Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Monday, January 31, 2011

Judge in Los Angeles sides with homeowner

From Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle:

A bank is legally bound by its promise to try to work out a loan modification with a homeowner to avoid foreclosure, a state appeals court has ruled.

Thursday's decision by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles involved a homeowner who said she refrained from protecting her home in a Bankruptcy Court filing after the bank promised to negotiate new loan terms - then foreclosed and evicted her.

The court refused to undo the foreclosure but said the owner, Claudia Aceves, could sue the bank for fraud. Her lawyer, Nick Alden, said the ruling should also help financially distressed homeowners who make several months of reduced payments in reliance on a bank's promise to modify their mortgages.

"The homeowner has no choice but to work with the bank," Alden said. Typically in such cases, he said, the lender will reject the final payment as insufficient, declare the borrower unqualified for a loan, and foreclose.

This decision is potentially an important step in giving homeowners more rights in their dealings with banks. Not many years ago, the state of regulations and the housing market gave banks an incentive to avoid foreclosures. Now there is a perverse incentive to play a game of "bait and switch" with those struggling to stay in their homes. By dangling the prospect of reduced payments, the banks take in "partial" payments for a number of months. Then they deny the request for modification and demand full payment. Eviction follows, and the bank buys the property at 20-25 cents on the dollar. Let's hope that banksters begin to be held accountable for their crimes!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A little comic relief to end your weekend

Although the original is equally hilarious, this SNL send-up is too good to miss:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vermont leads a quiet revolt

It has been heartening to see people in Tunisia and Egypt risk their lives to assert their freedom. Here at home most Americans don't yet feel the need to take over the streets en masse. Many of us do feel our rights and liberties are being eroded, by the overwhelming force of corporate money that has flooded our political system. An important step to restore a voice to ordinary citizens will be to overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision handed down a year ago. Here's what Christopher Ketcham tells us they're doing about it in Vermont:

In Vermont, state senator Virginia Lyons on Friday presented an anti-corporate personhood resolution for passage in the Vermont legislature. The resolution, the first of its kind, proposes "an amendment to the United States Constitution ... which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States." Sources in the state house say it has a good chance of passing. This same body of lawmakers, after all, once voted to impeach George W. Bush, and is known for its anti-corporate legislation. Last year the Vermont senate became the first state legislature to weigh in on the future of a nuclear power plant, voting to shut down a poison-leeching plant run by Entergy Inc. Lyons’ Senate voted 26-4 to do it, demonstrating the level of political will of the state’s politicians to stand up to corporate power.

The language in the Lyons resolution is unabashed. "The profits and institutional survival of large corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings," it states, noting that corporations "have used their so-called rights to successfully seek the judicial reversal of democratically enacted laws.”

Thus the unfolding of the obvious: “democratically elected governments” are rendered “ineffective in protecting their citizens against corporate harm to the environment, health, workers, independent business, and local and regional economies." The resolution goes on to note that "large corporations own most of America's mass media and employ those media to loudly express the corporate political agenda and to convince Americans that the primary role of human beings is that of consumer rather than sovereign citizens with democratic rights and responsibilities."

Denouncing this situation as an "intolerable societal reality," the document concludes that the "only way" toward a solution is the amendment of the Constitution "to define persons as human beings.”

Let's hope this daring movement from the Northern Woods spreads like wildfire across the country!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Your tax dollars at work

Maybe propping up authoritarian regimes with billions in aid isn't a good long-term strategy? The resentment against the U.S. will last for generations. A quick clean break with Mr. Mubarak now might help us begin to repair the damage.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words

This chart, by Batocchio at Vagabaond Scholar, is uncannily accurate. So much of what is kicked around Washington is simply inadequate to our nation's challenges. A lot of it is batshit insane. When the Democrats run the show, some good things can happen in the midst of many disappointments. When the Republicans call the shots we are thoroughly screwed. Maybe if we could elect a few more good candidates, to pull their colleagues into the sweet green spot, we could motivate voters with something a little better than "the lesser of two evils" argument. Looking at the very small area of bipartisan overlap (only some of which is not entirely evil!) should give all of us a reason to lower our expectations for the coming two years.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The story of a mother trying to help her kids

This story from Ohio could have been conceived as a fable, yet it is sadly very real. The haves are sending a clear message to the have-nots: don't you dare try to lift yourself up by your bootstraps. If we catch you trying to sneak your kids into our world of privilege we'll fix it so you lose your freedom and your job.

The school district where my kids have grown up would be considered fair to middling. It is next door to an almost all-white, very affluent district that has the best SAT scores in the state. No one tries to sneak their kids into that district because the place is too small to get away with it. But the district to our north is riddled with problems, with schools that perform worse than ours. Kids from that district are often smuggled into ours, and are often caught because the district does save money by kicking out non-resident students. This whole thing is an important part of the difficulties Americans face in achieving upward mobility. Schools in affluent districts have adequate resources and social supports to succeed. Schools in poor districts do not. End of story. Property taxes in my state account for the bulk of school funding. One huge step in the right direction would be to pool all the school taxes into a general statewide education fund. Then, a kid who lives in a community filled with empty, derelict factories wouldn't be at such a severe disadvantage, trying to get an education as good as the kid who lives in a district full of multi-million dollar homes.

