Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Who Are the Real Criminals?

November 30, 2011

One of the satiric photos making the rounds.

I heard on the radio this morning that 1,400 police officers took part in an operation to shut down Occupy Los Angeles.  When I got online I saw the now-familiar images of riot police dragging away unarmed campers. Heavy equipment was hauled out to remove protesters who fled into trees. Meanwhile, on the other coast, a massive show of police force resulted in another crackdown on illegal camping in Philadelphia. That raid on Occupy protesters resulted in injuries, including one induced by a police horse.

I’m becoming accustomed to these excesses of police force and to the outrage I feel as a result. But this morning, when I heard the sheer number of police involved in the effort, it suddenly struck me what a complete recklessness of public resources goes into these operations.

Imagine, instead, if 1,400 police officers were deployed to clear a neighborhood of violent crime. I used to live in a neighborhood in Detroit that had far worse problems to overcome than tents going up without permits. Friends and neighbors were beaten, burgled, kidnapped, raped, and gunned down. I remember the first time I was there when drive-by shooting occurred on my block. The shooter missed the mark. My roommates—two people who are paragons of virtue and have a deeper sense of civic responsibility than almost anyone else I know—just went about their business. “Should we call the police?” I exclaimed.

They shrugged.  “If you want. I mean, it’s not like it will hurt anything to call them,” said one. (more…)


Transparent Motives

November 1, 2011

I’ve been hearing pundits from all corners defend the secrecy of the congressional “super committee” that is meeting to make fast-track recommendations on how to find $1.5 trillion. The reason that these elected representatives have to meet in the dark, they explain, is that otherwise they won’t be willing to buck the party line on raising taxes (from the Republican side) or on cutting entitlements (from the Democratic side). According to this logic, they can’t possibly reach an agreement if the people are watching because they will be too worried about their re-elections to act in good faith.

To which I reply: really?

So we are going to let them meet in secret because they don’t have enough backbone to meet in light of day? Don’t you think that if we can’t trust them to say what they really think in the open, that they are exactly the sort of people we shouldn’t trust behind closed doors?

I don’t claim to be the country’s biggest patriot, but even I am willing to accept the criticism of my peers if I think that speaking my mind will help put my country on a better footing. And if I really believed that I had the chance to do something important for my country at the risk of losing my job, I would certainly do so–and my prospects for entering some other lucrative line of work are not nearly so good as those who sit on this super committee. If they really believe that holding the line or compromising is the best thing for the country, let them say so openly and face the music.

What Is Meant by ‘Don’t Mourn, Organize’

September 22, 2011

Huge crowds gathered to send off the body of the man who gave voice to their struggles, the young immigrant Joe Hill.

At vigils and rallies to save the life of Troy Davis, participants marched with images of the innocent man covering their own faces. When asked to identify themselves, they would state "I am Troy Davis." (photo credit: Isaac Silver)

Just before the falsely convicted labor troubadour Joe Hill was shot by a firing squad in Utah in 1915, he wrote to a friend that people should not mourn his death, but instead organize. The slogan “Don’t Mourn, Organize!” has been a labor rallying cry for almost a century now. Tonight is the first time I’ve understood that when Joe Hill wrote those lines, they meant something much deeper than a rallying cry.

Asking his friends and family not to waste one moment for their private griefs, asking them to instead pour all their energy into the struggle for justice, this was not a small request. It was a very big thing to ask of the tens of thousands who came to meet his body when it was brought to Chicago and the millions who had fought for his release from every corner of the globe. Working people lost someone they held dear, and they lost faith in a system they held dear. Surely, they deserved to mourn for these losses. Surely, it was too much to ask them not to mourn.

Troy Davis has just been executed by the state of Georgia. There was no physical evidence in the trial, he was convicted solely on the testimony of eye witnesses. Seven out of the nine witnesses have since recanted their testimony. One of the remaining witnesses later told friends that he was the actual killer, and new witnesses have come forward to verify that claim. A number of the jurors have testified that they would not have convicted him if they knew then what they know now. Even the former warden who oversaw previous executions pleaded for a stay of execution.

This case has earned the sympathy and outrage of millions across the globe. Last night there were vigils all over the country and all over the world to support Troy Davis. Hundreds of thousands of us have signed petitions, made calls, urged others to speak out. We have written letters and sent faxes. We have joined organizations and donated our money to try to save this man. And still Troy Davis is lying dead right now.

Like Joe Hill, Troy Davis has urged us to stay focused on the struggle, and on the fact that we are all Troy Davis. This fight to save one life is actually a fight for all of our lives. Until we end the death penalty, we are letting down each and every Troy Davis. We are letting down each other. And if we start to mourn, how will we ever stop? It feels crass to suggest that we immediately seize on the momentum we have built in our efforts to prevent this death. It feels too hard to say we shouldn’t take time to heal ourselves before gearing up to prevent the next death.

But “I am Troy Davis” is not just a rallying cry. “Don’t mourn, organize!” is not just a rallying cry. They give us difficult tasks, and rewarding ones. They are to be lived out in what we decide to do from this very moment forward.

