Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back to the Good Ol' Days

If I had a dime for every time a US congressman or tea partier had said something blatantly antediluvian and backwards since the start of the new year, I'd be a wealthy woman by now.  I'd be smothered with dimes.  Money doesn't buy happiness, though, and I would certainly be an unhappy Tabby should the likes of Wisconsin's Gov. Walker, the Koch brothers, and their ilk manage to remake this nation in their own images.

Republicans and Tea Partiers (notice I don't call them "teabaggers"; I'm polite that way) have trumpeted the need to "take the country back."  Now, we know exactly what they mean.  They mean back to the early 1900's.  You know, the good ol' days.  Days when the right to assemble was a pretty thought, and dissenters could be hung on the nearest tree after sham trials.  Days when your child could be sent to work for pennies a day.  Days when the 8-hour workday was a pipe dream of "radicals," and there was no such thing as Workman's Comp or overtime. Ah, back when women kept their more interesting bits (ankles!) hidden from the excitable eyes of men, who have no agency over their libidinous drive in the presence of provocation.  By golly, those were the days. 

Sounds paradisical, doesn't it?  Sounds like a capitalist heaven-on-earth.  If you had capital, it likely was.  For the "unwashed masses" struggling to make ends meet, however, it was something damn near hell.   Fear not, the good old days are set to make a comeback.

Our basic rights as human beings are once again on the chopping block.  Why?  Because we've become so comfortable that we haven't found it necessary to stand up for those rights.  Who needs rights, when things are just so pleasant?  The market will take care of you.  But the market has failed.  More precisely, the men steering the market have failed.  And they've been richly rewarded for those failures. 

Wisconsin's Gov. Walker apparently miscalculated the extent to which his electorate had been tamed when he proudly and boldly announced measures that would deprive public employees (mainly teachers) of their collective bargaining rights, and would halve their pensions and health-care provisions.  Now, he and his smug brothers-in-arms are painting their unexpected protesters as spoiled, rich whiners who are milking the system.  They loudly decry school employees who make as much as $100,000 a year.  They fail to mention that most of their teachers are making about $48,000 yearly, a bit lower than the median income for the state.  Check for yourself here

So what, though, if some teachers want cushier pay and better retirement, and healthcare?  What does that have to do with me, people ask.  Everything.  It has absolutely everything to do with you.  Make no mistake. No one gets ahead without some sort of collective bargaining system.  Halliburton and other companies have thrived on collective action to keep their places at the trough for years.  They call it "networking" and "lobbying."  Yet they'd have you believe that workers joining together to work for their own interests is an unacceptable, socialist "entitlement." 

Walker's measure does not just threaten public employees.  It threatens organized labor as a whole, setting a precedent by which the state can systematically dismantle union influences.  I never thought I'd see the day when a governor threatened to set the National Guard on striking workers, but that day is here.  I never thought I'd see a Haymarket affair in my lifetime, but one is potentially brewing next door in Georgia, where a show of solidarity for Wisconsin workers is being met by Right to Carry Arms protesters--who, predictably, will be armed, although they've been asked to remain "flexible in their attire" (i.e., conceal weapons).  In Indiana, a deputy attorney general sent out a Twitter message calling for the use of "live ammunition" against the protesters, and called the demonstrators "thugs."  Check it out here.

The right wing has a way of kicking off the new year.  Last year, the right-leaning Supreme Court decided that election contributions are protected expression, and that corporations have the same rights as you--only, they have more money to contribute, ergo more to "express," and therefore, more rights.  This year, they've followed it up with union-busting moves that stand to reduce what little leverage workers have. 

We take 8-hour days, overtime, weekends off, and safe workplaces for granted in the States.  We've forgotten that people have died to have these very basic rights.  Now, the right wing wants to take these rights away from us, and they want us to trust them that it is in our best interest.  We'd best be reading our history books, folks, because it's in no one's interest but theirs. They have told you that it's a sign of personal weakness to depend upon the assistance of your neighbor, yet they've worked together to keep their networks and wealth safe from the vicissitudes that threaten the working class. They've done this by selling you a load of garbage called the "self-made man." 

