Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hello, U.K. and All Our Other Readers, Too

Over the past week, I've been paying attention to this blog's statistics. (I usually don't.)

The first thing that surprised me: people actually are reading this blog.

The second thing that surprised me: a lot of those people are in the U.K. On some days, there are more readers from the U.K. than from the U.S. and Canada combined.

Content-wise, the politically oriented posts seem to generate more interest than dharma-related posts, although my son Gabriel is also a popular attraction. Videos of him, however, are not as popular as photographs and stories about him.

So hello to you! However you have found us, thank you for dropping in and please feel free to drop a line, adore my son, and contribute your ideas.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How One Tires

The first flat was bad news. I parked and as I left the car, I heard the hissing sound and lo, the tire was low. In the parking lot of the church, no less.

Some time after affixing the donut to my wheel, I discovered the second flat.

So I rolled into a gas station, fixing to fill that other flat up with air in hopes it would get me to the tire shop.

Put fifty cents in the air machine.

The air machine was broken.

How was your day?

Calling Things What They Are

My wife woke up at 3:59 AM wondering if the house was locked up. At 4:00 AM, I was stumbling around the house verifying that our compound was secure. After that, I never got back to sleep, so I did some reading.

Over the last several weeks, an old friend from high school who found me on Facebook has somehow engaged me in an exercise over "trickle-down" economics, the philosophy that if you ease the tax burden on the wealthiest citizens (the ones who own companies or are in a position to invest), enough economic activity will be stimulated to pay for the lost revenue and bring prosperity to the lower orders by increased production and jobs.

Offering me proof of this religion, he threw reports by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute at me -- a lot of disproven claims and theories that have been debunked by CBO reports and surveys of job growth/stagnation, construction, retail figures, etc. An impatient feeling had been creeping into my consciousness as I dutifully read these things he wanted me to read, and after inquiring into the source of this impatience it's because I feel, in a way, this is all scratching the left foot when the right foot is itching.

There is a very simple political relationship at the center of this, and all this economic flummery is just so much stage smoke, attempting to legitimize our social order with a patina of pseudo-science.

It isn't science, it's politics. A very simple political disposition, really: the social order favors those who have power. Let's call it what it is, and do what we need to do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Name-Calling by Matthew Hoh

"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love."

Those words were spoken by Matthew Hoh, a highly respected officer in the Foreign Service who recently resigned over the war in Afghanistan. Even while explaining his concerns about the strategic purpose of our presence in Afghanistan, a critical analysis serious enough to catch the attention of the White House and the Pentagon, who prevailed on him not to go.

It's a strange comment, distancing himself from ordinary citizens who question this and other wars, and smearing people who agree with him on an important issue. For fear of being stereotyped himself, he gladly airs a stereotype about other Americans.

I don't know what a "peacenik" is, it seems to be an epithet designed to associate pacifists and war critics as radicals. Pot-smoking hippies? Well, there may be some, but from what I've seen, the majority of people who have asked serious questions about our wars are more like Hoh: serious and concerned citizens who think for themselves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Sit-Ins: Patients, Not Profits

A new wave over the next few days. Here are the cities:

Albuquerque, Atlanta, Augusta (GA), Baltimore (MD), Columbus (OH), Detroit, Glendale (CA), Louisville (KY), Newark (NJ), New York City, Philadelphia (PA), Portland (OR), Rochester (NY), San Diego (CA), San Francisco (CA), Seattle, Sunrise (FL), Virginia Beach (VA), Warwick (RI) -- proud of my home state!

I can help put you in contact with local organizers if you wish.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Billionares For Wealth Care Strike Again, Brilliantly

Rachel Maddow gleefully reporting on a brilliant prank by the Billionaires For Wealth Care.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Franken on Bankruptcies

Unions Have Inner Demons, Too

...any movement of the poor is a fragile thing; it will be beset by demons from without and within. The external enemies are well-known, constant irritants and often overwhelmingly powerful. Those inside the union are more subtle, yet nearly as destructive: leaders have big and conflicting egos, gender and racial tensions are hard to overcome, people have honest differences about goals and strategies, and it is enormously difficult to create the selfless bureaucracy that alone will ensure the movement's continuity.

