Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why bust the unions?

I have found over the last couple of weeks an interesting shift in the type of discussions I'm having with people. My blue collar friends, not all of whom have ever belonged to a union, have no problem understanding precisely why the Wisconsin situation is so important. These are the same people who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to a place where they can appreciate the need for marriage equality. My white collar friends, most of whom have had very little experience with unions, are people who sign all the same progressive petitions I do, and normally need little explanation to see the larger significance of an issue. Yet many of these educated folks are a bit puzzled by all the fuss in Madison. They're pleased to see folks standing up to right wing power. The specific concern over collective bargaining rights, however, is lost in larger statements about how teachers are underpaid, and everyone deserves a good health plan. They're upset with lawmakers and taxpayers for being stingy with public servants, but not so much for threatening their unions. Union-busting seems to them almost anachronistic, a holdover from pre-WWII America.

Paul Krugman speaks
to these sympathetic white collar brothers and sisters when he poses this question:

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cheese Shop

This is one of my favorites. Hope you all are enjoying a great weekend!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How 'ya making out?

A helpful reader told me about this fascinating interactive game developed for the good folks of Durham Urban Ministries. The premise of the game is simple: you're down to your last $1000, you need to rent a place, find a job, and then survive as best you can for a month. There's nice realistic touches, like having to choose between paying more for gas or rent (the game is very generous in assuming you already have a car all paid for). The best of the low-paying jobs available requires you to pass an actual typing test. All my poor friends who tried it say the game is too easy. None of my more affluent friends could make it past 20 days (hint: it helps to not bother getting any health or dental care). Anyways, the game is clever and thought-provoking. I encourage everyone who's interested to play it. Let me know if you make it through the month!

This game is called "Spent." You can play it here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mayor Taveras and School Board go full Walker

Here's some stunning news from our capital city:

My teacher friends in Providence, across the river from where I live, are calling this a "back door Wisconsin." Terminating all teachers in the city, instead of laying off all teachers in the city, makes a mockery of the teachers' union contract. With a huge budget shortfall, teachers were expecting layoff warning letters. They knew that some teachers would lose their jobs. But the recall process from layoffs still respects the negotiated contract. Those teachers who are recalled still enjoy step raises based on seniority, for example. Termination ends the contract. An award winning teacher with 25 years service, working at a higher pay scale, will now have to compete with an untested graduate, who can be paid at the lowest rate, to get her job back. Will the board choose the proven veteran who costs twice as much? Teaching in a largely low-income city like Providence is a very tough job. This insane action almost guarantees that the experienced glue that holds these fragile schools together will be melted away, replaced by eager, energetic, but probably (at least for a few years) much less effective teachers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's wrong with making Nixon blush?

Here's the text of a letter sent by Wisconsin State Senator Tim Carpenter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

February 23, 2011
Governor Scott Walker
Wisconsin State Capitol

Dear Governor Walker,

I am informed that a tape recording has been released in which you apparently held an extensive discussion with someone you believed to be your campaign supporter, David Koch. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel states that the caller was actually a reporter, pretending to be David Koch, and it has posted a transcript of the recording. It appears that you admit the call occurred, and have not contested the authenticity of transcript. David Koch is the billionaire businessman who reportedly contributed thousands to your campaign and who the media claims is a key source of funding for shadowy political groups that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking your political adversaries in our state.

At a historic moment in our State’s history, brought on by your refusal to compromise with elected officials regarding the elimination of worker’s rights, you still refuse to talk with Democratic legislators. However, you apparently have no problem taking a phone call from “Mr. Koch” and to:

• Discuss your strategy to lay off public workers to seek partisan advantage to pass your agenda;

• Discuss your plan to lure Democratic legislators to the Capitol on the pretext of negotiation, but then state that you would never actually negotiate;

• Discuss your plan to use the pretext of negotiation to get a quorum for legislative fiscal action that Republicans so far have not been able to do;

• Discuss that you considered the “planting” of paid troublemakers into the peaceful protests at our Capitol; and to

• Give your enthusiastic acceptance to an offer from “Koch” to fly you out on a vacation to show you a “good time” once you “crush these bastards.” Your response was “That would be outstanding…” Given that Koch’s businesses could reap vast rewards with the ‘no bid’ sale of the Wisconsin’s power plants that you propose in your budget repair bill, this response is severely troubling.

Governor Walker, this tape would make Richard Nixon blush. If the recording and the items discussed by you are indeed your plans, you have no business being in public office in our State, and should resign.

Tim Carpenter
State Senator

I have a feeling that this clown Scott Walker may end up serving far less time as Governor than even Sarah Palin. The Koch brothers don't like having their names brought out in public. They will still pour money into getting this union-busting bill passed, but I don't see them having a lot of use for this moron once that is done. Public opinion in Wisconsin is likely to shift, with support for Walker dwindling down to that same 30% of hardcore, plutocracy lovers who thought G.W. Bush was doing a "heckuva job" in 2007.

I like Ronnie, oops, I meant Ike

I've seen a lot of good posts recently trying to account for the bizarre phenomenon of Reagan worship among today's Republicans (and even Blue Dog Democrats). Cletis put up one by Manifesto Joe at his site yesterday. Yet the mystery seems to defy explanation. Fortunately, the good folks at the Onion are on the case:

WASHINGTON—At a press conference Monday, visibly embarrassed leaders of the Republican National Committee acknowledged that their nonstop, effusive praise of Ronald Reagan has been wholly unintentional, admitting they somehow managed to confuse him with Dwight D. Eisenhower for years.

