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From Wisconsin To Wall Street, An Economic Reckoning

The comparisons were inevitable. As Occupy Wall Street gathers momentum and new allies, progressives have quickly connected it with the other headline-grabbing uprising this year: The mass protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on labor unions. A statement from leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, which endorsed Occupy Wall Street this week, was typical: “Just as a message was sent to politicians in Wisconsin, a clear message is now being sent to Wall Street: Priority number one should be rebuilding Main Street, not fueling the power of corporate CEOs and their marionette politicians.”

The essential theme connecting events in Madison and New York City is unmistakable. Both represent an economic reckoning at a time of grim unemployment rates and stagnant wages for middle-class Americans. “Both the defense of unions [in Wisconsin] and Occupy Wall Street, which is broader in its definition of the problem, are responding to two or three decades of increasing economic inequality and, until fairly recently, the inability of progressives to address those things,” says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.

But the Wisconsin-Occupy Wall Street comparison is a more complicated  one in its specifics. The two don’t fit neatly side by side and, in  some ways, bear no resemblance at all. Here is a look at how two of the  biggest populist protests of the year stack up:

The Organizers

As I reported from Madison in March, labor unions and community activist groups were, from the very beginning, the driving force in the Wisconsin protests. On November 3, 2010, the day after Republicans reclaimed the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, union leaders began plotting how to respond to the looming assault on organized labor. And when Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his anti-union budget repair bill, and later threatened to sic the National Guard on those protesting his bill, unions marshaled their resources and called every member in their ranks. From their command center in Madison’s only unionized hotel, labor turned out more than a 100,000 supporters in a span of weeks.

Occupy Wall Street is not union-made. It was the anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine that put out the initial call for protesters to flood downtown Manhattan on September 17. Since then the protests have grown almost entirely without institutional support, an organic groundswell without leaders or executive boards or much structure at all. In recent days, unions have endorsed Occupy Wall Street, marched with them, and provided food, drinks, clothing, and more. But the protests remain a loosely organized, essentially leaderless effort.

Goals of the Movement

“Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Wading among the crowd in Madison in February, you couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without that chant breaking out. It captured exactly what the protesters wanted: the death of Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. (They didn’t get it.) Later, those demands broadened to include fewer cuts to funding for education and social services by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, but for much of the protests, it was perfectly clear what the angry cheeseheads wanted.

Occupy Wall Street so far has had no clear set of demands—and intentionally so, it seems. A post at OccupyWallSt.org demanded that supporters stop listing demands for fear of making protesters “look like extremist nut jobs.” The post went on, “You don’t speak for everyone in this.” The vague intentions have raised eyebrows, but they also have had the effect of welcoming a diverse group of supporters without alienating them. “The protesters have been eloquent in rejecting the idea that they produce ‘one demand’ and also in articulating in broad terms what they want,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Spreading the Word

Like the protesters in Iran’s “Green Revolution” and Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street have made savvy use of social media for everything from rallying supporters and organizing marches to asking for food. Take Twitter: Both uprisings have built lively, if contentious, forums for debate with the hash tags #wiunion and #occupywallstreet. So many tweets poured in during Wednesday’s Occupy Wall Street march that it was impossible to keep up.

Other forms of online organizing have been pivotal. There are more than 230 Facebook pages promoting Occupy events from Tacoma, Washington, to Marfa, Texas, to Milwaukee, just as Facebook helped energize protesters in Wisconsin. And for those who couldn’t make it in person, livestreaming has brought supporters from around the country and the world closer to the action on the ground.

Laying Down the Law

Scott Walker’s bill exempted police officers from the most draconian crackdowns on workers’ rights. That put cops in a tight spot, because it was the job of the police to contain and, when necessary, crack down on the crowds of public workers who occupied the state Capitol rotunda and protested in the surrounding streets. But throughout the months-long protests, police arrested very few, allowed the occupiers to remain inside the Capitol for weeks, and generally treated angry demonstrators as best as could be hoped. Off-duty cops from around the state even joined the protesters in Madison.

