Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cesar Chavez Day

People across the country took time today to celebrate Cesar Chavez day. In California, farmworkers still carry on his struggle:

SALINAS - Despite decades of struggle, California's farmworkers continue to live in poverty and without adequate access to education and health care.

That was the message from a group of elected officials and farmworker advocates as they celebrated the birthday of civil rights leader and United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez on Thursday.

Flanked by farmworkers and their supporters waving red UFW flags at a press conference at Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, the group released a report filled with grim statistics and offered policy recommendations for officials in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

"Farmworkers face the same crippling socio-economic conditions they experienced earlier," said Dr. Maximiliano Cuevas, chief executive officer of the safety-net clinic in East Salinas. "It's a good time for us to come together and continue the efforts that Cesar Chavez left to us to pursue."

In Sacramento, the state Senate marked the day by passing SB 104, the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act, on a 24-15 vote. The legislation is aimed at making it easier to organize the fields by permitting unions to sign up a majority of workers rather than win an election at a polling place, which are typically on company property.

Cuevas urged legislators to adopt the report's recommendations, including holding off on a proposed shift of state services to counties until standards are set for serving farmworkers, providing county-based clinics incentives to care for farmworkers, and establishing a task force to regularly survey farmworkers and to design comprehensive strategies for improving their health.

The report, "The Status of California Farm Workers Since 1990: Progress or Retrenchment," is based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Surveys conducted during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as from policy papers produced with grants from the California Endowment during the past decade. Though the most recent statistics are from 2005, Maggie Melone, a clinic board member, said not much has changed.

Working conditions have improved with drinking water and toilets more likely to be available in the fields, and fewer and better-trained workers handling pesticides, but socio-economic factors indicating a better quality of life have barely budged, the report says.

While workers in all sectors of the U.S. economy need unions to fight for better pay and conditions, this need is desperate for those who toil in the fields. Cesar Chavez staged hunger-strikes to call attention to his cause. He never gave up hope that the struggle for justice would prevail. Today we can see that all American workers need his powerful spirit to beat back the attacks of the plutocrats.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Michigan misery

Rachel Maddow has a nice piece on Governor Snyder:

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

If policymakers would listen to people like Dean Baker we would have a lot less problems. I find it encouraging that a friend of mine, who is a Dean Baker fan, will soon join the economic development team of our new Governor in Rhode Island!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A judicial rebuke

On Friday, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin's administration decided to bypass the Secretary of State's office. The Secretary is the official, under the Wisconsin constitution, charged with "publishing" new laws before they go into effect. He had been prohibited by the court from publishing the GOP anti-union law until a challenge to the legality of its passage was resolved. The Legislative Reference Bureau was ordered to post a link to the law on its website. The head of the LRB complied, but made a point of saying this action was not sufficient to allow the law to take effect.

Well, today Judge Sumi returned from her vacation. She wasn't amused!

If it wasn't clear last time, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi made it clear on Tuesday: Any further implementation of Gov. Scott Walker's law limiting public employee unions is barred, and anyone who violates her order risks sanctions.

Sumi made her ruling at the end of a day of testimony in the open meetings lawsuit brought by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. The hearing is scheduled to conclude on Friday.

"Now that I've made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin," Sumi said.

Her statement appeared to be a warning to state agencies, such as the state Department of Administration, that have begun implementing the collective bargaining bill despite a temporary restraining order that Sumi issued on March 18 and the unsettled question about whether publication of the law by the Legislative Reference Bureau on Friday was enough to satisfy state law.

"Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was 'the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 is enjoined,'" Sumi said. "That's what I now want to make crystal clear."

The people of Wisconsin are devoting great energy to the eventual recall of Governor Walker. It appears he and his pals may soon make things easy by opening themselves up for impeachment proceedings. Even after today's warning from the bench, administration officials expressed their intention to continue acting as if the law was in effect.

Monday, March 28, 2011

From debate to destruction

As someone who has devoted a considerable part of my life to the study and teaching of history, recent events in Maine and Wisconsin have left me shaken. In Maine, a series of historically accurate murals, depicting moments in Maine's labor history, have been removed from the state's labor department by the governor. In Wisconsin, a distinguished history professor at Madison is being harassed by the state Republican party in retaliation for his careful, historical examination of their current agenda.

