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With all the mayhem that’s been going on in Washington, D.C. and across the United States, you’d think politicos would use some measure of wisdom.  I’ve been reading articles, watching news reports and tweeting stories, which I feel has some semblance, contrary to all the madness.

Yesterday was Halloween and I read an article on the New York Daily News’ website, which said a “Virginia county GOP sent out a mass email depicting an ugly and disturbing image of our president of the United States.”

A 2006, copyrighted AP image of Obama was created by Virginia GOP committee, which showed him as a skeletal, one-eyed man with a bullet piercing his head.

Now, I’m all for free speech in this country and abroad, but I do believe there are certain actions, which cannot be tolerated nor endorsed.  Any image portraying a sitting president of the United States in a derogatory manner, whether one agrees or not with their policies, is just unacceptable.  No one will ever totally agree with every policy a president or political figure believes in.  But the blatant disrespect of the highest office on earth is unfathomable.

There were policies that our 43rd president didn’t seem to have much wisdom in, but I certainly wouldn’t revert to name calling of any sort for his lack thereof.

Democracy is one of our country’s crown jewels, but relegating to such childish antics only chip away at the very fabric most Americans hold dear to.  Our right to free speech should never be used as a buffeting force as a means to dishonor any citizen – especially our President of the United States of America.

Poking fun at or using convoluted imagery to assault the commander-in-chief’s character only reveals how un-American one can be.

Here’s what I mean.

As a class assignment in my Digital Information in the Contemporary World, we were asked to address images and visual literacy.  One aspect of the assignment challenged us to “briefly check out one of five (assigned) sites listed, all of which use (and/or talk about) images and visualizations in different ways.  My group was given the charge of observing and critiquing the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal.  I’ll submit two questions my professor posed to the class as a whole.

What is the source of the image or visualization? What do you know about how it was created and why? (Do you know enough?)

The sources of the images are from various photographers.  Ocean Portal either has the rights to use these images with permission from the owners or they’re the sole owners of these images.  I would gather these images were created to support the writer’s view on coral reefs and how they thrive in the ocean or not.

Question two: Have the images been manipulated or modified in any way? (Can you tell?) Does the modification, if any, enhance or distort? (Can you tell?

Yes, the images were manipulated to a degree to show the negative impact coral reefs can experience. For instance, the images show coral reefs in their highlight of vibrancy and full of color thriving in an ocean untouched by humans.  But in another screen shot,  high temperatures cause corals to lose the microscopic algae need to produce food, which feed other animals.  The high temperatures experienced in our oceans were due to global warming which shows our carbon footprint.

I also pointed out that, “the images were “distorted” to a degree with the magnification and added colors, used by the popular program photo shop.  This is the exact method that was used to distort the AP photo of our 44th President, Barack Obama.

How does my assignment have any connection to this article?

Well, as I stated earlier, visualization is one form of communication, which allows the artist, author, or blogger to get their point across.  In a book my classmate Fayola C. mentioned in her analysis of, Readings in Information Visualization: Using vision to think  she added “people think in images as much as they do in words.”

I’d have to whole-heartedly agree to that!

The derogatory image was immediately condemned by Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell and the Democratic Party of Virgina Spokesman, Brian Coy after which, the committee issued a public apology.

“The controversial image was first reported on the northern Virginia blog, Too Conservative.”

Even though the apology was issued, this group of free speech citizens wanted to justify their acts by declaring this in their statement, “[t]he Loudoun County Republican Committee yesterday sent an email to its members that represented a light-hearted attempt to inject satire into the Halloween holiday.”

I hardly call that humor.

Miranda A. Walker is currently in her freshman year in the B.A. in Communication & Culture program at CUNY School of Professional Studies.  She works in the multi-media industry as an Executive Assistant at the New York Daily News.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her children and reading immensely.  Her dream is to one day run her own company.

