In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike — and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.
It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts — that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy — look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans.
Some pundits and pols, unfortunately, keep seeking to turn Labor Day into something entirely alien to its tradition. You may recall (as Paul Krugman did today) Eric Cantor’s tribute to business owners in his Labor Day message last year. On Friday we were treated to a Peggy Noonan column about Labor Day that wound up being about the “romance of the marketplace” and the deep insights of Ronald Reagan—who, whatever else you think about him, did not exactly exemplify the Work Ethic—into the connection between hard work and the American character.
Please: on this one day a year, can we be spared the contempt of the wealthy and the powerful for the “losers” who still work for wages and can’t seem to save and invest? Can Republican pols perhaps re-learn the lip service for the necessity of collective bargaining rights and the utility of unions they used to employ on occasions like this? And can conservative “thinkers” express some understanding that workers are not mere raw materials to be burned up in the creative forges of heroic capitalists? Can we please stipulate that the wildly unequal wealth and income levels in this country that are getting more unequal every day are not the pure product of natural or marketplace selection or—more laughable yet—the results of employers and individual workers freely contracting as equals?
The vituperation with which Walmart has attacked the living wage bill is perhaps most striking because capital’s threats, typically tacit, have actually been openly made. The City Council dared question the untrammeled control of capital, and now they’re seeing the result of such temerity. Even marginally shifting the locus of power from capital to labor— even if it’s done by a state that usually does the bidding of business—is enough to occasion outcry from the business community. DC’s deputy mayor, for instance, has said,“People have no idea how damaging this is,” and argued that even a veto wouldn’t be enough to restore business confidence.
The controversy throws into sharp relief one of our era’s great unspoken truths: Capitalist democracy, if not an oxymoron, is less a placid pairing than an acrimonious amalgamation. The marriage that Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced eternal is in fact a union of opposites. Inherent to capitalism is inequality, fundamental to democracy is equality. Class stratification, the lifeblood of capitalism, leaves democracy comatose. The economic “base,” to put it in classical Marxian terms, actively undermines the purported values of the political superstructure.
Capitalist democracy is a domesticated democracy. Even before it makes its existence visible in the political arena—via campaign donations and high-powered lobbyists—capital markedly narrows the range of policies available to citizens and their elected officials.
Krugman, “How the Other 47 Percent Lives”
David Sirota, “How Labor Day Was Hijacked”
Sarah Kliff, “Happy Labor Day, in Eight Charts”
Benjamin Sachs, “A New Kind of Union”
A few years ago I stopped doing Christmas. No cards, no decorations, no cookie baking, just a few presents bought mostly online, so no mall shopping. It was liberating.
If you really enjoy doing those things that’s fine, but I had come to think of the Christmas season as an ordeal. I remember one Christmas day I was so exhausted I spent most of the day napping while the kids played with their new presents. Once the chicks had flown the nest, I just stopped doing it. Maybe someday I’ll take Christmas-ing up again, but now I’m happier blowing it off.
Still, there’s no escaping it. Even the neighborhood nail salon run by cheerful Vietnamese ladies has swapped its usual piped-in romantic oldies for really awful Christmas pop music, including endless variations of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” It is painful.
Again, if you actually like the tinsel and the shopping and listening to Jimmy Boyd sing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” while you stand in line to get a present wrapped, I’m happy for you. Enjoy. Just leave me out of it.
Christmas season is now officially upon us. The best thing I can say so far is that nobody was trampled to death on so-called Black Friday. The worst thing that’s happened so far is that a man dressed as a clown had a heart attack and died during the Macy’s Parade, which I never watch.
(An onlooker said “I saw that, he was acting a little funny before he died.”)
Yet amid these protests, people still talked about feeling powerless beneath the moment — as if they had no choice but to shop.
“You have to have these things to enjoy your children and your family,” said Jackson’s friend Ebony Jones, who had secured two laptops ($187.99 each) for her 7 and 11 year olds.
Why must we buy? To demonstrate our love for others? To add a few more inches to our televisions? To help America recover from a vicious recession that itself was born of the desire for more?
Such questions make Jones wince. “It shouldn’t be that way, but in a sense there’s no way around it,” said Jones, a nurse. “Everything ends up with a dollar amount. Even your happiness.”
The black, rotting heart of American consumerism, indeed.
That said, I do not consider myself to be anti-Christmas. I contribute in my own way. I have sung in more Christmas Handel’s Messiahs than I can count. This year the chorale is doing a Bach advent cantata (the great “Wachet Auf”) plus the exquisite Christmas Oratorio by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns. Yes, I am actually conspiring to lure people into a church to listen to sacred music of the season, when they could be using that time to shop. Shoot me.
