Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time for action on jobs

Alana Semuels, of the L.A. Times, provides us this sobering report:

In May, a record 46% of all jobless Americans had been out of work for more than six months. That's the highest level since the government started keeping track in 1948, and it's about double the percentage of long-term unemployed seen during the brutal recession of the early 1980s.

Jobless Americans such as Mignon Veasley-Fields of Los Angeles don't need government data to tell them that something has changed. A former administrative assistant at an L.A. charter school, she has searched fruitlessly for employment for more than two years. She's losing hope of ever working again.

"If I were 18, I'd say, 'I can bounce back.' But I'm 61," said Veasley-Fields, a dignified woman with graying, close-cropped hair. "It's really scary. It's like someone just put a pillow over your head and smothered you."

Laid off in June 2008 from her $45,000-a-year post, Veasley-Fields at first wasn't overly concerned. A college graduate, she had always enjoyed steady employment, including a long stint as a research manager at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. She crafted a crisp resume, networked through job clubs and navigated online employment sites like the seasoned researcher that she is.

But weeks stretched into months, with hundreds of unanswered job applications. California's jobless rate in July stood at 12.3%, the third-highest in the nation, behind Nevada and Michigan. Veasley-Fields' unemployment benefits have run out, her credit cards are maxed. She fears losing the tidy mid-Wilshire District bungalow where she and her 77-year-old husband are raising two granddaughters. Above all, she's stunned that a middle-class life that took decades to build could unravel so quickly. She recently visited a food bank to secure enough staples to feed the girls.

"I'm just hanging on a thread," she said.

Veasley-Fields suspects her age isn't doing her any favors. Indeed, 50.9% of unemployed workers 55 to 64 have been out of work at least 27 weeks. That's the highest percentage of long-term unemployment for any age group.

But young workers are suffering too. In August, the unemployment rate for workers 16 to 24 was 18.1%.

Research has shown that economic downturns can stunt the prospects of these new entrants to the job market for a decade or longer. Some college graduates unable to find jobs in their chosen fields are forced to trade down to lower-skilled, often temporary work. That translates into puny wages, missed opportunities and a slower climb up the career ladder.

Our elected leaders need to be told loudly and clearly, that we need jobs right now. Rebuilding infrastructure would be a great way to put many to work. Yet why stop there? The WPA hired actors, writers, photographers. A lot of public high schools would really benefit from someone coming in to teach computer graphic design, or book-keeping. In fact, the government should be motivated to directly hire people for any kind of work that can be thought of. Freezing the pay of those already in the public sector won't do much to solve our nation's economic woes. We should demand that putting millions of Americans back to work take precedence over redistributing even more wealth upwards to those few who already control most of our nation's riches. We should also work towards establishing a better work environment for all, through rebuilding unions into a force that can once again improve the lot of all working Americans. We are proud of our patience and self-reliance. Now is the time to admit that our patience is exhausted. We must also recognize we need to start working together. Imagine if all the exploited "independent" truckers chose a day to stop driving, refusing to budge until the bosses were on the phone with the Teamsters? What if that same day all the underpaid call-center folks (there's still some left in the U.S.!) were to develop laryngitis? Or all the good public-sector people who just had their pay frozen. Can't come to work today, frostbite don't you know? There's no reason legions of unemployed folks should be lonely at home. Why not join with thousands of others on the State House steps? In short, let's get real people!

Monday, November 29, 2010

This is why we are so lucky in Rhode Island to have Senator Sheldon Whitehouse working in D.C. on our behalf:

The good Senator calmly takes the side of average citizens against huge banks, pointing out that even the banks sometimes benefit if they work in good faith to resolve a mortgage default situation. He is absolutely right that the current foreclosure mess is made worse by the failure of the banks to work in a meaningful way with homeowners. It's not asking too much that a bank send a live person with authority to meet with people before throwing them out on the street.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

School Days

Well our Thanksgiving break is over. Those who work to educate our youth return to school tomorrow, refreshed and eager to teach their brilliant pupils. That is, unless they happen to read this piece from the Onion:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive, nationwide evaluation of American schools Monday indicating that attempts to teach absolutely anything to these little shits is just a huge waste of everybody's time.

"We remain committed to providing every student in the country with access to a high-quality education," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adding that good schools are a key component to the success of American democracy. "But to be honest, none of that matters. We're not talking about promising young scholars here—we're talking about a bunch of fucking animals."

"We've basically flushed $11,000 down the toilet for every single one of these little bastards," Duncan continued. "Not to mention 18 years of my life."

The study, which analyzed the effectiveness of both public and private schools, found that efforts to enlighten these terrors on the subjects of math, history, grammar, and science are as productive as slamming your head into a goddamn brick wall. The research also confirmed that the unbearable shits, who take everything for granted, consistently piss away each learning opportunity they're given.

"When I first started teaching, I would see the smiling faces in my classroom and get excited about nurturing their young minds," said Melanie Whitman, 35, a first-grade teacher quoted in the report. "Now I can't look up from my desk without wanting to puke at the sight of all those little psychopaths."

Secretary Duncan said the study is the first to provide detailed evidence in support of the theory that third-grader Scott Kriesel is a complete fuck-up and perhaps even the living incarnation of Satan.

According to the report, billions of dollars in federal resources have been spent to modernize classrooms and improve teacher training, even though the little brats spend their entire days carving profanities into desks, shouting at whoever's in charge, and refusing to sit down, shut up, and actually learn something for once.

In addition, research suggests that school boards across the nation have grown tired of fighting to obtain funding for brand-new textbooks only to have the miserable fucks just deface them all with ejaculating penis drawings on the first day of class.