Enlarge ImageEisenhower

The GOP's humiliating blunder was discovered last weekend by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who realized his party had been extolling "completely the wrong guy" after he watched the History Channel special Eisenhower: An American Portrait.

"When I heard about Eisenhower's presidential accomplishments—holding down the national debt, keeping inflation in check, and fighting for balanced budgets—it hit me that we'd clearly gotten their names mixed up at some point," Priebus told reporters. "I couldn't believe we'd been associating terms like 'visionary,' 'principled,' and 'bold' with President Reagan. That wasn't him at all—that was Ike."

"We deeply regret misattributing such a distinguished and patriotic legacy to Mr. Reagan," Priebus added. "We really screwed up."

Following his discovery, Priebus directed RNC staffers to inform top Republicans of the error and explain that it was Eisenhower, not Reagan, who carefully managed the nation's prosperity, warned citizens of the military-industrial complex's growing influence, and led the country with a mix of firm resolve and humble compassion.

Enlarge ImageNot Eisenhower

"Wait, you're telling me Reagan advocated that trickle-down nonsense that was debunked years ago? That was Reagan?" Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said upon hearing of the mistake. "I can't believe I've been calling for a return to Reagan's America. I feel like an asshole."

According to sources, millions of younger Republicans have spent most of their lives viewing Reagan a stalwart of conservative principles, and many were "horrified" to learn that the former president illegally sold weapons to Iran, declared amnesty for 2.9 million illegal immigrants, costarred in a movie with a chimpanzee, funneled aid to Islamic militants in Afghanistan, and suffered from severe mental problems.

In the wake of the GOP's revelation, Congress has passed bills to rename Reagan National Airport and the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in honor of Eisenhower. A number of potential 2012 Republican presidential contenders have also rushed to reframe their agendas in terms of "Eisenhower ideals" while distancing themselves from Reagan.

"It's absolutely mortifying to suddenly realize that the man you had long credited as a champion of fiscal conservatism actually tripled the national debt and signed the largest peacetime tax hike in U.S. history," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, adding that he was ashamed to learn that the man he once called his hero stood by silently while the AIDS epidemic exploded. "Frankly, I can't even believe that fucker had the balls to call himself a conservative."

"But we must move beyond this mess and look ahead toward our country's future, a future much like the one envisioned by the great Ronald Reagan," Gingrich added. "Oh, sorry—force of habit."

The misplaced adulation of Reagan has reportedly affected more than just Republican rhetoric, and seems to have had an impact on policy. Former president George W. Bush told reporters he "honestly thought" everyone wanted him to follow in Reagan's footsteps, which led him to emulate the 40th president's out-of-control deficit spending, fealty to the super-rich, and illegal wars.

While the GOP's error has gone largely unnoticed by the American public, a number of citizens admitted to having been puzzled by Republicans' slavish celebration of Reagan during recent years.

"I never understood why everyone elevated him to the level of a party icon," said 89-year-old Nancy Reagan. "Ronnie was certainly sweet and I loved him very much, but let's face it, he was a terrible president."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fake campaign yields hilarious results

I came across this 2nd campaign manifesto published by fakeconsultant. Fakeconsultant has very kindly given me permission to post it up here. The premise is that mounting a fake campaign gives one a chance to inject some honesty into the process. Those of you who'd like to read the 1st campaign manifesto can do so here: 1st campaign manifesto.

So when we were last together, as you all know, I announced that I’m fake running for Congress in Washington State’s 8th District—and that I’m doing it because, so far as I know, the best way to get a candidate to truly “come out Liberal” is to be a fake candidate…and to make good and sure The Campaign isn’t out chasing money when it’s being done.

Having made the announcement, we’re already making our first campaign trip—and oddly enough, our first trip as a Congressional candidate will take us to Madison, Wisconsin, where we’ll link up with a few folks who, apparently inspired by me, have taken to the streets in a very big way.

When we get there I’ll need a parka, a nice hat, a thermos of coffee, and a big fat Sharpie—so let me go get it all together, and then we’ll be on our way.
All sober enquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

If there is a form of government then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid, and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

--From Thoughts on Government, by John Adams, 1776

Now for those who did not know, I am personally responsible for the marches and demonstrations that have been taking place in Madison, Wisconsin for the past several days.

What happened was that, just about two weeks ago, I posted a story at Uppity Wisconsin asking, literally, “Where’s Our Tahrir Square?”—and obviously, inspired by my posting and Scott Walker’s mad rush to power, the citizens of Wisconsin have responded to the call, and now the fight is on.

I need to get over there immediately and see what else I can get going—and if I can have this kind of impact in a State where I don’t even live, obviously my fake candidacy is off to a very, very, good start.

So the first thing I had to do was to arrange transit to Madison—as you’ll recall the campaign does not accept donations, so no private jet for this fake candidate—but lucky for me I have a few connections in “low places”.

As it happens, there’s a full shipping container of Oxycodone that arrives at the Port of Seattle every week from a certain Asian gray-market supplier, and that shipping container has to be in the back parking lot of Excellence In Broadcasting’s Network Broadcast Origination Center in Palm Beach, Florida by 6:13 AM the following Monday morning…and if it doesn’t make it, The Rush Limbaugh Show cannot go on the air that week.

I know the two drivers of that truck, and before 10 PM we were already passing through George, Washington (and, of course, the Martha Inn Cafe) and getting ready to cross the Columbia River on I-90.