--Michael D. Yates

Yates has shared a compelling recollection of Cesar Chavez and how his union became something very different and sinister than what its ideals expressed. Very interesting and insightful.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Correct Relationship and Labor

"If to produce cheap and excellent nail scissors, we have to reduce the workers to machines, we would do better to cut our fingernails with our teeth."

--Simon Rodriguez

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Green Party Missing Out on Farming and Rural Issues?

The Green Party has never exactly felt like home, and here is one more reason.

Looking over the national party's "Speakers Bureau," a list of speakers and topics available for events across the country, I startled at what was missing from the list of topics.

The Green Party can send someone to your event to speak on women's rights, non-violence and militarism, civil liberties and constitutional issues, labor, immigration, health care, and even foreign policy.

But agriculture? Nothing. The closest we get to agriculture is sustainable economic development (which, one would hope is clear by now, has to include agricultural reform).

If there is any mention of the food sovereignty movement anywhere on the Green Party website, I missed it. One would think the Green Party would find common cause with the IFDP (aka "Food First!") and be speaking on this important matter.

Indeed, there is a swath of rural outreach that the Green Party might be doing as an advocate for small food producers and local food systems. People who live in rural areas are often suffering the 'downstream' effects of commodity extraction, and here, too, the Green Party could be an important organizer of people.

My communications with the Party about this have been slow -- it is not a wealthy political party, so they have no full-time staffers. I got a reply from someone at national referring me to the New Mexico Green Party, but not responding to the substance of my comment.

Come on, Greens. Take a trip out of the cities, come into the country and meet folks. There is a lot of work to be done.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sitting Zen: Another Kind of Social Action

...and then there is the original social action, the practice of shamatha or stopping, returning to "no point of view," resting the intellectual activity that is concerned with history and policy and resuming the basic awareness practice of zen.

Tomorrow, at a ranch a few miles outside of town near the mountains, the Deming Zen Group holds its second meditation retreat. At the chapel pictured above, five of us will sit and walk and eat together in silence, letting go of the precious accumulations of our thinking and arriving at our only true home.

The preceding posts on public affairs are not exactly a separate activity from Zen. Dishes need to be done, children need to be taught how to behave, weeds need to be dealt with. Bills must be paid and votes must be cast. Our world is one that requires choices. Making good choices, in turn, requires clarity, intimacy, and a deep understanding of our responsibility for the wholeness of life.

In that sense, retreats are another kind of social action.

A Reader's Question on Health Care

Pam, a long-time reader of this blog, asks:

Just out of curiosity, Alg, what is the health care reform you endorse and how do you think we get to it from here? Also, how do we pay for it?

Herewith, a sketch of systemic health care and insurance reform I would whole-heartedly endorse, because I believe it is what we need to do.

Universal single-payer coverage similar to Medicare, with small co-pays at rates commensurate to income. Working people would contribute to its funding through payroll deductions (which most of us who have health care through work are paying anyway, to private insurance companies). Employers would also contribute, as they do now, but at tiered rates so as not to burden smaller businesses excessively or subsidize larger businesses excessively.

Funding from the general budget can also be made available, but only if there is extensive budget and tax reform to accommodate this new priority. A reallocation of public money from subsidizing the private sector through bloated private military contracts, bailouts, and judicious cuts in bloated military spending (and anticipating an objection: significant savings can be achieved without jeopardizing national security). These are areas through which our republic bleeds many billions of dollars per year, and should be reformed for the sake our country's economic system if not for its soul. As for tax reform, it is time for a progressive tax policy where people pay a share for public service that is commensurate with their means.

