30 December 2008
29 December 2008
Gaza: Stop the violence
At this moment of extreme crisis, J Street wants to demonstrate that, among those who care about Israel and its security, there is a constituency for sanity and moderation. There are many who recognize elements of truth on both sides of this gaping divide and who know that closing it requires strong American engagement and leadership.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing "right" in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing "right" in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.
And there is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What's needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control.
The United States, the Quartet, and the world community must not wait - as they did in the Israel-Lebanon crisis of 2006 - for weeks to pass and hundreds or thousands more to die before intervening. There needs to be an urgent end to the new hostilities that brings a complete end to military operations, including an end to the rocket fire out of Gaza, and that allows food, fuel and other civilian necessities into Gaza.
The need for diplomatic engagement goes beyond a short-term ceasefire. Eight years of the Bush Administration's neglect and ineffective diplomacy have led us directly to a moment when the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hang in the balance and with them the prospects for Israel's long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state.
Following a renegotiated ceasefire, we urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.
This is a fundamental American interest. We too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined. Our goals must be a Middle East that moves beyond bloody conflicts, an Israel that is secure and accepted in the region, and an America secured by reducing extremism and enhancing stability. None of these goals are achieved by further escalation.
Even in the heat of battle, as friends and supporters of Israel, we need to remember that only diplomacy and negotiations can end the rockets and terror and bring Israel long-term security and peace. American politicians are already hearing from those who see only one side. Help us give voice to the large number of Americans who recognizes that justice will only be served when the rights and grievances of both sides are recognized and a peaceful two-state solution to this long-running conflict is put in place.
We know that many policy makers agree with us privately, but hesitate to express their views publicly because they hear only from the partisan extremes. This is our moment to show that there is real political support for shedding a narrow us-versus-them approach to the Middle East.
The situation in Gaza could not be more urgent. Who knows how many more lives will be lost before this round of violence is over? When it ends, will we look back and say if only we had spoken out sooner, more lives could have been saved, more damage avoided?
Thank you so much for joining our efforts at this difficult time. Together, we can achieve an end to this round of violence, a resumption of the ceasefire, and a serious move toward peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.~lee.
23 December 2008
Iraq. Afghanistan. Dangerous places to be at any time. And even lonelier places when the Holiday season is here.
Our troops are never forgotten by their families, of course. But it's so easy for the rest of us to do it. In the busy bustle of the season, we can put them out of our minds and hearts — and forget the sacrifices they're making on our behalf. How they put up with hot desert winds and freezing mountain blasts. How they face a ruthless enemy who'll stop at nothing, Holidays or not.
They do their jobs without complaint. And what we have to show for it, is we're able to sit in warmth and comfort with our freedoms intact. Could there be a better time than now to show them a little appreciation? To prove to them that we remember, we care, we understand.
Your donation to the USO helps our men and women in uniform in so many ways — in practical ways that make their daily lives easier, and in ways that give a much-needed lift to the spirit. But just as important is the message of support you're sending to the bravest people on earth. Won't you donate what you can right now to bring the USO closer to its goals — so even though our troops can't be home to join us for the Holidays, they know we're there for them.
22 December 2008
What the UAW Made
by Trapper John
Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 02:13:38 PM PST
I spent the summer of 1999 working for the UAW legal department. It was the best job that a union-oriented first-year law student could ask for: great bosses, co-workers who shared your values, and interesting work. But most importantly, there was a pervading sense that you were -- in some small way -- helping to build the one institution that, more than any other, made the American middle class. Every day, I'd walk into the doors of Solidarity House, the massive, International Style union headquarters on the Detroit River, and know that this was the place where Walter Reuther and his team of talented unionists crafted the strategies that built the post-war boom. I'd know that in that same building, Steve Yokich -- the brilliant, if often abrasive, president of the UAW -- and the other leaders of the union were planning to preserve what Reuther had wrought against the depredations of NAFTA and the WTO. And I knew that I was doing my part, however minor, to contribute to the cause. You simply can't buy that feeling.
But to those of my friends outside of the labor movement, the UAW was a mystery. Actually, to call it a "mystery" would imply that they cared about it enough to wonder about it, which they didn't. The UAW didn't mean much, if anything, to them -- it was just either just another union, or some anonymous facet of the auto industry, or three letters that signified nothing at all. And I couldn't blame them. It's not like labor history is really taught as part of standard American history. It's not as if the news media covers labor or workplace issues with any degree of understanding or interest. That summer, I often found myself wondering how it could be that an organization that was so critical to the creation of modern America could be so ignored. And so I thought a lot about how we could change things, how we could put the letters U-A-W on the lips of the pundits and the politicians again.
Well, this wasn't what I had in mind.
Ten years after my stint at Solidarity House, the UAW is finally on the minds and lips of just about everyone, as the nation's attention is focused on the precarious state of the auto industry. And thankfully, a majority of Americans, if not a majority of the Senate, realize that we can't just blithely cite "creative destruction" and let an industry that directly and indirectly accounts for about ten percent of American jobs just up and die. But even as there seems to be a consensus that it's in the best interests of America to save the Big Two-and-a-half, there's a conflict about what the UAW ought to be forced to do in exchange for government assistance to the car companies. Bob Corker wanted to break the union in exchange for a Detroit bailout. George Bush's TARP assistance plan appears to follow Corker's lead. Even some Democrats talk about UAW members needing to make less money.
But I don't think you can talk about what UAW members should make, unless you first acknowledge what the UAW has made.
Sure, this is a bold claim. Yet it's hard to dispute that the UAW had a greater hand than any other single institution in the creation of what we know as the American middle class. Harold Meyerson wrote a terrific column last week on this very topic:
In its glory days, under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the UAW was the most farsighted institution -- not just the most farsighted union -- in America. "We are the architects of America's future," Reuther told the delegates at the union's 1947 convention, where his supporters won control of what was already the nation's leading union.
Even before he became UAW president, Reuther and a team of brilliant lieutenants would drive the Big Three's top executives crazy by producing a steady stream of proposals for management. In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Reuther, then head of the union's General Motors division, came up with a detailed plan for converting auto plants to defense factories more quickly than the industry's leaders did. At the end of the war, he led a strike at GM with a set of demands that included putting union and public representatives on GM's board.
That proved to be a bridge too far. Instead, by the early 1950s, the UAW had secured a number of contractual innovations -- annual cost-of-living adjustments, for instance -- that set a pattern for the rest of American industry and created the broadly shared prosperity enjoyed by the nation in the 30 years after World War II.
Indeed, it was Reuther's UAW that established the détente between organized labor and capitalists that engendered -- or at least facilitated -- the unprecedented post-war gains in both productivity and household income. By settling the 1950 Big Three contract, which became known as the "Treaty of Detroit," the UAW exacted gains for its members that allowed them to move firmly into a new middle class, with retirement and health security as the cornerstones of the new prosperity. In exchange, big business obtained a sense of relief, as the Treaty of Detroit represented a new, thoroughly American unionist approach to collective bargaining that eschewed the Marxist demand for ownership of the means of production. The right wing extremists who would begin their takeover of the Republican Party twenty years later excoriated the deal as creeping socialism, and Communists pilloried Reuther and the UAW as capitalist lackeys and sellouts. But as the radicals fumed, the nation prospered, and the hardworking men and women of the UAW -- and subsequently, the rest of blue-collar America, both union and non-union -- reaped the benefits of a mature labor peace that saw workers get their piece of the capitalist pie.
