Labor Day, My Father, and Unions

This week began with Labor Day which always puts my mind on my father. Dad earned the nickname “Brain” because, had he not been born into a poor family just at the edge of the Great Depression, his intelligence might have led to a very different life than the one he lived. He had to drop out of school after eighth grade to go to work in order to help support his mother and father. He found a job at the Easy Washer plant in Syracuse, NY. I know he worked there for at least 15 years, beginning when he was thirteen. Easy Washer made wringer washing machines. I also know that he worked there right through WWII, doing essential war work. 

After the war, my father’s plant was folded into General Electric. He had taught himself all about electrical circuits and even learned higher math skills, algebra and calculus, through home correspondence courses. For the rest of his life, until he retired, he worked in the TVR section of GE where assembly lines turned out the first televisions, whose guts consisted of an array of cathode tubes. Televisions were small and heavy and changed over time from black and white to color sets. He knew how each tube functioned in the TV and he purchased tubes which he kept in his basement workshop where he fixed our neighbors’ televisions and radios. 

General Electric had a very active union, AFL-CIO, and my father became a union steward. Management was never fond of unions. Unions turned workers into a powerful bargaining unit. Often unions fought to force management to stop encroaching on rights that workers had already won. It was common to force workers to work hours of overtime after a full shift by threatening to replace workers who said “no” to extra hours. Whenever a worker had a grievance, they could ask the union to put the power of numbers behind the rather puny efforts of one worker in order to right a wrong. Of course, sometimes unions overstepped also, and used their power to force the company to keep workers who were slackers, or who stirred up disagreements with fellow workers. Unions often stood up for workers in cases of discrimination, but not always as often as they should have. 

A pattern was set up in the minds of workers, that anyone hired into a factory like GE would work there for his or her entire life and would retire from there one day in their old age. There were no health care plans, no retirement plans, no unemployment insurance, no social security, but there supposedly was the sense that you had joined a family and if you ‘pulled your weight’ you would keep your job for a lifetime. Gradually the federal government began to offer programs to help workers with retirement and unemployment. 

My father and the union workers at GE went on strike many times to win higher wages as the American economy began to grow and inflation kicked in. Often, they were offered benefits in place of higher wages. Probably half of our family’s eight children had left home before the company offered health care and retirement savings programs. Workers did not get paid while they were out on strike, and some strikes were lengthy. The union gave striking families stipends which kept them from starvation but caused wage earners much anxiety about other costs like mortgage payments, clothing for their children for school, other school costs, and the costs of keeping a car on the road. Our family seemed to live in waves of feast and famine. 

Capitalism is an economic system which encourages private ownership of a business paired with the sale of items in a marketplace to consumers who keep the owner in business. Since businesses are run by people and people have flaws like greed, or a single-minded drive to succeed at the cost of employees, corporations are as corrupt as their owners. Businesses must please stockholders and boards of directors when they become large corporations. When money seems pinched or the market wobbly, workers without unions could face unreasonable work demands from these large corporation, where the work force was basically faceless to the owners. Unions filled an essential role.

But, a fact of our lives is that life moves on, sometimes at a fast pace, sometimes slowly. Promises made for a lifetime may not be kept if conditions change and the world after WWII saw many changes. In 1960 SONY introduced the first solid state television sets. These sets did not use tubes. The technology was new, and my father was unprepared for it. But he did not make televisions by that time. He worked in the “Master Oscillator” room checking instruments and keeping records. 

By the time he was thinking about retirement he still had four children at home who were in high school. He could not retire yet. GE encouraged him to leave by putting him back on the main assembly line. He was anxious all the time and the assembly line pressures disturbed his sleep at night. Soon television production was no longer profitable for GE in Syracuse, and the company decided to move their TV operations to another city. 

Southeast Asia was producing more and more televisions and they were less expensive for consumers to buy. The marketplace was changing, and unions were also caught off guard. They did not understand that they were competing against a foreign labor force that could be paid far less than American workers were being paid. Unions kept asking for higher wages. Corporations like to say that the unions pushed them to go overseas. However, corporations go where their bottom line is best served, where their profit margins are best, where consumers are hungry for the goods they produce. 

Once the USSR came apart in 1981 and businesses in China began to take off in the 1980’s, corporations rushed to fill a factory vacuum in countries that offered a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor. The unions may not have seen the handwriting on the wall, but the corporations did, and they leaped across oceans to seize the opportunities presented. American companies declared bankruptcy, leaving their employees without their pensions. Finally, the federal government had to step in and offer some recompense to workers left high and dry after years of labor. The labor market in America changed drastically causing the grievances that right-wing talk show hosts inflamed. 

Now we have people who must work two or three low-wage jobs and still cannot pay for all their needs. We have something called ‘gig workers’ whatever that is. We have more entrepreneurs which is not necessarily a bad thing, but our small businesses are less stable than those large corporations once were. And we have a pandemic which has led to interruptions in supply chains. The American economy seems poised to recover but is being held back by partisan fights over commonsense health initiatives.

As companies joined the Great Factory Migration, we saw a right-wing push to make unions obsolete by passing laws called ‘right to work’ laws, which is meant to put a positive spin on something that is not positive at all. Unions charged nonunion workers a fee although they were not members because it made the union more powerful and allowed the unions to win more battles with management. Workers resented these fees, but they also received the same hard-won benefits that union members received when the fight was over. Pressure from the right-wing to pass right-to-work laws included the use of strategies that escalated the anger already present in nonunion workers about having to help pay for union negotiations

Unions may seem like archaic vestiges of a former age right now, but I would not give up on all that employee empowerment so quickly. Workers still need to band together to keep from giving management free reign over its worst impulses. There are many rights that workers still need in America, rights that workers have in other nations. Workers still must choose between family and employers when emergencies arise. Workers must choose between childcare and work, and this often affects female workers most, although men actually have children too, and there are few if any choices offered for men who might choose to be a childcare provider.     