The challenges we face demand systemic changes.

What I am suggesting would largely kill off the health insurance industry as we know it, although there would likely still be niche markets for private enterprise. Aflac , for instance, has health-related policies that do not provide insurance coverage per se, but promise you payouts of cash in the event of cancer diagnosis, hospitalization, and other medical events. I haven't thought about it much, but I'm guessing these could thrive in a United States that provides its citizens with public health coverage.

Now, a question of my own:

Have you never asked how we pay for our present system?

We do, in fact, currently spend more on health care than any country in the world. Trillions of dollars, we spend. As of 2004, we were spending 16% of our GDP on health care. Many billions of dollars are spent just on executive salaries and bonuses for the insurance company cartel -- that is billions of dollars spent without applying a single bandaid, not one spoonful of hyperoxide, not even a magazine in the waiting room of your community's understaffed health clinic.

The money we spend on our present system, which literally kills people and drives them into bankruptcy, is more than enough to fund a decent single-payer system that covers every citizen.

And it is the right thing to do. Just as an aside.

There is already a bill languishing in the United States Senate. The House has a bill, too.

Other countries have achieved this in various ways. None of them has a perfect system; but they all have decent systems. To borrow a phrase from the current President, it can be a tragic mistake to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Ironically, President Obama frequently makes this mistake himself.

The flaws of these other health care systems are highlighted in order to scare U.S. citizens away from thinking about single-payer health care, but what they do not highlight is that these other health systems, while imperfect, are still cheaper and better than what we're stuck with.

Unfortunately, the best hope we have for health reform in a generation is this weird monstrosity of a public marketplace for private insurance companies to continue selling their premiums, force people by law to buy their premiums (thus giving them a bonanza of new customers), and it seems we aren't even going to get the option of a non-profit entity to compete with the privateers even though polls consistently show the public wants that option.

But it is not about what you or I want. It's not about what's best for you or your grandsons. We aren't what matters. We are expendable, Pam. That is the economic order in which we really live. You have been subsidizing, for quite some time, the luxuries of people who exert influence over your life yet care not one tiny whit about your welfare. And they work very hard at getting you to believe that this is the only way it can ever be. It's a lie.

And things will never be any different until a greater number of us are willing to treat it as a call to their country's defense, to be a pain in the ass, to write and call and sit-in and teach-in (or be taught-in) and organize and campaign and go to jail and maybe even get roughed up, but never give up.

These events always precede important social progress. It does not come from electing someone President and hoping the work will get done. It comes when people take over the streets and say NO in a voice that can no longer be ignored without embarrassment or insomnia.

"You have the bills! Reconcile them and get them to the President! Dare him to veto it!"

It always comes from the bottom up. And actually, that's probably how it should be, don't you think?

Obama and Duopoly

"I believe in a two-party system where ideas are tested and assumptions are challenged."

--Pres. Barack Obama on October 15

The problem is, that is not what a two-party system (duopoly) does. It preserves the status quo; it protects the basic assumptions on which that status quo rests.

Which might be okay if things were working well. The times, however, require a politics that allows us to re-examine some of the assumptions on which our social order rests.

Just to run off a quick list: it's time to retire the "trickle-down" economic fantasy and work on "bubble up" systems, putting more democracy into economic policy (we never voted, after all, on the murderous health care system that is currently lording over us, or on industrial agriculture getting to patent seeds, or any of a host of life-altering economic policy decisions), and it is time for serious conversations about the reality of petroleum prices, and how much of our daily lives and budgets are tied to it, because there will be lifestyle-changing events related to petroleum in my lifetime.

There are many more for that list, but I think that's enough to make the point.

Our two-party dictatorship does not allow for testing those ideas or challenging any of our unconsidered assumptions about how to order our lives and communities. It can't even deliver some simple and sensible regulations of the private health insurance industry -- the corporations are, in fact, more powerful than our Congress. This is not our government; it is not accountable to us in any meaningful way. Vote out a Democrat, you'll either get a Republican or some other Democrat.