When asked if charter schools might help solve some of the problems faced by public education, Deputy Education Secretary Anthony W. Miller told reporters the data indicated any difference they made would amount to jack shit.

"Some charter schools perform better than their public counterparts, some don't," Miller said. "You can't change the fact that any school, no matter how it's funded, is ultimately just another type of building to contain these goddamn monsters for seven hours a day."

Miller added that more involvement from home was not the answer, either, as the little shits tend to have shithead parents who just make everything worse. The only findings from the study that provide a glimmer of hope, he said, are student absenteeism and dropout rates, which continue to increase.

"Christ, I dedicated my career to my students, actually thinking I could make a difference in their lives," middle-school teacher Joan Kubickers said Monday. "If I'd gone into public relations, I'd be making six figures by now. And at a PR firm, I bet I wouldn't have to worry about my tires getting slashed in the parking lot."

"Well, I have to go," she added. "The fucking hyenas in my third-period class await."

The Department of Education study comes on the heels of a survey last month that found 90 percent of all elementary school students resent being taught by pathetic losers who couldn't get a decent job in the real world.

I, for one. am glad they included the elementary kids' survey results at the end. They help prevent the article from overly romanticizing what goes on in our schools!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Loaves and fishes

Yesterday in Toronto, Tony Blair (former British P.M. and a recent convert to Catholicism) and Christopher Hitchens (noted author and atheist), debated whether religion has been a net force for good or evil in the world. This is a fascinating subject that we shall examine when the full videotape of the debate becomes available for analysis. Looking at U.S. history it is clear that some deeply religious people, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for example, have done tremendous good. Jerry Falwell? Not so much.

Is Christianity to blame for the hateful and anti-progressive attitudes of so many who profess to follow the cross? I would argue that at this moment in America we are not so much endangered by Christianity as we are by certain perversions of Christianity. Of course,"Christian" bigotry and violence are severe threats. In this piece by Mike Luz, however, the emphasis is more on how "conservative Christians" have radically distorted the fundamental Christian teachings of compassion and fairness.

Conservative Christians' primary argument regarding Jesus and politics is that all he cared about was spiritual matters and an individual's relationship with God. As a result, they say, all those references from Jesus about helping the poor relate only to private charity, not to society as a whole. Their belief is that Jesus, and the New Testament in general, is focused on one thing and one thing only: how do people get into heaven.

The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.

What there is: quote after quote about compassion for the poor. In Jesus' very first sermon of his ministry, the place where he launched his public career, he stated the reason he had come: to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to help the oppressed go free, and that he was here to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord -- which in Jewish tradition meant the year that poor debtors were forgiven their debts to bankers and the wealthy. In Luke 6, Jesus says the poor and hungry will be blessed, and the rich will be cursed. He urges his followers to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. The one time he really focuses on God's judgment and who goes to heaven is in Matthew 25, where he says those who go to heaven will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave shelter to the hungry, and welcomed the stranger -- and those who don't make it were the ones who refused to help the poor and oppressed.

And he was a really serious class warrior, too -- he wasn't just into helping the poor; he didn't seem to like rich folks very much. In Matthew 6, he focuses on the love of money as a major problem. In Luke 11, he berates a wealthy lawyer for burdening the poor. In Luke 12, he says that the wealthy who store up treasure are cursed by God. In Luke 14, he says if we throw a party, we should invite all poor people and no rich people, and suggests that the wealthy already turned down their invitation to God's feast, and that it is the poor who will get into heaven (a theme repeated multiple times). He says that the rich people will have a harder time getting to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. He chases the wealthy bankers and merchants from the Temple.

I have never heard a conservative Christian quote any of these verses -- not once, and I have been in a lot of discussions with Christian conservatives, and heard a lot of their speeches and sermons. The one verse they always quote (and I mean always -- I have never talked to a conservative Christian about economics and not heard them quote this verse) is the one time in which Jesus says that "the poor will always be with us." The reason they love this quote so much is that they interpret that line to mean that in spite of everything else Jesus said about the poor, that since the poor will always be with us, we don't need to worry about trying to help them. Apparently since the poor will always be with us, we can go ahead and screw them. But Jesus making a prediction that there will always be oppressive societies doesn't mean he wanted us to join the oppressors. By clinging desperately to that one verse in the Bible, and ignoring all the others about the poor and the rich, Christian conservatives show themselves to be hypocrites, plain and simple.

While this is certainly not a new tactic, I wish more progressive critics of conservative politicians would point out how various schemes are not only foolish, bad policy, but also in violation of the core "Christian values" the right-wingers profess to uphold.

Friday, November 26, 2010

North Spokane a beacon of light

This story helped to prolong my giving of thanks for another day. Craig Phillips could have simply seen the unused space he had to keep heating as a nuisance. Instead, he saw an opportunity to provide some help to those who need it most. Kudos for a job well done!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope with all my heart and soul that people are able to enjoy a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving. My family, friends and I are very blessed, and give each other support and love throughout the year. Remember challenges and disappointments may slow us, but they don't have to stop us. Live in peace, Ulysses.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Europe veering to the right?

Disgusted with Faux News, the new Tea partiers in Congress, and Rush Limbaugh? Wouldn't it be nice to pack up and move to Europe, that reliable bastion of social democratic sanity? Well, you might want to hold off on buying that one way ticket to Geneva. From Ian Traynor's piece in The Guardian:

The centre-left is losing support across Europe to the extreme right. Recent gains for the extremists have been at the expense of Sweden's and Austria's social democratic parties and the Dutch Labour party, with the far right prospering in cities with significant immigrant populations that traditionally voted for the left.