It’s a late night driving across Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Western Montana, and before long the talk turned to bribery.

Tendei and Jenna (the truck drivers) wanted to know how I would get along in “the other” Washington, what with all the corruption and all, and that’s when we got to talking about my revolutionary new “corruption policy”.

“Well I’ll tell ya what” I said over the pretty much constant sound of Jenna playing “Bejeweled” from the desk in the sleeper (there’s a satellite internet connection…and I think Jenna may have stolen a few of those Oxycodones for herself) “the way I see it we already have bribery…we just call it campaign donations or soft money or corporate free speech or whatever, so what I propose to do is just make it all open and transparent.

Here’s what I mean: in the 112th Congress, Republicans are supposedly going to add statements to bills that explain where the Constitutional foundation for the bill comes from; what I’m going to do is add a statement to every bill that I introduce that explains just who paid for the bill, and how much.”

“No more moves!” Jenna started yelling from the back. “That…sucks!”

“Anyway” I said to Tendei, ignoring the sound of Jenna’s mouse smacking against the desk “in my bills, it would say something like ‘Platinum Contributors for this bill ($1,000,000) are the US Chamber of Commerce, Lockheed Martin, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Gold Contributors ($500,000) are Boeing, Xe, and the EG&G Division of the URS Corporation.’

So we’d list everyone, and that way you’d know who was paying for whatever hustle was about to be put on you.

I’m also thinking about ‘Bill Sponsorships’, which would allow naming rights for bills to be purchased by either interested corporations, private individuals, or groups.

For example, if we decided to lower the blood alcohol count for drunk driving in National Parks and other Federal Lands, we might end up with something like the…uh…the ‘Jack Daniels Cares About Drunk Driving Act of 2011”—but we’d be taking bids from all interested parties, and we’d probably need to get a least a million for something like that.

Tendei looked over from the driver’s seat: “But what about the bribes that get paid where no bill ever gets written?”

“Great question. What I’m thinking is that we set up a page on my Congressional website that works as a ‘Bribe Tracker’. When we get approached by a lobbyist who is looking to give us something, we put up a listing, and then if the bribe—sorry, ‘legal donation’—actually gets paid, we update the listing, so everyone knows who is paying what.

We could also add an EBay-like function, again, so that we can take bids on some bills when an auction looks like the best way to bump the price.

But all that only accounts for the incoming money. My voters want to know where the money is going to go after it comes in—and that’s where I’m really gonna get crazy.

I have two ideas for where the money could go. The first, of course, is right into the Federal Treasury, to lower the Federal deficit each fiscal year we run the program.

But the other idea is to let charities ‘bid’ for the money. In other words, charities would submit an explanation of what they would do with the money and how many private dollars they could ‘match’ for each one of ours…and the best bids win the money.

So what I’m going to do is let my voters decide what to do; The Campaign is setting up a poll and, as your fake humble public servant, I’m gonna let the decision be yours.”

Tendei looked impressed…but it was getting pretty late for both of us, with pretty much all of Montana yet to cross and Jenna looking to take the wheel for a few hundred more miles…so today’s Campaign Manifesto ends with Tendei taking the bottom bunk and the fake candidate taking the top.

Rally at Rhode Island State House

Here's where I was today. No time to blog, but I thought this video of our little rally in Providence might be of interest.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pizza for protesters

Heard about this the other day, it is so awesome to see people around the world buying pizza for their brothers and sisters in Madison, Wisconsin.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Book of Cletis

While the Book of Cletis does offer informed and impassioned comments on current issues, it does a great deal more. Here you can find a diverse collection of fine writing, including fiction and poetry. This post, that Cletis has generously allowed me to reprint in its entirety, reveals the fine spirit behind this cool blog:

A Note From Cletis

I’m thinking about writing a book. I believe I’ll call it, An Activist’s Guide to Affecting Positive Change and the Importance of Naming Names. I know that’s a mouthful but don’t worry about having to actually read it. In truth, I’m not capable of writing a serious analysis of anything and the book will not be coming out anytime soon. Someone more disciplined and studied than myself, however, should give it a shot.
Here’s my story in brief: Fifteen years ago, this past November, my wife and I moved to Scott County, Kentucky just outside of Georgetown. I had some time on my hands so I started attending public meetings and writing letters to our local paper, the Georgetown News-Graphic, and, like the woman in the Ray Stevens’ song when the squirrel ran up her dress during Sunday services, I was “naming names”.
Certainly, I knew better than that. I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and I know the proper place to talk about people is behind their backs. I breached the protocol and I paid for it. “Who does he think he is?” “What makes him think he can come to our community and act like that?” Did you read what he wrote about the mayor?” “Well, I never!” It was about that time my wife suggested we take separate cars when we went out for dinner.
Things were kind of settling down when, against the advice of everyone I know, I questioned Jared Hollon's (then mayor of Stamping Ground) practice of opening council meetings with an invocation to Jesus. Folks, never tick off a child of the Lord. “Pawn of Satan!” “Godless heathen!” “Communist!” “Tar and feather him!” After that, my wife also suggested separate tables when we went out for dinner.
Thankfully, I’m hard to stay mad at and things have gotten better again. More people have gotten to know me and have considered my thoughts and intentions. Most now recognize I have been the catalyst for a lot of positive changes in our community and I believe I have earned the respect of those who are fair-minded.
I came by my activism honestly. I’ve spent much of my adult life as a social studies teacher and taught literally thousands of children. I pounded the Bill of Rights into their heads and did my best to ensure they understood what a lot of adults can’t seem to grasp; each generation of Americans must give life to the words inscribed on our historic documents. You can’t have democracy under glass.
I encouraged my students to become men and women of reason, to be passionate about public discussion, and to have no tolerance for those who want to govern from behind closed doors. Each year my students read Animal Farm and I made sure they understood that when there is secrecy in government there is no accountability; and without accountability those in power become corrupt. There are no exceptions. Not me. Not you. Not Mother Teresa.
Americans have lost sight of that fact and we have become Orwell’s nightmare. We are routinely lied to by our national, state, and local leaders. Slogans are substituted for reason and discerning the truth has become increasingly difficult. Turn on the evening news or pick up the newspaper and tell me we aren’t paying dearly for our lack of informed judgment.
None of us should accept this. We must confront these liars every time we can. We must question them and when they hedge the truth we must call them out publicly. If there is malfeasance or corruption we must work to expose it.
It’s difficult for any one person to affect our national dialogue but we can certainly try. With that in mind, I created The Book of Cletis, for an opportunity to contribute my thoughts regarding issues facing my community, state, and nation. I appreciate those of you who are visiting the site and hope you will spread the word. It is my intention to publish reasoned opinions and insightful political viewpoints in a forthright manner. I have and will continue to name names. (December 14, 2010)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This is an ex-parrot!

