Let’s Start Using Much Older Weapons: Speech, Diplomacy, Conversation

The Doctor:  Professor Watson, any being that can exist let alone thrive inside a nuclear pile is hardly likely to be deterred by a few primitive missiles.
Professor Watson:  But they’re the most powerful missiles we have!
The Doctor:  On your standards, perhaps.  I think we should try much older weapons.
Sarah Jane Smith:  Like?
The Doctor:  Speech?  Diplomacy?  … Conversation?
— Doctor Who, “The Hand of Fear”

This demonstration I remember quite well.  Spring Quarter 1986.  UCLA.  Anti-apartheid.  As part of our continued efforts to convince the Regents of the University of California to divest from Apartheid South Africa, we followed the lead of other protesters on campuses across the country, most notably UC Berkeley, and erected wooden shanties.  The shanty became the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement because so many black South Africans, living under the weight of impoverishment, dwelled in them.  (Sadly, as this 2005 photo demonstrates, shanty towns continue to be no stranger to South Africa.)

Berkeley students created rather small shanties that stood maybe five feet tall at best, quickly built structures that could fill a whole plaza in a short space of time.  They were in essence tents made out of wood.

Being Angelenos, in the shadow of Hollywood, we were a bit more grandiose.  Our shanties stood about eight feet tall and were about 8′ x 8′ square inside.  Each had a roof, walls, a door, and I think even a window.  The only thing missing was a flower box.  We built three of these edifices over the course of a weekend in a service yard next to the Art Building — that way if any one saw them, they’d think they were just another art project.  I think we intended to make more, but given the size and the amount of materials we had, three was our limit.

We hauled them late one Sunday evening — those mothers were heavy — from the far end of North Campus to Royce Hall and left them overnight on the portico facing the quad.  How they went undetected that night I’ll never know, but the following Monday morning they were ready for their close up.  There they were, three wooden shanties in the middle of Royce Quad, the very symbol of the campus, and us decorated around them playing hacky sack and listening to reggie.  Berky Nelson, the student liaison officer for campus who dealt with us at many a demonstration, came over and summarized out encampment thus:  “This won’t fly.”

Shanty town UCLA lasted for the balance of the day, but then the police came to break it up.  They torn up two of our buildings and had designs on the third.  I sat in the last shanty, along with some fellow travelers, peacefully defending our building and the movement it symbolized.  Meanwhile, a couple of others from our group hurriedly negotiated with Berky, some others from his office, and UCPD.  We saved the third shanty, but agreed to move it off the hallowed ground of Royce Quad to the relatively more palatable Bruin Plaza in front of Ackerman Student Union.  There it sat for the rest of the quarter.  We took turns staffing the shanty, providing info on South Africa and apartheid during the day and sleeping in it at night.  Crisis averted.

The police did not topple the shanty on top of us as we anxiously sat inside it.  We did not get clubbed.  We did not get pepper-sprayed like so many weeds in a field of grass.  The powers that be used much older weapons to defuse the situation:  speech, diplomacy, conversation.  In looking at the UC Davis pepper spraying, and the UC Berkeley clubbing that occurred a week earlier, I’m struck by the apparent dearth of UC administrators on hand to negotiate and talk.  Maybe they did and it went nowhere.  In light of what transpired, however, I think waiting and talking longer is preferable to clubbing students or hosing them with toxins.

No demo or civil disobedience action on a college campus should happen without the presence of administration.  They should be calling the shots and doing whatever it takes to avert disasters like what occurred at Davis and Berkeley.  Consider it a part of the educational process.  It’s hard.  It’s frustrating.  But ultimately it’s just the right thing to do.

And they link arms

“When they said Berkeley was ‘crunchy,’ I didn’t know they meant students’ rib cages.” – Stephen Colbert

Gathered together to protest the injustices of the day, they linked arms and held firm.  They linked arms as they crossed a bridge, knowing that police cars, batons, dogs, and fire hoses waited at the other end.  They linked arms as they stepped off the bus to receive blows from mobs armed with bricks and clubs who hated their peaceful integration.  They linked arms to save their factory from being shutdown because the bank said so, not because of any lack of productivity.  They linked arms as they marched to the sea to gather a hand full of salt.  They linked arms knowing that resistance was futile and their extermination in the camps with all the other undesirables was inevitable.  They linked arms so that they could wait in the cold for hours on end to exercise the right to vote, a right secured for them by the blood of those who had linked arms before them.

