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10/17/11 - in response to an article by Chris Hedges quoted on the HR 589 comments forum
Re: Chris Hedges article at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_movement_too_big_to_fail_20111017/
Oh for Pete's sake, Chris Hedges is one of my favorite people to listen to; I sat glued to my chair one Sunday morning when he popped up on LiveStream at OWS a few weeks ago and improvised on his ideas about the state, occupy, his geneology in the line of the likes of Tom Berrigan, etc., and I've listened to him countless times before. But in this particular piece, I swear he's starting to sound like Fox News in regard to demonizing the word "liberal."
With HUGE respect for this man, ever since I saw him admit to a certain "addiction" to the battle scenes as a war correspondent years ago, before he quit that part of his career, I have to object to a few things here. What people need to understand about Chris Hedges is that he IS one of the "liberal elite," thus his venom against his surroundings.
But what he doesn't see, because he's so close to it probably, is the changing dynamic of groups like MoveOn, unions, etc. The unions were marching on Wall Street long before the debt-burdened students, but they were there for the right to organize and union issues about pensions, etc.
I don't expect anyone here to remember, but I ranted on about MoveOn a few years ago when as a near-homeless unemployed person who went to a MoveOn pot-luck party (they organize a lot via social networks), no one in this normally aware group seemed at all aware of the millions who were losing jobs and near the end of their ropes while the press was silent.
(MoveOn is hugely volunteer, and is hugely made up of employed people who like the convenience of being able to easily sign petitions and contribute money online, rather than doing the more time-consuming tasks of grassroots politics, except for some concentrated efforts at election time. Both their strength and their weakness is that ease of online connection.)
And speaking with the local unions at the time about organizing some marches, they were more concerned with losing their pensions than their jobs, not quite comprehending yet that they were relatively lucky to have jobs at all.
Even my solid fave organization, Democracy for America, was preoccupied with social issues, not quite yet getting how serious the economic situation was for millions of jobless. I practically started an online feud with some old-timers at their "watercooler" a few years ago when they stubbornly stuck to old agendas that I felt had outlived their time or were just not the most urgent issues at a time of economic collapse.
But unlike the very, very top-down political parties, these groups evolve. Some may seem like they are top-down, but they are fairly loosely organized and driven only by consensus of their millions of members, unions a little different on that count.
MoveOn didn't support OWS because it feared becoming irrelevant, it supports it because in the years since 2008 so many of its own members have lost their own jobs, or have known so many more people who have become unemployed, or have suffered from other economic losses, or have seen their kids fail to find jobs and be burdened with debt and seemingly no future. A friend who had always been pretty self-sufficient, not really wealthy, but able to avoid any big financial troubles by living a fairly modest life, saw his sense of financial security slowly erode over the last few years, and acknowledged that if he were starting to feel the heat, he could only imagine how tough it would be for anyone who lost a job and had no income at all.
The unions, who were heartily welcomed by OWS to add to their numbers, didn't suddenly fear being outdated, but rather they had seen the extremes that the Tea Party would go to to obliterate them via state legislatures, while cutting millions of jobs out from under them, at the same time that their pensions suffered from the games of the big banks.
Hedges complains of union leaders "who pull down salaries five times that of the rank and file as they bargain away benefits." Huh? That ratio seems rather normal to me, even by 1950's standards; top managers typically are paid that much more with experience. But that simply pales to Wall Street and big corporations where the ratio now reaches an unbelievable 300 to 1 --some perspective please! And 5:1 is not much different, probably better than the ratio found at most colleges, no doubt some where Hedges has himself taught, where the majority of adjunct faculty, who outnumber the full-time and/or tenured professors, make a fraction what the full-timers do, and with no benefits.
Chris Hedges is no pauper. He's not unemployed and I don't believe he's really feared having no food on the table in recent years, if you read his bio. I say this not out of disrespect or jealousy, because I wouldn't wish poverty on anyone. But we have to acknowledge the limitations of our own social and financial environments on how we see the world. (And of course that goes for all those struggling with no income as well, who have to acknowledge that they never really really realized just what it would be like to go without so much they took for granted previously.)
