Friday, January 21, 2011

Enjoying Tea at a Tea Party Meeting

Today I attended my first Tea Party meeting.  I didn't even know that there was a Tea Party in Ukiah Valley, but there certainly is.  I had heard that a social activist group met every 3rd Thursday at Jensen's truck stop restaurant.  Believing that all we activists need to stop being many little fractured groups but coalesce on the big issues in agreement, I set out to make advances toward coalition.  Much to my surprise and horror, I found myself at a Tea Party meeting. 

The first thing I encountered was a smiling Christian looking man welcoming me and handing me a sign in sheet.  The only other person in the room was a man with "Dirty Old Man" written on his cap.  I ordered my dinner, and decided to sit as far away from the dirty old man as possible.  They had glossy multi-color pamphlets calling themselves the "Ukiah Valley Patriots."  I consider myself a patriot because I am passionate about the Constitution.  I discovered that is one of the things we all had in common, a passion for the Constitution.  In fact, this week they started a weekly series of teaching the Constitution that was so well attended that they ran short of materials. 

I struck up a conversation with the first man, Duane, and asked about the history of this group.  They began about 10 months ago; their first action was to protest taxes.  I studiously asked what their issue was with taxes.  Do they want to eliminate them.  Duane said he can't talk for the Tea Party, but his personal belief is that there ought to be a flat tax, the same for everyone, and no loopholes.  As we chatted, more and more people filled the room.  I thoroughly agreed with Duane that the tax system is broken and a flat tax equal for everyone would be more fair.  Then I asked him about eliminating deductions for depreciation, mortgage interest, charity donations, etc., and I saw people looking at me like I had struck an irritating cord in them.  One man talked about corporate welfare and corporate loopholes, and I found I totally agreed with him. 

Another man stood up and talked about how home-schooled children go to public school and are turned into liberals there with notions like welfare, medicare for all, and free lunch.  He complained passionately that there was not a single Tea Party member in that assembly that was polluting the minds of our youth and turning them into liberals.  He later repeated his tale to the full group and added how we must shape the minds of our youth while they are still young. 

Considering that it was the eve of the 1-year anniversary of the anti-Constitutional Supreme Court decision called Citizen's United v. FEC, I went around asking people what they thought of that decision.  The only one who had ever heard of it was Ms. secretary, who declined to talk about it.  I think, by that point, she had already identified me as the enemy. 

Pretty soon, the room was packed.  I envied them because our little progressive group can barely get 5 people to attend.  The Democratic caucuses barely got 40 people to attend, and another 40 attended in Eureka, for a total of 88 Democratic voters in a 5 county region.  There were 41 people in this room, including myself.  On the whole, the majority were Caucasian.  I overheard people talking about their ancestors coming over on the Mayflower.  There was one Hispanic man who covered up his accent speaking a careful general American, but I heard the little inflections in his voice and pronunciation of certain consonants that revealed his roots.  There was one Hawaiian.  We pledged allegiance to the flag, and prayed to Jesus Christ to guide us in doing the right thing. 

I noted a fat, hardbound copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  I had recently read the book to find out what all the conservative references were all about.  There was only one person in the room that had also read it, the secretary, who had the same name as me.  She said, "It is certainly a great book, isn't it?"  I replied that it was amazing.  I gazed around at the many blank faces in the room and realized that this was not a very literate crowd.  In fact, there were only 4 slim people in the room.  All the rest were obese.  Ms. secretary was one of the slim, literate ones. 

As they followed the agenda with the order of business, the key presenter was a man donating 100 conservative books up for grabs.  That's all he had to say.  So, in his place, a retired police chief got up and talked about listening to three days of Glenn Beck talking about George Soros.  He was inspired to Google George Soros and presented us with a 3-page summary of all of his connections.  He connected Soros with Goldman Sachs, which was a surprise.  I looked it up afterwards, and found that Soros had purchase up to 40% of Goldman Sachs in 2008, but dumped the stock later saying that the banking sector was insolvent.  After a good 10-minutes of badmouthing the EVIL George Soros, someone mentioned that he did all that totally out in the open!  The room was aghast!  I was also silently aghast that patriots that love free enterprise and the Constitution, would find it shocking that a philanthropic capitalist would operate in the open. 

After the former police chief mentioned Soros' history as a Jewish Nazi collaborator, he related a tale of a billionaire starting several investment and philanthropic organizations, as well as political action groups and think tanks.  Everyone was repeating how evil Soros is.  Then I asked the speaker if he had ever heard of the Koch brothers.  He hadn't.  Ms. secretary corrected my pronunciation of the name.  She obviously had heard of them.  I mentioned that, save the Nazi collaboration, all the rest sounded exactly like what the Koch brothers were doing, using their billions to open political action groups, investment groups, and think tanks.  Several people contested that there is nothing at all similar about Soros and the Koch's.  But Mr. former police chief later asked me to write down their name so he could look them up.  He thanked me for mentioning them.  With all the talk about Soros, some in the crowd mentioned the Committee on Unamerican Activies, and said that McCarthy was right and should have been allowed to continue his work.  A chill rose up my spine. 