Go in Peace

May 3, 2011

An image of Jesus as Prince of Peace, which was a title I heard frequently as a child.

When I was a little girl, certain words were forbidden in the home. They included all the ones you might expect, along with another four letter word: hate. We were not allowed to say that we hated anyone. We were also never permitted to say that we wished someone were dead—no matter who or why. My parents’ Christian faith told them plainly that hatred of other humans was just wrong. (But don’t take their word for it, just read pretty much anything in the New Testament. Probably lots of other religions have figured this out too, but Christianity is the religion I grew up with and that shaped my personality the most.)

The lesson stuck. But recently, I had started to wonder if my childhood was radically different from other Christian homes. I’ve felt inundated lately by hateful speech and actions. Transgendered people assaulted in public restaurants, a massacre at an open-air meeting in Arizona, ministers burning Korans or cheering for the death of gays and soldiers. Closer to home an acquaintance of mine believes Democrats should leave the United States so he won’t be forced to endure their presence and a relative hopes every last [epitaph for Muslim] is killed by our army. “Nuke them all,” he says.

Anti-Government Activist Targets Labor Studies

April 28, 2011

The same guy who pawned a deceptively edited video of Shirley Sherrod off as news has now made a new video of deceptively edited talks by educators at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Andrew Breitbart combed through 30 hours of video tape to find roughly seven minutes of what he claims is advocacy of industrial sabotage. Frankly, the video is so jumbled up and poorly edited, that it’s actually rather boring. But given that these sorts of shenanigans have had bizarrely serious consequences in the past, I want to help spread the real story behind this tactic. Below is a statement by one of the professors, Judy Ancel, regarding this attack. At the end I leave a comment challenge: leave a comment with something you heard someone else say today–but edit selectively (keep it rated PG, though).

Andrew Breitbart’s Affront to Democracy and Attack on Students’ Right to an Education

Statement by Judy Ancel

I am Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. While my university prepares its response, I feel compelled to answer the attacks by Andrew Breitbart on my character. I am speaking as an individual and certainly not for UMKC. I am speaking out of my strong lifelong commitment to educating working people to better understand the world they live in. Labor education is a vital part of anyone’s education. All Americans, especially our youth, need to understand the contributions working people have made and make in building our communities and nation. Labor education gives them the skills and vision to make a better world.

My students and I are outraged at Mr. Breitbart’s invasion of our classroom and his attempts to intimidate us and my colleagues at the university. Mr. Breitbart’s chop shop manufactured videos from 30 hours of classroom recordings that were posted for the course, “Labor, Politics, and Society,” on the university’s Blackboard system. Presumably these were delivered to him by a student, in possible violation of the University Standards of Conduct and the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. These videos were recorded for the use of students enrolled in this course, and for them only. Breitbart disassembled the material, and reassembled it; arranging them to give the appearance that instructors of the class advocate violence. This is in fact the opposite of the position both instructors took in class. Any examination of labor’s past would be incomplete without discussion of violence, (which for the most part was directed at workers) and analysis of its roots. At no time did my co-instructor, Don Giljum, nor I advocate violence.

There’s no doubt that Breitbart’s attacks are politically motivated, part of a broad agenda to weaken unions and the public sector as well as public education. His fabrications have been exposed numerous times in the mainstream media. Yet he and his echo chamber at Fox News continue to cause great harm to educators and other public servants.

On April 18th Breitbart announced his intentions on Fox News Sean Hannity show: “We’re going to take on education next, go after the teachers and the union organizers.” It is possible that his attack on the University of Missouri and labor education is his first assault.

Breitbart is a master of taking quotes out of context, deletion of what doesn’t serve his purpose, and remixing to achieve totally different meaning. For example he has me saying:

o Breitbart’s version: “Violence is a tactic and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic.”
o The real version: After students had watched a film on the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King, they were discussing nonviolence. I said, “One guy in the film. . . said ‘violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic.’ . . . “ The class proceeded to discuss and debate this.

Thus Mr. Breitbart’s editing has literally put words in my mouth that were not mine, and they never were mine.

Breitbart leaves out a crucial statement by Don Giljum in order to make it appear that he advocates violence. Giljum said, “I’m not sure as a tactic today the type of violence or reaction to the violence we had back then would be called for here, and I think it would do more harm than good.” A student then says “and it just legitimizes their dirty tricks.” Giljum agreed with him.

There are a number of other instances of very creative editing including:

o A change of clothes by Don Giljum from one sentence to another (more…)

Worksite Massacre

April 27, 2011

4,340. That’s how many lives were ended by workplace injuries in this country in 2009 (the most recent year for which we have statistics). That’s probably more people than went to your high school. It’s many times the number of people in my town. It’s much larger than the largest family reunion you’ve ever been to. It’s an almost unimaginable scale of death.

50,000. That’s how many died from occupational-related illnesses such as black lung. Somehow, it’s so difficult to imagine the death of 50,000 people that it’s almost an easier number to read than 4,340. Yet if you consider that’s 136 human lives ended every day, you can start to wrap your arms around the idea. That’s my entire high school graduating class. It’s the size of a small church community. It’s the number of people who show up for a controversial issue at the town council. And it’s every day.