I had some very enthusiastic e-mails about our first Monty Python viewing, so here's another clip for your Sunday night:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Honest Abe knew the score

The assault of Republicans on working Americans in Wisconsin and elsewhere clearly goes against traditional American values of fair play and equal opportunity. Yet many Republican voters don't seem to realize that they aren't just voting against their long-term interests. They are also voting for rapacious thugs who are betraying the ideals of their party's greatest leader. In an address to Congress on December 3, 1861, Republican President Abraham Lincoln said this:

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

What was true a century and a half ago is still true today. Long before the great advances of organized labor in the 1930's and '40s, Americans recognized that productive work was the foundation of our nation's prosperity. Exploiting the surplus value of labor, speculating in stocks and commodities, lending at high interest-- these aren't necessarily evil, but they're definitely parasitical activities. Most people at least vaguely understand this reality. This is why the parasitical classes, and their puppet politicians, must constantly struggle to divide and distract those of us who make their privileged lives possible. When Abraham Lincoln made this observation the survival of our nation was in grave doubt. If we don't come together now, to reclaim our country from the Koch brothers and their minions, the fate of our Union will again be in peril.

Friday, February 18, 2011

To the barricades!

Here's an amateur video showing the scene in Madison Wisconsin on Thursday:

If you live in the area, get yourself to Madison, the fun should only increase over the next few days!

Robin Reiser pays tribute to Planned Parenthood

It shows how extreme the Republicans have become that while Bush the Elder was a donor to Planned Parenthood, today's G.O.P. would like to destroy this important resource for public health. This is actually irrational on many levels. By providing contraception to millions, Planned Parenthood has done more to prevent unintended pregnancies, and abortions, than all right-wing zealots combined. Today's vote in the House was a real travesty,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fundamental right

Throughout the United States the National Labor Relations Act is the law of the land.

Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

This by no means levels the playing field between capital and labor. But it does allow workers to cooperate with each other, just the way owners have always done. Owners have never liked this, so they have spent vast sums on lawyers and lobbyists to fight existing unions and prevent the creation of new ones. One thing union-busting lawyers quickly seized on was the fact that workers were also free not to join unions. At first glance, this appears to be of little import. What rational person would decline the opportunity to vastly strengthen his or her bargaining power?

The lawyers, however, knew that individual greed could in some cases lead a worker to ignore the long-term benefits of union membership. They exploited this greedy, anti-social tendency to change the law in 23 states where organized labor was weak. These states passed "right-to-work" laws which decimated existing unions while discouraging the formation of new unions. Incredible as it may seem, these laws actually force unions to spend money representing workers who choose not to join or pay dues. The union is obliged, for example, to pay attorney costs for a fired non-union employee without any compensation. Even more crazy, an employee who shuns the union, and doesn't pay dues, is permitted to sue the union if he or she is dissatisfied with their representation. This would be like allowing a local hotel to sue a tourism council it refused to join for not promoting its business! Needless to say, RTW states have very few unions left.

So, has the absence of unions affected life in these RTW states? As Sarah Palin might say, you betcha! Lower education scores, Higher poverty and infant mortality rates, higher number of uninsured, lower wages, lower compensation benefits (unemployment and injury), higher workplace death and injury rates... you get the picture. Well maybe work is lousy in these states, but don't they have more jobs? Nope. Nowhere has worse unemployment than the RTW state of Nevada.

Wisconsin, with its proud labor heritage, shocked a lot of people when voters didn't turn out to keep Russ Feingold in D.C., or Republicans out of the State House. Now many in Wisconsin are waking up to the fact that unions make their state a better place. Governor Walker is challenging a fundamental American value in stripping state workers of their full collective bargaining rights. Republicans have already succeeded in making some American workers jealous of unions. Yet many Americans still appreciate unions, and some are now regretting how much power they have lost.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wisconsin wakes up

First, the new Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, began a process to strip public-sector workers in the state of their basic collective bargaining rights. Then, he added insult to injury by threatening to call out the National Guard if these plans met with any organized resistance. Right now many Wisconsin voters who stayed home on election day are realizing what a costly mistake they made. The good news is that the Governor's outrageous behavior has prompted the people of Wisconsin, including the world champion Green Bay Packers, to rise up against this tyranny. Here's an excerpt from Scott Bauer's story:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Thousands of teachers, students and prison guards descended on the Wisconsin Capitol on Wednesday to fight a move to strip government workers of union rights in the first state to grant them more than a half-century ago.