A few weeks ago, in a supposed attempt to put a dent in the federal deficit, Obama announced that he would be freezing wages for federal employees—over 2 million workers.  Obama said, “The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice…And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.” This is just pure nonsense. Freezing wages for working class people in bad economic times will at best only contribute to a sluggish recovery, and at worst contribute to a double-dip into a recession.  Furthermore, why do ordinary Americans—most federal employees are not analysts making 6 figures—have to share the sacrifice alone? What about the rich?  Maybe they will just share their sacrifice in taxes….

Try again.  Yesterday, the Senate pretty much sured up the passage a controversial tax bill, as it cleared a procedural hurdle with overwhelming support.  The upside is that the bill extends unemployment benefits for 13 months. The downside is, well, everything else. Worst of all, it will extend Bush-era tax cuts, including the ones for the rich—going against one of his biggest campaign promises not to do so.  This part of the bill was forcefully pushed by Republicans but Obama easily caved in, per usual these days.  Yes, you heard me right. The bankers on Wall St. and the other super rich get “socialism for the rich” through bailouts, and they also get rewarded with tax breaks.

Firstly, this is, and should be, a huge insult to every working person in the United States.  It shows that bankers and corporations matter most, and they will be rewarded no matter how much they ruin our economy and people’s lives in the process.  Secondly, the fact that unemployment benefits were held hostage and tagged onto a bill that will hurt working people should also be an insult. Thirdly, it will add to the federal deficit by taking away billions of dollars in federal revenue.  Confused? Weren’t they trying to reduce that? Fourthly, it shows that the elites really don’t care about the deficit.  It is merely used as an excuse to attack social spending on programs and services that benefit working people, and at the same time ensure that the rich get richer.  Now it makes sense, no?

As I argued in a previous post, on the whole the Democrats are not able to put forth truly progressive economy policy because they are beholden to moneyed interests.  However, this seems to be the beginning of austerity programs that are not only regressive, but represent an escalation of the thirty years or so attack that has been taking place against working America.  Sadly, they will only worse under the coming Republican controlled House and weakened Democratic Senate. And, yes, this should be cause for great concern.

I could continue to explain the ills of the measures, but I think they speak for themselves.  The real question is what to do.  I think these recent events change the game plan a bit.  More than ever I am convinced that there is very little hope of getting any progressive measure passed in the next two years on a national level, and the chances of regressive measures has increased. Therefore, I believe we must focus more than ever on building grassroots opposition to any and all policies and forces that siege oppressed communities.  We need to start now if we are to have any influence in the years to come.

I think for the labor movement this means a few things.   It means that it is time for it to take its place as a leading actor and advocate for working and oppressed people everywhere. In a great article in the New Labor Forum, Stephen Lerner of SEIU says:

This is the time to offer a moral voice for those devastated by the economic crisis, and to have the courage and passion to liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of limited expectations. Unions, and their members, must join with communities long mired in poverty—and the tens of millions of people being forced out of the middle class—to imagine and articulate a vision of a better world, and to help lead the battle to win it. We have the opportunity to work with a growing group of potential allies to develop a plan and strategy to achieve that vision—but, to do so, we have to question and challenge long held assumptions and ideas.

One of those “long held assumptions” is that what is good for free market capitalism is good for us.  We need to ditch that in the gutter.  So, yes, we are in tough political climate, but we should use such hectic times to provide a true voice of hope and vision; and a vehicle to exercise collective will to reach it.  Let’s get started. It’s getting cold.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.

Sometime last year, David Mazzerelli, a 28 year-old advertising executive from Prato, Italy, developed something that makes liberals on this side of the pond cringe; a fascination for Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Ideology.

Inspired by the cries for lower taxes and less government, Mazzerelli had an epiphany; within a year, Tea Party Italia was born.

There are some substantial differences between the US Tea Party movement and that of Italy. For starters, the US tea partiers consider themselves conservatives while Italian tea partiers consider themselves liberals. Secondly, Mazzerelli’s Tea Party actually faintly resembles what one might expect a 1776-American-Revolution-Tea-Party-inspired movement to embody.

