Monday, April 27, 2009

My Husband the Hero

My husband, Tom, was fired last week, not for any rational reason, but because management is on a campaign against the union, and Tom is/was a union steward. Two union stewards were fired from the plant last week, and another one is being systematically harassed (both before and after her stroke). Tom has thirty days off with pay, after which time, if the "concurring official" concurs (as he probably will), Tom will be "removed."

We're a little stunned, but we're going to be okay, at least that's what my cool-as-a-cucumber husband keeps telling me. I'm scared, a bit, sometimes, but mostly not panicking, although occasionally, in my weaker moments, my mind goes drifting off in that direction.

I told Tom today that I feel like a cartoon character, innocently strolling along in a lovely cartoon forest, blithely waving to all the fairies and furry forest creatures. Then, all of a sudden I look down—Ach! I am momentarily suspended in midair. I strolled right off a cliff! I look at my cartoon audience, my eyes wide with shock. Where did the ground go? <instant plummet earthward>

But no, really, there's every reason to be hopeful. Management doesn't have a case. Of course, the union (the American Postal Workers Union) is going to bat for Tom. But this is likely to take at least a few months to get resolved. For any time that Tom is off work, he may or may not get back pay. There are no guarantees.

I generally avoid getting personal in this blog, but in this case the personal is political, as it so often is. Tom and I have become a case in point. So I will do my best to present the case and make the point.

Tom and I are blessed with truly wonderful family and friends, who have kindly expressed their support and encouragement. A few have asked whether there is anything they could do. Why, yes, now that you mention it, there is one thing. Do it for us, and do it proudly.

Please support the Employee Free Choice Act.

First, educate yourself about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Find out what it is, what it isn't, who's for it and why, who's against it and why. Then write to your senators and representative and ask them to support and vote for EFCA. Ask them to make EFCA a priority because of all it will do to strengthen our economy and the middle class in particular. Sign the petition at I Am Progress, and then talk to your friends and family and ask them to do the same.

Unions are a threatened species in this country, and with the economy in such terrible shape, we need them now as much as ever. We have the Labor Movement to thank for so much in this country: the 40-hour workweek, the 8-hour workday, the middle class—to name just a few.

But big business is terrified of workers regaining their power and their solidarity and is determined to use any tactics available to prevent workers from forming unions. An entire industry has formed whose sole purpose is helping businesses prevent their employees from forming a union.

As a result, the power of labor has been systematically gutted, until even the best unions have only a shadow of the power they once had. That the middle class has shrunk as the power of unions has waned is no coincidence. Strong worker unions and protections lead to a stronger middle class, a more robust economy, and less disparity between the rich and the poor.

According to columnist Sharon Smith, Corporate America's anti-union crusaders have raised $200 million to combat the Employee Free Choice Act. "True to form, business leaders reacted with collective hysteria to the introduction of legislation in the House and Senate on March 10 that would make it just a bit easier for workers to unionize."
The Chamber [of Commerce], the National Association of Manufacturers and other anti-union corporate crusaders have raised $200 million to combat EFCA. And they have only just begun to fight, framing their defense of workers' "right" to a vote by secret ballot in a union election as if this were a struggle to preserve a sacred cornerstone of democracy--by preventing unions from simply asking workers to sign union cards if they would like to join the union."

In reality, EFCA would maintain the option of voting by secret ballot, but transfers the decision to workers instead of employers, where it currently resides.
Big business is pulling out all the stops in its campaign to paint itself as the wronged party in workers' efforts to form unions. They're trying to paint themselves as the "populist" choice. But remember, workers in this scenario are David and Big Business is Goliath.

Big Business, whose success is a direct result of workers' productivity, is free to exploit workers, unless those workers realize that it is in solidarity with each other that they have a voice. Labor is the original populist movement, composed—oddly enough—of regular people who have thrown their lot in with each other, banding together to make their voices heard.

Here's Rachel Maddow's take on EFCA:

Support Tom and me, and workers everywhere in the country, by contacting your senators and representatives and asking them to support and vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. Our greatest hope in restoring our economy and rebuilding a robust middle class is in strengthening workers and restoring worker solidarity.

Friday, April 24, 2009

U.S. Military Personnel Victims of Torture

The revelations about the use of torture as an interrogation “technique” have churned many stomachs in the last two weeks. We knew it was bad. We knew it was reprehensible. Now we know more.

Astonishingly, there is still “debate” about the “effectiveness” of torture. Torture’s presumed benefits are altogether beside the point, which is that torture is illegal and morally reprehensible in the extreme.

There are those who claim that the call for investigations and prosecutions is “liberals pushing for retribution.” A vindictive desire for retribution (among other things) was what led to torture. This is not a question of policy differences, as—incredibly—some claim. Rather, it is a question of justice and the restoration of the Rule of Law.

As Ali Soufan said in the New York Times on Wednesday, “This should not be a partisan matter, because it is in our national security interest to regain our position as the world’s foremost defenders of human rights.” And as others have said, it is not a question of right vs. left but of right vs. wrong. In his column today, Paul Krugman wrote, “Never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. 'This government does not torture people,' declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it."

