Friday, February 18, 2011

Emerson for the Day

"Who hears the fishes when they cry?'

Photos: two views of the hawksbill turtle, an endangered species living in the imperiled ocean, where the fate of life on earth ultimately resides. Yet as Thoreau's statement suggests, where we are most ignorant.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


They revolted in Egypt, and now it's spreading to Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran.

Then they revolted in Wisconsin, and now it's spreading to...Ohio.

Protests against proposed laws to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin continue to grow (40,000 demonstrated Thursday) and included Democrats of the state legislature who themselves went on strike, depriving the legislature of the necessary quorum, and said they would not be back until this law was abandoned. The Obama adminstration is openly aiding the protests.

Demonstrations spread to Ohio, where its governor is making a similar proposal.

The rhetoric is about state budgets (though the Wisconsin governor is accused of ginning up his own deficit to enable his anti-union ploy) but the attempt is seen as a deliberate attempt to destroy public employee unions, the last category of the American workforce to be heavily unionized. It is less often noted that public employees are more likely to be racial minorities and women than many other job categories.

As a nakedly political ploy, it is the essence of political cynicism: if you can't convince particular groups of people to support your candidates and positions, you use your power and talent for hypocrisy to weaken institutions that protect them, and you drive these people into poverty and powerlessness. You might even kill them off. It's the worst partisan politics and it's racism as well.

That's the sort of tyranny that ordinary people are fighting against in those other countries. Not meaning to minimize the bravery and the dangers of their struggles, what's going on in Wisconsin and Ohio is our version. In both cases, they are also fighting for the welfare of their countries. Despite the suicidal as well as homicidal rages of the Rabid Right, public employees do work that is essential to our democracy, our society and civilization. Until that is acknowledged, no reform is going to work.

It is justified, as is so much by the party of Voldemort, with lies. Even the Christian Science Monitor knows this:

"One of the arguments [Wisc. gov] Walker has made is that public-sector workers are compensated at a higher rate than those in the private sector. But according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, Wisconsin’s public sector workers get compensations that are 4.8 percent less than those for their counterparts in the private sector.

Dresang argues that the structure of how public workers are paid also saves the state money. He says that 26.7 percent of public-worker compensation is in benefits, compared with 11 to 17 percent for private workers. Because more public-worker compensation is in benefits, the state government is able to purchase health-care and pension packages in bulk, “which actually costs taxpayers less,” he says.

But that's pretty much in line with their professional liars in Washington, who justify a lot of what they try to do by lying about the effects of their budget-cutting (it will destroy jobs and create massive unemployment), about the number of federal jobs and about the effect of government spending, specifically for the Obama stimulus. The Congressional Budget Office numbers are unequivocal and huge: By the third quarter of 2010, "the Recovery Act increased employment by up to 3.6 million jobs and lowered the unemployment rate by up to 2.0 percentage points."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The field of knowledge is the common property of mankind."
Thomas Jefferson

Eat the Future

"On Friday, House Republicans unveiled their proposal for immediate cuts in federal spending. Uncharacteristically, they failed to accompany the release with a catchy slogan. So I’d like to propose one: Eat the Future."

So begins Paul Krugman's latest column, in which he discourses on the sorry hold American voters seem to have on what's actually in the federal budget (as well as states), and their perhaps sensible but contradictory answers to poll questions in which they want more spending on stuff they favor, and lower taxes. Then Krugman continues:

"Which brings me back to the Republican dilemma. The new House majority promised to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts — and its members face the prospect of Tea Party primary challenges if they fail to deliver big cuts. Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes — and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?

The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren’t immediate; basically, eat America’s seed corn. There will be a huge price to pay, eventually — but for now, you can keep the base happy."

Krugman goes on to spell out what this means. Don't miss this column. And don't miss the distinction--that President Obama's proposals are focused squarely on winning the future. It couldn't be clearer.

Following up: a demonstration of some 10,000 union members who work in the public sector protested the Wisconsin governor's proposed attack on collective bargaining. Notably the protest was joined by members of the firefighters union, who are not included in the governor's proposal. Union solidarity is essential, and this is a first good sign. Update: Demos even bigger on Wednesday.

It is also another point of direct contention: public sector jobs. On Tuesday Speaker of the House John Banal asserted that if GOPer budget-hacking results in lost jobs, "so be it." Banal is one of those GOPers who lies regularly in support of his views--for example by asserting that the Obama administration has added 200,000 federal jobs. The number is one-tenth of that--20,000--which puts federal employment on a per capita basis at the lowest level since 1962. Update: Turns out that the jobs Banal is proposing to cut number one million--enough to send the country back into recession.

Not that this has anything to do with the larger proportion of racial minorities who are able to get government jobs because anti-discrimination rules are tougher.