Mom Jailed For Sending Kids to Better School

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of the Union

The President's speech was well-written and well-delivered. The time for careful analysis hasn't yet arrived. For now, I'd like to point to one signal I thought was particularly welcome:

In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online.

This might well help to bring needed pressure on Capitol Hill legislators to spend a little more time working and a bit less partying with lobbyists. We can only hope!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Moving beyond disaster capitalism

I've been doing a little thinking about the disturbing grab of power and resources, throughout the globe, by plutocrats and their managerial elites. Maybe calling attention to the contrast between obscene wealth and abject poverty isn't the most effective way to reverse this trend. There might be an argument that doesn't require appealing to any sense of human decency and compassion.

Think of the global economy as a pool of water. On one end is attached a spout that constantly drains off into a smaller pool. This smaller pool is what the plutocrats care about the most: it represents their personal wealth. As the water evaporates, it must be replaced. So far, the plutocrats have used their economic power to bully those who live nearby to exhaust their local water supplies to keep the pool replenished. The plutocrats laugh as these unfortunates struggle with each other to capture the small amount of water they allow to trickle down from their own pool of personal wealth. Eventually, disease, war and poverty makes the nearby inhabitants too weak to carry a sufficient amount of water. The plutocrats are forced to use some of the water from their pool to fund military adventures that will coerce more distant people to carry water to the pool. The plutocrats must live with the constant worry that the much larger number of those they oppress will unite against them. They are forced to bribe politicians, media and professional elites to keep the masses in line. Yet at this point an intelligent plutocrat might ask: "Is there an easier way?"

There is an easier way. Agree to let people keep more of the water they bring to the pool. Point out to them that if they can collaborate to construct a much larger pool, all can share in the benefits of the larger pool, even if the plutocrats still enjoy a large surplus. Unleashing human potential to produce a dignified life for all, and even extravagant riches for some, is what a humane and rational capitalist system should do. A system that fosters open competition, and rewards innovation and hard work is fine. That is not what we have in the 21st century. George W. Bush received a M.B.A., yes, but he lost millions of dollars in the private sector. Meritocracy didn't propel him to power in our capitalist world. He, like many other successful kleptocrats, made up for a lack of creative power with a strong urge to abuse power, for the purpose of squeezing the world's wealth into the bank accounts of a favored few. If President Obama wants to save capitalism, he cannot merely help those who already have too much get even more. By helping working people worldwide to prosper, he'll begin to set our world on a course to a sustainable future.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nancy Pelosi against the plutocrats

"We can't let our democracy be bought!" You tell 'em Nancy Pelosi!

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Solidarity in Seattle

I've noticed a rising tide of discouragement among many American progressives in recent months. One recurring complaint is that too few citizens seem willing to take the sort of actions that might successfully challenge the power of our corporate masters. Well, maybe the deeds of working folks, in 1919 in Seattle, can provide us a little inspiration. Here's an excerpt from Anna Louise Strong's account of the general strike that happened in that city:

The strike of the shipyard workers occurred on Tuesday morning, January 21st. On the following evening, at the meeting of the Central Labor Council, a delegate body composed of representatives from all the unions in the city, including the unions of the Metal Trades, a request was presented from the Metal Trades Council, asking for a General Strike throughout the city, in sympathy with the shipyard workers.

This request was approved by the Central Labor Council and went out to the various unions to vote on, as they hold the final authority in case of a strike of their members. On the following Sunday, a meeting of executive officers of local unions was held which recommended to the Central Labor Council that the General Strike, if it should be favorably voted upon, should be governed by a Strike Committee, composed of three delegates elected from each striking union, and that this General strike Committee should be called to meet on the following Sunday.

By the next Wednesday meeting of the Central Labor Council, so many unions had declared their intention to strike, that the suggestion of the executive officers of unions was accepted and a General Strike Committee called to meet on Sunday morning, February 2nd, at 8 o'clock. This General Strike Committee composed of delegates from 110 unions and the Central Labor Council, held the ultimate authority on all strike matters during the time of the sympathetic strike.

Some of the striking unions

The completeness with which the unions of Seattle voted for the General Strike came as a surprise to many unionists. Union after union sacrificed cherished hopes, "in order to go out with the rest." The Longshoremen's Union, in which, after many vicissitudes, the Truckers had at length combined with the Riggers and Stevedores, had just put through a closed-shop agreement for the waterfront of Seattle which was seriously imperiled and in fact, broken down, by their participation in the General strike.

The Street Car Men were 100 per cent organized, after a long and bitter fight which had included a street car strike. They were looking forward at last, at last, after a year of waiting, to some fruit from their labors. Poorly paid, and with long hours, they expected a decision to be handed down from the Supreme Court of the State, and on the very day after the date set for the General Strike, which would assure them a substantial advance in wages. All this seemed to them endangered. Yet a majority of them voted in favor of standing with the rest of labor. And although the Street Car Men were later among the first unions to go back, at the orders of their executive committee and an international officer, yet even the Most radical union men, knowing the pressure under which they labored, were inclined to urge: "Don't be too hard on those boys; they risked a great deal."