The duopoly is effective at one thing: preserving power for these two parties alone, and keeping other political parties that might test their ideas and challenge their way of conducting business -- the libertarians, the socialists, the greens -- out of power and sidelined in elections.

October 15 - Protests In The U.S. [CORRECTED]

[I wrote this on Thursday, but didn't post it until this morning. And I forgot to change the references to 'today.' Very sloppy, my apologies.]

People don't like being expendable.

Yesterday, October 15, was a day when a great many people in various places showed up, sitting in or marching because they are tired of being expendable.

In several U.S. cities, there were protests and civil disobedience at the offices of several large health insurance companies. I admit, with some shame, that I did not answer this call although there was a protest in Phoenix, only a few hours away from me. Logistically I could not free myself for it -- but I will try next time, as the insurance companies now exert power over our lives that can be called tyrannical, and they are wielding it tyrannically. It calls for people to stop hoping the Democratic Party will grow spines, and for an authentic grassroots movement to demand reform by pouring sand into the machinery of daily life.

In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, there was also a national day of protest over government cuts that have eliminated 17,000 jobs and additional layoffs. There are additional complaints about social stratification and neglect or abuse of the poor. More on the cuts here. There are videos here.

People don't like being expendable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Calling the Police

A blood-curdling scream late at night. Then another. Horrific shrieking directly across the street. The young woman who lives there running about her apartment, telling someone to "Get out get out get out."

That's a no-brainer. Pick up the phone, make the call. The screaming went on for several minutes. She then said something about "coming at me with a hammer."

In minutes, three city police cars arrive. Surprisingly, the screaming continues -- she is now yelling and swearing at the policemen. Things go from terrible to worse. They decide to arrest her, she resists, ends up on the ground screaming as before, until she is put into a squad car and taken away. The woman whose life we thought we might be saving.

Sarah checked on Gabriel and then said, "We call the police a lot."

It's true.

For seven years, I lived in Los Angeles. For a few of those years, I worked in one of the most feared neighborhoods in America. Yet I can only recall phoning the LAPD twice:

  • Once, to report gunshots in Silverlake, only to be assured by the dispatcher that it was from a film shoot nearby and the gunfire wasn't real.

  • The other time, because I got held up at gunpoint. That seemed worth a call.

We have lived in Deming for a year and a half, and my wife or I have made the decision to call the police several times.

We've had to call animal control because of dogs that roam the streets loose and have charged at us; once coming all the way onto our porch.

We've had to make noise complaints about a neighbor who plays her S.U.V.'s stereo with the bass so loud our house shakes and the windows rattle. It's woken Gabriel up.

And then there is the atmosphere of violence and evident drug use going on across the street.

In Los Angeles, I didn't have a son. He is getting bigger, stronger, and loves to be outside.

So there is another decision to make, and my wife and I made it yesterday with the welfare of our son in mind: we are moving.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gonna Have To Leave It There...

For your amusement, further evidence that Jon Stewart is no ordinary comedian, but a very keen observer and critic of the mainstream news media. His take-down of CNN fact-checking is hilarious.

CNN Leaves It There
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c

Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Sitting In On October 15th

Mobilization For Healthcare For All has announced simultaneous sit-ins on October 15th in the following cities:

New York, Washington DC, Palm Beach (FL), Boston, Cleveland, Portland (OR), Los Angeles, Reno, and Phoenix.

These start at different times on the 15th, some in the morning, some in the afternoon or evening.

Logistically, I cannot get myself to Phoenix on Thursday on such short notice, but I sat down and thought about ways to do it. Since the next opportunity may also come on short notice, I'll have to organize myself so that I can respond.

See the website for details and contacts; I can also help you get in touch with contacts in these cities if you prefer. Another way to support the effort is to make a small donation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Don't Negotiate With This

At a crucial point in the legislative process, the insurance industry is now issuing threats: pass reform, we jack up premiums.

