Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shrinking Value...

To my relief and delight I’ve finally read an account in the msm about the ever-shrinking packaging of food.   Staff writers for the NYTimes, Stephanie Clifford and Catherine Rampell, finally reported something that everyone who does household marketing on a regular basis knows, viz. food packages might look the same but what’s inside is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking.  The title for the article, “Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Tinier Bags,” explains it all.  One pays the same but one gets less.  [Here]  
I first noticed this trend in the shrinking size of toilet paper.  Ugh.  Next paper towels began to shrink.  Then I noticed the ever-shrinking size of my favorite foods.  Ms. Clifford and Rampell highlight Nabisco’s shrinking the packaging of saltines, which hasn’t hit my supermarket--yet.  Of course, this boils down to food price inflation.  The reporters predict that this trend will be reflected in higher prices for non-food items, such as clothing, that by definition cannot be shrunk.  
The article quotes John T Gourville, a marketing professor at the Harvard Business School, who said, “Consumers are generally more sensitive to changes in prices than changes in quantity.”  Thus we have the ever-shrinking packaging.  I wonder how many shoppers are aware that they are getting less for the old familiar packaged food?
And speaking of shrinking value...While we are applauding Ms. Clifford and Rampell for their acumen and the NYTimes for printing the story, we also must take note of Junior Sulzberger, talking (out loud) about the Times’s new paywall system that went into effect on Monday.  [Here]  [The emphasis is mine.]  
“Can people go around the [paywall] system? The answer is yes. There are gonna be ways, just as you run down Sixth Avenue and you pass a newsstand and you grab the paper and you keep running. You can actually get the Times for free.... So, yes, there are ways. We have to accept that.... Is it going to be done by the kind of people who value the quality news & opinion of the New York Times and analysis? No, we don't think so. It'll be mostly high schools kids & people out of work. -- A. O. Sulzberger
Some times in these old families the blood runs very thin....

Wherever did folks get the idea that the NYTimes was still a liberal paper?...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodbye, Bob Herbert...

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home. 
That was the beginning of Bob Herbert’s final column for the New York Times and who could disagree with him?  Even the Brothers Koch would agree because that’s exactly what they hoped would happen and their pursuit of creating an American plutocracy.
Herbert went on to write: [Here]
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
[...]
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.
New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
This is a voice that all liberals will miss.  
I wonder if the Times’s management will notice...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

GOP marching backwards...

The more one reads of the policies, plans and orders coming from the recently elected Republican governors, the more often one has to ask what century we are in.  I admit that I have a fondness for the Twentieth century even with it’s destructive wars and its techniques of mass destruction.  There was a sense of human progress and an evolving humanitarianism.  I was born at the nadir of the Great Depression and grew up with the unfolding of the New Deal and its heroic leaders.  At least they were heros to me.
Today’s reactionary governors are leaping backwards and trying to erase everything that I grew up cheering and pointing to with pride--Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment Insurance, the Civil Rights Act, the eight hour workday and, yes, Brown v. Bd of Education
But some of the recently elected Governors are trying to turn the clock back to a time even before my birth (and that’s pretty far back.)  The new governor of Maine is even doing his best to rewrite history by erasing any visual reminders of the giants of the last century.  Governor Paul LePage of Maine has ordered murals to be taken down in the state’s Labor Department building and wants conference rooms to be rededicated that had been named after labor leaders.  A LePage spokesperson explained that those murals and labor-friendly names were “not in keeping with the [current] department’s pro-business goals.”   (That’s hard to wrap one’s mind around, isn’t it?)
This is only too reminiscent of totalitarian governments who wipe out all reminders of their opponents or traces of a past that they don’t like, even music that the leadership considers “decadent.”  Remember that LePage is the man who refused to talk at a NAACP meeting in honor of Martin Luther King Day.  When the organization reacted by saying that his actions showed a “pattern of indifference to blacks,” he was quoted as replying, “Tell ‘em to kiss my butt.” [Here]  (Charming, eh?)
Yes, this new crop of rightwing governors appears to be digging backwards in time in order to get bigger and louder headlines.  LePage is loudly and proudly anti-union.  He says he will create a “right to work” state.  We know what that means.  The reactionaries are even bringing back the old GOP, anti-union language that we heard 60 years ago. 
In the meantime, Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, has published his anti-union law in possible defiance of a court decision.  Michigan’s Rick Snyder is moving ahead with his plans to appoint managers to rule any locality in Michigan that appears to be in financial difficulty.  
Coupled with the anti-union legislation that is brewing, in many state capitals there is also a wave of anti-abortion laws, including Michigan Senate law 13 in which “...the word ‘individual’ shall be construed to mean a natural person and to include a fetus.” [Here]  
Yes, here we go again.  How many times must we fight these battles?  
On the other hand, perhaps it’s important to reinvent and reassert these rights every generation to breath new life into things that we might be taking for granted.  The right to organize, a women’s right to choose and everyone’s right to protest are all fundamental to a healthy, morally upright, vigorous democracy.  Let us all be ready to rise up in defense of those rights.
Before we close, we remember tonight Geraldine Ferraro, who died today in Boston.  She was the first woman to run for the vice presidency on a major party ticket.  She was strong and articulate.  And she was a force for women and for choice.  
We shall miss her very much.  We shall remember her courage...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Memoriam...