There's no question that other unions played a role in the establishment of the postwar peace, but the UAW played the leading role -- both because it bargained with America's biggest corporations, and because of Walter Reuther's charisma and ideological leadership. As a former socialist who spent a couple years in the Soviet Union, Reuther recognized the watershed importance of a labor union at the height of its powers, in the most critical industry in the nation, choosing to broker a mutually advantageous master agreement rather than pressing for gains that might kill the goose who laid the golden eggs. It's true that the building trades, among others, had been negotiating agreements that recognized the permanency of capitalism for decades prior to the Treaty of Detroit, but the leadership of the construction unions had always been fundamentally accepting of the idea of wage labor. Reuther and the UAW came out of a far more radical milieu, and their decision to embrace a sort of American social democracy -- to create an American social contract -- had ripple effects that essentially killed the Marxist left in America. But it also played a massive role in building a broad middle class that enjoyed real security, that didn't survive at the tender mercies of their employers. That was something new in American life, and it persisted for thirty years, give or take.
If the UAW's impact on the sociopolitical scene of the United States was limited to its role in collective bargaining, you could still argue that it played as important a part in the creation of the pragmatic, effective American left as most institutions. Of course, the UAW has done far, far more. Meyerson, again:
During the Reuther years, the UAW also used its resources to incubate every up-and-coming liberal movement in America. It was the UAW that funded the great 1963 March on Washington and provided the first serious financial backing for César Chávez's fledgling farm workers union. The union took a lively interest in the birth of a student movement in the early '60s, providing its conference center in Port Huron, Mich., to a group called Students for a Democratic Society when the group wanted to draft and debate its manifesto. Later that decade, the union provided resources to help the National Organization for Women get off the ground and helped fund the first Earth Day. And for decades after Reuther's death in a 1970 plane crash, the UAW was among the foremost advocates of national health care -- a policy that, had it been enacted, would have saved the Big Three tens of billions of dollars in health insurance expenses, but which the Big Three themselves were until recently too ideologically hidebound to support.
Narrow? Parochial? The UAW not only built the American middle class but helped engender every movement at the center of American liberalism today -- which is one reason that conservatives have always held the union in particular disdain.
From leadership on civil rights, to reform of the Democratic Party, to an early place in the vanguard of real health reform, the UAW has time and again stood out in American labor for its commitment to broad progressivism. The health example is particularly instructive. At a time when many other unions were opposed to national health care, on the grounds that health insurance was a perk of being a union member and that universal care would be a disincentive to unionization, Reuther and the UAW strenuously argued for government insurance. And for the past forty years, the union has been at the forefront of the push to expand Medicare, Medicaid, and to create a single-payer system.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger often quotes from a 1968 speech by his legendary predecessor Walter Reuther, which is as on point today as it was almost 40 years ago.
"If we are to act realistically and adequately in order to deal with this health care crisis," Reuther said then, "we must first free ourselves of the illusion that we really have a health care system in America. What we have, in fact, is a disorganized, disjointed, antiquated, obsolete nonsystem of health care."
The flaws that Reuther identified in America's approach to health care eventually morphed into the gigantic legacy costs -- about $100 billion just in health care promises to GM, Ford and Chrysler retirees -- that have become such a burden to Detroit's auto industry.
That's unfortunately a common theme in the history of the auto industry -- the UAW sounding a warning that's ignored by the companies, the UAW being proven right, and the UAW subsequently taking the blame for the companies' shortsightedness. The union fought harder than anyone for 40 years to shift health burdens off individual enterprises and on to the government, the Big Three refused to join in the push for national insurance, and now the union is being blamed for the cost of auto industry health insurance. (Hell, the union lost its Canadian affiliates to a schism in the early Eighties, in large part because the Big Three could give the Canadian locals a better deal due to Canadian national health insurance.) Likewise, the UAW takes a lot of blame for Detroit's predilection for gas guzzlers, despite the fact that the union has since the late Forties "suggested that Detroit not put all its bets on bigness, that a substantial share of American consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and burned fuel more efficiently."
Perhaps that's the greatest tribute to the UAW's success in building the progressive movement: the union is presumed to be so strong, and so effective, that when it has failed to get the employers to agree with it, the union has unfairly taken the blame.
Much has been made during the bailout debate about the supposed efficiency of the Japanese, Korean and German non-union "transplant" facilities. The transplants, which are primarily concentrated in Southern states with free-rider laws, are lauded as lean operations that still pay their employees a fair wage. And indeed, they are certainly leaner operations than UAW plants, due in large part to their last-mover advantage. And they do pay decent wages. But that's just half the story.
The transplants are located in the South precisely because they have been designed to avoid unionization. Most Southern states have enacted free-rider laws (often known, in an Orwellian twist, as "right to work laws") which require unions selected as bargaining representatives to represent employees who refuse to pay dues. Imagine if citizens of the US could choose whether or not to pay taxes, and non-payers were still entitled to all government services. Imagine how quickly the government would wither and die. That's why unionization is so hard in free-rider states. And that's why Mercedes, and BMW, and Nissan have built nearly all of their plants in the South. (That, and the fact that the transplants have benefited from massive corporate welfare in the form of gigantic tax breaks and property gifts from friendly Southern state governments.)
But the foreign manufacturers know that situating in the South isn't enough to guarantee that the UAW won't successfully organize. To do that, they need to pay their workers enough in base wages -- if not in benefits -- to ensure that the employees aren't dazzled by the prospect of union-won pay increases. Consequently, the non-union auto workers earn only a little less than UAW members, and far more than other non-union manufacturing workers. In short, the non-union auto workers are riding on the coattails of the UAW -- their wages are inflated to stave off the union. If the UAW were busted, all those Nissan workers who love their company and think that the company takes care of them would see their wages slashed overnight. So when Bush tells the UAW that they have to take a pay cut to the non-union transplant rate -- well, in a very real way, the UAW negotiated that rate. It's primarily because of the UAW -- not the good graces of the Japanese and German auto executives who don't pay the health costs in the US that they do in their home countries -- that the non-union auto workers have a decent standard of living.
My family was one of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, that saw its fortunes dramatically improved by the rise of a powerful UAW. My maternal grandfather was born in the early Twenties to a decidedly working-class Irish-German family in Buffalo. His father hadn't gone to college, and he wouldn't either -- the family wasn't poor, but it didn't have the money to send kids to college. After the war, he came back to Buffalo, and got a job as a die maker at Trico, the world's largest windshield wiper manufacturer.
Fast forward to today. My grandfather is gone -- three packs a day, as well as the lingering effects of too many months in a German stalag, killed him far too early. He died in the late Eighties, just a few years after retiring with a full pension from Trico. But five of his six kids are still with us, and every single one of them went to college (as did my deceased aunt). All six survived childhood relatively healthy. And the grandkids all grew up solidly in the middle class, and headed off to prestigious colleges and grad schools and most are working in white collar jobs and get to travel overseas occasionally and generally are pretty damn bourgie. And that's great. And I know that there are a lot of factors that contributed to my family's upward mobility, including the rise of cheap public universities (since declined) -- but I also know that I wouldn't have had the relatively comfortable life that I now have if it hadn't been for the UAW and its contracts, which provided my mother's family with the security and the income to allow her and her siblings to reach their potential. I wouldn't be who I am, as a person living in formerly-segregated DC, if the UAW hadn't fought for civil rights, and the rights of people of all races to live together as equals. And I wouldn't be able to fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act -- and the rebirth of the American labor movement and the American middle class -- had the UAW not created the modern labor movement and the American middle class in the first place.
In short, the UAW made America work the way we want it to work. And while the union has undoubtedly also made mistakes throughout its history, you'd be hard-pressed as progressives to identify an institution that has done more for working Americans of all stripes. So I support an a auto industry bailout, because I'd like to see us help the UAW keep making things: making cars, making a decent and dignified living for its members, and making change for all of us. God knows the union's done a helluva lot more for us than Goldman Sachs.