The Statehouse filled with as many as 10,000 demonstrators who chanted, sang the national anthem and beat drums for hours. The noise in the rotunda rose to the level of a chainsaw, and many Madison teachers joined the protest by calling in sick in such numbers that the district - the state's second-largest - had to cancel classes....

In addition to eliminating collective bargaining rights, the legislation would also make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage - increases that Walker calls "modest" compared with those in the private sector.

More than 13,000 protesters gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday for a 17-hour public hearing on the measure. Thousands more came Wednesday.

"I'm fighting for my home and my career," said Virginia Welle, a 30-year-old teacher at Chippewa Falls High School. She said she and her husband, who is also a teacher, each stand to lose $5,000 a year in higher pension and health care contributions.

Welle said she could never get that money back since the unions would be unable to bargain over benefits under Walker's plan.

The protests have been larger and more sustained than any in Madison in decades. Dozens of protesters spent the night in sleeping bags on the floor of the Rotunda. A noise monitor in the Rotunda registered 105 decibels at midday Wednesday - about as loud as a power mower or chainsaw.

Beyond the Statehouse, more than 40 percent of the 2,600 union-covered teachers and school staff in Madison called in sick. No widespread sickouts were reported at any other school.

Here's an opportunity for us to not repeat the mistake we made when Saint Ronnie Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers. People decried the dictatorial action, yet they didn't stage major demonstrations in solidarity. I encourage everyone to find out what you can do to resist this outrage. Most Americans already suffer for not having union representation. If the last few unions left standing are destroyed, we will have absolutely no one left on our side.

Just for fun

With our country devolving every day, into a dystopia that even Ayn Rand might find harsh, it's high time for a little chuckle:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Strange times

I was talking the other day with an acquaintance who has a brother that is head of Human Resources for a company in Indiana. She told me that he was initially glad to learn that they would be finally filling a few positions this year, but now he's not so sure. His problem? Boatloads of overqualified applicants. Even past recessions haven't prepared him for this new world. People who are qualified to run the whole business are desperately trying to arrange an interview for an "entry-level" position paying just under $500/week, with crappy benefits. He sifts through thousands of applications for every job. Some applicants are savvy enough to leave out some of the education and experience they have, so as not to seem too much. These subterfuges rarely work, because someone always gets ratted out. "Yeah she started as a teller 25 years ago, but she was a branch manager for 8 years before we consolidated operations." The ideal candidate has the relevant skills and experience, but not too much experience. 3-5 years doing the job, without being promoted very far above the offered job level.

Right now the U.S. economy is generating very few new jobs. It is generating even fewer decent jobs. Millions of Americans are busy networking, flossing, writing letters, and doing anything they possibly can to land a decent job. Helpful "career counselors" advise them to be "eager, but not desperate" during interviews. The truth is that nearly all of the millions of Americans who need jobs are doing everything right. Yet most of the nation's wealth is held by a fairly small number of people. Until these people decide they want to invest some of that wealth in ways that will create good jobs in the U.S., millions will remain on the outside, unable to recognize this new, heartless land.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A nation in trouble

The Homelessness Research Institute has released its study of U.S. figures from 2009. The homeless crisis is really bad everywhere, but some cities and states are hit worse than others. Here's a number that jumped out at me: Washington, D.C. had a homeless population in 2009 of 6,228. That's a lot of people for any size city, but for a medium-sized place like D.C. it's incredible. Out of every 10,000 people in the District, roughly 104 are homeless. Isn't it a shame we don't have the resources to help all of these unfortunates? But wait a second... didn't the politicians in D.C. just spend over $4 billion dollars on T.V. ads to get elected? So they could do the people's business, right? Like give tax breaks to billionaires while cutting heat assistance to the poor?

Let's think out of the box here for a moment. Suppose the plutocrats cut their campaign spending by 10%, leaving $400 million to play with. Each of these 6,228 homeless would now have a fund of more than $64,000 to help rebuild his or her life. That might pay for some rent, job training, clothes, medical care-- with enough left over to take a lobbyist out to lunch! I know it's asking a lot, but maybe our deficit hawk friends in D.C. might consider scraping by on $3.6 billion dollars in campaign spending, before they conclude that we have no choice but to let Grandma freeze to death. That reminds me, if these penny-pinching, live within our means politicians cut their campaign spending to a mere $1 billion, there would be plenty of money to restore the heating assistance that President Obama proposes slashing from the budget. Could it happen? While more than $1.7 million dollars per seat might seem like plenty, plutocrats aren't used to limiting their free corporate funded "speech."

We're not going to defeat the plutocrats by appealing to their sense of decency. The time for us has come to organize, and peacefully demand change. Events in Egypt have shown us that solidarity is very powerful. The key to victory is to overcome fear. Each of us as individuals dare not challenge our corporate overlords. Millions of us together will overcome.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

For your Sunday viewing pleasure

The amazing thing here is that the real Bill O'Reilly is even more egotistical than the Saturday Night Live version:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stop whining and eat your gruel!