My dad was forced into early retirement when his skill set no longer matched what was needed in a company that he thought had become his other family. He was fortunate to work for a company that did not have to declare bankruptcy. GE was able to keep its retirement promises to senior employees. Watching his skills become obsolete was still hard on my father and the strategy of putting senior workers back on the main assembly line where they were often too slow to keep up left him feeling abused, angry, and incompetent. 

Spending a lifetime in the hire of a single corporation or employer is highly unlikely in today’s work climate. But I still pay my union dues, although I am retired. I hope that all union workers will keep paying dues to their unions if they can. We may need our unions again. Even Amazon employees are trying to unionize, so far without much success and some possible cheating on the part of management. Workers may all be replaced by robots, but it looks like that will not happen quite yet. People will still want to be productive and won’t want those Republicans to think of them as deadbeats. AI presents whole new challenges for workers. How soon this transition will happen no one knows. So, for now we need to keep our unions alive and oppose the passage of right-to-work laws. CEO’s don’t run the world, workers do.

Texas Abortion Law Not Just About Abortion

From a Google image Search – Getty Images

Abortion is not the real issue in the pitched battle between the prolife folks and the proabortion contingent. No one is forced to have an abortion. Roe v Wade does not make abortions mandatory. This is a fight about morality. This is an attempt to legislate morality for every woman in a nation that has always professed to be about freedom of religion, separation of church and state. This is also a fight about the role of women in the world.

Most Americans of past generations were born in the Christian tradition, although in the twenty-first century many question the existence of any deity given overwhelming evidence that suggests that we are alone in this world. Many others feel that if there is a divine being s/he does not interfere in world events. But there is a minority group, who believes that they must fight against abortion, which they classify as murder, or they will be guilty of a mortal sin and will be unable to ‘ascend into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty’. They are putting God before country, as their religion requires. But in a nation that has sworn to give its citizens the right to worship as they see fit, in order for these people to honor a Schrodinger’s box sort of God who only exists if one has faith, they must try to overturn what they see as a bad law, or if that doesn’t work, they must violate Constitutional law. 

Not everyone who opposes abortion does it for religious reasons. It has become a political football by those who seek to win the votes of this minority group which may represent almost 42% of Americans according to data presented on Meet the Press this morning. Republicans have long used a prolife stance to win an election in a region of the country where religion is an important aspect of culture. Democrats have used a proabortion stance to win elections in regions where women’s rights are an important issue. 

The role of religion in American culture is another factor contributing to the divides we see between red states and blue states. Red states are not monolithic in terms of religion or politics, and neither are blue states. However, it seems that state houses often are either predominantly Republican or Democratic and this is determining the kinds of legislation on offer, and even the way to treat a pandemic. Whoever thought we would be fighting in school boards about wearing a mask to prevent infections from a virus that is proving intractable? Whoever thought that school boards would become a political battlefield on a national scale, as opposed to the usual local personality or culture wars? It is mind-boggling to see how passionately we are pursuing some fairly petty battles where it seems that there should not even be two sides when there are larger issues to discuss.

Are women equal to men or not? Are women and men partners taking on a complex and not always kind world, or are women meant to be submissive to men? Throughout history it made some sense to divide tasks between men and women, but does that still make sense now? Why were women given brains with the same mental capacity as those given to men if they were meant to simply run a home? Raising children seems to work better when women are permitted to use their intelligence. Children value themselves more when they see both of their parents contributing to the society in which they live. They tend to assume that they will one day make their own contributions to making their society sensitive to the needs of all the citizens.

Why were women denied the vote until 1920? Why did they have to pitch decades of fits in order to win the right to vote? Why do they now have to fight to control their own bodies? The pandemic has offered new fodder for discussions among women about how they wish to conduct their lives. For centuries wealthy women wanted to have some control of their own lives. Since the 1960’s, better methods of contraception that did not hinder the enjoyment of men, gave even middle-class women the idea that they were now free to have lives outside of housekeeping and child-rearing. This freedom has filtered down to even poorer women. 

If women have children, should they have to stay home to raise them? If women marry, should their husbands decide how many children they will bear? Men were often tyrants in their homes and women had to cope or not, depending on the level of bullying behavior. Are we still basically a hunter-gatherer culture where men do the hunting and gathering and the little woman stays home and tends the fire and the laundry and raises the children, feeds the animals, sews the clothing, plants the crops and accepts whatever moods are presented by her husband?

Many Christians who follow the teachings of a Bible that is now centuries old long to return to nuclear families, with a husband and a wife producing offspring to make sure that white Americans do not become a minority. What do women do when men choose not to stay in a marriage, or no suitable partner appears but they want to raise a child? What do women do when they don’t wish to put up with a dominating male, when they want to be an equal to their partner? More women stay single because men are unable to change the internal or external messaging that tells them that they are weak if they give into a woman who wants to share equal ground?

This discussion does not even pretend to cover all the complexities that women and men face in America, and the world, since the ‘sexual revolution’. Women had to work from home during the pandemic because workplaces closed, but they also had to work from home because schools were closed. From studies reported on sites like Linked In it appears that women took on more of the duties related to child rearing, home schooling, keeping children on-task; while also doing much of the housekeeping, and working on Zoom or other digital workspaces. 

Women are once again analyzing how they wish to rate the priorities among their many responsibilities. Do they want to spend more family time? Do they want more flexible work rules? Do they think that it is time to have comprehensive childcare options in our nation?  Would having these options even work if there was another pandemic, or if this pandemic keeps evolving and mutating? Why would men in government choose this moment to add to the dilemmas around the shifting nature of women’s rights? Why are we allowing a minority to dictate morality for all? Why are we pretending that this is really about babies and mothers, when it is just about finding one more tool to widen the divide between Americans so one party can win election after election, and take us back to a male dominated society that we have been trying to equalize for decades, even centuries.  

