Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why are unions and workers the only ones ever labelled "militant"?

We were discussing a certain local union the other evening and the word "militant" was very quickly applied. I had a hard time visualizing these people with axe handles. Seriously. Elementary school teachers militant? I can't even imagine high school teachers raising their voices. Militant? It's ridiculous. Stubborn, maybe. Determined. Possibly strident, aggressive, assertive, even unreasonable. Militant? No. But the term is useful because it automatically stigmatizes the labor side of any disagreement.

Strange how the word militant is always applied to the labor side of the dispute and only to the labor side. Whether there is anything remotely violent or militaristic about the union behavior. But the label "militant" automatically alienates anyone reading about the dispute because it implies violence.

History paints a vivid picture of organized violence directed by employers against workers. It was the owners' side which sent in armed Pinkertons and the National Guard and armed street thugs in the early days, who infiltrated organizing efforts, fired, blackballed and otherwise intimidated workers trying to form unions, etc. In Colorado and Chicago and the Appalachian and western coal fields it was striking miners who were shot down and killed in the hundreds. But it's only workers who are labelled "militant". Hired armies, sometimes uniformed, sent to intimidate workers trying to organize were never called "militant". Why?

There is the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado where a tent city of coal workers and their families was attacked for 14 hours by hired police with bombs and machine guns. Militant?

There was the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937, when unarmed steelworkers and their families were gunned down by Chicago police after attending a rally on the south side. Militant?

The history of official police in this country begins with gangs of vigilantes sent out to discourage uprisings (the perpetual fear of the minority white population who lived off slave labor) and to hunt down fugitive slaves but also to intimidate the slave population who might just be thinking of escaping or might "need a little encouragement" to work harder. Sometimes it was simply sport.

The term "militant" stems from the word "militia" which was regularly applied to both ad hoc and official band or posses of armed uniformed men organized for the purpose of intimidating the low paid and unpaid and slave workers who always outnumbered their employers. But "militant" is never applied to the employer side in a labor dispute. Why?

Today, the most dangerous subversive organizations in America tend to be well-armed white right-wing groups who adopt the label of "militia" or "posse", but militant is seldom applied to the rightward side of the political spectrum, just as little attention and very little news coverage is directed there. Why?

To this day, "militant" is an adjective blithely, unquestioningly, automatically attached to nonmilitant and nonviolent workers. Workers who have the nerve to ask for more and seem determined to get it. Often they are receiving as little as their employer can get away with paying them, so this more they are asking for is ordinary fairness. And the determination they show towards gaining satisfaction is usually proportionate to the patience they've shown waiting to receive fairness. Fairness is seldom offered willingly, but that recalcitrance by management is never called militant. Why?

We've been reading about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. Which side is more "militant" here? Certainly the orchestra management is more militant than the violinists and cellists. A lockout is far more militant behavior than anything the players have demonstrated, but militant is never applied to management. Why?

We can call the owners' side selfish, arrogant, greedy. (Although the word "greedy" is usually applied to workers who tend to earn a lot less than the people they are negotiating with. These days workers who are working several jobs to patch together less than a living wage are routinely called greedy.) But we don't call the owner/management side of any labor disagreement "militant". Why? Does it violate the Chicago Style Book? Did Strunk and White outlaw this usage?

Why does militant always apply only to the side of the underclass, usually in cases where there is no whiff of violence, no threat of violence, no suggestion "if we don't get this we might do that", not even implied violence. Why not use the word "firm" or "resolute" or "stubborn" or "uncompromising"? Militant is always the label, and we are instructed to visualize muscular angry men with axe handles and burning torches.

Why do we even picture axe handles? There's a history there. In Pennsylvania in 1877, mine workers trying to organize were confronted by state police augmented by hired thugs armed with pick and axe handles. Violent mobs that were sent out to intimidate blacks trying to assert their rights in the South were often armed with axe handles. Where did you get a sufficient supply of axe handles? From factories producing axes and axe handles. Supplies of uniform weaponry were always on the side of management and authority. But it has always been workers who are labelled militant. Why? Why are we obediently following the same bias today?

