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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

December 18, 2008


The Tip of the Iceberg?

Chrysler's closing its doors for at least a month brings more heartache to more people nationally than just the 53,000 employees who now have to figure out a way to pay for their kids' Christmas gifts this season. The closure effects parts' manufacturers directly; their employees who will now see many in their numbers laid off; and the families they lead along with the vendors which they buy from.

Without cash in their pockets, those directly affected by Chrysler's closing will include anyone who makes a living off of these now out-of-work employees.

But it's much worse than that. 3,600 Chrysler dealerships and their employees nationwide will have to come up with their own plans to stave off the bad demons this Holiday season as well. Salesmen and Sales Managers live off of their commissions and without customers who: (A) Can't afford a new vehicle and; (B) are less likely to purchase from a dealer they might not consider to be selling a viable product, these employees will certainly have to find other means of "contributing to our economy" in their near future.

Dealerships that I've shopped at and purchased from (I own 2 Chrysler cars today and have owned others in the past) and worked for (as an assistant service manager in the 1980's) also employ Service Managers and writers, car prep people, after-sales personnel (F & I guys), front office personnel and others who now will be wondering just what they're going to do in their near future as well.

And still that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Many auto dealerships lie in the center of commercial areas. As such, the surrounding businesses rely, in part, on the customers, would-be customers and employees of these dealerships for much of their business. Certainly those businesses will be affected without the Chrysler customers.

3,600 dealerships with around fifty employees each losing their livelihood are problematic enough. Now add the rest of the Americans affected more indirectly and try to guess how many people that includes.

Although allowing Big Finance to go on its merry with over a trillion dollars of US taxpayer money without forcing their CEO's and other top dawgs to even think about a pay cut, the auto industry is now "being considered" by President Bush to be allowed to go under. The term he's using is "an orderly bankruptcy".

"Under normal circumstances, no question bankruptcy court is the best way to work through credit and debt and restructuring,"
-Bush in a question-and-answer session at the American Enterprise Institute, a NeoCon enclave

Unfortunately these appear to be "normal circumstances". The Bush administration has presided over the worst job loss since the Great Depression. So what - another new favorite term used by President Bush - if an additional 53,000 Chrysler employees lose their jobs? So what if auto part suppliers can't meet payroll and have institute mass layoffs in order to stay in business? So what if General Motors follows suit next month and Ford closes its doors by August? And so what if all of newspapers who make huge profits from car dealerships and those businesses that rely on their local car dealerships have to fire tens of thousands of workers as well?

As long as it's "orderly", right?

Someone must have knocked on the Oval Office door when President Bush came back from his farewell trip to Afghanistan and the Iraqi shoe emporium and told him that restructuring is a great way to get rid of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Labor Union. Why else would he have such a change of heart?

And why is it that Big Finance is allowed to go on their merry way with so much of our taxpayer dollars while a real industry with real employees that makes a real, tangible product is now open for an "orderly bankruptcy" and probably a "less-than-orderly shutdown"?

We all know the reasons for that - money talks, labor walks, and this President balks.

If President Bush decides that he wishes to see that "orderly bankruptcy" and the destruction of the US auto industry, or at least the destruction of organized labor in this country, then President-Elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress must step in. First, the Congress must stop Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson from doling out any more of that $700 billion, even the $15 billion that remains. Next, they and PEOTUS Obama must promise that $15 billion to the US auto industry, publicly, as a bridge loan after he takes office on January 20, 2009.

And, finally, Obama must re-think, with the help of his cabinet and advisors, of course, what should really be done with the next $350 billion. After seeing what Big Finance did with the first $335 billion (plus the money outside of the TARP fund received by AIG and Citigroup, to name two), I'm not so sure they should get another dime.

Hey, I have an idea... Let's see what an "orderly bankruptcy" does for the Finance Industry. The jobs have already been lost, so what have we got to lose?

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I am a practicing Catholic. I love Christmas and the entire Christmas season. My friends refer to me as Mrs. Claus once the season begins in earnest (after Thanksgiving). A maternal relative wrote “The Night Before Christmas.” I’ve worked at soup kitchens and shelters on Christmas and never missed a midnight Mass.

I have solid Christmas credentials.

That said, I do not believe that there is a “war on Christmas” going on, despite conservatives’ annual cries that Christmas is under attack. In fact if anything, I think we might be having an overload of Christmas out there.

Back in October I went into Target and before my wondering eyes appeared Halloween displays *and* Christmas displays. As Charlie Brown would say, “Augh!”

I like my holidays one at a time, please. In the liturgical calendar, All Saint’s Day–the day after Halloween–precedes Christmas by seven weeks, including the four of Advent. The commercial year should reflect that, particularly as we celebrate the non-religious holiday of Thanksgiving at the end of November and winter does not officially begin until Dec. 21.