Actions by law enforcement in Manhattan against Occupy Wall Street have at some turns been a very different story, with police crackdowns stealing the spotlight. This video of an NYPD deputy inspector using pepper spray on a handful of female protesters sparked outrage, added a streak of sensationalism to the story, and was picked up by mainstream news outlets. The arrest of more than 700 people who marched on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend similarly made national headlines, leading to heaps of criticism and a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

Pizza for Protesters

Supporters called in pizza orders from around the world for the hearty crew of Capitol occupiers in Wisconsin. The same is happening for those camped out in Zuccotti Park, blocks from Wall Street. Pizza: It’s the nosh of choice for American uprisings in 2011.

By: Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Democracy, Equal Rights, Freedom, Government, Ideologues, Liberty, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Revolution, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Legacy Of The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings

Even now, with the healing distance of two decades, the subject of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas retains its power to provoke and divide.

It was 20 years ago this month that Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, threatening to derail Thomas’s imminent confirmation to the Supreme Court. I spent the weekend-long marathon of hearings in the Senate Caucus Room, the majestic setting of soaring marble columns and gilded ceiling contrasting with the squalid details of Hill’s allegations.

 It was both riveting and horrifying. By the time the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were gaveled to a close at 2 a.m. Monday, I — like everyone else — was simply relieved that it was over.

Looking back, it is possible to trace the larger cultural and political legacy, both good and bad, of that painful moment.

First, the Thomas-Hill hearings heralded a coarsening of the national dialogue. It goes too far to suggest cause and effect; there is no straight line between the hearings and, say, wardrobe malfunctions or “Jersey Shore.” But the hearings, with their nationally televised discussion of Thomas’s alleged tastes in pornography and his explicit overtures, crossed an invisible line into a cruder culture.

A few years earlier, I had covered a trial involving a sexual act that the existing stylebook would let me describe, rather misleadingly, only as “sodomy.” A few years later, the nation found itself in a graphic discussion about the precise meaning of “sexual relations” and the DNA evidence on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress.

The intervening experience of the Thomas-Hill hearings, with the discussion of Thomas’s alleged interest in “Long Dong Silver” and commentary about pubic hair on a Coke can, helped define deviancy downward. As we sat at the press table during the most explicit testimony, the New York Times reporter turned to me, a stricken look on his face, and asked how we were going to write about all this, given our newspapers’ notorious queasiness about sexual matters. In the end, our stories were unexpurgated.

Second, the hearings heralded — although again they did not create — an intensifying of the partisan divide. The 1987 fight over the failed nomination of Robert Bork was intense but nowhere near as personal or partisan.

As with the Clinton impeachment several years later, the Thomas nomination witnessed each side automatically lining up in support of, or in opposition to, the protagonist. Senators who wanted to see Thomas on the high court credited his version of events; those who wanted him defeated for other reasons chose to believe Hill. The facts themselves took second place to political interests.

Indeed, the very women’s groups most exercised about Thomas’s alleged misconduct were notably, shamefully silent when it came to Clinton’s behavior with a White House intern and his false statements under oath.

In hindsight, the Thomas confirmation seems almost quaint, with the Senate’s majority vote in favor of the nominee. The possibility of a filibuster was bargained away early on. Today, an option that once seemed nuclear has become the norm.

The third legacy of the Thomas hearings is a positive one: lower tolerance for sexual harassment and greater political prominence for women. Back then, an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee was inclined to ignore the Hill allegations. That would not happen today, with two women on the panel, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Two women served in the Senate in 1991; there are 17 today.

As to sexual harassment, of course such behavior still occurs and some women still endure it, rather than speak out. But Hill’s reluctant testimony educated and chastened many men, and it emboldened many women. The workplace of 2011 may not be perfect, but it is a better, fairer place.

For me, the final legacy of the hearings is entirely personal: It’s how I met my husband, who worked on the committee staff for a Democratic senator. Late on the weekend that the Hill story leaked, as I was scrambling to confirm it, he returned my phone call, explaining that he had been away at his grandmother’s 90th birthday party.

