Thursday, November 30, 2006
by Agent 99
Squint at this picture of a Dali.
There’s been a problem here my whole life. Somehow I wasn’t conditioned properly, or just innately impervious. Something. I’m always getting in trouble with other women. They take umbrage and mention stuff that seems unworthy of complaint to me. They used to burn their bras, and whine for me to join them. I did not own a bra. And they did not see the hypocrisy of my buying one expressly to burn. That women have had to fight so hard for equal rights I do not dispute, but it has always seemed more than a little ludicrous to me. I’m forever wanting to clap my hand over a sister’s mouth so I can drag her off to rethink.
All humanity is a seething ball of sisters and brothers, but my sisters so often seem so alien that I’m likeliest to seek refuge with my brothers... when refuge with others is in order, that is. And I can’t seem to fall down on one side or the other on just when that is, and why, either. Solitude/company? What is solitude and what is company? How peopled and unpeopled can you get one or the other of these to stay? Who is the right company? Who is peopled solitude? Why, really, would I spend my money and my lunch break on burning optional underwear? I’d so much rather spend my life growing into myself, coming equal to the real. What does that have to do with gender?
It’s just never seemed viable to me to ignore the differences in strengths and weaknesses between men and women. I’m still appalled that any women would be interested in military service. We should be able to count on women being above that particular human frailty, and yet this point is subsumed in the fake equality imperative of our times. No wonder history never stops repeating.
Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib, and scapegoated for the abuses there, still fumes over General Sanchez’s unwillingness to treat her as a real general, his slights having something, in her mind, to do with her failures there. I’m pretty sure she would have performed much better if given the support she needed, but that is also true for the male commanders there. So. That nuance is lost on me. And I don’t want to see it come up in Germany’s prosecution of Rumsfeld, et al. for war crimes, where she will be a star witness. Bad enough the war crimes, without dragging battlefield sexism into it. Bad enough the warring, without such bickering serving to dignify it through the back door, through the servants’ entrance.
But I digress. It can’t have been any later than fourth grade when I learned that we use the masculine form when referring to people in the generic sense. “Mankind” is not exclusively male. Yet bra burning seems to have trained my spellchecker not to balk at terms like, say, “Congressperson” and “chairperson”. Sheesh. Unwieldy. And worse. It seems retroactively to have made the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States, into documentation of male supremacy -- white, owner-class, male supremacy -- and I do not think that was exactly the intent of the framers. It was maybe a mental default of theirs, but not their intent. Language is too slippery. And I think it was better when everyone was lumped into the term “man”.
It really is self-evident that all men are created equal. It seems not to be self-evident to many that “equal” does not mean “same”. If we are to wrest a livable world out of this mess we have created for ourselves, egalitarianism in its every nuance needs to be explored fully. While women, ultimately, can be vastly more formidable enemies than men, that does not make them fit for military duty. Military duty is not a fit occupation for anyone, but there really is too often a need for warriors. Strength and stamina are essential in warriors. Most women lack them to the degree needed, even when buff, but few of us shrink from the violence essential to preservation of life when it is on the line. Modern weaponry has equalized things somewhat for military service, but this only leads us further from the true equality of men and women, of all humans, of all sentient beings, not closer.
No, girls. Neither victimhood, nor imitation confers the equality not missing from the jump. Acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving it, not the entire life of the point of contention. I’m sure I would have been killed by the time I was thirteen if I’d been born somewhere else, but the truth of equality lies in the living of it, despite conditions. I happen to think it is worth dying for, and so certainly worth living outside the box for. Most people seem to think it’s something popular opinion can resolve. Pfeh! If it is so, and it is, what in the hell does opinion have to do with it? Why are people out there role-playing it into submission? It isn’t submitting! It’s just amplifying the problems of patriarchy... which... oh, brother... don’t need any more help.
Lest anyone wrongly conclude I favor matriarchy over patriarchy, I better press on with my rant... see if we can see it through... see if we can start seeing all the way through to the heart of real causes of human suffering.
When I read of female police officers having cows about pin-ups in evidence at the station, I could just scream. Get over it! Deal with it! You’re going to make them deal with your maternity leave, and stopping to powder your nose before entering the interrogation room. So what, so what, so what if men objectify babes? Women objectify alpha males, and mercilessly scar for life beta males. We humiliate the living snot out of ninety-eight-pound weaklings. We want the he-men to protect us, or support us, or as trophy husbands, as impervious to their human needs as any men are to those of the women they objectify. What the fuck is the difference?