20 December 2008
overall it's been an amazing experience, and i'd like to thank patrick pfeiffer and especially james caran for all the effort, long days, and takeout food we shared.
i have been locked in a recording studio for ten- twelve hours a day for the last two weeks. i haven't really gotten any sleep, waking up several times a night with what i can only describe as nebulous anxiety. my wife thinks i've gone insane. i've gained like five pounds. and at the risk of sounding incredibly trite, it was fucking awesome and i'd do it all over again. i put the crank in the side of the machine and a bunch of little songs i wrote in various kitchens and bedrooms over my thirty- one years have come alive.
today's prayer: one of my favorite instrumentals. enjoy.
17 December 2008
Prostitution vs. war crimes: The real moral offenseAs Dick Cheney heads off into a luxury-filled and respectable retirement, outrage continues to be directed at the petty transgressions of Eliot Spitzer
Dec. 17, 2008 |
In October, the extremely pro-war, neoconservative New York Sun ceased operations, and its journalists are now finding a warm and welcoming home, appropriately and revealingly enough, at The New Republic. Sun reporter Eli Lake was quickly hired as a TNR Contributing Editor (where he now "exposes" and excoriates "the Left" for its sinister "solidarity" with "Islamic supremacist insurgents" in Iraq, such as shoe-throwing reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi), and yesterday, TNR published a finger-wagging sermon by former Sun reporter Jacob Gershman, who vigorously objects that Eliot Spitzer is allowed to appear in public and even write a Slate column so soon after exposure of his grave and monumental sin of hiring adult prostitutes.
Gershman's column -- entitled: "Why Eliot Spitzer's attempt to be taken seriously again won't work--and doesn't deserve to" -- illustrates how warped our public morality has become. As a result of his minor, consensual, victimless, private crime (not because of his actual sin of hypocrisy as a former persecutor of prostitution rings), Spitzer was forced to resign as Governor, had intimate details of his sex life voyeuristically dissected by hordes of people driven by titillation masquerading as moral disgust, and was as humiliated and disgraced as a political figure can be. But apparently, that's not even close to enough. According to Gershman, Spitzer has many more steps to complete in his public humiliation ritual before he should be permitted to appear in decent, respectable company again:
But a comeback, especially for a scandal-tarred politician, must follow set guidelines and steps of progression. You can't skip ahead. Spitzer's problem is that he isn't playing by the rules. . . .
For one, Spitzer has yet to convince the public that he's actually sorry. When he resigned in March, he faced the cameras and said he had "begun to atone for my private failings." Since then, while privately apologizing to some friends and colleagues, Spitzer has made little effort to publicly show his remorse, and people have noticed. "He's missing the hurt he caused everybody, the hopes that were dashed, and the fact that the entire state government ground to a halt," one of his former senior aides told me. . . .
Even then, Spitzer wouldn't be off the hook, says [P.R. adviser Howard] Rubenstein, who recommends that Spitzer emulate John Profumo, the British war secretary, whose affair with a showgirl who was also seeing a Russian spy scandalized the U.K. in 1963. After he resigned, his decades of social work in London's East End became as well known as the events that ended his political career. Spitzer, says Rubenstein, should "pick a charity he likes and thinks he could work for. It can be a soup kitchen. He has to do something where he can use his talent or physical being" . . . .
All that -- he needs to self-flagellate and beg public forgiveness more humbly and even work for years or decades in a soup kitchen before he can even be heard from -- because, in private, Spitzer hired prostitutes.
Meanwhile, Dick Cheney went on ABC News on Monday night, where he was treated with oozing (i.e., typical) respect by correspondent Jonathan Karl, and literally admitted, brazenly and unapologetically, to committing war crimes; blithely justified the atrocities that were committed as part of our attack on Iraq; and glorified the whole slew of illegal surveillance programs he ordered. And that's how most of the world outside of the U.S. (accurately) perceives Cheney's comments -- as a brazen admission of responsibility for many of the world's worst crimes of the last decade:
The outgoing US vice-president, Dick Cheney, last night gave an unapologetic assessment of his eight years in office, defending the invasion of Iraq, the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, secret wiretapping and the extreme interrogation method known as waterboarding. . . .
He told ABC News he stood by the most controversial policies of the Bush administration, and urged president-elect Barack Obama to think hard before undoing them. Asked about the use of torture on terror suspects, he replied: "We don't do torture. We never have. It's not something this administration subscribes to."
Later in the same interview, Cheney was asked whether the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, had been appropriate. He replied: "I do."
Waterboarding is a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and is widely regarded as a form of torture.
Yet unlike Eliot Spitzer, Dick Cheney -- just like Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo; think tank scholar, author and former Georgetown School of Foreign Service Professor Doug Feith; Georgetown's current Distinguished University Professor George Tenet, and so many others -- isn't going to be forced to endure any humiliation or remorse rituals whatsoever. As Cheney is feted by network news anchors a year or two from now upon release of the book he plans to write, there will be no real objections that this monstrous war criminal and perverter of our constitutional framework is treated like some sort of retired royal dignitary. Cheney is and will remain a symbol of profound seriousness, entitled to respect and endowed with permanent wisdom.
What's most striking is not that we have zero intention of prosecuting the serious crimes committed by our leading establishment figures. It's that we don't even recognize them as crimes -- or even serious transgressions -- at all. To the contrary, we still demand that those who are culpable be treated as dignified, respectable, serious and inherently good leaders. Real outrage is never generated by the crimes and outrages they have undertaken, but only when they are not given their proper respectful due as leading American elites. Hence:
An Iraqi citizen throws his shoes at an American President who -- all based on false pretenses -- invaded, occupied and obliterated his country; set up prisons where his fellow citizens were encaged without trials and subjected to brutal treatment; slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and displaced millions more. And the outrage is predominantly directed at the disrespect, irreverence and the "ingratitude" displayed by the shoe-thrower, not the murderous and inhumane acts of the dignified American leader.
Tom Friedman goes on national television and sociopathically justifies the attack on another country by the need to make its citizens "Suck. On. This," and while Friedman is universally treated as one of America's most cherished and important public intellectuals, it's the college student who throws a harmless pie in Friedman's face to protest his deranged and highly damaging war-cheerleading that prompts angry condemnation ("absolutely horrifying," protested vocal Iraq war supporter Jonathan Chait). Dick Cheney -- on his way to a lavishly rich and respectful retirement full of five-and-six-figure-speech-fees -- giddily admits to war crimes and other brutal and illegal acts, and TNR is angry that Eliot Spitzer is allowed to opine in public before being humiliated and humbled some more.
The reason the American political establishment tenaciously refuses to acknowledge the devastation and crimes that have been unleashed during the Bush era is obvious: aside from the generalized belief that Americans are inherently good and thus incapable of meriting terms such as "aggressive wars" and "war criminals" no matter what they actually do (those phrases are applicable only to lesser foreigners), most of the establishment supported these crimes and the criminals who unleashed them. We can therefore tolerate thinking about Bush officials and their bipartisan enablers as political and opinion leaders who (with the best of intentions) embraced what turned out to be some misguided policies, but not as people whose criminal acts led to death and suffering on an enormous scale and an almost complete degradation of whatever was still commendable about American political values.
