Friday, May 29, 2009

Sure Road to Success - Stick It to Labor

I can say this because I'm a liberal and a Michigander: My heart breaks for the laboring class in this country. I feel sorrow even for the workers who can't see that the unions are their only lifeline and inexplicably fight against them with a passion reserved only for one's worst enemies.

The working class, the significant majority in numbers, has somehow, ever since Ronald Reagan declared war on them, become the least of us--the minority. Privatization and outsourcing have rendered them nothing more than powerless drudges.

The working class is the laughingstock, the disposable, the darling of the politicians when they need their votes, and the most wretched of pariahs when the monied class sees their mountain top begin to erode.

The children of the working class hold no status and deserve no consideration. There are millions of people who would rather spend their money fighting against abortion laws than feed and care for poor children.
  • More than 9 million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 2 million of which are ages 5 and under, representing nearly 13 percent of all children under age 18 in the United States and over 72 percent of all children in poverty.
  • According to the USDA, an estimated 12.4 million children lived in food insecure (low food security and very low food security) households in 2007.
  • 8 states plus DC have more than 20 percent of children living in food insecure households, the states of Texas (23.58%) and Mississippi (22.84%) have the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.
  • The top four states with the highest rate of food insecure children are Texas, Mississippi, Arizona, and New Mexico.
There is a concerted effort in this country to abolish public education, which means that the working majority would receive little or no schooling. Instead of working to fix the massive education problems that face us, there is a faction (which includes sitting politicians) that would, instead, like to see all education privatized and turned into a money-maker.

The working class is subject to scams that in any other culture would be considered criminal. PayDay loans and cash advance loans are legal in all but a few states. Credit card interest rates can run as high as 35% legally. Usury laws went by the wayside, along with even the most basic consumer protections. All that those concerned, including governmental agencies, can do now is put out bulletins warning against scammers.

The goal is the impoverishment of the working class, and I believe we're reaching that level faster than any Imperial Fat Cat could have imagined in his wildest wet dream.

What stuns me and keeps me awake at night is that there are millions of laborers here in America who see no disparity, no unfairness, no real need to change the status quo. Wages and protections go down at a dizzying pace while costs to live rise by the minute.

Robert Reich wrote in his blog today that manufacturing jobs are gone forever, so we might as well

. . .stop pining after the days when millions of Americans stood along assembly lines and continuously bolted, fit, soldered or clamped what went by. Those days are over. And stop blaming poor nations whose workers get very low wages. Of course their wages are low; these nations are poor. They can become more prosperous only by exporting to rich nations. When America blocks their exports by erecting tariffs and subsidizing our domestic industries, we prevent them from doing better. Helping poorer nations become more prosperous is not only in the interest of humanity but also wise because it lessens global instability.

Want to blame something? Blame new knowledge. Knowledge created the electronic gadgets and software that can now do almost any routine task. This goes well beyond the factory floor. America also used to have lots of elevator operators, telephone operators, bank tellers and service-station attendants. Remember? Most have been replaced by technology. Supermarket check-out clerks are being replaced by automatic scanners. The Internet has taken over the routine tasks of travel agents, real estate brokers, stock brokers and even accountants. With digitization and high-speed data networks a lot of back office work can now be done more cheaply abroad.

I don't know. Maybe that's what so depressing--that notion from even the most learned, the most logical, that we might as well just give up. Privatizing and outsourcing works. Our days of actually producing goods are over. Where it used to be patriotic to produce goods, we now find that the best way to keep our country strong is to send the workers packing.

So now what do we do? Here's Reich again:

The biggest challenge we face over the long term -- beyond the current depression -- isn't how to bring manufacturing back. It's how to improve the earnings of America's expanding army of low-wage workers who are doing personal service jobs in hotels, hospitals, big-box retail stores, restaurant chains, and all the other businesses that need bodies but not high skills.

Unbelievable. Even Reich. They got to Reich. Who's next? God??


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sometimes a Picture isn't Worth a Thousand Words

On the issue of the latest torture pictures, many, if not most of the people whose opinions I normally value are going against me on this one. (Joan Walsh, Jonathan Turley, Rachel Maddow, Sen. Russ Feingold. . .)

But I believe Obama is doing exactly the right thing in withholding those pictures from public scrutiny. It's hardly "hiding evidence", as so many are suggesting. It's simply keeping them from being broadcast al over the world. The people who need to see those pictures have either already seen them or will see them. That's where "transparency" comes in. Because you and I and the other guy haven't seen them doesn't mean there's anything nefarious or even dishonest going on. Nor does it mean that Obama is going back on a promise.

There are thousands if not millions of items that we may never see because they're classified. As I see it, this is entirely a security issue. I do believe our military will be compromised if they're made public. The clamoring for viewing baffles me. What would it gain? What is it any of us needs to see? Isn't it enough that we know they're out there? Do we really need to see them over and over again, day after day, night after night, for weeks or months on end--knowing that the whole world is seeing them, too--including our enemies?

Jonathan Turley called Obama's decision not to release the new photos "Positively Orwellian".

Joan Walsh said Obama sounded "positively Rumsfeldian" when he announced that he would recommend not releasing the photos.

Janis Karpinski, the retired brigadier general formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib prison, told CNN today, "It is sad and tragic. The reversal will absolutely stir up more controversy than release of the photographs, causing an outpouring of rampant speculation -- What is the government hiding? Who are the people in the photographs? How awful can these new photos be? And worse."