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hedge Fund Billionaires are Saints and Schoolteachers are Greedy Bastards

So, let's try and understand this...

Fifth grade teachers and firefighters who rescue kittens from trees are greedy bastards.

And hedge fund billionaires are saints devoted to the wellbeing of the community.

I will pause while your mind explodes.

This is really happening. Voters in Rhode Island have elected a fearless crusader who is going after the greedy schoolteachers on behalf of the heroic hedge funds.

The people who worked their whole lives on behalf of the community, teaching children, fighting fires, cleaning streets, policing parks, taking less pay in exchange for a pension, are actually terrible selfish greedy monsters who must be reined in and their retirement must be confiscated by the good, honest, crusading friend of Wall Street who is working diligently to return those pension dollars to the offshore bank accounts of the brave, honest hedge fund billionaires who know best what to do with that money.

Up is down. Good is bad. Greed is admirable. Unselfishness must be punished. Jesus was wrong. Hitler was right. ...Wait a minute, Obama is Hitler... I'm confused.

What do we know for certain?

Questioning billion dollar bonuses for Wall Street bankers is like lynching. We know that. It was in the papers the other day.

ObamaCare is like what Hitler did to the Jews. That was in the paper the other day too.

The CEO of Goldman Sachs is more saintly than Mother Teresa. That was also reported this week.

Mr. Rogers, who talked about kindness and unselfishness, was a sick individual who sapped the life force from two generations of Americans. I heard that on FoxNews.

And, yes, public school teachers and firefighters are horrible greedy bastards. It's been widely reported.

It's so hard to keep a solid grip on reality, on our values. Luckily America has talk radio to tell us what to believe.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Confederate States of America still exist and are now Republican

From Ron Paul's favorite website comes this frank declaration that Lincoln was a murdering Yankee meddler who violated the sacred rights of Southern planters to keep human beings as slaves. An idea that is still prevalent in the states which dominate the Republican Party.

Here's a map of this "New Confederacy". (Thanks to the well-known and rational conservative writer Andrew Sullivan for the map.) These members of Congress are willing to derail the US economy in order to humiliate the black guy who got into the White House by mistake.

The rationale is usually that the federal government is spending too much of their god-given money on people and places that don't deserve it (other liberal states with lots of poor people or foreign countries), but it's interesting to look at decades of tax data and see that the states with the stingiest attitudes towards taxation tend to get more in tax dollars than they pay in. Here's the data, state by state, published by the Tax Foundation.

These Red States get more than they pay because they tend to be poorer and more dysfunctional, meaning they need federal help. Notice also that these legislators (mostly Republican) are also the ones who loudly refuse to vote aid for areas hit by devastating hurricanes, but they immediately demand aid when their districts are hit by tornadoes and floods. (They also tend to claim that these more devastating storms and floods and droughts are not caused by high levels of fossil fuel use as scientists say is happening but are caused by homosexuality in the US.)

There have been a lot of website postings of how Red and Blue States compare in terms of various problems like divorce rates, teen pregnancy, gun deaths, low education rates, low life expectancy, infant death rates, etc.

The red states tend to have more of these problems, which might be directly correlated to their stubborn refusal to deal with those problems. But if they have these problems they should stop preaching reform to the rest of us, or they should at least stop taking our money. Of course their most vulnerable people would be the ones to suffer. And those are the citizens they work hard to prevent from voting. If those people were allowed to vote and their votes were counted honestly, there would be fewer Red States.

The Supreme Court ruling on Citizen's United gave the Republicans the 2010 elections, which allowed them to redraw the congressional districts across the country into safe seats for dangerously insane right wing radicals whose sole aim in life is to make sure the black guy isn't allowed to fulfill his campaign promises. It's worth noting that the Republicans held the House of Representatives in 2012 despite Republican congressmen receiving more than a million fewer votes nationally. The Dems got more votes and fewer seats in the House.