That's the real benefit, the real cause, of these flamboyant and obsessive collective outrage sessions directed at petty offenders who do things like hire prostitutes, commit adultery, or engage in some sleazy though quite commonplace political corruption. Those rituals enable those who participated in and cheered on real crimes to parade around as righteous defenders of the moral good without having to acknowledge the extremism, brutality and destruction they've supported. The spectacle of the pro-war New York Sun and the Lieberman-endorsing TNR -- of all people -- joining together to complain that Eliot Spitzer (of all people) hasn't yet been humiliated or scorned enough is just one particularly vivid illustration of this warped public morality.~lee.
14 December 2008
According to an article in the New York Times, a typical salary in the Smithfield Packing slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, NC is $11.90 per hour, or $476 for a 40 hour week. Because I am a considerate person, I will spare you any description of the grisly jobs performed by those workers in that slaughterhouse.
The base salary of a U.S. senator is $169,300 a year or $3,255 a week. Because I am a considerate person, I will spare you any description of the job some of those senators are doing on us these days.
The slaughterhouse story in the New York Times looked back on the 16-year long struggle to bring union representation to the 5,000 or so workers in Tar Heel, which ended up in court at one point. In 2006, after seven years of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Smithfield had engaged in “intense and widespread” coercion and ordered Smithfield to reinstate four union supporters it found were illegally fired, one of whom was beaten by the plant’s police on the day of the 1997 election.
The court also said Smithfield had engaged in other illegal activities: spying on workers’ union activities, confiscating union materials, threatening to fire workers who voted for the union and threatening to freeze wages and shut the plant.
But the big news in the Times story, especially if you pack meat, was that after the long struggle with Smithfield, the union finally won. The slaughterhouse is going union.
On the same day MSNBC had a story about a GOP memo titled “Action Alert,” which went out to the Republican senators just before their “No” vote on the Big Three Auto Makers bailout bill. The GOP memo contained this pithy paragraph:
This is the democrats first opportunity to payoff organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.
It has been a longstanding part of the conservative’s core philosophy that unions are simply bad for business. That is why is why conservatives who are making $169 K per year for standing around arguing, just can’t understand why someone who is making the princely salary of $24,752 for working 40 hours a week in a slaughterhouse would ever want to join a union. It could eat into a company’s profits. Never mind that as a non-union hog butcher, you may bring home a little bacon, but good luck sending your kids to college.
The Federal Poverty guideline for 2008, sets $22,200 as the poverty level for a family of four. Those who do the hard spirit killing, tendon ripping work of slaughtering hogs, forty hours a week, 52 weeks a year, are just barely, faintly above the poverty level.
So just who are these people the GOP sees as the enemy? These awful, greedy, lazy Union people? More »
If you take a look at the largest unions in the U.S., you will see that they are teachers, hotel workers, truck drivers, laborers, electrical workers, machinists, communications workers, letter carriers, firefighters, nurses, sheet metal workers, bakers and bricklayers. They are all people who shouldn’t have to listen to lectures from men in expensive shoes about the American work ethic.
And, given the recent global meltdown, no one is particularly interested in taking advice on an economic plan from the people who have been steering the Titanic for the past 8 years. Especially since the news on the availability of lifeboats does not appear to be happy news.
I also suspect it must be especially galling for the people of Michigan to hear the senator from Alabama go on and on about how Detroit needs to get more in line with Alabama. That’s because ‘Bama ranks 47th in median household income in the U.S, 47th for Infant mortality rates and 47th in fourth graders who scored at or above the proficient level in math. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Yes, the mantra for the conservatives this in this past election cycle was more or less: “At least you aren’t all dead!” It looks like moving forward it going to be along the lines of: “Dream of an America like Alabama - only colder!” Good luck with that.
– Barry Nolan~lee.
Report: Torture started with BushAfter a two-year investigation, the Senate names names -- Bush, Tenet, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Addington, Rice.
By Mark Benjamin
Dec. 12, 2008 |
"The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive (interrogation) techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees." That is one of the raw conclusions of a two-year Senate investigation into torture.
On Thursday, as the incoming Obama administration is mulling whether or not it even should investigate torture under the Bush administration, the Senate Armed Services Committee released the executive summary of its own investigation of the treatment of U.S. detainees. (The full report is still being declassified.)
The report is all about naming names, and the summary is stunningly frank in its conclusions, particularly in comparison to the passive language employed by most government investigations into abuse.
According to the report, the torture ball started rolling with the president and his Feb. 7, 2002, memorandum stating that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to al-Qaida or the Taliban. The CIA and the Department of Defense began scurrying to establish their brutal interrogation regimes, while the White House and top Bush administration officials brushed aside legal hurdles and approved specific, horrifying techniques.
In the spring of 2002, for example, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asked then-CIA Director George Tenet to brief members of the National Security Council on the harsh interrogation program under development by the CIA, a program that has utilized waterboarding. Meetings ensued. "Members of the president's cabinet and other senior officials attended meetings at the White House where specific interrogation techniques were discussed," the report states. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was there.
Rice also asked former Attorney General John Ashcroft to provide his stamp of approval, and he did. On Aug. 1, 2002, Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel issued legal memos after input from former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and former counsel to the Vice President David Addington. The memos used semantics to make abuse fair game, defining torture as only that pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."
By then, the CIA was already off and running with its new authority, spiriting prisoners off the streets of Pakistan and into its network of secret prisons, or "black sites," for interrogation. On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld joined the party, issuing a memo authorizing the use of tough techniques for detainees in military custody at Guantánamo, including stress positions, forced nudity, use of dogs and sensory deprivation. Legal memos from all three military branches had previously warned that the tactics might be illegal, but the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, put the kibosh on any further study.
A central irony in the narrative is whom the White House, CIA and Department of Defense did not consult during the establishment of the interrogation programs -- professional interrogators trained to pry reliable intelligence from the enemy. Instead, the administration mined expertise in the military's secretive Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape school, as described in Salon. The program trains elite U.S. troops how to resist torture.
The irony wasn't lost on the Senate investigators, who noted that the school's expertise "was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions." The techniques are based on, among other things, Communist Chinese techniques to force confessions. "Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be," the report says. "These role players are not trained to obtain reliable intelligence information from detainees. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies."[text of the report can be found here.]
12 December 2008
So many ills are afflicting the U.S. economy right now that to single out any particular indicator as responsible for depressing investor sentiment is foolhardy. But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the news that Senate Republicans nixed the auto bailout was the guilty party in triggering Thursday afternoon's 200-point fall in the Dow Jones industrial average.
If so, the drop might stand as the first verdict of history on what may be remembered as an epochal event and, potentially, a huge blunder. If the Senate Republicans really have killed the bailout, and if, say, General Motors is indeed forced into bankruptcy before President-elect Obama takes office, isn't there at least a chance that a collapse so massive could propel an already crippled economy into a near-death state?
Attentive readers know that I have gone back and forth over the bailout-vs.-bankruptcy question. I'm not confident that a "car czar" could successfully restructure the industry in a new profitable form. I have never been a fan of Detroit's long-term strategy, and have always been incensed at the opposition of the Big Three to increased fuel economy standards and efforts by states such as California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They don't deserve a bailout.
But then again, neither did Wall Street. The presumption, as we were told by the likes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was that the consequences for the greater economy would be simply too disastrous if we just stood by and watched as the financial titans whose own greed and irresponsibility created this mess crashed and burned. And that was back in September, several months before the economy started losing half a million jobs a month (a number that seems sure to go up judging by today's awful jobless claims figures). The U.S. economy is in much worse shape than it's been for at least a quarter-century, and appears to be unraveling at terrific speed. Thus, an even more timely case can be made for saving Detroit as was offered for Wall Street. Does it really seem like right now is the best time to see what happens if G.M. declares bankruptcy? As a worst-case scenario, might not it be better to help Detroit limp along for another year or two, until we see whether we can get out of what our current president not too long ago called "a rough patch"?