Is, say, Hillary Clinton as Commander In Chief in this filthy aggression of the strong toward the weak any better than her husband in the same role? No. Dammit. No. It actually is worse. Just as it was worse with Meir and Thatcher and Indira. Add the motherly instincts to the heightened sense of entitlement that never ceases to be conferred with the office, and war and oppression and murder are strengthened in their usefulness to injustice itself. The chance of the feminine hauling the masculine back into a living balance is squandered. The abounding weakness of human resort to such squalid matters of State is obfuscated the more by womanly application. Even minus the problems inhering womanly vanity put up next to male egos -- women emulating men in positions of power, perhaps particularly when they are completely unaware of it, when they actually believe it is womanhood at work -- minus all that -- the mere entrance of women into this kind of men’s club is fundamentally more dangerous.
The pollsters asking me if I think it is time for a woman president drive me wild. Beside knowing they’re asking for Hillary or for those wanting to oppose her, it has never not been time for a woman president. We just need to put one up for the job who isn’t going to fall for “presidenting” American style. Who would that be? Not Hillary. Probably not any prominent women politicians we have. Maybe Cynthia McKinney. It would be a lot safer if we got serious about identifying the real problems with feminism, with sexism, before we go another step. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could stop, put everything on hold, while we get clear on what is self-evident and what is completely contrived?
It’s going to be particularly galling to Wasichu, but, er, there were in fact Native American civilizations that had this one licked before Europeans landed in the New World. Chiefs were conscripted without regard to gender, but your willingness to lead was seen as something that might disqualify you for the job. It was seen that the ambition for such a position was a bad attribute in leaders. And, in these very same civilizations, able-bodied husbands saw to it that widows and spinsters were protected and fed. No pity. No patronizing. A basic human need handled. Europeans seemed to think these people savage because their manner of dress was, shall we say, strippier. Odd how people not given to bathing, but given to scrupulous adornment would look down on scrupulous bathers who saw no need for restrictive clothing. Their term for the President of the United States, The Great White Father, is still seen as a form of supplication, recognition of white supremacy, when it translates simply into “leader of the white people”. A certain crucial kind of clarity was trying to communicate, and it still has not penetrated. I think the path to the realization we lack, and they did not, lies behind the door of the true meaning of egalitarianism, of equality, of self-evident truths beclouded by endless games of dress-ups going on in our heads as well as on our bodies.
Ms. Jeans and Sneakers, here, recently was bowled over by a picture of a dress for the first time in at least thirty years. So much so that it occurred to me that I would even wear heels if I could just have it. I might even buy a bra to wear under it. I might even need two of it so that one could be at the cleaners while I wore the other twenty-four-seven-three-sixty-five. Helen Mirren in a red gown that is utterly modern, but Victorian or even Elizabethan in form. Everyone saw it in the New Yorker. I can’t get over it. It’s a work of art that suits me in a rare sense, appeals to me where I am completely me. Yipes! That dress rocks. Maybe will have to find a frame for the picture if this keeps up. A dress for my pulchritude has not so much as crossed my mind in a hypothetical in decades, and here it is, about to get framed if it can’t frame me. Friends ask me where the heck I have to wear such a thing. Everywhere. Nowhere. Where is wearable art appropriate in my view? The grocery store. The doctor’s office. At my desk in the Oval Office. At the breakfast table. I don’t think my indian grandmothers would have seen it any differently, though my European grandmothers would have been outright appalled.
Where we choose to attach significance makes all the difference. In this case, the head trips about appropriate attire are seen to be completely contrived, and lethally consequential, whereas wanting to wear something for the sake of art is completely uncontrived and of no consequence beyond esthetic. A Great White Father could be red and clad in one dress for her whole term of office and yet be wiser than one in a suit, performing the function as well, or even better. We also glimpse how our conditioning by our own contrivances can prevent our ability to even fathom what is being said to us, and even who is saying it. The content of our heads -- victims and oppressors alike -- conceals what is in front of our noses. Our confusion about equality, about true egalitarianism, about how to bring into being a world fit for all beings, is so dangerous in action because crucial distinctions remain utterly unexamined inside our heads. What causes humans, all with so much more in common than not, to be at such odds, to be so fragmented in purpose, to remain unmoved against so much evil for so long? Could it be our unexamined resort to affectation in place of actualization? Our preference for victimhood over risking our lives? Our ideas about proscribing differences rather than prescribing for each other’s survival?
