Friday, May 27, 2005

The undeclared war, here at home

It had to happen. Now that employers have destroyed the lives of so many private sector employees -- through massive lay-offs, stolen 401(k)s, penurious wages, fear, loathing, and broken pension promises -- the only victims left for new assaults are those working in the public sector. And make no mistake: the corporate interests (and the politicians in their pockets) are out for blood.

While private employers such as United Airlines, US Steel, and uncountable others have been able to illegally renege on their pension obligations without paying the penalty prescribed by law -- which includes prescribed prison time -- and have received governmental carte blanche to impoverish their retired employees, they have also begun lobbying for a dismantling of public sector pensions, turning the concept of “fairness” on its head. Suddenly, in the wake of widespread financial catastrophe being visited upon them by those running the corporations, the passions of the citizenry are being whipped into a frenzy by those same corporate interests, so that those citizens will rise up and demand that public employees, too, partake of the same suffering.

“Why should [public employees] retire with a better retirement package than those of us in the private sector when we’re footing the bill?” asks Karen Hanretty, communications director of the California Republican Party. (1) Now there’s a concept for you: first, the corporations in concert with the Republicans put into place policies that result in gutting or total destruction of private sector retirements, and then, their mouthpieces mine the resulting resentment and anger and direct it toward everyone else’s retirement security.

“We’re footing the bill,” she says, when in reality public employees contribute substantially to their retirements, in actual payroll deductions and in employer contributions known as “deferred compensation.” What exactly is “deferred compensation”? It is part of an employee’s wage that is instead directed toward retirement income. Now, suddenly, such pension income is seen as some sort of gift bestowed upon those fortunate enough to not have their earned deferred wages stolen from them by dishonest and deceitful corporate executives? What is wrong with this picture?

It becomes more obvious with every passing minute that the Republicans and the corporations are at war with every wage-earner. Their clear intent is to destroy every last vestige of financial security that we wage-earners have managed to garner. The Wall Street mutual fund managers are putting their own interests before those of their clients; companies are siphoning off 401(k) contributions of their workers; employers are eliminating healthcare coverage for active and retired employees; corporations are dismantling pensions long-promised to their employees; corporate and Republican interests are working to gut the rock-bottom financial safety net of Social Security; corporations and politicians have colluded to eliminate most of the bankruptcy protection for wage-earners while doing nothing to curb the bankruptcy abuses by corporations and the wealthy; every effort is made to keep wages as low as possible, and taxes as skewed toward the wage-earner as possible, while relieving the wealthy dead of having their silver spoons taxed before being passed into the mouths of waiting idle descendents.

Of course the GOP and their bloviating cronies have redirected their attacks toward public employees -- they’ve gotten about as much blood as possible from the private sector without spiraling those folks into a descent into abject poverty. But don’t be fooled: once they get the public employees into bad straits like those faced by employees in the private sector, the assault will begin anew on the private sector. Anyone who does not believe we are in the throes of a class war -- specifically, a war against all wage-earners -- has not been paying attention, but anyone who believes such a war to be sustainable has not learned from history.

(1) “GOP spokeswoman rips on unions,” by Scott Marshall, Contra Costa Times, May 25, 2005.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


The stories just keep on coming: The U.S.A. once held a deep aversion to the practice of torture, but now we knowingly ship chosen victims to places where we are certain that they will be tortured, and indeed, we don’t hesitate to practice this dark art ourselves. I can no longer listen to the radio with impunity, because the torture stories are so frequent, and so disgusting, that I must lunge for the ‘off ’ switch, and too often these days, the report is about what we are doing our captives: chaining them to ceilings for days on end; subjecting them to forced near-drowning; beating them for days until they finally die - anyone who would defend these actions is someone devoid of humanity.

It would be inexcusable to treat convicted criminals in these ways, but we seem to think it’s not a big deal to mete out such treatment to those believed to be innocent by those who are torturing them! And could we please lose the word “interrogation” in this context? The word is torture.

Given that we’ve been decreed a “Christian nation” by the extremists who are running things, I ask: What would Jesus do?

Can we imagine Jesus siccing the snarling dog at the naked terrified cornered cowering prisoner?

How long would Jesus hold the man’s head underwater?

Would Jesus have chained the dying man back to the ceiling, or would he have ministered to the man’s wounds and tried to comfort him as he lay dying?