One of the generalized complaints made by the war on Christmas contingent is that people have forgotten that “Jesus Christ is the reason for the season.”
Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas, which is the celebration of the birth of Christ (even though historians and astronomers assert he was actually more likely born in the summer), but not the reason for the “season.” Pagans and Jews had been celebrating winter holidays for thousands of years before Christ came on the scene.

Solstice celebrations in Northern climes by Pagan Norsemen, Teutons and Celts preceded Christmas celebrations by millennia. Hanukkah was celebrated a good 2,000 years prior to Christ’s birth. So reason for the season? No. Reason for the day.

Where did the idea that there is a war against Christmas originate? Conservative talk show host and general bloviator, Bill O’Reilly, takes credit for the phrase and the movement, but the original citation actually was coined by the British-American paleo-conservative Peter Brimelow, former editor of the National Review, who began writing about the issue in 1999. O’Reilly took up the hue and cry a few years later.

In 2005, Fox News host, John Gibson wrote a book titled “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse than You Thought.”

Gibson’s subtitle is exegetical of the conservative argument: there’s a liberal “plot” to “ban” Christmas and it is being promulgated by “liberals.” Apparently all conservatives are Christians and all liberals are God-less.

Where does this idea come from? According to Brimelow (who also refers to Jews as non-whites and considers immigration the end of civilization as we know it, even though he himself emigrated from Britain to the U.S.), O’Reilly and Gibson, the American Civil Liberties Union is in cahoots with anti-Christian liberals and together these groups are trying to take Christ out of Christmas.

I no doubt qualify as a liberal to this triumvirate, but I fail to see where Christmas is being removed from the landscape. Since October I have seen nothing but Christmas everywhere I go. Stores and streets have been decorate for months, even though I didn’t get my Christmas tree until this week. Three radio stations in Philadelphia play nothing but Christmas music 24 hours a day. There are Christmas lights all along Chestnut Street and Broad Street, as well as a huge Christmas tree in the courtyard of City Hall.

There is a nativity scene on Independence Mall a mere 100 yards from the Constitution Center, cater-corner to the Liberty Bell and a block from Independence Hall. (The mall also houses the world’s largest menorah, for anyone who remembers that Jesus was born a Jew.)

Independence Mall is federal land and part of the federal park zone that is Fairmount Park. How is there a war on Christmas if Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus are ensconced on federal property? There may have been no room at the inn for the Christian first family in Bethlehem, but there certainly seems to be room on Independence Mall for them today.

Another salvo in the war on Christmas argument is that “Merry Christmas” greetings are being replaced with “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.”
This is simply silly. America is a majority Christian country. According to the most recent U.S. Census report, 76 percent of Americans are members of a Christian religion, with the largest group, 25 percent, being Catholic.

Fourteen percent of Americans identify as having no religious belief and the remaining ten percent is divided among Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religions. Go into any card shop and the display for Christmas is huge, with a small section for Hanukkah. It is amidst the Christmas selection that one finds the “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” cards.

One in four Americans is not Christian. Half my family is Jewish. I know they would be offended if I wished them “Merry Christmas” when they are not Christian. Three of my closest friends, while having been raised Christian, are not religious. They do not celebrate Christmas.

I don’t know the religious affiliations of all my co-workers nor of my students (I teach college) nor of many acquaintances. If one in four Americans *isn’t* Christian, why would I want to offend them by sending them a card that presumes that their belief system is the same as mine simply because I am in the majority? It’s one thing to give my priest a card that says “Merry Christmas,” but it’s another altogether to give that same card to one of my closest friends who is solidly an atheist–that would say I don’t care what her beliefs are (or aren’t). And how can I expect someone to consider *my* beliefs and not reciprocate?

Another argument in the war on Christmas arsenal is that groups like the ACLU are trying to “ban” Christmas from public places. Again, there’s no actual evidence of that, but even if there were, the Constitution–a document devised by men who were for the most part quite religious (so religious, in fact, that it would give some people pause in 2008)–is pretty specific about the separation of Church and State.

Here’s the thing that the war on Christmas crowd doesn’t seem to comprehend: One of the basic tenets of the founding of the United States of America was religious freedom. Many of the original colonists fled here to escape religious persecution because they lived in theocratic countries. In England, for example, there were wars between Catholics and Protestants–both Christians, but different perspectives. Lutheranism is itself a reformist sect of Catholicism and Anglicanism is yet another off-shoot of Catholicism.

What we learned from the Founding Fathers is that theocracy is oppressive and crippling. We have only to look at today’s theocracies, all of which are currently Muslim as opposed to Christian as were the theocracies of the 17th and 18th centuries, to see the impact of a theocratic government on the populace.
The Spanish Inquisition put millions to death in the name of one religion. Today suicide bombers kill unarmed civilians in the name of another religion. How can we as a democratic nation and in good conscience want to foist our personal religious beliefs on others?

