So it's not even a fetus that's being called a "person," not even an embryo, but a zygote, a single fertilized egg cell.

This insane notion would not only ban all abortions for any reason (which was of course the point), it would also ban some methods of birth control, make in vitrio fertilizations for practical purposes impossible, halt all stem cell research in the state, and even would have made having miscarriage into manslaughter - because the woman would have, after all, caused the death of a "person," with the only question being if it was voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Because several other states and Congress have similar proposals percolating, the vote was watched rather attentively, especially since polls indicated it was too close to call.

But when the votes were counted, I am delighted to say, opponents of the measure won going away: Nearly 60% of the electorate said that even if they are opposed to abortion rights, this just goes way too far.

The third good news comes from Arizona. You may not remember the name Russell Pearce, but you should: As president of the state senate of Arizona, he was the author of that state's notorious anti-immigrant "papers please" law. Unexpectedly, he found himself facing a recall election. Even more unexpectedly, he lost. He has been booted from office, kicked out on his bigoted can, and kicked out by a man who compared that law to something from Alabama in the days of Jim Crow.

Finally, knowing no good news can go unsullied, there was a sort of split decision on the issue of voter suppression, the various moves by the right wing to make it harder for people, especially the poor, the elderly, and people of color, to vote.

On the down side, Mississippians approved an amendment that would require voters to display a state-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Such IDs are something that many residents do not have and a good number of those would find it a financial burden to obtain the documentation needed to get the ID. Which is, you surely realize, the whole point.

On the up side, the race for secretary of state in Kentucky turned to a fair extent on the proposal by one of the two candidates to require a photo ID to vote. He lost by over 20 points. And in Maine, voters overturned a new law that had put an end to the state's decades-old practice of same-day registration, i.e., being able to register and then vote on election day - and did it by a healthy margin despite the best efforts of Maine GOPpers to employ homophobia as a campaign tactic.

So not a perfect day - what day ever is - but still, enough good news to brighten a few mornings. And notice I didn't have to bring up a single "The Democrat won! The Democrat won!" example in order to do it.

Updated with the news that the State Department has announced that it is going to be considering alternative routes for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project that avoid a very environmentally-sensitive area in Nebraska. The result of this new review - which is expected to take over a year - is that the decision has been pushed back to beyond the 2012 elections.

A representative of the State Dept. said the White House has nothing to do with the decision, which is not only quite hard to swallow, it's also hard to reconcile with the fact that Obama was quoted as saying the decision came because "a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, [so] we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed" - which seems an odd thing for him to say if he really had no part in the decision.

Anyway, the question then becomes what happens in 2013 (assuming O. gets reelected, which considering the quality of the field the GOPpers are dealing out, seems a reasonably safe prediction). At that point, Obama could say "Hey, I can't run again - I don't need you anymore," but the question is to who would he say it: his high-roller donors in the oil business or the pro-environment part of his political base. History says it would be the latter, since he's been ignoring and even dissing his supposed base for some time now.

However, the other thing history says is that the longer a project like this is dragged out, the less likely it is to come to fruition, that opposition tends to build over time and if the plan is not pushed through quickly before that opposition can form and start to grow, the plan is in jeopardy as both the political cost to government officials and the financial cost to the developers continues to grow.

So while this is clearly short of what should have happened - an outright rejection of the pipeline - I still call it a victory. Not a final victory, but a victory nonetheless.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey
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