GE’s tax triumph

The howls of outrage about General Electric’s avoidance of U.S. corporate taxes are likely to die down soon to whimpers about how unfair it is and shoulder-shrugging from people thinking, What can I do about it, anyway?

 We can organize.

 Millions of us have the time, being unemployed, as well as highly educated, experienced and motivated.

 We know the American middle class has been under assault for decades, an attack propelled by lies about the “burdens” on corporations, obfuscations about competitiveness and empty promises about job creation.

 It’s time to stop listening to people whose private club bills amount to more than the average annual income when they insist that paying living wages and decent benefits will hurt us.

 We have only to look to China to see what Big Business means by “competitiveness.” It means slaving 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for pitiful wages in dangerous conditions, a metal cot in a room shared with many others and meals of rice and broth.

 The Chinese government works hand-in-hand with Big Business to ensure that its people have no options. This allows Big Business to profit and the government to rule unchallenged. Do you know how they do it?

By not allowing people to protest or organize. At the first hint of any such activity, Chinese citizens are punished with job loss, beatings, arrest, imprisonment, involuntary commitment to police-run mental “hospitals,” disappearance and murder.

Think that can’t happen here, that such a notion is far-fetched hysteria or exaggeration? Look at our labor history. With the willing aid of government, Big Business repeatedly crushed workers all across this country who protested. You don’t need to take my word for it, nor should you. Find out for yourselves.

As individuals, we are helpless, caught by forces we can’t control and circumstances we didn’t create. But in organized groups, we can apply enough pressure to pry capitulation from the powers that be. Big Business understands that. Why do you think it has made such a sustained assault on unions?

It’s no accident that our golden age of economic security, when a single wage earner could support an entire family, coincided with the union-driven expansion of the middle class and higher taxes on corporations and wealth. Notice also that those higher taxes did not prevent American corporations from innovating and growing.

But greed knows no limits. When violence failed, Big Business turned to the tried-and-true tactic of the Big Lie. Paying minimum wages will cost jobs. Paying taxes will cost jobs. Observing safety standards will cost jobs. Fairness in hiring will cost jobs.

In truth, paying exorbitant executive salaries, avoiding taxes and bowing to the dictates of Wall Street cost jobs.

After years of declining wages and unemployment, many of us are frightened and demoralized. It’s time to turn those feelings outward and use them as fuel for action against those who cause or abet these conditions. We could start by directing our outrage at two of the people who have responsibility for working conditions in our country: GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, recently appointed jobs-creation czar, and President Barack Obama, whose choice of Immelt for that position is perverse.

Flood their offices with messages of protest. Bombard their websites with mass complaints. Mail them copies of your mortgage foreclosures, layoff notices and unemployment applications. Arrange flash mobs to arrive wherever they go. Show up outside their homes, their offices, their country clubs, their business meetings, their vacation getaways, their appointments, appearances and speeches with protest signs, street theater, demands and heckling.

Our Declaration of Independence tells us we have not just a right to rebel against tyranny and injustice, we have a duty to do so.

If we allow ourselves to give up, tell ourselves we haven’t got the time, the money or the nerve to raise righteous hell, we’ll continue to be shafted. And we’ll deserve it.

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The power of anger

 

How many times have we been counseled about the dangers of anger?

From best-selling authors to preachers in pulpits, those who claim to know what’s best for us warn that anger will hurt us. We must move on, leave it behind, forgive and forget or risk suffering the terrible consequences of a supposedly corrosive, self-destroying emotion.

Even assuming that all of these people are well-meaning and sincere, the advice is misguided. In fact, it’s baloney.

Anger is the bedrock of a so-called bad attitude.

Anger surfaces at the moment delusion finally dies, helping clear the fog of lies, half-truths, wishful thinking, propaganda, denial and conventional wisdom to reveal stark reality.

Anger is the fuel that propels people to act, and to persist in spite of obstacles ranging from ridicule to death threats.

Why did American colonists revolt? What caused slaves to run away, women to protest, workers to organize? They were monumentally pissed off, as are the thousands of people in multiple states protesting attacks against public employees’ unions.