Who, he asked, was Anita Hill? He seemed like a nice guy, so with uncharacteristic patience, I brought him up to speed, instead of following my instinct to pronounce him useless and hang up. It was only months later — after we started dating — that I discovered he was feigning ignorance out of professional caution.

Twenty years and two beautiful children later, I still believe Anita Hill. But I owe an odd, unpayable debt to Justice Thomas.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 4, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Equal Rights, GOP, Ideologues, Politics, Press, Republicans, Supreme Court | , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Congressman Equates Purchasing Health Insurance With Buying An Expensive Vacation Home

Just when you thought it could not get more ridiculous, GOP Congressman and Chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittee, Denny Rehberg, has come up with a novel idea. He wants the Congressional super committee to solve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by simply killing off the expansion of Medicaid and the subsidies that will open the door to health care for millions of Americans.

In making his argument, Rehberg noted that expanding the Medicaid safety net program, and providing subsidies to low and middle class workers, is akin to the “expensive vacation home” that the average American would choose not to buy if that American was facing a deficit as serious as the nation’s.

Before getting to the heart of Rehberg’s suggestion, one can’t help  but wonder what makes the Congressman think that the “average” American  can afford an expensive vacation home (or any vacation home for that  matter) on what the average American earns, even if that American is not  in debt?

But should we be surprised by the Congressman’s view of the world?  This is the same Denny Rehberg who is not only listed as number 23 on  the list of the wealthiest members of Congress, but is the same Congressman Rehberg who had no idea what the minimum wage was in his own state (check out this video as it is priceless.)

Of course, far more important is Rehberg’s inability to grasp that  getting treatment for cancer or unblocking that clogged artery that is  going to make someone a widow or widower is not quite the same as  purchasing a vacation home—expensive or otherwise.

And while life might not be worth living for Rep. Rehberg and friends    without that idyllic home on the lake, the average American would   still  prefer to remain alive, thank you very much, which is precisely   why  Medicaid coverage was extended to more people and subsidies are to  be made available to the   working poor and middle-class so that medical  care will become an   option in their lives.

When asked how low and middle class  Americans will manage to purchase   health care, should the mandate requiring them to do so be  found to be Constitutional by SCOTUS, Rehberg answered that Health and  Human Services would be able to grant waivers to those who cannot afford  coverage without Medicaid or subsidies.

Thus, Rehberg’s solution is to simply leave millions of Americans without coverage by way of a waiver. Nice.

Health Care For America Now’s Executive Director, Ethan Rome, put it this way:

Rep.  Rehberg’s proposal is yet another part of the Republican assault on the  middle class. Denny Rehberg says that basic health care is a luxury  item, as if a mother in Montana taking her children to the doctor or a  cancer patient getting treatment is the same as buying ‘an expensive  vacation home.’

Considering that estimates place the uninsured under age 65 in Montana at somewhere between 16 percent and 20 percent of the population, a number well in excess of the national average, I suspect that Rehberg’s fellow Montanan’s might disagree with his approach.

Let’s hope they voice that disagreement at the ballot box next November.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Mother Jones, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, GOP, Ideologues, Income Gap, Medicare, Minimum Wage, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Steve Jobs’s Legacy Says About Innovation

In the wake of Apple Computer  cofounder Steve Jobs’s death, it’s become almost a truism that he provided  consumers what they needed before they even knew they needed it.

I think it’s true not only in the  case of the revolutionary products that Jobs marshaled into existence, but of  many, many consumer goods that seemed exotic or pointless at first, and then  became ubiquitous.

It’s the nature of innovation, the  “novus.” The New Thing.

There’s an important moral dimension  to it, too, I think—this idea  of “needing” consumer goods. Pro-innovation  people—the vast majority of  us—love new things. We love things that make our  lives simpler,  easier, more enriching, or just more fun.

Take the vacuum cleaner.