It is important to take time to remember a tragic event that occurred one hundred years ago on March 25, 1911.  I am thinking, of course, of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which was the single most devastating disaster in New York’s history until September 11, 2001.  And it was primarily a woman’s disaster.  Certainly the advocates for unionization before and after the tragedy were mainly women.
It is also important to mark this day, not just to commemorate the young women and men who died in the fire, but to remember why they died--how unnecessary it was.
Late in the afternoon on Saturday, March 25, 1911, the young female employees and a few men who worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were thinking about going home after a long work week.  The company was in the top 3 floors of the 10-story Asch building on Washington Place in lower Manhattan.  (The building, called the Brown Building, is still standing and is now a part of the NYU campus at 23-29 Washington Place, between Greene Street and Washington Square East.)  The factory employed about 600 workers, mostly young women who were primarily immigrants from Germany, Italy and eastern Europe.
The Triangle Company had already gained a certain notoriety in the city because of a spontaneous walkout of some of its workers two years before and when some of those workers sought help from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, employers locked out the organizers.  During a mass meeting at Cooper Union a young woman, Clara Lemlich, stood up and fired up the audience.  (More about wonderful Clara Lemlich on another day.)
The crowd responded wildly to this brave, articulate woman and voted for a general strike, which later was called the Uprising of 20,000 or the Great Revolt.   Wikipedia estimates that 20,000 of the 32,000 employed in the garment industry went on strike.  However, this labor revolt was brutally suppressed by the police and hired thugs.  Prominent women such as the future New Deal Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont supported them by raising money and even by picketing with them.  The strike lasted only 2 days but public awareness had begun.  Some conditions improved in some companies but the general acceptance of reasonable hours, safe conditions and living wages was many years away.  Even today, in some states, conservative state governors are leading the fight to withdraw the acceptance and recognition that unions have won.  
The conditions in the Triangle Factory on that late Saturday afternoon in 1911 were ripe for a huge conflagration.  Floors were covered with scraps of cloth, flammable fabrics were stored everywhere, tissue paper cut-out drawings flapped over the sewing tables, open gas lights lit the airless rooms and often the male cutters smoked while they worked.  There was only one old fire escape that led down to the street.

The factory was a disaster waiting to happen.  When the fire started (and no one knows how or why), most workers on the tenth and eighth floors had sufficient warning to be able to evacuate in time before being overcome, but the warning came too late for the poor people on the ninth floor.  There were only two doors out, one leading to a staircase already filled with smoke and fire and the other was locked.  The fire escape became twisted and fell to the street and the elevator ceased to function.  The elevator door was pried open and panicked women jumped down the shaft, only crushing the bodies below.
As horrified spectators watched outside, the workers smashed the windows and, as happened in our World Trade Center tragedy, victims chose to leap to their doom rather than be burned to death.  What a horrible choice these poor young women had to make.
It should be noted that the two owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck escaped injury or death by ascending to the roof.  They were also later acquitted of wrongdoing in knowingly locking the factory doors; however, two years later, Max Blanck was arrested for again locking the doors of his factory while it was in operation.  He was fined $20.00...
As we noted before in our blog of December 22, 2008, F.D.R.’s Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, later the architect of much of the pro-labor New Deal legislation, was a horrified witness to much of the human tragedy on that March afternoon in 1911 and it made an enduring, haunting impression on her.   Perhaps we can comfort ourselves by thinking that the lives of those 146 young people indirectly helped the lives of millions of others.  Nothing can take away the tragedy, but we can remember and mark the event with a few moments of respectful, appreciative thought.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Here We Go Again...

I guess it’s time that we worried about the future of Social Security--again.  It is the last big plum of FDR’s New Deal that the GOP hasn’t been able to squash--yet.  In fact, it hasn’t been until recently that the rightwing has had the courage to even broach the subject.  The recent creation of the so-called Debt Commission and Obama’s choice of two anti-Social Security co-chairs opened the door wide for scary and inaccurate talk about Social Security’s so-called dubious financial future.  
The recent GOP obsession with the national debt added fuel to this hysterical talk, although the federal income stream is totally separated from the Social Security funds.  But never mind, the more hysteria the better, according to the devious rightwing plotters and planners who have long since realized that frightened people rush to find easy solutions and rarely say, “Hey, Just a minute!”
The slight difficulty that the fund might experience as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age can easily be eased by raising the payroll cap on the higher earners.  Of course, they will scream and yell, but so be it.  Why must we always listen only to their yelps and not the pain of the poor?
The new batch of reactionary GOP/Tea Party governors have learned that screaming about budget deficits and predicting impending doom gives them a rationale for doing what their corporate masters would like, viz. cut wages, cut jobs, cut projects that help the poor, cut, cut, cut.  And the best place to start is to hobble the unions by eliminating their power to organize, to strike, and to bargain for better working conditions and wages.  Also, their plutocrat handlers keep chanting deregulate, deregulate, deregulate.     
It’s interesting to note that the first openly-announced GOP 2012 Presidential candidate, ex- Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, has reported that he has filed papers to form an exploratory committee to run for the nomination.  This is what he said up front: [Here] [The emphasis is mine.]
We know what we need to do -- grow jobs, limit government spending, and tackle entitlements.
I’d say that was nailing his platform high enough so all can see it, wouldn’t you?  By tackling entitlements--Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security--Pawlenty means cutting them.  Let’s make no mistake about what Pawlenty’s subtext is.   
The same day that I read Pawlenty’s announcement, I read this heading in a story in TPM: [Here]
White House To Remain Mum In Social Security Fight -- Until Congress Comes Up With a Plan
The article goes on to say that it’s the White House thinking that Obama should sit back and let the Republicans beat each other up on this.  [Here]
...it's part of a broader political and policy strategy the administration is employing to keep Obama's powder dry while Republicans struggle to reduce deficits without increasing revenues in any meaningful way.
I’m sure that TPM’s reporter Brian Beutler has the story right, but what a shame.  Aren’t you tired of important policy matters that affect millions of lives being treated like a high stakes poker game?  Yes, I hear that Obama is a gifted poker player, but, darn it, he doesn’t have my permission to gamble with my Social Security check.  The quality of my life and millions like me should not be a game.
Whatever his plan is, let’s hear it.  Isn’t that what leadership is?   
Come on, Mr. President.  Speak up.  I dare you...     

