Sunday, October 28, 2012
Of The Bullies, By The Bullies, and For The Bullies
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
(excerpt from chapter 5 of his book, "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome")
Perhaps the most ominous sign regarding the true nature of economic discrimination and class warfare against the middle class and the poor, which invariably includes people of color, is that of bullying, intimidation and similar forms of abuse directed at employees in the workplace. Although I'm certain that everybody who reads this can think of an example of having a really bad boss, the following alarming example of abusive management in the third world is the best (or worst) example I have found. The question is, could this “method” of management be coming to America's shores next? Worse yet, is it already here?
More than a decade ago, shoe giant Nike came under fire for its use of sweatshop labor in the production of its products. Most of the criticism focused on its Indonesian workforce, where workers, largely young women, were forced to labor under harsh conditions and abusive supervisors. In 1997, filmmaker Michael Moore made Nike abuses a subject of his film "The Big One", and met with Nike CEO Phil Knight. Knight explained that the reason his company was using low-wage labor in Indonesia is allegedly because "Americans don't want to make shoes".
At the Taiwanese-operated Pou Chen Group factory in Sukabumi, Indonesia, which makes Converse shoes for Nike, and PT Amara Footwear factory in Jakarta, workers alleged that they are paid ultra-low wages, regularly verbally and physically abused, and even fired for the act of taking sick leave. The 10,000 mostly female workers at the Taiwanese-operated Pou Chen plant make around 50 cents an hour. That’s enough, for food and bunkhouse-type lodging, but little else. Some workers interviewed by the AP in March and April described being hit or scratched in the arm — one man until he bled.
An internal Nike report released to the AP found that 'nearly two-thirds of 168 factories making Converse products worldwide fail to meet Nike's own standards for contract manufacturers. Meanwhile, in 2010, Nike CEO Mark Parker received an 84 percent hike in his annual compensation, raking in $13.1 million, an amount many of the workers in Sukabumi and Jakarta can only dream of.
If the top 1% has their way, these kinds of workplace abuses and sweatshop conditions will be making their way to your workplace. Here in Georgia where I live (plus several other states, mostly in the Southeastern US) we have what are called “right to work” laws. Basically what it means is that anyone can be terminated for any reason, or sometimes for no reason at all. So no matter where you work, there is always this cloud of uncertainty hanging overhead, knowing that you can get canned without warning, even if you are doing everything right. Imagine what Jesus would say about this if He came back today! Would he be pleased? Absolutely not! So I would say that being forced to work in what amounts to a hostile work environment is just one more reason for us all to rise up against the top 1% and take back all that they have stolen from us. Our dignity, our human rights and our governmental, economic and political systems will be taken and confiscated from the rich no matter how long it takes.
The fact of the matter is that this type of brute-force management has lately spread from much of America's professional life over into our personal lives, with the most obvious examples being the militarization of our police departments combined with the lost cause known as the “war on drugs”. In so doing, those who used to be sworn to protect and to serve have become those who harass and intimidate. They have become the lackeys of the top 1%, with some in law enforcement chomping at the bit for an opportunity to lock up a few people and bloody a few heads, if not worse. However, I also believe that there is no small number in the law enforcement community who realize that they are actually part of the 99%. When they do, and especially when they realize that they are just pawns for the 1%, they will join us in droves, coming over to our side having realized that they were only being contemptuously used to guard what the 1% has hoarded at the expense of all the rest of us, including themselves.
The police arms race has very clearly spread well beyond the urban borders of the only cities to actually be targeted by foreign terrorists. Now, police officers routinely walk the beat armed with assault rifles and garbed in black full-battle uniforms. The extent of this weapon “inflation” does not stop with high-powered rifles, either. In recent years, police departments both large and small have acquired bazookas, machine guns, and even armored vehicles and tanks for use in domestic police work.