What is happening here? It seems that our corporate overlords are growing impatient with having to compete with other sources of information in their zeal to brainwash Americans. It was relatively easy to purge television of nearly all content that would help establish a well-informed citizenry. But now in Wisconsin, Maine, and other parts of America, newly elected radical Republicans are suddenly confronting the fact that the knowledge of history, inside and outside the academy, gives too many citizens a reason to oppose the power grab that is happening now. Frustrated, these tyrants remove historical art from the public square, and try to intimidate living historians.

Winston Smith, who worked for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984, was a threat only because he could preserve a historical consciousness in his own memory. We must seize this moment, when many Americans do still preserve memories that challenge our corporate overlords' vision, to boldly contest the usurpation of American institutions by corporate shills from both parties.

The Republicans are certainly extreme. Yet we cannot oppose them just by blindly voting for Democrats. Democrats who want our votes, but are not willing to offend any big-money donors, are little better than Republicans. While GE pays no taxes, and Bill Gates pays little taxes, Democrats should feel obliged to correct that situation before they even start to talk about cutting back on programs that help the poor and middle class. Some Democrats seem to understand this, but many don't. I find it insulting to receive fund-raising appeals that decry Wisconsin's Governor Walker, without bothering to explain how the Democrats plan to stop doing the bidding of big-money interests and start representing their constituents. The GOP has shown that it will stop at nothing to advance the interests of the plutocrats. The Democrats must show they are willing to risk something to promote the people's cause. Just being the less racist, sexist, and homophobic corporate party isn't enough anymore. The unions won't keep working to turn out the vote for candidates who pal around with Wall St. People are paying attention, and they won't accept the status-quo for long.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Philosophy down under

Of course this isn't half as hysterical as a real Philosophy Dept. meeting...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The legacy of Triangle

100 years ago yesterday, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York galvanized public opinion to improve working conditions. This clip makes clear we still have much work to do on these issues:

Friday, March 25, 2011

No time to give up

I think we have come to a fork in the road here in our republic. The GOP caught many napping, and others bamboozled by propaganda, and scored many victories in the 2010 elections. They have chosen to abandon a gradual, and seemingly mainstream approach to securing more riches and power for the plutocrats. Their arrogant actions now seem unconstrained by public opinion or respect for free traditions.

Are the Republicans hoping to provoke disorders, which could be suppressed with ruthless violence that crushes any further resistance to plutocratic rule? If this is their game, I think they will lose. The American people are patient, but also stubborn. We can protest, recall, and stand our ground in a peaceful manner. With alternate media we don't have to accept the distorted reflection of reality the corporate media tries to sell us.

The attempted coup was planned in the expectation that we wouldn't notice what was going on until it was too late. It is indeed very late, but many of us are wide awake and more are rising from their slumber every day. We will need to struggle with the same passion that supported the fights for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam. The advantage this time is that with enough education, at least 98% of the people should come to the realization that all of us need to win this fight.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

More money at the top doesn't mean better jobs for the rest of us

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

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

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

The last couple of months has seen an awakening of American good sense. While there are still some who cling to this job-creator myth, many no longer believe that the rich and big corporations seek to promote a wider prosperity. The assault on unions has helped to show working Americans that they now have to join the fight for the survival of a decent standard of living. We, like workers in Tunisia and Egypt, need to continually stand up to power and demand change.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fighting to prevent foreclosures

I am proud to say that Rep. Cicilline is off to a great start as our new Congressman from Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District. While his energy and good sense will allow him to do some good in the minority party, I fervently hope that other parts of our nation will arrange for him to be in the majority party in 2012!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cruel and Unusual

Just when you thought that no one could outdo the GOP psychopaths in Washington D.C., Republicans in Minnesota show they're up to the challenge:

Subd. 1. EBT debit card. Paragraph (a) prohibits EBT cardholders in the GA, MSA, and MFIP programs from withdrawing cash from an ATM or receiving cash from vendors with the EBT debit card. Limits the use of EBT cards to use as a debit card.

Paragraph (b) requires cash benefits for programs listed under paragraph (a) to be issued on a separate EBT card with the head of household's name printed on the card. Requires the card to state that it is unlawful to purchase tobacco products or alcoholic beverages with the card. Requires the card to be issued within 30 days of an eligibility determination. Allows recipients to have benefits issued on a card without a name printed on the card during the initial 30 days of eligibility. Specifies that the temporary card does not need to meet the requirements of this section.

Paragraph (c) allows EBT cardholders to opt to have up to $20 per month accessible via ATM.

Subd. 2. Photo identification. Prohibits retailers from accepting an EBT card as payment without also seeing a photo identification card.

