Which Side Are You On?

So here we sit on the eve of May Day 2012, and there is an eerie calm-before-the-storm kind of feeling.

The mainstream media is still doing its best to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

The only May-Day related event reported in the NY Times today was that a lawsuit was filed in federal court to keep police from using “pen” barricades to hold demonstrators against their will.

Apparently news of the remarkable energy, creativity and defiant spirit showed by the Occupy movement in the countdown to May Day is not fit to print, ie, not important to the intended audience of The Times.

But if you move over to Twitter and search #Occupy, #OccupyWallSt, or #MayDay, you get a whole different picture of what’s going on.

Instead of the nose-in-the-air ho-hum of the fat-cat NY Times, suddenly you’re plunged into a hum of activity, down on the ground with a million twittering mice running around energetically, purposefully and thoughtfully.

There is @OccupyColleges calling for a student strike to protest the debt-bondage of student loans.

#OWS is trumpeting the latest total of 135 U.S. cities where general strikes have been organized for tomorrow.

The Nation, Democracy Now, and Truthout are publishing advance stories preparing for what’s coming.

The media landscape itself bears evidence of the huge and widening gap between the 1%-dominated old guard, napping on its laurels, and the feisty up-and-at-‘em new media webizens, who are vigilant and unafraid to welcome in something new and different.

For make no mistake, the General Strike planned for tomorrow is something new.

International Workers Day has not been celebrated in the U.S. for a long time.  In fact, during most of my lifetime it was demonized as a Communist holiday, which you’d be unpatriotic–unAmerican!–to take seriously.

We’ve come a long way in a very short time.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, being a worker, rather than a boss, is no longer a sign of personal shortcomings, as in: what’s wrong with you, that you’re still only earning minimum wage, bub?  You dumb or something?

Likewise, the Occupy Foreclosures movement has taught us that it’s not that we were stupid to apply for that tempting mortgage, it’s that the banks were predatory and sleazy to talk us into it.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the onus has shifted to the 1% to prove that what they’re doing is responsible and for the good of all, rather than motivated by naked greed and self-interest.

The rapacious vulture Capitalism that has dominated the U.S., and hence the world, since the end of World War II has been exposed, and there is no going back.

It may be true that many of the strikers are motivated by self-interest rather than pure altruism.  They want jobs, along with affordable housing, education and health care.

But it’s also true that the Capitalist masters of the universe have lost control of the ship and can no longer pull levers to make jobs and other social benefits magically appear.

Unless, that is, the ultra-rich 1% can be persuaded to part with a fair portion of their loot.

History shows that when the gap between the haves and have-nots widens too far, something snaps and the mob takes over to reset the balance.  Think the American, French and Haitian Revolutions.  Think the Communist takeovers of Russia and China.

When it happens, it isn’t pretty.  Haven’t those in power learned their lesson?  Don’t they realize that they can only push the 99% so far before all the police barricades in the world won’t be able to hold us back?

I don’t think we’ve hit that snapping point yet.  But May Day 2012 is going to be something to watch, and something to participate in, too, if the spirit moves you.

Me, I’ll be teaching my classes this May Day, but with a tip of my hat to what’s going on down at the barricades in New York and all across the country.

And you?  Where will you be on this historic International Worker’s Day?

“Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?”

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Watch out, Grey Lady! We’re watching you….

Maybe I should just do the right thing and swear off reading The New York Times. 

I’ve been reading The Times more or less every day since the time I could read–going on forty years now, give or take.

Never have I felt less confident that I can rely on the editors there for solid, unbiased information.  Never has it been more obvious to me that The Times represents the viewpoint of the 1%.  The liberal 1%, perhaps, but the 1% after all.

Why am I ranting about this today?  I just got around to reading a piece from the Sunday Magazine section, “It’s Not Just About the Millionaires,” in which author Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money show, argues that to solve our financial crisis in this country, “we have to go to where the money is — the middle class.”

Davidson constructs a cockamamie story about how it makes more financial sense to raise taxes on the middle class–families earning less than $68,000 a year–as well as close “despised loopholes (or beloved incentives)” for these middle class folks (we’re talking about the mortgage interest deduction, for example) than to raise taxes and close loopholes for corporations and those making more than $1 million a year.

Excuse me?