The most serious consequence of the rapid militarization of American police forces, however, is the subtle evolution in the mentality of the "men in blue" from peace officer to soldier. This development is absolutely critical and represents a fundamental change in the nature of law enforcement. The primary mission of a police officer traditionally has been to keep the peace. Those whom an officer suspects to have committed a crime are treated as just that -- suspects. Police officers are expected, under the rule of law, to protect the civil liberties of all citizens, even the bad guys. For domestic law enforcement, a suspect in custody remains innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, police officers operate among a largely friendly population and have traditionally been trained to solve problems using a complex legal system; the deployment of lethal violence is an absolute last resort.
Soldiers, on the other hand, are trained to identify and kill the enemy. This is a problem. Cops are increasingly seeing the citizens they’re hired to protect as “the enemy.” This is in part how nonviolent protesters end up tear-gassed and shot at. This is part of why violence is so often the first resort of cops dealing with any sort of tricky situation, rather than the last. The idea that we need our cops to be the heavily armed soldiers of the streets — instead of, say, social workers and peacekeepers with the power to arrest — leads to bad recruiting, bad training, unnecessary deaths, mass distrust of the police by vulnerable communities, and the contemptuous feeling of many cops that they themselves are above the law.
The trend toward a more militarized domestic police force began well before 9/11. It actually began in the early 1980s, as the Reagan administration added a new dimension of literalness to Richard Nixon's declaration of a "war on drugs." Reagan declared illicit drugs a threat to national security. In 1981 he and a compliant Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which allowed and encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment. It authorized the military to train civilian police officers to use the newly available equipment, instructed the military to share drug-war-related information with civilian police and authorized the military to take an active role in preventing drugs from entering the country.
A bill passed in 1988 authorized the National Guard to aid local police in drug interdiction, a law that resulted in National Guard troops conducting drug raids on city streets and using helicopters to survey rural areas for pot farms. In 1989, President George H. Bush enacted a new policy creating regional task forces within the Pentagon to work with local police agencies on anti-drug efforts. Since then, a number of other bills and policies have carved out more ways for the military and domestic police to cooperate in the government's ongoing campaign to prevent Americans from getting high. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney declared in 1989, "The detection and countering of the production, trafficking and use of illegal drugs is a high priority national security mission of the Department of Defense." The problem with this mingling of domestic policing with military operations is that the two institutions have starkly different missions. The military's job is to annihilate a foreign enemy, while cops are charged with keeping the peace and with protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents. It's dangerous to conflate the two. That distinction is why the U.S. Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act more than 130 years ago, a law that explicitly forbids the use of military troops in domestic policing.
The September 11 attacks provided a new and seemingly urgent justification for further militarization of America's police departments: the need to protect the country from terrorism. Within months of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the Office of National Drug Control Policy began laying the groundwork with a series of ads tying recreational drug use to support for terrorism. Terrorism became the new reason to arm American cops as if they were soldiers, but drug offenders would still be their primary targets. In a particularly egregious example comparable to going duck hunting with a bazooka, the seven police officers who serve the town of Jasper, Florida -- which has all of 2,000 people and hadn’t had a murder in more than a decade -- were each given a military-grade M-16 machine gun from the Pentagon transfer program, leading one Florida paper to run the headline, “Three Stoplights, Seven M-16s.”
In 2006 alone, the Department of Defense distributed vehicles worth $15.4 million, aircraft worth $8.9 million, boats worth $6.7 million, weapons worth $1 million and “other” items worth $110.6 million to local police agencies. After 9/11, police departments in some cities, including Washington, D.C., also switched to battle dress uniforms (BDUs) instead the traditional police uniform. Critics say even subtle changes like a more militarized uniform can change both public perception of the police and how police see their own role in the community. One such critic, retired police sergeant Bill Donelly, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, "One tends to throw caution to the wind when wearing ‘commando-chic’ regalia, a bulletproof vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on both sides, and when one is armed with high tech weaponry." Departments in places like Indianapolis and some Chicago suburbs also began acquiring machine guns from the military in the name of fighting terror.
