Organize for meaningful social change

More than ever before, teens are speaking out about what kind of world they want their children to grow up in.

More than ever before, teens are speaking out about what kind of world they want their children to grow up in.

By Jamie York

Americans have no sense of history. We see the news headlines presented in the mass media, yet we have no understanding of historical causation, no understanding of how past events shape present events. The only historical knowledge we have is the information spoon-fed to us through the schools and the mass media, information often intended to steer us toward a linear way of thinking about history.

For example, Saddam Hussein is portrayed today as an evil dictator who ruthlessly gassed his own people, yet there is no mention that the nerve gas was used with the full knowledge of the U.S. government at the time. Officially, the government objected to the use of gas against the Kurds, but it took no action to prevent its use because it, like Saddam Hussein, was concerned with the Kurdish problem. The knowledge of the U.S. as a silent partner in the gassing of the Kurds provides important historical context, yet the media — in typical fashion — censor the news by omission.

Americans have been so dumbed-down by poor education, shallow news reporting, mindless entertainment, wasteful consumerism, and, now, by the greatly overblown fear of terrorism, that we allow our government to systematically alter the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The former Bush administration claimed, for example, that the secret wiretapping of Americans — Americans not even suspected of crimes — is constitutional. If we were properly educated in history, millions of us would be marching in the streets, walking off the job, and striking until our government rescinded all infringements upon the Constitution and expanded protection to ensure that this not happen again without the full knowledge and consent of the people.

The most important lessons that high school students must learn these days are critical thinking and historical causation. These concepts can be easily integrated into any class, but ignoring them will leave every child behind at a time when we need the younger generation to take control of the nation and restore genuine democracy so that we set a good example for the developing world and become good neighbors and trade partners instead of conquerors and bullies, so that we learn to solve problems through communication and consensus-building rather than warfare.

After 9/11, we rushed into war in Afghanistan — one of the poorest nations on Earth — in order to capture Osama bin Laden and destroy the Taliban. But we did neither. Instead, the Bush administration fabricated evidence and blatantly lied to the American people in order to invade Iraq. President Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home, yet wants to escalate the war in Afghanistan during the current worldwide economic crisis. To date, more than $604 billion has been wasted in Iraq when that money could have been put to great use here at home. Our “representative government” has become beholden to the big oil, defense and media corporations rather than to the people.

It is up to you, the youth of America, to actively work for meaningful social change. Perhaps, as a first step, practice Civics 101 and demand that military recruiters be denied access to your school during school hours. You can also form after-school discussion groups and political action groups. You can organize community teach-ins and marches. You can write articles for your school paper. And you can talk with your parents and grandparents about the lessons of Vietnam, Watergate, and COINTELPRO. You can even ask your school to invest in low-power community radio to provide music and news to the community near your school. Until the schools learn how to teach, educate yourselves.

Finally, consider these words from Pastor Martin Niemoller: “In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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The-times-they-are-a-changin’ – Dylan cover

The Mayonnaise Jar and the Two Beers

[This is a very nice, simple life lesson that young and old alike will appreciate. When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the Mayonnaise Jar and the Two Beers.]

A college professor stood before his Philosophy 201 class and had some items in front of him.

When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar He shook the jar lightly..
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.
Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.
The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else—the small stuff.
‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or golf balls.
The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Spend time with your children.
Spend time with your parents.
Visit with grandparents.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your spouse out to dinner.
Practice “romance” as often as possible.
There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.
Take care of “Mama” first—the things that really matter.
Set your priorities.
The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented.
The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’

The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

[Source Unknown]

Google’s new SketchUp 3D design software may help autistic kids develop life skills

By Jamie York

Google has developed software to help autistic children develop life skills. Although no two autistic children are the same, they all exhibit general obsessive-compulsive behaviors and language deficiencies. At the same time, however, these children often exhibit extraordinary computer gaming skills.

Google’s Project Spectrum has created Google SketchUp 3D modeling software to give people with autism the opportunity to express their creativity and develop a life skill. It is not a traditional video game as we think of such games, but is a creative tool for the child to design 3D environments.

“The idea for Project Spectrum originated when we began getting phone calls and emails from users telling us about how much kids on the autism spectrum were enjoying SketchUp,” Google tells educators. “As the calls kept coming in, we learned that people with autism tend to be visually and spatially gifted — that, in fact, they think in pictures. When people with these gifts get their hands on powerful, easy-to-use 3D design software like SketchUp, sparks tend to fly.”