Closer and Closer to Civil War

Texas Abortion Law – From a Google Image Search-The Economist

Today people assumed that the Supreme Court would say something about the new Abortion law that just passed in Texas. The Supremes said nothing (crickets). This law says that as soon as there is a fetal heart beat an abortion becomes illegal. This happens at around 6 weeks when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant.

This law also says that anyone can report a woman who asks about an abortion, anyone who answers questions of a pregnant woman about abortion, the doctor who anyone suspects may have provided an abortion, or anyone connected with an abortion. Anyone who files such a case will be paid $10,000 (if they win).

Heartbeat laws are not new but until now have been overturned by the courts. Vigilante enforcement of a law is new and very frightening. It sets household against household and person against person. Any person who just wants $10,000 can hunt down even someone who has had a miscarriage and claim their bounty. This could be the end of American democracy. This is a true witch hunt, which turns women into outlaws and even some men, as in the case of doctors. If these laws stand that is the end of Roe v Wade. That is not how a Supreme Court decision is usually overturned.

In addition, Texas joined 19 other states in saying you do not need to show a permit to open carry. Anyone who got a gun legally is allowed to carry it, but since no one will ask to see your permit, I guess it will be fine for anyone to carry a gun openly.

As of today, we will find out whether it matters if America has a president or not. This is the day that we see why Republicans fought so hard for states’ rights and why they wooed and won 30 states as red states. Republicans refused to allow a Democratic president (President Obama) to appoint any more justices to the Supreme Court. We all watched it happen. Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried to live forever, but her death happened at the worst possible moment. Now Republicans have the Supreme Court of their dreams. 

The US Senate can still be held in a state of suspension, especially since Democrats are not voting as a single bloc. Republicans have managed to keep control of Washington politics without having a Republican president in the Oval Office.

People who supposedly believe in unregulated capitalism will not wear masks so that our economy can recover. They may not feel any empathy for their new enemies, those of us who mask and get vaccines, but it would seem they would see the advantages for the economy. Apparently, we are supposed to just let diseases rage and just keep walking that hamster wheel. They don’t even seem to care about protecting their own children. They want to see their faces. What if they lose the faces of the people they love most through their own inability to show some common sense? I don’t wish it for them, I will grieve with them, but I assume they will feel the guilt of knowing they did this. 

It looks like Democrats in blue states might have to live in an America with laws and regulations dictated by red states. If it looks like we are headed in that direction (which it already does) what are Democrats willing to do? Will we go along to get along? Do we wait for the 2020 elections to see if all the new voting laws make it impossible for Democrats to win? That could be too late. I hope someone has some ideas that will allow us to avoid another Civil War. My solution has been to write about it. That barely made a dent in the national dialogue. 

Read my books about 2028. They are meant to be social commentary. They liked the first one in Japan. 

https://www.amazon.com/author/nlbrisson

Water

From a Google Image Search – The Arizona Republic

We should all be getting a bit worried about America’s fresh water supplies and the distribution of fresh water. Tempted by pleasant year-round temperatures, or at least the lack of snowy days, and plenty of sunshine it sometimes seems that too many people have decided to move to locations with limited fresh water supplies. The pictures we saw on the media this week of the rock-face record of changing water depths on the Colorado River, which serves as a main source of water for dry states and western states, was quite shocking. A long drought has been forcing states to look at how they will supply water to a ballooning population and a vitally important agricultural area, all drawing water from sources that are drying up. 

I remember reading a book, popular in the seventies, called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, which warned that climate change would bring drought to America in the future. That was 40+ years ago now. Climate change is, of course, unpredictable. It is entirely possible that western states could be seeing torrential rains and flooding, or that the dwindling snows in the Sierras could be replenished to offer the snow melt that bodies of water and wells rely on. But none of our meteorological experts would predict that such a turn of events is imminent.

If you live in a state with plentiful water, you must have at least given a thought to whether water pipelines will send some of the water you rely on to drier areas, or to areas like Florida which may run out of potable water. Will we willingly share our freshwater resources? Remember the water cycle. There is no new freshwater being added to our reserves. Most water is simply recycled. While it is true that salt in water does not evaporate and storms that arise over oceans do change salt water into fresh water, the water falls so fast that flooding happens and this is often more of a nuisance or even a disaster than a replenishment. In a normal water cycle water evaporates into the air and is returned to the earth as rain or snow. 

The problem is that the rain that is evaporated is not always dropped on the same place it evaporated from. In fact, it is hardly ever dropped back in the same geological location. There are predictable patterns of where water will condense as clouds and fall back to earth. These patterns are never 100% predictable. Ask the farmers. 

Those of us who agree that climate change is real accept that patterns of water and wind and temperature that humans in America (and of course the world) have depended on for decades, perhaps even centuries, are becoming even less reliable than usual. There are more dry years in some places, flash flooding in others, weather events are sometimes more devastating than usual. The fires on the west coast have been fierce and human communities have been burned to the ground. Fire fighters have been faced with almost insurmountable danger and the constant battle with fire has left people exhausted. Landscapes often recover, but for humans, recovery is more problematic.

So, do we send water from relatively water rich areas so that people can continue to live in deserts, or in areas prone to a cycle of disasters and rebuilding, like our beaches? We have all that water sitting in our oceans so it is difficult to believe that water shortages ever will be a problem. However, apparently, desalination is a problem, not just because it’s expensive, but because there is nowhere to put the resulting brine where it will not threaten freshwater supplies. Will we be given a choice? Humans are generous, but when supply is limited are we still inclined to share? People who agreed to tough it out in areas with four seasons, when snow makes it so difficult to get around, might resent shipping water to snowbirds and sun seekers who tried to recreate the green lawns of northern suburbs without a thought for future shortages. How can we capture water that drowns an area prone to hurricanes and send it off to where would be useful? Nature still overwhelms us.