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Alpha Female Wolf?...

Last Wednesday the U.S. House subcommittee on Financial Institutions And Consumer Credit met with Elizabeth Warren to begin the process that the conservative members hoped would lead to the taking down of both Elizabeth Warren and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the only new agency of the Obama presidency.
Warren came to the Committee with 34 pages of detailed written answers to questions that had been previously submitted to her by the committee members.  (One wonders if anyone bothered to read Warren’s answers or to understand them.)  She then had to endure 2 1/2 hours of battering, hostile questions.  The questions to the brilliant Warren were so hostile that the NYTimes’s Talking Business Columnist Joe Nocera, called her a piƱata, the object of the assault.
Warren was appointed to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was created by the Dodd/Frank law.  She was the logical person to set up and staff this agency because she has focused her successful writing and distinguished teaching career on commercial and bankruptcy law.  She had also headed the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) that was created by Congress to investigate the banking bailout money.  (Remember TARP--Troubled Assets Relief Program?)  By now, she knows the Beltway and its major players.
Warren is brilliant and articulate.  Nothing seems to phase her and she has a knack that all great teachers have, viz. the ability to make complex and arcane subjects crystal clear and even interesting.  
Warren was the perfect person to set up and staff this new agency.  She is also the perfect person to head the agency when it is up and running next July, but not if the bankers and conservative Republicans can help it.  As Joe Nocera put it:  [Here]
She may or may not be nominated by the president to serve as its first director when it goes live in July, but in the here and now she’s clearly running the joint.
And why do the banks and bankers hate her so?  According to Nocera:  [Here]
The big banks loathe Ms. Warren, who has made a career out of pointing out all the ways they gouge financial consumers — and whose primary goal is to make such gouging more difficult. So, naturally, the Republicans loathe her too. That she might someday run this bureau terrifies the banks. So, naturally, it terrifies the Republicans.
The banks and their Congressional allies have another, more recent gripe. Rather than waiting until July to start helping financial consumers, Ms. Warren has been trying to help them now.
Warren has been working with the states’ attorneys general who have come together to investigate the mortgage industry.  She’s given them ideas and suggestions which have no doubt been incorporated into a long (27 pages) outline of a possible settlement agreement with rules about how mortgage lenders and servicers must treat those in default.  This would include a requirement that banks try to modify the mortgages before they start foreclosures.  (The modifications will be paid for by penalties that would be exacted against the big banks.)
Is there any wonder that the big bankers hate Elizabeth Warren?  She’s been on to them from day one and she is much smarter than any two put together.  (Gouging the little guy doesn’t mean that you’re smart--just greedy.)
As Joe Nocera points out:  [Here]
It’s not just the House Republicans [who are afraid of Warren]. Already the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has reverted to form, becoming once again a captive of the banks it is supposed to regulate. (It has strenuously opposed the efforts of the A.G.’s to penalize the banks and reform the mortgage modification process...) The banks themselves act as if they have a God-given right to the profit they made precrisis, and owe the country nothing for the trouble they’ve put us all through. The Justice Department has essentially given up trying to make anyone accountable for the crisis. 
Yes, indeed, we certainly need Warren and we need a strong, active, pro-consumer CFPB.  Will Obama appoint her and stand firm with his Senate Democrats?  I wouldn’t bet on it--not the Obama we’ve seen recently.
Wouldn’t it be grand to be pleasantly surprised by Obama--just once?...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch...

As French and American planes (in that order) attack targets within Libya, we are left to wonder if our nation is at war with yet a third country in the Middle East.  When intelligent, articulate, well-informed observers like The Nation’s Chris Hayes and The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson wonder about this question on the Rachel Maddow Show, [Here] we know that we are at the mercy of the spin doctors from the right and left.

