Political Terrorism

The House of Representatives isn’t terribly fond of the ACA/Obamacare.  They have voted 42 times to repeal it. Many of the most outspoken members of the House regarding the health care law happily identify as Tea Party members/supporters, even when Tea Party support is at an all-time low.

Now, some members of the House are actively committing what Al Gore labeled best: political terrorism.  (More on this below.)

I live in an incredibly liberal college-town. The county I call home is always a blue dot in the red seas when looking at electoral maps. Over the past years, gerrymandering and dividing the blue to ensure far more red has created, shall we say—interesting–districts for House, on a State and Federal level.

Consequently, someone who proudly identifies with the Tea Party is my representative.

Surely you’ve heard of him. His name is Ted Yoho. Prior to this, he was a veterinarian and I have heard wonderful things about his veterinarian skills.

Sadly, those skills haven’t carried over to governing.  Representative Yoho believes, among other things, that the ACA’s implementation of a tax on tanning at a tanning salon is racist against white people.

This is my Representative.

It seems Rep. Yoho, with his fatuous remarks on tanning, was just warming up. It was all foreshadowing to what’s happening now in Washington DC.

Let me just pause here and note that I have never been a fan of the ACA, which is a modified draft of a conservative solution to the fact Americans really do pay too much for their a la carte medical care. (Single-payer would be best but that’s a different blog post to come.)

The Senate has provided the funds to get the ACA going. The Supreme Court upheld (most) of the ACA as Constitutional. The President is pushing for it.

The judicial branch supports it. The executive branch supports it. Half the legislative branch supports it, but the other half–?

C’mon, this is America, we’ll risk our credit rating among other things to prove a point, dammit!

“So what if others suffer? I got mine.”

Yesterday, I visited Rep. Yoho’s facebook page. He has made some rather bold claims on the page, including:

Too bad the job claim is patently false in his district, as numerous people in the thread have noted. It also seems fiscally irresponsible and IS unconstitutional (14th Amendment) to not raise the debt ceiling to pay for debts already incurred.

I’m a citizen and I know this.

Yoho is my district’s representative and either:
1. Knows this (it’s fiscally irresponsible/violates the Constitution)  and doesn’t care
2. Doesn’t know it, and that’s terrifying too.

Later yesterday, *my* representative in the House of Representatives proudly boasted about a solution while strategizing to keep the blame off of himself and his fellow House members for a possible impending government shutdown:

Look, it's not *my* fault . . .

Look, it’s not *my* fault . . .

I am a person who can’t obtain affordable health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The ACA has caused insurance estimates for me to drop from over $600 a month (with riders to not have to cover what care I need most),  to below $200 a month. And the ACA hasn’t even been implemented yet!

I have been forced to feel miserable and suffer because I can’t afford over $500 for one medicine that I would only take for about 2 weeks.  Instead, I’m spacing one medication out (every other day instead of every day because it’s between $200-$300 a month) and hoping that works well enough until the exchange opens and I can sign up.

I’m annoyed, to put it mildly, so I leave you with Mr. Gore’s spot-on words concerning this (transcript below video):

[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

Preach it, Gore.
Stop the terrorists in the House.

(And please, feel free to let Rep. Yoho know how you feel.)

The Scary Guy

It’s been over a week since Aaron Alexis committed mass murder at the Navy Yard in D.C. Writing on this last week may have been more timely, but it seemed too soon to me. I wanted to see how it played out: how I felt and how the media handled the situation. Because this time it was a young black man on the wrong side of a gun.

Okay. So, now that you’ve gotten over your righteous indignation regarding that last statement, allow me to share my insights.

Preliminary reports characterized Alexis as – basically – a gun-loving ne’er do well. With at least 3 known encounters with law enforcement and a military career ended by a “pattern of misconduct,” he was simply a bad apple from the word “go.” How did he ever get into the military? How did he ever get a security clearance? How did he ever gain access to a military installation? These were the urgent questions asked by many a stern-faced commentator endlessly over several news cycles. And the more they these questions, and the more information they obtained, the less newsworthy it all became. Because, you see: Aaron Alexis, in the final analysis, was no odd-colored, misshapened, warted, one-horned devil. Aaron Alexis was an untreated, mentally ill veteran.