But by Fox News standards, I’m the enemy. To them, the meaning of Christmas is forcing everyone to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” even if they aren’t Christian, or merry. I think of them as the Noel Nazis.
Christmas has become a monstrous beast made of avarice covered in cheap glitter. And every year the beast eats December, and much of November, and I don’t see it making many people over the age of 12 or so very happy. Mostly it just makes them greedy and frantic. If it could be chopped down to a reasonable size it would be so much nicer.
And if the piped-in music would at least include some traditional carols and not the pop-muzak crap, I’d be happier, too. I might even sing along with them. I love the old, traditional Christmas carols, and I hardly ever hear them any more, much less get to sing them.
If there are any devout Christians out there who would like to start a war to take Christmas back from Walmart, please do so. I’ll contribute to the cause.
Much going on around the world. Not all of it is bad.
It appears yesterday’s cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians was brokered by Hillary Clinton and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The Daily Caller is calling the deal “friendly to Hamas,” although the BooMan argues that the whole episode benefited Bibi Netanyahu more than anyone else.
Predictably, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, plus Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), issued a statement heaping praise on Mohammed Morsi and Bibi Netanyahu that didn’t mention Hillary Clinton at all. Because, you know, if they were to ever acknowledge anyone connected to the Obama Administration had done something right, their lips would fall off. The statement ends,
“Above all, the recent fighting in Gaza underscores that this is a moment in history when the future of the Middle East has never been less certain – and when the actions or inaction of the United States will be critical to determining what path this vital region takes. From the worsening civil war in Syria to the security vacuum in Libya, and from Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons to heightened tensions in Iraq, what happens in the Middle East will impact America’s vital national security interests for the foreseeable future, and stronger, smarter American leadership is desperately needed. There is no pivoting away from that fact.”
Guys, the election is over. You lost. Please stop being dicks about it.
Speaking of dicks, you might enjoy this clip of Soledad O’Brien taking apart Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who opposes Susan Rice’s possible nomination for Secretary of State.
A bit of the transcript:
O’BRIEN: I have asked others before how this does not compare, the Susan Rice issue, to the Condoleezza Rice issue on weapons of mass destruction. She was also wrong when she was the national security adviser, right? … Fast forward three years in 2005 when she was up to be secretary of state, it was Lindsey Graham who was furious that the Democrats were pushing back. It was Sen John mccain who were furious that the Democrats were pushing back on Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State. She was wrong on weapons of mass destruction. How is this different?
BURGESS: The difference is the scrutiny provided by our free press in this country. Condoleezza Rice was exposed to withering criticism by the press. I don’t see that happening now. Maybe I’ve missed something in the talking points, but I don’t see that happening. ….
O’BRIEN: So you’re confusing me there for a moment. When you say the scrutiny on the press — are you saying five days after comments of weapons of mass destruction, you feel like the media was picking apart Condoleezza Rice? I don’t think that’s true, Sir. Most people say that’s not the case. It took a long time. …. Hey, I’m all about scrutiny. I guess I like consistency, too. You were not calling for more scrutiny and you weren’t saying that the fact that Condoleezza Rice was wrong on weapons of mass destruction was going to damage her credibility as secretary of state. Again, McCain and Lindsey Graham were supporting that. It seems contradictory to me.
BURGESS: You’ll have to take that up with Senator McCain and Senator Graham.
Grandpa John has sort of backed off blaming Susan Rice for whatever he was blaming her for, sort of. But he still doesn’t like her.
And again speaking of dicks, House Republicans still are whining about Fast and Furious, for pity’s sake, and still are calling for a repeal of Obamacare. Here’s a clue for you, House Republicans: Ain’t gonna happen.
In other news, residents of Brookline, Massachusetts, are being terrorized by turkeys.
So far, no one has had to take shelter in a phone booth while wave upon wave of killer turkeys smash themselves against the glass. But they may not have phone booths in Brookline.
Enjoy your day.
My Grandpa finally home from the Western Front, some time in the summer of 1919, with Granny and my Dad. (Look at all the crochet stuff! Granny used to crochet a cover for anything that stood still for more than ten minutes. I still have a shawl she crocheted stored away somewhere.)
ALso, too, do read Gary Wills, “What Romney Lost.”
Because you can never see enough military drill — here are the Marines –
And here is the Army –
The Marines have snazzier uniforms.
Update: This one’s for c u n d gulag:
April 8 is Buddha’s birthday in Japan. I guess that other holiday somebody’s having today is nice, too.