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Remember Those Who Won Labor Day for You.

In 2008, America is bankrupt. The banking system itself is on life support. Millions of Americans are losing their homes. Millions more are unemployed or underemployed or for other reasons terrified of losing what little income our perverse economy allots them. The hateful Bush administration clings to the nation's back like a ravenous vulture while it picks our pockets and tears viciously at our Constitution and our precious civil liberties.

Democrats, for their part, just yesterday nominated a pair of fascist lapdogs who would have us believe that the cure for all the ills I've named is war, war, and more war. War on Russia, war on drugs, war on Iran, war on terror, war on everything for the next hundred years or so. Listening to their bellicose noise, thoughtful people can only conclude that the land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land we must flee before we're enslaved.

The idea of enslavement brings to mind the fact that Labor Day is coming once again. On this weekend, Americans who still labor and those who cannot find work will feast together at millions of picnics, barbecues, reunion dinners, and other joyous, commemorative celebrations. Precisely what those celebrations commemorate is the business of this essay.

What follows was written because, in observance of Labor Day 2002, National Public Radio aired a story about folk hero John Henry. I give you this item now because, on Labor Day 2008, American labor and America itself are in much worse shape than they were when this piece was written. While fascist boots stomp American labor into the dirt of poverty and humiliation, today seems a good time to recall once again the true story behind the creation of Labor Day. Here, then, is the item I call:

To Hell with John Henry: Make Mine Mother Jones!

In observance of Labor Day 2002, National Public Radio aired a story about folk hero John Henry. That was a poor choice. I'm here to tell you why.

John Henry was a tunnel driver on a railroad construction gang. He used a 9-pound hammer to drive drill bits into rock. Not everyone can swing a 9-pound hammer, so John Henry's job seemed secure. When the railroad bought a steam drill, John Henry bet his boss that he could work faster than the machine. A contest ensued. John Henry won, but the effort killed him when his heart burst at the finish. Folk ballads boast that John Henry “died with a hammer in his hand.”

Other fables tout fatal exploits of other blue-collar heroes. Casey Jones, for example, was an engineer famous on the railroad because he always arrived on time. Some stories say he was killed in a high-speed wreck as he raced to get back on schedule after leaving the station late. Other stories claim that his brakes failed on a grade. Gravity pulled the train downhill, faster and faster, until it jumped the track. Jones was supposedly “found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle, scalded to death by the steam.”

Folklore is heady stuff. Told in song, delivered in dulcet harmony by a trio like Peter, Paul and Mary or in a deific baritone by such as Johnny Cash, folk tales can swell our hearts and even bring tears. But folk tales are inappropriate for Labor Day, as NPR editors ought to know.

Facts about Labor Day are easy to come by, even from mainstream sources. I filched the following three paragraphs from the website of PBS News Hour:

"The observance of Labor Day began over 100 years ago. Conceived by America's labor unions as a testament to their cause, legislation sanctioning the holiday was shepherded through Congress amid labor unrest and signed by President Grover Cleveland as a reluctant election-year compromise.

"The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. In 1894, protests against President Cleveland's harsh [strike-breaking] methods made appeasement of workers a top political priority. In the wake of the [Pullman] strike, legislation was rushed through Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops [broke] the Pullman strike.

"1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born."

There it is. Labor Day is not about a poor slob who worked himself to death to avoid a layoff, nor is it about some hambone who got killed by faulty equipment. Labor Day was not granted us by benevolent government to commemorate victims like John Henry and Casey Jones. Instead Labor Day is a day of rest, wrested by organized labor from corrupt government. Labor Day is an apology for crimes committed by government acting illegally in the service of capital. It is a holiday snatched by workers from the grasping claws of greedy, ruthless industrialists, the likes of whom killed John Henry and Casey Jones and unsung hordes of other hard-working people.

If NPR wants to commemorate Labor Day, NPR should forget John Henry and instead air an item about a hero of the labor movement. Eugene V. Debs comes readily to mind. So do Lucy Parsons, Big Bill Haywood, the Haymarket Martyrs and dozens more.