It seems we always see things coming but we never exercise foresight in order to create workable plans. Political divisions make action difficult, giving states more power and then dealing with 50 different policies from 50 different governors doesn’t help, and so we drift through the years with plenty of ideas offered by experts but no plans to stave off crop failures, fires, destruction of habitats, destruction of homes, and possible dystopian water wars. Who gets water, what can people in different biomes use water for, how can we keep our creature comforts and use much less water if we need to, should we transport water from one region of American to another if rains become ineffective for moving water around? Do we have a federal commission to control the use of freshwater resources in American, to husband our freshwater and collect it where rainfall is wasted in order to preserve enough water to always take care of the needs of farmers and citizens? Isn’t it about time we formed such a commission, separate from the EPA to concentrate on managing our freshwater resources?

Since the world is a much smaller place these days and movement of people around the world will return to normal someday if we can stabilize COVID, we cannot afford to just consider the distribution of water resources in America. We must also think globally. People may have to migrate to follow freshwater availabilities. Currently, the world’s nations frown on migration. If you live in a desert, that’s your problem. If one country’s industrial pollution ruins farming in another country, oh well. Look what has happen to the Uyghurs in China, as their desert home became even drier and less livable. They lost their autonomy and have attracted the attentions of President Xi, who is being accused of genocide. Look at what is happening to South Americans as drought affects crops and they are not allowed to migrate north. Water management may not be able to wait if we want to avoid mass migrations and even water wars.

On January 31, 2012, I wrote an article called “How Likely are Water Wars?  You can find the post in my books, Loving America to Death. There is a book that just covers 2012 and there is an omnibus edition that covers 2010 to 2016.

https://www.amazon.com/author/nlbrisson

We mourn for lives lost in Afghanistan – photo- Newport News

“Safe Haven”

From a Google Image Search – AP News

Liz Cheney was on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd this morning. Chuck Todd likes to show that bipartisanship is still possible and that he can get Republicans to offer opinions that are outside the cult talking points. Liz Cheney has been in trouble with her Republican colleagues because she refuses to act in lockstep with the Trump cult. She admits that ‘the big lie’ is a big lie, that Trump was not cheated out of winning the 2020 election by fraudulent voting, and that what happened on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection. She is on the bipartisan committee investigating the activities of January 6 th, Trump’s ties to the violence, and the attempt to overturn a valid American election. Cheney shows us an integrity that is missing in most Republican behavior recently. She is certainly not the most frustrating Republican Chuck Todd has forced Americans to listen to in the interests of restoring cross-the-aisle discussions and legislative compromises. So far, his attempts at both-sides-ism have been less than effective and are hardly welcomed by his audience.

In today’s discussion of Afghanistan Liz Cheney said that our troops were in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a ‘safe haven’ for terrorists and extremists. While that rationale might have been apparent right after the actions against America on September 11, 2001, very little is made of this as a reason for still being in Afghanistan 20 years later. Once Americans get involved militarily in a nation that is struggling, where people are poor and the government seems far away, too corrupt and disorganized to provide help, we start to believe that there is a humanitarian aspect to our sacrifices. This makes losing our soldiers seem to be an act of grace with a purpose beyond our own interests. In the case of Afghanistan when we were seeing positive changes in the lives of Afghan people, especially women and girls, it was easy to forget that this was only true in a small cordoned off piece of Afghanistan that was temporarily being remade in America’s image. It was easy to forget the poverty in far-flung villages where the government held little sway. 

Republicans do not like getting distracted by humanistic concerns. They don’t like it at home, and they really don’t like it abroad. The world is just a surface without boundaries for American troops to roam at will. The world is full of deadbeats to Republicans. If you are poor, you did something to deserve it, or you didn’t do the things necessary to avoid it.

It’s possible Republicans once had a heart that could still be moved to tears, but the party decided along the way that compassion was something they could not afford. Being in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a terrorist safe haven is not necessarily a bad reason to be there. Perhaps it should just not be the only reason. There are still forces that would love to topple America, although they can sit back and watch us do that for ourselves in 2021. Our divisiveness about masks and vaccines is so powerful that we cannot act in unison, even to beat a disastrous virus that is changing America even more than our political divisions have managed to change us.

It seems as if someone came up with this ‘no safe haven’ motive for staying in Afghanistan just to spite Biden’s removal of our troops and to make Biden look incompetent. If keeping terrorists at bay was the most important reason for being in Afghanistan all along, why weren’t we constantly reminded of that mission. Instead, the mission got more and more muddled, until it seemed like a rescue operation and another nation building project. People are saying that we are once again peddling democracy to a nation that has no democratic traditions. Trying to sell democracy in a world that is becoming increasingly authoritarian may be unrealistic, but it is understandable. Republicans used to be focused on selling both democracy and capitalism. 

Republicans certainly don’t need to come up with more ways to push us all to believe that Biden did not have a good plan or a clear understanding of how many people did not want to live under the Taliban. The ‘no safe haven’ rationale is overkill at this point. But it may be the one that sticks. Republican have discovered and exploited the power of fear for at least the past two decades. Striking fear in people’s hearts is not the same thing as striving to lift human hearts.

Afghanistan, Taliban, Tragedy – From the Cheap Seats

From a Google Image Search – Freenews.today

Like many Americans, I did not know much about Afghanistan before the events of September 11, 2001. For one year I had a colleague at school who was from Afghanistan. He had fled the country well before the attack on the World Trade Center. He came to America for a college education and never left, but homesickness for his native Afghanistan leaked out of him on occasion. I knew that Russia had been involved in a war in Afghanistan, and that they had finally left in defeat. I knew about the Taliban’s strict religious laws and how Sharia law was especially harsh for women. By the end of 2003, along with many others I had read Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner, which offered insights into Afghan life before and after the Taliban. In 2004, Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad published her book, The Bookseller of Kabul. Åsne lived with the bookseller and his family for three months under Taliban rule. The bookseller had to hide his books; his wives had to hide themselves.