A faithful reader sent me the link to Bob Herbert's column in today's New York Times. It is exactly what I would have written had two counter-factual conditions applied: 1) that I was a good writer, and, 2) that the Times would ever pay me to write something. I encourage everyone to read his fine piece, inspired by events in Egypt. Here I'd like to focus instead on one of the online comments to his column. A commenter called lure1 cites a number of "statistics" (no source provided) meant to show that, far from being ignored, the poor in America are really overindulged:

97% of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
78% have a DVD player; 62% have cable or satellite TV reception.
73% own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that these numbers aren't simply made up, what do they mean? It means that for those poor Americans who aren't actually homeless, life isn't quite so grim as it is for the poorest inhabitants of the Third World. This makes sense, as the U.S. is the wealthiest country on the planet. But shouldn't we aspire to something more than not being quite so bad as Haiti? Would poor people in Denmark or France want to trade places with our poor people?

The U.S. Census Bureau will not define an individual as "poor" unless he or she has an income of less than $11,400/year. If "lure1" thinks the poor have it so good, then he would be delighted to enjoy the princely income of $18,000/year, no? Here's my challenge: without any cheating, lure1, document what a fine time you have surviving on $18,000/year with no help for food, transportation, housing, medical, heat, utilities, etc. If you come out the other end of that year with the same attitude, lure1, I will personally shake your hand. If you decline this challenge, I'm afraid I'll have to decline to take you seriously.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A new day

Within hours of the Egyptian people's great victory, in forcing Hosni Mubarak from power, voices in the U.S. were inspired to call for dramatic changes here. Listen to KrisAin at firedoglake:

What if we could rise up, peacefully, and tell the people in power that enough is enough? What if we could shake the foundations of the Too Big To Fail banks? What if we could remind the people on Capitol Hill that we are in charge? What if we could prove to them all that the will of the people will not be denied?

The problem, of course, is we don't have one autocratic ruler who stands as the primary obstacle to change. We have free expression and free votes. But now the massive financial power of the plutocrats has been allowed by the Supreme Court to corrupt our system. Some token opposition to big-money interests remains, but this is rendered nearly powerless. Our nominal leader, President Obama, may propose reforming health care, but he is unable to accomplish more than small steps in the right direction. He essentially allows insurance and pharmaceutical companies to revise his plans to their satisfaction. Even this greatly weakened legislation barely makes it into law. As thanks for his protecting their interests, these companies and their big-money allies spend enormous sums to demonize President Obama and Democrats before the midterm elections.

Now, those of us who voted for President Obama and other Democrats feel disenfranchised. No one pursues a positive agenda on our behalf. At best, our representatives put up feeble resistance to the worst insanity of the extreme right wing. We're supposed to feel grateful that Social Security and Medicare haven't been completely eliminated in favor of installing solid gold statues of the Great Reagan in front of every town hall.

Those of us who criticize the establishment have a moral obligation to try and make it better represent the interests of the people. We need to disrupt the routine thievery of our economic and political elites through symbolic actions. Unions can play a vital role, but so can P.T.A.s and gardening clubs. Apart from some well-armed wackos, most Americans place great value on conducting themselves in a peaceful, respectful manner. Now is a time to go beyond a letter to the editor. As mlee33 said here the other day: "We need a lot more strikes and boycotts."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Disappointment leads to renewed determination in Egypt

Promises by Hosni Mubarak to leave, eventually, do not satisfy the people in the streets. What does he hope to gain by lingering where he's so unwelcome? The army won't crush the protests, but neither will it force a quick change in regime. This untenable situation will improve soon or deteriorate badly before long.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Plutocrats are living in a fool's paradise

Robert Reich explains
how the recent rise in corporate profits and stock prices has really only benefited the affluent. Just like in the 1920's, the giddy good times won't last. Even the rich need a more broad-based prosperity to be restored, to sustain their own fortunes.

We have two economies. The first is in recovery. The second remains in a continuous depression.

The first is a professional, college-educated, high-wage economy centered in New York and Washington, that’s living well off of global corporate profits. Corporations continue to make money by selling abroad from their foreign operations while cutting costs (especially labor) here at home. Wall Street is making money by taking the Fed’s free money and speculating with it. The richest 10 percent of Americans, holding 90 percent of all financial assets, are riding the wave. And their upscale spending has given high-end retailers and producers a bounce.

The second is most of the rest of America, and it’s still struggling with a mountain of debt, declining home prices, and job losses. In coming months most Americans will also be contending with sharply rising prices of food and fuel.

Our representatives in Washington see and hear mostly the first economy. The business press reports mainly on the first economy. Corporate and Wall Street economists are concerned largely with the first economy.

But the second economy will determine our politics in 2012 and beyond.

And not even the first can be sustained permanently on its own. Corporate profits cannot continue to rise on the basis of foreign sales (which are slowing as Europe adopts austerity and China raises interest rates), the purchases of the richest 10 percent of Americans (which are dependent on a rising stock market), and cost-cutting measures at home (which are necessarily limited). Without a strong and broadly-based middle-class recovery, America’s big money economy will fall in on itself. A major stock market “correction” is a certainty.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Farmers' markets

Some Americans have begun to reassert their independence from big banks, multinationals, and retail chains. Instead of resigning themselves to getting crumbs from the plutocrats' table, they are working towards building a table of their own. What am I talking about? The choice to buy, sell and invest in a market free of predators like Walmart, BankofAmerica, or Goldman Sachs.