Both Bush and Obama agree: Doing nothing is a bad idea.
"We believe that the economy is in such a weakened state right now that adding another possible loss of one million jobs is just something our economy cannot sustain at the moment," Dana Perino, President Bush's chief spokeswoman, said at a news briefing.
Mr. Obama sounded a similar theme.
"I understand people's anger and frustration at the situation our auto companies find themselves in today," Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Chicago ... [but] at this moment of great challenge for our economy, we cannot simply stand by and watch this industry collapse. Doing so would lead to a devastating ripple effect throughout our economy."
And yet, now, none other than Mitch McConnell tells us enough is enough. There's no sugarcoating this one -- what's good for Wall Street fat cats is not good for unionized Midwestern workers. It's hard not to agree with the Detroit Free Press: We're witnessing payback time for the UAW. Republican senators are on the warpath against organized labor.
Over the last decade, the UAW has spent more than $10 million to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans -- some of them the same GOP senators now being asked to rescue the domestic auto industry ...
Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky represent states where foreign automakers have significant operations and the UAW has less sway than in Michigan or Ohio. Each also has been the target of considerable political support from the automakers' union flowing to Democrats who have opposed the senators in elections.
Complicating matters for the union -- which has been lobbying hard for passage of the rescue plan -- is that it threw its political weight behind many of the Democratic opponents who managed to beat Republican incumbents last month. Now those same defeated GOP senators are being asked to save the domestic auto industry from ruination before giving up their seats.
An extra dose of humiliation for Detroit: Sweden is bailing out its own domestic automakers, Volvo and Saab, even though they are owned, respectively, by Ford and G.M.! Little old Sweden is bailing out Detroit's mistakes, while Senate Republicans play the fiddle and watch the economy burn.
It seems hard to conceive that G.M. and Chrysler could not somehow manage to totter forward just one more month, when Obama will take office with a significantly strengthened Senate majority and presumably a much more potent bully pulpit. And perhaps there is still some last-minute backroom dealmaking going on in the Senate. But it's not so difficult for me to imagine looking back at this point from the perspective of a future historian detailing the events that led up to the Second Great Depression, and deciding to pinpoint the abandonment of Detroit as yet another grievous error that ensured a patient barely holding it together on life support went terminal.
A postscript to "Senate GOP to UAW: Drop dead":
The growth of income inequality between the richest one percent of Americans and the rest of the citizens of the United States has been one of the defining characteristics of the last few decades. We have been witnessing, for the last 18 months, what the rich ended up doing with their money. While touting the mantra that free, unregulated markets know best, they succeeded in screwing up the entire global economy. Millions and millions of workers all over the world will lose their jobs as a result.
So where did the auto-bailout negotiations break down? Over the demand by anti-union Southern Republican senators that domestic automaker workers be forced to accept immediate wage cuts, and the loss of benefits. I'm with Barney Frank on this one: No one asked the rank-and-file employees of Citigroup or AIG or Morgan-Stanley to cut their salaries in exchange for government handouts. Assembly-line workers at GM and Chrysler, on the other hand, must tighten their belts.
The economies of Michigan and Ohio are already in the dumpster. Darker times are ahead. And yet, at this critical perilous juncture, Senate Republicans have decided to pick a fight with the working class. My guess it will be a long, long time before either state ever votes for a Republican for President again.
UPDATE: No sooner did I publish this, than the Wall Street Journal reported that the Bush administration is considering using TARP funds to bail out Detroit. We'll see if that news reverses the early plunge in the stock market: 10 minutes after the opening bell, the Dow was down 150.
LATER UPDATE: James Surowiecki has an excellent summary of the fiasco.
Obama’s ‘Secretary of Food’?
As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed “secretary of food.”
A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.
Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
“We’re subsidizing the least healthy calories in the supermarket — high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, and we’re doing very little for farmers trying to grow real food,” notes Michael Pollan, author of such books as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.”
The Agriculture Department — and the agriculture committees in Congress — have traditionally been handed over to industrial farming interests by Democrats and Republicans alike. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.
But let’s be clear. The problem isn’t farmers. It’s the farm lobby — hijacked by industrial operators — and a bipartisan tradition of kowtowing to it.
I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., where my family grew cherries and timber and raised sheep and, at times, small numbers of cattle, hogs and geese. One of my regrets is that my kids don’t have the chance to grow up on a farm as well.
Yet the Agriculture Department doesn’t support rural towns like Yamhill; it bolsters industrial operations that have lobbying clout. The result is that family farms have to sell out to larger operators, undermining small towns.
One measure of the absurdity of the system: Every year you, the American taxpayer, send me a check for $588 in exchange for me not growing crops on timberland I own in Oregon (I forward the money to a charity). That’s right. The Agriculture Department pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in a forest in Oregon.
Modern confinement operations are less like farms than like meat assembly lines. They are dazzlingly efficient in some ways, but they use vast amounts of grain, as well as low-level antibiotics to reduce infections — and the result is a public health threat from antibiotic-resistant infections.
An industrial farm with 5,000 hogs produces as much waste as a town with 20,000 people. But while the town is required to have a sewage system, the industrial farm isn’t.
“They look profitable because we’re paying for their wastes,” notes Robert P. Martin, executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “And then there’s the cost of antibiotic resistance to the economy as a whole.”
One study suggests that these large operations receive, in effect, a $24 subsidy for each hog raised. We face an obesity crisis and a budget crisis, and we subsidize bacon?
The need for change is increasingly obvious, for health, climate and even humanitarian reasons. California voters last month passed a landmark referendum (over the farm lobby’s furious protests) that will require factory farms to give minimum amounts of space to poultry and livestock. Society is becoming concerned not only with little boys who abuse cats but also with tycoons whose business model is abusing farm animals.
An online petition that can be found at www.fooddemocracynow.org calls for a reformist pick for agriculture secretary — and names six terrific candidates, such as Chuck Hassebrook, a reformer in Nebraska. On several occasions in the campaign, Mr. Obama made comments showing a deep understanding of food issues, but the names that people in the food industry say are under consideration for agriculture secretary represent the problem more than the solution.
Change we can believe in?
The most powerful signal Mr. Obama could send would be to name a reformer to a renamed position. A former secretary of agriculture, John Block, said publicly the other day that the agency should be renamed “the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry.” And another, Ann Veneman, told me that she believes it should be renamed, “Department of Food and Agriculture.” I’d prefer to see simply “Department of Food,” giving primacy to America’s 300 million eaters.
As Mr. Pollan told me: “Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture.”
Your move, Mr. President-elect.
10 December 2008
Justice, of a Sort, for Blackwater
December 8, 2008
Significantly, Blackwater as a company faces no charges in the case.
"The government alleges in the documents unsealed today that at least 34 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed or injured without justification or provocation by these Blackwater security guards in the shooting at Nisour Square," said Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for national security. "Today's indictment and guilty plea demonstrate that those who engage in unprovoked and illegal attacks on civilians, whether during times of conflict or times of peace, will be held accountable."
In a dramatic twist, in addition to the manslaughter charges, the men are being charged under an antidrug law that provides for a thirty-year mandatory minimum sentence for using machine guns in the commission of violent crimes. Count thirty-five of the indictment charges that the men "knowingly used and discharged firearms," including "an SR-25 sniper rifle; machine guns (M-4 assault rifles and M-240 machine guns); and destructive devices (M-203 grenade launchers and grenades), during and in relation to a crime of violence for which each of them may be prosecuted in a court of the United States."