The anti-immigrant policy gains made in recent months look likely to continue. In Switzerland, polls show majority support for a referendum this month demanding summary deportation of foreigners sentenced for petty crimes, not just for more serious crimes as up till now. The plebiscite is being organised by the rightwing Swiss People's party, which a year ago won another referendum banning minarets.

In France there are growing calls within President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party for a merger with Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front. A poll last month showed one-third of UMP voters backed joint electoral pacts with the National Front. In Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi is in coalition with the far-right Northern League, the interior minister has announced a new crackdown on expelling EU citizens who cannot support themselves, a policy aimed at east European Roma and aping Sarkozy's summer expulsions in France.

When I lived in Italy the Roma (or "Gyspies") were certainly marginalized, but the government mostly tried to protect them from violence and harassment. Now it seems the Italians might follow the French lead and allow old prejudices to dictate current policy. The Swiss have never had much tolerance for non-wealthy foreigners, perhaps a new sort of xenophobia will prove a costly mistake. It could make them lose out on the benefits of having oil-rich Arabs spend money in their expensive shops and restaurants. In any case, if we could convince some of our Islamophobic nutcases to leave America and join their racist brethren, in the old country, we might catch a break. Who knows, they might even change their minds about "socialized medicine!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mobilizing Money

Here's a report by Michael Luo in today's New York Times:

In what may prove a significant development for the 2012 elections, David Brock, a prominent Democratic political operative, says he has amassed $4 million in pledges over the last few weeks and is moving quickly to hire a staff to set up what he hopes will become a permanent liberal counterweight over the airwaves to the Republican-leaning outside groups that spent so heavily on this year’s midterm elections. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former Maryland lieutenant governor and the eldest of Robert F. Kennedy's 11 children, has agreed to serve as the chairwoman of the group, which will be called American Bridge, lending to the still extremely nascent undertaking the weight of what remains one of the most significant families in Democratic politics.

Leading Democratic donors who have already pledged money to the group include Rob McKay, heir to the Taco Bell fortune and chairman of the Democracy Alliance, a partnership of wealthy liberal donors; Robert Dyson, who heads Dyson-Kissner-Moran, a takeover and acquisitions firm in New York City; and Marcia L. Carsey, a television producer who gave $1 million to Democratic outside groups in 2004.

Mr. Brock said in an interview that he planned to formally file papers with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to set up American Bridge as what is known as an independent-expenditure-only political action committee, meaning it will be able to take in contributions of unlimited size from individuals and corporations but must regularly disclose its donors.

This story should give me hope, but it actually makes me sad. I know first hand, from my recent experience working for David Cicilline's congressional campaign, that it is literally impossible to compete in American politics without some money. What makes me sad is that it takes so much money. I can't help wishing that some underfunded, populist David would soundly trounce the corporate-friendly Goliath and encourage other brave souls with limited resources to enter the fray. Voters often mistake the anti-intellectualism of conservatives for genuine anti-elitism. By railing against Paul Krugman, they can pretend to be attacking the establishment. Yet the truth is not many liberals of modest means get involved in national politics. If you're going to confront the power of the plutocrats it helps to have access to cash of your own. What I'd love to see is somebody who could mount a genuine grassroots campaign, without the need to bow and scrape before wealthy donors to stay in the game. We can only dream!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Donald gets an earful of Glenn Beck

It's truly amazing how this was put together so well by the creative genius at http://www.rebelliouspixels.com Enjoy!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fastening our own chains?

An alert reader clued me in to an interesting study that has yet to make a big splash in the media. The study, conducted by Cornell's Peter Enns and University of Tennessee's Nathan Kelly, compared attitudes towards progressive taxation and welfare spending in times of higher and lower income inequality.

New research findings add complexity to the basic assumption that humans act in their own economic self-interest. By analyzing hundreds of survey questions from 1952 to 2006, Peter Enns, assistant professor of government, and Nathan Kelly of the University of Tennessee found that as inequality rises, low income individuals' attitudes toward redistribution become more conservative. Their paper appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

"It's a bit of a conundrum," Enns admits.

The researchers also examined public opinion data on the question: Should government increase spending on welfare, keep it the same or decrease it? "As inequality rose, the high- and low-income respondents on average become less supportive of spending on welfare," Enns said. "And this is not because low-income people are unaware of inequality; our results show they are more aware of it than most people."

The researchers found that higher levels of household income inequality in the United States generate more conservative public opinion. "We broke down pubic opinion by income group and found the high- and low-income groups responding in a similar way, both becoming more conservative when inequality rises," Enns said. "We were very surprised to observe that the self-reinforcing aspect of inequality holds for high- and low-income groups, and how they move together in parallel over time."

Previous economic models predicted that low-income individuals will consistently support government redistribution. "If anything, when inequality rises, low-income people should become more supportive, and that's not what we observe in the data," said Enns, a member of the Institute for Social Sciences theme project on Judgment, Decision Making, and Social Behavior and faculty director of the Cornell Prison Education Program.

Conversely, when inequality declines, the public becomes more liberal. The public works projects and other social programs following the Great Depression helped promote decades of declining inequality into the 1960s, Enns said. "And then there's a shift," he said. "Once inequality starts going back up, it appears to be perpetuated by public opinion. If inequality declined in the United States, our results suggest that then the public would become more supportive of government redistribution."

Nevertheless, people in the lowest income group favor more redistribution than those in the highest income group.