Subd. 3. Prohibited purchases. Prohibits EBT cardholders in programs listed under subdivision 1 from using their EBT card to purchase tobacco products and alcoholic beverages. Prohibits retailers from accepting EBT cards for payment for these products. Requires DHS to impose a civil penalty of up to an unspecified amount on retailers who violate this section.

This proposed legislation seeks quite openly to deny any freedom or dignity to those people (all of whom are very poor) who receive federal or state assistance. The photo I.D. requirement is extremely insulting. If one poor person has the good fortune to get a little help from family or a charity, they may not allow another poor person to take advantage of unused EBT credit to buy some food. That would be wrong!

The $20 cash/debit-card monthly limit is even more troubling. Not every store, doctor's office, or utility company is equipped to handle EBT transactions. Why not force a poor person to walk an extra couple of miles for that loaf of bread?

Here's what I mean by a denial of "freedom or dignity." Imagine a poor single mom has managed, through fantastic luck and sacrifice, to have $40 left in benefits at the end of the month. She'd like to buy her son a birthday present that is not an approved EBT purchase. The present would cost $35 after tax. Can't buy it, sorry. That freedom, to scrimp and save in order to bring a smile to her son's face, is for some reason offensive to Minnesota Republicans. They are saying to her, in so many words, "you are too poor to make your own choices. Your kid doesn't need that toy truck, buy him a couple of frozen pizzas!"

Stories like this one make it hard to keep fighting. But fight we must, or all compassion and decency will perish from this earth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rep. Conyers a reality-based legislator

Here's a press release from Congressman Conyer's office:

Washington DC- Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) today introduced H.R. 870, the “Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment & Training Act,” a comprehensive and innovative federal and local government job creation and training bill that would create millions of new jobs for the nation’s unemployed. Local jobs would be created through a partnership between the Department of Labor, state, and local governments, non-profit community organizations, and small businesses. Under the Act, jobs would be created in the fields of construction, infrastructure repairs, green jobs, education, health care, and neighborhood renovation. The Act’s Full Employment Trust Fund would provide federal funding for local community-based job creation and training initiatives until full employment is reached in the United States. The Act is deficit neutral and fully funded through a modest tax on Wall Street stock and bond transactions.
“Today, there are millions of Americans who want a job, but can’t find one,” said Conyers. “The inability to find meaningful and sustainable work strips our fellow citizens of their basic right to have access to food, housing, health care, freedom of movement, and perhaps, most importantly, the ability to pursue life with a sense of dignity and meaning. High levels of unemployment are unacceptable and immoral in the wealthiest nation in the world. Thus, I believe it is critical that the federal government empower states, local governments, non-profits, and small businesses to create jobs during an economic downturn.
My “Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” would allow local government officials to work with community leaders to come up with an effective job creation program, based on each community’s respective needs—be it improvements in infrastructure, housing, energy efficiency, education, or health care. The private sector will also benefit if millions of new jobs are created through improvements in our nation’s aging and crumbling infrastructure. New orders for brick, concrete, steel, aluminum, and plastics mean new jobs in America’s plants and factories and a rebirth of American manufacturing.
Lastly, because we exist in a period when concerns about government debt loom large in many minds, my legislation will be fully funded by a tax on Wall Street speculation and will not add a dime to the federal debt. Wall Street was responsible for the financial crisis that began in 2008 and continues to affect us today. Having already received significant assistance from the federal government, it is only fair that Wall Street now pay Main Street back by helping put America back to work.”

Here is that rare thing of beauty-- a perfectly sensible idea proposed in Congress that is not tarnished by any pandering to special interests. Because the American people are the only beneficiaries, it doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting passed. And yet it could be tremendously useful to the progressive cause. We need to ask all of the Republicans and Democrats in D.C. when they plan to pass this great legislation. After they come up with some lame excuse, we need to demand they come up with an equally effective alternative or stop pretending to "represent" the people in their district.