Then they began talking about the Smart Meters that PG&E is planning to install on everyone's property.  They were incredulous that the hated liberals were actually on the same side as they were.  They proposed joining with the liberals on this issue.  Some people thought that was very humorous.  I shrunk down in my chair, because it was becoming very apparent that the liberals were their sworn enemies, and I could easily be considered a liberal.  One woman succinctlty summed up the whole issue for the Tea party: She's just tired of everyone telling her what to do.  I pondered this statement.  A whole political movement has been built up because people are tired of being told what to do.  It seemed ludicrously petty to me. 

Eventually, they asked for topics for future meetings.  I suggested two.  I suggested that they discuss the book Atlas Shrugged, which made everybody giggle.  Duane thought it was a good idea.  I also suggested that they hammer out an ideal model of what they would want the good government to look like.  Ms. secretary sneered that we already have that; its called the Constitution!  I contended that the government currently in place believes that they are abiding by the Constitution.  And that the Supreme Court justices that passed the Citizen's United decision believed that they were providing a correct interpretation of the Constitution.  Ms. secretary replied that the Supreme Court has nothing to do with the Constitution.  I tried to explain to her that it is the purview of the Supreme Court to interpret the gray areas of the Constitution.  I added for example that Ayn Rand said our founding fathers wrote Capitalism into the Constitution, but I can't find that reference.  I only see rights to freedom of speech, the pursuit of happiness, and ownership of land.  Ms. secretary exclaimed that those ARE capitalism; they just didn't have that word at the time.  My model idea fell on deaf ears.  The group that equates ownership of land with Capitalism is sure that they have the only right interpretation of the Constitution as opposed to liberals, socialists, Democrats, the Supreme Court, and all the current elected officials. 

Not everyone in the room were as adamant as Ms. secretary.  Those who felt their privacy invaded by Smart Meters and defended the right of free enterprise to lay off whatever workers whenever they want, move factories offshore whenever, and to pollute the air, water, and soil freely in the name of profit, might be receptive to the idea that pollution which involuntarily ends up in our bodies is another kind of invasion of privacy. 

I haven't decided if I will ever go back again.  We were in accord on many issues.  I wondered where they got all the money for the slick brochures and T-shirt/sweatshirt sales, and all the books on the Constitution.  I suspected that Ms. secretary knew their group had been funded by the Koch brothers, and the others didn't.  Several people said my presence made this one of the liveliest meetings yet.  I enjoy lively meetings and debate with folks who have different beliefs than mine.  We'll see....

In my goal to replace the current government with one more responsive to the Common Good, and in my notion to create a massive coalition of disparate groups in order to non-violently accomplish this goal, I wonder if it will be important for me to continue to attend their Tea Party meetings.  I might plant seeds of Peace in the more moderate Tea Party participants which will bear fruit in the future. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A liberal Dose of Reality by John Cory

A Liberal Dose of Reality

By John Cory, Reader Supported News
16 January 11

Reader Supported News | Perspective

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."- Samuel Adams
o far there is no direct factual connection between the violence in Tucson and the toxic GOP and its subsidiary Tea Party screaming mobs, or the despicable daily spewing of hate-radio or the crazy chalkboard diagrams of the coming end times.
The false equivalency by the right wing and corporate media that the left does it too is merely a deflection intended to distract and shift focus away from them and their tactics. You can't connect the dots, they say.

A drop of ink on porous paper slowly seeps across the sheet. Multiple drops in multiple locations eventually bleed together without any external help. No one has to connect the dots; they connect themselves.
Thirty years ago Ronald Reagan said, "... government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."


Over the next three decades, vilification of government became a self-replicating meme. Big government fed the cash-driven paranoia machines. Politics got religion with the Moral Majority, which was neither, and Jerry Falwell made a devilish new BFF in Ronald Reagan. The Christian Right was born.

Plop. Plop.

Bogus welfare queens were created from thin air. The dismantling of Unions and the Fairness Doctrine turned news into a product for the corporations, who insisted that they owned the airwaves, not the public. The public good was tossed aside in favor of free-market profiteering without protective regulation.
Money is free speech and some of us have more freedom than others.

Plop. Plop. Plop.

With all this madness came Iran-Contra, the Savings and Loan crisis, HUD grant-fixing scandal, the Lobbyist scandals, EPA scandals and more. An estimated 130 Reagan officials were indicted and/or convicted or investigated for misconduct and/or criminal violations. But Reagan was the best president ever says the GOP.
Big government is bad. Small government, small enough to fit in a President's zipper is good. God be praised.


The Great Microphone of Anti-Democracy was created and funded under Reagan and allowed to grow and smear at will over the following decades.
Politics became reality television. The profits of fear made millionaires of the new hate-media puppets, supported extremist think tanks and generated a publishing industry dedicated to the propaganda of self-appointed "real" America; all in the name of the corporate owners of America.
And where has our liberal progressive movement been?