Many weak unions, knowing that they risked their jobs as individuals and their existence as unions, yet took this chance and went out with the rest. Among these were the Hotel Maids, the Cereal and Flour Mill Workers, the Renton Car Builders.

Over against these were the votes of the old and conservative unions, unused to indulging in sympathetic strikes or "in demonstrations." The most unusual was perhaps the vote of the Typographical Union, a union whose control of its own jobs has been for years so strong that strikes have fallen into disuse in its organization. Yet it gave a majority vote in favor of striking, although its strike was not allowed by its International, as it failed to get the required three fourths vote.

The Musicians' Union, another conservative union, took two votes. It was almost 5 to 1 against the idea of the General Strike, but 6 to 1 in favor of striking with the rest of organized labor, in case the others decided to go out. In other words, it stood for solidarity even against its own preferences.

The Carpenters' Union, 131, an old, conservative union, which has become one of the "big businesses" of the city, due to its ownership of a very profitable building, voted for the strike by a majority of "better than 2 to I." "There was no one down there haranguing us, either," said one of the members. "We wouldn't have stood for it. We took a secret ballot and decided to strike; and then we put our fate in the hands of the Strike Committee and stuck till the end."

The Teamsters' strike is remarkable because of the great pressure under which they labored. It is stated that 800 calls came into their office during the strike, from members of their own and other unions, complaining that fuel had given out and that they could not get any heat on account of the strike of the Teamsters. Many people realized for the first time how this union, which handles the transportation of freight in a modern city, is at the basis of all the city's activities.

These are only a few of the unions striking; others will be mentioned in connection with activities which they carried on. But these are sufficient to show the great variety of crafts which sank their own interests for the sake of the sympathetic strike in Seattle.

These brave people knew they risked more than just their livelihoods. Organized labor in 1919 was often threatened by violence from public forces, or privately funded goon squads. Are we less brave in 2011? Aren't there actions we can take, short of a general strike, that would show the world our solidarity and resolve? How about if we all decided to pay our credit card bills in March with Monopoly money? You think that might get the banksters' attention?

The United States is not Tunisia. We have no need to start from scratch in a republic that has endured for centuries. Yet the American people would let down both their ancestors, and future generations, if we allowed our business and political elites to continue ignoring the common good.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tunisian people's revolt

So our corporate masters don't think we should know too much about events in Tunisia? I can't believe it!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The People's Business

Why do so many Americans feel let down by those they have elected to serve in Washington D.C.? I submit that it's because too many of these representatives have forgotten their natural role. Not merely that they don't live up to the spirit of our Constitution, but that they don't even live up to the standards of representative government current in England over 125 years before our Declaration of Independence. Here, in 1647, Parliamentarian officers explain what they expect from elected members of Parliament:

those whom your selves shall choose, shall have power to restore you to, and secure you in, all your rights; & they shall be in a capacity to taste of subjection, as well as rule, & so shall be equally concerned with your selves, in all they do. For they must equally suffer with you under any common burdens, & partake with you in any freedoms; & by this they shall be disenabled to defraud or wrong you, when the laws shall bind all alike, without privilege or exemption; & by this your Consciences shall be free from tyranny & oppression, & those occasions of endless strife, & bloody wars, shall be perfectly removed: without controversy by your joining with us in this Agreement, all your particular & common grievances will be redressed forthwith without delay; the Parliament must then make your relief and common good their only study.

Does anyone truly believe that Washington politicians, living it up at fundraisers, suffer "under our common burdens?" Are they praying they don't get sick because they can't afford insurance? Is their careful attention, to doing the bidding of Big Oil companies, in any way related to working for our "relief and common good?" Privilege and exemption is precisely what the lobbyists are constantly buying from the politicians. The disappointment we feel in their performance is less a function of their ignoring public opinion on certain issues, and more a realization that they represent themselves before their constituents.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Standing up for workers

Here's AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, responding to a question this morning:

This is exactly the point we need to hammer home. Republican governors are seeking to pit citizens against each other. They say to taxpayers, why should you subsidize pensions that are more generous than your own? Taxpayers need to rise above small feelings of jealousy and ask themselves, why don't I have a decent pension? What can I do in solidarity with unions and other working people to get a better deal for us all? Do we want to become more like our low-wage competitors? Or should we model our economy after a high-wage country like Germany? Wall Street won't defend the gains made by working Americans in the 20th century. We must do that for ourselves by turning off the T.V. and taking to the streets. Appeasement of the plutocrats hasn't worked. Millions are doing more for less, and still jobs are outsourced. But we've been here before. The plutocrats of today are no more powerful than the robber barons of the gilded age. We still have some democratic rights that we can exercise to demand another New Deal. We won't achieve victory without a struggle. We will only continue to lose ground if we don't join together now, and try to restore opportunity and hope for 80% of our nation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Populism for the people (and not for the Koch Brothers)

The hijacking of populist anger by the right in the United States is an amazing feat. It has distorted American politics, to the point where a handful of plutocrats can count on a significant minority of Americans to support the further erosion of restraints on predatory practices that undermine their own standard of living. How has this happened? First, a certain number of Americans are bamboozled into thinking that they are under direct threat from an army of others, different from them culturally, and scornful of their traditions. Second, the correct perception of many Americans, that the establishment cares only for a favored few, is manipulated by the right to a more generalized hatred of government, so that even government programs that benefit Americans are demonized. Thus, a valid distrust of the establishment doesn't prompt a call to end the corrupt collusion between big-money and politicians of both parties-- rather, it leads Fox nation to call Social Security a "Ponzi Scheme," and to regard Republicans as helping "get government off our backs." Anything done for the poor, minorities, gays, wounded veterans, etc. is a "giveaway to special interests." Giving tax-advantages to companies that outsource jobs is merely "letting the shareholders keep their own money."