And now they are linking arms saying they are sick of the foreclosures.  They are linking arms saying they are sick of the take, take, take.   They are linking arms saying they don’t need another haircut because their hair is already too short.  They are linking arms to say that tuition is too high and education is no longer accessible for too many in the population.

They are linking arms non-violently, quietly, in song, in spirit, and in peace, beckoning all of us to listen.

 

the gar spot: One year later

Have you ever used a pickax?  The first time I ever used one was to create a ditch for a french drainage system on one side of the house.  In the Bay Area, the soil is generally some type of clay.  When it rains, it’s mud.  But when it’s dry all bets are off.  It’s as hard as rock.  I lost a lot of weight that summer, hauling ass with the pickax trying to break up the ground.

So this is how I see it.  I have a pickax and I’m at a cave entrance on the side of an impossibly tall mountain.  I use the pickax to delve deeper into the cave.  Salty sweat pours from my forehead and gets into the mouth.  My sunglasses fog up and end up on the ground because they become a damn nuisance.  Who needs sunglasses in a cave anyway.  And after a long series of rhythmic strikes against the rock all I can see for my troubles is maybe a 3-inch indentation in the rock.  Profanities abound.

Stubbornly or foolishly or some symbiosis of the two I continue to strike the rock.  Eventually I discover various veins, interesting ores worth exploring.  Some are just as hard as anything the pickax has sliced through, but others yield easier to the rhythmic strokes.  Riches come into reach.  Encouraged, I take more chances and pick harder at some of the most stubborn veins.  More riches.  I try to put them to good use and keep digging.  The urge to stop and lament my lack of progress or shout to scorn the wall that gives only 3 inches at a time diminishes.  The trick, it seems, is not to look back, but always forward.  Keep the rhythm, and move.

Seems to have worked.  Because now when I look back, one year later, I can see that the 3 inches at a time has turned into a windy path in the side of the mountain, a world of my own creation.  And on the ground I can see footprints.  Folks have come by to check out my work.  Makes one smile.  But I don’t stand for long.  I crank up the jazz, grab the pickax, and start digging some more.

The work continues.

Grover

Mom sat me in front of the TV one day in 1969.  I was four and fidgety.  Eventually, a big yellow bird came on the screen and introduced me and the rest of the world to Sesame Street.  The rest was history.  I quickly became hooked and watched it happily for many years.  The fast pace of the sketches were really nothing new — Laugh-In, which I watched with Mom while waiting for Dad to come home from his swing shift job, had a similar format.  I don’t think there was a character I didn’t like (Elmo came after my time), but the one I identified with the most was Grover.

Friendly, goofy, lovable, shy yet slightly self-aggrandizing in a hammy sort of way, that was Grover.  He had his own world view and tried to make the rest of the planet adopt to it.  I could relate.  One of his favorite lines, when confronted with having to lift something heavy, was “I’m not strong, but I’m wiry.”  I used the line many times in elementary school.

He housed his more gregarious behavior behind the alter ego of SuperGrover.  Replete with a helmet and a pink camp, SuperGrover captured the do-good, problem-solving spirit welling inside me even at that age.  That SG was a klutz seemed to match, too.  I didn’t wear a pink cape, but I did want to fly.  What kid didn’t?  At that time, my flying fantasy was modeled after the Flying Nun.  I attempted to make a habit mimicking Sister Betrille’s, but made of cardboard and not heavily starched fabric.  I wore it on my head on a windy day, stood on the stoop of the porch and jumped.  It didn’t work, not that I expected it, but it was fun trying.  SuperGrover rarely rescued anyone, but he had fun trying, too.