Defenders of NPR may object that the people I just named were rabid socialists and revolutionaries. It's true. They were. So what? It's also true that they led the labor movement through a period when capital and government acted together without restraint to crush the labor movement and murder or in other ways silence its leaders. The movement persevered and survived because its leaders were as tough and ruthless as its enemies. They weren't saints. They were sinners and sometimes criminals. But they were heroes because they led the fight to end child labor - to win the 8-hour day - to get a minimum wage - to get Social Security - to make the workplace safe. That fight is not history, folks. It continues to this day.

So I say to National Public Radio: Stop telling fairy tales! Any observance of Labor Day that lauds John Henry and shuns Joe Hill is no tribute. If it remembers Casey Jones and forgets Mother Jones, it is a travesty. If it appeals to your establishmentarian, white-collar audience, if it wins you praise from them, it is nevertheless crappy, gutless journalism. If it is in fact the best you can do, then you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Children Killed By U.S. Airstrike In Afghanistan Were Guilty Of Sleeping

They had come together for a solemn occasion. But they had no idea how solemn the occasion would become.

An old friend, a friend of their families, a friend of the local police, had died some months ago, and they were preparing for a memorial service.
...

The adults were tending fires, cooking the next day's meal. The children were sleeping.
...

Then the bombs started falling.

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NIST Report Ends The 9/11 Truth Movement

I never realized how much damage the upcoming NIST report had already done to the 9/11 Truth movement until I read about it in the Rocky Mountain News. As the RMN says: "Truthers, over and out".
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Pakistan's Broken Coalition Faces A Null Transition

The eyes of the world will be on Denver this week as the Democratic party goes even further through the looking glass than anyone could have expected who wasn't paying attention all along.

Obama-Biden/2008: It's a world-class train wreck in agonizingly slow motion, and if that's not enough for you, there's another agonizing new disaster slowly unfolding in Georgia.

These of course are in addition to all the other disasters slowly unfolding in the rest of the world, most of which were already there three weeks ago.

But things are happening very quickly in Pakistan, where the governing coalition is coming apart, even as I write.

On the other hand, the eventual result of this "unpredictable crisis" appears to be well mapped out, and favorable to Americans of the elite policy-making persuasion.

It's funny how things work out in your favor once you start gaming the system.

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Taking on a common reply

In the beginning of 2003, the French smears were at their top, I saw all this on television. It's a great boost for ratings when you show Americans being anti-French there. And it was a great boost for my personal rage. Oh yes, I was really extremely pissed off. It's probable that I was already a little familiar with American politics, through websites on the internet. But I think I'll always date my real entry into politics at that point.

And the first thing I did then, was to go chat on Yahoo! Rooms. By then, those were not yet filled with porn bots, but rather with many passionnate American people. Unfortunately, most were too passionnate, and some were so passionnate that all they cared about was to paste stuff they read somewhere. Most conversations were frustrating, because I usually did not hesitate to get outright pissy, and there were always conservatives to shut me up.

But from time to time, there were some interesting conversations. And I remember, now that I read some of Arthur's essays, how one particular reply was common, whenever I suggested that maybe America had the 9/11 coming. I'm sure you've read that a million times already. Why I want to treat this one in particular is explained in this essay by Arthur:
At a certain point, I became aware that there was a certain approach, a particular kind of issue, that seemed to be under the surface wherever I looked. It came up with regard to almost every political issue I considered, it arose with regard to personal relationships and in connection with the view we each hold of ourselves, and it came up repeatedly with regard to literature and the other arts. It was the same issue, but it took me quite a while to realize what it was: very simply, it centered around the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell others.

Somehow I can't take this last part out of my head: the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell others.

One such story, as I was about to explain, came to me in the form of an analogy designed to shut me up, whenever I tried to point the finger at America. Here it is, you know what it is already:
"If a woman wears a short skirt, would you say she deserves to be raped ?"

And what to respond to that ? Yes ?

No, but this "story", this version of the 9/11 attacks is very telling about how one considers the country's doing over the last decades.