Living in a democracy, as opposed to a theocracy, allows all of us to practice whatever religion we want–or not. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion: we get to choose.

Personally, I find the forcefulness of the war on Christmas folks to be oppressive and also anti-Christian. Jesus Christ didn’t run around oppressing others. In the Sermon on the Mount he speaks directly to all people about the need for love and succor of all people–he never says “my followers only.”

And Christ is explicit about one thing: The greatest thing is charity–love of others and giving to others.

I would love to have all my closest family and friends attend midnight Mass with me and sit through the Christmas vigil. I would love to have them witness what I witness when I sit at Mass. But that is my belief system, not theirs. And while I might feel a level of evangelical fervor at times, I quell it. Because I also live in an era where I see the dangers of evangelizing and proselytizing and how easily religious belief can crush others–literally. When my family was living in Israel and suicide bombings were happening with grisly frequency, I was terrified all the time that one of those bombings would one day claim the life of my sister, my nieces and nephew, my brother-in-law.

Some will say these acts are political, and they are. But they are predicated on religion–and how oppressive it can be when it subsumes governments. America’s Founding Fathers were very smart when they delineated the differences between Church and State. Many of them had lived through the reality of theocracy and had fled that oppression.

I want to be able to celebrate Christmas with all the love I feel on that day. I want to sit at Mass and feel the literal and metaphysical communion of saints. And because I live in a country which allows me the freedom to do so, I am safe in my church to do that. No governmental body will come and force me out or take me to jail or torture me or put me to death for doing so.

There is no war on Christmas. Christmas is safe–and so is Hanukkah and Solstice and December 25th as simply Thursday. The so-called war on Christmas is actually a war on religious freedom. That is not what our Founding Fathers wanted for our nation. Democracy gives us choices. It is actually those who declare that only their religious beliefs are valid who wage war on Christmas because they are waging war on what Christ himself said: Love others as I have loved you. That means not forcing your beliefs down others’ throats either figuratively or literally, because love means choices and so does freedom.

In response to what is being done about the banking situation, Denise writes:

Bush could have and should have already given the 14 billion dollar loan to the Big Three, however, his hesitation is probably due to the Neocons on the Senate side and the Neocons on the House side that immediately fired off a letter to him against helping the American Auto Makers unless he concedes to their demands of cutting the deal exactly the way the neocons in the senate were proposing. Again the wait has been too long and a lot of innocent want to be workers will experience a rough time during what should be a wonderful, generous time of celebration. Again, January 20th seems so far away considering the damage that is being done daily by this Administration and his callous followers. The closing of the plants is also another sign of the unwillingness of the wallstreet/bank bailout reapers to give credit to even the best of consumers (which number is steadily decreasing daily). The inventory builds up. Yes, even if the American auto industry offered big cuts there would still be no credit available for purchases. It is truly sad when a small majority of Americans are willing to let about the only last American product go under instead of stressing the importance of buy American.

As far as the rate cuts to the banks, you are right - it is not going to filter down to the ones who need it the most. As we read daily, executives are still getting their obnoxious salaries, bonuses and money is used to pay dividends while the rest of us are bleeding to death. Not only mortgage rates, but interest rate increases and freezing of credit lines on credit cards to consumers has also been taking place with no one willing to stop their greed and abusive practices. Doesn't matter if you pay on time - seems everyone is getting hit. Right when you think it can't get any worse it does.

In response to, "I guess everyone is aware that the $70 figure the union workers are accused of extorting hourly includes all of the costs for retiree's pensions and retiree's medical insurance. That $70 an hr. sure does shrink after all those legacy costs are deducted. This is also about union busting. And how much does the CEO make? How many millions, or hundred millions?" Ginger writes:

Thank you for setting that straight. The average figure I have seen, after all the legacy costs are deducted, is $24 an hour for the current workers. That's hardly going to break the CEO's banks. There's lots of blame to go around here, but putting it on the workers? Just a cheap shot by some who would love to see unions gone forever.

In response to Caroline Kennedy and the Iraqi Shoe-Thrower, Sheila Burleson writes (respectively):

First, Carolina Kennedy would be a terrific choice to take over Hillary's seat in the Senate. She may not have a lot of experience in the sleazy side of politics but she's written books about the Constitution and no one else seems to have READ it much less be able to discuss it. I like her for that Senate seat. What qualifications do others have - rich relatives?

The Iraqi shoe thrower is my new hero. The papers report "In Iraq, the throwing of shoes is a sign of complete disrespect." Ok in the USA it is a sign of great respect. So everyone who can BE THERE when the Chimp walks to that helicopter for his last ride from the White House in January, line up and throw your old shoes at him. What a great sendoff - millions of old shoes thrown at the Chimp to show him respect. Any old dirty socks available just sweeten the pot.

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-Noah Greenberg