Indiana, “right to work” laws, and “Power in a Union” – Fridays with Billy

This week, my neighboring state of Indiana became a “Right to Work” state — which sounds oddly like it’s now a better place to work, rather than part of a larger, nation-wide effort to gut unions and strip away the rights that the labor movement has battled for decades to establish (and from which we all benefit, whether or not we are union members – as but one example: Planning to enjoy a two-day weekend this week? Thank a union).

Are unions perfect vessels of workers’ better angels? No. Nothing humanity does is. But I figure unions are an awful lot like democracy: A terrible mess that is immeasurably better than anything else on offer.

My great-grandfather Carl (married to great-grandma Emily) was a union organizer in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I have never felt anything but deepest pride in that fact. It breaks my heart that working men and women are having to fight so hard to hold on to, or entirely re-establish, the kinds of rights that I’m sure he wanted to see made permanent — such as the simple right to organize, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23, sec 4).

And so, given the ongoing assault on workers’ rights (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, anyone?), it’s time to allow my beloved Billy Bragg to be his most rabble-rousing socialist self, and remind us that there is, indeed, power in a union.

Which is precisely why the right doesn’t want unions to survive.

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union.

full lyrics;What is Fridays with Billy?

Whither humanity? I have no idea.

I find myself struck by the enormity of the times we’re living in.

I don’t know what will happen next, but when my grandchildren learn about the early twenty-teens, it’s clear they’ll be taught that this was a time in which humanity — turned.

Of course, there’s the ongoing upheaval in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), while here in the United States, we have the right’s astonishing over-reach on unions. In both cases, I don’t think anyone on the ground has a clear sense of the direction we’re all going, but given the sheer quantity of dynamics and cross-dynamics, both here and abroad, I believe we’re likely to wind up in some pretty unexpected places.

In terms of workers’ rights and the American electorate, I genuinely believe that this is one of those moments in which people are woken from their slumber, and the GOP’s business-led right-wing will face tremendous push-back in the coming years. You don’t try to tell Americans that teachers, cops and firefighters are our enemies — are what stand between this country and fiscal security — and expect it to fly for long.

In MENA, well, who knows? Forty-one percent of Egypt’s eligible voters (the highest turnout in history) just voted to accept constitutional changes that some credible opposition voices wanted to see rejected. Good for Egypt? Bad for Egypt? I don’t know, and I would suggest that anyone who says they know for sure has delusions of grandeur. Issandr El Amrani (who blogs at the always interesting The Arabist) wrote a really helpful piece for Time : Egypt’s Referendum: What the Nation’s Historic Vote Means, concluding “This time, even if it was far from perfect, it meant something.”

And Libya? Truly: No one knows. It bears repeating: No one knows, no one knows, no one knows. The sheer cacophony of controversy surrounding the decision to declare a No Fly Zone should serve as our most powerful indicator that no one knows what the future holds in that part of MENA (though I will grant you that there are some, such as POTUS, who should surely have a better grasp on it than the vast majority of us).

I hold out real hope that the NFZ is preventing another Rwanda, but even if that proves correct — then what? Preventing slaughter doesn’t necessarily translate to the establishment of liberty and justice. Not to mention: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, and Iran. So, yeah: In ten years, we’ll all be able to see what happened in that part of the world, but right now? No one knows. (If you, like me, find yourself constantly trying to catch up on the MENA goings on, here’s a terrific interactive feature at the New York Times, “Arab World Uprisings: A Country-by-Country Look” ).

And finally: Japan.

It’s easy, and perhaps tempting, to think that the multiple disasters that have struck Japan affect only Japan — it’s population, economy, future.

But we forget: Japan is a global power-house, the third largest economy in the world. Whither Japan goes, we will all follow, to one degree or another.

If Toyota’s recovery isn’t quick, that means something for the many workers at Toyota’s American plants, and the American businesses that supply them. If Sony suffers a serious set-back, that means something for Sony’s competition, and the potential for some other firm to stake a bigger international claim. If Japan, a highly industrialized nation, proves incapable of controlling a potential nuclear disaster, that means something for the future of the world’s energy supply.

Far beyond the normal ripple effect (every action having a positive and equal reaction, every change bringing change to something else), the level of catastrophe that unfolded and continues to unfold in Japan has the potential to create enormous change across the globe.

Of course, it bears remembering that whatever happens, it actually started a while ago, on all these fronts.