This is all depressingly familiar. Yet the Tea Party rhetoric will never sway more than a minority of Americans. At least as many would rally to a populist leader who directed their anger towards Wall Street (the Right knows this and throws George Soros out there to stand in for all the rich that people want to hate.) What we need is someone who can tell the same truth as Bernie Sanders with more humor and folksy charm. Bill Clinton had the charm, but he saw Wall Street as a great source of contributions and not as a potential threat to our way of life. The time is ripe for bold visionaries. People want to feel represented by someone who knows and respects them. They hoped that Barack Obama would understand their needs. I think that President Obama wants to serve the people. Sadly, while he is infinitely superior to his predecessor, he is no more progressive than President Clinton. We should of course continue to pressure the administration to do the right thing. At the same time we need to stop reacting to Sarah Palin's tweets, and start boycotting Walmart. In local activism we will generate the energy required to take back our country.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King at Local 1199

Operation Breadbasket

On the 16th of August, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech to the 11th annual conference of the SCLC. The speech had a number of powerful passages, but this excerpt is decidely prosaic:

And so Operation Breadbasket has a very simple program, but a powerful one. It simply says, "If you respect my dollar, you must respect my person." It simply says that we will no longer spend our money where we can not get substantial jobs. [applause]

In Cleveland, Ohio, a group of ministers have formed an Operation Breadbasket through our program there and have moved against a major dairy company. Their requests include jobs, advertising in Negro newspapers, and depositing funds in Negro financial institutions. This effort resulted in something marvelous. I went to Cleveland just last week to sign the agreement with Sealtest. We went to get the facts about their employment; we discovered that they had 442 employees and only forty-three were Negroes, yet the Negro population of Cleveland is thirty-five percent of the total population. They refused to give us all of the information that we requested, and we said in substance, "Mr. Sealtest, we're sorry. We aren't going to burn your store down. We aren't going to throw any bricks in the window. But we are going to put picket signs around and we are going to put leaflets out and we are going to our pulpits and tell them not to sell Sealtest products, and not to purchase Sealtest products."

We did that. We went through the churches. Reverend Dr. Hoover, who pastors the largest church in Cleveland, who's here today, and all of the ministers got together and got behind this program. We went to every store in the ghetto and said, "You must take Sealtest products off of your counters. If not, we're going to boycott your whole store." (That's right) A&P refused. We put picket lines around A&P; they have a hundred and some stores in Cleveland, and we picketed A&P and closed down eighteen of them in one day. Nobody went in A&P. [applause] The next day Mr. A&P was calling on us, and Bob Brown, who is here on our board and who is a public relations man representing a number of firms, came in. They called him in because he worked for A&P, also; and they didn't know he worked for us, too. [laughter] Bob Brown sat down with A&P, and he said, they said, "Now, Mr. Brown, what would you advise us to do." He said, "I would advise you to take Sealtest products off of all of your counters." A&P agreed next day not only to take Sealtest products off of the counters in the ghetto, but off of the counters of every A&P store in Cleveland, and they said to Sealtest, "If you don’t reach an agreement with SCLC and Operation Breadbasket, we will take Sealtest products off of every A&P store in the state of Ohio."

The next day [applause], the next day the Sealtest people were talking nice [laughter], they were very humble. And I am proud to say that I went to Cleveland just last Tuesday, and I sat down with the Sealtest people and some seventy ministers from Cleveland, and we signed the agreement. This effort resulted in a number of jobs, which will bring almost five hundred thousand dollars of new income to the Negro community a year. [applause] We also said to Sealtest, "The problem that we face is that the ghetto is a domestic colony that's constantly drained without being replenished. And you are always telling us to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, and yet we are being robbed every day. Put something back in the ghetto." So along with our demand for jobs, we said, "We also demand that you put money in the Negro savings and loan association and that you take ads, advertise, in the Cleveland Call & Post, the Negro newspaper." So along with the new jobs, Sealtest has now deposited thousands of dollars in the Negro bank of Cleveland and has already started taking ads in the Negro newspaper in that city. This is the power of Operation Breadbasket.

