Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rep. Rick Crawford hears from his constituents

I have the good fortune to be represented in Congress by someone who voted against the Ryan budget. A lot of Americans aren't so lucky. These constituents, of GOP Rep. Rick Crawford, simply no longer have the patience to listen to his talking points. What's really heartening here is that unlimited money spent on media propaganda hasn't succeeded in clouding these folks' memory of the last 12 years. Rep. Crawford is so clueless, you could almost feel sorry for him in this situation. Instead, let's try to be happy, that ordinary folks around the nation are beginning to ask tough questions of those who claim to represent them in Congress.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Anti-Jeffersonians of the 21st century

Here in Rhode Island, folks are understandably proud of how the colony was founded by champions of religious freedom, and diversity, like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. It is no coincidence that the first synagogue in North America was built in Newport. This tradition of tolerance, and separation of church and state, was honored by men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who insisted that these ideals become part of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Now centuries of success, in allowing children of different faiths, or no faith, to be educated in non-religious public schools is being cast aside. The religious right, and its corporate backers, are actively working to dismantle public education and replace it with for-profit, mostly religious, schooling. This effort is already far advanced in places like Texas and Florida, yet is also starting to happen nationwide, as teacher-unions and public schools come under attack. This clip by Thom Hartmann does a nice job in explaining the situation:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Union-bashing deconstructed

It is always fascinating to see how, in comments posted to any article regarding unions, there will be at least a couple of vehemently anti-union opinions. Invariably another commenter rebuts these arguments, but rarely with such clarity as shown by Anon 1972, commenting here at the Chronicle of Higher Education Review site in March:

Oh, and. In answer to the twin objections that (1) "Public employee unions .... do nothing for the public those employees are supposed to serve" [rburns] and (2) "Union membership got me nothing that I did not already have except a lighter take home check" [lbothwell3]:

(1) Unions are not designed to help anyone but the workers they protect. Public sector unions do *indirectly* help the public by (a) keeping wages and benefits at a level where the public sector can effectively compete for highly qualified workers (if you think poorly of the quality of the work your public servants are doing for you now, I guarantee you'd be even less satisfied if those jobs paid Wal*Mart wages) and (b) setting a standard for pay and benefits more generally that goes some way toward bettering the conditions for all (because business must then compete for highly qualified workers by also offering a livable salary and benefits). Anyone who has studied any labor history at all knows that we only have weekends off, sick leave, workplace safety, compensation for overtime hours worked, etc., because unions fought for those benefits -- often through protracted and bloody strikes (not just collective bargaining). I personally really enjoy having weekends off -- indeed, I feel I *need* that time off in order to be productive during the working week -- and I would not relish living in a pre-WWI world where 7-day, 60-hour work weeks were the norm.

But, the bottom line is, it's not up to public-sector unions to worry about saving the public money. It is ludicrous to demand that of them. That's (theoretically) what we have politicians for, and when both sides play fair, the balance works. The problems arise only when -- as currently in Wisconsin -- one side tries to rig that game so that they are holding *all* the cards.

(2) It is deeply ignorant to say "Union membership got me nothing that I did not already have except a lighter take home check." First of all, see above: much of what you "already had," you ONLY had because of unions -- because of the organized labor system of which your own union was a small part. Secondly, you can't actually know what you would have had, or not had, without the union. It's a counterfactual, not susceptible of proof.

A lot of people no doubt do feel that they pay their union dues for nothing, because they don't understand how the sheer existence of the union protects them from abuses that their employers might otherwise engage in unchecked. But the proof is in the data: all the statistics show (regardless of whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing) that unionized workers enjoy better job security and better benefits than non-unionized workers, and they tend not to be among the 14% of Americans who live below the poverty line. So whether your union appears "active" or not, by simply belonging to it you are joining the race to the top, instead of the race to the bottom.

One of the things I especially liked was the demolition of the argument that collective bargaining, by public sector unions, is inherently unfair to taxpayers. If taxpayers elect responsible managers, who maintain a reasonable balance between revenues and services, then the union contracts they negotiate cannot destroy the public budget. If those elected and appointed to negotiate with public unions choose to underfund pensions for decades, spending the money on cronies and other foolishness, why should the unions be asked to pay for their incompetence? Or, if a state or local government negotiate poorly, is that the unions' fault? Just like in the private sector, all the parties to a negotiation naturally seek to get the best possible deal. From my own knowledge of teacher unions i would have to say that any "sweetheart deals" they may have once enjoyed are now a thing of the past. It is a reflection on how terribly non-union employees are now treated, that they could regard the modest pay and pensions of teachers, firefighters, and police, as "extravagant."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Losing hope in making it work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What kind of future for U.S.?

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, points out the opportunity Democrats now face, to show some commitment to traditional Democratic ideals. Will they take it?