The pace of layoffs has slowed down a bit in recent months. That is good news. Yet new hiring is still anemic, and what little hiring is taking place is mostly in the form of low-wage jobs. The kind of action proposed by Rep. Conyers, is the only way we could prime the pump enough to stimulate sufficient demand to get our Main Street economy back on track.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday silliness

Better witch-hunts through science:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tea Party fun

I was talking this afternoon with some friends who were perplexed at how to account for people who can accept the Fox News line, day after day, without their heads exploding. On another occasion I'll spill some serious ink on the subject, but it's the weekend (thanks unions!), so we'll enjoy instead Tom Tomorrow's special genius:

This Modern World

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Austerity Myth

William Mitchell has a very useful piece in The Nation, in which he thoroughly debunks the rationale for austerity measures currently pursued in the U.K., the U.S., and elsewhere. Having reduced public revenue through massive giveaways to corporations and the wealthy, those in power claim there is no choice but to make huge cuts in public spending that benefits the poor and middle class. The continued high levels of unemployment reduce revenues further by shrinking the pool of taxpayers. Mitchell points out that while "taxing the rich" may be the right thing to do, it is not the only way we can restore balance. Embracing deficit spending in the short term, to grow the economy and put people back to work, is a sensible and proven method to improve the economy for more than the wealthiest.

Austerity is not the only alternative. The major economies are suffering from a collapse of private spending and a massive overhang of private debt. Consumers won’t spend if they fear unemployment; firms won’t hire and produce if sales are flat. Persistently high unemployment means that our economies are forgoing massive production and income-earning opportunities. Unemployment also causes other problems, such as family breakdown, increased alcohol and substance abuse, increased crime rates and community dislocation. An economy with high unemployment is unhealthy. Austerity will worsen unemployment. It beggars belief that a government entrusted with advancing the well-being of its citizens would deliberately introduce policies that force people into joblessness.

As long as private spending is subdued, the greatest need is to expand budget deficits. That’s the only way the advanced economies will drive growth fast enough to absorb the huge pool of unemployed. Inflation is low, and there is considerable slack in the economy, which can be brought back into productive use by further government stimulus. The current obsession with inflation control and austerity (using unemployment to discipline wage demands) is very costly.

In advocating further fiscal stimulus, I would use the increased public spending to directly target job creation. I would introduce an open-ended public employment program—a Job Guarantee—that offers a job at a living (minimum) wage to anyone who wants to work but cannot find employment. These jobs would “hire off the bottom,” in the sense that minimum wages are not in competition with the market-sector wage structure. By not competing with the private market, the Job Guarantee would avoid the inflationary tendencies of old-fashioned Keynesianism, which attempted to maintain full capacity utilization by “hiring off the top” (making purchases at market prices and competing for resources with all other demand elements). Job Guarantee workers would enjoy stable incomes, and their increased spending would boost confidence throughout the economy and underpin a private-spending recovery. There is no reason the government could not afford this program. The labor is available for work, and the government can easily supply the jobs. There were no questions asked when the government, in the early days of the crisis, instantly provided billions for the banks. Let me repeat: the government has no financial constraint on its spending and should immediately allocate funds to a massive job-creation program.

Sustainable growth requires that the private sector save overall and avoid ever-increasing levels of indebtedness. It is possible that strong net exports could allow high levels of domestic activity with both private saving and the government’s budget in surplus. But that situation cannot hold for all countries. Normally, budget deficits will be required. Progressives should stop apologizing for them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tony Schultz: an eloquent farmer

If I ever get to Wisconsin I want to meet this guy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You can't fool all of the people all of the time

Here's an acute observation from a commenter on Paul Krugman in today's New York Times:

Boston, Massachusetts
March 16th, 2011
5:35 pm
The hope that I cling to when I hear about the nonsense coming from the right in this country: no amount of propaganda can make the truth untrue. Eventually, trickle down economics will finish eroding the middle class out from underneath the economy and the collapse will be so spectacular that it will be 70 years before anyone can suggest it again and be taken seriously (about how long it's taken for people to be able to blame the Great Depression on the New Deal and still be taken seriously). That's the one constant throughout history - regimes that rely on disinformation and propaganda to mislead the masses all eventually fall sooner or later. When the top 400 Americans already hold more financial wealth than SIXTY PERCENT OF AMERICANS COMBINED, Fox News can only hold back the tide for so long.

My hope is that we've begun to turn the tide and can prevent this spectacular collapse from happening. I would hate to see the amazing new energy of people in Wisconsin, Ohio, and across the land have come too late to do us any good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A victory in Missouri

Missouri is a state that hasn't yet become part of the Republicans' "solid South." McCain won the state in 2008, but by less than 4,000 votes. The state has become more Republican since, with the GOP now dominating the state legislature. But this report from Mike Hall suggests that some of these Republicans are not as thoroughly anti-labor as their fellow GOP legislators in Wisconsin:

With some 500 workers in the Missouri state Senate gallery last night, backers of a so-called right to work bill, were unable to muster enough support to bring the legislation to a vote.

Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan (D) said supporters of “right to work” for less legislation who claim it will attract more businesses to the state might as well be arguing “let us race to become more competitive by emulating the Third World…

through unions and good jobs we created a middle class. The middle class didn’t cause recession, Big Banks did.

Tweeting from last night’s session, Cathy Sherwin, the Missouri AFL-CIO communications director, noted that opposition to the bill crossed party lines, including Sen. Kevin Engler (R) who said his parents’ union membership benefited both the family and the state.

Because my parents had good union benefits, my parents are going into a nursing home with NO state benefits needed at no cost to state.

Senate leaders said they would not bring the bill back up this week and it was uncertain if it would be on the agenda after the legislature’s spring break next week.

Last week, more than 5,000 workers rallied in St. Louis against the bill.

I think the awareness of hundreds of thousands in the streets, may be helping to clarify the thinking of some Republicans not completely shut off from reality. Even less massive demonstrations may have the desired effect of bringing politicians to their senses, so that they pull back from the most extreme anti-worker actions. This is why I urge everyone to keep turning out for rallies in your area. They don't have to be huge to send a big message.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sometimes the book is better than the movie

Saturday's massive rallies in Madison, WI produced a lot of stirring photographic images. Yet this written account from a participant, Noise of Rain, was so powerful I had to share it today:

It was bone cold in Madison yesterday. My partner and I drove early from Milwaukee, wanting to find parking in order to set up our Labor Dollars project later in the afternoon. Even by 9:00 a.m. the streets were filling. By 10:00 the square around the State Capitol was packed. We walked and chanted ("What do we want? SPRINGTIME! When do we want it? NOW!") in the strange ambulatory rhythm that I have become fascinated with; an odd mix of purposeful direction and random milling about.

At around 10:30, Teamsters and other union semi-trucks parked around the square began blasting their airhorns, signaling the arrival of the much anticipated Tractorcade. It very slowly arrived, and it was truly marvelous! I grew up in farm country, and used to work around tractors as a kid, yet have never before yesterday truly appreciated the tractor as an American icon, a category of vernacular sculpture.

They are things of beauty: orange Allis-Chalmers, with their curvilinear forms, showing off their open engines under the manifolds; rectangular International Harvesters with their big boxy design, square and upright and battered by field work; little Fords, faded gray, looking more and more like artifacts from bygone days; and those brilliant emerald green John Deeres, proud testaments to American manufacturing. I've been to many parades, Rose Bowls, junkyards and art museums, and this Tractor Procession beat them all!

And, my god, the huge crowd was enthusiastic! We danced to the various drum cells that grew organically around us, we laughed at the creative ingenuity of the farmers, with their manure spreader tableaux of Scatological Scott Skits, and we reflected on their signs and reminders that they, too, are worried citizens working the backbone functions of our society, threatened by the same forces of mass unification and absolute corporate hegemony that have lurked behind the protests of the last three weeks. Many people have stated this recently, but I'll say it again: I've never been so happy and proud to call Wisconsin my home!

In the late 60's, French political theorist Guy Debord wrote about "the society of the spectacle." He explored and explained how contemporary media creates spectacle that is essentially devoid of content. This spectacle creates a fake reality in order to mask our degradation and alienation at the hands of consolidated power. A founder of the artistic and political movement Situationist International, he sought, through the construction of "situations," to create multiple strategies for reclaiming an individual's self-determination from the sedative effects of ubiquitous spectacle.

I was thinking about this, in rather vague terms, while watching my favorite tractor/assemblage pass slowly by. An old rusty tractor driven by a middle-aged farmer was pulling a hay wagon full of people, young and old. There was no separation of viewer and viewed: we were all both, watching each other, fluidly moving between subject and object. The people packed on the wagon were drumming ecstatically and we all danced. They chanted, and held their signs and placards. In the middle of the group was some huge man (was it a man?) dressed in animal skins, wearing a mask of animal hide and antlers, and blowing on a resonant animal horn. The sound resonated loudly, its deep and beautiful booming tone rose above the din of the crowd. It was, in the middle of this intensely topical political assembly, a mythic figure centralized, a fascinating reminder of chthonic power.

