Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Newest Golden Rule

Larry Sommers and the other big shot economists on Obama's team are expressing "foot stomping" rage that the Wall Street institutions that we have given Billions of dollars to have been using a good percentage of that money to pay bonuses to the same financial wizards that got us into this mess.

But they are powerless to do anything about it. They tell us we are a nation of laws. A contract is something that is sacrosanct. It can't be messed with or changed by a third party.

This will come as news to the hundreds of thousands of working people who have seen their pensions, healthcare and wages slashed. Just a matter of weeks ago, the government was threatening the jobs of tens of thousands of people whose jobs depend on the domestic auto industry. Given an ultimatum by the government, the auto workers were forced to accept wage cuts to put them more in line with what non-union workers receive.

What makes a contract between millionaires sacred and those between corporations and millions of workers profane?

Could it be the golden rule? He who has the gold makes the rule?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bailout: Bonus Bologna

by Cilla Sluga
Wait a minute! I learned today that AIG (American International Group), the same company that took more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money… my money; your money through our Federal Reserve System, now plans to give executive bonuses to the tune of $165 million. The same people that took AIG to the brink of collapse are rewarding themselves for their unimaginable mismanagement.

Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary pretended to be outraged on the Sunday morning talk show this weekend. He said he was foot-stomping mad and demanded that AIG not give the money. Unfortunately, he sighs forlornly, these bastards are going to get their money because lawyers said that AIG is contractually obligated to pay it.

Oh really? Contractually obligated, ey? Tell that to the auto worker in Detroit. Tell that to the retirees or those close to retirement, who paid into pension plans their entire work life, and had them guaranteed in their contracts, but will not receive them because the company claimed it could no longer afford it, and the courts backed them up.

What makes a contract between millionaires sacrosanct while contracts between corporations and their employees can be ripped into little pieces?

A political cartoon of a luxury liner going down. The Passengers are in the water. Above is a man in a helicopter with a megaphone shouting, “Attention! If you’re the Ship’s Captain, its investors or manufacturers, we’re here to rescue you.” Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Constitution.
A while back I heard a pundit say that this was a war between the people who showered before work and those who showered after. It is the absolute truth. And our “liberal” new administration has taken its stand with those who shower before work. Geithner can act and shout as loudly as he wants on television. However, unless the government does something about it, it’s hollow blather. AIG bigwigs should be worried about joining Bernie Madoff, rather than collecting their bonuses.

Crossposted at: Big Noise

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The First Few Steps

by Cilla Sluga & Mike Meiselman

It’s unusual to have such an in-depth conversation with a total stranger. But, we liked her almost immediately. She was tall, in her twenties and had a cute three cornered smile. She asked pointed questions and was not the least bit interested in chit-chat. Pretty remarkable since Jen was our server at a semi-fast food restaurant.

We’re not quite sure how the conversation started; however, within no time at all, Jen was asking us about our politics. She didn’t believe we were as lefty as we claimed. She asked if we knew any leftist anthems. Mike obliged her, there in the small restaurant dining room, by singing The Internationale, clenched fist in the air.

Eventually, she wanted to know what kind of activism we were currently involved in; when we told her we were disability rights activists, her eyes widened. Her sister had spina bifida.

Jen, was not just our server, it turns out she was the restaurant manager. She asked if our group needed money. What? Someone was offering to help our organization with cash. We tried to tell her we weren’t an official 501(3) C; that we probably weren’t eligible. However, she would not be deterred. She said, “If we can have a fundraiser for the local high school cheerleaders, surely we can have one for an organization that works for the rights of disenfranchised people.”

So, we promised to provide her with the information she required.

A week or so later, we took requisite documents to the restaurant and she sat down with us again. Her intensity and inquisitiveness had grown. She confessed she was not much of an activist, but was angry about a lot: School of the Americas, the wars, the budget crisis, poverty, racism, bigotry, and Rush Limbaugh to name a few.
She wanted to know what our group was doing right now. We told her about projects great and small. We talked about an accessible fishing pier at the lake. We told that the statue of Lincoln at the state capitol was still inaccessible, on this the bicentennial of “the great emancipator’s” birthday. When talked about involuntary sterilization act being debated in the state legislature; and other mutilations that children with disabilities have gone through, all at the hands of parents and guardians. She cried tears of anger and sadness.