Monday, April 25, 2011

From Julius Caesar, to Lorenzo de' Medici, to Boss Tweed, to the Koch brothers

Today in Wisconsin, the Koch brothers stand exposed as manipulators of Governor Scott Walker, and the Republican state government. This is scandalous and disturbing, because it is the worst sort of political corruption.

Yet, sadly, corruption in politics is nothing new. Ancient Roman elections were rigged to favor a handful of powerful families. "New men", like Cicero, who managed to achieve wealth and prominence, still required the support of more powerful patrons. In the fifteenth century Republic of Florence an attempt was made to limit the potential for abuse by filling most of the magistracies by sortition rather than election. Names of citizens were drawn from different bags for lesser and higher offices. This somewhat random process was supposed to ensure that people could do their civic duty without fear or favor, not having made any promises to win their elections. Yet the Medici family and its supporters learned how to game the system. During a year in which the Medici faction dominated the highest council, they created a quasi-official group of "bag-holders" that were given the honor of maintaining the integrity of the bags. These "bag-holders" were not paid any government salary or given any authority beyond the selection of government officials. For half a century these "bag-holders" did what the Medici faction required. For many of the lesser magistracies, no tampering was needed. Men from small-time merchant or artisan families were thrilled at the chance to help regulate the scales at the fish market. They didn't make waves. For more important posts, the "bag-holders" would rig the bags so that opposition leaders could not control a particular council. So, for example, the pro-Medici folks might dominate a council 11 to 9. They would be careful to give their most prominent opponents a chance to express their opposition, without being able to make meaningful policy changes. This charade was finally ended by the expulsion of Piero de' Medici from Florence in 1494. By 1512, however, the Medici were back with a vengeance, and ultimately established themselves as the hereditary ruling family of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, marrying into the highest royal houses of Europe. Of course, like all good plutocrats the Medici weren't content to become mere royalty. Three different Medici popes (Leo X, Clement VI, and Leo XI) helped to further the family fortunes in heaven and earth.

[The above picture is of Lorenzo "il Magnifico' de' Medici-- it was his princely attitude, while ostensibly just another citizen, that led to the uprising that pushed the Medici out of Florence in 1494, just two years after his death.]

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mitt Romney appeals to "values voters?!?"

Many of us in Rhode Island thought it was pretty funny-- that our neighbors in Massachusetts were duped into voting for a conservative Mormon Governor. For a couple of years, he even responded to public pressure and governed in a somewhat responsible way. Then he decided he wanted to become a Republican President. The satirical geniuses at the Onion capture perfectly the tragicomic nature of his predicament:

Though Mitt Romney is considered to be a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the national spotlight has forced him to repeatedly confront a major skeleton in his political closet: that as governor of Massachusetts he once tried to help poor, uninsured sick people.

Romney, who signed the state's 2006 health care reform act, has said he "deeply regrets" giving people in poor physical and mental health the opportunity to seek medical attention, admitting that helping very sick people get better remains a dark cloud hovering over his political career, and his biggest obstacle to becoming president of the United States of America.

"Every day I am haunted by the fact that I gave impoverished Massachusetts citizens a chance to receive health care," Romney told reporters Wednesday, adding that he feels ashamed whenever he looks back at how he forged bipartisan support to help uninsured Americans afford medicine to cure their illnesses. "I'm only human, and I've made mistakes. None bigger, of course, than helping cancer patients receive chemotherapy treatments and making sure that those suffering from pediatric AIDS could obtain medications, but that's my cross to bear."

"My hope is that Republican voters will one day forgive me for making it easier for sick people—especially low-income sick people—to go to the hospital and see a doctor," Romney added. "It was wrong, and I'm sorry."

According to Romney, if he could do things over again, he would do everything he could to make certain that uninsured individuals got sicker and sicker until they died. Promising his days of trying to provide medical coverage to the gravely ill are behind him, Romney said that if elected president, he would never even think about increasing anyone's quality of life or trying to lower the infant mortality rate.

In addition, Romney repeatedly apologized for wanting to help people suffering from diabetes, Crohn's disease, and anemia.

"I don't know what got into me back then," Romney said. "Wanting to make sure people were able to have health insurance if they left their job. Providing a federally funded website so individuals could compare the costs of insurance providers. Making certain that somebody who earns less than 150 percent of the poverty level can receive the same health care coverage as me or any government official. All I can say is that I was young and immature, and I am not that person anymore."

"The only solace I can take is in the hope that some of the folks I helped were terminally ill patients who eventually withered away and died," Romney added.

Though Romney has apologized profusely, Beltway insiders said he would need to distance himself from his I-tried-to-help-sick-people image. Sources noted that Romney's current promise to take away health care from anyone who can't afford it is a step in the right direction, but might not be enough.

"The major strike against Mitt Romney is that he not only tried to help people get medical care, he actually did help people get medical care," conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg said. "No other Republican in the field has that type of baggage. And in the end, in order to defeat President Obama, the GOP needs someone who has a track record of never wanting to help sick people."