Jeremy Ridgeway, the Blackwater operative who pleaded guilty on Friday, has agreed to testify against the other five men, according to ABC News. Citing documents filed in his plea agreement, ABC reports that Ridgeway "acknowledged the government evidence would prove he and the others 'opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians.' He agreed none of the civilians 'was an insurgent, and many were shot while inside of civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee.' Ridgeway also admitted one victim was shot in his chest 'while standing in the street with his hands up.'"
Federal prosecutors made clear that Blackwater itself will not face any charges in the case. As in most of the crimes committed against Iraqis by US military and private forces, this incident is being portrayed as the work of a few bad apples and not the bloody end-product of an out-of-control occupation. "We honor the brave service of the many US contractors who are employed to support the mission of our armed forces in extremely difficult circumstances," said Jeff Taylor, US Attorney for the District of Columbia. "Today, we honor that service by holding accountable the very few individuals who abused that employment by committing some very serious crimes against dozens of innocent civilians." Blackwater owner Erik Prince and other company executives face no consequences for the actions of their men, nor does the State Department, which deployed the company's men in Iraq.
The Nisour Square killings propelled Blackwater to international infamy and sparked demands from the US-installed Iraqi government for Blackwater to be expelled from the country. The Bush administration rejected those calls and in April renewed Blackwater's Iraq contract for another year. Blackwater, the largest US security contractor in Iraq, has worked on a US government contract since August 28, 2003, when it was hired on an initial $27.7 million no-bid contract to protect the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. To date, Blackwater has been paid over a billion dollars for its "security" work for the State Department.
The shootings on September 16, 2007 were labeled "Baghdad's Bloody Sunday." They occurred shortly after noon when Blackwater forces opened fire on a civilian vehicle in a crowded intersection, killing a young Iraqi medical student, Ahmed al-Rubaie, and his mother, Mahasin. That shooting kicked off fifteen minutes of sustained gunfire, as civilians fled for their lives. Witnesses say the shooting was unprovoked, and according to ABC News, Ridgeway admitted to prosecutors that "'there was no attempt to provide reasonable warning' to the driver of a vehicle that was first targeted." For more than a year, Blackwater has claimed its forces were the victims of an armed ambush. "Among the threats identified were men with AK-47s firing on the convoy, as well as approaching vehicles that appeared to be suicide bombers," Prince claimed in prepared Congressional testimony in October 2007. Prince insisted that "based on everything we currently know, the Blackwater team acted appropriately while operating in a very complex war zone."
The company's claims were rejected by both the US military and the FBI. The military concluded there was "no enemy activity involved," determined that all of the killings were unjustified and labeled the shootings a "criminal event." That investigation found that many Iraqis were shot as they attempted to flee, saying "it had every indication of an excessive shooting." The US military unit that responded to the shootings that day said they were "surprised at the caliber of weapon being used." Two weeks after the massacre, the FBI finally was dispatched to Baghdad.
In November 2007, the first glimpse into the conclusions of the FBI probe emerged in the New York Times, which reported that the federal agents had "found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq." The report added, "Investigators found no evidence to support assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians," quoting one official as saying, "I wouldn't call it a massacre, but to say it was unwarranted is an understatement." A military investigator "said the F.B.I. was being generous to Blackwater in characterizing any of the killings as justifiable."
While the indictments in the Nisour Square case are significant and historic, there will be substantial legal hurdles for prosecutors, not the least of which is the State Department's move in the immediate aftermath of the shootings to immunize the shooters from prosecution. The Bush administration left the initial investigation to Blackwater's employer, the State Department. Investigators from the department's Diplomatic Security Division offered the Blackwater shooters "limited-use immunity" before questioning them, meaning that their statements and information gleaned from them could neither be used to bring criminal charges against them nor even be introduced as evidence. When the FBI eventually arrived in Baghdad, some of the Blackwater guards involved in the shooting refused to be interviewed, citing promises of immunity from the State Department. The agency also discovered that the crime scene had been severely compromised.
The Blackwater guards will be at the center of a precedent-setting battle over what legal experts call a "grey zone" in US law under which private forces operate in Iraq. The men are being charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. Passed in 2000, the law provides for prosecuting contractors working for or alongside the US military. Blackwater works for the State Department, and lawyers for the company's five accused operatives will certainly challenge the law's application to their clients. They also intend to use Blackwater's longstanding argument that the shootings were the result of an armed attack against the men. "We think it's pure and simple a case of self-defense," said Paul Cassell, a Utah attorney on the defense team. "Tragically, people did die."
By surrendering to authorities in Salt Lake City rather than in Washington, the accused men have fired their first defensive shot at federal prosecutors. They intend to fight for their trial to take place in a conservative, gun-friendly area of the country. "Though the case has already been assigned to U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina in Washington, the guards surrendered in Utah," reports the Associated Press. There "they would presumably find a more conservative jury pool and one more likely to support the Iraq war."
The five accused are: Paul A. Slough, 29, of Keller, Texas; Nicholas A. Slatten, 24, of Sparta, Tennessee; Evan S. Liberty, 26, of Rochester, New Hampshire; Dustin L. Heard, 27, of Maryville, Tennessee; and Donald W. Ball, 26, of West Valley City, Utah.
While Nisour Square was by far the most high-profile fatal incident involving Blackwater and other private forces in Iraq, scores of other such incidents have gone unprosecuted. Among these is the alleged killing by a Blackwater operative of a bodyguard to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi on Christmas Eve 2006, inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. The Iraqi government has labeled that incident a "murder."
Blackwater also is being sued in civil court in the United States by Iraq victims of the Nisour Square shootings. No date has yet been set for that trial.~lee.
07 December 2008
but i'm not the only one.
i hope someday you'll join us,
and the world will live as one."
WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) from Yoko Ono on Vimeo.
05 December 2008
04 December 2008
my fellow americans, i only hope that every time you have your civil liberties encroached upon by the patriot act, you'll think of me...
[from the onion...]
I'm Really Gonna Miss Systematically Destroying This Place
By George W. Bush
December 1, 2008 | Issue 44•49
Boy, oh boy, if these Oval Office walls could talk. Seems like it was only yesterday that I started my first term despite having actually lost to Al Gore by more than a half million votes. Hmm. We were all so young and peaceful then. Gosh, gas was still under $2 a gallon! On my watch it peaked at more than twice that. Never getting it up to $6 or ideally $7.50 will be one of my few regrets when I leave office.
It's just gonna be so hard packing up my things and heading off into the sunset come January. I wish I could go on forever giving massive and disastrous tax cuts to the wealthy, taking the country from a surplus to a deficit—nearly $500 billion this year, likely to pass $1 trillion next year, fingers crossed—and just generally doing irreparable damage to the very underpinnings of our economy, but, well, I'm afraid the Constitution says I can't. And not even I can overrule the Constitution. Though Lord knows I tried! Initiating blanket wiretaps without warrants, suspending habeas corpus for prisoners in Guantanamo, infiltrating an unknown number of nonviolent civilian antiwar groups without permission… such wonderful memories. I'm going to cherish them forever.
My fellow Americans, I only hope that every time you have your civil liberties encroached upon by the Patriot Act, you'll think of me.
Everywhere I look brings back memories. The Blue Room is where Laura and I put up our first White House Christmas tree. Down the hall, in the East Room, is where I concocted my favorite signing statement to circumvent the anti-torture guidelines of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and—ooh!—right across the way is where Cheney and I decided to use the death of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and the nation's subsequent fear of another attack as an excuse to carry out our long-standing plan to invade Iraq. I should really get a picture before I leave.