She reminded us of others we know. They care, deeply, about the world and its people, but feel powerless to change it. She said she felt unable to change things… so rather than stay angry, she confessed, she put it out of her mind as much as she could.

We told her that anger was a good motivating force, and to use it; but it would not sustain her. The only real antidote to frustration and/or anger is activism. Jen said it was all so overwhelming; how could she just pick one or two things when so many things were wrong?

Both of us also remember feeling that way. The frustration Jen and others feels is like burning rubber off the tires; it makes a lot of smoke, just doesn’t get you anywhere. We found progressive groups of people and started working together to change things. We felt less angry because we were actually doing something. In fact, it was invigorating.

One thing you quickly learn once you start fighting back is that is that the enemies turn out to be the same entities. If you are fighting for a clean environment, you learn that the people behind the pollution are also responsible for derailing regulations on Wall Street. The same forces that profit from keeping institutions open are the same ones who profit from prescription drugs that are priced out of reach for people of poor and moderate means. They don’t want regulation either… they want profits. They don’t want equality, they want it all.

The ruling class wants us to fight with one another for limited resources so we don’t focus on them and their system of wealth for the rich and crumbs for the rest of us. We must continually fight, not just for the daily needs of our people, but also to knock chunks of power out of their hands and put it in ours.
She still wasn’t sure. We believe there are a lot of people in the same position. For them the most difficult step of a journey isn’t the first one. It’s more like the second or third step. Once you stick your toe into an issue, you can feel the power on the other side. What usually happens after that; people get scared, put blinders on and refuse to look at injustice any longer. It also requires us to examine our system of equality, wealth distribution and privilege. Once you start doing that, you get called names, like “red” and “socialist”. It is enough to scare most people away.

We want to say do not be deterred. Take Barack Obama’s story about grassroots organizing in Chicago. He saw the poverty; he knew the issues; he spoke to the people; yet at his first meeting, no one showed up. That’s pretty devastating. He was disheartened and thought about quitting. Then he thought that quitting and realized that wasn’t going to improve anything for the people he cared about. He felt he had no choice to but to try and try again. He succeeded in building leadership from the community where little existed before. That enabled him to go on to create or sustain other social movements.

Find your passion. Bring about change in your neighborhood, or city. Fight for women’s rights, or cleaning up the superfund site down the road, or racism, or disability equal rights. Change a neighbor, or local council’s idea about how to deal with people who are disfranchised and you are changing the world.

Crossposted at Big Noise.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Does White Skin Give You Privilege?

More than a few years ago, I relocated to Baltimore MD and went out looking for a job. I found one in a small factory on the west side of the city. They made pretend fireplaces out of concrete. The plant was filthy; there was concrete dust everywhere, but I was going to be making $2.00/hr. Beside the plant manager, I was the only white face there.

I went to introduce myself to my new co-workers. This is a hard working group of guys, I thought, as I watched them labor. The first guy I introduced myself to grunted and asked how much money I was making.

“Two bucks an hour,” I replied.

“Boys, we got a problem. This white boy is making two dollars an hour.” All I heard was angry laughter. The men gathered themselves together and walked in the direction I was coming from, the manager’s office. They opened the door and entered.

“How could you pay this kid 20 cents more than you are paying us. You cannot do that. He doesn’t have the faintest idea of what we do or how we do it… and you’re paying him more than you’re paying us!”

“OK, I’ll cut his pay. He will make what you are making.”

“WAIT A MINUTE,” I protested as my own self-interest was on the line. My co-workers joined me in protesting.

“You’re not gonna to cut his pay--you are gonna raise ours!” the workers insisted.

The manager disappeared for a few minutes, and returned with the news that every worker would now receive $2.00/hr.

After my first day’s work, my coworkers took me out for all the diet sodas I wanted, “on the house.”

The question is, why did the manager offer me an extra twenty cents an hour? Some of my coworkers had worked there for a year or more without a pay raise. They knew what they were doing. I was off the street. The management saw me as becoming the crew chief or supervisor. They did not think that any of their current employees would be able to do that job. Based on my white skin, they saw that I was “executive talent.” Apparently, white guys cannot judge talent.

The same thing happened to me when I went to work at a plating factory. Plating is filthy, corrosive, poisonous, dangerous, unhealthy, and as unpleasant a work environment can be.

The plant manager warmly received me. He expressed concern about being able to hold on to “talented workers.” He immediately told me I had a future if I stayed. He offered me considerably more an hour than what he was paying the 100% black workforce. He assured me that in no time he would move me into management.