Why were we in Afghanistan? From the cheap seats, we were there because Iraq was a mistake. It was Afghanistan that was implicated in the attacks of 9/11. We were there because ISIS set out to form an Emirate using violence, kidnappings, fear, intimidation, and they didn’t stay local about it. They seemed intent on intimidating the world. On the news we saw one outrage after another. We were there because Osama bin Laden was hidden away somewhere in Afghanistan, or across the border in Pakistan. We were there because we couldn’t afford to attack Saudi Arabia for any number of political reasons.

For a while our American soldiers were able to push the Taliban back from cities like Kabul and Kandahar. We were able to create a space for an Afghan government that was not the domain of extremists. Women went back to work and school, businesses were freer, as adherence to strict religious laws disappeared, or at least retreated. America hoped to help Afghanistan train an Army to fight off the Taliban, still active in areas of the country.

So, having 20 years of war end with only a couple of months’ warning (at least that’s how it seems) made it look like we were leaving in defeat with our tails between our legs. I was around during the Vietnam War. I recall the rush to leave Saigon, which felt even faster than in Kabul. In The Sympathizer by Viet Trang Nguyen, who heard about the last day in Saigon from refugees of his parent’s generation, the author describes a scene at the airport in Saigon that sounds almost identical to what is happening in Kabul. Each day of the evacuation seems like that final day in Vietnam.

I am shocked that this all happened so fast. I feel embarrassment and shame that our promises to Afghan citizens who helped us may not be kept and that they may, even now, be at the mercy of the ruthless Taliban. Time will tell us how deep our shame will be. It is very telling that we had to stick to Trump’s deal with the Taliban, perhaps because they had become too rich and powerful to bargain with. (Where did they get their funding. That is one of the more interesting questions I have heard people ask.)

The fate of the Afghan women may be the cause for our greatest grief. Will they really be accepted, or will they be banished once more to their husbands’ whims and their domestic routines, brain dead once again so they can’t sin or disobey. Or perhaps there will be repercussions against ‘collaborators’ who may be beaten, imprisoned, or killed, and our guilt will outweigh our grief.

What were our choices: 1) stay and fight the Taliban, shoulder-to-shoulder with trained Afghan soldiers who might run away, 2) send more and more troops to save a few key cities while the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan, 3) push the Taliban back once again at great cost of American lives, 4) establish a permanent base in Afghanistan (it wouldn’t be at all like a base in Germany, or South Korea, or Japan), 5) get those who helped us out earlier (which still could have caused a panic and been just as chaotic). I have heard all these suggestions. However, we are trying to break our addiction to ‘nation building’ and ‘regime change’ activities that have come under negative scrutiny for good humanitarian reasons. These strategies also often fail.

Islamic nations, especially religious states present a dilemma for the rest of the world’s nations. The fervor, the passionate embrace of religious extremes mirrors Christianity as it existed in the age of monarchs in Europe. So many Americans and others have moved towards atheism or humanism, or a more casual level of religious observance that we recoil from Islamic extremists who want to kill for Allah, apply religious laws in the strictest sense of the Sharia Laws, refuse to tolerate any religion but Islam. We have many reasons beyond our “loss of face” to keep a close eye on how the Taliban rulers handle governing in Afghanistan.

I wrote this in the first person because I wanted to try to set down my own schema on these matters, and because I write opinions rather than straight news. Some may agree with my perceptions, some may not. I will continue to try to educate myself on these complex events. I hope I got some of this right (isn’t that what Rachel Maddow always asks).

As for who gets the blame, I agree with those who say there is enough blame to go around. We are headed towards a crucial midterm election in 2020. Regardless of whether President Biden was precipitous, or unwise, I know that I do not want a Republican Congress. Republicans began the war in Afghanistan, Republicans engineered the end of the war by treating with insurgents. They deserve the lion’s share of the blame, and they deserve to lose plenty of seats in the 2022 midterms, and the Presidency in 2024. If Republicans don’t lose, I fear for our own democracy.

Freedom Oxymorons of Republicans

From WaPo -TAMPA, FL – JULY 27: Families protest any potential mask mandates before the Hillsborough County Schools Board meeting held at the district office on July 27, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors including students returning to school. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Freedom Oxymorons of Republicans

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposing meanings within a word or phrase that creates an ostensible self-contradiction (Wikipedia).

Oxymoron

Bullying people during a pandemic because they want to follow health guidelines and wear a mask to save their families, and calling it protecting “freedom.”

Masks are not even like seatbelts. They are a temporary barrier between we the people and a nasty air borne disease.

Oxymoron

Chanting “we will not comply” and “there’s a place for you in hell” when a school board in Tennessee thought students should use masks to make attending school full time safe. Some parents who do not want to send their children to school in masks, telling a health care expert who gave testimony at the meeting that “he can leave freely” but we “know where you live,” scaring parents and children in order to force school officials to allow them to send their children to school unmasked, and calling it “freedom.”

Oxymoron

Donald Trump, an American President, telling the department that is supposed to provide justice for the American people to just say the 2020 election results were fraudulent and he would do the rest, in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

The Texas legislature wanting to pass laws that give one party, the Republicans, oversight over future elections in the name of “freedom.”

Democrats do not want to provide a quorum to allow a vote on making it possible to overturn the votes of the people of Texas. They can now be arrested and forced to return so the legislation can come up for a totally partisan vote, in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

Greg Abbott, Texas governor, sets up a system in which your neighbors can police your reproductive behavior by suing an abortion provider if they suspect you had an abortion, in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, has decreed that all children must return to school full time without masks as the COVID delta variant ravages his state, and he does this in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

The US Supreme Court allows the US House of Representatives access to only two years of Trump’s taxes, in order to protect the power of the president, and they do it in the name of “freedom.”