Thus far, Romney is polling strongly in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, but Republican strategists and voters agree that even in a general election, his sordid past would continue to dog him.

"I don't think I can vote for someone like that," Pennsylvania Republican Eric Tolbert said. "He says he's sorry, but how do I know that's the real Mitt Romney? What happens if he gets elected and tries to help sick people again?"

"I like Michele Bachmann now," Tolbert added. "Because what this country needs is a president who doesn't give a @#$! about helping people."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Time to start speaking their language

Here's a magical story from the land of Disney, central Florida:

Unions representing Central Florida teachers, firefighters, police and other government workers are pulling an estimated $10 million from five banks affiliated with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, blaming them for an attack on public employees.

The unions are also asking their members — an estimated 20,000 people — to withdrawal their personal money from Bank of America, PNC Bank, Regions Bank, SunTrust and Wachovia. And labor leaders across the state could follow in the coming weeks, union officials say.

Executives from the banks in question sit on the Florida Chamber's board of directors, and the chamber has pushed legislation that would prohibit state and local governments from collecting union dues through payroll deduction.

Supporters say the "Paycheck Protection" act would allow public employees to prevent their wages from being used for political purposes, but opponents say it's simply a labor-busting effort that would make it more difficult for unions to operate.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce has lobbied lawmakers in support of the legislation and broadcast a campaign-style ad pushing for it. The measure has already passed the Florida House and is moving forward in the Senate.

At a news conference scheduled for today, unions representing public employees in Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties will announce the plan to close bank accounts containing their members' dues and advise workers to do the same.

"This is not an attack on business," said Steve Clelland, president of the Orlando firefighters' union. "The very money we deduct is sitting in their banks. Nothing is more American than not doing business with someone who is not serving you well."

The combination of union and personal accounts will likely top $10 million in Central Florida, Clelland said, and more as labor groups in other parts of the state follow.

"It's a shame that unions have dragged banks into their political games," Florida Chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley. "This just goes to show how desperate they are to keep the union gravy train by using the state of Florida to collect union dues. Frankly, we expected these bully tactics a long time ago."

But Jeanette Wynn, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Florida, noted that as Florida Chamber board members, the bank executives helped shape the business group's political agenda. Some 20,000 AFSCME members pay dues that are kept in Wachovia accounts.

"Wachovia Bank is not only a dues-paying member of the Chamber of Commerce, they have a seat on the board of directors," she said. "AFSCME Council 79 will no longer do business with banking institutions that directly advocate against the best interest of the middle class."

While it's true that the super-rich already have most of the wealth in the U.S., they're still desperate to get what can still be extracted from the rest of us. Clearly losing a big union pension fund account hurts any bank. Yet even relatively small accounts generate a lot of fee revenues. In fact, a struggling middle class customer is a real gold-mine: bouncing checks, making "excessive" withdrawals of her own money in a given month, these "careless" actions are harder to avoid for a secretary than for a CEO. A customer who is lucky enough to consider buying a $5,000 CD knows how much the bank makes off her business. The bank lends out her money through credit cards, at an average rate well over 20%. The best return she'll find on this hypothetical CD is significantly less than 3%.

For years now, the big banks have called those of us who enter their branches in person "entrenched transactors," and not "customers." A live transaction requires paying a teller or manager, and is less profitable than online and ATM banking. Not too long ago, I was in line at a big bank and the very pleasant manager asked why I was there. I explained that I needed to deposit a check and get part of it back in cash. She sweetly told me that I could do all that at the ATM now. I responded by telling her that I liked her and her colleagues in the branch, and I hoped that they would all still have jobs there for years to come. She looked as startled as could be, but she soon relaxed and grinned when she heard all the other "entrenched transactors" laughing along with me.
The supermarket I mostly frequent has more self-scan checkouts available than live cashiers. All the managers know better, now, than to steer me out of line to the wide open spaces of the self-scanners. They, and the cashiers, all give me a friendly grin when I'm in the store. The plutocrats may well succeed in destroying us. We're not obliged to do their job for them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to literally turn your back on your base.

So the other day Rep. Ryan invited some of his constituents, in his overwhelmingly GOP district, to a little Town Hall meeting, where he could bask in the glory of their praise for the super job he's doing for them as chief architect of the GOP budget in Congress. The people who showed up are from his base, no student hippies, no out-of-state union people. They call him by his first name. And yet even they have had enough of his B.S. I dearly hope that President Obama has seen this clip and drawn the right conclusion. Even many Americans who voted GOP in 2010 don't want our President to "compromise" with these radical rightists. They have parents or grandparents who remember the Great Depression. Many are not going to vote Republican in 2012. Whether they stay home, or come out to vote for President Obama depends entirely on what the President does, not says, over the next year. Hint to President Obama: think first term FDR, not first term Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Today's post by Matt Yglesias was quite interesting. But it was an observation of CastorpI, a commenter on his post that really grabbed me:

The Republicans really have become a Leninist vanguard party for the wealthy. Will their strategy of heightening the contradictions work? Hard to say, but if not, those on the left that advocate the same strategy should take note. (In fairness, those of us utilitarian meliorists on the center-left should probably take note if it does.)