Has it not got the most to do with our fundamental inability to see all the way into one of the great truths we only suppose we hold to be self-evident?
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Emmett Louis Till is born July 25th, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois to Mamie and Louis Till. The following year his parents separate, and shortly after, his father is drafted to serve in World War II. In 1945, Emmett’s mother learns that Louis has been killed in Europe. She receives very little of his effects beyond his monogrammed signet ring.
Segregation in the south is rampant and the states are functioning under the “Separate-But-Equal” Doctrine, which dates back to 1896. The influences of the Ku Klux Klan and the Dixiecrats are growing stronger, fighting hard to maintain the status quo. Since 1882, over 500 blacks have been killed in racially-motivated lynchings. Other race crimes are also on the rise. On May 17th, 1954, the Supreme Court, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education orders that public schools must desegregate. This raises the ire of the various white supremacy groups in the South, particularly in the Delta.
During this time the Citizen’s Councils begin to spring up, first in Mississippi, then spreading through the southern states. These councils are formed of the white wealthy business owners and grow to encompass most of the white-owned businesses in the South. Considering themselves a step above the Ku Klux Klan, they vow to fight Brown and desegregation.
'Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago,
When a young boy from Chicago stepped through a Southern door.
This boy's dreadful tragedy I can still remember well,
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till.
In August of 1955, 14-year-old Emmett is excited to take the train ride to his uncle’s house on the outskirts of Money, Mississippi. The day before he leaves, his mother gives him the ring once worn by his father. On August 20th, Emmett boards a train with his cousin Curtis Jones and heads south to Money, arriving the following day at his uncle Moses Wright’s house.
Three days later, Emmett and Curtis take their uncle’s car into Money, going to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy some candy. The store is owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, a white couple. It caters to the needs of the black sharecroppers and their children. Meeting a group of local children, Emmett shows them some pictures of friends in Chicago, including a white girl. Some in the group of the kids dare him to talk to Carolyn Bryant, saying how he must know how to talk to white girls.
Although he is aware of segregation and prejudice in Chicago, Emmett is unaware of how extreme it is here in Mississippi. What happens next is in dispute, but on the way out, he either speaks to her or whistles at her. According to his mother Emmett stuttered some and when he couldn’t get a word out he would whistle.
Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up.
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what.
They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat.
There was screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds out on the street.
At about 2:30 a.m., August 28th, Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam knock on Moses Wright’s front door with pistol and flashlight in hand. Asking where the boys are, they are directed to the room where the boys are sleeping. Emmett’s uncle pleads for them to only whip Emmett, but instead they take him away into the night.
Taking Emmett to Milam’s barn, they proceed to beat him with a .45 pistol, but Emmett is unrepentant. Willie Reed testified later that he had heard screaming in the barn, but was confronted by Milam coming out of the barn with a pistol on his hip. Milam asked Willie if he'd seen anything. Naturally, Willie's response was, "No."
Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a blood red rain
And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain.
The reason that they killed him there, and I'm sure it ain’t no lie,
Was just for the fun of killing him and to watch him slowly die.
When Emmett refused to repent, they decided to make an example of him. Throwing him into the back of a truck, they take him down to the Tallahatchie River. Standing on the bank of the river, hurling insults at him, they force him to strip. Then shoot him in the head. They tie a heavy fan from a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and throw him into the river.
The next day Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam are picked up on a charge of kidnapping, and held without bond in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Three days later, Emmett’s decomposing body is pulled from the river and identified by his uncle Moses, solely by the signet ring that once belonged to his father. Emmett’s right eye is missing, there is a hole in the side of his head, his nose is broken and his face is mutilated beyond recognition. The next day, Mississippi Governor, Hugh White orders a full prosecution of the men.
And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial,
Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till.
But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime,
And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind.
The story of Emmett’s murder is starting to get out even in the world press where it is being described as a lynching and an example of the brutal racism in America. Emmett’s mother decides to give him an open casket funeral to emphasize this point, show the brutality of the people who had done this. Some 50,000 people from around the country attend the funeral.
On September 6th, a Mississippi Grand Jury indicts Bryant and Milam on kidnapping and murder charges. But Bryant and Milam work to get support from the white folks in town and the community soon claims they are innocent and chip in to pay for their defense. Finding witnesses for the prosecution is difficult since everyone is afraid of the repercussions if they testify. Willie Reed and Moses Wright are among the few who step forward to testify. Jury selection is held quickly. Blacks and women are forbidden from being on the jury, so it is composed of 12 white men, mostly farmers.