How can we explain this? Part of it may be simply a reflection of greater conservative domination of media after Reagan's first election. Yet I have another theory. People tend to approach the world with a rational or magical bias. When the reality you observe seems to follow reasonable rules, then it makes sense to apply rational solutions to problems. When the world is way out of balance, then praying for miracles seems the best approach. When your uncle goes to college on the G.I. bill, prospers, and builds a house, then you might feel part of an economic and political system that can work for all. When the Reagan government starts saying that ketchup is a vegetable, and raises payroll taxes while cutting income taxes on the wealthy, then alienation begins. When CEOs, who used to make about 40 times what their workers made, start making more than 400 times an average worker's salary, then lower-income folks see they no longer live in the bosses' world. Capitalism is now obviously an obscure and impenetrable system, lavishing huge rewards on an ever smaller ruling class, while leaving most working folks to fall behind. The mythology of stardom replaces the belief in the Great Society. Rap stars from the projects, country music stars from the farm, these become heroic figures, while making good money as a union shop steward recedes as an impossible dream. Better to buy lottery scratch tickets than study engineering. Who can trust government to do the right thing with our tax dollars? Better to imagine the possibility of sudden, improbable success. In this magical world, the rich will someday take care of the poor without a government middleman, and we'll all live happily ever after. The sad truth is, without any faith that the system cares, then transferring some money from the rich to the government seems futile. Only those of us who still feel connected to the system might worry about making it work better. Sadly, many of the rich and powerful, who could do something about it, seem content to see income inequality get even worse.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Where are the jobs??!?

Here's a comment from Kat Posing, a Huffpost reader, responding to an article on age discrimination and other problems in the U.S. job market

I'm 45, work in IT and I'm scared to death of what will happen when I turn 50. I had the hardest time getting this job - I've got almost 20 years of experience, have managed large IT teams both local and overseas, but Im overqualified for a mid range or even some senior positions. Their afraid I'll ask for too much money or will leave when I find a better position. They can hire cheaper college grads (with no experience) or a visa holder or just plain outsource the job if they can.

It's funny, I've got a college degree in computer science, started working on an MBA, but I had someone from the Unemployment office ask me if I would be willing to take a 50% cut in pay to do the same job. Mortgage and car payments, child care, general cost of living don't just get cut in half overnight. Then they asked me if I would consider moving into another field. Every job I've got experience in - clerical, computer programming , business analyst, project manager, database analyst, even general middle management - has been decimated over the last 10 years. You are supposedly training people to do the type of work I do from previous manufacturing jobs.

My question is what job do I go to from here?

Oh yeah. Walmart greeter or a cashier at McDonalds

Fellow Huffpost reader, Jane Joad, has this response to the same piece:

Well I'm glad the nightmare we've (me and the old man) been living for almost two years has come to light. WE'RE TOO OLD ALREADY, he's 53, I'm 58 and even though we don't look like our parents, we look like SOMEBODY'S parents, and I think that the people doing the hiring, unless they are our peers, DON'T want us around.

Whether they feel threatened by our experience, or we just look too damn much like Mom and Dad, I don't know. Either way it's DISCRIMINATION.

They don't want to pay us what we deserve for the knowledge WE possess, yet they can't figure out why their business is doing bad and they lost so many customers. It's because that
kid you've got working for you, that you pay the minimum, is RUDE, incompetent and doesn't give a damn about your business.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. That used to mean something. Now we pay overseas workers less and CEO'S more for the INFERIOR products that flood our markets. I hope
this does some good. It should be the headline EVERYDAY until people our age are back to work.

BTW, Republicans ALREADY KNEW older workers were shut out. WHY do you think they want to raise the retirement age? Talk about death panels, these guys are making a CONCERTED EFFORT to PENURE a particular class of people.

I didn't work all my life and pay taxes since I was 16 to lose EVERYTHING NOW. But I AM.

The anguish of those who can't find work is heartbreaking, but the anxiety of even those who have a job is also palpable. I know there's no easy solution, but we can all pressure business and government leaders to make jobs a higher priority. As consumers we can try to buy union-made products, and avoid giving our hard-earned dollars to companies that aggressively exploit cheap labor. Those who try to help their short-term political interests by deliberately blocking useful, and job creating, public works (like Gov. Christie of N.J.) should be vilified-- and far more harshly than by the mild rebukes of a gentleman like Paul Krugman.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Patriotic Rich People Deserve Credit

Here is the text of an open letter that a group of millionaires is sending to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President

We are writing to urge you to stand firm against those who would put politics ahead of their country.

For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you allow tax cuts on incomes over $1,000,000 to expire at the end of this year as scheduled.

We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.

We have done very well over the last several years. Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don’t need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.

Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1,000,000 expire, is an important step in that direction.

So far, millionaires from all over the country have joined in this patriotic gesture. They have even set up a website that makes it easy for millionaires to add their name to the letter. If you happen to be a millionaire reading this blog you must do two things right away: 1)click on the paypal "donate" button towards the top right of my blog, and 2) visit the "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength" website and sign this letter!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A tough winter ahead

House Democrats, under an arrangement that requires a two-thirds majority for passage, were unable to extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans. As Arthur Delaney reports:

The House of Representatives on Thursday voted down a measure that would have reauthorized extended unemployment insurance for another three months, leaving no clear path forward to prevent the benefits from lapsing as scheduled on Nov. 30.

Without a reauthorization, the Labor Department estimates that two million long-term unemployed will prematurely stop receiving benefits before the end of the year.

"I think it's a sad moment," said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) after the vote. "It appalls me that the Republicans keep pitching and pitching and pitching the tax cuts for the rich and won't join in a bill to help people keep their homes and not have to live in their cars."

The bill was brought to the floor under a "suspension of the rules," meaning it required approval from two-thirds of the House. It failed 258 to 154, with mostly Democratic support. Twenty-one Republicans voted in favor and 11 Democrats voted nay.