The mask is dropping.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Dying and Reconciliation

Paul Lynch, JDPSN, a dharma friend, wrote a beautiful, personal teaching post about reconciliation and dying. On a lovely day you and I have both woken up once again with our lives, I commend his post to your attention.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ji Jang Bosal for Daido Roshi

Daido Loori Roshi

He was a dharma heir of Maezumi roshi and among the first generation of American Zen lineage holders. He founded the Mountains and Rivers Order in New York, built a wonderful practice facility in Mt. Tremper, and was also celebrated as a photographer. According to the Mountains and Rivers Order, Daido passed away yesterday.

Friday, October 09, 2009

What Is A Peace Prize For, Then? [UPDATED]

Far be it from me to rain on the parade when our President wins the Nobel Peace Prize, but.

Um. How can I put this...

Are you kidding?

We're still in Iraq, and we have escalated in Afghanistan.

When Nobel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says that President Obama has created "a new climate in international politics," I am wondering about actual climate change and how little President Obama has extended himself to confront it.

It is true that Obama has shown more skill at diplomacy, and perhaps more respect for the art, than his predecesoor -- but this is not saying a whole lot. The Nobel peace prize? With little being done about militarism or the ecological crisis, a rational transition to sustainable energy sourcing, or even our own health insurance problem or the international food crisis.

Far from reducing the 1000 military bases we have around the world, it does not even appear he will be able to fulfill his own order to close Guantanamo Bay. Our trade in military arms is expanding. Do they really give Nobel peace prizes for expanding enterprise in arms trafficking and for escalating ongoing wars? The logic eludes me.

What about our private "contractors" abroad, who have engaged in the murder of foreign civilians? What about the antics at our embassy in Kabul? About which we have done nothing more than "review" the contracts of the companies responsible? (In the case of Blackwater, now known as Xe, the Obama Administration continues to issue billion-dollar contracts to the company.) The number of these contractors has also expanded -- armed and largely unaccountable mercenaries unleashed in other countries.

A Nobel peace prize?


This is not an occasion to slam President Obama, although that is of course what it has become for his political opponents. Rather it is one in a series of opportunities to ponder the nature of this prestigious award itself. It was given to Henry Kissinger in 1973, with the Viet Nam war roaring; it was given to Yassir Arafat, who did not prove to be much of an agent for peace.

President Obama is still new to his office and could advance real initiatives to move us toward peace. How much power he really has to do that, even if he has the will, remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Classroom Dojo

The first procedure they learn is the procedure for entering the room.

Theatre class is really a laboratory for, among other things, rehearsing social skills. They get assigned to scene partners or small working groups, and are given a minimum of rehearsal time to create monsters or machines using their bodies, or figure out a way to tell a simple story using everybody in the group to show a location, or to read and rehearse a scripted scene. They are not always happy about their partners; the real purpose of the class has to do with their response to these situations.

It is interesting to note the creative leaps that take place between partners who think they don't like each other.

A lot of energy is released in that room, and we begin and close in a manner similar to martial arts class.

The children enter the room and are taught to move quickly into a standing circle, in a relaxed but alert position with feet in parallel position, shoulder-width apart, and their arms by their sides. They are encouraged to imagine that I might toss a ball at them at any moment by surprise, yet they should be ready to catch it. (I have started keeping a small ball handy for just this purpose.)

Once everyone in this position -- and nothing proceeds until everyone is "ready" -- we bow together. A standing bow from the waist, to express respect and appreciation for one another.

Sometimes we just rehearse that.

Health Care Reform Protest in Chicago

With deep bows...

Seven Arrested at Chicago Cigna Health Insurance Office Calling for End to Denial of Treatment, Real Health Care Reform

Explosions in Deming

I heard one of these sounds myself yesterday morning and had forgotten about it by afternoon. (It was a rough afternoon.)