The trial begins on September 19th, but is recessed by the judge on the 20th to allow the prosecution time to find more witnesses. Starting again on the 21st, Emmett’s uncle Moses stands before the court and, pointing his finger, accuses Bryant and Milam of killing Emmett Till. Willie Reed also testifies to what he heard in the barn that night. After testifying, Moses and Willie are smuggled off to Chicago for their protection. Willie later suffers a nervous breakdown over the whole affair. The defense argues that the body was not that of Emmett Till and that Emmett was actually hiding in Chicago.
I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see
The smiling brothers walking down the courthouse stairs.
For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free,
While Emmett's body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea.
On September 23rd, after deliberating for 67 minutes, including time to get soft drinks, the jury returns acquittals for both Bryant and Milam on the murder charges. A week later they are both released on bond. Within days the world press is condemning the acquittal, and within a month, the American Jewish Committee releases a report urging Congress to bolster Federal civil rights legislation based in part on the articles on this case from the foreign press. On November 9th, Moses Wright and Willie Reed return for the last time to testify before the grand jury. However the grand jury refuses to file an indictment on the kidnapping charges. Bryant and Milam are set free.
The confessions of Bryant and Milam, for which they are paid $4,000, are published less than three months later by Look magazine, yet neither man ever faces any additional charges. Their businesses are ruined, though, since blacks would no longer do business with them, and most whites took to shunning them. Both men have since died of cancer, Milam in 1980, and Bryant ten years later.
If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt; your mind is filled with dust.
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow,
For you'd let this human race fall down so God-awful low!
World attention had now been brought to the plight of the black man in the United States.
The Federal Government was pressured to do something about the situation. The blacks in the North, who had been complacent about happenings in the South, suddenly realized how it also affected them. This was the beginning of the civil rights movement in America. Only 100 days later, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. The movement began taking shape with the 381-day Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that had been started by Rosa’s simple act of strength. Much more would follow.
Keith Beauchamp spent nine years researching the Emmett Till case for a movie he was to film, titled The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. Based on evidence Beauchamp found, the Justice Department reopened the investigation into Emmett’s murder, and Emmett’s body was exhumed. Some evidence has leaked to the press, including the facts that bullet fragments were found and DNA samples were a match for Emmett Till. On May 17th, 2005, it was announced that the FBI had found a copy of the trial transcripts, long thought to have been lost. The investigation is ongoing. Unfortunately, Mamie Till Mobley died in 2003 and won’t be able to see the results of this new investigation.
On September 14th, 2005, the U.S. Senate passed the Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act which formed a new federal unit within the Justice Department to investigate old Civil Rights cases. The bill was spearheaded by Alvin Sykes, president of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, US Senator Charles E. Schumer and US Representative Charles B. Rangel
This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan.
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we give all we could give,
We'd make this great land of ours a greater place to live.
Bob Dylan The Ballad of Emmett Till
Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music
Democracy Now - Audio of Dylan Performing the Song
Democracy Now – Video of Dylan Performing the Song
(Pick your connection speed.) (WARNING video contains graphic and disturbing photos of Emmett's wounds.)
U-S-History.com – Dixiecrats
About.com – The Murder of Emmett Till
PBS.com, American Experience - The Murder of Emmett Till
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till – A film by Keith Beauchamp
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Winter Patriot and Agent 99 have posted a fine article in remembrance of John Fitzgerald Kennedy today on the 43rd anniversary of his assassination. Be sure to read it here.
What were we going to do now?
The day President Kennedy was shot I was a sophomore in high school. Choir class had just started when the intercom came on with the news coverage from the scene. Everyone in the room became instantly silent as we listened. Soon the tears started to flow.
Our great leader was gone and how could we go on?
The rest of the classes that day were discussions of the event, although I no longer remember much of what was discussed.
I remember seeing Jackie crawling over the back seat and trunk of the limo to retrieve a portion of his brain and thinking of what it would be like to pick up a piece of brain from someone you loved.
(I've always wondered, if he was shot from behind, how did a portion of his brain end up on the trunk?)
I remember watching the funeral procession and seeing John John saluting as the carriage went by and thought about what a tragedy it must be for him, what it must be like to see your father in a flag-draped box.
I remember seeing Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president and wondering how that goofy looking guy was going to save us.