When I was an organizer for the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, they sent me to be part of a team organizing the workers at a luxury resort in the mountains of Virginia, the Homestead. Opened in the 1800s, it represents the epitome of southern hospitality. Guests are still expected to “dress” for dinner.

The Homestead featured an all black wait staff and annual events, such as, the watermelon carrying races, etc. Since there had not been black people living in the county since the 1960s. The hotel imported Jamaicans every year to pretend to be “ole black Joe.” The wait staff lived on the grounds in an old run-down dormitory with three toilets and three showers for about 150 people.

Old postcard of rich white folk being entertained by tray races at the Homestead where black waiters carry trays on their heads and run.

Poverty is pervasive in this part of the mountains. Imagine houses with roofs caved in, but still inhabited.

It was a very difficult place to organize. More than one organizer had been chased out of town by a local shooting buckshot. Besides the coalmines, the hotel provided most of the employment in the area. People were glad to have any job.

My teenage daughter came to visit me in the middle of the campaign. She joined me on my rounds as I talked to people about the union. As my daughter saw the poor conditions the workers lived in, she said, “These people are certainly going to vote for a union. They have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.”

We lost the election for union representation 5 to 1. Why? In the words of more than one worker, “At least we have it better than the blacks.” And, they were right. They did not have much, but at least they were regarded by the local power structure as being “better than Black.” In an area where white people had very little, that meant a lot.

Our new Attorney General, Eric Holder, called us a nation of “cowards” for not having honest discussions about race in America. He is right. Stories like mine happen far more often than can be imagined. Black people know it; white people do not want to admit it, but white skin privilege exists.

Try renting an apartment. Statistics show that white people on a waiting list get housing before Black people. If you are white, you can go into a jewelry or clothing store worrying about security following you around.

Part of having an honest dialogue is to accept the reality that white people enjoy privilege based on their color and nothing else.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Howe Could They...

Updated 1-14-09

by Big Noise and Magitator

There is a perverse pride, being from Illinois. We take a chest thumping pride at our corrupt politics and gangster past. Our daughter, who lived in Chicago for several years, is now in Boston. When the Blago scandal broke, she and someone from Rhode Island were talking about it. The woman from RI was saying how corrupt their government was. Our daughter, with great bravado replied, “There was more corruption on my block in Chicago, than in the whole state of Rhode Island.”


Seriously, watch the Illinois pundits that provide commentary on national television. They smile while they pundit. Folks talk to one another about it on the street, smile and shrug. Illinois, the birthplace of “the smoke-filled room”; the “vote early and often” cliché; the patronage of the Dailey machine; the gangster owned city tow lots; and more. What more can we expect here?

I cannot deny I was a part of that Illinois “our politicians and more corrupt than your politicians” fun group. However, it all changed yesterday. I attended a committee hearing about the closure of Howe Developmental Center. We wanted to show our support for closure by showing up at the budget allocation commission meeting. No money means it would have to close.

Pic 1. Woman in raincoat talking on mic; second pic a sign that reads free our people, close Howe Now and third pic of young woman who uses a wheelchair and a man kneeling next to her.(Campaign for Real Choice Photo)

Howe is a hellhole of a residential facility. The federal government decertified it a year ago. Equip for Equality (our protection and advocacy agency) has investigated the facility seven times documenting describing in gruesome detail the deaths of 21 people and multiple instances of abysmal care. Two more people died there in the last two months. The United States Department of Justice is investigating violations of the Constitutional rights of the people living there.

The committee meeting was to start at 3:00. It started at 5:30 (it is after all, Illinois). When they finally met, their first order of business was to “quarantine” any action on the closure until sixty days after the senate impeachment trial verdict. Thus, they knocked the train to close Howe right off the track.

Have these folks every heard of multi-tasking? Can they only handle one thing at a time? People are dying for Christ’s sake!! Our most vulnerable people need action, their very lives are at stake; and this joint committee just put down the ball and walked off the court.

One legislator, Elaine Nekritz, Democrat from Des Plaines spoke for the closure of Howe. She noted Illinois dead last in offering community options to people with disabilities. She also pointed out we are under federal mandate to shut down these institutions. She was outvoted 10 to 1.

AFSCME, and other supporters of keeping Howe open want to use the additional time to pressure the politicians.