At the same time, President Obama and family left for a state visit to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.  Yes, our relations with Brazil are reputed to be a mite frayed and it is always wise to repair tangled threads but...  Has anyone noticed that there are a few other things going on in the world?  And is it always a good idea to build state visits around two school children’s school calendars?  (Yes, Sidwell Friends began their Spring break last Thursday.  [Here]  (What a heavy responsibility for whoever draws up that school’s calendar.  I made the school calendar in my school for a quarter of a century but I never had to take into account the travel plans of the leader of the free world.)
I suspect it will be a relief to the President to be away from the White House for a few days, although I must admit he has taken the horrific news from Japan and now the Middle East with great ease.  (Could we also add with a certain coolness?)  He’ll be hailed and cheered in Brazil and Chile and the visit will be dubbed a great success.  How many new jobs will be created in Small Town America as a result of the trip is a question, but I guarantee there will be big smiles all around.  I also guarantee there will be Big Talk about creating new “trading partners.”  Would someone please explain to me exactly what that means?  It certainly sounds cozy, doesn’t it?
Let us hope that the Libyan crisis and all the stunning fashion shots of the first family during their South American trip/vacation, will not shift our attention away from the nuclear issues that the Japanese tragedy has forced us to think about.  The New Yorker’s excellent Elizabeth Kolbert has treated us to a brief history of our nuclear power industry and some of the inherent problems in making the industry safe from natural disasters and even terrorists. [Here]  Kolbert reminds us of the safety concerns at the nuclear plant at Indian Point.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has required that all plants draw up an emergency evacuation plan for everyone living within a 10-mile circle around every plant.  The only problems is that more than 300,000 people live within the circumference around the Indian Point plant and twenty million within fifty miles of the facility.  
As Kolbert wrote: [Here]
As the disaster in Japan illustrates, so starkly and so tragically, people have a hard time planning for events that they don’t want to imagine happening. But these are precisely the events that must be taken into account in a realistic assessment of risk. We’ve more or less pretended that our nuclear plants are safe, and so far we have got away with it. The Japanese have not. 
Meanwhile, N.Y.’s Governor Andrew Cuomo [Here] has called into question the safety of the Indian Point facility and will meet with federal regulators early next week.  How sensible and intelligent of him, although he has no alternative to Indian Point to suggest as a source of power.  
In any case, it’s a start and it’s certainly better than skipping town during your kids’ Spring break when things get hot.
Ahem...

Friday, March 18, 2011

More Odds and Ends...

March has turned out to be a month when dozens of important things have been flying at us and we’d better catch them as they come our way.
I did not know that Hillary has been in the Middle East--Egypt and Tunisia--until CNN picked up the story via Wolf Blitzer.  [Here]  (A burden that government officials must bear is having to travel to wonderful places such as Egypt and Tunisia with folks like Wolf Blitzer in the caboose.  But at least we can keep track of the peripatetic Hillary that way.)
I admit that I was appalled when I read what Obama said about Hillary at the annual Gridiron dinner last weekend.  His remarks were supposed to be funny but instead they came out flat-footed and sophomoric.  [Here] h/t Taylor Marsh:
I’ve dispatched Hillary to the Middle East to talk about how these countries can transition to new leaders — though, I’ve got to be honest, she’s gotten a little passionate about the subject,” Obama said to laughter from the audience.
These past few weeks it’s been tough falling asleep with Hillary out there on Pennsylvania Avenue shouting, throwing rocks at the window.
Now that Obama and the United States have joined the UN in supporting a No Fly Zone over Libya, guess who has entered a third conflict in the region?  Yep!  We have!  I wonder how much this one is going to cost?
We have one more item this evening.  The Washington Post is carrying a story about a new Post/ABC poll that has found a majority of Americans now support the legalization of same sex marriage in this country. [Here]  What a change this is!  Just five years ago only 36% of those responding to a similar poll supported equality, now 53% do.  I suspect that as more and more people step up to the altar, the numbers will continue to grow in support of marriage equality.

More news and views tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To Recuse or Not To Recuse...

I learned something new today.  I love learning new and curious things, but it is a particular joy when that new fact (or in this case, a phrase) fits right into something that has been really bugging me.  
The newly discovered Latin phrase is, I learned today from a New York Times editorial, [Here] an old and established legal principle:  nemo iudex in causa suaThe Times tells us that it means “no one should be a judge about his or her own case.”
This brings us, of course, to our Supreme Court’s curious recusal policy--or lack thereof.  Our highest court’s justices enjoy life appointments to assure their independence from political pressures and influence.  However, we leave it up to each individual justice’s conscience to decide whether to recuse him or herself when a particular issue arises for which a justice might not be impartial.  Remember Justice Scalia’s hunting trip with Dick Cheney after the court had scheduled a case involving the Vice President?
The editorial mentions that a bipartisan group of 107 law professors from 76 different law firms have made a proposal [Here] to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, urging them to enact legislation to have the Supreme Court Justices follow the procedures and ethical codes that all other federal judges follow.  The Times points out that under that code Scalia would not have gone on that duck hunting trip.  (Incidentally, accompanying Cheney who has a gun in hand is not such a hot idea.)        
The editorial did not mention the uproar that has surrounded Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginny who has worked for various rightwing advocacy groups and who has recently opened her own rightwing lobbying firm.  What would have happened with Citizens United v. FEC and its subsequent effects on corporate rightwing funding if both Scalia and Thomas had recused themselves because of their attendance at Koch strategy sessions?  Certainly the SCOTUS vote would have gone 4 to 3 against instead of 5 to 4 for. 
The Times also said this about the current call for a clear recusal policy: [Here]
The court is still not addressing the issue despite months of questions about possible cozy friendships, suspected political biases and family ties. Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia was asked to recuse himself from an upcoming case about alleged gender bias at Wal-Mart Stores because his son is co-chairman of the labor and employment practice at the law firm representing the company.
The Times would prefer that the court come up with its own plan rather than have Congress write one for it.  With the current make-up of the Court, can we trust it to monitor itself?  
Nemo iudex in casa sua...    