I remember a feeling of huge loss which lasted for a long time - even now when I think about it and read the fine words Winter Patriot and Agent 99 have brought to us today. Link
Monday, November 13, 2006
It is estimated that 90% of California's seagull population is born on the two islands in Mono Lake.
In the late 1970’s, with its incoming water being drawn off to quench the thirst of L.A., Mono Lake had receded to the point that a land bridge formed, linking the shore to Negit Island. When this land bridge formed it became a pathway for the coyotes to raid the nests, nearly decimating the gull population.
Not all bridges lead somewhere good.
(Unless you're a coyote!)
Over the past six years, Republicans have been sloganeering us to death. “We have been given a mandate.” “Stay the course.” “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” “If you’re against the war in Iraq, you’re not a Patriot.” “If you’re not with us, you hate America.” “If you don’t support the war, you’re against the troops.” And so on. And so forth. Ad nauseam. Now that the election is over, and the Democrats have gained control of both the House and the Senate there’s a new “dialogue” in Washington. Suddenly it’s a whole new batch of carefully-crafted slogans. “Extending the Olive Branch.” “Let’s work together.” “In full cooperation to a common goal.” “Bury the hatchet.” “We’re building bridges.” And other such “niceties”.
This is not the time for niceties, not the time for building bridges at all.
The people of this country have given you, the Democrats, a mandate. It is loud and clear and requires your full attention. This mandate is to wipe out the corruption and lying that have been so prevalent in the Bush Administration and to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes. You therefore are required to do the following in order to accomplish the task which has been given you:
1. Fully investigate the attacks on 9/11, making public all relevant materials including but not limited to the surveillance tapes from the buildings around the Pentagon, which were seized immediately after the attack, and removing gag orders from government whistle blowers so that their depositions can be taken and all the facts revealed. Then bring those responsible and/or negligent to trial. Then review the rationale for the attack on Afghanistan based on the results of these investigations and trials.
2. Remove the gag orders from government whistle blowers so that their depositions can be taken in all the other matters needing investigation, including but not limited to warrantless wiretapping.
3. Fully investigate the lead-up to the war in Iraq, including the false evidence used to persuade the congress and the public to accept the rationale given for this war. Those accountable should be tried as war criminals and given the harshest sentences for their crimes.
4. Fully investigate the conditions at the various prisons where the “Terrorists” are being held, including the CIA clandestine prisons, and the treatment of those prisoners. Any crimes of torture or other abuse should be resolved by bringing to trial not only the actual perpetrators, but the superiors who let, or made, these crimes happen, no matter how high up the ladder it goes.
5. Fully investigate Haliburton, and other contractors, for war profiteering and bungled no-bid contracts, not omitting the connection with Vice President Cheney.
6. Fully investigate the ties between Vice President Cheney and the oil companies, and their involvement in setting the country’s energy policies.
7. Continue the probe of the Abramoff scandal and bring all players involved to trial for their crimes against this country.
8. Abolish the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and restore the Posse Comitatus Act as the first steps for returning the Bill of Rights, our Constitution, as the true basis for our government.
9. Work toward substantial reduction of greenhouse gasses in the near future so that some hope can be had to minimize the effects of global warming, which has already begun reshaping our planet.
10. Rein in our hemorrhaging budget and reverse the trend of ever greater debt which has been initiated under the Bush administration so that our children and their children will not have such a heavy burden placed upon them.
11. Stop the gluttony of the oil companies and see to it that the record profits they have been having are used to find ways to conserve oil and ultimately to become free of oil dependency.
12. Fully investigate the 2000 and 2004 elections, including the roles played by voting machine manufacturers, and the Secretaries of State in Florida and Ohio, in election fraud.
13. Fully investigate all elections since 2000 for voter disenfranchisement and obstruction, and prosecute anyone involved in these activities.
14. Review the multifarious signing statements made by the President over the past six years, and take steps to vacate them, or otherwise restore the basis in Constitutional law of the bills in question.
15. Roll back the tax cuts for the wealthy that have decimated services and infrastructure.
These are some of the reasons we elected you. We expect and demand that you take action on these vital concerns for our nation and for the world, not play around with honeymoons and olive branches. Things are so bad you must hit the ground at a dead run to keep them from wiping out that much more. And it is wise to remember the lesson of Mono Lake. The past twelve years of Republican control have been like the draining of that lake. Humanity and the planet are the seagulls. Plutocratic maniacs are the packs of coyotes. Of course they’re going to want to build bridges. Don’t be dangerous saps!