This great leader knew that to make progress requires struggle on many fronts. It wasn't enough to face down the police with their dogs and hoses. It wasn't enough to support better politicians and better legislation. It wasn't enough to win public sympathy. Every ounce of leverage must be used. The same holds true today. The plutocrats may think they have bought Congress and the Supreme Court. While they do hold many levers of power, we still have untapped power as consumers. This power is still occasionally felt, but more often we hesitate to use it. We don't have to shut down a multi-national overnight. We do have to start challenging its power today. Today in Providence, Rhode Island, companies that do business with the city must conform to certain minimal standards of good corporate citizenship. It hasn't changed the world, but it has raised incomes and improved working conditions for hundreds of citizens. There's no reason why school boards, bowling leagues, whatever, can't use their economic clout to promote the good and publicize the bad in their dealings with businesses.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Land of the Free

An alert reader sent me a link to this story by John Marty of Minnesota:

A July newspaper headline said it all: "Homeless man decides jail's better than the streets." A 61 year old homeless man in Rochester decided that the only way he could get food and a roof over his head was to go to jail. So he broke some windows at an auto dealer, turned himself in at the police department and asked that they put him in jail.

He told police that if they would not arrest him, he would go back and break some more windows.

view counter
He realized that the only way he could get a fair shake was by going to prison.

How can Americans see the cruel reality endured by millions of their fellow citizens and not rise up in outrage? As unemployment and foreclosures climb, this kind of story will only become more common. If Republicans value liberty, shouldn't they ensure that Americans aren't forced to choose giving up that liberty to avoid starving on the streets? The New Deal wasn't an assault on liberty. The current fervent dismantling of the New Deal is an assault on humanity.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Can the ventriloquist keep control?

Thought this might be an amusing clip for your Friday night edification:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Divorced from reality

Roy Edroso makes an important point:

The "eliminationist" tropes we've been hearing about recently are part of the problem, but so are the less violent notions we see them parroting every day: That Obama is a Muslim, an alien, a psychopath, and consciously trying to destroy the United States; that Teddy Roosevelt was a dangerous radical; that America's scientists are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to bankrupt the nation via global warming fraud; that deficits, which were harmless and even kinda fun under Reagan, are under Obama a menace to the future of our famous statues; etc. etc. etc.

The cumulative impact of this kind of magical thinking may or may not lead to assassinations, but it certainly weakens the sufferer's ability to respond to even obvious problems in any reasonable way. And in the long run this is more dangerous to the Republic than the grrr-lookit-me-I'm-a-Minuteman blood-lust we're currently focused on. The wingnut looks, for example, upon millions of citizens financially unable to visit a doctor when they're sick, and the first thing he asks himself is, "How can we defend these people from socialism?" He sees the stock market doing great while ordinary people can't find jobs, and surmises, "This Administration is anti-business." Etc.

Even if you embarrass them (fond hope!) into talking less about guns and revolution, you aren't touching the real problem. I'm not confident that it's curable. The best we can do is keep them away from sharp objects and the levers of power.

Threats and violence are not the only danger posed by the right. The increasing disdain for logic and empirical evidence is really just as worrisome. Here much of the blame must go to the media. Too often gross distortions, lies, and paranoid fantasies are given credibility through their repetition in print or on the air. Those of us willing to dig further for the truth are a minority of media consumers. Many Americans don't trust right-wing talking points, but also are convinced that the left is equally unreliable. They give up on trying to make sense of public policy, and follow politics only for the entertainment value of fights and scandals.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Angry words, peaceful deeds

The atrocity in Arizona has prompted many Americans to call for "toning down" the political rhetoric on the right and the left. Certainly, the overt display of weaponry or other forms of physical intimidation, by Tea Partiers or anyone else, at public events, is wrong. Dehumanizing your opponents with eliminationist rhetoric is wrong. But it is never wrong to question the judgement, or even the motives, of an elected official simply because doing so might be disruptive. In many cases polite protest through letters, supporting candidates for office, etc. can be effective. Nonviolent protest, however, is not always polite. If leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. had restricted themselves to writing letters and making polite speeches they would have never accomplished their goals. If mill-workers and coalminers had simply lodged formal complaints with their bosses none of us in the U.S. would now enjoy weekends or paid overtime. Rational arguments can help make progress, sure. Very often, however, it is only through actively disrupting the status-quo that unjust situations may be remedied. Indeed, sometimes those pushing for change have to be willing to risk physical confrontation to accomplish their aims.

The Dorr rebellion in Rhode Island is a good example. In 1840s Rhode Island, the right to vote was still limited by the property-holding rules set out in the old colonial charter. What this meant in practice was that only 40% of the white males in the state could vote. Many of the other 60% were Catholic immigrants working in mills, or in the busy ports. Thomas Wilson Dorr argued that the state was violating Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, that guarantees a republican form of government in every state.. In fact, at this time Rhode Island was about the only state that didn't have universal suffrage for free white men. Dorr organized a People's Convention that drafted a more democratic state constitution. Rhode Island's governor King sent troops out to crush the Dorr supporters, some of whom had armed themselves. President Tyler declined to intervene. Fortunately, neither side was keen to fight a real battle. Dorr left the state, but his cause gained in strength. Within a few years all freemen, of any color, could vote in Rhode Island upon payment of a $1 poll tax. It would be generations before the Irish and other members of the Dorr coalition could challenge the Protestant elites in state and local politics. Yet just having the vote gave these Rhode Islanders some more influence in public affairs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guns in the public square

Rachel Maddow was all over this stuff more than a year ago:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Guns don't kill people, people with guns do

Jack Stuef explains how

the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group, has written up legislation to end assassination attempts directed at legislators: make “members of Congress and people who work for them” from Arizona undergo “firearms training, using firearms confiscated by the state.” Sounds like fun! Thank God the fine assault weapons owners of Arizona have found a way to let crazed 22-year-olds shoot at people with their assault weapons in peace, as the founders intended. Never mind that this would never actually work or be useful or constitutional. The important thing is that we can blame future shooting deaths on members of Congress and their staffs not being good with guns, not on our gun laws.