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mid-March Odds and Ends...

While our thoughts and hopes continue to be with the Japanese people, it is time to deal with some odds and ends that have been piling up.  However, before we move away, the NYTimes has published a very moving Op-Ed piece on Tuesday by Marie Mutsuki Mockett, titled “Memories, Washed Away.”  [Here]  It begins with a statement about her great-uncle who was out fishing on August 9, 1945 when our country dropped a second atomic bomb.  This time the target was Nagasaki, Japan.  Her great-uncle had previously sent most of his family away because he had feared this attack.  As a child, she thought of him as clever, but later she realized that he was also very lucky.  We hope that this luck now extends to her present family.
Mockett takes us on a lovely, remembered route from Tokyo to her family’s Buddhist temple in Iwaki City, near the center of the quake.  I urge you to take this lovely journey with her...
I’d also like to report that the Boston Globe has responded to Michelle Bachmann’s giving New Hampshire credit for the “shot heard round the world.”  (Remember that goof, whcn Bachman, twice in one week-end, claimed that Lexington and Concord, Mass. were, in fact, in New Hampshire?)  In an editorial, titled “Bachmann: Two if by land, one if by sea” the Globe answers her.  [Here]
It’s less than a year until the New Hampshire primary, and many GOP hopefuls are testing the waters, including Michele Bachmann of the great state of Minnesota, proud home of Mount Rushmore . 1 Bachmann, of course, is one of the leading voices of the Tea Party movement, which scored a landmark victory in last year’s Senate race in Kentucky, the country music capital of the world, 2 and came very close in the Grand Canyon state of Nevada.3 As a result, the congressional Tea Party caucus is gaining clout in Washington, D.C., where Starbucks and Microsoft usually hold sway.4
The Tea Party asks that the US government return to its revolutionary roots, back when George Washington crossed the Connecticut River 5 and wintered his troops at snowy Saratoga,6 setting the stage for victory. Bachmann contends that President Obama’s expansion of the federal government is a form of tyranny similar to that which the colonies experienced under Louis XIV. 7 No analogy is perfect, however, and the past isn’t always prologue, as Shakespeare opined in “Romeo and Juliet.’’8 Bachmann’s critics decry her looseness with the facts, while her supporters believe her values are solid, even when she errs. Nothing she said on Saturday in Manchester is likely to change that dynamic.
  1. South Dakota; 2. Tennessee; 3.Arizona; 4. Washington State; 5. Delaware River; 6. Valley Forge; 7. George III; 8. “The Tempest.’‘  
(Don’t you love the little bit about Shakespeare that the Globe threw in?)
We must tear ourselves away from Congresswoman Bachmann, but we can keep the smile on our faces.  The news about Gabrielle Giffords is splendid.  David Dayen (dday) reported that she is making such stupendous strides in her rehabilitation from the gunshot wound through her head that she might be able to attend her husband’s shuttle launch that is scheduled for April 19th.   
Dayen wrote that her doctors have said that she can walk with assistence and can talk in complete sentences.  They call her progress “remarkable.”  Fellow Democrats are holding a fundraiser for her in D.C. next month.  Whether she will be able to resume her Congressional duties is too early to say.  Before the assassination attempt, she had indicated in private that she might be interested in running for Senator Kyle’s seat.  What the future holds for Gabrielle Giffords no one knows, but what wonderful news that she has made such progress. 
Unfortunately, I cannot report any change in the prison conditions of Pfc. Bradley Manning, but I can report that his outrageous prison conditions have finally been described and decried in a New York Times editorial. [Here
Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been imprisoned for nine months on charges of handing government files to WikiLeaks, has not even been tried let alone convicted. Yet the military has been treating him abusively, in a way that conjures creepy memories of how the Bush administration used to treat terror suspects. Inexplicably, it appears to have President Obama’s support to do so.
Inexplicable is right.  What can Obama be thinking these days?  While he hops from school to school, his base in midwestern states are battling union-busting state legislatures.  Obama appears to be leaving any leadership role on these issues to others.  More on this tomorrow.  
In the meantime, let us hope and pray that the Japanese will be able to bring the nuclear reactors under control...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wake up, America !!!...