If the GOP has over-reached, it’s only because it’s been reaching so far for so long that all those governors — and the Koch brothers, and Koch brother-analogues, behind them — thought they could keep going. No matter the results of the revolutions across MENA, they clearly didn’t spring up out of nowhere in January. And Japan only recently slipped behind China economically, falling from second to third place, meaning that there’s been some serious geo-economic shifting going on for awhile (one outcome I expect is that the fear-China noise will start getting much louder before the summer dawns).

But be that as it may, humanity tends to look back at certain moments, certain events, and say: “There! That’s when it all changed.” We just don’t always recognize those moments at the time.

This time? I think we can be pretty sure.

You might want to take notes — because in 30 years, some enterprising youth is going to want to ask you all about 2011.

And, as folks keep reminding us, it’s only March.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Memo to God: Houston we have a problem.

Like a great many people who live in the real world, I spent all of last week dealing — by which I mean: professionally, quasi-professionally (aka: this blog, Twitter, other blogs), mentally, and emotionally — with an enormous slew of horrible things. Horrible, horrifying, horrific things. Things that, one way or another, always happen to humanity, to the world — there are always horrible things happening — but last week, they seemed to cluster together, like metal filings on a magnet, one big spiky bunch of Awful.

I’ve decided, for my own sake and possibly for yours, that I won’t write about those things this week.

At the end of each day’s post, I’ll provide good, useful links to whatever Horrible needs our attention that day, and I’ll continue to tweet about whatever (and that totally counts — it’s called micro-blogging for a reason, people!), but here, in this space, my own writing will go to other things.


And so, to begin:

Memo to God – Engineering failures.

Dear God,

I know that you’re the Divine and all. And just between us two, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re neither perfect, nor omniscient, nor omnipotent. Which is ok by me, because I figure: You’re still miles ahead of humanity — miles, did I say miles? Leagues away! Lightyears! You’re tons more powerful and -scient than we are, and I lean on you not infrequently for guidance and strength, not to mention the gift of joy when I’ve forgotten it. It’s a good one, that one, the gift of joy. Thank You, especially, for that.

But. Having said all that. With all due respect. If I may. A word.

Have You looked at us?

I mean, really looked at us?

We are made in Your image — this I believe, this serves as the basis for the radical equality that informs all my earthly ideology — but I somehow cannot quite believe that You actually look like… this.

Take — just for one example — the appendix. What’s up with that? You went ahead and put a time bomb inside all of us, but gave none of us a little note, not so much as a tweet, to indicate whose timebombs are actually ticking? And honestly, if we’ve evolved past needing it — couldn’t You have engineered it to wither and disappear from the human mechanism?

That’s my issue, you see. The engineering of it all. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess.

The appendix is an obvious one, but hey, what’s with all the hair shooting out of men’s faces? Scratching their loved ones and, in modern society, requiring a daily scrape with a deadly object? No really. It helps no one, and literally hurts many.

And since I’ve broached the topic of secondary sexual characteristics, I’d like to tackle a primary one, too: Menstruation? Really?

Women having to bleed every.single.month — frightening generations of men, turning camping in bear-infested woods into an occasional nightmare (so I hear. I never camp. But I hear things), and creating deeply mortifying moments for middle school girls everywhere — seriously? There was no better plan? Was this Plan B? Did Plan A blow up in the lab or something?

I could argue with the fact that we fall apart (I find myself particularly annoyed with the Degenerating Human Eyeball lately) but the truth is, on a very real level (a level at which I sigh a lot), I’m ok with that. I mean: This body is a mechanism. It gets old. It wears down. I understand. The machines You engineered last longer, and often with more elegance, than the ones we engineer, but ultimately, the gears grind and the wheels slow and: Scrap heap. I understand that.

But honestly. The “elegance” thing is not nearly as elegant as it might be. Exhibit A: Farts. Exhibit B: Burps. Exhibit C: Humans emerge from the womb not in the least bit in control of their elimination processes. I mean to say: That baby pooped in my eye*! Was that really necessary?

So, in summary, let’s call this Disgruntled Creation Memo #1, and Your take-away should be: Things need to be neatened up a bit. Loose ends need tying, rough edges smoothing. That which stinks, hurts, or embarrasses — improved.

When I see that all that has been attended to, we’ll move on to Disgruntled Creation Memo #2 – Terra Firma: Must It Really Be So Not-Firma?

Thanks. For everything – I mean it. יהיו לרצון אמרי פי והגיון לבי לפניך יהוה צורי וגאלי  May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before you, my Rock and my Redeemer — and please don’t forget: Abraham and Moses argued with You and You were totally cool with it.


*No, really. Baby #2. Pooped in my eye. How is this not a bug?