A guy who invented a pillow is predicting violence on August 13th and inciting Trump devotees to a January 6freeth do-over, because a coup to overthrow our democracy is being called for, in the name of “freedom.” 

Tucker Carlsen went to Hungary with a big, old grin on his face to interview Viktor Orbán, the illiberal (that means dictatorial) leader of that country, in the name of “freedom.”

If you define authoritarianism so it means freedom, and you do it in the name of freedom, then you end freedom. After 244 years of living in a free society, not a perfect society but one in which you usually don’t get sent to jail or executed for what you think, we seem unable to tell the difference between freedom and the lack of freedom. This is what happens when you say these things are just a matter of semantics. Semantics matter. Words stand for ideas. They may describe abstractions, but they are not squishy enough to allow us to set out to prove that a word is equal to its opposite; to define authoritarianism as freedom, or freedom as authoritarianism. 

It has been recent practice among Republicans, and especially Trump Republicans to use oxymorons and other logical fallacies to make things that free societies do to keep people safe and healthy (mandates) seem like authoritarian actions, and to make bullying and other authoritarian tactics into supposedly heroic acts of freedom fighters. Perhaps we need a national discussion about freedom because it looks like some authoritarianism has wandered into our democracy. This tendency is making us equate freedom with things like threatening people and using violence to get your freedom at the expense of the freedom of others. America was set up in such a way that citizens could revolt if democracy became monarchy, or by extension authoritarianism. Current upheavals are not about saving our democracy/republic. They are about forcing our country to accept one party’s policies without question or opposition. That’s not democracy; that’s not freedom.

Urban Contrapuntal

Last Chance for Change, Kayla Johnson, Syracuse.com

Urban Contrapuntal

In music a contrapuntal is having two different melodies in one piece of music. What is happening in our cities is a kind of social contrapuntal where the actions of one group drown out the actions of another. Syracuse, NY will serve as an example, but it is not the only city with groups that are experiencing cacophony, rather than harmony. 

After the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, many cities saw demonstrations and many of these demonstrations had both peaceful elements and violent elements, usually not involving the same people. In Syracuse many groups combined to protest racism in policing and to ask for police reform. They vowed to march for 40 days, and they achieved that impressive goal. They achieved that goal despite some bad actors who shattered windows at police headquarters, the courthouse, and downtown businesses. Peaceful protestors showed up the next day to help with clean up. 

Protestors, led by a group named Last Chance for Change requested things like demilitarization of the police, a way for citizens to understand what the police unions were saying and doing, a view through the blue wall. They asked that social services be called in for cases involving mental health problems, that a Citizen’s Review Board have a bigger role in affecting policing in the community. On Juneteenth, 2020, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced that there would be reforms and a document was drafted and sent to the State of New York for approval. 

At the same time protestors statewide won a battle with the Justice Department for bail reform. The Brennan Center says, “The purpose of the original bail reform law was to reduce the number of people jailed while awaiting trial simply because they could not afford to pay bail.” This would, they say, and I paraphrase, reduce the jail population by at least 40% percent by eliminating cash bail for as much as 90% of arrests. “In a system where everyone is supposed to be presumed innocent, cash bail can be extremely harmful to people who have not been proven guilty. In addition to the trauma of being imprisoned, even a few days in jail can cause people to lose their jobs, housing, or custody of their children.”

But that contrapuntal theme line is always there in our cities. By 2021 homicides in Syracuse, NY looked to be on track or slightly ahead of other years, judges were turning people back into the streets who were repeat offenders because they claimed the guidance on bail reform was unclear, and the police were losing employees and claiming that they could not follow the new reform guidelines and apply law and order in ways that most citizens required. There were murders of two elderly white women living in housing in Syracuse by young people. Several victims of homicide were shockingly young. 

Here is the current list from Syracuse.com: 

Toddrick Rice, 21, January 5, 2021

Eva Fuld, 84, January 25, 2021

Darwyn Quinones, 21, February 13, 2021

Concetta “Connie” Tuori, 93, March 17, 2012

Dior Harris, 11 months old, April 11, 2021

Quentin Harrison Jr., 26, April 28, 2021

Kathleen Montreal, 51, May 8, 2021

Radames Francesco, 15, May 21, 2021

Najee Wright, 13, May 24, 2021

Bobby Ford Jr., 31, June 8, 2021

Darren Rosa, 23, June 8, 2021

N’y Kim, 15, June 23, 2021

Rashein Fortune, 42, June 26, 2021

Tyce Smith, 35 July 26, 2021

Kelvin Sharp, 42, August 2, 2021

On July 4, 2021, five people were shot in two different incidents, two with non-life-threatening wounds, 2 teens shot in the back, a 20-year-old shot in the head.

August 3, 2021, in localsyr.com, there is a report that says, “At the corner of Turtle and N. Salina St. late night block parties have become a problem. Early Sunday morning Syracuse Police ended up in that area after a man opened fire into a crowd of more than 200 people. A local resident heard gunshots. He said that every 3 to 4 weeks he hears gunshots at these parties. He is worried that someone will be killed. 

Police Chief Kenton Buckner said, “one of the challenges we have is that we have very limited latitude when engaging individuals on the scene, and, in most cases, they only qualify for an appearance ticket, that makes it very difficult for us to move those crowds along.” Two stripper clubs are nearby but they claim the parties are unrelated. They will do what they can to help police, but these people are not their customers.

So, we have 15 murders and plenty of mayhem against the concerted actions of 14 activist groups whose earnest efforts have led to reforms of the Justice system in NYS, and to reforms of policing in Syracuse, NY. But, as you might imagine, pushback is powerful. Traditionalist and conservatives (at the top, Syracuse is a very conservative city) never wanted either bail reform or police reform. 

Protestors used the popular meme about ‘defunding the police’ but they did not ever intend to get rid of the Syracuse police force. Police have created programs in the city during the summer to help steer children in positive directions and offer them more positive relationships with local police. They have helped some youth get paying summer jobs working for community groups. But it is a difficult slog when violence and civil disobedience dominate the local news. 