As the Japanese nuclear disasters continue to horrify the world, we are learning more about America possibly stumbling into the same horrifying drama here at home.   A short while ago, the Obama administration asked Congress for a loan guarantee to build and operate two nuclear plants along the Texas Gulf coast by TEPCO with some local companies.  Please note: TEPCO stands for Tokyo Electric Power Company. 
Greg Palast, the articulate and knowledgeable investigative reporter and former lead investigator for the government in fraud and racketeering cases (including Shoreham), explains via Truthout: [Here] [The italics are mine.]
The failure of emergency systems at Japan's nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.
Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called "SQ" or "Seismic Qualification." That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from al-Qaeda.
The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie. The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York. Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from "failed" to ‘passed.’
The company that put in the false safety report? Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction, which will work with TEPCO to build the Texas plant. Lord help us.
Do we need to know much more?  Unfortunately, according to Palast, there is more.  One of the Japanese reactors that is currently “dancing with death” (Palast’s phrase) was built by Toshiba--which bought the nuclear power business from Westinghouse and still uses the Westinghouse name. 
Tom Zeller of the NYTimes on Monday reported in a piece, “U.S. Nuclear Plants Have Same Risks, and Backups, as Japan Counterparts,” that U.S. nuclear plants are now coming under a renewed round of scrutiny.  Zeller pointed out that most or all of our nuclear facilities suffer from the same risk factors as those in Japan viz. near coastal areas and thus vulnerable to tsunamis, close to fault lines, physically aging plants and so on.
Perhaps these risks will cause officials to stop and reconsider.  Remember, it was only last year Obama said, (as quoted by Truthout) [Here
Investing in nuclear energy remains a necessary step," he said. "What I hope is that, with this announcement, we're underscoring both our seriousness in meeting the energy challenge and our willingness to look at this challenge, not as a partisan issue, but as a matter that's far more important than politics because the choices we make will affect not just the next generation but many generations to come.
Promising to push for bigger loan guarantees to build more nuclear power plants, the president said: "This is only the beginning." 
Let us hope and pray that the current tragedy in Japan will dampen the President’s enthusiasm.
One final warning from Palast:  We shouldn’t accept “official” assurances about the levels of radiation that Palast tells us are already floating toward Seattle.  [Here]
(Wouldn’t it be grand if we could believe in the truth of the statements from our public officials?)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

WHAAAAAT???

What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord. 
Believe it or not, that is what Michelle Bachman, the Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota, had to say over the week-end at an event---in New Hampshire.  I guess that she got Concord, New Hampshire mixed up with Concord, Massachusetts.  (I have no detailed explanation for the Lexington, Massachusetts/New Hampshire mix-up but I venture a guess that it had to do with sheer stupidity or poor eduction or, probably, a combination of the two.)
According to one account: [Here]
Bachmann's contorting of a basic fact about the fight for American independence was made all the more glaring because of her repeated references throughout her speech to the nation's founding [history].
The setting for this speech was the site for a soon-to-be private high school and, sorry to report, there were a number of students in the audience.  Let’s hope that the youngsters weren’t paying much attention.
This is not the first time that Bachman has had trouble with American History 105.  Remember when she said back in January at a conservative event in Iowa that our nation was unique because people came here from all over the world and...[Here]
 It didn't matter the color of their skin, it didn't matter their language, it didn't matter their economic status...Once you got here, we were all the same.  Isn't that remarkable? 
(It certainly was remarkable because it didn’t happen that way.)  But then--Ah Ha!-- she remembered the despicable institution of slavery and added:
...we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents [the Constitution and the Bill of Rights] worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.
I’m going to stop here.  Let's hope that some kind soul has given Michelle a short, uncomplicated history lesson.  I know that she'll be upset to learn that the Emancipation Proclamation was not signed until 1863 during the Civil War and all the Founding Fathers were dead by then.  The Thirteenth Amendment, freeing all the slaves, went into effect in 1865.

I refuse to believe that the American public would seriously consider this woman qualified for a Presidential run.  However, while we watch other GOP hopefuls jockeying for position, we can also watch Michelle-from-Minnesota for comic relief...



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wake Up, America...

Chris Hayes of The Nation has written an interesting article titled “Why Washington Doesn’t Care About Jobs.” [Here]  Hayes points out that during the past election campaign, the GOP and Boehner talked about jobs, jobs, jobs, but once elected, they quickly turned their focus on deficit reduction.  In fact, when John Boehner was confronted with the fact that cutting $60 billion from the budget would eliminate thousands of jobs, he uttered the incredible “so be it” and, after a brief fuss, the press let him get away with it.
Hayes points to this “disconnect” as he calls it, between the huge national unemployment crisis and its “blithe dismissal” by the folks in the D.C. beltway.  He offers two explanations.  The first one is that part of the economy has returned to a kind of “normalcy,” the part that is lucky to have a college degree.  The unemployment rate among that group is 4.2%, while the other part is mired in unemployment of upwards of 9%.  
The other remarkable figure that Hayes gives us is the unemployment rate of the D.C Metro area, which is a low 5.7.  This happens to be the lowest rate of any metropolitan area in the entire country.  As Hayes writes: [Here]
“... DC is booming. You can see it in the restaurants opening all over North West, the high prices that condos fetch in the real estate market and the general placid sense of bourgeois comfort that suffuses the affluent upper- and upper-middle-class pockets of the region.”
He points to the disturbing fact that we have often written about, viz. the increasing distance between the increasing wealth of the top 10% of Americans and the economic struggles of the rest of the population.  Hayes calls this two Americas which have moved farther and farther apart since the onset of the Recession. Unfortunately, the D.C. policy makers are living in an area of affluence and, as Hayes amusingly put it, where new sushi restaurants are opening all the time.   He drew another anology: [Here]
Think of it this way: two office buildings are operating side by side in Chicago’s Loop in the middle of a brutally cold January day, when the heat in both buildings gives out.  The manager of one building has an on-site office, so he finds himself plunged into cold; the other building is managed remotely, from a warm office whose heat is functioning.  If you had to bet, you’d guess that the manager experiencing the cold himself would have a bit more urgency in restoring the heat.  The same holds for the economy. The people running the country are not viscerally experiencing the depredations of this ghastly economic winter, and they lack what might be called the “fierce urgency of now” in getting the heat turned back on.
Hayes adds that we tend to listen to the voices at the top, which increases the social and economic distance between classes.  He quotes Plutarch who warned that “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”     
Hayes has pointed to some interesting truths.  There is danger in a punditry that is removed from the reality of a vanishing middle America.  Recently, the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote a piece in which he described his horrendous experience with Citibank when he and his wife refinanced their home mortgage, an experience which he called “a reign of horror.”   They were charged extra fees, bank officers disappeared, laptops disappeared, his bank accounts were frozen, legal documents were written with wrong names, and so on.  
Millbank finally straightened it all out, but he is savvy and, in his own way, influential.  His column was refreshing and powerful because it described his own distressing experience.  Suddenly, in the midst of the beltway’s Washington Post we could read a personal account of what too many Americans have faced in Small City America.
It’s a shame that it took such a distressing personal experience for this piece to be written.  We need a ton more just like the ones that NYTimes’s Bob Herbert writes every week.  David Dayen, writing in Firedoglake.com posted a blog praising Millbank and titled the piece, “A Liberal is a Villager Who’s Been Screwed By a Mortgage Servicer.” 
All folks are welcome in our liberal club, but a special section is reserved for victims of banks and real estate agents...

