Saturday, February 26, 2011

Herbert hits the mark — again

For the second Saturday in a row, Bob Herbert of the New York Times, has hit the mark. This time the reader has to get to the bottom of his column to find the target, but there it is for all to see.

Among the many heartening things about the workers fighting back in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is the spotlight that is being thrown on the contemptuous attitude of the corporate elite and their handmaidens in government toward ordinary working Americans: police officers and firefighters, teachers, truck drivers, janitors, health care aides, and so on. These are the people who do the daily grunt work of America. How dare we treat them with contempt.

It would be a mistake to think that this fight is solely about the right of public employees to collectively bargain. As important as that issue is, it’s just one skirmish in what’s shaping up as a long, bitter campaign to keep ordinary workers, whether union members or not, from being completely overwhelmed by the forces of unrestrained greed in this society (My emphasis. RS).

The predators at the top, billionaires and millionaires, are pitting ordinary workers against one another. So we’re left with the bizarre situation of unionized workers with a pension being resented by nonunion workers without one. The swells are in the background, having a good laugh.

As George Lakoff has observed, politics is all about "framing" the issue. As long as this is about Republican politicians versus Democratic unions, the real culprits remain invisible. Herbert is rightly using a much bigger frame and hoping that the political action fills it.

It may be wishful thinking.

When will the protest move from the state capitols and follow the money trail back to Wall Street, the offices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the gated mansions of the super-rich?

When they are identified as the source of the problem.

What makes Herbert's columns so refreshing is that in very few places in the mainstream media do you see the issue framed as a symptom of a plutocracy. The reason should be clear: the media are owned by the plutocrats. When, and if, protesters direct their action against the real cause, rest assured the media will described those in the streets as "radicals waging class warfare."

Funny that all those protesters in the Middle East aren't also labeled "radicals waging class warfare." Instead they are "pro-Democracy forces." That's because they are over THERE and we are HERE, where the corporate boards are interlocked and the hefty media paychecks (from corporate advertisers and underwriters) get written and cashed.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

As others see us: Quakers as "suicide cult"

I’ve recently been wondering how Quakers (I happen to be one) are perceived by the vast majority who aren’t.

Today, while reading the New York Times, I got an unusual and troubling glimpse from reading a story about a Navy midshipman, Ensign Michael Izbicki, who has just emerged successfully from the surreal experience of explaining why he is a conscientious objector.

After a two-year legal struggle, he has finally been discharged from the Navy.

It’s a bizarre, ironic story, reminiscent of “Catch-22” in many ways.

What especially caught my attention, given my interest in how Quakers are perceived, was this paragraph about Izbicki's inquisition at the hands of the Navy:

“One Navy commander suggested that the pacifist strain of Christianity that Mr. Izbicki embraced was inconsistent with mainstream Christian faith. The same commander likened the Quakers, who supported Mr. Izbicki, to the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple, a suicide cult.”

Alas, the commander is not named in the story. We need to talk. Nor does the story expand on the commander’s Jonestown/Quaker comparison, but allow me to speculate.

First, a little history is in order. The infamous Jonestown mass suicide of 1978 in northern Guyana resulted in the deaths of more than 900 Jones followers, who drank poisoned Kool-Aid and died. It was the largest mass suicide in the history of this country.

My speculation about the commander’s thinking goes like this: Because Quakers follow a testimony promoting peace and refraining from and opposing participation in war, they are, in effect, committing suicide at the hands of this nation’s murderous enemies.

That, in itself is a contradiction. Suicide, by definition, is death at one’s own hands. When one knowingly chooses to die at the hands of someone else, that is commonly referred to as martyrdom. The pages of history are full of those who put their lives on the line to die for a greater good. One died on a cross 2,000 years ago. But that, commander, is another story.

The U.S. military would have us believe that its members are martyrs to such a good. It’s a tough sell, and Ensign Izbicki wasn’t buying it, especially when he was told that, from a submarine armed with nuclear missiles, he might be called upon to kill innocent civilians.

In my view, joining the armed forces is more akin to suicide. First, one increases the chances of being killed for politically ginned-up causes. If you don't believe me, dip into "War is a Lie" by David Swanson who lays out the lies our nation's leaders have told to justify going to war.

Moreover, on-duty military personnel are literally killing themselves (ie. committing suicide) in shocking numbers. In 2009, the suicide rate in the military was higher than the civilian average. Fifty-two Marines and 48 Sailors committed suicide in 2009, according to official reports. As of November of that year, 147 soldiers had taken their lives. Air Force officials reported 41 active-duty suicides in 2009.

Then there is the rate of suicides among veterans. Veterans Administration records show there are an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department. (Statistics aren't available for veterans not being treated.)

As ensign, Michael Izbicki was already agonizing over the possibility that he might be called on to mash a button that would lead to the obliteration of civilian populations. If he were ever forced to live with performing such a deed, it is entirely conceivable his “service to our country” might drive him to suicide too.

As I say, commander, we need to talk. Might I suggest, sir, that you and your colleagues might just be commanding your own Jonestown. Call it a "military cult."

But don’t believe me. I’m not a “mainstream Christian.” I’m just a member of a Quaker “cult.”

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Making the Madison-Cairo-Scarsdale Connection

Labor supporters and protesters in Wisconsin and Ohio are merely nibbling around the edges of a huge national problem that goes way, way beyond collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Make no mistake: Madison is not Cairo. Not yet.

Right-wing governors and politicians are simply the most visible agents of a socially refined, educated, super-wealthy elite, who live in luxury, isolation and privilege. They and their paid retainers (lawyers, lobbyists, public relations agents, politicians) are the cause of our demise and remain barriers to the salvation of the nation, the world community and a sustainable environment.

As a class, they buy off legislators, they manipulate money markets, they shelter their fortunes from taxes, they control the “justice” system, they export jobs, they feed an insatiable military-industrial complex (in the name of “defense”), they control the media and its mind-twisting, diverting messages, and, yes, they happily bust unions.

Until protest is about equity and justice and is taken to the streets of Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Scarsdale, Newport, Grosse Pointe, Beverly Hills, Palm Beach and Atherton, it will be lame, misdirected and ineffective.

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