We were both friendly though a little introverted, and definitely “good boys.”  I avoid the term “good two-shoes” because that implies being obnoxious snitches or something like that, which I wasn’t and I don’t think Grover was either.  But we generally behaved.  Which is why I was shocked when one day timid little Grover actually sassed one of the adults.  I don’t remember who the adult was, Susan or Bob or whomever, but they said something to Grover like “but that won’t work” or “you can’t do that” and he replied simply “I do not care!”  It wasn’t just that he said it, but the brazened way his voice inflected the syllables that emboldened my heart.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Grover had demonstrated the valuable art of being bitchy.  For timid, wiry types, this was definitely required education.  Other teachers would follow, including Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares — and as the Hooded Claw on “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop” — but Grover was the first.  A queenette was in the making.

Occupy Oakland Melee: An Obscene Overreaction

At a long forgotten antiwar demonstration around 20 odd years ago, I stood tense as the atmosphere grew dank from humidity and angst.  We were gathered in front of the federal building on Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco.  We wanted to take the steps, but a police line blocked it off.  They were in riot gear, shields and all, and the healthy size crowd stood and shouted at them.  It was night time.  There were no cameras, no smart phones, no Twitter, no Facebook.  The crowd was tense and anything could happen.  Suddenly, a couple of folks started throwing things at the officers.  My heart jumped.  I had never been beaten at a demonstration by the police, and I didn’t want to have that track record ruined.  How would they react?  They didn’t.  They held the line in front of the federal building.  There was no teargas.  There were no rubber bullets or flash-bang bombs.  Eventually, the standoff ended and we marched elsewhere.  I remember thinking to myself how grateful I was at the professionalism of the police that night.  They didn’t overreact.  They held firm, we moved on, end of story.

How I wish that had happened Tuesday night here in Oakland.  What a bleeping mess.

I was not at the demo last night, but have been horrified by the videos and pictures airing all over the media.  Teargas.  Rubber bullets.  Bean bags.  Flash-bang bombs.  The lot.  Officers from over a dozen police departments, including some from as far away as the Central Valley, descended on Oakland to quell the demonstration and restore “order.”  Both Oakland Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan have praised the response.  Are they mad?

The most egregious incident is that of Iraq War vet Scott Olsen, who was hit in the head by a blunt object — eye witnesses say a canister of some sort — and is in critical condition in hospital with a skull fracture and swelling of the brain.  The Guardian reports that he was taken to hospital by friends.  It should also be noted, as seen in this widely aired video, that Mr. Olsen’s friends were trying to assist him as he lay motionless on the ground, only to have an officer throw another exploding canister at them to disperse them.

This incident alone is riddled with wrong, but a couple of points stand out.  First, no officer intervened when they saw a man lying on the ground motionless and bleeding.  No ambulance or emergency personnel came to Mr. Olsen’s aid.  Who knows how long that young man would have been left there had it not been for the good samaritans who came to his aid.  Second, there was no justification beyond naked malice to fire a second canister of teargas at the crowd trying help Mr. Olsen.  Acting Chief Jordan justifies the overall police action Tuesday night because the police were

“assaulted with bottles and rocks and had hazardous materials thrown at them.”

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/26/BAE71LMH3C.DTL#ixzz1bwqrUeiD

But look at the clip.  Folks were concerned with Mr. Olsen, not the police.  Yet they were met by another violent canister exploding in their midst and right next to a man already down and bleeding.  Therefore Acting Chief Jordan’s statement is not in keeping with the facts.  Canisters, it would seem, were fired irrespective of concerns for police safety.  The clip demonstrates that weapons were fired at the caprice of the officers on the front line.

In a year where Oakland is suffering another rash of murders — where last summer a three year-old toddler was killed by a stray bullet — we have multiple police forces coming to Oakland not to help quell the murder rate, as has happened in the past, but to quell and bully peaceful protesters.  That’s obscene, and very bizarre coming from a mayor who has pledged to make Oakland safer.