The link for more information and a free download is http://sketchup.google.com/spectrum.html

Cheney Cries “Witch-hunt!”

By Jamie York

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is an angry man. Why, you ask? Well, Cheney was one of the chief promoters of the Iraq occupation and the policy of torturing “enemy combatants.” He is angry because President Obama may allow the creation of a “truth commission” — headed by a special law prosecutor — to determine if federal laws were broken and what punishment, if any, should be handed down. Cheney angrily refers to this process as a political “witch-hunt.” Cheney is attempting to turn the process from an independent, nonpartisan criminal investigation into an act of political retribution by Democrats against Republicans. He is attempting to ward off or stall any possible investigation of himself and others in the Bush administration. I can almost hear the paper shredders now….

We The People: Taxation, Spending, and Big Government

By Jamie York

Hardcore free-market Republicans often rail against “big government,” so let’s take a few minutes to figure out what the role of government should be in the United States.

What do we want from the federal government? What do we, as citizens, expect our government to be? What services do we want it to provide on our behalf?

The first thing about government is that we all want it to work for us, not against us. We do not want to be taxed excessively and we do not want to be spied upon like “big brother.” We want our elected officials to serve us honorably and we want our justice system to be fair and equal. I would venture to guess that few Americans would argue with these general points, no matter what their political beliefs.

Now, forget government for a minute. What do American citizens want America to be? Do we want the best health care and education in the world? Do we want retired citizens to have a guaranteed income? Do we want the strongest military in the world? Do we want clean energy? Do we want to do our part to end global warming? Do we want strong bridges? Do we want clean drinking water systems and good sewer systems? Do we want clean air to breathe? Do we want corporations to be able to do whatever they want without accountability or do we want them strictly regulated? Do we want corporations to have the same constitutional rights as individuals? Do we want a safe interstate system without potholes and other hazards? Do we want high-speed rail? Do we want safe food? Do we want equal rights for all, including the right to same-sex marriage? Do we want a minimum wage? Do we want a living wage? Do we want an unregulated mass media, with as few as five conglomerates controlling more than 50 percent of the news we get? Do we want more licenses for low-power radio and television stations? Do we want to permit torture techniques to be used on foreign prisoners? Do we want affordable housing? Do we want to ensure that the unemployed have an income until they find work? Do we want to bailout failing banks and large corporations?

Obviously, this list could go on and on and on, but for our purposes, we will end it here. These questions, when used to decide what role government should play, are where people part ways as Americans and become political opponents. There are those who look at a budget and scream “Pork!” when they see proposals for more unemployment insurance, a raise in the minimum wage, money to repair bridges on secondary highways, housing for the poor, more schools, local water projects, repair of inner city sewer systems, and so forth. Some people believe that the federal government should not be spending money for such things, yet they invariably support unlimited spending for war and preparations for war.

The problem with spending in general is, if we want something, someone has to pay for it. No one these days wants to take responsibility for increasing taxes, so the burden is passed on from the federal government to individual states, counties, cities, towns and villages. Revenue is created by increasing various kinds of taxes — like fuel taxes, hotel taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, “sin” taxes, and so forth. People who call for no tax increases and limited federal government mean that they do not want to say they support taxes at the federal level. They are not putting the needs of America first, but are playing party politics. They are trying to win House and Senate seats by claiming that they support limited government and no tax increases, but these shady politicians know full well that there will be new taxes at the state and/or the municipal level. Otherwise, the United States would fall apart at the seams. Oh wait, it already is!

It is largely the Republicans who want to be known as the party that believes in limited federal spending and the Democrats who believe the federal government has a responsibility to spend money for things that most Americans want and need. Republicans want to give tax breaks to the rich and super-rich and Democrats want this exclusive group to pay more federal taxes, largely by plugging the loopholes that allow the rich to maintain overseas addresses in order to escape the responsibility of paying federal taxes at all.

The thing that all Americans who have been hoodwinked into narrow thinking by blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly need to be aware of is that taxation is a responsibility of civil society. If we want Social Security to be viable — and it still is viable right now — then we need to pay into the system and perhaps even increase the amount of federal withholding for Social Security. Those who call for privatization — letting people choose to invest in the stock market instead of Social Security — would ruin one of the best federal programs ever created. The needs of the majority of Americans outweigh the needs of a few rich bankers who would get even richer from privatization. At some point we have to say “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And we say NO to privatization.