Your mandate is to prevent us all from being gobbled by profit-drunk coyotes, get that lake filled again as fast as ever you can.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I live in a very small town. It's mostly dairies and flower farms and redwoods around here, more cows than people. And a lot of those people think dressing like a hippie is a great Halloween costume. We're talkin' Basic Small Town America. If you don't even own a tv, you can get pretty lonely for the public square around here.
Sure, there's Greater Blogistan, and silence is my very favorite music, but, accidentally, I found out how nice it can be to just sit down and listen to real humans talking about real things. Remember when we were filibustering for a filibuster of the Alito confirmation? When thousands and thousands of us stayed up for days, nuking the phone lines and inboxes of all our senators to stop that entirely too far Wrong Wing appointment? One of the radio hosts who came in to spell The Young Turks, give them a few hours for some shut-eye, sounded so genuine to me, so mowed-down over the chance to be part of such a patriotic endeavor, that I decided I wanted to listen to his internet radio show a time or two.
Suddenly I was transported to the "hills and hollers" of West Virginia, netcasting liberal talk radio, brought to me by a local union. When was that? February? So many offenses have raced by in the raging waters under the bridge that maybe I only think it was February. Maybe March? Back then, anyway. I was just floored to hear all these stone hillbillies talking progressive politics, using twangy but intricate syllabicity, and they even seemed to understand the meanings of the words they used... mostly. Hot dang! Another stereotype bites the dust. Still, it had to be a mistake, so I tuned in quite a few more times.
I got to know the callers pretty well, and I had my favorites. I think my biggest favorite was Wesley. He works for the union that sponsors the network. Probably I like him the best because he reminds me of my earliest childhood, when my dad was in a union, and it was explained to me that workers vote Democratic, because Republicans are against workers, and always take away all the overtime. My dad worked seven days a week back then. Forty hours at straight pay. Twenty at time and a half. Eight at double time. Two at double time and a half. And eight at triple time. We know about hard work around these parts. Wesley has been working like that for the union, for the Democratic Party, and against all the people who have been hollering for us to just dump them and vote third party. Every time people started screaming too hard about those spineless so-and-so's, Wesley would get on the line and explain about how the Democratic Party just needs fixing, not replacing, that it is vital to get control of Congress, at least the House, so we can put a stop to the criminality running our country into the ground. To use a term that just became popular, Wesley took a thumpin' a number of times for his position on how to fix our country. People have been damn fed-up.
He was always careful to explain that he wanted Democrats elected and then we could hold their feet to the fire. If they wouldn't do the right things, then we could replace them with people who would. He never slacked. He maintained that position through every bump in the road, every screaming fit about the lame Democratic response to the endless ugliness we’re supposed to call "legislation" in recent times. Wesley was only shaken by the Military Commissions Act. He did not mention electing Democrats to office then, and he was outraged by every one who voted for it, including thirteen Democrats. He's not a religious man, but he got on the phone to all the church organizations he could think of and asked them if Jesus would condone this, and if not, why weren't they speaking out against this heinous bill? And he was asking everybody listening to the show to do the same.
Wesley started out feeling like home and stayed that way.
In the days leading up to Election 2006 I know most of us were having a very hard time swallowing back the mounting terror. Gore Vidal came out on video to say it was the most important election in his very long life. Others have been saying very similar things. I have been bellowing to anyone who will listen that it is the end, the very last chance to turn this around, to get our country back. The urge to hysteria had been mounting in my breast for a week. On Monday the 6th, my voice raised at the checkout counter at the store about how I hoped everyone was voting on Tuesday. Heads turned from every corner of the store. Bring cameras! We can't let 'em steal this one! Bring cameras! Cameras and pitchforks! America! America! America! They can't have our country!
Funny. When the impossible happened, when we got the House, and almost certainly the Senate too, I still couldn't feel relief. Kept refreshing the New York Times results map page to count the dark blue patches. In the moment I heard that Allen was conceding in Virginia, it finally started feeling true. As it finally sank in, my very first thought was for Wesley, a man I've never met, who lives three thousand miles away, but I had come to love through the miracle of cyberspace. Even though I haven't listened to that show very much in months, I know I can always pull them up in the archives at the White Rose Society, catch up on them that way.
Full of relief and love for the world, I pulled up the latest show I could find. Sure enough. There was Wesley, saying:
Okay. Now we gotta hold their feet to the fire!