Keith Olbermann made a brief special comment on Countdown which focussed on the police violence and Mayor Quan’s reaction to it.  His basic message was simple:  repent or resign.  She has much to answer for.  Last year, as Mr. Olbermann pointed out, then-Councilmember Quan helped to keep a situation from getting out of hand between protesters and police at a rally protesting the verdict in the Oscar Grant murder case.  She received much heat from the police for her actions and they even started an investigation on her.  Given that background, it is hard to fathom that she would defend the overreaction that took place.  She was out of town when the crackdown happened and rushed back to town when it became clear that a situation was brewing.  One wonders, though, if she saw any of the footage before making press statements.  She fumbled, in a rather obvious way, and may indeed lose her job behind it.  Even before this action, some folks have started a recall effort against the mayor.

The police can do better.  They can follow the example of the officers from 20 years ago who kept their cool, who were protected by their gear and did not overreact.  We do not need police to go crazy on folks demonstrating.  As the President is fond of saying, this is not who we are.

As I write this, I understand that there is another demonstration taking place.  Early reports indicate that the police are keeping their distance.  Good.

Camping It Up – Again!

Today California held what was called the Great California Shakeout, an annual earthquake preparedness drill where everyone ducks and covers at the appointed time.  At 10:20 a.m. PDT sirens rang out and everyone hit the desks.  For those who didn’t, Mother Nature provided a different incentive:  a real earthquake.  Berkeley, near the gar spot headquarters, had a 4.0 magnitude quake around 2:40 p.m.  And, as I started typing this around 8:16 p.m. PDT, we had another.  The second caused two of my dresser drawers to open up.  Such is the way of earthquakes.

In the back drop of this seismic awakening comes yet another spiritual one from Mr. Harold Camping.  You may recall my first bit about Mr. Camping a few months ago just before his last prediction that the world was doomed and only the chosen will survive.  May 21, 2011.  Remember?  Didn’t happen.  Earth still here.  In his original prediction, on the appointed date, all the chosen were to ascended to heaven while the rest of us were to experience five long months of seismic torment before the earth finally imploded on October 21.  Well, five long months have passed now, and Mr. Camping is still saying that the world will end on October 21.  What happened May 21?  Well, he got stuff wrong, he says, but he adds that the end will come “very, very quietly.”  So, the world is still doomed and it’s still to happen October 21.  If you’re reading this, however, chances are he missed the boat again.

The fates have not been kind to Mr. Camping since his last prediction.  In early June, he suffered a stroke which kept him in hospital until September.  But despite his great age — he has turned 90 — he is recovering, still active, making new podcasts, and he’s still predicting the end of days.  How sad.  Perhaps the quakes, which he would have felt at his home in Alameda, gave him encouragement that this time he’s nearer the mark.  Well, we did have two quakes at or near 4.0 magnitude in one day, rather uncommon, but not unheard of.   Maybe the Bay Area is facing ruination, with many fatalities.  Is that something you would wish for, though?  I still find it very sad that someone should live to 90 years and yet spend all his time worrying about death.  And in any case, we’re just talking about the Bay Area.  If we get the Big One tomorrow, the rest of the earth will be just fine.  Japan’s horrible quake earlier this year was bigger than anything the shaky Hayward Fault can dish up.  Though the quake caused the earth to slowdown a bit and change its axis a hair, it hardly destroyed the planet.  Life goes on.

So here’s how I’ll be spending this second doomsday weekend of the year.  In addition to activities in my last post (eating, listening to and playing music, time with loved ones), I’ll be putting together an earthquake preparedness kit for home and car.  We had stuff here in the house, but I’m sure it’s expired by now.  The only sign we should get from earthquakes and other natural disasters is that we live on an active planet that is subject to dish out terrific forces well beyond our control at any time.  Our best plan is to be prepared.

Carousel

I’ve always liked older boys.

One summer day long ago my mother took me to the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round.  I don’t remember if it was my first trip to a merry-go-round, but I remember how excited I was to be able to ride on it by myself.  I felt all grown-up.   Mom gave me enough money to take several rides and then left me to my devices.  I think we went with a friend of hers, and she and her friend went off and chatted while I re-upped on the merry-go-round over and over.

The attendant was a teenager, probably around 15 or 16.  He had long brown hair and a skinny frame.  He didn’t say too much to me at first.  But after my second ride he came to me and told me that I should switch up horses between rides.  So I gleefully went from horse to horse from one cycle to the next.