While he may have been inspired by Sarah Palin and her devotees, Mazzerelli certainly follows a different path of action. US tea partiers, aside from complaining about taxes and pontificating as to the damaging effects of the involvement of government in just about anything, like to skirt the edge of relevance by taking up issues such as abortion, gay rights, evolution, creationism and other such issues that are hardly germane to any economic related issue. Italian Tea Partiers on the other hand, restrict themselves to issues of the state. Mazzerelli says; “Before everything we refrain from taking positions on ethical, moral and religious themes. We’re interested in economic themes: less taxes, less public spending and less government.”

In a country that actually does have reality-fueled reasons for feeling skittish about skewed governmental priorities, schoolyard-like ethical mud-throwing takes a back burner with the Italian Tea Party on issues that surprisingly made it into the 21st century. Frankly, who needs Christine O’Donnell when you’ve got Pope Benedict XVI? The chances that he knows what’s in the first amendment might actually be greater.

Mazzerelli asserts that Italian tea partiers work together despite moral or ethical differences to focus on what the real issues are; “We have those that are pro-choice and those that are pro-life, those that are for the war in Iraq and those that are against it, but what unites us is the battle to have less government and more liberty.”

What the Italian Tea Party does not have are big names followed by throngs of people infatuated with conservative ideals that have nothing to do with the current state of affairs in the economy. In this respect, they have far surpassed the American Tea Party in terms of honest approbation, and relevancy. Furthermore, they have no plans for governmental affairs, nor do they seek affiliation with any party or any political figure; they are simply “by the people, for the people”, sending a message to the Italian government that Italy needs a change.

The Italian media has not dished out to the Italian Tea Party the same incessant limelight that the American Tea Party has gorged itself on, certainly no one has paid 2000 euros to see David Mazzerelli speak and so far, there has been no Italian Glenn Beck prototype spewing out melodramatic soliloquies on national television. In fact, Italian tea partiers consist mostly of educated young people, organizing meetings and protests that address the two issues that they stand for; less government, lower taxes.

Considering these two issues, which party has more reason to howl? I often suspect that many Americans simply cannot fathom how much they take for granted in the world. For the sake of time and space, I’ve erased the comparisons that I previously slathered across two pages of Microsoft’s cyber office monopoly. Let’s compare the bare minimum. [The following figures are taken from the CIA world factbook, http://www.worldwide-tax.com, http://www.taxrates.cc].

Imagine you make $50,000 dollars a year in the United States, what would your income tax rate be? Well, if you were filing as single or married and filing separately, it would be 25%, if married and filing jointly it would be 15%. What about in Italy? The current equivalent of $50,000 in euros is  38,162, which brings a standard tax rate of 38% whether single or married. By the way, the average GDP per capita in Italy is $29,000 (which would be  22,135 and taxed at 27%); in the US it’s $46,000 (with the same tax rate as $50,000). Click on the links above for further information or to compare corporate tax rates.

What about government spending? In 2009, US revenues were $2.104 trillion and expenditures were $3.52 trillion while public debt accounted for 53.5% of GDP; this is in a country with a population of 310,232,863 mind you, and a labor force of 154.2 million. In Italy, a country the size of California with a population of 58,090,681 and a labor force of 25 million, revenues totaled $987 billion in 2009 while expenditures were $1.099 trillion and public debt accounted for 115.8% of the GDP.

Before you accuse me of running a preferred narrative, let me digress: Yes, economies are bad all over the world. Yes we are all in a recession. But whilst republicans and democrats throw ostentatious stones at each other, O’Donnell and Palin ironically campaign for Intelligent design, and Berlusconi declares “Hey at least I’m not gay!” on national television, the world is once again manifesting those fun little side effects of human society that occur when the going gets tough: pissed off groups of people that demand change, some more relevant than others.