That said, we also must be responsible in the way our taxes are used. No question about it. We have to prioritize and plan. We have to save for projects that may not even be completed in our lifetime. For example, America’s infrastructure is old and in need of an upgrade. Many inner city and rural water and sewer systems, subways, bridges, roadways, housing projects, and railroads need replaced as soon as possible. These are long-term projects that may take 50 years or more to complete! Obviously, completing them is in the best interest of every single American, but are a nightmare for selfish politicians who want votes now and do not want to plan for the future or allocate funds for projects that may not be completed while the politician is still alive. America is slowly crumbling away and will continue to do so until citizens find the spine to think collectively and put all politicians on notice that the real needs of America and Americans must come first.

Now, I ask again, what do we want from our federal government? What do we want government to provide on our behalf? Does anyone not see how important the federal government is in our lives? We joke about it all the time — taxes to study the mating habits of the South American swamp rat, for example — but it all comes back to needs and priorities. No one wants to pay taxes for useless things and the working class are already taxed to the maximum, so the corporate rich and super-rich need to pay a greater share for the greater overall benefit of society. It is not the size of the federal government that matters, even if the federal government becomes the top employer in the nation and provides new public works jobs to tens of millions. What matters is that OUR federal government serve WE THE PEOPLE. That OUR federal government meets OUR needs — not the short-term, selfish needs of politicians, political parties, war profiteers, and unscrupulous media commentators.

Special Prosecutor needed after release of “torture memos”

By Jamie York

The Obama administration did the right thing in releasing the “torture memos” from the Bush administration and they should be applauded for it. However, the Department of Justice failed to call for an independent special prosecutor to investigate the memos. Learning the truth is one thing, but failing to hold individuals responsible for wrong-doing is quite another matter. How do we justify letting public officials off the hook for possible crimes when common citizens are expected to either follow the “rule of law” or risk going to prison. Public officials should not be above the law or given immunity for crimes. In the coming days and weeks, we will learn more about these torture memos and how public officials violated the Geneva Conventions and International Law.

Dear Mr. President: You are 0-2. What’s it gonna be?

By Jamie York

OK, Mr. Obama, you have my heartfelt congratulations! A Chicago grassroots organizer is now president of the United States. That is a major accomplishment in and of itself. It is early in your presidency and I am pleased that you have dealt with some of the worst offenses of the Bush administration through executive orders, but I must say that your larger policies concern me greatly. GREATLY.

First, there is the matter of privacy vs. warrantless wiretapping and electronic spying on Americans. Your Department of Justice, Mr. President, not only supports but goes beyond the Bush administration in preventing government accountability for willful violations of the law regarding COINTELPRO-style electronic eavesdropping. Your DOJ recently argued that the U.S. possesses “sovereign immunity” from misconduct lawsuits. Yet you pledged government accountability during the campaign. Strike one.

Then there is the matter of giving away billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to the same capitalist bankers that helped loot the public treasury in the first place. They must be laughing all the way out of the bank while our money goes to offshore accounts just as fast as they get their grubby hands on it. I got news for you: giving money to the banks is not going to stop the coming depression.

It seems to me that someone with ties to the Chicago grassroots community would bail out the unemployed and working poor first so that people do not lose their homes to the Wall Street thieves; to make sure that everyone has adequate food and access to health care whether they have a job with benefits or not. As you know, companies are laying off employees, eliminating health benefits, cutting back on retirement, and reducing hours in order to save money. What are people supposed to do? Starve? Turn to crime? Strike two.

Now I hear that you are asking Congress for more than $83 billion for continuing the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember very clearly what you said during the campaign and I even made a ringtone out of it so everyone I am around is reminded as well: “When I am elected president I am going to end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home.” (Crowd cheers.) $83 billion will bring the total amount of money wasted on war up to $1 trillion.

One Trillion Dollars. That is One Thousand Billion Dollars! Or One Million Million Dollars! And there is no end in sight because you cannot fight a cowardly hit-and-run tactic like terrorism no matter how many people you kill and no matter how much money you spend in trying. Of course, the money enriches the military contractors who constantly lobby for more money. But the American people suffer; the Iraqi people suffer; and the Afghani people suffer. Osama bin Laden could have been captured years ago if Bush would have asked for the world’s help rather than insisting that the United States did not need help — and then talking crazy about smoking evil-doers out of their holes. Bush was like a bad cartoon.