The original Bail Reform laws lasted 3 months before they were amended allowing judges to impose cash bail for more situations, and these are not necessarily bad changes as the original law was perhaps lacking in guidance for the courts. Judges also have more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release, the Brennan Center tells us.

Police continue to chaff at both the bail reform laws and the police reform laws. In Syracuse the plan is entitled “Syracuse Police Reform and Reinvention Plan.” The plan is not a total victory for activists. The department did buy body cameras, did not agree to include social service workers in obvious mental health interventions but did agree to train more officers in mental health responses. Police have not yet decided to take police out of schools, although this was a request, but it is still being considered. They agreed to form a Cadet program with a Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler HS, with the highest rate of poverty, to target those most overlooked by traditional recruitment. At graduation they would be given interesting employment until they passed the Civil Service police exam. They would try to have better cooperation with the Citizen Review Board. All very police-y solutions, not as community oriented as one might wish, and the blue wall will remain intact. 

Sadly, drugs, gangs, turf disputes, family disputes still serve to counteract the efforts of others in the community to reform policing, to make policing less discriminatory in the African American community. The coldness, the hardheartedness of the attacks on the two seniors who were brutally murdered suggest an escalation in the disconnect between social groups, and the role of trauma in allowing a disconnect with the value of a human life. The death of an 11-month-old baby in a drive-by shooting is especially grievous and yet it was, in a way, an accidental death. No babies should be killed in accidental deaths involving guns. We can’t address this either, because traditionalists and conservatives believe that absolutely everyone has a constitutional right to own a gun. 

It seems that conservatives will have their way with policing and bail reform, using their reactionary attitudes to undo the work of activists and keep racism alive until activists demonstrate again. We do need the police to go after those who exhibit antisocial behavior, but the police unions and the blue wall will not allow police officers to get too creative about how they will help the community wipe out the practices that cause the antisocial behavior. We don’t want policing to be as dangerous as it is, but the problems require long-term solutions and the public wants results right away.

“Syracuse is going to get the change,” said Kayla Johnson of the Last Chance for Change group. “This is the time.”

It seems the hopes of Kayla and other groups of activists in Syracuse could be dashed and they will find that the reforms they fought for will dwindle away in the face of the contrapuntal scripts we find in most American cities. Syracuse is a small city, but a great way to examine what is happening throughout America. This does not imply that that the only crime in America is in cities; it’s just harder to find when it is happening in less populated places, or when people live in big houses with air conditioning.

Mandates

Civil Rights Litigation Group

I want to use the word ironic, but apparently everyone uses it incorrectly (but it certainly seems ironic) that the party that gave us the most authoritarian president ever is going berserk over what they call mandates. 

It’s not necessarily a COVID thing. Republicans lost their minds over the mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act, a provision that would have helped fund the health care act and would have made it more inclusive. They took their complaints about the unconstitutionality of a “mandate” in a democracy all the way to the Supreme Court. They have complained about seat belt laws which have saved untold numbers of lives. They have complained about using politically correct language on campuses when campuses became more diverse, and students felt included enough to ask for more consideration. 

White dominance on college campuses had encouraged bad linguistic habits. Insults to nonwhite groups had become ingrained in white speech and white people resented having to train themselves to speak differently. Instead, they began a fierce campaign against political correctness which still gets cited by many conservative academics as the worst sin of the liberals (the Democrats). These academics know very well that words express whole schemas of stored experiences that affect the ways we interact with others. Political correctness was not even mandated behavior; it was socially determined behavior.

Republicans have forced liberals to accept gun laws which we consider dangerous, and which feel very much like mandates because we are not allowed to change any gun laws no matter how careful we are to preserve the rights of hunters and sport’s enthusiasts. Nothing will do, even when the nation lives in an almost constant state of grief, but to insist that any gun regulations go against the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Perhaps not called a mandate, but it feels like one.

We are not living amidst a rebellion against England these days, and yet it feels that we are very close to a rebellion by one group of Americans against another group, or a Civil War. We already had a Civil War, and it was a bloody nightmare which we have never put behind us. In fact, as I write this the January 6 th Investigative Committee is live on TV replaying events that seemed like a rebellion to many of us. It is difficult to figure out what the militias are fighting for. Are they fighting to keep a president in power, even though he lost a free and fair election? Are they fighting to keep racial hate and to continue to insist that men who lost the Civil War are American heroes? Was this meant to become a mandate by force?

Are Republicans fighting because they were told that white folks will be in the minority in the future? Clearly no one minority group will hold a majority. These numbers add all minority groups into one monolithic voting bloc which would mean that all these groups agree to vote together and agree on every issue, perhaps to spite white folks. This is a myth created by Talk Radio and Fox News to rile up white people and stir up racism. Minority groups are not a single voting bloc.

Republicans are being asked to give up a lot, mostly things that are a negative drag on American society, and attitudes that should have changed long ago. If we could really conquer our persistent racism and put aside pseudoscientific research that purports to prove that the darker the skin the lower the intelligence, it would free America to be the example to other nations that we always pretended to be. 

We wish we could mandate changes in prejudices, but experience tells us we can’t mandate people to change their minds, we can only brainwash folks, as the right-wing has done, to think differently. Democrats don’t really buy into brainwashing as a valid political tactic in a democracy/republic. Is brainwashing preferable to issuing mandates? Only when you don’t realize the strategy is being used.

Republicans have wrapped themselves in victimhood and see every act by Democrats as an attack against Republicans. It is not Democrats or Republicans who caused the COVID pandemic. It is not Democrats who determined that the disease travels by air from person to person. It is the nature of the disease. But Republicans hear the word ‘mandate’ and they decide that any mandate is just about the Democrats making the right-wing do something that will take away a right. What right does a mask mandate take away? Is the mandate political? The forty-fifth president tried to force Americans to work normally through COVID because of the economy. He basically wanted workers to suck it up and get back on the job. He didn’t mandate it, but you can bet he wanted to.