So what will become of these tea parties? Nothing, we might argue, and we may be right. Nevertheless, the Italian spawn of the American headline grabbers certainly make the latter seem like much ado about nothing.

Nina Michael is in her junior year in the BS in Business program at CUNY School of Professional Studies. Nina has been all over the world and loves traveling; she currently  lives between Italy and New York where she works as a professional English teacher and translator. She loves languages, food, coffee, wine and a good book; she is also a first-rate bartender.

Today is Election Day, and we could quite possibly see many changes in Congress and in governships. It’s just not the kind of change that President Obama and his supporters were hoping for. See, the Democrats are on track to lose seats in both the House and the Senate, with a very good chance of losing control of one or both of them.   The writing has been on the wall for months, as unemployment continues to remain high and foreclosures hit record numbers.  This has made people angry, very angry, and they are targeting their anger at the party in power—the Democrats.

The most visible, and I stress visible, example of citizen outrage has been the Tea Party.  Some have argued that their size and strength are not as massive as the media has made it out to be.  Regardless, their message has received immense media coverage. Tea Party supporters not only call for a reduction in government spending and tower taxes but also accuse the President of being a socialist. The latter, and of course the former, are most vocally expressed by Fox News personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck.

The first casualty of voter backlash happened in January, in Massachusetts, when Republican Scott Brown, in a special election, won the vacant U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy—a hero among liberal Democrats.  Brown campaigned on a platform that railed against the healthcare bill and decried the woes of government spending.  Now enter organized labor.

The very next day, the president of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka, released a video discussing the results in Massachusetts.  He rightfully pointed out that pundits in the corporate media were going to attribute the outcome to voters punishing the Democrats for overreaching in policy-making, when the opposite is true.  For example, on issues like healthcare, many Americans feel that the bill did not go far enough!  Trumka stressed that working people feel like Wall Street and the bankers are being taken care of but working people are not.  He said that Scott Brown’s victory should be a wake-up call to both Democrats and Labor.  It signaled that people want action and not excuses.  It was an excellent address.   However, what kind of action would Labor take as part of their wake-up call?

Well, even before the Brown victory, Trumka threatened to cut support for Democrats who didn’t push for a more comprehensive healthcare bill and who didn’t back the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Specifically concerning healthcare, Trumka issued a threat:

Well, we need to send them a special message: it’s that you may have forgotten what the labor movement did to get you elected; but, by God, we never will! And if you stab us in the back on health care this year don’t you dare ask us for our support next year!

Fast forward to the present. What has happened? Healthcare passed without a public option, EFCA is not even being talked about, and the government is not taking adequate measures to spur job creation—like something along the lines of a public works project of some sort.  Then, don’t forget that we have two wars going on and something called climate change. Oh, boy! Watch out! Labor must be planning to run more progressive candidates against Democratic incumbents who did not follow through, right? Wrong.

Instead, all of the blame is being put only on Republicans and Fox News.  Labor is scrambling, at the tune of millions of dollars, to get the very same Democrats who should be on the chopping block re-elected.  Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this situation?  Didn’t these people betray us?

I am in no way advocating that Labor throw their support behind the Republicans as a way to smite the Democrats. I am saying that if Labor truly wants to fight on behalf of working-class people, it needs to be able to flex its muscle and make good on its promises (and threats).  Otherwise, our elected officials have no reason to listen to us.  As Trumka, himself, noted, Americans truly want change in a progressive direction.  The labor movement should be at the forefront of providing a vehicle for that change, and to get on that path, the unions out there might want to question their relationship to the Democratic Party.

I would also like to make a suggestion to labor leaders and rank-and-file workers, alike.  We should always work to get the most pro-labor candidates in office, but time after time, we see politicians fall very short on their promises. There is a way, however, to increase the chances that our voices are heard and our demands met. And that way is to mobilize the power we have as workers outside of the ballot box.  Sometimes we need to vote with our feet in the streets.  We could definitely learn from our fellow workers in France about that.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.