The September 11 attacks enabled a new source of funding for military-grade equipment in the Department of Homeland Security. In recent years, the agency has given anti-terrorism grants to police agencies across the country. The DHS grants are typically used to purchase items such as the Lenco Bearcat, a modified armored personnel carrier that sells for $200,000 to $300,000. The vehicle has become something of a status symbol in some police departments, who often put out press releases with photos of the purchase, along with posing police officers clad in camouflage or battle dress uniforms. The post-September 11 era has also seen the role of SWAT teams and paramilitary police units expand to enforce nonviolent crimes beyond even the drug war. The total number of SWAT deployments per year in the U.S. may now top 60,000, or more than 160 per day. SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed. Never mind the collateral damage! Earlier this year, the Department of Education even sent its SWAT team to the home of someone suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program. In so doing, the inability to repay one's student loan has now become criminalized. This is why we are occupying and will continue to occupy America. Being poor and broke is not a crime. We the American people will not stand idly by while poverty becomes criminalized. Enough is enough!
Class warfare has been declared upon us all by the top 1%, and the main assault against the remainder of us has already commenced. Starting with the Occupy Movement in September 2011, and the 'We Are the 99%' Movement at about the same time, the counterattack by the 99% against the elitist 1% has begun in earnest. In so doing, although a second American Civil War has been started by the wealthy elitists, it is we the people – the 99% – who comprise the overwhelming majority of America, and it is we who will finish it. In fact, this counterattack has already begun, it's just that it wasn't that apparent at first. It wasn't supposed to be. In the next chapter I will shed as much light as I can on how this is occurring, and highlight a few methods about how this can be accomplished in as peaceful a manner as possible.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
The Next US Civil War
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
(excerpt from chapter 6 of, "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome")
We’re entering into a phase of American society that is undoubtedly going to be rather tumultuous at best, or catastrophic at its worst. There are big changes in the works that take years to materialize, but the impact of them will be nothing short of massive. I’m going to attempt to outline a few of these major developments.
The area I’m discussing here is mostly financial but the ramifications spread outside the realm of finances. We’re going to start with demographics. In America and other developed countries, we have a bit of a conundrum as aged workers enter the latter years of their life where they have had embedded expectations for some time that they will enjoy a nice retirement full of golf and cruises. The problem, of course, is that almost all that are planning to retire are broke or nearly broke.
Further weakening the situation is the fact that many of these potential retirees were planning on using their homes as a means to retire. As a housing bubble materialized in the mid 2000’s, these same people doubled down on this idea, took on more debt, and tried to hit a home run in the wealth department by leveraging up on the skyrocketing home values. We all know how that ended, and many of these folks that participated are now worse off years later as a result of a housing bust. The result is millions of people who are struggling to keep their jobs amidst a tough economic climate and who have too much mortgage debt and not enough retirement savings. Where does this go? The answer is a lower standard of living. The baby boomers will be cutting back in every area you can think of; housing, day-to-day spending, vacations, etc. Of course this same demographic has been responsible for the majority of the excess consumer spending that has fueled the American economy in recent decades, so as the massive group of people shifts from excess consumption to excess saving and cutting back, you can imagine the impact it will have on an economy that is approximately 70% consumption.
Unfortunately, most Americans just assume they will have a job because companies need warm bodies to do various tasks. Rather than work hard to improve skill sets and/or start businesses, too many Americans sit on their couches waiting for a job to come to them. This naturally leads to politicians who promise these same folks that they will provide jobs for them. The problem is that a politician can’t provide sustainable employment. As jobs continue to be unavailable for millions of Americans, there is a real problem coming our way. College graduates are idle because there are no jobs, and baby boomers are being forced to retire early with no retirement funds. The standard of living decline for the masses will likely lead to a reinforced cycle of further declines in the standard of living for their children and grandchildren.