The trouble with war is it brings out the worst in everyone. But the “worst” that we’re now seeing from our own forces is way worse than anything I ever would have imagined, being done in my name. Why are these untrained people given such vast powers over the lives of others with no supervision? Or, are they acting at the behest of their supervisors? Those are the only two available options, and neither is satisfactory: either the supervisors are at fault for ordering such acts, or the supervisors are at fault for inadequately preventing such acts - that’s what the ‘chain of command’ is all about. And yes, those performing the acts are also at fault, but why have their superior officers been so easily exonerated?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” - it doesn’t get much simpler. If we can no longer comprehend even that basic moral principle, we deserve to lose all that we have. If we do not feel a deep sense of shame, then clearly, we no longer possess a moral compass, and we have ceased to be civilized human beings. Shame, shame, shame.

[The Bush administration’s overwrought response to the Newsweek Koran-flushing story is the worst sort of red herring. There have been numerous well-documented reports of Korans being tossed into toilets in the U.S. military prisons during the past several years, so even if the details of the Newsweek story can be questioned, the substance cannot. This is an act that has been committed in our name, and whether the toilet was subsequently flushed is irrelevent to the point of absurdity.]

“In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates’ Deaths,” by Tim Golden, NY Times, May 20, 2005.

“Army Faltered in Investigating Detainee Abuse,” by Tim Golden, NY Times, May 22, 2005.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Serfin’ U.S.A.

There seems to be some confusion as to how Bush interprets “high” and “low” in terms of income. To sell his tax cuts, Bush implied that anything under $100,000 was “low income,” but now, to sell his Social Security “reforms,” any income over $20,000 is “better off.” (The basis for this “Pozen plan” is provided by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)

over $20k = “better off”
less than $100k = “low income”

So just what is the condition of those making between $20,000 and $100,000? Well, I believe that Bush would simply like them to go away.

Bush’s intent is a two-tier system: people making less than $20k and people making more than $100k (or preferably, $200k), and he plans to ensure that there is no in-between.

Bush’s ideal society is one of serfs serving the “needs” of the moneyed, serfs so consumed with day-to-day survival that they pose no significant political opposition, serfs so desperate for jobs that they’ll go be soldiers in the wars that have no end.

It isn’t that Bush doesn’t care about our post-retirement survival; he merely wants us to be wage-slaves in our waning years. As long as we can clean toilets, or bow-and-scrape-and-cater to the “chosen” people, we have value, and if we can’t, well too bad, just go die somewhere, which, incidentally, would also cure Medicare’s vast insolvency. How very convenient.

Here they come, ready or not . . .

Unabridged closing paragraphs of “Soldiers of Christ: Feeling the hate with the National Religious Broadcasters,” by Chris Hedges in Harpers Magazine, May 2005:

“I can’t help but recall the words of my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, who told us that when we were his age, and he was close to eighty, we would all be fighting the ‘Christian fascists.’

“He gave us that warning twenty-five years ago, when Pat Robertson and other prominent evangelists began speaking of a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all major American institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government, so as to transform the United States into a global Christian empire. At the time, it was hard to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously. But fascism, Adams warned, would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Adams had watched American intellectuals and industrialists flirt with fascism in the 1930s. Mussolini’s ‘Corporatism,’ which created an unchecked industrial and business aristocracy, had appealed to many at the time as an effective counterweight to the New Deal. In 1934, Fortune magazine lavished praise on the Italian dictator for his defanging of labor unions and his empowerment of industrialists at the expense of workers. Then as now, Adams said, too many liberals failed to understand the power and allure of evil, and when the radical Christians came, these people would undoubtedly play by the old, polite rules of democracy long after those in power had begun to dismantle the democratic state. Adams had watched German academics fall silent or conform. He knew how desperately people want to believe the comfortable lies told by totalitarian movements, how easily those lies lull moderates into passivity.

“Adams told us to watch closely the Christian right’s persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. Hitler, he reminded us, promised to restore moral values not long after he took power in 1933, then imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations and publications. Then came raids on the places where homosexuals gathered, culminating on May 6, 1933, with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Twelve thousand volumes from the institute’s library were tossed into a public bonfire. Homosexuals and lesbians, Adams said, would be the first ‘deviants’ singled out by the Christian right. We would be the next.”


We are witnessing the rise of American Talibanism, just as surely as George W. Bush resides in the Whitehouse. As Adams notes above, playing by “the old, polite rules of democracy” dooms us to failure, and yet, what is the alternative? What “cure” is available that isn’t worse than the disease? Is there any rational way to deal with folks whose rulebook is Revelations? What sort of world can we expect from those known as “Dominionists” who appear to have little or no familiarity with the Jesus of the four Gospels? What do we think “Dominionist” means?