We have to use that same time to speak the truth to the legislators. As advocates for people with disabilities, we will use our voices for the most vulnerable. They should not disregard us. We have numbers: as we continue to organize ourselves, our strength will make them feel the power of the disability rights movement.

Crossposted at BigNoise

Here is excellent information on specifics on why Howe should be closed NOW

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Darrow Hozian

(Photo Description: Darrow smiling at the camera. Note the red bandanna he has on his left arm at the bottom of the picture; the bandannas served as our Action Team "colors" at last year's disability rights/independent living conference.)

I first met Darrow Hozian at the office of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois. I had just been hired and a major part of my duties was to write, publish and mail "The Catalyst", our monthly newsletter. When my first issue was completed and the printer delivered them to the CCDI office to mail to our membership, I had no idea what to do.

Luckily, for me, Darrow and his long time partner Janice Faulstich, had volunteered to do CCDI’s mass mailings a long time before me. They knew what to do. They knew how to sort the 1800 addresses by zip code and which zip codes went in rubber bands with which other. I was so glad to be working with them. It wasn't all that easy either.

Both Darrow and Janice had Cerebral Palsy; I had a hard time understanding what they were saying. Sometimes, they would get as frustrated with me as I would be frustrated with myself. But, we worked well together for two years and liked and respected each other. The Coalition office isn’t the same since Darrow and Janice no longer volunteer their labor there.

Darrow was an individual of tremendous strength and good will. He and Janice’s phone number were at the top of many people with disabilities phone list. If someone's personal assistant didn't show up or someone needed additional help, Darrow was there. If he wasn't Janice was.

Last week we heard from Janice that Darrow was in Intensive Care. This was the second time in the last several months Darrow was admitted to the ICU. I guess we were in denial. It was difficult to imagine someone of Darrow’s strength life being threatened.

On Friday, January 9, Janice got off the elevator at the ICU and knew that Darrow had passed.

Darrow and Janice; it is hard to say one name without the other. But, each has their own identity. They agreed on many things but, like all couples, had their disagreements too. Janice is looking forward to returning home and volunteer for even more tasks. She might even look for a job.

JoAnn Bayer and Darrow Hozian both died in the first two weeks of the New Year. How sad for all of us whose lives have been touched by them. How sad for the Disability Rights Movement to lose two of our shining stars. How important it is for the rest of us to do our best to find dozens of replacements for each leader we have lost.

Cilla (BigNoise) also wrote about Darrow today. You can read her column here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Harry and George H.W.

(Pictured: Harry Meiselman entertaining the crew playing his harmonica on the hangar deck of the USS San Jacinto circa, 1943)

President Bush and I share a history. We both have fathers who served aboard the USS San Jacinto in World War II. My father, Harry Meiselman, was an enlisted man who joined the Navy, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Before that, he was in vaudeville and worked in the Hoboken, N.J. ship yards. George H.W. Bush came from elite prep schools and Yale. My dad reached the rank of petty officer and “bossed” a quad 40 antiaircraft gun. George H.W. was an officer and a pilot.

Today, I watched the commissioning and setting of the first watch of the Navy’s newest nuclear powered super air craft carrier; which is named after my dad’s crew mate on the San Jacinto.

It filled me with emotion. First, was the disgust at the addition of a new weapon of mass destruction and world domination. Second though, was pride at seeing the crew of the boat running to “bring the ship to life.”

I saw our daughter, a Navy veteran,and the children of so many others of us facing the new challenges ahead them. I also thought of my father, as so many of our fathers, running to take their place in the struggle for victory in World War II.

My father died in 1963. Before George H.W. was elected to Congress, before he was CIA director, before he was Vice President or President. My father told a story about the shakedown cruise of the San Jacinto.

There weren’t many Jews on board; all of them were enlistees. The officer corps and the pilot positions were seemingly reserved for those of a higher class. My father referred to them as “young ivy leaguers”.

Before my father died, he told stories of “pogroms” aboard the ship. Young Ivy League pilots would search the ship looking for and beating jews. My father took pride that the Jewish crewmen gave as good as they got.

My father never mentioned George H.W. Bush by name. His story was about Jewish resistance to antisemitism. His stories were lessons for me and my brother not to allow others, no matter how rich or powerful, to push us down. He wanted us to defend ourselves.

I’m not saying that George H.W. Bush had anything to do with these pogroms my father spoke about. But, I do sometimes wonder.