Most of us center-lefties are working our tails off trying to minimize the contradictions. We seek to defeat rightist radicals like Governor Kasich and Governor Walker, to preserve the middle-class in the Midwest. We oppose the final dismantling of the New Deal in Washington D.C., because we fear the collapse of U.S. capitalism's credibility with the bottom 80%.

But do the rightist vanguard really seek the sudden overthrow of the system? Maybe, but I'm guessing their endgame is a bit different. The ideal scenario for the Koch brothers, and their political puppets, would be the provocation of just enough revolutionary anger to truly scare a lot of center-righties and also some center-lefties. This fear will cloud enough people's judgement to allow the gradual replacement of a representative republican government with a completely Christo-fascist, corporatist and militarist regime. Schoolteachers fighting for their pensions will be conflated with violent advocates of extremist Islam in the minds of Faux news viewers and Limbaugh listeners. While this attempted slow-motion putsch may have already begun, I'm not convinced that it can't be stopped. Wisconsin shows us the way to avoid a conflagration. When those who occupy the state capitol bake cookies for the cops, and carefully use painter's tape to avoid leaving marks on the marble, what pretext is there for a violent reaction?

What we need is escalating resistance, with the strictest adherence to non-violence ever seen since the time of Gandhi. They did this in Cairo. We can do this in Madison, Lansing, Columbus, and even Jacksonville. Our corporate overloads can try to divide us, and fill our heads with disinformation. The bottom line is they'll never convince our underpaid military to start firing on their teachers, police, and firefighters in the streets. Just like in Egypt, the tanks in the streets will be driven by people who identify a lot more with the protesters, than they do with the Koch Brothers. I just have to believe that President Obama, no matter what Jeff Immelt may whisper in his ear, wouldn't take the next step-- and send predator drones against the crowds in Columbus.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ministry of Truth

This little clip tells about David Barton, a man who calls himself an historian, but who has no more academic training beyond his bachelor's degree in religious studies. The scary thing is that he is given equal stature, in the minds of some Americans, with real historians, who have written important books and won the Pulitzer Prize.

If you, like me, have ever heard someone cite Barton's distorted ideas with approval, it is vitally important that you don't just let it slide. All totalitarian regimes insist on erasing true history and replacing it with their own mythology. We can't let the Rethugs do this if we want to preserve our democratic republic.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Republican Arizona Senator Jon Kyl gives Monty Python a run for their money

Some of my younger friends like to use the phrase "jumping the shark." Apparently it goes back to the moment in Happy Days where the "Fonz" jumps over a shark, while on water-skis. Pop-culture critics saw this moment as the clear beginning of the end for the T.V. show. In any case, the recent admission by Senator Kyl that he lives outside the reality-based world may come to be regarded as the moment the national GOP "jumped the shark," in the absurdist farce we call U.S. politics. Here's what happened:

It was a remark seemingly made for late-night TV comics: Sen. Jon Kyl's claim that abortion is "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does."

When the actual figure turned out to be 3 percent, his office released a statement clarifying that Kyl's figure was "not intended to be a factual statement."

Enter Stephen Colbert. The Comedy Central host lampooned the line on last night's show… but it turns out he was just getting started.

Colbert, tweeting as @StephenAtHome, began posting some not-so-factual statements about Kyl, beginning with "Jon Kyl is one of Gaddafi's sexy female ninja guards #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement." Since then, he's launched more than 30 such broadsides, all bearing that exculpatory hashtag, including:

  • Jon Kyl is an accomplished nude hula dancer. He is not welcome in Hawaii. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • For the past ten years, Jon Kyl has been two children in a very convincing Jon Kyl suit. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Jon Kyl cheated on Sandra Bullock. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Once a year, Jon Kyl retreats to the Arizona Desert and deposits 2 million egg sacs under the sand. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Citing religious reasons, Jon Kyl refuses to utter the number 8. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Jon Kyl once ate a badger he hit with his car. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Carly Simon wrote that song about Jon Kyl. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Legally, Jon Kyl cannot be within 100 yards of Helen Mirren. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Jon Kyl has a shrine to Scooter from the Muppet Show. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Jon Kyl developed his own line of hair care products just so he could test them on bunnies. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

  • Jon Kyl was sent from the future to kill Sarah Conner. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Monty Python's bored pilots

There is indeed a streak of cruelty in some humor...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hello Wall Street, meet some folks from Main Street

New York's Wall Street is not the only place in the world where plutocrats wield power. Yet I think it's a wonderful spot for those of us in the bottom 99.95% to show up, and remind them we're starting to realize they are not our friends. Your town might not have a nice bronze bull to symbolize corporate greed. But maybe it has a branch of Bank of America. Whatever the target, now is a great time to remind our corporate overlords we're not yet completely subjected to their yoke. Did you just pay your taxes? Why don't you ask Bank of America why it didn't pay a nickel, after a year in which it raked in many billions of dollars of profits. Have a great weekend, and offer up some thanks to the union workers who died so you could enjoy a day off from work!