She may be right concerning the speculation. We live in an age of information overload, where "news" is broadcast 24 hours a day, with the chance that the day's stories might be repeated 30 or more times. We could spend mountains of time speculating about what is in those photos, or we can spend days poring over the photos themselves. Or--here's a thought--we could get over the fact that we may not see the actual pictures any time soon and move on to the fact that it was Obama himself who released the OLC torture memos in what some might call a refreshing display of. . .transparency.

The fact that we know that thousands of these photos exist is sickening enough. People have been torturing in our name and have been obscenely, absurdly, photographing the acts. That is horrifying--but it's out there. President Obama hasn't swept that fact under the carpet.

There are many who say that we can't possibly get the same gut feelings--and thus the appropriate rage--from a written account of incidences of torture as we can from actual photographs or film. That's assuming that gut feelings and rage are the bottom line here. They're not. It's justice we're after, not a balm for our anger.

But the larger point is that, whether or not the public has a chance to view the new torture photographs, nothing is going to change.

Obama either will or will not pursue the prosecution of American war criminals. (Something I'm all for.)

His administration either will or will not actually change policy concerning confinement, interrogation and torture. (A necessary step if we're ever to hold our heads up again.)

And culpable members of the Bush Administration may or may not get their comeuppance.

Sam Stein wrote a piece yesterday in The Huffington Post quoting an ACLU lawyer who spoke on Fox News (Really? ACLU? Fox News? Together??) about the president's decision to stop the release of the photos. Jameel Jaffer said, "These photographs are critical to the historical record so it is very disappointing... that the administration is going to try and suppress them."

I haven't heard from anyone that the pictures will never be made available. To use the "historical record" argument as a reason to release such inflammatory pictures during a time of war is disingenuous.

Stein also quotes an "anonymous White House aide":
"The President would be the last to excuse the actions depicted in these photos. That is why the Department of Defense investigated these cases, and why individuals have been punished through prison sentences, discharges, and a range of other punitive measures. But the President strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing US forces, and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. "

There is no real indication that Obama is going to sweep the wartime abuses of the Bush Administration under the carpet. There is no evidence that any of that information, including the photos, will be destroyed. We've already begun to have congressional hearings concerning the use of torture in American military prisons. (What Went Wrong: Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Administration)

Matthew Alexander, leader of the Zarqawi interrogation team in 2006 and author of "How to Break a Terrorist", gave written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, explaining how useless torture really is. Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent involved in interrogations, spoke behind a screen at that same hearing, saying basically the same thing.

Get some perspective, please. And be honest. We don't need to see those actual photographs in order to get a good picture of prisoner abuses perpetrated in our name. The evidence is surfacing daily and the word is getting out. New witnesses keep coming forward, new memos keep popping up. So how is that happening? It's happening because we finally have a government in place that understands the need for honesty and transparency.

But there are still responsibilities associated with the release of information regarding our actions. Those photos won't tell us anything we don't already know.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Color This Purple - And Keep It Away from Children

I have to say that even though I think using a coloring book that includes a drawing of the Twin Towers going up in flames as a tool to ease kid's fears about the crumbling world around them is completely, dazzlingly wrongheaded, I have to admit to ever-so-slightly mixed feelings about it. That's because I'm a liberal and I understand about letting your heart get in the way of your head.

We do these things because we love.

"A Scary Thing Happened" was put out by an Albert Lea, Minnesota Crisis Response team after a terrible tornado season, and illustrated by a grandmother of 10, with support from a medical center associated with the Mayo Clinic, a plumbing company, a printing company, and a bank, among others.

I can see those grown-ups brainstorming around a table, thinking they needed to come up with something a frightened kid could look at and understand that they're not alone, that their feelings are perfectly normal, and that there are adults who get it and want to help. I could see me sitting around that table after that devastating tornado season, wringing my hands, pounding my head: Think. THINK. What can we do?? But I like to think that even I would recognize that using the destruction of the Twin Towers as a teaching tool for terrified toddlers was glaringly beyond the pale. Still, they didn't just include a page about 9/11 inside the little book, they flashed it in full color on the cover.

Word got around about the book and in 2003 it made its way to the FEMA website, where it could be downloaded from the Kid's Page as a pdf. file. Nobody seemed to pay much attention until recently, when somebody apparently saw it and complained about the cover. The new FEMA crew took a look and promptly pulled it from the website. When they were asked why, they said a parent did complain about the content, and anyway, they were redesigning their website.

It was supposed to be gone, but of course somebody always has everything, so finding it wasn't that hard. I found it on The Smoking Gun (no surprise) and downloaded the pdf. file to see it for myself.

It is meant to be a comfort--I can see that. But I'm a grown-up and not a child still into coloring books. Coloring books are meant to be a pleasant pastime; something to while away the carefree hours. One frightening page leads to another in this book and by the time the kid has finished, he/she has a right to be scared witless. Fires, tornadoes, floods--they're all out to get you. I can't imagine even one child feeling better about the crumbling world around them because they're able to color in disaster scenes or draw pictures of how they feel. ("Draw a picture of yourself when you heard about the disaster.")

These are the kinds of things we need to talk about with our kids face-to-face. They need to feel our arms around them when we tell them the truth about what they've either witnessed or what has directly happened to them. They need to be able to talk to us about their own fears. We need to do it together, without the distraction of visual aids. But more important, we need to keep it in the here and now, and not bombard them with the things that might happen, that could happen, that will happen.

That's the egregious part about the honest but rash effort on the part of the Freeborn County Crisis Response Team--they came at it from a grown-up's logical, dispassionate point of view instead of from a kid's fearful, nightmare image of a world already out of their control .

From my own point of view, the only visual aid a scared kid needs is the sight of us being there for them.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)