I remember wishing that he would ride with me and talk to me.  I thought he was rather pretty.  I liked his hair.  Who knows what we would have talked about.  I was only 8 or 9 or something.  Maybe 10, tops.  What would I say to a big kid like that?  But still the thought possessed me as I went round and round.  I lacked the slick moves that my godson apparently has in spades.  My partner, his parent, and me took him and his younger sister to the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland a few years ago and as we were waiting in line to look through the telescope, he was clearing making the moves on the girl in front of us.  He was 8 at the time; she may have been older.  My friend, his father, and I were looking at each other and saying stuff like “check this shit out!” in whispered tones.  I can’t describe exactly what it was, but we knew what we saw.  He had been hyper that evening, but all that vanished.  He was smooth talking in a low voice, his body loose yet in control, his eyes making contact.  Heaven knows where he picked up these moves, but it was rather impressive.  I expect it was just innate.

Nothing of the sort existed for me at that age.  I had no moves, at least not like that.  Though I did notice boys early on.  I remember Underroos TV commercials from when I was 7.  Boys and girls my age and a bit older ran around in their tighty whities to demonstrate how much fun Underoos were to wear.  I remember not caring about the product as much as I did the boys advertising it.  I doubt I tried to talk my parents into buying some.  It wouldn’t have felt right to ask for a certain brand of underwear.  They might have asked why this brand, and self-consciousness would have made me fumble over an answer.  I was generally too earnest a kid to prevaricate, but at the same time I would not have wanted to say “because I think the boys on TV look cute in them and I want to look cute, too.”  So I never talked about them with my parents or anyone.  I just silently waited for the commercial to air during Saturday morning cartoons and hoped that no one would notice my acute interest in it.  Heaven knows where I learned to censor myself like that.  I expect it was just innate.

I remember the last ride on the merry-go-round clearest.  On this occasion, I got on a horse that didn’t jump.  I had been on a bunch of jumpers and I thought I’d try one of the stationary ones.  Today on the Griffith Park website they boast that each one of their horses are jumpers.  Maybe they always were and this last one I got on was busted.  I don’t know.  But I remember the teenaged keeper came over to me as the ride was starting up and told me that I should only get on the horses that moved.  He didn’t explain why, but he wasn’t mean or scolding.  In fact he was quite nice about it.  And he smiled.  Ah! Be still my heart!  I got all warm inside.  I lacked any moves, but I’m sure my eyes twinkled a bit as I smiled back and said, “OK.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was out of tokens and it was my last ride.

I was sad that it was the last ride.  I had gotten my fill of the merry-go-round, but we had finally connected.  Maybe on the next ride, he would have ridden with me.

Forging Pitchforks

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” – President Obama, April 2009

First we saw Wisconsin and the movement to save union rights for public service employees, a justified reaction to a gross conservative overreach.  Citizens in Ohio followed soon after in reaction to a gross conservative overreach in that state to enact similar legislation.  Citizens in Michigan reacted strongly to a gross conservative overreach that strips local municipalities of their local governing authority if the municipality, be it city or county, falls into financial turmoil — if that happens, Big Daddy, in the form of an unelected, state-appointed controller, comes in and runs things by fiat.  In olden days they would have called such a person a despot.

Meanwhile, as all this transpires across the country, the financial institutions that precipitated the financial crisis in 2008-9 continue to rake in obscene profits, continue to pay premium salaries and bonuses to those who caused the crisis, and continue to speculate, speculate, speculate, thus ensuring that we’ll have another financial crisis in the near future.  Wall Street is fine.  Main Street, not so much.

Some have complained that Occupy Wall Street is too chaotic, too unfocussed.  They have no coherent message.  Blah, blah.  Really, the message is not too hard to fathom:  the status quo cannot continue.  This is a protest that is long overdue.  Too many have been out of work for too long.  Folks who were doing reasonably well are facing days of reckoning because the once affordable rent or mortgage isn’t, thanks to loss of income.  Nonetheless, there are some who say that there must be shared sacrifice, that everyone must take a haircut to help improve the economy.  Hmmm.