It seems that the entire objection is to the word mandate. Isn’t an Executive Action a mandate, a decree, a ruling. Trump signed 220, but every President has used executive orders. They are mandates without input from Congress. Trump fired five Inspector Generals in his last months in office to avoid any criticism and show that he had a mandate to govern absolutely. He just did not use the word mandate. 

Americans need to decide. Is issuing mandates undemocratic? Are there times when mandates are necessary and acceptable? Should mandates last forever or time out? Who has power in a pandemic, the federal government, the individual states, or the individual citizen? Republicans already declared themselves the greatest patriots, the protectors of our constitutional rights, and yet they elected a man who came closer to the Big Brother figure portrayed in the book 1984 by George Orwell than any other president. Trump seemed to believe that he was founding a dynasty by divine right and should be treated as a king. 

How sympathetic should we be to Americans whose behavior and what they say they believe is illogical and disruptive. ‘We love this authoritarian man and anyone who acts like him, but we refuse to follow health guidelines because they are mandates and mandates are authoritarian and these mandates have been issued by authoritarians we don’t like.’ The right-wing has been bullying the left. 

Must we give up all mandates, even those which are promulgated to protect our health, or can we agree that, within careful limits, some mandates are necessary. Having sympathy for and excusing people who refuse to accept health mandates feels an awful lot like anarchy sometimes. Republicans have mandated that their interpretation of the US Constitution is the correct one and that their version is final. This seems like the biggest and most authoritarian mandate of all.

Climate Rant

From a Google Image Search – National Centers for Environmental Information

Climate change is real. Climate change is not real. Climate change is normal. This level of climate change is not normal. We are on the edge of climate disaster. Heat waves, mud slides, collapsing multistory buildings full of people, flooded streets, intense fires, draught, extreme storms – these things are all perfectly within the boundaries of past events. These things are signals that we are at the edge of climate disaster if we don’t change our ways now.

It looks like are not going to save humans or animals either. The planet, on the other hand, can survive whether it is empty or full. But if a planet has no life, then it just becomes one unspectacular member of a universe full of empty planets. We are just going to turn life on earth into a series of survivalist exercises that undo centuries of history, enlightenment, curiosity, exploration, and learning? Are we going to revisit the primitive life of the hunter-gatherer, without all the species from which humankind used to find sustenance, without the plentiful clean water and foliage; a future in which any other human could be your enemy?

Most of us can pick up trash, or help clean a bit of the ocean, or buy an ocean bracelet to fund others to clean the ocean (a truly enormous task). We can cart our trash out of a park after a picnic or a camping trip. But we can’t afford to buy solar panels. We can’t afford to buy an electric car. We can’t stop using oil and gas until we can afford solar panels and an electric car. We can’t change the way we commute until systems that function efficiently to move people are built. We sit in the cheap seats. Others have hoarded most of the money that should be spread among us more equally. Many middle-class people defend billionaires and millionaires because they one day hope to join their ranks. You can still be rich without hoarding.

We are in a terrible bind as a planet because we must depend on the very people who like the way things are, who are riding the money train, who make huge profits from oil and gas – we must depend on them to save the planet. They alone have enough money to make the sweeping changes that are needed. They do not seem to realize that they live on the same planet we do, or that there may be no corner of that planet left for them to live their sequestered ritzy lives on. Everything is interconnected.

Spending a week watching two billionaires barely touch space and act like they built a colony on the moon should convince us that, 1) billionaires will not save us because they are only concerned about climbing the Forbes list, and 2) at this rate we will not be able to find a Planet B and inhabit it in time to save ourselves, or even a few over-the-hill billionaires. I enjoy watching people realize their dreams, I have always imagined that we would be space travelers, and I do cheer for success, but the way this trend is unfolding it will not profit most of us at all. These visits to space are just tricks, and not cheap ones either. They may lead to something. but it sounds like they will just be repeated for profit, that no exploration will be involved.

If billionaires and millionaires won’t help save the earth, things will get worse and worse for humans, and the plants and animals that feed us (physically and spiritually). I hear voices on social media saying that we will adapt. But why would we want to adapt to a manmade hell when we were given paradise (if we can keep it). Do billionaires and millionaires believe that their money will have any value if the culture we have created is destroyed by neglect and greed? When money is worthless then we will all be back on an equal footing. We will all be struggling to survive.

I am not against ordinary, non-monied citizens trying to create their way out of dystopia, and I hope that happens. Someone will find ‘the answer,’ we will have our eureka moment and life will flourish along with the planet for millennia. Give humans a problem and we try to solve it. It’s one of our best features. We try to solve it and still balance freedom against authoritarianism, wealth against poverty, human life against plant and animal life. We might get a new battery that lasts and lasts. We might find new ways to use solar energy. We might find an energy generated from atoms that does not have the dangers of nuclear energy (cold fusion?). We live in an age when people tinkering in garages or basements changed the world. It could happen again, but will it happen in time? Will it happen if every human is expected to walk some hamster wheel of constant work for low pay?

Clearly, we need the help of engineers who are busy right now removing oil and gas from the depths of the earth. We need more billionaires to pitch in right now and speak out for the ways we can change our lives to preserve our lives. Your yachts may be fun right now and you may think you can sail away to escape the visible signs that earth’s climate is changing, as you did to escape the pandemic, but eventually there will be no untouched places to go, the supply lines will fail, and you will have to rejoin the survivors or die. This is not up for debate. This is real and we need the best and brightest (if simply having lots of money proves you are the best and brightest) among us to pitch in and help. Perhaps you are hoping to shrink the world population through more pandemics and natural disasters, but it will be a crap shoot and how do you know you will be the ones to survive? If I sound angry, it’s because I am.