I guess it shouldn't be any surprise that Heath Shuler was one of the 11 so-called "Democrats" who voted against continuing to help millions of jobless Americans survive. Nancy Pelosi should tell all of the families in his district, that will be hurt, to set up a "tent city" in Rep. Shuler's fancy neighborhood.

Alan Grayson gets real

It is a real shame we're losing Alan Grayson in Congress:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An easy choice

Robert Reich points out how sound economic policy and basic decency both demand the same response:

Republicans are still spouting nutty Social Darwinism. Cutting taxes on the rich is better than helping the unemployed, they say, because the rich will create jobs with their extra money while giving money to the unemployed reduces their desire to look for work.

Rubbish. The Bush tax cuts on the top never trickled down. Between 2002 and 2007 the median wage dropped, adjusted for inflation. And job growth was pathetic.

Jobless benefits don’t deter the unemployed from finding work. In most states, unemployment benefits are a fraction of former wages. And as long as unemployment remains sky-high, there are no jobs to be had anyway.

Besides, the economic downturn was hardly their fault. If anyone is to blame it’s the high-flyers on Wall Street who gambled away other people’s money, and the rich denizens of corporate executive suites who have sliced payrolls in order to show higher profits (and get more money from their stock options).

So why reward the people at the top with an extension of the Bush tax cut that will blow a hole in the budget deficit? And why fail to extend jobless benefits to hardworking Americans who got the boot?

Quick action is needed. Jobless benefits begin to lapse in just two weeks. Two million unemployed workers will be affected. If Congress fails to act, another 1.2 million will stop receiving benefits by the end of December. Most of the rest of those who now receive federal emergency extended benefits will gradually lose them.

Don’t extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. Give unemployment benefits to people who need them.

Secretary Reich was always my favorite face in the Clinton administration. He has an admirably direct and forceful style, while at the same time possessing a healthy respect for reality. I can't help wondering if President Obama might have had better economic success if he had chosen to heed Robert Reich's words more often.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Does it matter who's in charge?

Democrats who listen to the mainstream media may well be demoralized. They're being told that the U.S. has taken a hard turn to the right and that trying to do anything in this lame-duck session is pointless. Well, this interpretation of the midterm election results is wrong. Here's the latest from a CNN poll:

Asked if Republicans would do a better job of running the House, 44 percent said it would make no difference, 33 percent said they'd do better and 21 percent said worse. In 2006, 46 percent believed the newly-enabled Democratic majority would do a better job of running the House than the Republicans, 14 percent said they'd do worse and 39 percent predicted there'd be no difference.
Forty-one percent also said they don't think Republican control will make much difference when it comes to getting things done, while 32 percent believe more will get done and 26 percent predict less will get done.

The problem isn't that there's a major new groundswell of support for Republicans and their ideas. Only 33% expect positive change from Republican control of the house. This is likely the same third of the population who stood by the Republicans-- even after George W. Bush had done his worst damage to the party's reputation in his second term. The problem is that for many years most Americans have seen both parties as too deeply flawed to do a good job of running the country. In 2006 many Americans were completely fed up with Republican rule. Yet only 46% were convinced the Democrats could do a better job. Nearly as many (39%) felt that it didn't matter who was in charge. Now that "plague on both their houses" point of view is shared by 44% of survey respondents.

Now is a moment where the discouraged indifference of the public could be challenged. A vigorous defense of the "other 98%," leaving the Republicans no quarter, might give people something to recall, with fondness, as the plutocrats further destroy our freedoms and prosperity over the next couple of years. Are you ready, Harry Reid?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lame Duck Blues

So Congress is back in town for a little while before the current members are finished with their term. My fantasy would be to see departing Blue Dogs join with more progressive Democrats to do as much good as possible before their time is up. After all, why should they do any favors to the Republicans who are taking their place? My fear is that most Blue Dogs, and some of the more timid among the rest of the Democrats, will go out of their way to "compromise" with Republicans and prove to the corporate overlords they aren't any sort of threat. While Nancy Pelosi seems primed for a good fight, many wimps in the White House, and both houses of Congress, don't show signs of standing firm beside her. On tax-cuts for billionaires, extension of unemployment, the DISCLOSE Act, and other key issues the choice is clear-- act now or lose credibility with the people. While getting legislation passed out of the Senate is obviously the best outcome, sending popular bills to the Senate is a good thing by itself. The key is to shine the spotlight on those Senators who are so eager to shovel more money to those who already have most of it. Force them to justify the cuts, while insisting that there's no money available for extending unemployment. If the Senate obstructionists win the immediate battle for their billionaire friends, they'll lose a lot of ground in the war for public support.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A fundamental misunderstanding

One reason that the Republicans, and their big-money backers, still find support for cutting taxes on millionaires and billionaires is that the super-wealthy have been branded as "job-creators." The problem is that the description doesn't match the reality. Sure, sometimes the big corporations and super-wealthy create jobs. For example, a new Home Depot may be built in a suburban shopping plaza. People can get jobs there (albeit with low-wages and little or no benefits). Dig a little below the surface, however, and the picture is less straightforward. Home Depot is a huge chain with powerful purchasing power. They have used this power to force suppliers into cutting production costs on tools, lamps, lawnmowers and thousands of other items. Many of these suppliers have responded to this pressure by outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries. I can remember a revealing conversation I had with a Home Depot clerk who explained he used to work for the company that made the saw I was examining. "It was nice getting good pay to make a good product. Now I'm making peanuts selling stuff made overseas." So many working people have lost decent jobs that they'll even take crap jobs, often with their hours deliberately limited to fall just shy of receiving benefits. Of course we shouldn't forget that Home Depot won't be re-investing its profits in the local community, unlike the four small, family-owned businesses it will push into bankruptcy.