What we found out was that, yes, he had some run-ins with law enforcement over the years, but (1) they never resulted in convictions; (2) they were geographically dispersed; and (3) in at least one case, the situation was minimized. He had some indebtedness, not unlike many Americans in this tough economic times.  He completed the majority of his enlistment and received an honorable discharge. The early rumor about a “pattern of misconduct” has been largely discounted, as he opted for a voluntary early separation; not uncommon during periods of force reduction. Might there have been a “pattern of misconduct?” Possibly. My guess (based on 14 years in the Navy), is that Alexis was a fairly consistent minor disciplinary problem. A bit of a pain in the butt, perhaps a bit odd, but sufficiently functional to get the job done without major interruption. The decision for him to separate early was most likely mutual: it prevented him from getting an adverse mark on his record and saved the command quite a bit of paperwork. Everybody wins, right? Wrong. Twelve people lost big time last Monday.

In the name of Monday morning quarterbacking, the Navy is reviewing its base security policies. The process of investigating, adjudicating, and granting security clearances is being scrutinized. The military is concentrating on these things because they are things easily fixed. They can make new rules, institute new policies and procedures, provide more training (like we don’t have more than enough already). Fingers of blame can be pointed and wagged and guilty heads can be hung. But all the directives, instructions, regulations, pamphlets, circulars, DVDs, training curricula, and sermons will not change the fact that on September 16, 2013, 13 people lost their lives because we – as a nation – refuse to address mental illness on a serious level.

I’m not sure I understand it. Obesity is now a disease. Alcoholism is a disease. Sure, these are serious conditions: conditions that kill people. But mental illness is just as much of a disease, and kills as many … or more. And yet, we – as a society – continue to ignore the elephant in the room. Because mental illness is messy. And mental illness is scary. Because, in most cases, mental illness doesn’t roar, rage, or ravage: it creeps in and almost imperceptibly consumes what was.

Someone once told me that one will not change until it hurts too much to remain the same. How many more people must die at the hands of the mentally ill before we stand up and say “Enough!” ? How long will we go on looking the other way because that “crazy” guy, that “scary” guy, looks so much like us…and just might be us?

Because that’s really the issue, isn’t it?



American Civics 101

English: Sandra Day O'Connor, 1st Female Assoc...

English: Sandra Day O’Connor, 1st Female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance.” ~Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

On September 5, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave a speech at Boise State. During that talk, she lamented the fact  that the American public is largely ignorant of basic American civics facts. To name a few:

  • Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court Justice;
  • About one-third can name the three branches of government;
  • Less than one-third of eighth graders can identify the historical purpose of the declaration of independence (“and it’s right there in the name,” she added).

Those are highly depressing statistics. Here are eight basic questions I think everyone should know (and no Googling!):

Who is the governor of your state?

Who are your senators?

Who is your Congressional representative?

Name 4 of the 9 current Supreme Court Justices (I believe one should know all nine, but I’ll cut the reader some slack).

Who is the Senate Majority Leader? Minority Leader?

Who is the Speaker of the House?

Who is the current Secretary of State?

How old do you have to be to vote?

In 2011, Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test–38 percent failed. Immigrants taking their naturalization tests to become citizens know more about American civics than many natural-born Americans. Democracy requires informed citizen participants. Too many people prefer to sit back and let others make the rules that affect their lives and then complain about it when policies negatively impact them, their families, or their communities.

So what to do? Making civics a major part of K-12 education, again, is one solution. Ms. O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009 “to reverse America’s declining civic knowledge and participation. Securing our democracy, she realized, requires teaching the next generation to understand and respect our system of governance.” This web platform teaches children basic American civics through educational videos and games plus there are lesson plans for teachers. These teaching materials have been used in schools throughout all fifty states. It would behoove adults to take a look at the site too. We live our democratic principles by knowing how our government works, who is leading us and what responsibilities for governing their roles include, and what actions we can take to influence policymakers.