He sees one side of things, an important side, but he also needs to acknowledge the big shift in awareness of people in his own bracket who are slowly recognizing that they are not immune. Perhaps his particular tenured colleagues haven't quite arrived at that point yet, but many in the professional classes have now felt the fear and have seen the injustice, whether they acknowledge that it's been more severe for the minimum wage crowd or not, they're still allies in this fight.
Hedges is a bit of a romantic in the philosophy of resistance, from a long studied line of history. Sometimes that can blind a person temporarily to the more subtle shifts in consciousness going on around him.
All this is said with loving admiration for the man, but I'm a complete pragmatist. We will need as many able bodies as possible in this fight, so we don't need to throw any babies that Hedges doesn't consider worthy enough out with the bath water.
9/26/11 - in response to WasMiddleClass on the HR 589 comments forum (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h589/comments?comment_page=1&comment_sort=newest&navtab=comments#comments)
Personally, I choose not to disarm myself of all available options for my political voice just because I'm angry; I especially won't make those choices that lead me down the paths that my political enemies want me to take. That's a fool's game to fall for the strategy of the other side that wants everyone to stay home on election day, or during a protest. The Tea Party success came eventually from a very loud and ugly minority voice, no matter how reasonably the movement may have started out. Why argue with their success. :) Or for that matter, the success of those loud voices in Egypt and other voices around the world. The women in Saudi Arabia just got the right to vote, for heaven's sake. Their leaders probably don't realize what they've unleashed, though I have a feeling they know it's inevitable.
Listen to what the Wall Street occupiers are saying, especially one guy this morning on the live feed, who emphasized they were there to attempt to engage the whole country in a big dialogue that has never really happened during this gradual corporate takeover of everything we know. (I paraphrase.)
I'll repeat the live stream link here; as you know, it's ongoing, so you probably won't see the same bits I watched this morning:
But he also pointed out they were not really paranoid about "the guy in green over there" who many assumed was a Homeland Security guy dressed in street maintenance clothes, but rather they were using the existing structure of the political system very carefully (and cleverly I might add) to get their message out as clearly as they can. He pointed out that they couldn't do this without the support of many of those in the existing power structure who really were on their side. We're not in Syria here, not yet at least.
Yesterday some were pointing out that the consensus was that, even though some of the white clothes police were overly violent with those 90-some arrested, for the most part, the regular cops in blue were pretty sympathetic. Those guys are losing their pensions too.
Everyone is also pointing out Bloomberg's recent statement about how if something isn't done to get employment for the record numbers of young people graduating with no jobs (the most since WWII), there would be riots in the streets. He has a thin line to walk; he can't now come across as some kind of Mubarek. It makes for this great opportunity for an ongoing, possibly much larger protest, maybe in different camps across the country as well, as long as both sides can keep their cool and not have the whole thing disintegrate into mass violence, which may very well happen once enough people join the protesters. (Leave the guns at home!) The protesters themselves repeatedly point out that falling into violence is exactly what their enemies in the media and power elite want them to do; the corporate power media outlets can then trivialize their efforts and mock them as foolish young rebels, exactly what they want them to do. The protesters are rather sophisticated in their approach, in their awareness of the game they have to play, much like the determined non-violent protesters who marched with King decades ago, and I admire them for both their guts and brains.
(In some ways, I sort of hope the Wall Street protest stays somewhat small, but ongoing, with it's live video feeds. Too many others joining the fray will probably ultimately bring in the more violent and crazed. Right now the young and old there seem an impressively reasonable, yet quite determined and fearless group. It makes me have some kind of hope for this current young generation, along with those from previous generations who support them.)
Some weeks ago you accused me of falling for the left-right story, as if it were the only game in town, as if it were some kind of faith-based belief. Frankly, I'm not sure how I could have possibly have given an impression over these years that I have some kind of "faith" in the power of any particular avenue of protest or voice, whether it be voting, petitions, emails, townhalls, or street protests. Or some kind of faith in any particular party, as if any were without blame. Remember the Deaniacs (I'm still one) hated the DLC's control of the Dem Party; that's why they tried to unseat them with Dean's run for office.