This is a what happens when the Republican strategy of suppressing voting takes hold. They don't like democracy. They don't want to do what the people would like them to do. They have other clients who pay their bills for them. They are the representatives of big money, the representatives of corporations foreign and domestic. Suppressing the vote is a timeworn Republican strategy. Because they dislike democracy. Just listen to Paul Weyrich speaking in the 1980s. He helped get Ronald Reagan elected. He also helped found the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank which is helping take the democracy out of our political system, the think tank which helped the Supreme Court reach the conclusion that corporations are people and money is speech.

The Heritage Foundation is also where the system of private insurance exchanges was invented. The system now called ObamaCare. The system they are willing to derail the US economy to prevent from being put in place, because they hate anything enacted by the current black president.

Or, in the immortal words of Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx):

"I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I'm against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let's have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
And even when you've changed it
Or condensed it
I'm against it!"

(Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar, from the Marx Brothers film Horsefeathers)

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Do We Criminalize Poverty?

There's been an ugly development in Portland, Oregon. But we live in an age of ugly developments. Our worst instincts are being worked on every day. There's a major network devoted to exploiting our fears and hatreds. So we shouldn't be surprised to read that a masked avenger in Portland, calling himself "Artemis of the Wildland", is urging his neighbors to target the poor and the sick. One of the targets responded in the pages of The Guardian.

People who get aid have to take delivery through a crowd of hateful stares. Why do we do this? We are instructed to, certainly. Goaded into it by right wing media. (Watch "The Five" or "Fox N Friends" on FoxNews and you realize the nastiest bullies and mean girls of your childhood now earn six figure incomes on TV.)

But there must be something in us already. A lot of Americans are dominated by their "lizard brain", the autopilot deep in their heads that reacts to fear and loathing, the part of the primitive brain that caused ancient peoples to stone outsiders and abandon infants if they had red hair.

In difficult times that reptilian way of thinking re-emerges and there are powerful individuals that like to encourage that mindset because primitive, fearful, hateful people are easier to control. They are less likely to help their peers, less likely to organize into unions and more likely to follow corporate authority. They are the ones who wore brown shirts in 1930s Germany. We could call this lizard brain "the fascist brain".

Why don't we think differently in hard times? Some do. Many hardworking and luckless people are kind, generous, helpful, and nonjudgmental. Poor people, in fact, tend to be more selfless and generous than rich people. Which also means they tend not to judge the rich negatively for the enormous wealth shift these past few decades from working people to those who own for a living. Maybe that needs to be taught too...

Instead of stigmatizing poverty, criminalizing and punishing it, we ought to stigmatize unearned wealth. Why do we think badly of people who need food stamps even though they are working hard? Why not stigmatize the Walton family members who own 40% of the nation's wealth? They earn their billions off the labor of minimum wage employees, then they instruct them to apply for government assistance to feed their families. That kind of behavior takes more gall, more ugly nerve than applying for foodstamps after a long day's work in a warehouse.

Maybe we should stigmatize the corporate CEOs who accept large government subsidies and pay no taxes, who then give themselves billion dollar bonuses... Maybe we should stigmatize the Republican congressmen who vote against hurricane relief aid for the east coast but demand flood aid for their districts. Maybe we should stigmatize the Republicans who have voted 42 times to defund the Affordable Care Act (calling it socialist when it isn't), while accepting totally free socialist healthcare from the US government themselves.

Before we stigmatize the working poor or the sick and elderly who are unable to work, maybe we should cast a critical eye at the extremely rich who are subsidized by millions of average working taxpayers. These creeps spend their extra millions (freed up by our public subsidies) telling the rest of us who to hate and who to attack. They deserve that hate more. Want to know where our broad prosperity has gone since 1980? Look at their offshore bank balances. There are people we should be angry at and it isn't the poor.

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