But what of the individual plutocrat, doesn't his spending stimulate the local economy? Consider the heir of an industrialist fortune, who conspires with Wall Street looters to move production overseas and sell off the family firm's assets for a quick profit. He may move to a tropical island, but even if he decides to maintain a country estate near the old factory town, so what? Are the thousands of people devastated by the collapse of local industry supposed to cheer because Phineas Bigbucks employs a half-dozen domestics to staff his mansion?

In short, creating jobs is something the super wealthy will do if, and only if, it suits their own interests. High unemployment rates mean lower wages, so these "job-creators,' actually have very little interest in creating many jobs. Of course genuine small-business owners (not billionaires) do have an interest in restoring American prosperity. A car-dealer, or furniture store owner, needs gainfully employed customers. Paying a slightly higher rate on the income earned over a quarter-million dollars would not hurt these people in the least. In fact, if anything, this modest raise on profits kept as income could spur people to re-invest more money into new hiring and business development.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Drowning in a sea of corporate cash

The recent midterm elections make this call for action, against unlimited corporate political spending, more important than ever:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Joe Miller is no Al Gore

The Tea Party- endorsed Joe Miller shocked everyone in Alaska when he defeated Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary race for U.S. Senate. Then Murkowski stunned observers by deciding to run for Senate as a write-in candidate, offering an alternative to the Republican and Democratic choices on the ballot. This whole drama became even more interesting when Miller finished second in the voting to the write-in total. Despite Sarah Palin's support, Miller had lost to Murkowski. Yet Miller and his lawyers clung to one shred of hope. Murkowski is a lot harder to spell than Miller! Without a doubt, some of the hardy Alaskans writing in her name might spell it Murcowski, or even Murkowsky. Miller and his lawyers would insist on throwing out all misspelled write-in ballots. Why? Well, while a rational vote counter might want to count a vote for Murkowsky as a vote for Murkowski, this procedure

makes no provision for the many voters who cast protest votes. Prior to the election, people commented on radio stations and in the comment sections in blogs and newspaper stories that they would deliberately incorrectly write-in a variation of "Murkowski" as a protest. They did so knowing that Murkowski was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a "spelling bee" campaign, replete with wrist bands, pencils and tattoos, all to educate the voters on proper spelling. Why was this done? Because even Murkowski had read the law and knew that it required proper spelling -- "No exceptions." So protest voters were trying to send a message to the candidate. The state has failed to create any guideline or standard that would account for the intent of the voter who intentionally cast a protest vote. To the contrary, the state is indicating that it will now count a protest vote, deliberately cast with a misspelling as a vote for Murkowski. This effectively nullifies the protest and falsely inflates the vote for the write-in candidate. In short, the state has become a super-voter and will override voter intent and recast the votes for the candidate the state chooses. This is at core a fraudulent abuse of the electoral process and severely undermines our democratic process. It makes a mockery of the voting process -- allowing voters to believe they cast a protest vote, but then overriding that vote by state fiat.

Miller and his lawyers seem to inhabit some strange parallel universe. There were indeed Alaskan voters who protested against Murkowski's candidacy. They voted for Miller, or even the Democrat Scott McAdams. There may have been a handful of protesters who wrote in "Mickey Mouse," or "Al Capone." What certainly did not happen was any sort of movement to "send a message through misspelling." Not even Joe Miller's supporters are that moronic. Still, our nation remains entertained by the continued adventures of this bizarre man.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thank you, Patrick Kennedy

From Patrick Kennedy's official House website:

A profound obstacle to public understanding of mental health stems from the artificial, centuries-old principle of separation of mind and body. Yet, breakthrough discoveries in brain science show that this antiquated split between mind and body is simply inaccurate. As emerging technologies make it increasingly possible for researchers to demonstrate the extent to which mental disorders and their treatment are connected to physical changes in the brain, public policy must follow suit by eliminating the historical discrimination in insurance coverage for mental health compared to physical health care.

That is why Congressman Kennedy was proud to introduce The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. This landmark legislation became law in 2008. On that day, a monumental victory was achieved for the over 25% of Americans who no longer have to face discrimination from their insurers when it comes to their mental health care. That day was a victory for Americans everywhere, as a civil rights gap was closed in this country, and a long standing form of discrimination was ended. The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act ensures that mental health benefits are offered at parity with medical benefits, providing access to mental health services for approximately 113 million Americans.

Patrick Kennedy did important work, on many issues, during the 16 years he served my Rhode Island district in Congress. Of all his accomplishments, the one that may have the greatest impact is his successful advocacy for mental health parity. We are lucky here in the 1st district to have a true public servant, honest and courageous, to represent our interests. I'm thankful that we were just able to elect David Cicilline, who can continue this good work and bring new interests and abilities to the job.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hit and run

A friend sent me word of this outrageous case out in Colorado:

EAGLE, Colorado — A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said Thursday.

Martin Joel Erzinger, 52, faces two misdemeanor traffic charges stemming from a July 3 incident when he allegedly hit bicyclist Dr. Steven Milo from behind then sped away, according to court documents.

Milo and his attorney, Harold Haddon, are livid about the prosecution's decision to drop the felony charge. They filed their objection Wednesday afternoon, the day after prosecutors notified Haddon's office by fax of their decision....

Erzinger, an Arrowhead homeowner, is a director in private wealth management at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Denver. His biography on Worth.com states that Erzinger is “dedicated to ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations.”

Erzinger manages more than $1 billion in assets. He would have to publicly disclose any felony charge within 30 days, according to North American Securities Dealers regulations.

Milo wrote in a letter to District Attorney Mark Hurlbert that the case “has always been about responsibility, not money.”

“Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway,” Milo wrote. “Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case.”