No one is self-made.  Humans by nature are social creatures who have evolved to our present status precisely because we know how to cooperate for our own individual and collective interests.  By asking you not to do so, to say it's a lack of virtue, they would have you be less than human.  Less than any mammal actually. In their vision, everything worthwhile will come with a steep price-tag, including liberty. Do you really think your interests will stack up against the guns of the pampered Pinkerton men who are going to come to their defense?

Friday, February 11, 2011


Just when it seemed that Egypt's people and Egypt's president were on course for a horrific collision, Mubarak has stepped down.  What happens next is anyone's guess, but tonight, we can go to bed a little more inspired, a little more aware that a body of determined people who have had enough already can effect change. 

As I've said, what happens next is anyone's guess.  Perhaps Egypt will aspire to the kind and gentle corporatocracy that serves us so well here in the States.  (snark).

In all seriousness, I hope that Egypt's popular movement will resonate globally.  Not just in the Near East, but also here, in America, where we have lost so many of our freedoms and stand to lose so many more in the name of security (and in the name of "job creation" and "trickle down economics," as well).  I also hope that the promise that we have seen in Tahrir Square will be realized, and Egypt will maintain its momentum as it moves towards a more equitable future.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lawyers, Guns, and Money (The Sh*t Hits the Fan in Lahore)

I recently posted about the American consular employee who shot and killed two Pakistani men in Lahore. According to Reuters, the Lahore High Court has ruled that the American will remain in custody in Pakistan until he stands trial for murder.
The original questions raised by the bizarre occurrence have yet to be answered, and more have grown alongside them. Pakistani officials have identified the man as Raymond Davis; the American embassy has said this is incorrect. No one has yet explained what "Davis" was doing in Pakistan.  In the wake of the shooting, the American embassy referred to him as a "diplomatic employee." Today, they are calling him a "diplomat," a title that carries with it diplomatic immunity.  Pakistani police insist that the man was not carrying a diplomatic passport, nor was he driving a car with diplomatic plates.  America wants him released, the court has refused. 

 The questions are disturbing, the answers potentially disastrous for both America's and Pakistan's aspirations in the region. First of all, why was "Davis" not carrying a diplomatic passport or driving an embassy vehicle? The embassy has not refuted the statements of the Pakistani police.  Secondly, it is highly irregular, and ill advised, for diplomats to travel alone in Lahore, yet Davis did just that--even though he was going to an ATM, an act that was bound to attract robbers.  Thirdly, most diplomats are unarmed, depending upon the agreements made by their home country and their assigned country.  In the case of Pakistan, foreign diplomats are reportedly banned by a three-month-old law from carrying any firearms outside of the consulate. 

The issue of American diplomats carrying arms in Pakistan is not a new one.  The debate has rankled both American and Pakistani officials with increasing urgency as the "war on terror" continues.  American officials sometimes cite increasing threats to their safety as justification for bearing arms.  Pakistani police describe embarrassment at the fact that American diplomats flout their laws with impunity. 

It is not just about guns, but sovereignty and respect.  American diplomats have reportedly traveled in cars with illegal tags, and have traveled beyond their agreed-upon boundaries, all the while protected by diplomatic immunity.  Pakistani citizens have chafed more and more under these humiliating and frightening showdowns, coming to feel that between the drone attacks and armed diplomats, they count for little to the US--whose presence places Pakistan in a difficult position in the region. 

The spectre of Blackwater looms over the discussion.  Now called Xe, LLC, the company has undergone  cosmetic surgery to repair its PR, which was damaged badly by its murderous and deceitful record in Iraq. It is difficult to mention Davis without also mentioning  Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater USA employee who drunkenly killed one of the Iraqi VP's guards.  In that case, also, the US State Department attempted to keep the killer's identity from being revealed.  Both men reportedly favored a Glock 9 mm pistol. 

Pakistanis were already concerned that a company like Blackwater would come in alongside the American diplomatic corps, well before Davis and his colleagues managed to kill three Pakistani civilians that day.  The facts at hand imply that Davis has given flesh to their fears: he had no diplomatic passport; he was driving alone, unlike regular diplomats in Lahore; he was armed.  And most damning of all, he attempted to flee the scene, as did those who ran down an innocent bystander in their quest to aid him in his time of distress.  None of this speaks of a man who enjoyed diplomatic immunity. 