The idea is to use every single avenue to voice my protest. Rather than choose to pout in my closet, or bunker, I'd rather use every possible tool we have left, before every tool is taken away. If every tool is finally taken away, then I guess I'll move to Panama, if I still can. But until then, I still have ways to shake the trees, as long as enough other people join the effort.
I consider the worst possible outcomes of the coming election, no matter who wins the Presidency, being more people like Allen West in power, a complete lunatic, a disingenuous liar in fact, who twists statistics so wildly in his presentations that they become simply lies to his constituents at his town halls; and yet this guy, along with his cohorts, has the power to take away Medicare, shoot down any efforts to create jobs, deny provision of disaster relief, unemployment benefits, etc.
Falling for the left-right "paradigm" is what those who concentrate only on the Presidential elections do, and don't give a thought to the slime like West creeping up the power ladders while everyone is focusing on the race for President. And then everyone seems surprised at the miserable crop of candidates for high office on the scene!
We've seen what destruction comes from having these young Turks like West spout their dogma all over the Capitol while the rest of the country suffers and disintegrates. They are so clearly the minority that it's almost funny, so there's no way I choose to retreat, as long as people like West can be voted out, or I am still able to volunteer to help the two progressive voices running against him next year. We know what happens when people just stay home; that's how West got into office. West's district is just a few miles from my own, where the current incumbent, who's on our side, probably won't even have a challenger.
But evil doesn't lie in any particular candidate, no matter how disappointing or powerless they may turn out to be. Evil lies in the slow disintegration of American civic involvement, giving up what we once had without a fight, without using all fronts and all tools, allowing the scum like West, fools like Ryan, and manipulators like Palin take over our political scene.
I heard about the Yahoo thing; supposedly it was just a temporary thing. I recently sent an email to a close friend in Jordan, letting him know about these protests, since I have to assume he may not have heard about them, unless he watched Al-Jazeera, which reportedly is covering this more than our own networks. I sent it via Yahoo, so I'll see if I get a reply.
In short, I prefer to make my own anger and paranoia work for me instead of against my own interests.
07/09/11 - in response to a blog comment by "b58" about millionaires
@b58 - You say you just don't understand, so I'll explain it to you:
There is a base income that allows any individual to survive and live in this country without fearing homelessness and hunger every day of their lives. You can argue whether that level of income is $30K or $50K or even $200K for a family of four. A recent study shows that somewhere around $30K minimum or so is needed by an individual to be able to live without serious deprivation, and that's double the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, if a person can even find 40 hours of work per week to get that. But no one can reasonably argue that anyone really needs a million to live a decent life--and those that actually think they are not "rich" on $200K really need to get out more--to just about any place in the world outside of Hollywood or Wall Street.
That's the human argument; here's the realistic, practical argument:
Those with well over the survival level of income for a family have used their extra wealth for not only their own private enjoyment, but have also grossly used it to gain favors in just about every sphere of life--lobbying Congress for tax favors, low-interest loans that only they can get, contact with influential people who can increase their chances of even greater wealth, entry into elite schools without necessarily the best academic records, investments in hedge funds and and other short-term ventures that served no productive purpose other than to get even more wealth, leading to the destruction of the country that gave them the greatest opportunities of any nation on earth. These advantages run the gamut from little things like simply being able to cash a check without holds on the money to preferential treatment by the courts by being able to afford the best lawyers to being able to buy their way into office with huge campaign war chests.
So instead of a lightbulb going on that it was the thousands of low-paid but still extremely productive workers on their payroll, along with all the taxpayer-paid elaborate infrastructure and open capitalist business system in this country that actually allowed them to advance as far as they have, many (but not all—for the more enlightened ones, see the message from Patriotic Millionaires) of these very wealthy people instead delude themselves into thinking that they made it "all on their own," and that others lower in the financial rung were simply shiftless and less skilled they they themselves, and that they simply deserve everything they have without any responsibility to others or gratitude for their privileges, many gained through the suffering of others, sometimes milllions of others, as in the case of Wall Street elite managers, for example.