Democracy only works when people voice to their elected officials how they feel about the issues, when they actively participate, whether it is voting, writing a letter or email, working on a campaign, or advocating for some project in their community. Some citizens do this already, yes, but they may not have your best interests at heart. It takes all of us expressing opinions, sharing facts, debating and engaging in the policies of this great country.

Too many people feel they have no influence so have given up. Life is hard enough without having to make time to consume enough news—and a variety of it—to be informed or to get involved in politics, even at the local level. However, if you don’t believe you can make a difference just look at the 2012 Presidential election. In states where citizens felt they were being prevented from voting—that their right to vote was being suppressed—they said, “No you won’t.” Activists spread the word about voter suppression tactics and on election day, some voters stood in line for up to eight hours to cast their ballot. Regular people can make a difference. Yes, big money and corporate interests are too entrenched in our government, but ordinary Americans can change that if they care enough.

Caring starts with knowledge. Once the knowledge is there, then the desire to engage is sparked, and that spark can make a huge difference in the future trajectory of this country; a country where everyone is encouraged to participate and most do. We will never eliminate money in politics completely, but we can lessen its influence and that is what democracy is about – all of us having a say, not only those who possess the most capital.

Take a look at iCivics, show it to your kids, ask their teachers to utilize it. How well would you do on the citizenship test? Once citizens know how our democracy functions and how it was established, protecting it becomes that much more important. Knowledge is power. Don’t let a few make all the rules for the many. Learn and engage. American democracy depends on it; American democracy depends on you.

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal

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Ladies, we’ve come a long way, but…

There are some guaranteed ways to get me all fired up and ready to fight. They include but aren’t limited to spewing rhetoric about keeping women in their place, limiting their options and thus their potential, or blaming them for being raped. Recently my fired-up button was pushed. Salon.com had picked up an article, “6 Reasons (+2) to Not Send Your Daughter to College” from FixtheFamily.com. Please read it if you dare. I wasn’t going to but had to acquiesce in order to write this post. As I figured, it is misogynistic nonsense. Lindy West at Jezebel.com wrote an excellent rebuttal—one that I could’ve written, minus all the expletives. Keep it classy is my motto, even when angry—well, at least when speaking or writing for the general public. I highly recommend reading both pieces.

A fellow Evergreener shared the Salon.com post on her Facebook page and as you can imagine, women were responding with objections and hurling insults at the FixtheFamily guy. There was a comment from at least one man. I checked out after I left a comment in response to his because I dislike getting into back-and-forth political arguments on other people’s social media pages; I’m fine doing that on my own page with people I know, but not with complete strangers.

Anyway, the guy wrote, and I am paraphrasing, that we (women) were trampling on this Catholic man’s freedom of speech and that we were being dishonorable to those who had fought for that freedom of speech with our harsh rhetoric. To reiterate, I’ve greatly simplified his response to focus only on the elements that caused me to clench my jaws and release a low growl then a sigh, ending with a major eye roll. I would’ve also banged my head on my desk in one final dramatic display of disdain, but I was on the bus heading home, not at the office.

My response was, and again, I’m paraphrasing because I haven’t gone back to revisit the exchange, but basically it read: “No one is interfering with his freedom of speech. He can say what he wants, but we also have the freedom of speech to disagree vehemently with him. That’s the beauty of this country. Furthermore, there is nothing dishonorable about this, especially where women see oppression and speak out against it.”

Thank goodness my parents didn’t buy into this garbage. They had three daughters and always believed the three of us deserved the same rights and opportunities that boys were afforded. It was never a question of whether or not their daughters would go to college. Neither of them possessed college degrees, but as long as I can remember, the plan was that I and my siblings would attend college, one way or another. They wanted their daughters to have a better life than they did. I will forever be grateful for that. Furthermore, I was brought up Catholic, and I know no Catholics who believe what FixtheFamily guy does—some probably do, but I don’t know them personally.

Now, I am not saying all women must or should go to college or work outside the home. If a woman chooses not to further her education or chooses to stay at home and raise her children, that is fine as long as it is her choice and not her parents or someone else forcing that decision on her. I feel the same way about men. Their choices are limited too. I know a few stay-at-home dads but not many. Why? Because even in the 21st century, society still sees men as breadwinners and women as caregivers. If a man decides to stay home with his children, he is a slacker or a sissy – he’s not a real man because he is not providing for his family. Give me a break. Until we eliminate these archaic gender-role assignments both sexes are doomed to limited life choices. Hopefully, future generations will be more enlightened.