I remember, in my waning days at UCLA, when the tuition was starting its upward climb.  An acquaintance at the time said ‘eh, it’s not that bad.’  Folks didn’t make much of a fuss when $1400 became $1500.  Or when $1500 became $2000 and then $2500 and then $3000 after that.  Today we find that tuition at UCLA has risen over 800% in the past 23 years from about $1400 when I left to over $12,600 today.  800%?  That’s crazy.  Meanwhile, middle class wages have certainly not risen at an analogous rate.  If anything, they’ve remained stagnant, or worse regressed.

Haircut?  These days, its the conservative, moneyed ruling class, and not the hippies, that are the long hairs.  Everyone else is bald.

In the face of a generation’s worth of wealth disparity, it’s little wonder that many are taking to the streets.  The financial crisis put a big fat magnifying glass on the disparity by showing who managed to make it out OK and who didn’t.  And though Mr. Obama rightly stated that his policies were keeping the pitchforks at bay, in the end his administration has done little to reign in the rapaciousness that rules over Wall Street.  What else to do but take to the streets and say enough’s enough?

The days of unchallenged gross overreaches are coming to an end.  And that’s a good thing.

Two Straight Lines

Mr. Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in the Congressional Record.

Without objection, so ordered.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  Now I’ve come to the floor of this body not to dispute or politely disagree with a particular point that has come to my attention.  I have come to scorn.  I have come to ridicule.  I have come to mock.  Because I believe, Mr. Speaker, that it is only through these less genteel and more direct forms of speech that I can make my point as clearly as possible.

If you look at the graphic behind me, you’ll see two lines.  Two straight lines.  Both of them have arrows on either end.  One has arrows that point away from the line. Here you see, Mr. Speaker, the arrows pointing away, touching the line here at the crotch of the arrow.   And the other line has arrows that point towards the line.  There, you see, Mr. Speaker, the tip of the arrows touch the ends of the line here.

Now, Mr. Speaker, you can see and I can see that these are two straight, parallel lines. And we can also see, Mr. Speaker, that the bottom line, with the arrows pointing inwards, is clearly longer than the top line, with the arrows point outwards.  You can see this, Mr. Speaker, and I can see it.  It’s as plain as day.  But there are some so-called “learned” people, people with fancy degrees and letters behind their names — “geniuses” I guess we’ll call them — who, for reasons of their own, will try to tell you that these two straight lines are in fact of the same exact length.  They are homogeneous lines, they’ll try to tell you.  The lines are homogeneous.

Well, I may not be a genius, Mr. Speaker, but I can tell you that there is nothing “homo” about these two straight lines whatsoever.  Look at them again.  The top line is smaller than the bottom line.  Period.  End of discussion.  That is what my God-given eyes see, Mr. Speaker, and by God, that is good enough for me.

Now the homogeneous people will try to tell you, well, it’s an illusion.  Just use a ruler and measure the lines, and you’ll see that they are, in fact, the same.  As we have come to see time and time again, Mr. Speaker, the homogeneous sect will always fall back on “science” to legitimize themselves.  The world is heating up!  It’s science.  Evolution is fact!  Dinosaurs roamed the earth before man!  It’s science.  These lines are homogeneous!  It’s science. It’s natural.  They were created that way, they say.

I cry foul, Mr. Speaker!  I cry foul!  I can see no clear way to measure these lines accurately with any ruler that I am aware of.  What is the reference point, Mr. Speaker?  Do you measure from arrow tip to arrow tip?  Do you measure from arrow crotch to arrow crotch?  Do you start deep in the crotch of at one end, measure along the long, straight shaft of the line and stop at the very tip at the other end?  Or vice versa?  Who’s to say, Mr. Speaker?  With all this confusion, then, how are we to accurately — or “scientifically,” a word many in the homogeneous sect like to bandy about — how are we to measure these two straight lines?  You can’t!  You cannot. But the homogenous crowd will tell you that it is possible and that when you do, you’ll see that each of these two straight lines are the same.