It's got Deming talking.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thus I Draft Myself

Although it is not yet hopeless, the legislative process is in terrible danger of being successfully perverted into something almost unspeakable. A process of "reform" of the way we manage health care -- a system in the control of large, for-profit entities that have lawmakers in their pocket -- that actually makes things better for the insurance companies and worse for people who are not rich.

So much for social action coming from the top. You don't elect a young new Democratic president and expect justice to bloom like wildflowers. "Reform" is in fact turning into an abscess. Important social progress comes from below, not from the beltway; and a new movement of Gandhian sit-ins is taking form, to gum up the works and build political pressure.

When, after all, did we have a vote on this health care racket? When did we democratically choose a system where Americans die because they don't have the financial resources necessary to pay for their lives? When did we ever vote for a system where we are compelled to pay for premiums without a guarantee our overlords will provide for our care when we need it?

We didn't, that's when. We just let it happen. Shame on us for that; but we do not need to put up with it, and I cannot.

I've signed up, friends. Americans are dying every day simply because they do not have financial resources. We are human beings and countrymen; our lives interpenetrate. The only earthly reason Arnold Schwarzenegger can get health care that my neighbor across the street, who just suffered a heart attack and kidney disease, cannot get - is money.

And there are still people who believe you only deserve what you personally can pay for. Even if it means your life.

Do we accept this as a country where your life or the degree of physical pain and indignity you suffer is determined by your bank balance?

The human choice, the choice informed by the most superficial understanding of our interbeing, is no. That "no" is a call for social action, to use the tools one has as a citizen to say: This is not the correct way; here is the correct way. Let's walk in this direction.

My resources are somewhat limited these days, but I can show up, I will write and speak, and I will get in the way. (My wife says I'm very good at the latter.) It is a call to service for community and country to oppose tyranny. The control over life and decency held by profit-making institutions is murdering people.

People who look like the man across the street.

People who look like my son.

People who look like my dad.

A country where their fate will be determined by financial worth? I never voted on that. But I will be casting my vote -- with my ass, as need be -- from now on.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Kwan Seum Bosal For Daido Loori Roshi

Late tonight, a little behind the ball, we have learned from a priest in the Mountains and Rivers Order that Daido Loori Roshi, an American Zen Master in the lineage of Maezumi roshi, is likely dying.

Having never met him, I knew him only through his writings and recorded dharma talks. I have greatly admired his teaching, have been both inspired and humbled (even embarrassed, more than once) by his expressions of the buddhadharma.

During the years I lived on the east coast, I blew many opportunities to sit with him and his senior students, owing to my laziness and opinions. So it went.

We add his name to the altar here at the Deming Zen Group, with great appreciation for his practice, his teaching, and his life.

Acknowledgment (and deep bows) to Nathan of the Dangerous Harvests blog, without whom we would not have heard this news.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Heaven & Hell

My Trinity co-conspirator, Jason Slavick, is founding a new theatre company in Boston, The Performance LAB.

Their vision is produce original live theatre incorporating music, dance, puppetry, and various modes of acting. Their first production is said to be a punk cabaret based on the work of the Brothers Grimm. Sounds like Jason all over. I miss him. Jason directed me the first time I played Shakespeare's Richard III, and we worked together on other things.

The clip below hints at the kind of theatre we used to make together, albeit on no budget in those days. This looks great.

Nuclear Waste Is Good For You

Imagine being so desperate for economic development, ANY kind of economic development, that you are willing to say 'yes' to making your home a dumping place for radioactive waste.

Imagine being willing to believe the power company when they actually promise you the stuff they want to bury, that they couldn't pay other countries to dispose of, is really less radioactive than nature itself.

These are the kinds of choices some people are left to make.

More Wendell Potters To Be Found

As I watched the footage of civil disobedience at the Aetna headquarters in New York City this week, something occurred to me that I forget to add in my previous post.