Friday, March 11, 2011

And now Michigan...

Before we dig into more news about the GOP erosion of democracy across the northern tier of the mid-west, we note with great sympathy the destruction in Japan caused by a severe (8.9) earthquake, centered in northeast Japan and the resultant enormously destructive tsunami that sent flooding walls of water throughout the region and waves expected as far away as Hawaii and the west coast of the United States.  There are also concerns about the overheating of  Japanese nuclear reactors.  Let us hope that the nuclear situation can be stabilized as soon as possible and the country’s rebuilding begun.  We extend our deepest concern to our Japanese friends.
We understand that this morning Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law the union breaking law and when he signed the bill which all polls tell us is unpopular with a majority of Wisconsin’s voters, he used some astonishing, up-is-down Orwellian language.  (h/t to TPM) [Here]    
What we're doing here, I think, is progressive.  It's innovative. It's reform that leads the country, and we're showing there's a better way by sharing in that sacrifice with all of us in government.
Progressive?  And who, pray tell, is sharing what sacrifice?  It seems to me that Walker and the brothers Koch are getting precisely what they want, viz. a disabled union movement in Wisconsin.  They have also signaled the beginning of a totalitarian movement in other states that are, in their own ways, even more disturbing than what happened in Wisconsin. 
The rights-stripping actually started with the conservative GOP’s war against women.  As a NYT’s editorial wrote: [Here]
Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families.  And that is just the beginning...
In individual states the GOP have their own unique methods of demeaning women and abolishing abortions.  (Reminder: Abortions are still legal in the United States and will be until Roe v. Wade is overturned.)  It’s astonishing to me that in some states sonograms are being used as a tool in this process of a demeaning subjugation.  (Why doesn’t the medical profession stand up and shout “NO!” to Gov. Perry in Texas?)
Beyond attacking women’s reproductive rights, some states have taken the lead from Wisconsin’s focus on state and local deficits to grab power.  The most outrageous power grab (to date) is in Michigan with their new governor Rick Snyder who has proposed appointing Emergency Fiscal Managers (EFMs) to govern local municipalities which might be in fiscal difficulties.  These EFMs can overrule any local officials and, in effect, become local fiscal dictators.  They can throw out union contracts and even change their pension plans.  If the municipality owns a utility, these EFM’s can decide to sell it to whomever the EFM decides is best. 
There are four EFMs already in place in Michigan, one of whom runs the entire Detroit school system.  With falling property values eroding local tax bases, many union members fear that some towns might jump at the chance for a EFM to break their union employee contracts and thus save some money. 
Whichever way you slice it, this is not democracy, but pure tyranny.  Doesn’t it sound like a chapter from Klein’s The Shock Doctrine?
Why hasn’t the msm picked this up?  Yes, I know the videos of the Madison, Wisconsin protests have been riveting but isn’t the Michigan story incredible?  Rachel Maddow is one of the few journalists who have been on this story. [Here]   I wonder why?
The problem with ignoring the EFMs in Michigan is that there is no such thing as just a little tyranny.  Before you know it, it has swallowed everything and everyone.
Which state is next?....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nothing good to say?...