America is demanding that Mr. Davis be released.  Pakistanis are pushing for him to face trial.  America needs to look long and hard about what it will mean to its relationship with Pakistan if it continues with its demand.  Pakistanis have not likely forgotten the hubris and privilege with which Blackwater USA was turned loose upon the people of Iraq, or that Blackwater's morale was of greater value to the American security apparatus than were Iraqi lives.  It would be arrogance of the highest, most foolish order if Americans did forget.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ayn Freakin' Rand

Self-loathing female misogynist, fascist apologist, writer of tiresome, polemical novels...

Turns out there's another word to describe Ayn Rand:
Hypocrite.  Better yet, free-loading hypocrite.  Isn't it lovely, the way opponents of social programs end up eating from the very trough at which they turn up their noses?

Boingboing, I love you.  <3

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stirring Things Up in Pakistan

Just when you thought the US could not possibly destabilize its tenuous relationship with Pakistan more than it already has...

An American "consular employee" shot and killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore on Thursday, January 27.  The employee, whose role with the diplomatic corps has not been disclosed, has claimed the men were attempting to rob him.  A third Pakistani citizen was struck and killed by the employee's colleagues as they sped in their car to assist him. 

Little is known about the employee, identified by the BBC as Raymond Davis, or his duties in Pakistan.  He did not have diplomatic immunity, and he was not authorized to carry a gun for security.  Even more puzzling is that, while most consular employees in Lahore travel with guards, Mr. Davis traveled alone on Thursday--although he alleges that he had just withdrawn money at an ATM when the shooting occurred. 

Added up, the circumstances do not paint a favorable portrait of either Davis' or America's motives in Lahore.  Despite the fact that we are using Pakistan to stage our attacks on the Taliban and other militant groups, the US has shown itself to be singularly callous as regards Pakistani civilians.  By conservative estimates, 1,100 people were killed by drone strikes in northern Pakistan between August 2008 and September 2010.  Many of those casualties were civilians. 

The US Embassy has "denounced" the killings with the customary diplomatic palaver, affirming that an employee of the consulate "was involved in an incident yesterday that regrettably resulted in the loss of life."

This lukewarm rhetoric will probably be insufficient to cool the heating tensions bewteen Pakistanis and Americans in Lahore; to the contrary, it will likely add nothing but insult to injury.  Curiously enough, while the BBC has identified the American, the AP maintains that he is an "unnamed consular employee." 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thoughts on Obama's SOTU Address

There were some definite benefits to watching the State of the Union Address on CNN last night.  First and foremost, John Boehner sat behind Obama to the left. While I don't normally enjoy looking at Boehner (aka "The Annoying Orange," aka, "Cry Baby"), seeing him forced to sit silently while Obama spoke was definitely entertaining.  He started out with an obviously fake, but polite, smile.  As the speech progressed, the corners of his mouth drooped more and more.  When Obama mentioned ending corporate welfare for oil and gas companies, he looked downright grim.  And towards the end, when Obama mentioned a certain boy from Ohio getting his start as a sweeper in his father's bar, I thought we'd see the famous Boehner waterworks.  No such luck.  But he did look mighty, mighty embarrassed!  Honestly, of all the things Boehner has done, sweeping the floor in a bar seems the least embarrassing.  But, hey, I've never really understood the workings of the Republican mind.

Another high point was the President's call to more rigorous science education.  The previous administration seemed against all science that did not have an immediate military application (or so they led their followers to believe).  In fact, the previous administration seemed to have issues with knowledge and education, in general.  After years of hearing the virtues of the "gentleman's c," it was nice to hear a president promote intelligence and education.

And there's the segue to what was possibly the most flawed aspect of Obama's address.  I am all for funding science ed, promoting teachers as "nation builders," and innovation.  Yet the context in which all of this was mentioned troubled me deeply.  To endlessly mention "competition" with other nations, to speak of out-innovating other nations, brings back too many memories of the Cold War: an era that saw great gains for the military/defense complex, but few for scientific innovation or education. 