For decades the American people in general have put up with the idiosyncrasies of the rich because most were able to live a life above basic survival level, not rich, but enough to enjoy life and raise a family with some basic security for their old age. That has gradually changed since the 80's, and much more dramatically changed during this recession. With the wealthy essentially taking control of our legislative process and taking away any remaining bits of security they still had, Americans are starting to wonder what exactly are they getting for the 10-25% taxes taken out of their paychecks, if they even have a paycheck at all, as about 20 million don't anymore. All this while wealthy individuals and corporations dodge every tax with highly paid tax lawyers and end up not only with no taxes, but even refunds from special favor tax breaks that they bought with highly paid lobbyists in prior years.
Americans have a lot of tolerance for idiosyncracies, but not for injustice, and what they see now is grotesque unfairness, a rigged game that was bought and paid for while they were asleep and enjoying what they thought was the American dream. But now it’s become a nightmare.
Understand now? You probably won’t, since most who make statements like your post are still under the impression that we still have the “American dream” in place, that as long as someone works hard and uses their wits that they themselves can become one of those successful people. It’s not impossible, but the actual statistics show that the chances of someone from the lower or middle classes actually ascending into the upper classes (a narrower and more elite group as time goes on) are dismally small now compared to a few decades ago. Pretty soon that likelihood might be compared to being born a blue-blood in the time of Queen Victoria. A crap shoot of fate, almost.
I hate to disillusion you about treasured convictions, but unless there is some terribly unlikely reversal of the leverage that wealth and power have over our current Congress and even state legislatures, we will have to concede that former President Eisenhower’s worst fears have come true:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."
And as for the likelihood that “the man making the million dollars could be the one that gives others a job,” recent history shows it is much more likely that person will be investing in jobs in other countries where there is a quicker return on investment, if not simply plowing his money into a hedge fund. The more likely scenario, according to labor statistics, is that the guy with the little business on the corner, who might make anywhere from $0 to $200K profit per year, will be the one to offer a job to anybody, that is, if he can still manage to compete with the local mega-corporation that has more access to credit and a boatload more advantages in business than he has.
6/26/11 - About "Progressives"
(In response to a forum comment about liberals simply changing their name to "progressive")
That meme about the liberals simply changing their name was propagated some years back by Fox and their ilk, in an attempt to discredit those views with the same kind of name-calling strategy, and by those who didn't understand the difference. And as far as far right-wingers were concerned, many of the progressives' tolerant social views were so similar to traditional liberal views that they couldn't tell the difference.
But the truth is that before and during Howard Dean's campaign it was evident that many who started to call themselves "progressive" were simply fed up with the power structure of the traditional Democratic party. Progressives called themselves that because they thought the traditional liberal was too mired in ongoing wars, earmarks that wasted billions, corporate welfare, campaign corruption, etc. They hated people in the DLC, a lot of the Clinton people, because of the support for too many wars for oil and mainly the corporate sellouts.
You will find that many progressives were delighted to see Rahm Emanuel leave the White House, for example. He and the DLC opposed the 50-state grass-roots strategy, which Dean later proved was a big part of putting Obama into the White House. Many Jewish progressives currently support Israel of course, but they want to end the occupation as well and stop sending billions to support those aggressive settlements that continually threaten the peace talks.
Progressives at the time of Dean campaign tended to be younger and more to the left on social and military issues, also more tech savvy and used the net to find out about the world outside of mainstream news; Daily Kos and the word "blog" grew to prominence at that time.
But they also saw the coming deficit; they supported Howard Dean because of his opposition to the Iraq war, but also because of his smart fiscal conservatism that he used to run the state of Vermont for six terms, and as a practicing medical doctor, his opposition to Bush's sellout to the drug companies over Medicare prescription drugs.
They also hated the "top-down" leadership in the Dem party, and set out to change the party from the inside back around 2003. MoveOn at that time represented a lot of that movement, but then gradually seemed to became absorbed in the Dem party. I think the Van Jones efforts are trying to take them back to their opposition roots now.
I remember going to one Meetup with hundreds of people for Dean, and running into some local Dem leaders who seemed to think they could just move in on our already democratically run meeting and take over the agenda. I resented the interference and the same kind of resentment of that top-down approach was evident in the progressives lukewarm support for Kerry's run. That whole massive media distortion of the "scream" incident, which few followed up to learn just how manipulated it really was, was seen as the same kind of media control from the top as was evidenced by their dancing to the war drums leading up to the Iraq invasion.
That was during the time when Dean garnered record-breaking support through the internet, and the term grass-roots was used a lot for all those $5 contributions that added up to millions. Many of those people moved into Obama's camp later on to help with their internet tech. I also found it ironic that emphasis on the founding fathers, Thomas Paine, and all those early freedom fighters was an inspirational theme among Dean's followers, long before the Tea Party attempted to monopolize those emblems of America. Dean even wrote a modern-day version of the Common Sense pamphlet that still applies just as much today as it did back in 2003, if not moreso:
So today, progressives have suffered from that media attack from the right that perverts their name by blending it into one liberal lump. Those groups may be fractured by disappointment and right-wing attacks, but they don't think any differently about those issues than they did eight years ago. And the disgust level may be reaching a critical point. I think Van Jones sees that, and hopes to wake the real progressives up again, but some may still be wary of being once burned, twice shy.
I dunno, I might have to take up kick-boxing or something like that to get past the anger I feel on days like this:
First thing in the morning, emails link me to videos and stories about 1) people brutally arrested at the Jefferson Memorial for silent dancing (quiet, non-violent), 2) people being imprisoned for debts because of slimy collection practices, 3) a friend with years of professional graphics experience having to do custodial work, spraining a thumb in the process.
Second thing, I get a private message from our unemployment board asking if I can help this guy who's being held hostage by an employer in a sense, working at a motel for rent on a 20-hour agreement, but really expected to work 40-50 hours a week for what amounts to the $140/wk rent, now being threatened with immediate eviction if he doesn't get the whole place painted right away and continue to work those hours!!! Labor violations all over the place, and possible collusion of the employer with local authorities. This is hearsay, but even as hearsay, it sounded pretty awful. So I end up sending his info to a contact I have in the press near his area. Who knows if he will get any help.
Third, I reply to another post asking about benefits in Florida, which reminds me of our idiot-head governor, who just cut regular unemployment benefits down to 23 weeks (min 12, if the unemployment rate ever goes down quite a bit!), and having to think about our governor before a cup of coffee is just not really very pleasant.
Fourth, I get a call myself from one of those slimeball collection agencies. I usually don't answer them, but this was a new number. These people are really a piece of work. After a certain point, telling them off can somehow seem empowering, since I can't access the bank CEOs directly to tell them off.
Fifth, I have to cash a check, a refund from a major healthcare provider (long story), and I'm told on the phone by my credit union, where I've had an account for decades, that although I would normally have to wait for a hold on any check, I could take the check in person and request a release because of the nature of the check. So I burn gas, first checking the local bank and finding out there's a fee to cash the check there, and am given a sales pitch by the Wachovia (bought by Wells Fargo) employee about opening an account there. I tell her it's nothing personal, but I will never deal with a megabank again for the rest of my life.
I continue to my credit union expecting they will be familiar with the mega-corporation that issued the check, which was under $500. I run into the same dumb-head manager I had seen there before, who had the authority to release the check, but simply refused, due to "policy."
I.e., the policy, which I learned a couple of years ago, when my previously sterling credit crashed into the ocean when no work was available and I had to pay for medical insurance (and rent) as long as I could, is that my credit rating determines whether I can access my money or not, while the bank gets their hands on it for about a week before me. I have yet to find a single bank staffer who can present any conceivable logical argument about how my own credit rating is in any way related to the likelihood or certainty that a check issued by a well-known corporation, or for that matter, the government, will bounce or not. The policy is simply punitive, as if a person doesn't deserve his or her earnings if they don't pay sufficient homage to the credit system. The guy had the discretion to release it, but simply refused--and I called him a spoiled brat and left. Sociopath is probably more like it.
Ready to close my account there I went to another credit union that I opened an account in recently (I had to keep the other one for other reasons), and the teller simply said "ok," no fuss or bother, proving my sociopath theory of the previous employee.
Anger over institutional arrogance is the worst kind.
The rest of the day is filled with only minor irritations, while I seriously consider moving to some remote village just to get away from stuff like this, and the disappointment in my own country being sold out.
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