4,000,000-12,000,000. That’s the number of non-fatal workplace injuries, such as paralysis, brain trauma, and amputation. It also includes smaller but life-altering injuries such as torn rotator cuffs, 3rd-degree burns, and crushed hands.

A new report from the AFL-CIO Department of Safety and Health outlines these statistics and breaks the information down by state, industry, and sector. Page 85 of the report shows how long it would take for OSHA to actually inspect all the work sites in a given state with current level of staffing. If you are lucky, you live in the best case state of Oregon, where you could expect an inspection sometime in the next 23 years. But if you live in Florida, well maybe some of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will get to work in a place that’s had an inspection, because it will take OSHA about 240 years to get around to it.

Has anyone else noticed that workers are starting to stand up and say “Enough!” The unions fought hard for OSHA, and now we all need to fight to make it an agency with more teeth. Nothing would be a more fitting tribute to the men, women, and children who are dying on the job every day.

Talk about Crazy

April 13, 2011

I just listened to this story on NPR about the lack of care given to psychiatric patients in emergency rooms. I hope you will too.

Gov. Walker’s Neighbor Speaks Out

February 14, 2011

The following is an open letter from my good friend and brilliant geographer Sigrid Peterson. Wisconsin needs to retain and encourage genius like hers, because there are plenty of employers in others states who want her. For those who haven’t heard, this is in reference to our governor’s recent announcement that he will call out the national guard if he needs extra enforcement of his plan to bust public sector unions.

Who are you gonna trust, Scott Walker (as shown smarmily above) or...

Dear Neighbor:  On the Multiplier Effects of a Public Sector Job

Dear Governor Walker,

I doubt you remember me. In fact, we’ve never formally met, but you and I grew up not half a block away from each other in the small town of Delavan, Wisconsin.  You were in my sister Katie’s high school class, though perhaps you didn’t know her then (indeed, she was a brainy punk rocker, while you were a mullet-haired jock).  Six years your junior, I have only fuzzy memories of you—of riding my bike around the corner, seeing one of the “older boys” in the neighborhood walk out of his house on West Wisconsin Street, and hearing my sister say, “Hey, there’s Scott Walker.”

...this hardworking woman (Sigrid) helping me pull weeds on a hot summer's day?

Our limited acquaintance notwithstanding, within the past four days I fear I’ve gotten to know you fairly well, or well enough.  So perhaps it’s time I introduce myself.  My name is Sigrid Peterson.  I’m your former neighbor from Delavan, and I’m a public sector worker in Wisconsin.

If it isn’t obvious, I’m writing to ask you, your administration, and your Republican friends in the legislature to put a swift stop to your proposed “Budget Repair” bill, along with its crude and unapologetic assault on fifty years of rights and benefits granted to Wisconsin’s public sector employees.  Your measure is nothing short of devastating—stripping most (in some cases, all) of our collective bargaining rights, incapacitating any future resources of our unions, and further straining the livability and reach of our compensation with steep increases in employee contributions to health care and pensions.

And you do this with nothing but unsubstantiated excuses that this is the “only alternative.” And you do this with no effort (none) to meet with workers since you took office.  Forgive me, but this makes you no more forthright or articulate than a tongue-tied and cowardly teenager breaking up with his girlfriend/boyfriend via text message.  Does this mean you’ll bring back your mullet, too?

If I’m irreverent, Governor Walker, I assure you it’s in service to things greater than concern over my job, alone.  I write this out of respect for my late father, too—your old neighbor, a lifelong Wisconsinite, and a public municipal employee.  I also write this out of pride in the progressive legacy of my home state, a legacy you and your colleagues delight in dismantling.

My dad, Lyle (raised in Richland Center, WI), was living proof that (more…)

Railroad Workers Today: The Industry Picks a Fight

December 30, 2010

Part One of a Special Series on Railroad Workers

Railroads conjure up nostalgia for some and offer a glimpse of a promising transportation future for others. Yet the railroad industry is as cutthroat as any in the country. With its unique regulatory framework, its exemption from many labor laws, and its central role to the economic life of our continent, railroads hold tremendous power. Now, a growing group of railroad engineers, conductors, yard workers, maintenance workers, signalers, mechanics, and others employed in the rail industry are uniting to hold railroads accountable for worker and public safety. Railroad Workers United is a network of railroaders from Florida to the Yukon, and they are raising the profile of the forgotten folks who actually make it possible for a train to get from Point A to Point B. This winter I will be writing a series of posts documenting the conditions for workers on the railroads and how they are organizing to protect working conditions and the safety of themselves and the public.

In late 2004, the rail industry group National Carriers Conference Committee initiated bargaining with their workers’ unions by proposing a decimation of workplace standards and pay. They attacked health care. They concocted a scheme to reduce liability in the case of workplace injury. And perhaps most disturbingly of all, they proposed that henceforth, trains and their often hazardous cargo would be sent hurtling through cities and towns and wilderness with only one employee on board. (more…)

Todos Somos Chilenos Hoy

October 13, 2010

A los mineros y los rescatistas quienes son aun mejor que Big Bad John…