“Our model legislation is called the Giffords-Zimmerman Act,” said Heller. (Giffords staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was killed on Saturday.) [...]

Heller speculated that a response like this could prevent future attacks on members of Congress. “I don’t think having a firearm on her would do Congresswoman Giffords any good,” said Heller. “However, if it was known that members of her staff were well armed, that very well could have dissuaded [the shooter].”

Ooh, yes, dissuaded. You can’t dissuade a crazy person with a gun, idiots. Or at least you can’t WHEN THAT CRAZY PERSON HAS SMOKED POT BEFORE.

This gun rights group loves the fact that they can conceal their weapons, of course. Just like people who go on shooting sprees! And that is why no staffer with a gun would have had the time to be able to stop this guy before he killed people. As much as it warms the hearts of this group to imagine every man, woman, and child in Arizona being taught how to shoot guns at people.

But again, perfect way to move the blame away from gun laws. “That staffer was too much of a pussy to kill the guy as soon as she saw someone shifty-looking” is the talking point, which requires you to shoot some chew into the spittoon after you say it.

This exact same insanity was proposed after the horrific college campus shooting a while back. The solution to gun violence is to have a lot more guns. If all the students and professors are packing heat, the theory goes, they can react quickly to any potential shooting spree and pump the assailant full of lead before any harm is done. Just don't reach too quickly for that calculator in your backpack! Of course this policy needs some tweaking to be implemented correctly. Most 4 or 5 year-olds have difficulty firing automatic weapons responsibly. How are they going to protect themselves at the playground?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Divide and Conquer

Robert Reich, with his usual clarity, points out why the plutocrats and their Republican enablers stir up resentment against public sector unions.

The final Republican canard is that bargaining rights for public employees have caused state deficits to explode. In fact there’s no relationship between states whose employees have bargaining rights and states with big deficits. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights - Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, for example, are running giant deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent.

Public employees should have the right to bargain for better wages and working conditions, just like all employees do. They shouldn’t have the right to strike if striking would imperil the public, but they should at least have a voice. They often know more about whether public programs are working, or how to make them work better, than political appointees who hold their offices for only a few years.

Don’t get me wrong. When times are tough, public employees should have to make the same sacrifices as everyone else. And they are right now. Pay has been frozen for federal workers, and for many state workers across the country as well.

But isn’t it curious that when it comes to sacrifice, Republicans don’t include the richest people in America? To the contrary, they insist the rich should sacrifice even less, enjoying even larger tax cuts that expand public-sector deficits. That means fewer public services, and even more pressure on the wages and benefits of public employees.

It’s only average workers – both in the public and the private sectors – who are being called upon to sacrifice.

This is what the current Republican attack on public-sector workers is really all about. Their version of class warfare is to pit private-sector workers against public servants. They’d rather set average working people against one another – comparing one group’s modest incomes and benefits with another group’s modest incomes and benefits – than have Americans see that the top 1 percent is now raking in a bigger share of national income than at any time since 1928, and paying at a lower tax rate. And Republicans would rather you didn’t know they want to cut taxes on the rich even more.

Taxpayers who write angry letters to the local paper usually reveal themselves to be jealous of public-sector workers in more than one respect. They resent public-sector pensions. They used to resent the relative job security of public sector workers, but now this has been replaced with a grim satisfaction from public-sector layoffs. They bitterly resent any vestigial advantages public sector workers enjoy through collective bargaining. Here too, the reality is changing as states, towns, and school districts unilaterally violate contracts, whenever honoring those contracts conflicts with revenue and budget cuts mandated by new laws. These laws often seek to depict these illegal actions as a response to unforeseen "fiscal emergencies." Thus the fiscal consequences of irresponsible stewardship, and tax-cuts for the wealthy, are portrayed as something akin to a hurricane, or other act of God.

In more than one instance public services have been privatized, not because they were inefficient, but simply because the people providing the services were in a union. The idea that not every human activity should be organized as a profit-making venture offends doctrinaire anti-unionists. Some of these folks would be more than happy to let big corporations take over K-12 education. Who needs to learn about that boring old Bill of Rights? Why not spend our time hearing why global warming is a myth?!?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Atrocity in Arizona

This horrific act of violence forces us all to consider what a dangerous world we inhabit. We can't live our lives fearing other people. All we can do is promote by our own deeds the example of kindness, generosity, and tolerance that can influence others in a positive direction.

Friday, January 7, 2011

You just can't make this stuff up!