One Thousand Billion Dollars wasted while states scramble to find money to pay state employees, pay unemployment benefits, and pay for educating our children while teachers have to meet the unfunded burden of No Child Left Behind. States like Ohio are even looking at gambling to bring us out of of debt, as if the Wall Street gamblers have not done enough damage. Now the rich and super-rich casino operators will be holding us by the ankles and shaking us to make sure they get all of our money.

Casinos to pay for educating our children? What kind of craziness is this? Does this make sense to a Chicago grassroots organizer? Is this the way the United States should be operating? Isn’t there a more fair and equitable — indeed, a more reasonable — economic system that we could work toward? Shouldn’t we be making 5, 10, and 20-year plans in order to ensure that human beings are able to have a job, decent housing, health, dental and eye care, safe food, and clean air and drinking water? What has happened to our priorities in a nation that espouses freedom and democracy, yet leaves its citizens’ dreams at the mercy of the market?

Socialism may seem like a dirty word to the Wall Street bankers, casino operators, military contractors, FOX News anchors, and other assorted con men and thieves who now thrive in the every-man-for-himself jungle of international capitalism. But a nation can have both personal freedom and genuine democracy and take care of citizen needs. It’s not that hard. You nationalize the banks, utilities, oil companies, health care conglomerates and other major industries then run them in the public interest, not for private profit. You eliminate the profit-taking at the top and reinvest at the bottom. Imagine a wellness-based single payer health care system free of insurance tycoons who now have the audacity to step in and change a doctor’s orders because it would interfere with their profits? No more of that nonsense.

This does not mean that the United States become the Soviet Union. No one wants that. We make our own brand of socialism based upon our long-held belief in liberty and justice for all. We do not restrict personal freedom; we expand it. We welcome those immigrants now living and working in our nation by giving them the opportunity for citizenship. We pay everyone a living wage, provide expanded Medicare for all citizens, make sure that schools are fully funded, and we invest in green technologies to provide millions of jobs and get away from fossil fuels. We invest in rebuilding our dilapidated water and sewer systems, our bridges, our railroads, our inner cities. We develop high-speed rail. We use science to find new ways to improve our lives through research and development. We change outdated laws that now keep many non-violent offenders in prison and we use community policing and community corrections to focus on genuine rehabilitation rather than prison warehousing. We get government out of citizens’ bedrooms by permitting marriage unions between same sex couples.

Which road should a Chicago grassroots organizer choose? A road to individual prosperity and full-employment or the same old road where the rich man plays while the little man pays? We can rebuild our infrastructure or watch it crumble as roving gangs go from neighborhood to neighborhood stealing whatever they can. We can rethink our priorities on taking care of ourselves as citizens or we can watch our prisons become the number one industry in the nation. We can develop new green transportation now or do nothing as gas prices skyrocket to $10 or more per gallon.

Strike three? Let’s be real before you swing at the next pitch. The United States is a mess and there are no easy solutions or quick fixes. This ain’t McDonald’s. Social and economic change takes time and a willingness to sacrifice now so that future generations will not have to. Rebuilding infrastructure takes time, perhaps even more than one generation. Can we accept a way of life in which we may not see the benefits in our lifetime? It takes time to convert from a “me” society that leads the world in the consumption of fossil fuels to a “we” society that has a low carbon footprint. Until we can produce millions of electric commuter cars, we may even have to ration gas at some point, making sure that fuel goes to farmers and distribution outlets before personal use in automobiles.

Many sacrifices, some of which are unpredictable now, must be made so that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can live in a humane nation that prioritizes its needs and produces to meet those needs. If we fail to act soon, our children will be living in a fascist dictatorship where nothing is provided or guaranteed by government, including Social Security; where fuel is unavailable and food is not affordable for most people; where brown-outs and blackouts are commonplace as the electric grid fails from the lack of upkeep; where clean drinking water is unavailable because polluters have lobbied against regulations that impede their profit-taking; where few people can afford health insurance and those without the ability to pay up front are turned away by armed hospital guards. This is not science fiction. This is a glimpse at the future unless we, collectively, as citizens, demand of our leaders that we take a different road now.

Which road should a former grassroots organizer choose? The count is 0-2.