Hurlbert said Thursday that, in part, this case is about the money.

“The money has never been a priority for them. It is for us,” Hurlbert said. “Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it.”

Hurlbert said Erzinger is willing to take responsibility and pay restitution.

“Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it,” Hurlbert said. “When you're talking about restitution, you don't want to take away his ability to pay.”

Driving carelessly and causing serious injuries to a bicyclist demands that the driver do something to make up for his actions. If Mr. Erzinger had stopped, and called an ambulance, then maybe the prosecutor would be justified in declining to pursue felony charges in the case. Yet this wasn't like that. Mr. Erzinger tried to evade responsibility, fleeing the scene without any consideration for the fate of his victim. If a felony conviction would derail Mr. Erzinger's lucrative career, so what? Why this special consideration for a man of wealth? If a poor window-washer commits a felony, would this prosecutor let him off the hook because of the financial devastation a felony conviction would cause? The poor man doesn't have as far to fall, but he'll fall all the same. I can remember in legal history learning about the different values placed on the life of a serf or a noble. Killing the former would trigger the payment of a small fine, killing a lord was a capital offense. Is our society slipping back to a place where equality before the law is no longer the ideal?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tax cuts: a line in the sand?

The Democrats in Washington D.C. are at a real crossroads: they must choose whether to play offense or defense. The corporate lobbyists and mainstream media will try to convince the President and lawmakers on Capitol Hill that compromise with Republicans is the only sensible path to follow. What the monied interests really want is to be handed what they want right now, with the Democrats as co-conspirators in their schemes to defraud the American people. If the Democrats go along with this they will see themselves increasingly rejected by Americans outside the Beltway. On the other hand, Democrats could choose to offer reasonable policies and force Republicans to argue against them. On tax cuts, Democrats could propose the following: "We have no desire to impose an excessive tax burden on any American. We are happy to extend tax cuts for all Americans on the first quarter-million dollars of income. For most Americans, then, the tax cuts will not expire as called for in the original legislation passed by Republicans and signed into law by President Bush. There are some Americans who enjoy incomes of more than a quarter-million dollars. They will still see their tax cut extended on the first quarter-million dollars of income. We cannot ignore the national debt, however. In order to avoid exploding the debt, we will do as provided for in the law passed by Republicans and signed by President Bush-- we will allow the cuts to expire on income in excess of a quarter-million dollars per year. But we offer this compromise: if unemployment falls below 3%, national infrastructure is largely rebuilt, all Americans enjoy quality health care, and poverty is eliminated, then we'll take a look at giving another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires."

If Democrats were to keep repeating this line, and ignore the indignant howls of the plutocrat-enablers, the people would start to think that maybe someone in Washington cared about them after all.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

U.S. Chamber of Commerce hypocrisy and greed

Very nice piece exposing some of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's shenanigans:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keith Olbermann suspension at MSNBC

It's still not clear to me if Keith Olbermann violated a policy he thought only applied to straight news personnel at NBC. Why the star of an opinion/commentary show, on MSNBC, would be prohibited from making small, publicly disclosed donations to candidates is a puzzle. In any case, the words of oicnow at Huffpost sums up my own feelings on the whole affair:

Keith should have Incorporated himself, then he could give UNLIMITED secret donations to anyone he likes. Apparently only big corporations have Free Speech in this country.

Anyone interested in calling for KO's speedy reinstatement can sign a petition here .

Throw 'em in the slammer!

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out how we don't have credible deterrents to prevent the big-money folks from engaging in criminal behavior that harms us all. In an interview with Sam Gustin @ DailyFinance, Stiglitz argues that serious jail time for these white collar crooks could help the situation:

Legal penalties for financial fraud in the U.S. have become "just a cost of doing business," Stiglitz said. "It's like a parking fine. Sometimes you make a decision to park knowing that you might get a fine because going around the corner to the parking lot takes you too much time."

"We fine them, and what is the big lesson?" said Stiglitz. "Behave badly, and the government might take 5% or 10% of what you got in your ill-gotten gains, but you're still sitting home pretty with your several hundred million dollars that you have left over after paying fines that look very large by ordinary standards, but look small compared to the amount that you've been able to cash in."

Taken together, Stigliz said, this system of widespread fraud, lax regulation and non-deterrent enforcement, created a system of skewed incentives that rewarded criminality, gambling and other bad behavior, and left American workers, investors and homeowners holding the bill.

Meanwhile, the astonishingly disproportionate influence of the big banks and corporations on the American political system has allowed powerful executives to exert their will on the U.S. government at the expense of the people, Stiglitz said.

"Look at the regulatory reform that got passed," said Stiglitz. "It was an intense battle. And you had on one side a few banks. And on the other side you had 300 million people, American people. And it was really right in balance. Five or six banks equal to 300 million people. And in the end we got what you might call an unsatisfactory compromise."

"Corporations are a legal entity," Stiglitz explained. "We create them. And when we create them we create all kinds of rules. They can go bankrupt. And that means they owe more money and they get away scot-free. They can create an environmental disaster, and then go bankrupt and again go away scot-free. So, as legal entities we have the right to make the rules that govern them."

"As individuals we have certain basic rights," Stiglitz continued. "We aren't created by the law. We exist by nature. But corporations are man-made. They are supposed to serve our interest, our society's interests. And we are creating them with powers that are not serving our society's interests."

"A Vicious Cycle"

Unfortunately, he continued, we now have a situation where the owners of major American corporations, the shareholders, have virtually no say in compensation, the very thing that created many of the skewed incentives that led to the bad behavior.