I’m glad my small-town, high-school educated parents (Dad received an Associate’s degree in Criminology after I graduated high school) were wise enough, and dare I say progressive enough, to want their daughters to fulfill our potential. I am proud they are my parents and that even with their limited exposure and experiences in this great big world, they expected me and my sisters to thrive and succeed. They allowed us and encouraged us to go out into the world where we made our own decisions and choices, and yes, we made some mistakes—we still make mistakes—but we’ve always learned from them. Happily, I can report that we three college-educated ladies have made the most of our lives, in our own unique ways, and contributed to our communities.

Maybe Mr. FixtheFamily wants to stifle his daughters’ potential and their futures, but he should stop encouraging others to do the same to their female offspring. Women have come a long way baby, but we still have a ways to go. I will not stay silent or not write about that which I find demeaning and oppressive to women, and I don’t care who thinks I am being dishonorable. I repeat, I will not stay silent or remain unengaged.

Who Wrote This?

Many of you may not know this, but one of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome.  After many years of trying to force public schools to meet his needs, my husband and I decided to school him from home.  Public schools, and how they educate pupils with special needs, deserves a post of its own.  Wait for it, it is coming.  But that is not what I want to discuss today.

Virginia utilizes a “Virginia Studies” course for fourth grade students.  The curriculum mandates instruction and retention of information about the state’s history, ranging from Jamestown to the Civil War.  Naturally, there is no way to not include the plight of the Native peoples and Africans.  My child noticed right away how the language used, in an official textbook, didn’t describe events, as they truly happened.

(Him)  Wow!  This book is really not accurate, Mom. 

(Me)  Well, no, son.  It does not tell the whole story.

He saw right through the book’s attempt to force the Natives into the role of aggressors.

(Him)  How can the English really be called pioneers?  Pioneers settle land that hasn’t been settled before.  This land was settled.  And how come my book calls them savages?  And why weren’t they (the settlers) nicer to the tribes that taught them how to survive?  This book is not good!  Who wrote this thing?

He laughed at how the enslaved Africans were portrayed.

(Him)  Everybody knows that the slaves wouldn’t be laughing and dancing after all the work was done.  Slavery was not fun!  This book is stupid.

He is nine years old.

In all fairness, Aspies tend to have highly focused interests in certain topics.  The Powhatan tribes are one of his “things”.  But what of those children who trust what is written in their textbooks?  What message are we sending when Native peoples are seen as wild things who just needed to be tamed?  And the atrocity that is slavery is made out to be just a job, with singing and dancing at night?

Then, I was reminded of the fight in Texas.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a block of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

And this, in Louisiana.

Really?  Dinosaurs and humans?  The KKK a decent organization?  Slave masters and the Great Depression were not so bad.  Really?  Because math is too hard and we have good reason to doubt climate change.  No use fighting the rapture, ..excuse me..,  globalization.

Is it really a surprise that our children are falling through the cracks?

Look.  I get it.  We are Americans.  We want our children to be proud of their country.  We want them to recognize that America is one hell of a great place to live.  We, Americans, feel exceptional.

Recently, we were reminded of the dangers of exceptionalism.  Our newest BFF, Vladimir Putin, had this to say:

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Many of us are leaping to the defense of our new friend.  But keep in mind, he has also said this:

We will not allow someone to impose their will on us, because we have our own will! It has helped us to conquer! We are a victorious people! It is in our genes, in our genetic code!

This is all to remind you that every country feels it is exceptional.  History and facts are not ours to change, shape, and mold.  Our children deserve to know what happened, as it actually happened.  They deserve to hear many sides of the same story.  What we have been giving them, and seemingly want to continue to give to them, is propaganda.

Adam did not ride the back of Brontosaurus.  Slavery was not a club.  Natives were not savages.  The KKK and the Great Depression were horrible.  There is a separation between church and state.  Climate change is real.