So, what does this mean for you? The folks aware of this environment will be better off. There will always be opportunities for those of us willing to work hard and to think outside the box. Waiting around for the next Presidential candidate to “fix the economy” is a dead end and a colossal waste of time, and those who don’t take action into their own hands will be worse off with each passing year. That's why your time to act is now, because time is running out for all of us. Let the 2nd US Civil War, or more accurately the counterattack of the 99%, begin!
Besides, it's already obvious that the federal government is not up to the job of reorganizing our country, particularly its economy, and it won't be anytime soon. The mistakes of the recent past are taking their toll on our government, as the priorities of wars overseas to protect US energy interests continue to siphon the lifeblood out of our country and its people, eliminating any chance of economic or professional opportunity. Oblivious to the fact that thousands of its citizens are living in public parks in protest across the land, they behave as if nothing is going on and they continue along with their bloody escapades. We have over 14 million unemployed in this country; the official unemployment rate is 8.5 percent as I write this. The actual number for unemployment for October 2011 is 16.2 percent, down from 16.5 percent from September and up from 15.9 percent in 2010. Now let's add in all of those people still not counted; if you are discharged from the military, you're not counted. If you graduate from college, trade school or high school and don't have a job, you're not counted either. So the actual number of unemployed is even higher still.
Now let's factor in the cost of living as opposed to earnings. On average, over the past several years' inflation has been around 3 percent annually, while wage growth has been around 1 percent. So that means workers take a 10 percent wage cut every five years. Of course, that is, if we assume that all wage growth is created equal; its not! Average weekly earning for those working in retail are down on average four dollars per week. People working in goods production saw their wages rise on average twenty dollars per week. The average for all workers is only fourteen dollars a week, against rising gas prices, rising food prices and rising utilities prices. If your take-home pay is not enough to live on, or just barely covers the most basic of necessities with nothing left over, you are a slave, entrapped by the oppressive culture of corporate America and the US military/industrial/prison complex. It's time for us to break out of the economic prison we are all locked into.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
What If We Didn't Need Money?
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
(excerpt from "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome")
What are these law enforcement folks protecting to begin with? The assets, infrastructure and personal privacy and security of the top 1%, that's what! The problem with that is the top 1% regard everything in sight as theirs, as if all the people in the lower income brackets – the other 99% – didn't deserve one stinking thing. In short, its all a game of acquiring the most stuff, the biggest collection of material goods of one kind or another, the fastest or most luxurious car, the most powerful truck and the biggest house. And for what? If one of us should die tomorrow, he or she can take absolutely none of it with them. As Rev. Billy Graham used to preach, “nobody ever saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer behind it”. It's all temporary, left behind when we are dead and gone, as all of us eventually will be, including me. It's what we leave behind that counts. Maybe we should ask ourselves – if you haven't done so already – what kind of legacy do we want to leave? Not someone who did great things in the sight of others or who made a great fortune, but someone who took care of the needs of the people on a case by case basis. Not someone who is lauded with praise by men and women, but one who seeks the praise and approval of Almighty God as I and others like me do. I love giving some homeless guy a couple of dollars, paying an elderly widow's electric bill to keep it from being turned off, donating a used computer to an inner city school kid who needs one, and never mind their skin color either. Performing volunteer work, giving generously to your church (it doesn't have to be financial aid, there are many ways to help), sponsoring a hungry kid overseas, or adopting one here at home are the things people remember about us after we have passed, and so will God. We are to be leaving behind the things that people remember about us long after we are gone, and they must be positive things that build people up, not negative things that tear us down. We are to be contributors, being sure to give wherever possible and not living just to see how much we can earn, or even take. Takers are losers who leave holes in time.