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Mike Hall brings us this news from the sunny Southwest:

A unanimous New Mexico State Supreme Court said Wednesday that tea party Republican Gov. Susana Martinez overstepped her authority when earlier this year she fired two members and the executive director of Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The New Mexico Federation of Labor (NMFL) filed suit against Martinez’s action.

The court ordered Martinez to reinstate the two fired board members.

The three-person labor board enforces the state’s public employee collective bargaining law and consists of one member chosen by state employee unions, one member chosen by state department heads and one member chosen by the other two members. Although the governor makes the official appointments, the selection process is performed by unions, management and the board itself.

The board also chooses an executive director. It’s not clear what will happen with the executive director’s position. The board could rehire the former director or choose another director.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:

The court agreed with arguments by Shane Youtz, who represented the New Mexico Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, that the board should maintain independence from the executive branch because by its very nature it decides cases involving the executive branch.

Youtz told the justices that of 43 cases pending before the board at the time of the firings, 17 directly involved the governor.

I like this story because it illustrates an important point that is sometimes overlooked by progressives, who despair of the labor movement's chances to avoid complete destruction in 21st century America. The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has a 5 member majority that is vehemently anti-worker and pro-corporation, doesn't mean that the entire American judiciary shares this extreme bias. The judiciary is indeed an inherently conservative institution, and it does in fact favor the interests of capital over labor 99 times out of 100. Yet precisely because the judiciary is conservative it will sometimes stop or slow down the attempts of the radical far-right to abolish organized labor in our country. Why? Because for many decades in the 20th century, the establishment consensus was that some level of social harmony was best achieved by allowing workers to exercise at least a few minimal rights in the workplace. President Reagan began a process of changing this consensus among Republicans, but the clear precedent, that most judges alive today learned in law school, was that workers should have at least some remedies against the most extreme abuses of their employers.

Clearly the U.S. labor movement desperately needs a massive growth in popular support for their cause, to combat the concerted attack they face from the big-money interests. We all need to work very hard to that end. We may find to our surprise that occasionally conservative (as opposed to batshit insane reactionary) judges will support organized labor. They will do so because, weakened as it is, organized labor is still to them part of the natural order of things, like the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, or fireworks on the 4th of July.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Paul Krugman soldiers on

Paul Krugman, who's been largely ignored by President Obama in recent months, does a lot of heavy lifting here to point out the superiority of the President's latest proposal, when compared to the craziness of the Rethugs. I must say the GOP apologist in this clip really does give me the creeps.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let's get real for a second

Tonight I was all set to pen a little commentary on Paul Krugman's reaction to President Obama's budget speech. You all will probably hear about that soon enough. Yet tonight real life intruded on my little liberal world. As I write, my acquaintance Jimmy is settling in on my futon in the next room. This is, by itself, of little interest. But how did he get there?

You see, Jimmy called me out of the blue, months after the last time I had seen him in the company of a mutual friend. Jimmy is not really a friend of mine, although we have always been pleasant to each other. He's a man who was raised in a middle-class suburb, and graduated high school. A drinking problem and a hot temper has resulted in his estrangement from his wife, kids, and family. He's a hard worker, and before the housing bubble burst, was usually able to find work on small and large construction sites. About ten months ago his last unemployment check from his last steady job in Massachusetts ran out. Since then he's been living hand to mouth, often sleeping outdoors.

So why did Jimmy call me tonight? Well, he showed up to the shelter 20 minutes late, and was turned away. A couple of close friends who might have helped out are currently pissed off at Jimmy, for reasons I don't fully comprehend. It's chilly and rainy tonight, and Jimmy really didn't want to sleep outside. Working down his list of phone numbers, he happened to get me in person. Why did I drive five miles to take him from the rain and let him doss down here for a night? He's not much of a conversationalist, and neither he nor anyone he knows is in a position to do me favors. But he's a human being!! In this wealthiest country on earth, it fell to me, who barely can afford to give Jimmy money for breakfast, to maintain the illusion in Jimmy's mind-- for one night-- that America values people nearly as much as dogs or cats.