Our children truly are our future.  Pride in our country is all fine and dandy.  I just don’t want to hear my grandchildren asking, about their textbooks, …Who wrote this thing?

They’re People, Too

As fascinating as being in a “real war-torn country” was to a small-town girl like me, what was most memorable about my time in Kosovo was the people. During my time there, I got to spend a lot of time with the locals, as they provided a large number of services on the base. The people I spent the most time with were My Ladies; the women on the cleaning crew. These women ranged from probably late teens into maybe their 40s or 50s. They earned – let’s just leave it at – “far less than minimum wage,” worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, and had absolute no benefits, including sick days. To say it was bitterly cold there would be an understatement, and few of them had more than sweatshirts, sweaters, or fairly thin jackets. I noticed these things immediately but had been told they would be stand-offish, since KBR had them afraid of their own shadows. All an American had to do was accuse them of doing something wrong and they were immediately fired. Unfortunately, some Americans took advantage of this latitude.

I presented a particular problem for them as I was one of the very few female “chefs” (chiefs – I ran the Training Support Center), and the men were actually the heads of the cleaning crew. I remember the women coming in meekly to ask me if I could step out of the office so the men could mop, since they did not want to be in the office with me and risk offending me. I would step outside and pass the time with a smoke break, as they were extremely quick, again, not to risk annoying me.

It was finally one of the women who broke the ice. They would come in and mumble a few pleasantries, but nothing more. One particularly cold day, one of the ladies summoned the courage to ask if she could have the last bit of coffee left in the pot. I told her “Sure!” (and nodded vigorously so she would not think I was yelling at her). This happened a few more times; I soon noticed that the women would take turns asking for the coffee. They didn’t get to my office until after lunch, and since I only drank coffee in the morning, it was a little old. Eventually, I convinced them that it really was best if they just made a fresh pot. This eventually turned into what I came to refer to as My Ladies’ Afternoon Tea Time: I went to the Exchange and laid in a supply of tea bags, cream, sugar, cups, and the like. I had the guys who worked for me move in a “conference table” and some chairs. Gradually, it became a daily ritual that – after they finished cleaning up the hut our facility was housed in – they would come, sit around the table and sip tea. Sometimes they would include me in their conversation, sometimes I’d just sit back and enjoy watching them. They would sit there and talk and giggle like a bunch of school girls. Many of them had lost everything to the Serbs, including family members, but they were resilient. They would tell me who left treats for them and who did not: there was one office that would always leave ice cream sandwiches in their freezer and that was even a bigger treat than hot tea on a cold day. If one of them seemed to have a cold they just couldn’t shake, I would sneak them some cough medicine or cold tablets (they were ordered to take nothing from us; also grounds for firing). One woman had a cut that became terribly infected, so I brought her some antibiotic cream and band-aids. I managed to “find” some nondescript jackets lying around that I asked they “take away.” When I was packing up my office to leave, I seemed to run out of boxes, and was “forced” to leave several things: window curtains that had been admired, a vacuum that I had bought so they could clean the rug I had put in my office of which “Mama” had grown particularly fond.  The fact of the matter is, during those months, I became genuinely fond of these people. When I found that I was being rotated out, I laid in a supply of tea things and arranged for the one guy I could trust to continue the tradition. My husband ended up getting a job there a few months later, and for the time he was there, I would remind him to make sure my ladies had their things.

They were simple people. They were people who had been stomped on by life and had every reason to be bitter, dejected, mean, and vindictive. We had come in to be their saviors and instead, we had allowed KBR to come in and suck them into slavery with obscenely low wages and poor working conditions. I still think about them from time to time, and wonder how they have gotten on. I wonder if our being there was – in the end – a net gain or loss for them.

I don’t want to see the same thing happen in Syria. If we feel the need to take action, that action needs to be limited in both scope and duration. While we still view ourselves as Saviors of the World, the fact is that most others do not. We need to be mindful of that and govern ourselves accordingly.

Because, after all … they are people, too.