Has Mr. Davidson and his family ever tried to live on $68,000 a year?

As someone who is struggling as a single mom in this tax bracket right now myself–in a home that is now worth less than its mortgage–I can say with personal conviction that raising my taxes would have a huge impact on my life.  For most people in my position, it would mean the difference between starting a life of permanent credit card debt bondage, or staying very precariously in the black.

But that’s not all.  Mr. Davidson proposes that the middle class should also “give up some benefits (Social Security, Medicare).”

So not only are you proposing to raise my taxes, Mr. Planet Money, you’re also going to shrink the paltry benefits I may receive when I’m old and worn out and expecting at least some support from the society to which I’ve given all the best years of my life?

What’s wrong with this picture?

In Mr. Davidson’s scenario, a middle-class worker like me works hard every day, both in the public arena and at home (and remember, no benefits accrue for the years and years of unpaid home labor I’ve put in since I married and had children), and because of a downturn that I had nothing to do with, I am now going to be squeezed harder through taxes, and then hung out to dry in my old age with reduced Social Security and Medicare benefits.

This kind of attitude is EXACTLY what the Occupy America movements are protesting.

Hell no, we are not going to take this kind of B.S. anymore.

If you want to raise taxes, Mr. Planet Money, it will have to be on the wealthy and the corporations who are making out like bandits while the rest of us tighten our belts and do the best we can.

If that’s not enough money to make our national ends meet, then how about reducing the military budget?  How about reducing the billions we spent on the nuclear arms program?  How about directing more taxpayer funds into programs that actually benefit taxpayers?

I am beyond frustrated with the one-sided reporting of The New York Times.

I know statistics can be manipulated to support any side of an argument.  But I expect the most respected source of news on the planet to do a better job at being truly even-handed.  Sure, give Mr. Davidson and his monied folks some space.  But his should not be the only voice we hear.

Fortunately, in the internet age, there are plenty of alternatives to The New York Times.  

Watch out, Grey Lady, or even longterm devoted readers like me may be simply switching the channel.

Resisting the Energy Vultures

Today’s New York Times Sunday Review piece by White House correspondent Mark Landler, “A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy,” gives disturbing insight into the mindset not only of the men and women who preside over national foreign policies, but also into the media lapdogs who cover them.

Landler reports that China and the U.S., along with practically every other country in possession of a serviceable Navy fleet, are entering into “a new type of maritime conflict — one that is playing out from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean, where fuel-hungry economic powers, newly accessible undersea energy riches and even changes in the earth’s climate are conspiring to create a 21st-century contest for the seas.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of Landler’s sources, explains blandly that “This hunt for resources is going to consume large bodies of water around the world for at least the next couple of decades.”

Clinton has got the right metaphor there.  What Landler describes all too flippantly as “a watery Great Game” could well indeed “consume large bodies of water around the world.”

What neither Clinton nor anyone else interviewed for Landler’s article bring up is the cardinal question:  When the game is over, what will be left of the living beings that used to populate those waters in unimaginably vast numbers?

Landler describes the navies and drill ships of countries from China and the U.S. to Turkey and Israel jockeying for control of huge troves of oil and natural gas deposits that have been discovered beneath the sea.

Of especial interest to these circling energy vultures are the deposits beneath the Arctic ice.  Landler reports that “melting ice has opened up the fabled Northwest Passage,” making resource extraction in the Arctic more viable than before.

This offhand and veiled reference to climate change provides a window into the sociopathic mindsets of the men who rule the Energy Kingdoms.  The cowboys of global fossil fuel extraction are essentially warlords, relying on the national armies of their nominal countries of origin to clear the way of opposition to their reckless drilling.

From their warped point of view, global warming can be seen as a bonus.

If the Arctic ice melts, so much the better–it’ll make it easier to get those billions of barrels of oil out of the sea and into the global market.

No matter that deep sea drilling has been proven to be highly risky and lethal to the environment.  Hello, does anyone remember BP in the Gulf of Mexico?

Imagine a spill like that going on in frigid northern waters.

Imagine billions of barrels worth of oil or gas gushing into the Arctic Ocean, to be picked up by the currents and spread all over the world.

Imagine the destruction of marine wildlife, and indeed the entire marine food chain, that this would entail.