Anger is not to be confused with rage, bitterness or hatred. As energy, it is best used when cool and harnessed to a thoughtful plan of action, instead of letting it drive you to lash out in a heated reaction of the moment.

Don’t let anyone try to talk you out of your anger. It’s there for a reason. Find that reason, and do something about it.

Purging the inner Puritan, part two

“Better to give birth to eight children you can’t afford than to abort one you can.”

Four hundred years after their arrival in America, the sexual mores of the Puritans live on.

In fact, they have metastasized into an anti-life, anti-sex, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-earth view held by a sizeable number of noisy, busy-body fringe fanatics who call themselves pro-life. The truth is, they are suspicious of pleasure, distrust women and are frightened by sex. Pregnancy within their narrowly defined view of marriage is a blessing; otherwise, it is punishment for sex.

The above example of this attitude comes from a letter to the editor of a newspaper based in Merrillville, Indiana.

In this view, it’s better for children to suffer poverty and homelessness than for their mothers to make responsible birth-control decisions which might include abortion. This is pro-breeding, not pro-life.

Why do so-called pro-lifers lose interest in the quality of a child’s life as soon as it is born?

Probably because, in this Puritan-influenced view, only the afterlife is worthwhile. Life on earth is something to be suffered through, rather than celebrated and enjoyed. Birth is seen as the beginning of sin and the start of temptations, the event that separates the innocent from the tainted.

This belief would be pitiable, if it didn’t have so much power to distort normal human behavior with the stunting, fearful reactions of shame, guilt and condemnation.

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Purging my inner Puritan

On the first warm, sunny day of this year, I spent the afternoon lounging on the old couch that sits on the back screened porch.

 Even though it was a weekday, and thus a work day, I did no work that afternoon. I crocheted, watched the birds, enjoyed the warm breeze, admired the clouds, let random thoughts flit through my head, listened to the first frogs chirp and then took a nap. My dog snoozed in a sunny spot on the floor nearby, while my cat stretched out on my torso for her own nap.

According to conventional wisdom, I “wasted” this time because it wasn’t devoted to work that earned money. Although it contributed greatly to my happiness, brought me peace of mind and let me indulge in a creative pursuit, it left me open to criticism as lazy, self-indulgent and possessed of an inadequately developed work ethic.

To which I say, Good for me. As individuals, families, communities and a country, we’d all be a lot better off if we spent less time enslaved by that part of our American heritage known as the Puritan work ethic.

Although the reference to Puritans usually gets dropped, their hideous work ethic lives on, like the half-life of radioactive waste that is able to sicken or kill for hundreds of years.

It lives on in jobs that claim the bulk of our waking hours, leaving little left for our families, less for us as individuals and almost nothing for the community. Time is the currency of our lives, and Americans spend too much of it grinding away at work. Even worse, we feel guilty about doing anything that isn’t work.

We have stunted our capacities for joy, creativity, spontaneity and friendship. These must be nourished, and that takes time, a precious “commodity” that conventional wisdom demands must be spent laboring.  

Let’s deconstruct the Puritan work ethic:

  • · Puritans came here seeking religious freedom. This is a half-truth. The whole truth is, Puritans were narrow-minded, hypocritical religious bigots who came here seeking freedom from persecution for themselves. They didn’t hesitate to practice the very types of persecution they fled, including banishment and execution for those whose beliefs differed from theirs.
  • · Real work is hard. Our religiously fanatical forebears distrusted pleasure and suspected that anything enjoyable smacked of sin. Thus, drudgery became a virtue. 
  • · Real work never ends. Idleness was thought to be the gateway to rebellion and sin. Any time not spent working, praying or reading the Bible was not only wasteful, but dangerous.

 The Puritans were control freaks. They understood that keeping people too busy and tired to think rendered them docile, obedient and unlikely to question authority. Today, our jobs do this. Work has become our religion and the god we worship is money.

 By that standard, I’ve become a heretic. It’s my belief that nobody should have to labor more than four hours a day for basic sustenance. The rest of our time – our lives – should be devoted to making ourselves happy, nurturing our families, enjoying our friendships and improving our communities.

 What a subversive idea.

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