[Update: This post has been altered slightly to take out some particulars, and in the months since the Democrats took office, Wesley has been making excuses for them, not holding their feet to the fire, and I've learned a great deal more about what makes these guys tick. Pfeh. --99]
Monday, November 06, 2006
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Brief History of the Marianas
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is located just north of the U.S. territory of Guam.
The U.S. military seized the 14 islands from Japan during World War II. The air base from which the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were delivered was located there. Following the war, the islands, consisting of an indigenous population of fisherman and subsistence farmers, were administered as a United Nations territory by the United States. In 1975 the people of the islands voted to become a U.S. Commonwealth. This designation allowed manufacturers there to advertise their goods as “Made In U.S.A.” It also made the people U.S. Citizens living under U.S. laws.
But two major exceptions to these laws have allowed the current desperate situation for workers in the Marianas to develop. An exemption was given for the mandated minimum wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Also exemptions were given from most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Setting the Stage
The minimum wage exemption allowed the islands to set their own minimum wages which currently average $3.05/hr. The immigration exemptions have allowed garment manufacturers to import workers under the “Guest Worker” designation, which means these workers can remain as long as needed, but they are not eligible for U.S. citizenship. Thousands of these workers, mostly Chinese women, have been brought to the islands, after being told they were going to America, only to find themselves in something too much like indentured servitude. Due to the gutting of the Immigration Act, if they complain to their employer, they can be fired as well as deported. There are no Labor Unions and the local Labor and Immigration offices are so underfunded it can take up to a year to get a case heard. There have been no tariffs or quotas on the products these companies export, which has been an advantage for the Marianas over other countries in the area.
This advantage and ability to keep costs so low has lead to an atmosphere where the local government and the manufacturers have fought long and hard to maintain the status quo.
Made In America
Most shoppers, upon seeing the “Made In U.S.A.” label, immediately associate it with well made products, produced under our current laws and regulations. They haven’t a clue that the items are actually made in a sweatshop in Saipan under slave labor conditions.
Such popular labels as J.Jill, Elie Tahari and Ann Taylor are produced at the RIFU garment factory where approximately 300 workers will produce 15,000 garments in a single day. These brand names don’t own their own factories and subcontract the work out to RIFU and similar factories scattered throughout the islands. Brands such as Liz Claiborne, The Gap, Ralph Lauren and others are factory owners. At their peak these companies collectively export over $1 billion wholesale annually which retails for twice that amount.
All of it produced under some of the world’s worst working conditions.
Bring in the Slaves
Recruiters fan out through the big city slums and rural villages of poor Asian countries looking for workers. For a fee of up to $7,000 they offer a one year job contract which is renewable by the employer. This is a small fortune in that part of the world and many of the recruits borrow from lenders who charge as much as 20% interest, happy to pay the fees because they think they are going to America, where wages are high and the laws are good. They go to make money to send their children to school and enrich their families, only to find it is a scam.
Once they arrive they must not only pay back the recruitment fee, but factory-provided housing barracks and food expenses. These add another $2,500 for the year. Many choose cheaper housing consisting of corrugated sheet metal shanties shared with others. With the low wages it is impossible for them cover expenses with normal working hours therefore they are forced to work overtime. 52 forty-hour weeks equals 2080 hours. At $3.05/hour that is only $6,344 for the year -- far short of what the worker owes. They work six and seven day weeks, sometimes as much as twenty hours a day in their efforts to clear their debt. If they complain, they are punished by not being allowed to work overtime. Quotas are set for a day’s production and if the worker runs out of time prior to filling the quota they must complete the work at no additional pay. In many instances paychecks aren’t honored. Some have worked up to five months without pay. Even after two years, there are those who still aren’t close to clearing their debt, let alone making the money they need to better their lives. Most will not speak out about conditions, fearful of losing their jobs, and of threats made against them and their families by those who loaned them the money to find themselves living and working under these conditions to begin with.
As a comparison, U.S. military personnel have a per diem of $238.
Another burgeoning industry on the islands is sex tourism. It is estimated that about 90% of the prostitutes in Saipan are former garment workers. For $50 the American sailors and Asian businessmen can go home with a woman for the night. The red-light district is bursting with strip clubs and massage parlors where these women work, oftentimes locked in during the day, unable to escape. Others who had come seeking jobs, such as waitresses and dancers, have been forced into the sex trade as well. When they become pregnant, some women are deported back to China, or taken to a local illegal abortion clinic. In some cases, to keep job and baby, women may be allowed to sign affidavits declaring they will cover all medical costs of the pregnancy.