Your day in Horrible:

  1. Saudi Arabia sends troops into Bahrain, one repressive Sunni monarchy that suppresses its Shi’ite citizens rushing to the aid of another – New York Times: Saudi Arabia Action in Bahrain Strains US Ties: “All this is about social control in Saudi Arabia,” said Christopher Boucek, who studies the Middle East at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “People have been forecasting the fall of Saudi for a long time, and they’ve always been proved wrong. It’s a pretty resilient place.”
  2. Following this weekend’s murder of three children in an Israeli settlement, Gidon Levy in HaAretz “The IDF has no mercy for for the children in Gaza nursery schools”: “About a third of those killed in Gaza have been children – 311, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 270 according to the B’Tselem human rights group – out of the 1,000 total killed as of Wednesday. Around 1,550 of the 4,500 wounded have also been children according to figures from the UN, which says the number of children killed has tripled since the ground operation began.” As MJ Rosenberg points out – for all that we’ve all rushed (absolutely correctly) to condemn this weekend’s killing, neither the US government nor a single American Jewish organization has yet to condemn these killings.
  3. Wis. GOPer Scott Fitzgerald – Dems In Contempt, Not Allowed To Vote In Committees” – Talking Points Memo. (Me – “Awesome.” – Update: By which I mean: “The complete opposite of awesome.” )

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

How to help in Wisconsin.

Another quick and dirty post, a guest post essentially, featuring the suggestions of Ta-Nehisi Coates commenter torrilin on how to help the folks in Wisconsin as they struggle to keep their civil rights — please note the bottom-line message: “But if you live in WI, the biggest thing is to get to the city clerk and VOTE!” Indeed.

Ian’s Pizza is a Madison institution, and has been delivering pizza to the protesters. (608) 257-9248 is the location within walking distance of the Capitol. If you can’t get through, Glass Nickel and Topper’s Pizza should also be able to help, but they can’t deliver by walking, and the Square is frequently getting corked by car drivers protesting. (more…)

The perils of kindness.

Last night, sitting at my desk, trying to write a book review, I finally just burst into tears.

The book deals with Israel/Palestine, and the many brave and noble people attempting to find a path to true peace and genuine justice, and it comes on the heels of two other books that dealt with what amounts to the same subject matter — and last night’s book and the earlier two came at either end of days and days in which I was dealing quite intensely, in my writing and in my heart, with the topic of rape (a couple of times on this blog, on and on at Twitter, and elsewhere across the wilds and in the corners of the blogosphere), while all the while, people living across a swath of the world that holds a place very deep in my soul are being shot at from their own fighter jets and by their own police forces. And the public employees in some quarters of this country — teachers, for God’s sake! — find themselves faced with the possibility of losing their freedom to ever collectively organize again. And at some point I discovered that a (male) blogger had accused me (specifically) and other women bloggers of “raping” Lara Logan by choosing to use the story of her assault as a reason to write about rape. And then an earthquake in New Zealand….

What finally reduced me to tears was a good friend being kind.

In this case, the good friend happens to be a truly, genuinely lovely person who has spent his life telling the truth about Israel/Palestine, and the one clear thought I could get to (as I read his completely unrelated email and cried) was: How can the world still suck so hard, when there are such beautiful people in it?

I’m tired. I’m tired of the world sucking and of beautiful people dedicating themselves and their lives and all too often their deaths to trying to heal a world that still sucks. I’m tired of the ever-peeling layers of suckage — after all, just under “pro-democracy protests turn violent in the Middle East,” you’ll find “well-founded fears of chaos,” “well-founded fears of military takeover,” and “well-founded fears of economic collapse and further human suffering.” Under which, of course, you will also find “Lara Logan was brutally assaulted and more than 80% of Egyptian woman complain of constant harassment and women are raped everywhere, anyway.” Under which you will find… many other things that I cannot bear to think about right now.

It matters not that I’m tired. Not really. Despair and exhaustion are luxuries, and I already live in the lap of luxury.

But I confess that I have found it easier to not know over much about about Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran, or Wisconsin and Indiana over the past 24-48 hours (oh, and Ohio. Where apparently someone decided it would be a good idea to lock the people out of their own statehouse) — or even of New Zealand, where, after all, it’s not the sucky people, it’s the sucky tectonic plates we have to thank for the wave of grief and sorrow now washing over a nation. It feels wrong to admit this. I confess that, too.

I’m going to the J Street Conference this weekend, and I think that will have to count as my good deed for the next week. Me being tired doesn’t matter — but me crying doesn’t help.  I think it’ll be helpful to go hang out in a room full of compulsive do-gooders for a couple of days.