The United States is a very, very powerful nation. We have the responsibility to use that power wisely, not only for the good of our own people but also for the good of the world and the planet. The use of torture is a horrendous abuse of that power. At our best we have been a defender of human rights, and here we are blatantly violating human rights in one of the most atrocious ways imaginable. We have lost our moral footing and any moral authority we may once have had. We as a nation cannot ever defend human rights with any credibility until we fix this. If we do not pursue justice—however politically inconvenient that pursuit may be—we have no hope of regaining whatever moral standing we once had.

We have all been debased by the sanctioning of torture, but none more so than those who had to work in the environments where it was practiced. Kayla Williams, a sergeant in a military intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division, poignantly asks, What does the act of torture do to those who commit it?

Williams cites the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which participants were randomly assigned roles as prisoners and guards. What we learned from that unhappy experiment is that human beings are profoundly susceptible to an environment in which the powerful abuse the powerless. In a 2004 editorial, after the initial release of photos of tortured detainees in Abu Ghraib, Philip G. Zimbardo, author of the Stanford Prison Experiment, queried, “Should these few Army reservists be blamed as the ‘bad apples’ in a good barrel of American soldiers, as our leaders have characterized them? Or are they the once-good apples soured and corrupted by an evil barrel?”

The “once-good apples” may have been the perpetrators of torture, assured by their superior officers that what they were doing was okay, but they are also the victims of those who exposed them to this extraordinary evil. We sent our daughters and sons, sisters and brothers into this morass. They went on our behalf. As scarring as war itself is, the experience of participating in the torture of fellow human beings is much worse.

In 2003, Alyssa Peterson, one of the first female soldiers to die in Iraq, ended her own life a few days after she refused to participate in interrogations involving torture. Kayla Williams, who served with Peterson, reflected: "It [being required to participate in interrogations involving torture] made me think, what are we as humans, that we do this to each other? It made me question my humanity and the humanity of all Americans. It was difficult, and to this day I can no longer think I am a really good person and will do the right thing in the right situation."

Those who serve our country in the military should never be exposed to such anguish and moral torment. Nor should they be further endangered because our enemies, knowing that we torture prisoners, are then that much more likely to torture captured members of the U.S. military.

Those who corrupted the barrel are the ones who should be prosecuted. Those who were forced into that evil barrel deserve our compassion, prayers, and support. Beyond the questions of legality and prosecutions are the questions of how these individuals can recover from the grave evil that befell them in their service to our country, an evil wrought not by our enemies but by our leaders. The first steps in that recovery may well involve investigations and prosecutions of those who corrupted the barrel.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Hate Politics

Really. I hate politics. I think some of my friends think I've found a new hobby. So let me just clear this up. I do not enjoy politics. Yuck. I used to hope that if I just ignored it, it would go away. No such luck. I wasn't altogether oblivious: I knew who my representatives were; whenever there was an election, I tried to educate myself about the issues and candidates—but of course this was always a game of cursory catchup; I occasionally read a newspaper. But I found the whole thing just disheartening and overwhelming.

I still feel that way, only more so. Except. While I was not paying attention, an administration I thought was pretty much okay did some terrible things. The Clinton administration did a lot of the deregulating of financial institutions that is now causing the whole world so much agony. NAFTA made it impossible for farmers in Mexico to compete with U.S. subsidized agriculture. Clinton may have been described as centrist, but he was Republican lite; while he was in office, Reaganomics continued to sow the seeds of our current economic morass. And many of the guys who were responsible for things economic during the Clinton administration are behind the wheel once again. Gee, I wonder why it is that I don't trust them to pull us out of this mess when they were instrumental in getting us into it?

Of course, then things really went south in 2000. Like many others, I was horrified—and still am—that Bush could have made his way into office with a single vote—from the Supreme Court. That one vote led to torture, secrecy, the dissolution of our civil rights and liberties, fear mongering, war mongering, and much more. Depressing as hell, and the more we find out about what actually went on in this unprecedentedly secretive administration, the more horrifying it is.

I hate it. It regularly makes my stomach turn. But I believe that the best way for us to care for ourselves and our families is to care for our communities: our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our country, and our world. I believe in nonviolence, because violence never accomplished anything good. Ever. The same is true of war. And greed. I long for a better world. This one is making me ill.

If you've read the book or seen the movie of The Secret Life of Bees, you'll know what I mean when I say that I need a wailing wall like the one May built in the back of the pink house. And there are days when I need to go there and just wail.

But there's nothing else for it but to pay attention and get involved to the best of my meager ability. Alas, it was the "philosophical founder of modern conservatism," Edmund Burke (1729-1797), who said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." In this one respect, anyway, I agree with him. A lot of good people must have been doing a lot of nothing for some time now.

I have no idea how to make headway against all the evil evident around me, but I'm not going to retreat into my comfortable hidey-hole however much I might like to. I find it all quite overwhelming and exceedingly difficult, but my silence will only allow the great evil to persist and grow all the stronger, and my voice might just be a candle that expels at least some of the darkness.