Allen Stayman, who at one time led the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs, has tried to help the workers of the Marianas. In his position there he tried to follow a congressional dictate and negotiate with the Marianas to bring them in line with the U.S. standards. In so doing he earned the wrath of people in the shadows who would later bring him grief.
Since 1995 over 29 bills have been presented to the Senate by Senators Frank Murkowski (R-Ak.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), as well as Representatives George Miller (D-Ca.) and David Bonier (D-Mi.). Some of these bills were to raise minimum wage, others to stop the use of the “Made in USA” label and offer immigration reform. The Senate voted unanimously on three occasions for Murkowski’s immigration and wage reform bills. An additional bill by Bob Franks (R-NJ) in 1999 had a large majority of the house members, 243 in all, co-sponsoring the bill. Despite these strong showings, so far they have all died in the House Resources Committee… at the hands of a Georgetown-educated lawyer and a disgraced Texas Congressman.
Enter Abramoff and DeLay
In 1995, while working at the Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds law firm, Jack Abramoff and his team were hired as lobbyists for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The situation on the islands was coming to a boil and the Clinton administration, with certain members of congress, were pressing hard for elimination of the islands’ exemptions from minimum wage and immigration rules.
Abramoff used his close ties with Republicans in the house, and by focusing his efforts on the House Resources Committee was successful in blocking all attempts at change for the Marianas even though both Republicans and Democrats were working hard for change.
Among the Republicans in the House whose attention was cultivated by Abramoff was majority whip Tom DeLay (R-Tx). As majority whip, DeLay was able to keep the bills off the floor so they never had a chance to be voted on. Abramoff even bragged to Marianas Governor Pedro P. Tenorio about how, between DeLay and himself, they had blocked every attempt to change the conditions in the Marianas.
DeLay, his wife and daughter were among over 100 Republican politicians, their families or associates who received all expense paid trips to the Marianas. They were treated to snorkeling and golfing trips and shown the ritzy areas so they could return home and remark on this perfect model of capitalism. Abramoff was in daily contact with DeLay’s associates, and in one period between 1996 and 1997 DeLay spoke directly with Abramoff over two dozen times, all concerning matters associated with the Marianas.
Once the G.W. Bush administration took over, the chore became even easier for Abramoff. Three of his associates obtained positions with the General Services Administration and in the Departments of Labor and Interior. Abramoff, with the help of the Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman also went after Allen Stayman, having him fired within months of Bush’s inauguration, even though he had moved to the State Department and no longer dealt with the Marianas. By 2004 Abramoff had brought in $11 million in fees from the Marianas Government and worked hard lobbying to keep things flowing.
Now For Some Good News
Even though Congress has been blocked, the courts have stepped in and offered some help. In 1999 two federal class action law suits were filed claiming violations of national and international laws regarding hazardous working conditions and working without pay. A third suit, in California State Court, accused U.S. retail firms of false advertising for the use of the “Made in USA” label.
All three suits were settled in 2003 for $20 million dollars and the creation of an independent oversight committee. The money is to be used, among other things, to help those who haven’t been paid and to finance the committee. As a side effect most companies have started to label their items “Made in Northern Mariana Islands (USA)” or “Made in Saipan (USA)” even though it wasn’t required under the settlement.
Additionally some hope can be found in the fact that Abramoff has now been convicted of his crimes and that DeLay has stepped down and is awaiting trial. In fact Congressman George Miller is still championing the cause.
But Then the Bad News
In January 2005 the GATT treaty expired and in so doing eliminated quotas and tariffs from all countries. This cancelled out the benefit the Marianas had in competing against other south east Asian countries and now some of the manufacturers are moving to Vietnam, Cambodia and China where the labor is even cheaper. Seven factories have already closed and production is down to half of its peak years. In 2008 a temporary restriction on Chinese exports to the US will expire and it is predicted that most factories will close then. There will be little left for these workers who will still owe money to their recruiters and loan holders. The legitimate tourist trade will not take many workers, so many will end up in the sex trade.
Hopefully, on Tuesday, the rest of the obstructionists will be removed and real work can begin to save the economy of this commonwealth as well as the people who work there.
Contact your representatives and ask them to help.
Bush – sex trade
Slavery in the Marianas