Praise the Hoodie!

I’ve worn a “hoodie” as long as I can remember… I can remember my mother dressing me in a little hoodie (we called it a “sweatshirt”) back in the days when Eisenhower was president.

Obbie wears his favorite blue hoodie in 1995.

A hoodie is a great article of clothing for spring and fall… a heavy layer of cotton to keep warm, but not too heavy to carry when the weather warms up. If the sun goes away or the wind picks up, the hood pulls up over the head and draw strings tighten it up for extra warmth. There’s a big “kangaroo” pouch on the front, perfect for inserting cold hands (which rarely happened in my case, as my hands were usually busy with stuff like baseballs or basketballs).

Somewhere along the line, the hooded sweatshirt quit being a utilitarian piece of cool-weather clothing and became a fashion statement. We have friends that have been in the tie-dye business for many years, and they tell us that hoodies are now among their most popular items. Function has become fashion.

But now right-whinge blowhards are demonizing hoodies, saying that a 17-year-old kid walking home from the convenience store got shot and killed because he was wearing a hoodie. If these gutter-dwellers are to be believed, the hoodie is so threatening that if you wear one, a crazy yahoo with a gun can be forgiven for shooting you dead.

Obbie makes a fashion statement with a “threatening” backwards baseball cap in 1994.

That’s the same “blame the victim” BS that forgives the rapist for attacking a woman with a short skirt. In reality, this “logic” is a way of obfuscating racism, since the hoodie is only “threatening” if a black person is wearing it, just as a backwards baseball cap was deemed “threatening” a few years back.

If we’re going to criminalize a clothing style, lets start with suits. After all, it was (mostly) white guys in suits who ripped off our country to the tune of trillions of dollars over the past few years.

In the meantime, it’s a nice sunny day, so I should do something outside. But it’s kinda cool, so I’m gonna wear my blue hoodie.

The Evolution of Revolution

Establishing and maintaining an activist encampment – whether to blockade a nuclear power plant or to occupy a state capital or a city park – is a major logistical undertaking. The Wall Street occupiers learned a lot about doing this from the Wisconsin capital occupiers of last winter, who in turn represent a major progression from the anti-nuclear actions of a generation ago.

In the fall of 1981, I participated in a two-week “blockade” of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on the coast of central California. Nearly 2000 people were arrested during this action, and I was two of them. Occupy Wall Street reminds me of many of the things we did at Diablo that worked, and I also see the OWS crowd improving the things that we didn’t do that well.

The improvement I’m most impressed with relates to communication.

At Diablo, there came a time when money and energy were running out and we had to find a way to end the action and go home. A proposal was floated to declare the beginning of a “Phase 2″ of the blockade, and a discussion followed to define what that meant. The consensus process we used gave every individual veto power over any proposal, so we started hearing things like, “We will block any statement that contains the word ‘end’.”

Words that anyone disapproved of were removed and/or replaced. Strong language got weak and ambiguous. A reasonable and well-thought-out statement got watered down into a bland mush that offended nobody and excited nobody. And it burned through hours of our time.

OWS did something right in the way it composed and approved its declaration.* It’s well-written and strongly worded, which can be nearly impossible when writing by committee. I can see the markings of a committee in the list of grievances, but something has improved in the process to keep the well-intentioned saboteurs from muddying the text.

On behalf of the veterans of the Diablo blockade, I will take credit for one innovation in meeting management displayed at OWS: the jiggling of fingers in the air as a substitute for applause. I saw this introduced at the Diablo encampment as the size of the meetings started getting larger. A speaker would say something, and many people would cheer or applaud in agreement. This made it difficult for everyone to hear the rest of what the speaker had to say, and it would disrupt the rhythm and the flow of the meeting.

So someone suggested that instead of cheering, we should wave our hands above our heads to signal our approval and agreement. A “cheer” could erupt without drowning out the speaker we’d be cheering.

It may have been something other activists were doing before. But it shows that at the very least, such actions are networking events. Activists representing a wide range of causes, constituencies and age groups have lots of time to hang out with each other and exchange ideas to solve problems.

Each action gets more organized, and new best practices evolve from this stock pot of activism.

* My favorite declaration came from a blogger at the occupation, which concisely and explicitly covered the most important points. It’s brief enough to quote here in full:

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

It’s Corporate Greed, Stupid

Back when Bill Clinton was running for president, his campaign office famously had a sign on the wall that read, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” It was how they reminded themselves what issue most concerned the voting public. Smart politicians would recognize that most people see corporate greed as the root of our economic problems, and adjust the sign on their wall accordingly.

For two generations, we have watched a handful of rich people hoard the wealth while the rest of us struggle more and more to get by. There’s a limit to how much the monarchs of our world can impoverish the rest of us before angry mobs with torches and pitchforks appear at the castle gates, and Occupy Wall Street is the modern equivalent of that angry mob.

Corporate funded media pundits feign mystification as to the grievances or demands of the 99-percenters. The truth is that these shills can’t say “corporate greed” (grievance) or “economic justice” (demand) out loud. After all, they’re employed by some of the largest corporations in the world, so they wouldn’t dare say anything favorable about the demonstrators. So all they have to offer are insults, ridicule and shoulder-shrugging.

Let me illustrate how greedy the banks have become during my lifetime. My first savings account had an interest rate that fluctuated between 4% and 5%. So if I had $10 in the bank for a year, I had $10.50 at the end of the year. That’s right, I made 5% interest on $10. My student loans had a 7% interest rate, and consumer loans typically were at 9%. Credit card interest rates of 12% were considered an outrage.

So if the bank charged 8% interest on a loan, their “cost” was the 5% they paid the depositors, so they made a 3% profit on the loan. (This sets aside their ability to loan out $5-10 for every dollar in deposits.) Bankers had no problem making a decent living under these conditions.

But now a savings account yields 0.5%, and that’s only if you have thousands of dollars in the bank. Meanwhile, consumer loans below 10% are rare, and credit card interest rates that low are little more than a dream. So the entire (typical) 12% interest rate the bank makes on a loan is gravy, since the depositors get next to nothing. Yet the banksters cry for more, and every time their price gouging is restrained, they find another fee to raise to make up for it.

This is one example among hundreds of how the rich are ripping off the rest of us, and of how the American dream has been crushed. As we were growing up, we were told this was a great country because if you played by the rules, worked hard, and got educated, then you would be taken care of and there was no limit to what you could achieve. But now millions of people who played along find their jobs shipped off to China, and those lucky enough to still have jobs work at poverty wages with no benefits.

So what was once the most prosperous country in the world has become a feudal society, where the money monarchs steal, swindle and hoard the wealth while leaving the rest of us with nothing. And then they wonder what the Occupy Wall Street movement is complaining about.

The great success of the Occupy movement (as of now) is that a national conversation has been started. We are aware that the system is broken, and we know why it’s broken. Now we must develop and enact a series of solutions to bring fairness, equality and opportunity back into our society.

I have a list of ideas that I intend to throw out into the ether for discussion in a series of posts over the coming days and weeks (as time permits). The money monarchs now own every square of the metaphorical Monopoly board we live on, and they’ve also seized all of the money. Now we need to change the rules so that the rest of us can find a way to survive and thrive.

Stay tuned.

Proposals (updated Nov 9, 2011):
How Much is Enough? The Case for a Maximum Wage

Sympathy for the Klutz

We’ve all had incidents at work that we’re not very proud of, but they’re the kinds of incidents that inspire a lot of good-natured banter with our co-workers. The day the wrong file was deleted, or an armload of dishes was dropped, that kind of thing.

A utility worker in the Arizona desert had that type of experience late last week. As he was trying to fix or replace a finicky piece of equipment, he flipped the wrong switch or cut the wrong wire or something, and all the lights went out from Orange County to Tijuana to Arizona.

As much of a disaster as that was, I’m willing to cut the poor worker some slack. We’ve all had our own experiences creating disasters, but things got fixed, and now we laugh about it with our coworkers in the lunch room. Read on

Why I’m a Conservative

I often participate in a discussion group where someone recently asked, “Is America center-right or center-left?” It got me to thinking about labels, and how they’ve been twisted, distorted and co-opted. Many respondents criticized the use of such labels, arguing that human character is far too complex to divide into black and white categories.

I felt compelled to weigh in, and I’ll share my answer with the rest of the class:

As I can see from previous answers, trying to use labels like “left,” “right,” “liberal,” “conservative,” etc. is too simplistic, and each label carries a certain amount of baggage that it doesn’t deserve.

I abhor environmental waste, the way that our culture frivolously destroys resources that may take millions of years to replace. By the same token, I don’t think we should be frivolous with money either. I would think that those are both “conservative” positions.

I also feel that we should treat one another with respect and dignity, that we have a duty as responsible community members to look out for each other and help each other out in times of need, and that if someone else’s lifestyle choices are no harm to me then they’re none of my business. When did any of this stop being a “conservative” position?

I think much of the American public falls in line with my “conservative” positions, but the politicians and pundits who talk this way are labelled “liberal” or “radical.” Many authors have pointed out studies and polls indicating that if politicians pursued policies that the public wants, the USA would be much more like Sweden.

Move La Crosse Community Theatre to the Hollywood Theatre

This was submitted as a letter to the editor to the La Crosse Tribune in reference to this story.

I wanted to feel excited about the plans for a shiny new theatre building along the river, but the more I thought about it the less sense it made. I’m not completely condemning this idea, I just think there are better ways to spend that amount of money.

If the La Crosse Community Theatre needs more space, and if La Crosse wishes to pay more than lip service to being a “historic” city, then the LCT should consider buying the Hollywood Theatre and adapting it to its needs. For $6.7 million, LCT could probably buy the building, bring it up to code, and divide the space into a main theatre, black box, etc. The end result would be a historic jewel of downtown La Crosse brought back to life, with more seating than in the current proposal, plenty of parking in a nearby ramp, and millions of dollars left over to do other good things that this city badly needs done.

The Hollywood Theatre has been a fixture in La Crosse life for generations. LCT can build on its history and give a new generation of theatre-goers the chance to see a play in the same room where their grandparents first saw a movie together; and it can give actors a chance to perform on the same stage where Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Winter and Leo Kottke once played.

The Hollywood Theatre is a historic jewel that needs to be a performance space again. LCT needs a bigger home. For anybody who can’t connect those dots, I have a bridge to sell.

 

La Crosse Tornado

Today a tornado touched down in our neighborhood. In the Grand Scheme of Things, it was a relatively minor tornado, but it did some strange things to our neighborhood.

Our situation: We’re OK, and our house is OK. There’s a small corner of our metal roof that’ll have to be nailed back down, and some pieces of our neighbor’s maple tree that need to be picked up, but our “damage” is minor compared to others within a block or two of us.

Read our storm story after the jump, and look at our photo gallery of the aftermath.

Read on

La Crosse Tornado – photo gallery

A series of photos from our neighborhood in the aftermath of the tornado we got yesterday (Sunday, May 22, 2011).

You can read our tornado story here.

The Crowd You Weren’t Allowed to See

20110221_LaborRally

La Crosse is usually a “slow news” town. That means that the five news organizations that cover this part of the world often struggle to find compelling copy to fill their time or their pages. They spend a lot of time covering inane stuff like high school show choirs or cute kids doing charity fundraisers.

There have been times when Tea Party rallies came thru town, and all the cameras and microphones would converge on an event attended by only a few dozen people. So when hundreds show up for a hastily planned town hall meeting for workers rights, that must surely be news, right?

Apparently, no. Not one reporter showed up. I asked some of the organizers if they had called the media. They said that not only did they tell the media it was happening, but once the hall was packed they called again and said, “There are close to 500 people here, you should come.”

If you don’t see a picture of this meeting at the top of the page, then click here.

If the “professional” media isn’t biased, then someone needs to explain to me why a dozen tea-baggers foaming at the mouth is newsworthy and several hundred progressives gathering on short notice isn’t.

UPDATE Thursday Feb. 23: Yesterday afternoon we attended a solidarity rally for union supporters outside City Hall, where hundreds of people held signs and chanted to passing rush hour traffic, and passing drivers honked their horns in support. One TV camera was spotted at the rally, but since no report could be found on any local media web sites, this video will have to do:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WQAljBN1Os

Busting Democracy

For groups of people to elect representatives to advocate their interests is a foundational principal of American democracy.

Imagine a scenario in which a president dictates how tax money is to be spent, and then announces that he is dissolving Congress and stripping citizens of their right to vote. The population would be unified in its outrage, and rightly so.

This is why Scott Walker’s proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights is so disturbing. Unions are nothing more than groups of employees who elect representatives to advocate on their behalf. Republicans in Wisconsin are trying to eliminate democracy in the workplace.

The right wing claims that this must be done to balance the budget. Bovine excrement! For one thing, the governor inherited a surplus, gave money away to his rich corporate buddies, and the”hole” in the budget is exactly the size of those giveaways. In spite of this, the state employee unions are willing to make the economic sacrifices outlined in this proposal in exchange for retention of their collective bargaining rights.

Walker greeted this gesture of compromise and accommodation with the words, “nothing doing.” This proves that the “save the budget” reasoning was a lie. This is all about crushing unions – dictating working conditions and shutting down any possibility of future negotiation.

This is mean-spirited and un-American, and it must not stand. I am ashamed of our governor for proposing this, but I am proud of our fellow citizens who are resisting.