Speaking of pictures, whenever I look at the dusty old newspaper photos of those tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib or the crumpled ruins of that bridge in Minnesota, I can hold my head up high knowing that I truly fucked this nation—physically and symbolically—beyond repair. I only wish I had the time to destroy a couple more major American cities.
And Cheney, I almost forgot about Cheney. What a guy, huh? I can't believe that in a few short weeks he's never going to talk to me again. The stories I could tell you about what went on in some of those back rooms—well, you wouldn't believe me if I declassified the memos. I don't know, maybe in 20 years, when the economy has rebounded and the people displaced by Katrina have rebuilt their lives from scratch with almost no federal assistance, Cheney and I can meet up again in the Rose Garden and reminisce over the good old days, when it seemed like there was no part of this great country we couldn't ruin forever.
What am I going to do once I'm no longer president? I've gotten so used to waking up every day, playing fetch with the dogs on the White House lawn, and then spending a lazy afternoon shredding every last bit of our good will abroad in a mind-boggling display of diplomatic incompetence.
The worst part about leaving is knowing I can never screw up anything this big again. Don't get me wrong, I'm only 62. I could still bankrupt an oil company, or become the next MLB commissioner and ruin baseball. But I'll never get the opportunity to fuck up on this massive of a scale again. Even if you put me back in charge for another term, I could only take the U.S. from a rapidly declining world power to not a world power at all. I don't mean to gloat, but I think it's safe to say that no one can ever unseat the American empire like I unseated the American empire.
Still, I have to admit, sometimes I think I could've dismantled so much more. The very fact that the environment still exists, that a mere 4,000 troops have died in Iraq, that there is still the slightest glimmer of hope for the future left in this nation—it's easy to feel like maybe I didn't do my job. But no, no, there's no use having any regret. I fucked everything up the best I could and that's good enough for me.
You know, I've got a few weeks left. I could still illegally fire some U.S. attorneys for political reasons, or finally get rid of that pesky separation between church and state. Or maybe I could just bomb a place. Like Russia. But this time, I would really savor it.As long as I live, America, I'll never forget irreparably ruining you. Unless we all die in a nuclear war or calamitous environmental disaster brought on by my neglect. Either way, I'll see you all in heaven!
01 December 2008
The GOP's McCarthy gene
November 30, 2008
Ever since the election, partisans within the Republican Party and observers outside it have been speculating wildly about what direction the GOP will take to revive itself from its disaster. Or, more specifically, which wing of the party will prevail in setting the new Republican course -- whether it will be what conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the "evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy" branch or the more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch. To determine the answer, it helps to understand exactly how Republicans arrived at this spot in the first place.
The creation myth of modern conservatism usually begins with Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who was the party's presidential standard-bearer in 1964 and who, even though he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history, nevertheless wrested the party from its Eastern establishment wing. Then, Richard Nixon co-opted conservatism, talking like a conservative while governing like a moderate, and drawing the opprobrium of true believers. But Ronald Reagan embraced it wholeheartedly, becoming the patron saint of conservatism and making it the dominant ideology in the country. George W. Bush picked up Reagan's fallen standard and "conservatized" government even more thoroughly than Reagan had, cheering conservatives until his presidency came crashing down around him. That's how the story goes.
But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn't begin with Goldwater and doesn't celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party's past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn't run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn't likely to be expunged any time soon.
The basic problem with the Goldwater tale is that it focuses on ideology and movement building, which few voters have ever really cared about, while the McCarthy tale focuses on electoral strategy, which is where Republicans have excelled.
McCarthy, Wisconsin's junior senator, was the man who first energized conservatism and made it a force to reckon with. When he burst on the national scene in 1950 waving his list of alleged communists who had supposedly infiltrated Harry Truman's State Department, conservatism was as bland, temperate and feckless as its primary congressional proponent, Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, known fondly as "Mister Conservative." Taft was no flamethrower. Though he was an isolationist and a vehement opponent of FDR, he supported America's involvement in the war after Pearl Harbor and had even grudgingly come to accept the basic institutions of the New Deal. He was also no winner. He had contested and lost the Republican presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, three men who were regarded as much more moderate than he.
McCarthy was another thing entirely. What he lacked in ideology -- and he was no ideologue at all -- he made up for in aggression. Establishment Republicans, even conservatives, were disdainful of his tactics, but when those same conservatives saw the support he elicited from the grass-roots and the press attention he got, many of them were impressed. Taft, no slouch himself when it came to Red-baiting, decided to encourage McCarthy, secretly, sealing a Faustian bargain that would change conservatism and the Republican Party. Henceforth, conservatism would be as much about electoral slash-and-burn as it would be about a policy agenda.
For the polite conservatives, McCarthy was useful. That's because he wasn't only attacking alleged communists and the Democrats whom he accused of shielding them. He was also attacking the entire centrist American establishment, the Eastern intellectuals and the power class, many of whom were Republicans themselves, albeit moderate ones. When he began his investigation of the Army, he even set himself against his own Republican president, who had once commanded that service. In the end, he was censured in 1954, not for his recklessness about alleged communists but for his recklessness toward his fellow senators. Moderate Republicans, not Democrats, led the fight against him. His intemperance disgusted them as much as it emboldened his fans, Goldwater among them.
But if McCarthy had been vanquished -- he died three years later of cirrhosis from drinking -- McCarthyism was only just beginning. McCarthyism is usually considered a virulent form of Red-baiting and character assassination. But it is much more than that. As historian Richard Hofstadter described it in his famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," McCarthyism is a way to build support by playing on the anxieties of Americans, actively convincing them of danger and conspiracy even where these don't exist.
McCarthy, a Catholic, was especially adept at nursing national resentments among the sorts of people that typically did not vote Republican. He stumbled onto the fact that many of these people in postwar America were frightened and looking for scapegoats. He provided them, and in doing so not only won millions of adherents but also bequeathed to his party a powerful electoral bludgeon that would eventually drive out the moderates from the GOP (posthumous payback) before it drove the Democrats from the White House.
In a way, Goldwater was less a fulfillment of McCarthy conservatism than a slight diversion from it. Goldwater was ideological -- an economic individualist. He hated government more than he loved winning, and though he was certainly not above using the McCarthy appeal to resentment or accusing his opponents of socialism, he lacked McCarthy's blood- lust. McCarthy's real heir was Nixon, who mainstreamed McCarthyism in 1968 by substituting liberals, youth and minorities for communists and intellectuals, and fueling resentments as McCarthy had. In his 1972 reelection, playing relentlessly on those resentments, Nixon effectively disassembled the old Roosevelt coalition, peeling off Catholics, evangelicals and working-class Democrats, and changed American politics far more than Goldwater ever would.
Today, these former liberals are known as Reagan Democrats, but they were Nixon voters before they were Reagan voters, and they were McCarthy supporters before they were either. A good deal of McCarthy's support came from Catholics and evangelical Protestants who, along with Southerners, would form the basis of the new conservative coalition. Nixon simply mastered what McCarthy had authored. You demonize the opposition and polarize the electorate to win.
Reagan's sunny disposition and his willingness to compromise masked the McCarthyite elements of his appeal, but Reaganism as an electoral device was unique to Reagan and essentially died with the end of his presidency. McCarthyism, on the other hand, which could be deployed by anyone, thrived. McCarthyism was how Republicans won. George H.W. Bush used it to get himself elected, terrifying voters with Willie Horton. And his son, under the tutelage of strategist Karl Rove, not only got himself reelected by convincing voters that John Kerry was a coward and a liar and would hand the nation over to terrorists, which was pure McCarthyism, he governed by rousing McCarthyite resentments among his base.
Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP anti-government posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That's why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy playbook, kept pushing Obama's relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.
And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Palin. It's in the genes.
27 November 2008
[from the book getting even, by woody allen...]
NOTES FROM THE OVERFED
(After reading Dostoevsky and the "Weight Watchers" magazine on the same trip)
I am fat. I am disgustingly fat. I am the fattest human I know. I have nothing but excess poundage all over my body. My fingers are fat. My wrists are fat. My eyes are at. (Can you imagine fat eyes?) I am hundreds of pounds overweight. Flesh drips from me like hot fudge off a sundae. My girth has been an object of disbelief to everyone who's seen me. There is no question about it, I'm a regular fatty. Now, the reader may ask, are there advantages or disadvantages to being built like a planet? I do not mean to be facetious or speak in paradoxes, but I must answer that fat in itself is above bourgeois mentality. It is simply fat. That fat could have a value of its own, that fat could be, say, evil or pitying, is, of course, a joke. Absurd. For what is fat after all but an accumulation of pounds? And what are pounds? Simply aggregate composite of cells. Can a cell be moral? Is a cell beyond good and evil? Who knows-- they're so small. No, my friend, we must never attempt to distinguish between good fat and bad fat. We must train ourselves to confront the obese without judging, without thinking this man's fat is first- rate and this poor wretch's is grubby fat.
Take the case of K. This fellow was porcine to such a degree that he could not fit through the average door frame without the aid of a crowbar. Indeed, K. would not think to pass from room to room in a conventional dwelling without first stripping completely and then buttering himself. I am no stranger to the insults K. must have borne from the passing gangs of young rowdies. How frequently he must have been stung by cries of "Tubby!" and "Blimp!" How it must have hurt when the governor of the province turned to him on the Eve of Michelmas and said, before many dignitaries, " You hulking pot of kasha!"
Then one day, When K. could stand it no longer, he dieted. Yes, dieted! First sweets went. Then bread, alcohol, starches, sauces. In short, K. gave up the very stuff that makes a man unable to tie his shoelaces without help from the Santini Brothers. Gradually he began to slim down. Rolls of flesh fell from his arms and legs. Where once he looked roly- poly, he suddenly appeared in public with a normal build. Yes, even an attractive build. He seemed the happiest of men. I say "seemed," for eighteen years later, when he was near death and fever raged throughout his slender frame, he was heard to cry out, "My fat! Bring me my fat! Oh, please! I must have my fat! Oh, somebody lay some aoirdupois on me! What a fool I've been. To part with one's fat! I must have been in league with the Devil!" I think that the point of the story is obvious.
Now the reader is probably thinking, Why, then, if you are Lard City, have you not joined a circus? Because-- and I confess this with no small embarrassment-- I cannot leave the house. I cannot go out because I cannot get my pants on. My legs are too thick to dress. They are the living result of more corned beef than there is on Second Avenue-- I would say about twelve thousand sandwiches per leg. And not all lean, even though I specified. One thing is certain: If my fat could speak, it would probably speak of a man's intense loneliness-- with, oh perhaps a few additional pointers on how to make a sailboat out of paper. Every pound on my body wants to be heard from, as do Chins Four through Twelve inclusive. My fat is strange fat. It has seen much. My calves alone have lived a lifetime. Mine is not happy fat, but it is real fat. It is not fake fat. Fake fat is the worst fat you can have, although I don't know if the stores still carry it.
But let me tell you how it was that I became fat. For I was not always fat. It is the Church that has made me thus. At one time I was thin-- quite thin. SO thin, in fact, that to call me fat would have been an error in perception. I remained thin until it was my twentieth birthday-- when I was having tea and cracknels with my uncle at a fine restaurant. Suddenly my uncle put a question to me. "Do you believe in God?" he asked. "And if so, what do you think he weighs? So saying, he took a long and luxurious draw on his cigar and, in that confident, assured manner he has cultivated, lapsed into a coughing fit so violent I thought he would hemorrhage.
"I do not believe in God," I told him. "For if there is a God, then tell me, Uncle, why is there poverty and baldness? Why do some men go through life immune to a thousand mortal enemies of race, while others get a migraine that lasts for weeks? Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered? Answer me, Uncle. Or have I shocked you?"
I knew I was safe in saying this, because nothing ever shocked the man. Indeed, he had seen his chess tutor's mother raped by Turks and would have found the whole incident amusing had it not taken so much time.
"Good nephew," he said, "there is a God, despite what you think, and He is everywhere. Yes! Everywhere!"
"Everywhere, Uncle? How can you say that when you don't even know for sure if we exist? True, I am touching your wart at this moment, but could that not be an illusion? Could not all life be an illusion? Indeed, are there not certain sects of holy men in the East who are convinced that nothing exists outside their minds except for the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station? Could it not be simply that we are alone and aimless, doomed to wander in an indifferent universe, with no hope of salvation, nor any prospect except misery, death, and the empty reality of eternal nothing?"
I could see that I made a deep impression on my uncle with this, for he said to me, "You wonder why you're not invited to more parties! Jesus, you're morbid!" He accused me of being nihilistic and then said, in that cryptic way the senile have, "God is not always where one seeks Him, but I assure you, dear nephew, He is everywhere. In these cracknels, for instance." With that, he departed, leaving me his blessing and a check that read like the tab for an aircraft carrier.
I returned home wondering what it was he meant by that one simple statement "He is everywhere. In these cracknels, for instance." Drowsy by then, and out of sorts, I lay down on my bed and took a brief nap. In that time, I had a dream that was to change my life forever. IN the dream, I am strolling in the country, when suddenly I notice I am hungry. Starved, if you will. I come upon a restaurant and I enter. I order the open- hot- roast- beef sandwich and a side of French. he waitress, who resembles my landlady (a thoroughly insipid woman who reminds one instantly of some of the hairier lichens), tries to tempt me into ordering the chicken salad, which doesn't look fresh. As I am conversing with this woman, she turns into a twenty- four- piece starter set of silverware. I become hysterical with laughter, which suddenly turns to tears and then into a serious ear infection. The room is suffused with a radiant glow, and I see a shimmering figure approach on a white steed. It is my podiatrist, and I fall to the ground with guilt.
Such was my dream. I awoke with a tremendous sense of well- being. Suddenly I was optimistic. Everything was clear. My uncle's statement reverberated to the core of my very existence. I went to the kitchen and started to eat. I ate everything in sight. Cakes, breads, cereals, meat, fruits. Succulent chocolates, vegetables in sauce, wines, fish, creams and noodles, eclairs, and wursts totalling in excess of sixty thousand dollars. If God is everywhere, I had concluded, the He is in food. Therefore, the more I ate the godlier I would become. Impelled by this new religious fervor, I glutted myself like a fanatic. In six months, I was the holiest of holies, with a heart entirely devoted to prayers and a stomach that crossed the state line by itself. I last saw my feet one Thursday morning in Vitbsk, although for all I know they are still down there. I ate and ate and grew and grew. To reduce would have been the greatest folly. Even a sin! For when we lose twenty pounds, dear reader (and I am assuming you are not as large as I), we may be losing the twenty best pounds that we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty or, in the case of one inspector general I knew, just some unsightly flab around the hips.
Now, I know what you are saying. You are saying this is in direct contradiction to everything-- yes, everything-- I put forth before. Suddenly I am attributing to neuter flesh, values! Yes, and what of it? Because isn't life that very same kind of contradiction? One's opinion of fat can change in the same manner that the seasons change, that our hair changes, that life itself changes. For life is change and fat is life, and fat is also death. Don't you see? Fat is everything! Unless, of course, you're overweight.