This is where these reflections lead: Without play, without art, without song, we have no movement, we have only politics. We are now Situationists, but not through esoteric French intellectualism, but in our own homegrown Wisconsin sensibility, where tractors, by god, come miles from their fields of labor, and are transformed for one morning into the most beautiful and powerful kinetic sculptures that you have ever witnessed, recouping a bit of power from the trickery and fakery of our narcotic media, and where mythic figures remind us that our political struggle is here and now, rooted in these specific communities, but also timeless, rooted in a much deeper human struggle.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Sunday of dirty forks

Another gem from the masters:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Farmers and workers pull together

The farmers on their tractors came to Madison today, followed by a vast sea of humanity. I think that a powerful national movement to push back against the plutocrats has begun. Not only will the rallies continue throughout the country, but folks will start to pull their money from big banks and transfer it to local banks and credit unions. They will boycott Walmart. They will have a long, hard road but U.S. workers will win in the end.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Senator Bernie Sanders shows us a way forward

Here's the good Senator from Vermont with a good plan to help balance the budget:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A joke from the heartland

This little piece of cheesehead humor was shared with me by a friend in the Midwest:

My New Truck???

I bought a new Chevy Avalanche and returned to the dealer yesterday because I couldn't get the radio to work.

The salesman explained that the radio was voice activated. 'Nelson,' the salesman said to the radio. The radio replied, 'Ricky or Willie?' 'Willie!' he continued and 'On The Road Again 'came from the speakers. Then he said, 'Ray Charles!', and in an instant ' Georgia On My Mind' replaced Willie Nelson.

I drove away happy, and for the next few days, Every time I'd say, 'Beethoven,' I'd get beautiful classical music, and if I said, 'Beatles,' I'd get one of their awesome songs.

Yesterday, some guy ran a red light and nearly creamed my new truck, but I swerved in time to avoid him. I yelled out, 'Asshole!' Immediately the radio responded with,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Governor of Wisconsin

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stay in Illinois and keep up the great work!

This awesome tribute fills me with hope for our future. The "fab 14" may well go down in history as the heroes who helped save our republic.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Oregon teacher fixes the banks

An Oregon teacher, Thalli1, has produced a sensible plan for improving our banks:

I have used a bank many times. I have a checking account and a savings account
(although I do admit I haven't added anything to my savings account for the past
fifteen years since my pay has been frozen.) Nevertheless, the fact that I have made deposits, written checks, and I understand in theory the concept of a savings account makes me uniquely qualified to reorganize your operations. Our country is at a crossroads. What we do now will determine the future for our children. I'm sure you want to do what's best for our future, right? We are in a Race to the Top. From now on, we need for all banks to do their part in winning that future. I've seen how you do things from my place in line, and frankly it's not good enough. I have noticedthat there are many bad bank tellers who simply aren't cutting it in my opinion. Many times when I've been standing in line, there are empty teller stations noteven open. I see you bankers taking lunches, a luxury we teachers had to forgo many years ago. I see you even getting bathroom breaks. What is that about? Based on my vast experience of standing in line at the bank, I'm hereby declaring myself an expert of all financial institutions and their
operations. In a program I will call NDLB (No Depositor Left Behind) all banks
will from this day on be ranked and given a grade based on their average customer bank balance. Grades will be posted weekly in every newspaper in the country, along with individual names of bankers who are underperforming. We will be asking suggestions from other people we find in the line at the bank in orderto help you to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress.) If you fail to meet AYP, your bank will be rated as failing and will undergo sanctions. In order to win the future, it is my belief as a self-stated expert that ALL depositorsmust hit certain benchmarks by 2014. Your bank will be monitored for progress towards these goals. Here are the benchmarks: By 2011, 60% of your depositors must have at least $100,000 in their savings accounts.By 2012, 75% of your depositors must have at least $500,000 in their savings accounts. By 2013, 90% of your depositors must have at least $750,000 in their savings accounts. By 2014, 100% of your depositors must have at least $1,000,000 in their savings accounts. We believe these are reasonable benchmarks that will ensure all depositors our constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We the people standing in line at the bank reserve the right to increase these benchmarks any time we feel we don't have enough money.If you fail to meet these benchmarks your bank will undergo sanctions including, but not limited to: Having your failing grade posted in the newspaper along with directions to the nearest successful bank.Cutting the number of workers in your bank in half and doubling the workload for everyone else who is left.Meeting every Thursday before the bank opens with experts randomly chosen from the drive through line to discuss any data about why your bank is underperforming Closing underperforming banks and reopening them with better performing workers from successful banks that have hit the benchmarks (or people we find in line at the unemployment line), whichever we find easier. A percentage of the banks' deposits will be set aside for randomly chosen experts to meet to figure out how the heck to get your depositors to their benchmarks. Since we anticipate that will be a very difficult job, we experts may have to meet in places like Hawaii where it is a known fact that it's easier to think.This is not meant in any way to be punitive.
We realize that in some areas of the country it will be tough to get your depositors to the stated benchmarks due to unemployment, and poverty. But we must stress that there are no excuses. We believe in you as bankers and we believe in depositors' innate ability to grow their bank accounts. No matter how tough it gets, you must remember that our future is at stake. This is for the pride of our country. It is simply unacceptable to let America's depositors fall behind depositors in other countries. We know you will join everyone in happily doing your part to win that future. In order to get this new plan up and running, we will have to freeze your pay (and bonuses) for the next fifteen years. You will also be giving eight to ten days of your wages each year to help meet the new benchmarks. We have tried these methods with teachers and it's worked pretty well for the past several years to help balance the state budgets. We are now ready to expand these methods to other professions. I'm sure you would agree that you want to do everything in your power to meet these benchmarks for the sake of our future and our children.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kudos to Congressman Langevin