NY Times reporter Landler doesn’t waste time contemplating such grim scenarios.  The focus of his article is “gunboat diplomacy,” a glamorous new competition among national navies to dominate the oceans, seen strictly in utilitarian terms.  His only mention of fish, or indeed any maritime creature, is a brief aside that icebreakers are being sent into the Arctic circle by countries like China and Korea, “to explore weather patterns and fish migration.”

Landler’s article, which is billed as “news analysis,” reveals the extent to which the chillingly disturbing values of the Energy Kings have permeated not only the governments who are supposed to be regulating their industry and safeguarding the natural world, but also the media “watchdogs,” who are obviously sitting cozily in the laps of Big Oil.

Questions of environmental sustainability and health are simply outside the picture for these folks.  It’s not relevant to them whether or not the polar bears survive.  They don’t care about the coral reefs, or the plankton.  They don’t care about whales.  Their only concern is the bottom line.

What is the most effective opposition to such monomania?

Trying to think of persuasive strategies gives me a touch of hysteria.  We could appeal to their love of seafood!  Wouldn’t they miss their caviar and oysters?

They will figure out how to grow these in tanks.

We could appeal to them as property owners: what’s going to happen to their beachfront homes, not to mention their office towers in coastal cities around the world, when the waters begin to rise?

They will have armies of lawyers figuring out ways to make the taxpayers bear the burden of their lost properties.

We could appeal to their brand image.  Does Exxon-Mobil really want to go down in history as the biggest perpetrator of maritime omnicide in world history?

They will throw this back at us, and rightly so: they were just doing their job of giving the consumer what she wants, a steady supply of affordable energy.

It’s true that we all share the blame for this tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes. It’s also true that we have the power to stop it.

How? We need to demand that the rights of the denizens of the natural world be respected.  A new Declaration of the Rights of Nature has been written–it needs to be circulated, popularized and upheld.

We need to insist that our politicians report to the people, the taxpayers, not to the corporations. Yes, people want energy; we want cars, we want electricity.  But we want to direct our tax dollars into R&D of renewable sources of energy–solar, geothermal, wind–not into dangerous oil and gas extraction or nuclear fission, and not into dirty coal mining either.

We need to call the mainstream media on its dereliction of duty when it presents one-sided reports like Landler’s industry white paper today.

Extracting those billions of barrels of oil buried below the earth’s surface miles beneath the sea would not just be a death sentence for marine life.  It would drive the nails on the human coffin as well, along with all the other species on this planet who will not be able to adapt to the erratic climate extremes of floods, droughts and storms that will inevitably ramp up once the planet heats beyond the point of no return.

Under these circumstances, if the governments won’t listen, radical action may prove a necessity.  The French Resistance to the Nazis were considered criminals in their own time and place, but look like heroes to us today, with the power of hindsight.

We are in the midst of a new, much larger Holocaust now, one that threatens not just one group of people, but all of us, and our natural world as well.

Each of us has a choice to make.  You can go along with the crowd, watching impassively as the train leaves the station for the gas chambers, or you can dare to raise your voice in opposition, and maybe even to throw a wrench in the gears of power.

Each of us is going to die sooner or later.  Wouldn’t you rather die knowing you had done your utmost to make a difference, to safeguard the world for your children and all life on this planet?

Never underestimate the value of JUST SHOWING UP

In response to “Beyond Occupy” in today’s NY Times:

Dear Bill Keller,

I was surprised and pleased to see that on your recent trip to India, you made time to talk with the social activist Anna Hazare–or at least, with a member of his team, since the great man himself, “exhausted by his latest hunger strike and weary of the media melodramas that have bedeviled his team,” had just “announced that he had taken an indefinite ‘vow of silence.’”

Obviously you didn’t think much of this as a tactic for activism, but you went ahead and talked to his associate, a woman, “Kiran Bedi, who battled for reforms as India’s first policewoman before joining Hazare.”

Despite this conversation, and despite the name of Hazare’s organization, Team Anna, you came away from this encounter with the impression that the movement is dependent on the personal charismatic leadership of Mr. Hazare.  You also noted approvingly that Hazare is “always very explicit about his objectives”–he makes specific, winnable demands.

You used this information to criticize the American Occupy movement for its “consensus-oriented and resolutely leaderless” character, and its stance as a “composite of idealistic causes, many of them vague.”