Over the last few weeks I've shared with friends and family my opinion that this new GOP Congress would discredit themselves within months of being sworn in. I must confess that I was alarmed to see them causing outrage before even the swearing in was done! Here's Paul Blumenthal:

Two House Republican members, Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick and Pete Sessions, missed their swearing in on Wednesday as they attended a fundraiser in Fitzpatrick's honor at the U.S. Capitol. These two not-quite-yet Congressmen then voted on legislation and introduced bills, adding a Dadaist element to the proceedings. Although astonishingly surreal, there’s a serious House Rules-related concern: lawmakers are barred from using official resources for campaign or fundraising activities.

"House rooms and offices are not to be used for events that are campaign or political in nature, such as a meeting on campaign strategy, or a reception for campaign contributors," according to the House Ethics Manual.

The Ethics Manual identifies an exception -- "when a Member is sworn in, the Member may hold a 'swearing-in' reception in a House office building that is paid for with campaign funds" -- but the event was a fundraiser, not merely a simple “swearing-in” ceremony.

A spokesman for Fitzpatrick told the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim that the event was not a fundraiser and that anyone could attend. The information available shows that the invite was a solicitation for campaign funds and was very different from other lawmaker invites for celebrations held in official House offices and buildings.

The invite says that it is an invitation to "Mike's Swearing In Celebration" and asks for at least $30 per person. The money appears to be for the bus trip to DC and entry to the celebration. The money, of course, goes to Rep. Fitzpatrick’s campaign account, is accompanied by a FEC disclaimer, and is solicited in whatever amount the donor chooses to give--contributors could select amounts ranging from $30 to $120 or more.

Other lawmakers held celebrations on Capitol Hill that did not include solicitations for money in their invitations. Dan Boren, Sean Duffy, Bill Huizenga, Reid Ribble, and Roy Blunt all held swearing in receptions in congressional offices that did not include an ask for campaign contributions. Blunt also held an event at the Library of Congress that did not solicit money.

The problem of holding events in the U.S. Capitol (i.e., the Capitol Visitors Center) for political or campaign activities is explained in the House Ethics Manual: they “are supported with official funds and hence are considered official resources."

While Fitzpatrick appears to have violated House ethics rules, Sessions deserves special attention for reserving the room for Fitzpatrick. This may not violate any rules, but as a member of the Rules Committee, he should know better! Of course, he shouldn’t have voted before he was sworn in, either.

The Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee should determine whether or not this type of activity is in violation of the House Ethics rules. From this end, it appears as though this fundraiser was not in meeting with the rules as laid out in the manual.

These two scoundrels should be tarred and feathered. and banned from any further participation in government at any level. I would hope at least a few of the deluded people in their districts, who voted for them, are calling for their resignation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The internet proves it's good for something

Here's a story from Mike Hall that really made my day:

In Newburgh, N.Y., last spring, workers at an Anheuser–Busch InBev’s Metal Container Corp. plant—where a previous organizing attempt drew intense management harassment and the firings of some workers—employees reached out to Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 363.

But as the IBEW Now News Blog reports:

The fear of captive-audience meetings, harassment and other actions by the employer left many at the plant wary of how to press forward without management sidelining their efforts.

So organizers got crafty and set up a special blog strictly for the 164 employees to debate, strategize, air concerns and ultimately come together for victory, all while avoiding many of the union-busting tactics so common in most campaigns.

Lead organizer Sam Fratto says the blog was like having a “24-hour-a-day union and campaign meeting.” Because of their past experience, workers were:

afraid to talk among themselves on the floor. But this time with the blog, nobody’s jobs were in jeopardy because management couldn’t single out who was for or against the union.

Over the course of the summer, the blog became an online meeting spot for the 164 workers, who knew plant management was monitoring the blog. But despite management’s efforts to hone in on pro-union workers, captive-audience meetings couldn’t refute what the workers were reading and commenting about on the blog. Says Fratto:

The company tried to get people to spill info about the campaign, but the workers just stayed silent. And since nobody’s wearing T-shirts or handing out stickers or fliers, who could they put the pressure on? Nobody.

In August, the workers voted overwhelmingly to join IBEW and are now in contract talks.
Of course working anonymously online won't protect you from spies and traitors. Yet it's not too easy for companies to find willing spies. Photographing license plates of cars, turning into the union hall parking lot, was always an effective way to intimidate workers. I'm sure people are already spending money on figuring out ways to illegally track their workers' online activities.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Success in this world

I started out this evening fired up to spew out another rant about the insufferable greed and selfishness of a certain kind of right-wing sociopath. The absurd comment, that provoked my indignation, was meant to be an indictment of government efforts to help the poor and middle class. Such programs were nothing more than "taking from the successful to subsidize the unsuccessful." O.K. This anonymous critic obviously doesn't see sharing as an inherent good. He also equates material riches with success.

Yet maybe this commonplace equation between "success" and wealth is just as problematic as the greed and lack of compassion. In 21st century America we almost always look for having money as evidence of success. Our image of a successful lawyer, doctor, academic, musician, banker, athlete, painter, engineer, salesperson, builder, computer designer-- all include money. Of course this is a relative thing. No academic, no matter how well-published and respected, would ever expect to be paid the kind of money that is given to a star quarterback in the NFL. Occupations that are consistently low-paid are just not linked with the word "successful." To describe someone as a successful bathroom attendant would be interpreted as mean sarcasm.