Can we do something about this? Do we really need all those fighter jets? Could we possibly ask some millionaires and billionaires to do a little less hoarding and a little more sharing, or better yet, hiring? Let's get real here for a second and pay attention to what America has become. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blues from the Big Apple

Chris Hedges reports on what he's hearing from a New York teacher:

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendent's Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financiers and speculators and billionaires.”

We're seeing an assault on free thought from all directions. Many heroic teachers continue to inspire their students to think for themselves. Yet the pressure to mold students into obedient parrots is intense. Ironically, the most privileged kids are those most likely to be given the critical thinking skills that the other 98% desperately need to throw off their shackles and challenge the myths put forward by the plutocrats and their lackeys. Sadly, too many of our finest minds are wasted in this country. Those who retain a healthy skepticism of authority are seldom able to gain the resources necessary to communicate their ideas to a mass audience. Those who succeed despite the odds, are often successfully co-opted by the larger corporatist culture. Albert Einstein's name is synonymous with genius in 21st century America. Yet 9 out of 10 Americans would be dumbfounded to learn that he was an ardent socialist. Broad censorship of dissent, and blanket enforcement of political orthodoxy aren't really necessary when it is so easy to drown out voices of reason with an avalanche of mind-numbing crap.

The Huffington Post illustrates this point. A fine piece of political and economic analysis by Robert Reich competes for attention with stories celebrating the wardrobe triumphs of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. As parents, citizens, and consumers of media we need to start rewarding quality and avoiding mediocrity. If our kids return from school buzzing with questions about the world we live in, we need to show our appreciation for the teachers who awakened their curiosity. If our kids are stressed out by the need to conform, and jump through arbitrary hoops, we need to take a closer look at the supposed "education" the system is feeding them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Private good, Public bad

I think E.J. Dionne really hits it out of the park here:

During a Tea Party rally near the Capitol last Wednesday — “rally” being generous for a gathering of a few hundred people — Rep. Mike Pence, the Republican fire-eater from Indiana, declared that if Senate Democrats refused to accept “a modest down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, ‘Shut it down!’ ”

And the crowd erupted, lustily and joyfully: “Shut it down! Shut it down!”

As the shouting persisted, it became clear that the government of the most powerful country in the world was being held hostage by a band of fanatics who (1) represent a very small proportion of our population; (2) hate government so much that they relished the idea of closing its doors, no matter the cost; and (3) have neither respect nor patience for the normal democratic give-and-take between competing parties and points of view.

In no serious country do threats to shut down the government become a routine way of doing business. Yet in our repertoire of dysfunction, we are on the verge of adding shutdown abuse to abuse of the filibuster in the Senate...

The vast majority of Americans oppose shutdowns. They do not share the aggressive antagonism toward government that is distorting our politics. Unless Obama gives voice to this sensible sentiment, we will face more episodes like this one. For if government is turned into something evil, no one has an obligation to stewardship of its institutions. Recklessness in pursuit of political victory becomes a virtue. Indifference to those who are served by or work in government becomes a badge of honor.

In those Tea Party shouts of “Shut it down,” the “it” drips with contempt. We cheer when drug dens or terrorist havens are shut down. There should be no glee over shutting down our government. Threatening the functioning of the public sphere is not an acceptable tactic in a democracy.

For Obama, it is not good enough to cast himself as the school principal scolding competing congressional gangs. He needs the courage to defend the government he leads. He needs to declare that he will no longer bargain with those who use threats to shut down the government or force it to default on its debt as tools of intimidation. We’re all a bit weary of Obama telling everyone to be grown-ups, but this would be the grown-up thing to do.

The fascinating question here is why are the teahadists themselves not more cautious about inviting anarchy? As wealthy people with something to lose, shouldn't they desire some sort of stability and security in the U.S.? The answer may lie in a compelling myth which is mostly unavailable to our friends in Europe and elsewhere. Americans, so the mythology goes, are strong, rugged individualists who can solve their own problems. The only kind of social or political organization required is that which they imagine happening in the Wild West: an occasional forming of a posse to kill Apaches or Mexicans. A positive spirit of cooperation is seen as weakness, unless it emerges as a rally to eliminate a "foreign threat." Cowboys killing Indians has been replaced by "Christians" defeating "Islamofascists." The truly bizarre aspect of this world-view is that it can be held by bigots who have never been west of Pennsylvania, and have never done anything more "independent" than change the furniture in the insurance office they inherited from Grandpa.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A peasant speaks out

Coming soon to the fields of Fitzwalkerstan:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

An awkward moment

Last night President Obama disappointed progressives with his near-total surrender on the budget. So far President Obama has managed to avoid angering many progressives in Wisconsin, by his choice to avoid giving them meaningful support in their struggles against Governor Walker and his allies. Why? Because folks in Wisconsin appreciate that their resistance is rightly recognized as a grassroots affair, that they are not having their strings pulled by outside interests. Now a new situation has emerged which could change this dynamic. The possible election fraud, perpetrated in the recent Supreme Court election, requires more than a feeble local response that can be dominated by the Fitzwalkerstan regime. U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has asked for federal assistance:

MILWAUKEE — Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin is asking for a federal investigation into the surprise discovery of 14,000 votes in Waukesha County for the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.