Here's three examples:

1. The Farmers' Market in Ithaca, NY. Ithaca is a small, college town "centrally isolated" in a rural part of New York State. For such a small town, Ithaca supports an amazingly large and diverse Farmer's market, offering far more than just local produce. The community comes out in large numbers to buy the wares of local farmers and artisans. People are happy to pay a fair price for a jar of honey or a silk-screened shirt. They appreciate the chance to shop without giving their hard earned money to corporations that exploit cheap overseas labor.

2. The Pawtucket Credit Union in Rhode Island. An employee explained to me how they have recently seen an increase in customers fleeing big banks. "People are just fed up," she said, "they tell me they'd rather keep their money in local hands than dealing with people they can't trust." These refugees are willing to endure the inconvenience of less A.T.M.s, for the positive value of banking with a human-scaled institution.

3. Wickford Village in Rhode Island. Wickford is a beautiful seaside village in Rhode Island. Many affluent tourists for decades have enjoyed shopping for local arts, crafts, and antiques. In recent years, Wickford has seen a notable increase in its retail traffic after the tourists leave in the fall. These Christmas shoppers come from other parts of the state, abandoning the gaudy malls to the north in favor of independent local merchants. A schoolteacher from Cranston explained to me how she'd rather buy fewer, higher quality gifts from a local shop than more junk from a Macy's or Target.

While breakthroughs in science and technology may help us to create jobs in the U.S., a simple determination to freely trade with our neighbors can also help rebuild our economy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spanish prosecution?

It sounds like the current administration hasn't been helpful to the Spanish case against the Bush administration sanction of torture. Let's hope the prosecution continues regardless!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rude and Ignorant

Because Fox carried the Super Bowl today they also were in charge of arranging the traditional game day interview with the President. Bill O'Reilly was given the opportunity. I missed the first few minutes, but what I did see was pretty shocking Eclectablog sums up my reaction fairly well

I've never seen such an unprofessional, disrespectful interview of any President ever.

He constantly cut-off the President.

He constantly interjected his own opinions.


President Obama was poised and answered O'Reilly's questions intelligently and thoughtfully. I don't know how he was able to do it given the juvenile, completely unprofessional nature of O'Reilly's questions and demeanor but he represented himself very well.

I can only assume the reaction to O'Reilly's behavior will be one of scorn and derision. It deserves nothing more.

The problem with O'Reilly's interview is not that he asked tough questions. Indeed, there are quite a few tough questions he didn't ask that I'd love to hear answered. He treated President Obama with less respect than should be shown a small-town sheriff caught on tape selling drugs to 3rd graders. I predict this shameful performance will further damage the reputation of Fox News among the general public, although wingnuts will applaud the whole thing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Green Bay Packers: success of the public option

Tomorrow's Super Bowl matchup will feature two hard-working, tough football teams that fought hard through a long season to get to the top. What many people don't know is that the Steelers are facing an opponent that's unique in American professional sports. The Green Bay Packers do make healthy profits. Yet these profits don't go into their owner's pockets. Why not? Because their is no wealthy individual or group of fat cats that owns the team. Thousands of average Green Bay citizens hold shares in the enterprise. They insist on maintaining a competitive team, and all the profits are re-invested into the franchise. Because the fans are in control, ticket prices are kept lower, and the team and community have a mutually supportive relationship. Patrick Hruby explains at ESPN.com:

"Green Bay is a dangerous example for [sports] owners," says Dave Zirin, who makes the case for Packers-style ownership in his book "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." "Because the franchise proves the argument for public ownership in practice."

Start with the NFL's potential work stoppage. Why did league owners opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement? Why are they threatening to lock out players come March?

Simple. They want a revamped CBA that ensures more profit. A bigger piece of the pie. As well they should. After all, they're owners. Wealthy business people. By and large, they didn't invest sizable chunks of their personal fortunes in order to create public athletic charities, let alone act as selfless custodians of treasured civic institutions.

Nope, they bought in to get paid. To amp up their investment portfolios and stroke their egos, not necessarily in that order. They're motivated first, foremost and always by personal gain. And that's fine. Fair, even. Unless you're a fan who could care less about owners getting an additional $1 billion of total league revenues -- because really, you just want to watch football.

In that case, you're better off with the Green Bay model.

In 1923, the Packers were nearly bankrupt. The desperate club held a stock sale. Today, the franchise has 112,158 shareholders who own 4.7 million shares. Only none of those individuals receives dividends. They don't even get free tickets.

Instead, all profits are invested back into the team. As such, Green Bay's board of directors is mostly motivated to: (a) remain solvent; (b) field a competitive team. They're not driven to make money for the sake of making more money, and as such, far less likely to risk a short-term, franchise- and community-wide financial hit -- via a no-games, no-revenue lockout that could cost the league an estimated $1 billion or more -- for the sake of surplus cash in ownership's coffers down the road.

So, whether you're rooting for the Steelers or the Packers, tomorrow's game should be a satisfying moment for all of us little people. You don't have to be a plutocrat to make it to the big time.