But first of all, I wanna start by saying that of course, no one deserves to be raped, and no one deserves to die. Or rather, some deserve to be raped/die but that doesn't mean we can do it. This is the usual confusion conservatives and democrats hope to foster among us, between explaining something and justifying it. Sheldon Richman, the libertarian guy with an awesome beard [i mean it, it's lovely], said what follows in a foreword to this gigantic work, detailing the history of US intervention since World War 2. It's called "Ancient History":
When Iranian revolutionaries entered the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and seized 52 Americans, President Jimmy Carter dismissed reminders of America's long intervention in Iran as "ancient history." Carter's point was not merely that previous U.S. policy could not excuse the hostage taking. His adjective also implied that there was nothing of value to be learned from that history. In his view, dredging up old matters was more than unhelpful; it was also dangerous, presumably because it could only serve the interests of America's adversaries. Thus, to raise historical issues was at least unpatriotic and maybe worse.[1]

As the United States finds itself in the aftermath of another crisis in the Middle East, it is worth the risk of opprobrium to ask why there should be hostility toward America in that region. Some insight can be gained by surveying official U.S. conduct in the Middle East since the end of World War II. Acknowledged herein is a fundamental, yet deplorably overlooked, distinction between understanding and excusing. The purpose of this survey is not to pardon acts of violence against innocent people but to understand the reasons that drive people to violent political acts.[2] The stubborn and often self-serving notion that the historical record is irrelevant because political violence is inexcusable ensures that Americans will be caught in crises in the Middle East and elsewhere for many years to come.

So now that this is put to rest, let's deal with the simple problem in the analogy: a woman wearing a short skirt. This is what they say. They think America's conduct in the last fifty years is akin to something as innocent and natural as a woman wearing a skirt ! After all the millions of dead people, the political assassinations, the invasions, the bombings, this is how they see their country. Of course that much I had been able to point out at the time.

But another problem with this analogy is how it traps you: when you try to point out the obvious, which is what I said just above, you basically say "But America is not as innocent as that, not even close, and even, very very far from that". That's when your opponent will say "A-HA ! I knew it !" He will very easily categorize you as an America hater. And thus, you are stuck between approving him and looking like a jerk.

So how to tackle this ? I really don't know. I think you'd need to be able to inject history lessons through short sentences. My approach would be, I think, to ask questions about civilian casualties from US interventions in the last century, and when I'd get no answer, I'd simply say : and so how do you know this is like walking with a provocative short skirt.

Oh yea, another form of this braindead and self-serving kind of analogy, this time from our very own Barack Obama:
We cannot afford to be a country of isolationists right now. 9/11 showed us that try as we might to ignore the rest of the world, our enemies will no longer ignore us. And so we need to maintain a strong foreign policy, relentless in pursuing our enemies and hopeful in promoting our values around the world.

Yes of course ! 9/11 happened because the US tried to ignore the world. It was minding its own business. And for that reason, came the attacks.

Power of narrative indeed.

Stephen Colbert: "Speak loudly and carry a big schtick."

I watch Stephen Colbert at least three times a week because I'm fascinated with his schtick. But of who or what Colbert may actually be BEHIND the schtick, I don't think anyone can speak and I DO think a great many people are deceived (myself perhaps among them).

Colbert's schtick is liberal pretending conservative, insanity pretending reason, secularity pretending faith, PC pretending machismo, intellect pretending idiocy, a great many things pretending a great many other, and who knows which is real? Does Colbert himself know which is real? And if he knows, why then should he (as I've heard him claim with seeming sincerity) forbid his children to watch the show? When is he serious? About what? I sometimes get a more-than-sneaking suspicion that beneath all pretense Colbert is just another mainstream Democrat, but of course I can't be certain.

Of just one thing about Colbert, I feel sure: He is part of the problem insofar as his schtick belittles and belies every question, every fact, every circumstance he pretends to address. His author interviews are key: Which of those authors was ever permitted to say anything serious about his work? When did that happen? How are we enlightened, how is our understanding of their work deepened if none are allowed to speak past or over Colbert's hot-mouthed inanity? One wonders what terrible event could possibly occur, what could be so dreadful that Colbert would ever speak of it seriously.

If nothing is serious (as he puts on), then everything has equal weight. Liberalism? Conservatism? Communism? Fascism? They're all the same. Vote one way; vote the other; vote for Mickey Mouse or don't vote at all (my personal preference) if it suits you. Up is down, left is right, black is white, parody is reality, sarcastic invective is the sweetest of praise, and what difference does it make, really, if Americans are sheltered by the rule of law as long as one has a Porsche and a mansion at Myrtle Beach?

What, then, will become of America? Nobody will get a clue watching Stephen Colbert.

J.M.

"It may be thought that I am prejudiced. Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if I were not."
Mark Twain
The Innocents Abroad

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