You also took the occasion to contrast the Occupy Wall Street movement, which you say is “scornful of both parties and generally disdainful of electoral politics,” with Team Anna, which “uses Indian democracy shrewdly” to advance its aims.  And while you say that the Occupy movement “has at least a strong undercurrent of anticapitalism,” the Indian movement of Hazare is, according to spokeswoman Bedi, “not anticapitalist,” but rather “pro-integrity.”

You ended your column by sticking it to the Occupy Wall Street crowd with a pithy zinger that I’m sure had you chuckling to yourself:

“I’m prepared to celebrate when the Occupiers…accomplish something more than organizing their own campsite cleanup, demonstrating their tolerance for tear gas, and distracting the conversation a little from the Tea Party. So far, the main achievement of Occupy Wall Street is showing up.”

Well, Mr. Former Executive Editor of the New York Times, I think you need to get over yourself and wipe that self-congratulatory smirk from your face.

You are among the 1% who “showed up” to be crucial cogs in the capitalist and electoral wheel that cranked us inexorably to where we are now, mired in an economic and political system so corrupt and so destructive that it has effectively locked out the millions of young people in this country who might have wanted to give American-style democracy and capitalism a chance.

Despite having covered the news for the past thirty years or so, you don’t seem to have realized that there are very few American dissenters today who can evade capture and imprisonment or even worse, assassination.  Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn got away with it.  Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Mumia, Peltier and even Tim DeChristopher have not.

The strength of the Occupy movement is precisely in its “resolutely leaderless” quality.  It’s also, as Slavoj Zizek perceptively noted recently, being strategic in not coming up with a unified “platform,” with planks that can be shot down by snipers from all sides.

Yes, the Occupy movement is suspicious of electoral politics.  That’s because it’s smart enough to figure out that if even someone as apparently idealistic and populist as Barack Obama enters the maw of American “democracy” and comes out zombified, the system itself is not worth trying to win. It has to be changed from the ground up.

And that’s what those resolute, leaderless people on the ground at Liberty Parks all over the country are out to do.  By just showing up, day after day, they slowly pull the Bill Kellers of the world out of their insulated comfort zones and into the conversation.

I may not like what Keller has to say, but I’m glad he’s talking about these issues, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to engage him in dialogue about what’s wrong with our society, and how we might go about making it better.

Never underestimate the power of a company of dedicated activists who JUST SHOW UP, day after day, to change the world. They just might be able to do it.

Let’s give them credit, let’s give them a chance, and let’s give them a hand!

Occupy Wall Street: Finally, the New York Times Gets It!! Now, how about Obama?

Protesters Against Wall Street – NYTimes.com.

This is a big victory for the Occupy Wall Street movement.  To move the staid NY Times from complete indifference to disdainful incomprehension to vigorous approval in the space of just three weeks is truly remarkable!

Haven’t I been saying that the young people today are the sleeping giant that needs to awaken, stretch and roar?  Any subordinate class (and make no mistake, the young ARE a subordinate class) is only kept down through ignorance of the true extent of their power.

In the past, it’s usually been a charismatic leader who has seized the microphone and shaken the masses out of their beaten-down stupor.  Think Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King Jr., for example.

With Occupy Wall Street, we’re onto something new: a “leaderless movement,” without microphones, but with the extraordinary amplifying power of the World Wide Web.

Social media couldn’t have done it alone–we need the resolute presence of those flesh and blood people down at Liberty Square and in parks and street corners all across America.  But their resistance is exponentially strengthened by the social network around them, spreading like wildfire throughout the country and the world.

President Obama responded at least obliquely in last week’s press conference, showing at least a glimmer of understanding of what the movement is about.

If he had a shred of political sense, he’d be looking for ways to harness the intelligence, social commitment and determination of these young people to stand up to the Tea Party crowd and the drill-and-kill Republicans who have shown themselves again and again to be against social equality in any way, shape or form.

This could turn into the political juggernaut needed to push the Republicans back into their holes, and give the Democrats some much-needed backbone.

One thing is certain: these kids are not backing down, and they’re not going to be fobbed off with half-hearted gestures of appeasement.  They are after real social change, from the ground up.

What was it Arundhati Roy used to say?   “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Yes.

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