The Cleaning Crew at Camp Bondsteel

The Cleaning Crew at Camp Bondsteel


To Syria, or not to Syria? That is the question…

As I watch with detached interest over the extended hand-wringing over what to do about Syria, I can’t help but think of Kosovo.

Just a little less than 11 years ago, I ended up in Kosovo through a string of rather odd events. Without going into boring detail, suffice it to say one day I was living in relative comfort in Germany, and the next I was scurrying out in sub-zero temperature in the wee hours the morning to … well, wee.

For those unfamiliar with the Kosovo War, here’s a little background information. This will give you a lot of the political background, but what’s important to remember that we, along with our NATO allies, went into Kosovo in 1999 to intervene in an ongoing civil war (sounding familiar yet?).

By the time I got to Camp Bondsteel in late 2002, although we were ramping down our activities there (with an eye toward moving on Iraq), it didn’t appear we had done much “delivering.”  Camp Bondsteel, then referred to as the biggest city in Kosovo, was run completely on oil generators. That’s because – more than four years after victory had been declared – the Kosovars got no more than four hours of electricity a day. No one knew when those four hours would come, of if they would come in one big chunk or in smaller chunks of anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more. This made it extremely difficult to live anything resembling a normal life, or at least what we know as normal. Legend had it that some contractor had been paid several million dollars to stand back up the electrical grid but the money had long since vanished with no functioning grid to replace it and it appeared no one was making a great effort to locate either.

And so, the Kosovars went about their daily business, hurriedly cooking dinner and doing other electric-centric activities whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Yes, some Kosovars, no doubt, had gas or oil generators as well, but as the U.S. Army was the largest employer in the area, the number of folks who could afford fuel were few in number. You see, the U.S. and U.N hired no Serbians (for obvious reasons), and at least KBR only hired one person per family/household. There were relatively few established businesses left; because of roads were in such bad repair and the weather so dismal, the largest cottage industry was the pressure washer car wash. It was nothing to see cars abandoned alongside the road; the locals would drive their cars until they ran out of gas, then return when they came up with enough money to refuel. I don’t recall seeing anything other than desolate hoop-ties there during my six-month tour, though I do recall pulling up beside a rather interesting homemade vehicle. Years of hardship had made these people nothing if not resourceful. I purchased three beautiful area rugs by flashlight that I still have and treasure to this day. I can only say luck was on my side.

I don’t necessarily get into the politics of these types of things, because I find the people far more interesting. However, even as not-much-of-a-student-of-history, even I can see the pattern Kosovo represents: with the exception of the Allied areas of Europe, pretty much every country we’ve gone in to “deliver” we’ve left them in the same or worse shape than we found them: Vietnam, the Philippines, Iraq, Somalia, Grenada, Afghanistan… you name it. So now we want to go into Syria to do … more of the same?

One could be encouraged that some members of Congress are pushing for a clear strategy, both in terms of engagement and exit. I am dubious of this, as I clearly remember the question being asked “How much will reconstruction in Iraq cost?” and the answer being “Nothing. They have significant oil reserves to fund their own reconstruction.”  And how many billions of dollars later is it still a barren wasteland, with untold volumes of antiquities lost for the ages (in some looters’ basements and vaults, no doubt)?

There is a part of me that tells me something must be done to help these people. However, I’m not at all convinced we are the ones to do it. Staring down the barrel of a 25% Reduction in Force in the Department of Defense over the next four years, and seeing what a war-weary force we have after a decade of war that yielded – at best – a net of zero, I can’t help but think that we may need to sit this one out. Let someone else handle it. Maybe this time we need to think about saving ourselves first. This might well be the first time in history when we aren’t in a position to help, or simply the first time we realize it. Either way, I hope our leadership will take a look a long look at history before making a final decision, or they we will be destined to repeat it.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is an unclassified aerial photo of Camp Bondsteel, the largest city in Kosovo. Think about it.

Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

Next week: Memories of the People of Kosovo

On Labor Day.

Some of you are working today. Some of you have the day off from work.

It’s time to reflect on what Labor Day was intended to be and what is has become–and where we can take it, what we can make it.


Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

This movement shortened the hours per day worked (from up to 16!! to 8), mandatory breaks, promoted safety legislation, and–as the bumper sticker brags–gave us the weekend (or days off).