Following up on the Chamber of Commerce story, the Chamber is claiming that "it knew nothing" of these the proposals from the security companies until the emails detailing them were exposed in the media.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Goodbye to Spring

To give you an idea of how seriously screwed up the weather is here on the North Coast, we've essentially had no winter. We didn't want to talk much about it, since nearly everybody else was suffering with cold, snow, ice, rain, wind and storms. We had sunshine and warm temperatures. This is supposed to be our winter, our rainy season, but we haven't had any serious rain since the end of December. Flowers like this rose responded to the early spring. But now, even as I write this, the winds are building, and the forecast is for rain and cold for the rest of the week, for the next 10 days, for as far as the forecasts go. So in mid-February, winter begins. It's likely to play havoc with more than the roses.

Sunday to Monday

At Foreign, Marc Lynch's Middle East blog, concerning the peaceful end to the Mubarak dictatorship:

The Obama administration also deserves a great deal of credit, which it probably won't receive. It understood immediately and intuitively that it should not attempt to lead a protest movement which had mobilized itself without American guidance, and consistently deferred to the Egyptian people. Despite the avalanche of criticism from protestors and pundits, in fact Obama and his key aides -- including Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power and many others -- backed the Egyptian protest movement far more quickly than anyone should have expected. Their steadily mounting pressure on the Mubarak regime took time to succeed, causing enormous heartburn along the way, but now can claim vindication. By working carefully and closely with the Egyptian military, it helped restrain the worst violence and prevent Tiananmen on the Tahrir -- which, it is easy to forget today, could very easily have happened. No bombs, no shock and awe, no soaring declarations of American exceptionalism, and no taking credit for a tidal wave which was entirely of the making of the Egyptian people -- just the steadily mounting public and private pressure on the top of the regime which was necessary for the protestors to succeed.

The Obama administration also understood from the start, and has consistently said, that removing Mubarak would not be enough. It has rejected "faux democracy," and pushed hard for fundamental systemic reforms...By the way, for those keeping score in the "peacefully removing Arab dictators" game, it's now Obama 2, Bush 0. The administration has been subjected to an enormous amount of criticism over the last two weeks for its handling of Egypt, including by people inspired by or who worked on the previous administration's Freedom Agenda. It was also attacked sharply from the left, by activists and academics who assumed that the administration was supporting Mubarak and didn't want democratic change. In the end, Obama's strategy worked. Perhaps this should earn it some praise, and even some benefit of the doubt going forward. And now, a day to celebrate before rolling up the sleeves for the hard work to come."

From Think Progress, the first fruits of their investigation: "ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign."

Just some of the details revealed so far are interesting beyond even this infamy: a plan to plant a false story with a progressive organization, then reveal the story is false to discredit that organization. Sounds just like what happened to Dan Rather. The plan was for the lobbying firm of Hunton and Williams to hire a set of security companies to do the deeds for a cool two million:"HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis)."

Tipped by one of the comments at Think Progress, I looked up the meaning of "Themis." It refers to a Greek Titan, and means "divine law."

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Payoff for night owls: early look at this morning's very interesting New York Times story on the internal dynamics of the Obama Administration's statements on the fast-evolving situation in Egypt. Basically it says that President Obama and his White House team were emphasizing that change needed to begin right away, while old foreign policy hands--including at times Sec. of State Clinton--were emphasizing the need for continuity in the process of change. If you're still wondering what newspapers are for, reporting like this is one important function.

It comes as little surprise that Washington Republicans make many more false statements than do Democrats--this study says three times as many, or over a third of the time a GOPer assert something, he or she is lying or deluded.

But for lies and delusions to work requires a certain gullibility as well as ignorance among hearers, and apparently none of us are immune. For example, I among many others fell for the impression that the U.S. owes the bulk of its national debt to China. But it's not true, and not even close. The U.S. owes most of its debt to...the U.S. That is, 53% of the federal debt is held by U.S. citizens and institutions. China holds 9.8% but Japan holds 9.6%, and the UK holds 5.1%. Makes a difference, don't it?

Still, it seems that the lies and liars are more fascinating, at least on the Internet. I just took a look at my usual first stop among a shrinking number of sites, Talking Points Memo, and literally every single story on its front page is about a GOPer whopper. Now I know CPAC is going on and that's fertile territory for this, but still... It's like there's nobody doing anything constructive...

As California again confronts a budget slicing crisis, Michael Hiltzik's column in the L.A. Times provides analysis and cautionary tale about the dysfunctional state of Texas.

And while Arizona mostly has been making headlines for Rabid Right mania--like its string of proposed racist, violence-engendering and secessionist laws including nullification of federal laws they don't like, even after the gun killings and attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords in Tucson. But somehow this counter-narrative was missed last week: a Public Policy Poll found that a majority of Arizonans favor stricter gun control, which is higher than the national average.

And if you missed it, Gabby's husband Mark Kelly has resumed training to pilot the space shuttle Endeavor in April, saying that he fully expects his wife to be present at the launch. It seemed pretty optimistic, until the news a few days ago that Gabby has begun to speak. And that in itself is truly amazing.