What if we didn't need money at all? What if we had an alternative way to buy things without using traditional cash, checks or plastic? What if we didn't have to work at all, or maybe not nearly as much? Using profit as a mechanism for the control of liquid assets by and for the top 1% when the overwhelming majority of Americans have no access to those assets is obviously an economic barrier that keeps the remaining 99% of us in a bare subsistence mode that is clearly unethical and discriminatory and therefore illegal. Eliminating the need for money instantly wipes out poverty while putting the 99% in a favorable position to have all their basic needs met (never mind all the fancy BS stuff, just the basics of life). The replacement of money, and of the work that is necessary in order to earn it, are already being accomplished by computers and robots.
Technology has eliminated jobs across the board on an alarming scale – from secretarial positions to auto workers. The resulting crisis is compounded by our culture's deep denial of the basic problem. I'm old enough to remember the '60s and '70s when so many pundits described the coming glories of the "cybernetic age." Then computers would at last liberate us, they promised, from the drudgery of 9-5 jobs. Back then the worry was, what would we do with all that leisure time? Leisure time has proven frustratingly elusive. Instead, most of us are working harder than ever as our employing firms "downsize." Alternatively, we're pounding the pavement looking for non-existent jobs to replace those that have been "outsourced" to Asia somewhere. Additionally, so many of the "jobs" available to the more recently laid off labor force are extremely low-paying to a humiliating degree (such as the current and pathetic minimum wage of $7.25 hourly). In the end, they are nothing more than useless make-work projects that are not only completely unnecessary, but positively destructive. Things like weapons manufacturing, the military itself, the advertising industry and telemarketers, insurance companies, fast food, and (above all!) Wall Street jobs connected with financial speculation. None of these occupations are truly productive. And naming them as I have represents only the tip of the iceberg.
Still other jobs can easily be eliminated by technology. Think of what happened to Encyclopedia Britannica that didn't see Wikipedia coming. Think of the music industry recently involuntarily "downsized" by file sharing. And what about newspapers, currently in crisis because of alternative media websites like Alternet, Op-ed News, Infowars, Truthdig and Information Clearing House, among others? Similarly Web-based education (sometimes called "distance learning") is having its own impact on higher education as brick-and-mortar campuses find themselves headed for financial oblivion. Even the oil industry is sun setting. Imagine what that means for an entire economy and lifestyle absolutely dependent on oil. Here I'm not just referring to "Peak Oil Consumption" or to "Peak Oil" itself. New technology will soon turn every building into an energy power plant. Surplus energy will be stored in hydrogen cells. And the energy produced will be shared person-to-person across a "smart grid". Think of the jobs that will be eliminated as a result – including those required by the energy wars that will be rendered superfluous. We are kept from discussing it only because our "drill, baby, drill" politicians have their heads so firmly stuck in the tar sands. Consequently, the U.S. economy is being left in the dust.
There is an enormous amount of productive work crying out to be done across our country. The U.S. infrastructure is crumbling at an alarming rate. Green technologies in general, particularly the “smart grid”, high speed rail and public transportation are the most obvious needs. The number of potential jobs connected with them is in the millions. But there are not nearly enough green jobs to replace the ones that have been eliminated by technology and those that should be discarded because they are unsustainable, environmentally destructive and morally deficient.
So what should be done about all of this? Share the work! None of us has to work that hard unless we want to. Thanks to new technologies we could work four-hour days or three-day weeks, or for only six months a year, or every other year and still make a living wage. We could retire at 40. And this is possible world-wide. And how to pay for all of this? For starters, cut back the military budget 60%. That alone would make available more than a billion dollars every day just in the U.S. Tax the rich and the corporations – those who make up the "1%" that has ripped off the U.S. working class on an unprecedented scale over the last 30 years and more. (Remember the 91% top-level tax bracket that was in place following World War II. We could reinstate that!) Share the wealth. Boldly restructure the economy. Embrace new technology's promise along with the life of leisure that it offers. It is all now within our grasp. Since the government is unwilling or incapable of the restructuring I am calling for, it is up to us, “we the people”, to get the job done ourselves. Worker-owned co-ops and factories, little 1 or 2 person micro-businesses, and non-profits would make up the greater part of the business world of tomorrow.