An effective movement requires a few modes of demonstration.

You need friendly picketers who can be approached by the curious, who are ready to distribute a leaflet explaining concisely why they are there.

You need civil disobedience, the folks willing to publically gum up the works because of a moral quandary that cannot be ignored. Like those folks at Aetna.

You need humor, too. Satire is a splendid, non-threatening, socially accessible form of political commentary. Look at the popularity of Stephen Colbert. I am, for one, a big fan of the Billionaires For Wealthcare.

Finally, there needs to be outreach to those who are employed by the health care system. Wendell Potter served CIGNA and Humana for twenty years, and was led by his conscience to blow the whistle on the industry's objectives and practices.

So besides the merry pranksters, the receptive faces on picket lines, and the demonstrators conducting civil disobedience, there should be a contingent appealing directly to the cogs in the machine, inviting them warmly to follow Potter's example and join a movement for true reform.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Participation and Subjugation

The italicized text below is from a recent article by Rick Wolff in response to a Democratic primary in New York City this month, a very important one, in which only 11% of registered Democrats turned out. Wolff sees this not as apathy, but alienation. As a commenter on the article put it: why should people legitimize their own subjugation?

Using Wolff's words, I have inserted arrows to illustrate his argument like a chain:

Since the 1970s, real wages stagnated while workers' productivity kept rising...

--> ...providing employers with rising profits. They used those profits...

--> remake US politics ever more to their liking...

--> Flat wages drove US workers' families to send more family members out to do more hours of paid labor...

--> The lost time, exhaustion, and stress undermined working families' participation in politics. Flat wages also led to massive worker borrowing and thus rising debt anxiety.

--> Holding together family and finances became ever more difficult; it absorbed what time and energy remained after work. Politics became ever more irrelevant and remote from workers' real lives. It disappeared as an activity and resurfaced instead as spectacles made for TV couch potatoes.

There is one dimension, however, that Rick Wolff does not discuss and I think has some bearing.

It reminds me of something that came up at the first meeting of our teacher's union here in Deming. Eight of us showed up at the library of Deming High School. There is important business going on, yet out of 200 members in Deming, this was the turnout. This is certainly not an indication of everyone's satisfaction: concerns and complaints, concerning work or the union, have reached all of us who were there. The low turnout was definitely not a symptom of universal satisfaction.

There was some conversation about this phenomenon, and I offered an observation that historically, unions have provided some education to its members to help them understand the importance of participation. Union strength is not a retail purchase, yet in recent years American labor has treated the labor union more like an insurance company. The idea goes like this: "I pay dues, and in exchange I receive union services." When problems arise, members then expect the union to go to bat for them, without requiring the member's participation. This is not a paradigm that puts labor in a position of strength.

Another member suggested we meet off-site, as some people may feel intimidated going to a union meeting on school grounds. That is understandable, and the members present voted to convene meetings at other locations. I had to remark, however, that union members need to realize that union activity is legally protected (for the time being anyway) and one cannot be timid when it comes to negotiating with power.

The word participation needs to be prominent. Union participation. Democratic participation. Those folks who sat in at the Aetna headquarters this week were participating, not just sitting in their armchairs grumbling about the fact that their government is openly working on behalf of private corporations and conspiring to make the health care crisis even worse than it already is.

If some of us thought we would get the changes we need by electing Barack Obama last fall, I hope the lesson has been learned. Reform on behalf of the people does not typically come from the top. It comes from social movements, people organizing themselves and putting themselves on the line, being uncomfortable and gumming up the works. It's not a retail transaction. It requires participation.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sit-Ins at Aetna

Peaceful sit-ins such as the September 29 action at Aetna's New York office seem a fairly civilized and rational response, at a time when we are seeing the "health care reform" legislation evolve into an outrageous federal subsidy to the same abusive health insurance industry that has our country in a stranglehold. What an epic failure.

Footage of the sit-ins below.