I have only one positive thought about Justice Antonin Scalia’s remarks about his fellow justices in his caustic dissent in Michigan v. Bryan, as reported by Linda Greenhouse in Thursday’s New York Times, viz. that he didn’t call anyone out by name.  He did everything short of that, though.  
Michigan v. Bryan concerns the Sixth Amendment to the constitution which states that an accused person has a right to confront his accuser.  Justice Scalia has long approached Sixth Amendment issues as a constitutional purist.  (And he wishes to be the purist of the pure.)  That is to say, he believes that this amendment should be applied as it was originally written and intended.  The present guiding precedent in the current court was written by Scalia in Crawford v. Washington, in which it was decided that if a statement was “testimonial” and the witness could not appear in court, the statement stayed out, unless the defendant had a previous opportunity to confront the witness.
Michigan v. Bryan was written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and she was joined by 6 others.  Only Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.  (Justice Elena Kagan did not vote.)  
The case involves the statements that were made to the police by a bleeding, dying man, lying in the parking lot of a gas station in Detroit in the midst of an ongoing police investigation or as Greenhouse explained:  [Here]
Rather than trying to obtain a dying man’s testimony for later use in a courtroom, [Sotomayor wrote that] the police were urgently investigating what they believed to be an ‘ongoing emergency,’ someone with a gun on the loose on the streets of Detroit. Under that view of the facts, the victim’s statements were not “testimonial,” meaning that their use at trial did not violate the defendant’s right under the Sixth Amendment to ‘confront’ an accuser who was unavailable for cross-examination.”
According to Greenhouse, this reasoning “enraged” Scalia.  He said it was obvious that the police were collecting evidence for a later trial and any other interpretation of the facts is “so transparently false that professing to believe it demeans this institution.”   He went on to rant about a “gross distortion of the facts,” “utter nonsense,” “unprincipled.”  Greenhouse pointed out that these were only a sampling of the “zingers the dyspeptic justice aimed at Justice Sotomayor’s opinion.”  
Yes, “dyspeptic justice” is what Linda Greenhouse wrote and who but Clarence Thomas could disagree, although we must note that Thomas did not join Scalia in the dissent this time.  Perhaps after Thomas’s recently widely publicized and equally dyspeptic remarks to a meeting of the conservative Federalist society, he is attempting to keep a low profile--and his day job. [Here]
Greenhouse listed some of the unnecessarily sharp language Scalia has thrown at the decisions of his colleagues in the past.  In 1989 he wrote that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s position in the Webster case (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services) was “irrational” and “cannot be taken seriously.”  Sexist?  Greenhouse begs the question by pointing out that Scalia has also been nasty to men on the court.  For instance, Scalia described a majority opinion written by Justice Alito as “incoherent.”  However, Greenhouse does acknowledge that in the climate of a gentler 1989, “the insults Scalia delivered to Justice O’Connor appeared shocking.” 
Greenhouse concludes by asking the same question that we all have.  What in heaven's name does Scalia think that he is accomplishing with these bullying, smarty pants barbs?  They certainly do not add weight and cogency to his decisions.  
Scalia was appointed to the bench in 1986 by Ronald Reagan and in all that time what has this longest-serving associate justice on the present court accomplished?  Surely, he can’t be proud of his judicial legacy and his recent lecture to Michelle Bachman’s Congressional caucus will not even be a footnote in any history book, unless he writes it himself. 
Linda Greenhouse reminds us that March 11th is Antonin Scalia’s 75th birthday.  What about retirement, Mr. Associate Justice???
My Mother would have had important advice for Justice Scalia:
  “If you have nothing good to say..."
   

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moore in Madison...

Last Saturday while Michael Moore was reading his impassioned “America Is NOT Broke” speech to protesters outside the statehouse in chilly, blustery Madison, Wisconsin, Obama was at Andrews Air Force playing golf in near 60’s weather. [Here] 
While no one begrudges the President some time off, you still have to wonder whose time was better spent on that afternoon. (h/t Constant Weader.[Here])  We also have to note that Obama spent Friday in Florida discussing the importance of education in his “Winning the Future” policy.  And who did he invite to join him?  None other than ex-governor Jeb Bush who fought against public education and its teachers when he was in office.  He shifted funds away from public schools and tried to end teachers’ tenure.  He was against a Florida constitutional amendment to reduce class size and when it passed, tried to circumvent it and then to repeal it.  
I could go on, but won’t.  In any event, Jeb was a curious person for Obama to go speechifying with about public education.
And what was Michael Moore saying in Madison in that biting Wisconsin air?  
Moore began by nailing his verbal message to an imaginary headline that floated over the crowd and should float over all of America: [Here] [This image and the emphasis are all mine.]
Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you'll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.
Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans (155 million Americans) combined...
Moore went on to say that the wealthy have done two canny things.  First, they have control of the media and with this control they have convinced folks that anyone can be as rich as they want and they can be president.  The media will play this fantasy over and over until everyone believes it and will thus not dare to upset the apple cart and with it, this shining American dream.  
The second smart thing that the rich have done, according to Moore, is to convince us all that if the market collapses, the entire fabric of our society would collapse.  Our life savings and pensions and our hopes for a secure future would disappear.  They have been so convincing that we were willing to take our own tax money to bail the banks out of an economic mess that they created.  As we know, only a few months after the bailout, those same folks were collecting huge bonuses and giggling about how smart they had been.
But, Moore told his proud audience that their protest in Wisconsin happened in spite of the media manipulations.  And he ended his speech (and current blog) with this:
Madison, do not retreat.  We are with you. We will win together.
Moore gave them no formula for success, just a reminder of why they came together.  There is no doubt that nothing that Moore told the protesters was news to them or to us as we heard or read it.  
But wasn’t it splendid to hear this statement?  Moore has said that when he finished writing his blog, it occured to him that he should fly to Wisconsin and turn the blog into a direct message.  Moore had the resources and had the inclination to do it.  
Obama had the resources, too.......