The Wisconsin Democrat sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Friday night asking him to assign the Justice Department Public Integrity Section. It oversees the federal prosecution of election crimes.

Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said Saturday in an email that the department would review the letter. He declined further comment.

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said “human error” resulted in the miscount there. The change gave incumbent Justice David Prosser a 7,500-vote edge over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.

In the letter, Baldwin says the mishap raises serious doubts as to the integrity of the state’s electoral process.

Now the Obama administration faces a difficult choice: permanently alienate Democrats all over the U.S. outraged by the Wisconsin shenanigans, or continue to pander to the right-wing politicians and media hacks who seem to be calling the tune in Washington, D.C. If the latter option is chosen, the President will be forced to run as the "Republican lite" candidate in 2012. This might be a winning strategy against Sarah Palin, or Newt Gingrich, but I'm not sure it will succeed if the Rethugs field a candidate who can play a moderate on T.V.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shutdown averted by giving in to GOP demands

So here's the deal:

A U.S. government shutdown 2011 was averted at the last minute Friday night after the House and Senate reached a temporary spending agreement.

The measure, which will keep the government running until Thursday, postponed an impending furlough of some 800,000 federal workers.

Friday's "bridge" agreement calls for $39 billion in short-term spending cuts, and pushes off the contentious issue of abortion funding, which Republicans sought to block.

By Thursday, the House and Senate will schedule votes on a longer-term budget that will carry the government through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

The news was greeted with a mixture of relief over a crisis averted, and frustration over continued wrangling that will spill into next week. And harsh rhetoric left its mark.

Throughout the afternoon leading up to the midnight deadline, Democrats said abortion funding was a crucial sticking point, as Republicans held fast to their demand to cut off Title 10 "women's health" programs. Roughly 25 percent of Title 10 funds go to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.

One-third of Planned Parenthood's annual $1.1 billion budget comes from the taxpayers, and Democrats were equally determined to keep the money flowing. Both sides reportedly agreed to vote on the issue separately next week.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called the GOP position "extremist ideology" and accused Republicans of "pouting in the corner."

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., was even more vitriolic.

Speaking at an abortion rally Thursday in Washington, D.C., Slaughter said, “This is probably one of the worst times we’ve seen. ... In ’94, people were elected simply to come here to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. Now they’re here to kill women.”

So President Obama and Harry Reid have now agreed to $39 billion in spending cuts, from a budget that already proposed to cut off heating assistance to the poor and elderly. The Democrats have now told America that we can afford to give massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy while spending money like water in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. But we'll need to shred essential services that millions of Americans rely on. So the American people will endure extreme hardships to support giving away billions to people who already have more money than they could possibly spend. Not to worry, however, because the GOP has made big sacrifices as well. They have agreed to maintain funding for Planned Parenthood for a couple of weeks more. That's swell, but not so impressive. given the fact they promise to continue pressing hard to defund Planned parenthood going forward. If this is "compromise," I'd really hate to see

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Election integrity in Fitzwalkerstan

I wish this was a joke, but the close Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice race has now begun to evoke memories of earlier election theft, like in Florida in 2000. The Wisconsin Democrats aren't willing to stay silent on today's suspicious developments:

Statement from state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D):
The way Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus revealed her discovery of 14,300 previously uncounted votes raises disturbing questions, particularly in light of her past partisan history. She has been the subject of multiple complaints from other Waukesha officials on how she handles elections and keeps public information to herself outside the official county system where others can verify it.

The new Supreme Court race vote totals she “discovered” during canvassing not only swung the election but also put the race just barely past the amount needed to trigger a state-financed recount.

It is especially troubling that she waited more than 24 hours to report the startling discovery and then did so at a press conference and only after she verified the results. This makes it all the harder to challenge and audit the integrity of the vote.

The partisan, political history of Ms. Nickolaus and the serious concerns about the quality of her performance found in an audit raises the question of whether an investigation is warranted. The public deserves to know that the votes were counted properly.

Statement from state Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D):

It stretches the bounds of credibility to think that over 14,300 votes were somehow "overlooked" until two days after the election.

Based on the partisan, political history of Ms. Nickolaus and the serious concerns that have been raised, by other Waukesha County officials, about the quality of her election administration and the possibility for fraud, an independent investigation of her conduct and the county's election results is not just warranted but urgently demanded to protect the integrity of our electoral system in Wisconsin.