Well, Mr. Speaker, I am here to say that I am tired of all this fancy science stuff.  It is a smoke screen, Mr. Speaker.  It is a smoke screen used by certain segments of our population to further their own political agendas, to the detriment of our society and its basic, fundamental values.  As I stated, my God-given eyes see two straight lines that are of different lengths.  I will thus accept that conclusion as a matter of faith and not be fooled by the “illusion.”  Maybe it is time, Mr. Speaker, at long last, maybe it is time that we stop kowtowing to the so-called homogeneous and start following our core, heterogeneous values in our day-to-day lives.  And it may not be politically correct to say, Mr. Speaker — as I said at the offset, I am being blunt and direct — but I believe that in the end, if we practice more heterogeneous ways, we will keep our society on the straight and narrow, as straight as these two lines, where it duly belongs.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Classless Warfare

Graffiti I recently spied in the men’s room at one of my favorite brunch joints said it all.  In gaudy yellow felt on the toilet seat sanitary cover dispenser was the phrase “TAX THE RICH,”  in all caps and fat letters.  Written right below it, in thin-lined blue ink were much smaller letters that read “And loose (sic) your job.”  It wasn’t just the content of the words themselves, but their presentation that truly brought the point home.  In the populist message, echoing the sentiment of a large part of society, the letters nearly scream themselves hoarse.  While the other message, let’s call it the establishment message, presents itself with the sort of understatement that only smug self-assurance can afford — which of course would have been more convincing except for the glaring spelling error.  I’ll leave it to you to make the obligatory comments about lack of funding for education, etc.

Class warfare is an expression you rarely hear from anyone but conservatives who are duty bound to protect the very wealthy at any cost.  Mr. Spelling Boo-Boo’s warning about losing ones job if the rich are made to pay higher taxes is one of the greatest weapons conservatives have in maintaining historically low tax rates for upper income earners.  This principle was perfectly demonstrated Monday morning during an interview on MSNBC.  Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) made the class warfare claim against taxing millionaires and stated how he himself was a businessman with several Subway and UPS store franchises.  The host noted that he made $6.3 million gross from his businesses, but he quickly countered that after paying salaries for 500 employees and other expenses that he only brought home $600,000.  And from that he needed to invest another $400,000 into his businesses, leaving his family only $200,000 to live on.  He also receives a congressional salary of $174,000.  When the host tried to get him to see that most folks don’t make anywhere near $200,000 a year, he retorted that “Class warfare never created a job.”  Also during the course of the interview, he intimated that if he had to pay higher personal taxes, he would likely have to lay off some folks.  Because then he’d likely only take home $195,000 or something like that, and that just won’t do.

Mark Zuckerberg gets it.  When President Obama appeared at a town hall at Facebook last April he told Mr. Zuckerberg to his face that, under his plan, he would have to pay more in taxes, to which the Facebook founder famously said “I’m cool with that.”  Warren Buffett gets it.  The President capsulized Mr. Buffett’s declaration that he can afford to pay more in taxes by calling it the Buffett Rule.  Once upon a time, during times of stress and strain, it was considered patriotic to pay taxes.  My parents lived through the Great Depression.  My father fought in the Second World War.  They knew sacrifice.  Yet in the last decade, when the US declared two wars — both of which are still quite going on, incidentally — President Bush lowered taxes.  Families have sacrificed loved ones to the wars while US citizens were encouraged to go shopping.

Years of tax cuts did not lead to a mass creation of jobs during President Bush’s misspent days in office.  Subsidizing wildly profitable industries like the oil industry and mega-corporate farms has not created tons more jobs.  Trickle down doesn’t happen and has been rounded discredited except in the jaundiced eyes of those protecting the very wealthy — like Mr. Spelling Boo-Boo.  Do I believe in making cuts to the budget?  Of course.  The right cuts, not cuts that will impoverish more citizens or throw those on the edge of disaster into the abyss.  But lets not continue to protect the obscene profits of the very rich at the expense of society as a whole.  Avarice and greed are not qualities worth protecting.  But clean air and water, education, police and fire service, safe roads and bridges, and everything else that makes up a decent, civilized society are.