"If you're going to rob your shareholders, shouldn't they have the right to say I don't like this?" asked Stiglitz. "It's basically a vicious cycle in which we've gotten ourselves, because the corporate executives control the corporations. The corporations have the right to give campaign contributions. So basically we have a system in which the corporate executives, the CEOs, are trying to make sure the legal system works not for the companies, not for the shareholders, not for the bondholders -- but for themselves."

"So it's like theft," said Stiglitz. "These corporations are basically now working for the CEOs and the executives and not for any of the other stakeholders in the corporation, let alone for our broader society."

What should be done? "I think we ought to go do what we did in the S&L [crisis] and actually put many of these guys in prison," said Stiglitz. "Absolutely. These are not just white-collar crimes or little accidents. There were victims. That's the point. There were victims all over the world."

A Theory of Justice

Among the casualties of this whole mess, according to Stiglitz? Faith in the legal system itself. "The legal system is supposed to be the codification of our norms and beliefs, things that we need to make our system work," he said. "If the legal system is seen as exploitative, then confidence in our whole system starts eroding."

"When you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you say, with 'justice for all," Stiglitz said. "People aren't sure that we have justice for all. Somebody is caught for a minor drug offense, they are sent to prison for a very long time. And yet, these so-called white-collar crimes, which are not victimless; almost none of these guys, almost none of them, go to prison."

"Families are as important as corporations," he said. "Keeping kids in school, not forcing them out of their home, keeping the community together, is certainly as important as keeping a corporation alive."

President Obama, and the Democrats in Congress, need to stand up to these most predatory plutocrats. Failure to do so may well destroy whatever residual goodwill remains towards their party among the American people.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The time for giving

A friend just sent this heartwarming tale, that well illustrates the kindly spirit of your average "tax-cuts for millionaires & billionaires" Republican.

Generous lawyer
A local United Way office realized that the organization had never received
a donation from the town's most successful lawyer. The person in charge of contributions called him to persuade him to contribute.

"Our research shows that out of a yearly income of at least $500,000, you
give not a penny to charity. Wouldn't you like to give back to the community in some way?"

The lawyer mulled this over for a moment and replied, "First, did your
research also show that my mother is dying after a long illness, and has
medical bills that are several times her annual income?"

Embarrassed, the United Way rep mumbled, "Um ... no."

The lawyer interrupts, "or that my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind
and confined to a wheelchair?"

The stricken United Way rep began to stammer out an apology, but was
interrupted again.

"or that my sister's husband died in a traffic accident," the lawyer's
voice rising in indignation, "leaving her penniless with three children?!"

The humiliated United Way rep, completely beaten, said simply, "I had no

On a roll, the lawyer cut him off once again, "So if I don't give any
money to them, why should I give any to you?"

Feel free to substitute "hedge-fund manager" for "lawyer" if it enhances your enjoyment of the story!

A matter of simple arithmetic

Rachel Maddow, and her guest Gail Collins, point out to Democrats that they have nothing to lose in opposing deficit-exploding tax-cuts for the super rich:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Watching a train-wreck

One of the most important consequences of this Republican takeover of the House is that the new majority party will now be expected to do more than merely obstruct the Democrats' attempts to move forward. We can be fairly certain they won't do anything except try to tear down the President, and do favors for their wealthy friends. The exposure of their true agenda will serve to alienate a fair number of those who voted Republican in these midterms. Just as important, many of the discouraged Democrats, who stayed home on Tuesday, will be eager to make up for their laziness when they see just how outrageous these new Republicans really are.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Outside of Rhode Island, not so happy

Oh sure, there were a few bright spots in last night's midterm elections. Tea Partiers Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle were rejected in Delaware and Nevada. But one of our most reliable progressives, Russ Feingold, was defeated in a night that saw a huge loss of Democratic seats in the House, with less shocking losses in the Senate. I'm too depressed right now to put together an objective analysis of this disaster. Here in Rhode Island, the GOP got excited when polls tightened late in the race. Our opponent, John Loughlin, saw his campaign literally swamped with cash. Big-name Republicans were eager to "take the other Kennedy seat," and visited our state with annoying frequency. Advertisements on radio and T.V. were non-stop. "Robo-calls" to voters were relentless. Even in a true-blue state like Rhode Island, people get pissed at the Democrats in charge when jobs are nowhere to be found. We won by six points, but could easily have lost the race without the strong GOTV effort our campaign put forward.

David Cicilline wins Patrick Kennedy's seat in Congress!

Here's the happy moment from the Democratic victory fest last night at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence. All of us who worked so hard were of course delighted with this result:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pull the lever!

Many of us are a little tense this Election Eve, awaiting the Big Day tomorrow. So I decided to break for a few minutes from my GOTV work, and share this comment (misspellings and all) from Brainwrap on the DailyKos:

My family asks me why I tend to vote straight-ticket Dem, even in races where I don't have a clue who either of the candidates are.

My response is simple:

If it's a race where I have specific knowledge that that the Democratic candidate is a scumbag, no, I won't vote for him. But neither will I vote for the Republican.

Otherwise, my reasoning is simple: I play the odds.

The odds are that any given Democratic candidate has about a 20% chance of being some form of scumbag.

The odds are that any given Democratic candidate has about a 30% chance of being a Blue Dog.

HOWEVER, the odds are also--these days--that any given Republican candidate has about an 90% chance of being a scumbag, and a 95% chance of towing the party line on every issue of significance.

Therefore, in the absence of any additional information about either candidate, the choice is simple:

--One candidate has an 80% chance of being a decent person and a 70% chance of being on the right side of most issues.

--The other candidate only has a 10% chance of being a decent person an only a 5% chance of being on the right side of most issues.

Not a difficult choice at all.

Amusing, yet sane and refreshingly honest. Thanks, Brainwrap!