But it seems we’ve lost some steam as a country making our labor better. More work doesn’t equal efficiency. Other countries take better care of their workers and are more effective in production and that fleeting thing known as “quality of life” and “happiness.” The bottom line is once again the most important in many industries, and there are deadly accidents in the workplace. Yes, the bottom line is no doubt important, but it shouldn’t come at a severe human cost, physically and emotionally draining and killing us.

Other Labor Day thoughts:


I’ve spent the last few years studying medieval Europe, and in part, reading about feudalism and the class based systems. The serfs, or peasants had almost no hope of rising above their station and were bound to the same land for the majority of their lives. Six days a week, sun up to sun down, no sick days, no weekends. It would take hundreds of years before people would begin to rise up and change the system. Because of these people, the Labour movement, we now have the rights to fair working conditions, days off, benefits, et al. Because handfuls of brave people stood up and fought for these rights which we take for granted. However, our labour system today is far from perfect today. Groups of people are bent on rolling back some of these rights in the name “capitalism” and the “fair market”. I’m far from an expert on economics, but I believe that keeping these rights will not kill our nations economy, as it hasn’t for the last 200 years. As a matter of fact, these rights should be expanded. Why is the US the only developed country without universal healthcare? Or paid maternity leave? These benefits have not killed the economy of Europe and they will not kill ours. So while we’ve come a long way from the days of serfdom, we still have quite a ways to go.

Edit: While the medieval peasant had an extremely hard life, it seems thanks to the mandated church holidays and feast days, they had *more* time off every year than the American worker. Read more here.

And still, neither have decent healthcare.


What is labor? And what is its relationship to capital? I believe President Lincoln spoke for me when he said…

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

The simple truth is that labor has provided us with all the rights we enjoy today. Children are no longer gainfully employed before hitting puberty. Nor are we working 6 or 7 days a week for pennies. We enjoy a regular work week, holidays, FMLA, a minimum wage.

Now, that is not to say that the war has been won. No, no, no. A minimum wage is not equivalent to a decent minimum wage. College graduates working low wage jobs is not acceptable. Only hiring part-time workers to avoid paying for health insurance is not winning. The way handicapped/mentally ill persons are treated is not winning. Unemployed veterans..also, not a win. Equal pay for equal work is not yet a reality.

I could go on and on. So, the fight must go on. In today’s economy, the fight is more important than ever. Corporate entities seem determined to return us to a feudal society. We need to remain equally determined to stop them.

Why do we need a strong labor movement?

“Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.” ~Theodore Roosevelt


As I sit here contemplating whether to fire up the grill or just bake some fish, I realize that Labor Day, like almost every other holiday we celebrate, has pretty much lost its meaning. Anymore, it is just an extra day off – hopefully with pay – or if you have to work, a day with extra pay. For most, it’s a good excuse to sleep late, drink a few extra adult beverages, and add to our arterial plaque collection.

But we need to think about what this day means. It is about the people who worked hard, often under dangerous conditions and for obscenely low pay, to build this country we now enjoy. The ones who worked from “can see to can’t” yet never seemed to be able to get ahead.

Too many of us think that was in the “old days” and doesn’t happen anymore. Unfortunately, that’s incorrect. The ranks of the working poor are growing, not shrinking. People who perform functions that continue to be the backbone of this country (surprise! information workers do not form the backbone of this country!!!). Service workers who don’t make minimum wage because their wages are to be off-set by tips…which they sometimes have to share with management. Agricultural workers with unclear immigration status who work and live in deplorable conditions, getting bottom dollar for their labor but paying top dollar for pretty much everything else, especially their substandard housing. Minimum wage workers who struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads as their labor further enriches the super-rich corporate moguls. And even though we don’t like to think about it, all those off-shore workers who have absolutely no protections, but whose labor keeps us looking spiffy and bargain prices.
For many, every day is Labor Day. Hard Labor Day. Maybe we need to change the name to Workers’ Day. Have marches and speeches instead of naps and backyard barbecues. Because we are all brothers and sisters. And when one suffers, we all do, whether we feel it or not.