Ms. Nikolaus, who used to work for Judge Prosser, insists on maintaining election records on a stand-alone computer to which only she has access. Perhaps we should heed the lesson of Florida 2000, and not allow this recount process to be dominated by anyone with an interest in suppressing democratic freedom in Fitzwalkerstan and other places. This time we may need to call in observers from the U.N.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Great North Woods

Now, beyond the great natural beauty and the delicious maple syrup, there is another good reason to move to Vermont-- health care! BTW, if you care about health care and other pressing issues, you will appreciate the rousing pledge that our Kentucky friend Cletis has posted here. Now enjoy listening to Rachel:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rally to honor memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday I had a chance to attend an extremely moving rally at our state house. We had labor folks, poets, doctors, teachers, students, community leaders from a broad spectrum of ethnic groups, religious leaders, advocates for the poor, unemployed, and homeless. All had important, unique perspectives to offer. Yet, for all their diversity, every speaker shared the same concern: the plutocrats want to destroy us quickly before we know what they're up to. The most important thing we can do is to awaken our family, friends, and neighbors.

What is the single most powerful piece of information that we can use to wake folks up? There are so many complex factors that help to explain the mess we're in. Yet I have found that one fact seems very powerful in relating to young, old, Republican, or Democrat-- the wealthiest 400 Americans control more wealth than the bottom half of all Americans. No one has trouble visualizing this. On the one hand, you have less people than often show up to a high school football game. On the other hand, half of the U.S. population. Has that small elite really worked harder than half of America combined? Is it reasonable for any society to be so lopsided? Once people learn this fact they desire to learn more, they become indignant, they are no longer merely ignorant sheep.

Our rally honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fell to an assassin in Memphis. He was in Memphis to support striking public employees, who were sanitation workers. He never tired of urging workers of all races and creeds to organize to improve their lives. Now we must organize to defend our whole country, from the depradations of those who wish to squeeze every ounce of profit from us before throwing us away.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A new Justice in Wisconsin?

Tomorrow we'll get a chance to see if out of state money can defeat grassroots energy in the election for Supreme Court Justice. If this powerful, intelligent ad is any indication of the strength of the movement to elect JoAnne Kloppenburg, then my guess is that the Koch brothers and their pals will have wasted their money.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Momentum builds in Madison

One of Wisconsin's most conservative newspapers has lost patience with Governor Walker and his allies the Fitzgerald brothers:

The Fitzgerald brothers are complaining loudly about a Dane County judge holding up their collective bargaining bill.

But it's their own fault for winding up in court to begin with.

Had Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald simply given 24 hours of public notice before a key committee meeting and vote last month, their bill would now be in effect.

Instead, because the Fitzgeralds got cute with Wisconsin's open meetings law, the bill is stuck in an exhausting and complex legal battle that could drag on for weeks if not months


When you get down to it, only some of the Wisconsin Republicans are vehemently anti-union to begin with. The unseemly shenanigans of their party leaders in Madison will certainly diminish their enthusiasm to defend these clowns against the rising tide of discontent in the state. My guess is that there will be more than enough recall signatures gathered for six of the targeted GOP senators, while even the two most Republican districts may yield enough signatures as well.

All of us need to keep fighting hard in Wisconsin, but the momentum is on our side. Now we must direct our attention to Ohio, Michigan, and other states where the GOP is waging war on working people, children, and the elderly.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Robber Barons redux

Jon from Michigan, in his reply to Paul Krugman's recent NYT piece, hits the proverbial nail on the head.

Some time ago it seemed to me that the Republican Party and its right-wing allies in the media and among certain religious denominations were intent on undoing each and every progressive social policy and program adopted in this country since the first day of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term in office. Their tactics in this war on the middle class and the poor have been consistent and all too successful: when in power, run up huge deficits that make it impossible for Democratic administrations to do anything new; make sure that their corporate bedmates get everything they want in the way of deregulation and tax cuts. Recent events in Wisconsin and elsewhere are beginnning to convince me that I've had it all wrong. These people are, I now believe, intent on rolling back all that has been achieved by and for the unprivileged men and women of this country since about about 1890. They seem bent on restoring the Gilded Age of the great monopolists, plutocrats, and robber barons. They see nothing wrong with the growing inequalities of income and wealth in the United States, because they hope to join the super-rich themselves, first by continuing to rig the game in favor of the rich, and then by securing the ongoing patronage of the tycoons who bought their offices for them in the first place. Being reactionary in this country used to mean something along the lines of wanting to turn back the clock to the mythical good old days of the 1950s (good for white Americans perhaps). Now, however, these people seem to have come unglued to such an extent that they would like to put an entire century of social progress down the memory hole. All this would be laughable if it weren't so bitterly hateful and sad, just like the perpetrators.
It seems to me that the most important force preventing a return to the age of robber barons is the American labor movement. Politicians can be helpful, but we need to strengthen unions before we can do anything else. Ordinary citizens will never have the money to buy all the favorable media and political influence they want. Viable unions, in opposing the interests of plutocrats, are the only ones who can stop the total destruction of workers' gains from the last century.