Pointing out their victimhood at the hands of the GOP and how the GOP is mean. Ignoring the elimination of investigative journalism. Scrambling for consultants and pundits to appear on the TV to provide "balance" while agreeing that both sides do it. Gently promoting "objective" media in a world rewarding biased punditry and outright lies.

Woe, is us! It is so unfair. Whatever can we do?

We need to get off our ass and quit pretending the bastardization of corporate media is something new, or that the hateful politics of the right wing cannot be defeated. We need to face reality and stop looking to billionaires and millionaires to fund us or rent us a megaphone to speak to the people.
We also need to disabuse ourselves of the illusion that the Democrats are on our side, or that they represent liberals and progressives let alone the concept that they represent everyday citizens. Modern Democrats are Mugwumps straddling the fence between self-enriching celebrity and GOP corporate compromise.

All of this is obviously more complicated than my simplistic presentation. But I'm a simple guy that believes in the KISS principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
And if we think MSBC is the anti-Fox or that it is the liberal platform needed today, then we are just dumb. Snark and shouting and satirical lists are not news reporting or analysis, just tribal entertainment for the converted and like-minded.

No, we need to walk our talk. The other side will call us names no matter what we do, so let us embrace their hatred, as FDR said. Let us be proud radicals and fierce promoters of the common good.
Unions and organizations like the NAACP and La Razza have money that could be used to invest in a non-profit internet/newspaper/broadcast network instead of being spent on lobbying politicians.
Think of it, our own news outlet that conducts investigative reporting and covers real issues. Public subscriptions for print editions and sales of apps for iPad and other devices would provide support money too. Media of, by, and for the people!

Think of putting Robert Parry, Chris Hedges, Sy Hersh, Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders, Glen Greenwald and so many other wonderful voices together in one powerful force of messaging.
We pick a half dozen or so prime issues to promote - issues that overlap compatible areas so as to serve multi-functional roles. Here's a short list off the top of my head:
  1. End the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. War creates graves, not jobs.
  2. Universal Healthcare - explain why the US spends $7500 per person on healthcare while most other countries spend $3500. Is it American exceptionalism, or just plain greed?
  3. Promote government spending on infrastructure like roads, parks, schools and bridges and playgrounds. Immigrants can earn a living and progress toward citizenship by repairing and building infrastructure and paying taxes including Social Security taxes. Jobs, immigration and saving Social Security all rolled into one.
  4. Taxes - progressive and enforceable on all persons including corporate persons. Taxes are not evil or onerous, they are the investment in America that sustains all of us.
  5. Financial Reform regulation to protect the people. To paraphrase George Carlin, if we're concerned about street crime - that means Wall Street too.
  6. Labor must be protected. The right to a living wage. The right to collective bargaining to protect the powerless from the powerful. Labor is not a product - it is not enslavement for corporate enrichment.
  7. Bring back the Draft with some modifications that expand the age groups, limit exceptions, and include private contractors being converted to active duty and subject to military pay scales. Government contracts must be severely restricted. To profit from death and bombs cannot be a government function. Conservatives should love this because it is patriotic and confirms their mantra that government does not create any jobs. Right?
  8. Support Marriage Equality. "If you're against Gay marriage - don't marry one!" (I saw that on a button.)
Impossible? Why?
In an interview on Democracy Now! Slavoj Zizek pointed out, "Did you notice how strange the word 'impossible' functions today? When you talk about private pleasures and technology, everything is possible. But the moment you go to social changes ... practically everything that disturbs the market is impossible ... we will live forever ... whatever you want ... we will travel to the moon - that's all possible. But a small social change of more healthcare is not possible."
Corporations don't see "impossible." Conservatives did not see "impossible." Fox News and talk-radio were not built in a day, but over years.

If we don't unite and combine our forces, progressives and liberals will drown in the coming corporate GOP takeover of democracy.

In the Pennsylvania coal strikes of 1902, miners wanted to cut their work week from 7 to 6 days and cut their work day from 10-12 hours a day to 9 hours a day and raise wages.  George Baer, president of Reading Railroad, spoke for the owners in what became known as the "divine right" letter when he wrote: "... the rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for - not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country."

When the letter became public, support shifted to the miners as the public saw what was headed their way. An informed citizenry is the greatest fear of every corporate driven government.
It took progressives years and years to bring change and enlightenment to workers and politicians alike. People like Ida Tarbell, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Sinclair Lewis, W.E.B. DuBois and so many others all fought and organized and published their cause and the cause of the everyman and the poor and the sick. And it worked; not always in big events, but in small continuous determined steps.
To quote Edward R. Murrow: "We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late."

An ink drop on porous paper slowly seeps across the sheet. Add another and then another, until at last they bleed together to forge their own image and shape.

"Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts." - Edward R. Murrow