Blogroll Amnesty Day

The good folks over at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo have posted a call for participation in Blogroll Amnesty Day, where we can call attention to 5 blogs we think are worthy of more attention. There are so many excellent blogs out there that it's hard to know where to start. Here's a handful of blogs making good contributions:



The whole enterprise of blogging is somewhat astonishing. From movie criticism to politics, sports, and everything else, you can find people who have taken the trouble to share their views with the world. We've only just begun to learn the good things we can accomplish with this powerful tool.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Noam & Friends

It's a little known fact that for conservatives who regard themselves as well-educated, the mere mention of Noam Chomsky is sufficient to give them heartburn. So, when a thoughtful reader provided the link to this clip I had to post it right away. An interesting aspect of this piece is that it focuses mostly on disproving the liberal media bias myth. It would be almost as easy to demonstrate a strong anti-liberal (not neoliberal) bias in corporate owned media. This has changed in recent years, from a bias in favor of center-right to far-right viewpoints. When Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is the most liberal voice on a talk-show panel, then you know our situation is desperate.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Saint Ronnie's Feast

Nobody does indignant better than Doghouse Riley. The absurd celebration of Ronald Reagan's posthumous 100th birthday leads him to make a string of caustic comments, culminating in this rousing paragraph:

Bill Clinton left office even more popular, and without the 24-hour lionization service. Reagan left office popular, not exactly like an old whore or an ugly building, but because there was a collective Oh Shit! moment in American politics when both the worst of his shenanigans and the real-world effect of his disconnected leadership came to light, and people decided they'd rather not be called to account for voting for him in overwhelming numbers despite ample evidence which argued against it, and decided to fall back on a sort of instant nostalgia for the trumped-up economic accomplishments of the middle of his reign. Of course that one's inoperative now, too, in light (never did a man's lasting influence depend so much on changing the rules every so often in order to keep him in the best light), again, of Bill Clinton's better numbers. Not to mention our clearer view of the effects of thirty-years worth of increasing income disparity and WWIII levels of Defense spending. So we fudge that now, and show another round of Berlin Wall clips. Horseshit. Ronald Reagan was the paid spokesmodel of a few wealthy Goldwaterites, and he managed to stick around long enough to get elected when the sea happened to change. He promised to eliminate the National Debt and nearly quadrupled it. He spoke about Middle American values, and handed the keys to the country to piratical mercantilists. He cured our post-Vietnam military defeatism by signing a blank check for every high-tech gadget the Pentagon pushed his way, reducing our nuts-and-bolts readiness in the process; Ronald Reagan is a major reason why we could have blown Sadam Hussein and the rest of the Middle East to Allah five-hundred times over, but couldn't successfully occupy a country with no air force and a tenth-rate military already defeated. Make no mistake about this. The Soviet Union was bankrupt before Ronald Reagan ever took office, and the United States government had known this for a decade. Th' fuck do you think we spent all our time studying in those days? Ronald Reagan chose to spend us near to bankruptcy alongside it. Take your pick of reasons; none of them involves "reality". His was the morality of the small-town cop: determine how much graft is acceptable, how much sticking your nose into other people's business you can get away with by calling it "surveillance", and when you're finally found out protest loudly that things would've been much worse if Stalin had been in charge. A tacky Rose Bowl parade float is a fitting tribute for the real Reagan. Assuming it had a vacuum attachment that sucked money from honest people along the route.

While this lionization of a lying, soulless bastard by Republicans is certainly creepy, the refusal of Democrats to counter the myth is pathetic. The acceleration of the upward transfer of wealth that Ronald Reagan oversaw was devastating for this country. His era only looks better today because thirty years of middle class decline has followed it. President Obama's reverential comments about President Reagan are, to my mind, some of the most disturbing words he's ever uttered. Out of the thousands of despicable things Saint Ronnie did, one is especially revealing of his character. Bound by law to make school lunches more nutritious, "Saint Ronnie" declared ketchup to be a vegetable. That's really all you need to know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two economies

Robert Reich found much to like in President Obama's State of the Union speech, but felt he missed an opportunity to point out an important problem:

What the President should have done is talk frankly about the central structural flaw in the U.S. economy – the dwindling share of its gains going to the vast middle class, and the almost unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at top – in sharp contrast to the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.

Although the economy is more than twice as large as it was thirty years ago, the median wage has barely budged. Most of the gains from growth have gone to the richest Americans, whose portion of total income soared from around 9 percent in the late 1970s to 23.5 percent in 2007. Americans kept spending anyway by using their homes as ATMs but the bursting of the housing bubble put an end to that – leaving them without enough purchasing power to reboot the economy. So the central challenge is put more money into the pockets of average Americans.

This narrative would be politically risky (opening Mr. Obama to the charge of being a “class warrior”) but at least honest. And it would allow him to connect the dots – explaining why his new health-care law is critical to reducing medical costs for most working families, why tax reform requires cutting taxes on the middle class while raising them on the rich, why the Bush tax cuts shouldn’t be extended for the wealthy, why deficit reduction must not sacrifice education and infrastructure (both important to rebuilding middle-class prosperity) and why any cuts in Social Security or Medicare must be on the backs of the wealthy rather than average working families.

Importantly, it would give him a convincing counter-narrative to the Republican anti-government one. Government exists to protect and advance the interests of average working families. Without it, Americans have to rely mainly on big and increasingly global corporations, whose only interest is making money wherever it can be made.

This is the Rubicon that politicians who depend on corporate funding will never cross. They are unwilling to admit that many U.S. banks and businesses no longer see their success as tied to the prosperity of working Americans. For them, having America lose its middle class is no big deal. I think GE and other huge corporations are mistaken on this, but their short-term profits are up, wages are down, and they don't seem concerned about the future.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Too big to fail

The news from Egypt is fascinating. One lesson that I hope Americans can learn is that not only multinational banks are "too big to fail." The majority of Americans are clearly not happy with the performance of our political and economic elites. We can do more than give up in the face of tough circumstances. We can join with our neighbors to demand change. We can continue these peaceful demands until they are met!