I was disturbed by Obama's use of the "brain-drain" (at least he had the sense not to use that designation) in his arguments for the infamous "anchor babies"/young dreamers (kudos for avoidance of that catch-phrase, too).  It's true that America does educate many foreign born scientists.  It is not universally true that those scientists take "our" education back to their nations thanklessly, though.  Yes.  Some do return to their countries of origin.  Many, however, stay here to work in research and development--or to teach college science courses.  Invoking the over-used "brain-drain" is unfair and smacks of pandering, especially when we depend upon those same scientists for much of our present day innovation.  To me, it seemed Obama was just rubbing the big, racist, xenophobic underbelly of our culture.

Frankly, I don't see how we can logically address either joblessness or illegal immigration when we refuse to acknowledge that it is our policies that have caused both.  Pressuring right-wing governments in Latin America to keep our multinationals cozy led to mass slaughter in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 80's. Those slaughters led to wave upon wave of illegal (illegal in the sense that we denied them asylum) immigrants from those nations.

We have made it easy for corporations to ship their jobs overseas.  Not, as the Republicans claim, by taxing them, but by culturing poverty in other countries and by supporting repressive regimes whose citizens will take any job they can, under any condition, no matter how deplorable.  The whole debate, from the left and the right in this country, is artificial and unhelpful.  I should qualify; it is unhelpful to workers whose jobs are being outsourced or given to immigrants.  It is quite helpful to large corporations.

So.  Final analysis of the SOTU--nothing changes.  Lots of attitude, but also lots of concession, more than a smidgen of grovelling, and very little of either hope or change.  Which, if you recall, are the pillars upholding Obama's election.  But we did get to see Boehner grimace.  And while I would have appreciated it if the Pres had stuck it to Boehner's party a bit more, anything that wipes the smile off his orange face is a lovely gesture. A mere gesture, but lovely, nonetheless.

To 1997 and Back Again

I am a contrarian.  Yes, it's a character flaw, one that sometimes reaches ridiculous, irrational, self-defeating heights.  So it's unsurprising, perhaps, that I was the last in my peer group to explore  I am glad I did, though, because it brought me back a little piece of 1997 that I didn't know I was missing. 

In 1997, I was a recent college grad with a job in Birmingham--a 60-mile drive from my community in north Alabama (heads-up; future rant on lack of public transit in 'Bama forthcoming).  Spending that much time in the car, I listened to a lot of radio.  And Birmingham being Birmingham, that means either NPR or Top 40.  Normally, this would be a bad thing.  Except that there was this one catchy, infectious tune  that got a bunch of airplay for a while.

It featured a sample from a '30's era song I didn't quite recognize.  It was titillatingly vague, in terms of gender; that was definitely a man singing "I could never be your woman." Best of all, it contained one line that caught my ear immediately: 

So much for all your highbrow, Marxist ways...

You can go for years in Alabama without hearing the word Marxist in any context (now, "commie" occurs with great regularity, and "socialist" is trotted out like a sturdy old work horse every election--but Marxist, well, only in history class).  So to hear it casually thrown out in a clever, hooky pop song was jolting.

I loved that song.  I could never find the album in the stores when I actually had money to spend on music.  So when it was edged off the radio by blander offerings, I was sad.

Years went by.  I forgot about the fun little song about a charming, handsome, Marxist ass until Pandora played it on my station a couple of days ago.  I found the video on YouTube (fabulous!), and I did a Google search.  It turns out that White Town, the band from which "Your Woman" issued, comprises one man, Jyoti Mishra.  It turns out  also that he identifies as an anarcho-syndicalist (joy!).  And, he had a "love map" on his blog, demonstrating a lack of love from Alabama.

As an Alabamian long fascinated with anarcho-syndicalism, I had to email!  I mean, the fact that he managed to get the word "Marxist" played over and over again on pop radio was reason enough.  But also, his blog touches upon some disturbing truths about America's international policies, especially the deadly drone attacks launched against Pakistani and Afghanistani targets.  And he's a Chomsky fan. And he's straight edge. And, and...

To my pleasant surprise, he sent me the nicest email back.  His blog and his email made me feel less isolated.  It gave me a little more hope, knowing there are other people concerned about the same issues and working to keep them in the public consciousness.  Because, let's face it, in a state where Obama is largely regarded as a socialist, I'm not going to find a lot of political sympatica any time real soon! 

So my first post is in honor of White Town and Jyoti Mishra.  He's a marvelous musician and a super person--and he has done a lot since "Your Woman."  Check him out: