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KC Labor Newsletter
The Week In Review, Sunday, February 8, 2004

‘America Debates Decency
That was a banner headline in this morning’s Kansas City Star. Bono’s choice of adjectives, Janet Jackson getting something off her chest, radio shock jocks making sailors blush—all this is causing some debate.

Now I think discussion about such topics is worthwhile. Even setting aside any moral or aesthetic considerations the mean spirited, coarse, boorish direction popular culture is taking is troubling. This is as true in the barnyard-in-the-city "humor" in purported comedies as it is in sadistic bloodshed revolving around sex crimes in what passes as "drama." And the top-rated "reality" television shows, whether set on a jungle island or in Donald Trump’s penthouse, mainly promote the good old-fashioned values of selfishness, greed, mockery and cruelty.

All this is, in my opinion, one of the symptoms of a very sick society. Any discussion that tries to ignore this will go nowhere.

But our masters are nothing if not opportunistic. The same forces who dominate our culture, along with what passes as news coverage, often welcome a vigorous debate of such matters. If we are focusing on such issues, or on other important but secondary questions, such as gay marriages vs. civil unions, they reason we won’t be troubling them about war, health care, education, environmental destruction, or budget deficits. And it doesn’t take long for them to inject the issue of censorship into any reaction of cultural outrage.

When I was a teenager a socialist psychiatrist, Eric Fromm, published an interesting book, The Sane Society. Fromm argued that the reality of the threat of nuclear annihilation of the planet was so inherently insane it was unreasonable to hope for sane, thinking individuals. Perhaps it’s now time for a similar book called The Decent Society.

By all means let’s talk about decency, maybe even try to set individual examples of decent behavior. But it is unrealistic to expect a norm of decency in a society driven by such inherently indecent methods of war, racism, sexism, homophobia, economic exploitation, and thought control. Those are the topics that must be prioritized for discussion—and dealt with—before we can expect the decency we deserve.

Random Act Of Decency and Solidarity

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“An army of sanitation workers stood solemnly outside a brownstone church in Red Hook, Brooklyn, yesterday morning to salute a colleague who was killed in a freakish accident while collecting trash.

“As bagpipes wailed, a coffin with the body of the worker, Eva M. Barrientos, was carried by an honor guard of police officers past more than 1,000 sanitation officials and workers, who lined up three deep in their forest green uniforms. The coffin was draped with the city flag - three vertical stripes of orange, white and blue.

“Ms. Barrientos, 41, and a mother of three, last week became the city's first female sanitation worker killed on the job, city officials said. During a routine trash collection in Bushwick on Monday, she climbed on top of a garbage truck to pull free a trash bag that had jammed the compactor when a mechanical lever came down on her.”—last Monday's New York Times

While such tributes are normal for police and firefighters killed in the line of duty this was the first such ceremony anyone could remember involving a blue collar city worker who died on the job.

Fighting Terrorism In Polk County
Thursday’s Des Moines Register reported,

"Three Des Moines peace activists have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury next week as part of an investigation that the activists believe is being conducted by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

"Activists Brian Terrell, Patti McKee and Elton Davis say they have been ordered to testify in federal court Tuesday about something documents describe only as a ‘possible violation of federal law.’

"Authorities also have subpoenaed membership and meeting records involving the Drake University chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild, a 65-year-old legal organization that frequently has been involved in social activism and the defense of public protesters.

"Government officials won't say what kind of crime the investigation involves."

Last November, these peace movement activists helped lead an antiwar conference, "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!" The event concluded with a peaceful protest at the Iowa National Guard headquarters where a dozen demonstrators were arrested.

Sally Frank, a Drake University law professor, and a leader of the Drake chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who several times has defended war protesters in court, said that "one can only assume that (the grand jury) is an attempt to put a chill on the peace movement in Iowa."

Heidi Boghosian, a spokeswoman for the New York office of the National Lawyers' Guild, said the subpoenas seek all records that would identify the officers of the Drake chapter in November 2003, the current location of any local offices, "as well as any meeting agenda or annual reports of this organization."

This is a very serious attack on civil liberties and everyone, especially those of us in the labor and peace movements, should be ready to rally to the defense of our sisters and brothers under Ashcroft’s gun in Iowa.

In Brief...
Bush/Blair Slip On WMD Lies. The fabrication about WMDs to justify the Iraq war has become hopelessly exposed. Bush appointed a commission to determine how "intelligence had failed him" and his ever faithful sidekick, Tony Blair, quickly did the same. But in the latest polls more Americans now believe the war was not justified than those continuing to buy it. And a majority in Britain think Tony Blair should resign.
On the Lighter Side. There are reports that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now Enrolling Members In the Sawbuck Club
First, let me thank those of you who have made financial contributions to kclabor.org. You have helped us get by.

But, you know how it is. Give an inch and they want a kilometer. We would like to be able to expand our in depth news coverage and analysis of the North American labor movement. Regular monthly contributions can help us plan a realistic budget for travel and purchase of equipment. Ten dollars —a sawbuck in archaic American monetary parlance—a month from those of you who can afford it can make a big difference. As our way of saying thanks all Sawbuck Club members will be entitled to a free e-mail account at kclabor.org!

A one time donation:

Or join the Sawbuck Club with a Ten Dollar a Month Sustainer:

In solidarity,

Bill Onasch
webmaster, kclabor.org

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