I remember well a lefty history  professor in college, lecturing in a  disdainful deterministic tone about the  vacuum cleaner. Did it make  housewives’ lives easier—or did it impel them to  remove household dust  that had previously been a nonissue?

On the one hand, Christine Rosen’s 2006  essay in The New Atlantis,  “Are We Worthy Our Kitchens?”, was a  definitive takedown of such  thinking. There have been real gains in human  welfare due to  industrial-era electronic technology:

Despite its humble  status … the electric washing  machine represents one of the more dramatic  triumphs of technological  ingenuity over physical labor. Before its invention  in the twentieth  century, women spent a full day or more every week performing  the  backbreaking task of laundering clothes. Hauling water (and the fuel to   heat it), scrubbing, rinsing, wringing—one nineteenth-century American  woman  called laundry “the Herculean task which women all dread.” No one  who had the  choice would relinquish her washing machine and do laundry  the old-fashioned  way.

Then again, even with all of our  fancy time-saving gadgets, has family/domestic really improved? She continues:

Judging  by how Americans  spend their money—on shelter magazines and kitchen  gadgets and home  furnishings—domesticity appears in robust health.  Judging by the way Americans  actually live, however, domesticity is in  precipitous decline. Families sit  together for meals much less often  than they once did, and many homes exist in  a state of near-chaos as  working parents try to balance child-rearing, chores,  long commutes,  and work responsibilities. As Cheryl Mendelson, author of a  recent book  on housekeeping, observes, “Comfort and engagement at home have   diminished to the point that even simple cleanliness and decent  meals—let alone  any deeper satisfactions—are no longer taken for  granted in many middle-class  homes.” Better domestic technologies have  surely not produced a new age of  domestic bliss.

True, no?

And who can deny the moral, or at  least McLuhan-esque, dimension of “gadget love”?

There’s no simple answer to these  questions—and I ponder them anew  every time I interact with an Apple product.  (Like right now, as I  type.)

I’m far from a Mac nerd, but I am,  in my own way, a heavy user. My  iPod battery has been broken for months, and I  haven’t gotten around to  replacing it. Lately, the idea of driving without  ready access to my  entire music library—something that would have been  unthinkable for  most of my lifetime—is a continual annoyance.

And when I first bought that iPod, I  found myself mired  in a sort of technological obsessive-compulsive disorder:

With  1,000-plus CDs that I’d ideally like to  upload—because you can’t let all those  free gigabytes starve, not with  so many of the world’s poor children starving  for gigabytes—the process  of ripping, in short order, became an object of dread  and crippling  self-doubt. Unripped CDs now taunt me in their unripped-ness. I  can  almost hear them, in their half-broken jewel cases and water-stained   leaflets, in their state of 20th-century plastic inertness, laugh at   me.

I’ve also found  the aesthetic, near-cultic magnetism of Apple products a little creepy, too:

When  I read stories about iPod users rhapsodizing about  how their iPods are profound  reflections of their personalities; how  their iPod shuffle mechanism has the  seemingly mystical ability to  randomly spit out the right song for the right  moment; how life  screeches to a halt when their iPod suffers a technical glitch  [um, yes — S.G.]—when I read these stories I think of Mr. McLuhan’s  chapter on “gadget lovers.”

Riffing  on the Greek myth of Narcissus, Mr. McLuhan wrote that  technology gadgets were  like narcotic extensions of the self; we  worship them as idols and thus become  a self-enclosed system.

Sound  familiar?

“Servomechanism”  was the term of art that Mr. McLuhan employed: a device that controls something  from a distance.

He  said of gadget love: “We must, to use them at all, serve these  objects, these  extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An  Indian is the  servomechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse  or the executive of his  clock.”

When  you think of mere gadgets in such terms, it’s no wonder there’s  been such an  outpouring of grief over the loss of Steve Jobs.

But  who among us is willing to pull  a modern-day Thoreau and wall ourselves off from innovation?

It’s  part of the human condition, I suppose.

 

By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Corporations, Economy | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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