Is this tendency to define success in material terms justified? It would be foolish to deny that comfort, variety of experience, and other benefits are linked to money. There may be, nonetheless, ways in which we can succeed that don't involve financial success. Here I think looking at some real-life examples could be instructive.

My friend John passed away last summer, just a few months after a cancer diagnosis. I had known him for many years, having met him during my first summer in Rhode Island. He took a number of jobs, ranging from bouncer at a nightclub, to maintenance person at a commercial office building. His personality was so agreeable that he was liked instantly by almost everyone he met. Only his charm could have landed him the bouncer job, as he was a slender man of average height who could never appear physically menacing to anyone over twelve years old. Yet, while John was reliable and hard-working, he was not blessed with the chance to settle into a good job that lasted for more than a few years. After his divorce, John suffered a couple of longish spells of unemployment. This forced him to move back in with his mother and caused other hardships. John never knew financial success in the nearly five decades of his life.

Was John a successful man? I think he was. He had a gift for making people laugh and feel special in his company. He found tremendous enjoyment in fishing, and listening to music. He found pleasure in helping people fix their cars. When he heard something amusing on the radio or T.V. he wanted to share it with all his friends. He was always careful not to bring others down with his own troubles. His appreciation for the smallest gestures of friendship was genuine and powerful. Buying him a sandwich made you feel like you had helped to make the world a better place. John succeeded in bringing people up to a better level. I noticed that folks tended to refrain from malicious gossip in John's presence. Not because he was ever stern or judgemental. His positive attitude was infectious.

While John was a source of happiness to others, and a man who found happiness himself, not everyone enjoys that disposition. Vincent Van Gogh was a clearly troubled man who suffered many physical ailments. He produced a great quantity of timeless art during the last few years of his short life. No one wanted to buy any of it. Now his work is considered priceless. To own one of his paintings would signify great financial success. Was he a success or failure? He didn't succeed in realizing his immediate goals. He didn't succeed in vanquishing mental and physical illness. He lived, he struggled, he expressed his genius. In his own eyes his life was not enough of a success to continue. But we can't call him a failed human being.

I think we throw terms like success and failure around without due consideration of all the factors surrounding any human life. I know someone with severe mental challenges. For him to stand on the right side of the street, and get on the right bus at the right time is a major triumph. I know someone else who is a gifted scholar. For her to write a book review that wasn't insightful and well-argued would be a disappointment. The value of kids is not perfectly captured by their report cards. The value of adults is not measured only by their paycheck.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bill Moyers gets real

Here's Bill Moyers, proving by his plain talking that there's an exception to every rule. In a sane world he would not seem like a lonely voice in the journalistic wilderness.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

From gridiron to gridlock

With the exception of a year in Connecticut, and some time in Italy, I've spent the last quarter century in Rhode Island. So it's not too surprising that I've become a fan of the New England Patriots, whose stadium is only 45 minutes from where I live. This year they have had a fantastic run, culminating in today's victory over the Miami Dolphins which left them with the best record in the entire NFL. As a way of catching up on their exploits, today I tuned into an A.M. talk-radio station that carried live coverage of the game from Gillette Stadium. I turned on the radio in time to catch part of a pre-game call-in show. What I heard made me reflect on something that has been vaguely troubling me for years.

The hosts and callers on this show were not only well-informed on the various immediate topics of discussion, they were able to put current events into a broad historical perspective. They made sound arguments based on careful examination of the available evidence. When they did engage in speculation, they freely admitted to doing so. When they lacked sufficient knowledge to answer a question. they admitted to that as well. They cheerfully confessed to being partisan, but mostly respected the right of others to hold different allegiances. Most impressively, they were concerned always to compare rhetoric to actual performance. Why did all this cause me unease?

My enjoyment of listening to folks talk about pro football was tarnished. I couldn't help but notice how the level of American public discourse about sports is infinitely superior to our national conversation about politics and economics. There are of course many excellent sources of information, opinion and analysis available to citizens determined to really know what's going on. Unfortunately, what many people actually get from radio and television is a lot of corporate-sponsored crap. This blather is often not even logically consistent, let alone truthful. To give one example: Republicans often go unchallenged when they say, "tax-cuts aren't the problem, expenditures create the deficit." Yet a caller who said, "lost fumbles don't give the ball away, interceptions do," would be laughed off the show. Our corporate media shills don't have the guts to call out politicians on the most glaring lies. A budget is balanced when income matches expenses. A decrease in the former has exactly the same effect as an increase in the latter. Any journalist who allows someone to contradict this elementary truth is either a moron or a tool. Either way, it makes me appreciate why so many Americans are more likely to know a staggering amount about why a wide receiver was traded, than to have any understanding of domestic or foreign policy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A journalist who seeks to understand

This video does a nice job in conveying some of the spirit of Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, based on her experience working low-wage jobs in 1998. It's important to bear in mind that the federal poverty line is a pretty low standard-- there are many millions who are above the line, but not enough for them to enjoy a decent standard of living.