The other day Rep. Jim Langevin, who represents Rhode Island's other congressional district, announced a policy shift on marriage equality. This is an important step, as the congressman had formerly resisted calls for full equality.

Throughout my career in public service, I have strongly opposed discrimination based on sexual orientation at both the state and federal level, co-sponsoring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and hate crimes legislation, and supporting efforts to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

While those topics have been controversial, they never elicited the intensely passionate and emotional debate that occurred as our nation began struggling with the question of same-sex marriage. For many years, I supported civil unions as a reasonable way to achieve consensus on a divisive issue, providing rights and protections to same-sex couples while respecting the deeply held beliefs of those not comfortable with the idea of marriage rights.

Then, three years ago, I attended the commitment ceremony of a longtime staff member and his partner of nine years. Before their friends and family, they professed their love, commitment and respect for each other. Their sentiments were just as moving, heartfelt and sincere as any of the vows I had heard at other weddings, yet I realized that their union would not be treated the same under the law. That difference struck me as fundamentally unjust, and I began to challenge the wisdom of creating separate categories of rights for certain groups of citizens. I began to see that civil unions fell short of the equality I believed that same-sex couples deserved.

As the debate about same-sex marriage continues in Rhode Island and in Washington, I have taken time to reflect carefully on my own position. Based on my own experiences and my firm belief that all Americans should be treated equally under the law, I am now convinced that affording full marriage equality rights to same-sex couples is the only fair and responsible approach for both Rhode Island and the nation. If our nation expects to provide equal protection to all, then our civic institutions must reflect that noble goal.

Congressman Langevin deserves our thanks for his thoughtful reconsideration of this important issue. While he remains more conservative than others in Rhode Island's D.C. delegation, he has shown a willingness to work with all of his constituents and listen to their concerns.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

If it's Sunday,

it must be Monty Python!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The plutocrats' end game.

Adam Smith, so often revered by today's champions of "free-markets," understood that the owners of wealth were more dependent on government than anyone else in a capitalist society.

Laws and government may be considered in this and indeed in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and to preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence. The government and laws hinder the poor from ever acquiring the wealth by violence which they would otherwise exert on the rich; they tell them they must either continue poor or acquire wealth in the same manner as they did.

What the Koch brothers and their political puppets seek to do is to reduce government in the U.S. to this one function of protecting the property of the plutocrats. The humanization of government over the last century was a process through which the poor and middle class were offered more protections against the predations of the wealthy. Access to education, health care, and the enforcement of minimum wage laws and the like, didn't eliminate gross inequalities, but did reduce them until the 1970's. Then, Reagan, Thatcher and their ilk began an aggressive push to redistribute back upwards wealth which had found its way into the hands of the lower and middle classes. Governor Walker represents a late phase of this push. He operates in a rust-belt part of America where blue-collar prosperity has diminished, thanks to automation and the outsourcing of good private-sector union jobs. Now it's time to attack the white-collar middle class. First on the chopping block are teachers and other public-sector workers. Once their unions are busted, it will be easier to lower wages for well-educated workers in the private sector.

The sad truth is many of these future victims are busy preparing their own demise. Small business owners, insurance agents, lawyers, doctors and accountants might delude themselves into thinking their interests coincide with those of billionaires. They don't see paying taxes as a necessary foundation for a sustainable economy. They will soon find out they're terribly mistaken. The Koch brothers don't need a healthy middle-class in the U.S. They need only the coercive powers of the state to protect their wealth. Doctors and lawyers, however, will not prosper by catering only to the needs of a handful of plutocrats. People earning a living wage are good customers who can help to grow a state's economy. People thrown out of work, or earning only subsistence level wages tear apart our social fabric.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Update from Wisconsin: Police slam Gov. Walker

Here's the statement from the Wisconsin Police Association regarding Gov. Walker's illegal order to seize Democratic State Senators currently in Illinois:

Politics aside, encouraging the forcible detention of duly elected lawmakers because they won’t allow you to dictate with a free hand is an unreasonable abuse of police power,” said WPPA Executive Director Jim Palmer. “Due to the fact that Wisconsin officers lack any jurisdiction across state lines, does Sen. Fitzgerald intend to establish a ‘lawmaker border patrol?’ The thought of using law enforcement officers to exercise force in order to achieve a political objective is insanely wrong and Wisconsin sorely needs reasonable solutions and not potentially dangerous political theatrics.

Waking up and speaking out

Here's a few Democrats who are seizing the moment to connect with working Americans:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A plea from Robert Reich

National Democrats are no doubt pleased to see Republicans behaving so outrageously, in Wisconsin and throughout the country, that they are stirring up the people against them. Yet the leaders of the party should not be too sanguine about their own future. I hear folks argue that voting for Democrats doesn't change the stranglehold the richest Americans have on our politics. If the Democrats want people to actually come out and vote for them, they'll have to show some seriousness about restoring middle class America.

Robert Reich has some suggestions:

Here’s what Democrats should be saying:

Hike taxes on the super-rich. Reform the tax code to create more brackets at the top with higher rates for millionaires and billionaires. Absurdly, the top bracket is now set at $375,000 with a tax rate of 35 percent; the second-highest bracket, at 33 percent, starts at $172,000 for individuals. But the big money is way higher.

The source of income shouldn’t matter – salary, wages, capital gains, other unearned income – all should be treated the same. There’s no reason to reward speculators. (Don’t penalize true entrepreneurs, though. If they’re owners who have held their assets for at least twenty years, keep their capital gains low.)

And while you’re at it, raise the ceiling on income subject to Social Security taxes. And bring back the estate tax.

Do this and we can afford to do what we need to do as a nation. Do this and you prevent Republicans from setting the working middle class against itself. Do this and you restore some balance to a distribution of income and wealth that’s now dangerously out of whack.

Do this, Democrats, and you have a chance of being relevant again.

(Chart published by Business Insider)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Clearing our minds of the fog of ignorance

Thomas Paine was a champion of the American Revolution who inspired other patriots to risk their lives for a worthy cause. Now, more than two centuries later, his words can still inspire us.

The Revolutions of America and France have thrown a beam of light over the world, which reaches into man. The enormous expense of governments has provoked people to think, by making them feel; and when once the veil begins to rend, it admits not of repair. Ignorance is of a peculiar nature: once dispelled, it is impossible to re-establish it. It is not originally a thing of itself, but is only the absence of knowledge; and though man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant. The mind, in discovering truth, acts in the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same condition it was in before it saw it. Those who talk of a counter-revolution in France, show how little they understand of man. There does not exist in the compass of language an arrangement of words to express so much as the means of effecting a counter-revolution. The means must be an obliteration of knowledge; and it has never yet been discovered how to make man unknow his knowledge, or unthink his thoughts.

The plutocrats in this country have spent generations trying to cloud the thinking of ordinary citizens. They have invested heavily, in promoting the myth that concentrating ever more wealth in the hands of a few makes our economy more "competitive" and "efficient." This has never been an easy lie to tell, because it relies on people not recognizing the obvious negative consequences for them of the upward transfer of wealth. Yet, until the recent attack on public-sector unions in Wisconsin, I was afraid that too many Americans were living in a demoralized stupor, unable to understand how they were being shafted.

The last couple of weeks has seen the mainstream media try in desperation to minimize the significance of the protests in Madison, and throughout the country. But Americans have begun to wake up. They understand now that plutocrats like the Koch brothers and their Republican puppets are not good for most people in this country. Will they be able to organize themselves in order to reclaim this country, and fight back in a class war that they have been losing for thirty years? We shall see, but I must confess to being more hopeful today than I've been for a long time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A voice from Vermont

Bernie Sanders does an excellent job of explaining where we are at this point in our nation's history: