Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Orderly Raid: Some Initial Thoughts

After a couple of days' grace, the Los Angeles Police Department moved in and evicted the Occupy LA protesters from City Hall grounds. By all early accounts in the Los Angeles Times, the behavior of LAPD was sensible, orderly, and restrained: no baton swinging, no pepper spraying. Arrests were made, listed only as "dozens" at this point (4:00 AM PDT), but the camp was cleared.

Multiple initial accounts can be found here.

Much of the Occupy L.A. campsite was in shambles early Wednesday morning, with tents uprooted and strewn all over.

Most of the crowd either left or was arrested at about 2:10 a.m., but about three dozen occupiers remained on City Hall's south lawn, seated on the ground with their arms locked together in a giant circle.

Los Angeles Police Department officers pulled out the remaining occupiers one by one by their legs and arms, putting them into plastic handcuffs. Nearly all of the protesters went limp and had to be carried out.

The scene is a far cry from other cities' actions, and certainly a world away from LAPD's behavior at a 2007 immigration rally in which clubs were swung, violent arrests made, and even journalists beaten during the disruption. LAPD has certainly learned the wisdom of restraint in actions such as these, and for that I am grateful.

But, now what?

Will the Occupy LA protesters return to the scene, try to clean up the mess and pitch new tents? Several have filed a federal law suit seeking to enjoin the city from removing the camp after nearly two months of allowing, even welcoming, the protests. It will be a while before even a preliminary injunction issues, if one does. In the mean time, I suspect that the campers will return, or at least try to. And the clearing of the grounds will be a nightly exercise.

If they do return, will there be a further groundswell of support, with more digging in for the long haul? Can the protesters increase their numbers, even in the face of more arrests with the potential of the LAPD reverting to the use of violence? I certainly hope so.

This may be the time that the movement expands its tool box. That federal suit, while potentially a loser, does indicate that at least some of the protesters are willing to use other nonviolent avenues to press their case. The trick will be to avoid getting trapped in the very system which has proven to be so utterly corrupt, to avoid being co-opted by the suits urging them to enter the arena and to work from the inside. We've seen how well that works for the 99%.

This is going to be a very interesting several weeks and months. It's also going to be a very important one.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Putting the Brakes on Tax Breaks

I seriously doubt that much will get accomplished in Congress before the end of the year, certainly nothing substantive when it comes to the deficit and the economy. When Congress adjourns after the holiday recess, it will be an election year. That means the only business that will get done will no doubt be trivial or involve elaborate posturing to shore up the campaigns. In at least one respect, that just might be a good thing. The Bush tax breaks for the wealthy will expire.

The Bush-era breaks, approved in 2001 and accelerated in 2003, are a mix of rate cuts and deductions that benefit households across the income spectrum. The most controversial part of the package is the reduction of taxes for upper-income households; those account for about $700 billion of the total $4-trillion impact the Bush tax law would have if it were extended for the next 10 years.

Hardly anyone in Congress, regardless of party, wants to end the tax breaks that benefit the middle class. Those include a $1,000 tax break for households with children and lower income-tax brackets for those earning less than $250,000 annually.

It is the breaks for the wealthy that propel the debate — including a reduction of the top individual bracket from 39.6% to 35%. The 35% top rate was the latest in a series of reductions over the last half-century, during which the top income-tax bracket has dropped from the 91% that prevailed during the 1950s to 70% for much of the 1960s and 1970s to the 50% adopted under President Reagan. ...

The fact that all the tax cuts automatically expire at the end of 2012 unless Congress reaches an agreement provides a powerful incentive for both sides to make a deal. Whether that deal leans more toward the GOP or the Democrats will depend heavily on the outcome of the November election, in which the Bush tax cuts will continue to drive the debate, a prospect noted by the credit rating agency Moody's. The credit agency does not take a political position on the cuts but notes that its outlook for U.S. debt will be partly determined by how the issue is resolved.
[Emphasis added]

"Powerful incentive to make a deal" or not, this is one time the country would benefit from deliberate inaction by both parties and the White House. Yes, the middle class (what's left of it) would take a hit, but not an insurmountable one. Who will finally have to start paying a fair share would be the wealthy. After all, the whole point of those tax breaks was to reward the "job creators." I haven't seen too many jobs created in the US by those folks. In fact, unemployment continues at around 9% after nearly a decade of rewarding the wealthy in anticipation of all those new jobs. It's a theory that just didn't pan out.

In the mean time, with unemployment high after the ravages of the Wall Street churners got through with round one of the derivatives shell game, the federal budget went from a surplus to a huge deficit, with no end in sight unless people actually get back to work. Instead of rewarding the wealthy for the epic failure, the government should pump some money into real job creation by funding, among other things, improvements to our deteriorating infrastructure.

And the wealthy? Let them eat cake with just a little less government icing. They can handle it. After all, as Libby Spencer pointed out in her usual excellent style, the rich are different.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Unfriendly Skies

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the use of unmanned drones along the border with Mexico to keep out immigrants and drug smugglers. It turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Soon, we'll be able to look up from our back yards and see those little aircraft swarming overhead, at least that seems to be the plan.

Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan, may soon be coming to the skies near you.

Police agencies want drones for air support to spot runaway criminals. Utility companies believe they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers think drones could aid in spraying their crops with pesticides.

"It's going to happen," said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Assn. "Now it's about figuring out how to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace."

That's the job of the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into the nation's skyways.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I have to admit that the proposed uses all seem reasonable enough. Tracking criminals fleeing or monitoring pipelines are both socially useful activities and taking advantage of advances in technology initially designed for military use is not necessarily an evil. After all, we all cheerfully use the internet and even rely on satellites for our cell phones and GPS car systems.

This, however, just feels different.

I'm uncomfortable at just one more bit of intrusion in my privacy. I don't exactly relish the thought of being watched whenever I'm outside my home by a small (soon to be miniaturized) eye-in-the-sky being operated by my own government. It smacks too much of the dystopias described by George Orwell and Philip K. Dick. And I also am nervous about the fact that arming those drones is easy enough.

If, as the article notes, the FAA is already formulating rules for the use of the drones so they do not pose any safety hazards for our commercial aircraft, then these proposed uses for drones appear to be already in the works. And this has been done without any national discussion that I am aware of. I guess the powers running this country have made their decision: the Fourth Amendment is only so much fluff written on a mere scrap of paper.

And that is a shame. A damned shame.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Ruth Stone


Putting up new curtains,
other windows intrude.
As though it is that first winter in Cambridge
when you and I had just moved in.
Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen.

What does it mean if I say this years later?

Listen, last night
I am on a crying jag
with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta.
I sneaked in two cats.
He screams, "No pets! No pets!"
I become my Aunt Virginia,
proud but weak in the head.
I remember Anna Magnani.
I throw a few books. I shout.
He wipes his eyes and opens his hands.
OK OK keep the dirty animals
but no nails in the walls.
We cry together.
I am so nervous, he says.

I want to dig you up and say, look,
it's like the time, remember,
when I ran into our living room naked
to get rid of that fire inspector.

See what you miss by being dead?

--Ruth Stone

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

As I've said before, I'm always amazed at how closely the issues facing the US are watched by other countries as reflected by their press. That's one of the reasons why I go over to Watching America at least once a week. This week was no different in that I found a very perceptive analysis of the problems America faces in enacting badly-needed immigration reform.

From Bulgaria's Capital:

In theory, it looked simple: Illegal immigrants would leave, and the unemployed in Georgia would take their jobs. An agricultural season and $79.4 million in losses later — from a harvest left on trees and in fields — the equation has been proven wrong. ...

The United States of America may have been built on immigration, but today it doesn’t have the strength to reform an immigration system that has long ago hit a dead end. Although politicians keep repeating that the current situation is unacceptable — and several states have decided to launch their own state reforms — on a national level Republicans and Democrats cannot even agree on giving a start to the negotiation process on the subject. The slow economic recovery and the approaching presidential elections fuel swings between drastic measures and complete apathy.

Because the White House has chosen to deport undocumented workers rather than push for actual reform, and because Congress won't touch the issue during an election year, any real reform is at least two years down the road, if then. States have therefore decided to take the matter into their own hands, with disastrous and often unintended consequences.

The restrictive measures insinuated fear and panic. “Women don’t dare to call the police when they are victims of domestic violence, because they fear extradition. Others don’t even dare to go to the hospital to give birth. In Alabama, where schools check on the status of children and parents, the situation is the worst. According to the statistical data, [during] the first week the law went into force, 2,300 kids did not show up at school,” Cervantes explains. The American media has shown striking images of Latin American immigrants leaving their residences in a hurry, leaving behind furniture and belongings. Other critics of the new legislation point out that it will create a burden to local prisons, which are overpopulated even without that extra pressure. The legislation in Alabama is the most severe not only because of the school checks, but also because it declares illegal any act of providing help, signing a contract or making a residence available to an illegal immigrant.

Immigration reform has become another "third rail" in politics. Xenophobes insist that any reform which provides a pathway to citizenship for those already here is "amnesty" and a "reward" for those who broke the law. All they want is higher fences along the Mexican border because, after all, all undocumented workers come from Mexico and Latin America and take jobs from hard-working but unemployed Americans. Business interests, including garment sweatshops and agricorps like things just the way they are because they can buy cheap labor who will be too afraid to report the egregiously bad conditions under which they are forced to work. And the racists, well, they just don't like anybody whose ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower, which must have been a GINORMOUS ocean liner.

And, as the article points out, all of the objections overlook one very important factor:

...The immigrants are here because America needs them. Georgia’s agricultural losses would be the perfect example of what happens when the authorities are taking temporary measures where long-term decisions are needed.


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Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Tom Toles and published 11/24/11 at the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Purple Acorn Worm

(Photograph courtesy David Shale and published at National Geographic. Click on link to see more pictures of these colorful deep-sea worms.)

Wah! Wah!

Pity the poor Congress critter: at least that's the message members of the 112th Congress are currently peddling, according to this article:

To its many issues — dysfunction, occasionally impaired judgment, an inability to get things done — Congress can add one more: Low self-esteem.

Following yet another failure to come up with a plan to reduce deficits, the mood on Capitol Hill has switched from frustration and disillusionment to open self-loathing. Few came forward to defend the "super committee's" decision to deadlock rather than agree to a deal on the deficit. ...

In the self-flagellation is a mix of frustration and empathy — an attempt to show voters that lawmakers understand why people don't like them. They feel your pain. You think watching them flail and flounder to accomplish once-routine tasks is hard? Try being a part of it.

Oh, please. Somebody call the wahmbulance.

With all the finger pointing going on, somebody's gonna lose an eye.

The Republicans blame the Democrats for being recalcitrant, for refusing to face the fact that more government is too expensive and too intrusive. The 2010 elections were proof that Americans wanted less spending and more belt-tightening at the top. Tax hikes while Americans face 9% unemployment will only make things worse because employers won't be able to afford new workers and their share of payroll taxes. Cutting taxes on those who could generate jobs is the only way, yet the Democrats insist on including higher taxes with each proposal.

The Democrats blame the Republicans for being obstructionist. Scores of administration appointments still haven't been confirmed and aren't likely to be. Because most members of the GOP have pledged fealty to their monarch, Grover Norquist, funding for any kind of economic relief via any kind of tax hikes are out of the question. What did the Dems expect when the Senate Minority Leader made it explicitly and abundantly clear that the primary goal of his party was the denial of a second term to President Obama?

And so very little got done except the health care reform bill, which primarily benefits the insurance industry and doesn't contain a public option, an extension to the tax break for the wealthy, and a tiny sliver of the jobs bill which only passed because it contained the magic word "veterans."

What all of this inaction showed is that neither party is capable of governing, nor wants to. They'd rather take pot shots at each other while dialing for dollars to fund their next campaigns. And that means both parties will be working for those who benefit from the inaction, the 1% who like things just the way they are, rather than the 99% of us who are struggling to keep from drowning.

A pox on both of their houses.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Nailing It In One

Rebecca Solnit has written the most perceptive analysis of the Occupy movement I have come across yet. She does so by using the surprising but illuminating metaphor of battered-wife syndrome without denigrating the movement or trivializing the syndrome.

Think of civil society and the state as joined in a marriage of necessity. You already know who the wife is, the one who is supposed to love, cherish and obey: that's civil society. Think of the state as the domineering husband who expects to have a monopoly on power, on violence, on planning and policymaking.

Of course, he long ago abandoned his actual wedding vows. He left home a long time ago to have a sordid affair with the Fortune 500, but he still has the firm conviction that we should remain faithful — or else. The post-9/11 era was when we began to feel the consequences of all this, and the 2008 economic meltdown brought it all home to roost.

Think of Occupy Wall Street, of all the occupations around the country, as the signal that the wife, Ms. Civil Society, has finally acknowledged that those vows no longer bind her either. ...

Still, Ms. Civil Society is not asking for any favors: She is setting out on her own, to make policy on a small scale through the model of the general assembly and on a larger scale by withdrawing deference from the institutions of power. (In one symbolic act of divorce, nearly three-quarters of a million Americans reportedly have moved their money from big banks to credit unions since Occupy Wall Street began.) The philandering husband doesn't think the once-cowed wife has the right to do any of this, and he's been striking back. Literally.
[Emphasis added]

That striking back has taken several forms, from rousting encampments and destroying the campers' property, to arresting those in the near vicinity (including journalists) to the use of riot gear, including batons and pepper spray. And still the movement continues, picking up steam and support from previously unallied by-standers.

The movement, while deeply political, is not interested in politics, at least not politics-as-usual. It has eschewed both parties and politicians of all stripes, which only enrages the "philandering husband" further, leading to further escalations, as witnessed by the horrific behavior by the UC-Davis campus police. The result is even more sympathy for the movement, swelling the ranks even further. And it's beginning to cost the "philandering husband."

In the meantime, the domestic-violence-prone domineering state is squandering a fortune on the extravagance of police brutality and wrongful arrests. New York City — recall those pepper-sprayed captive young women, that legal observer with a police scooter parked on top of him, and all the rest — you're going to have a giant bill due in court. Oakland, you paid out more than $2 million for the behavior of the police at a nonviolent protest after the invasion of Iraq — did you learn nothing from it?

Apparently not, at least not yet.

But we are coming close to a tipping point, one like those seen in Egypt and Syria. I hope we don't have to go all the way to open civil war, the shooting kind, but that depends on the husband.

Like I said, the most perceptive analysis I've seen yet.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm taking today off from any direct blogging, but that doesn't mean you can take the day off as well. When you have a moment free of family obligations, cooking, or eating, I urge you to go visit Ronni Bennett's blog to read her thoughts on a "Special 2011 Thanksgiving". She's said it better than I could.

Enjoy the day, my friends!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Newt Is Feeling His Oats

Last night there was yet another edition of the Republican Cavalcade of Debates (there will be eight more from December 10 to January 26), and it actually contained a couple of surprises, both of which were provided by Newt Gingrich.

Oh, most of the candidates are comfortable with extending the Patriot Act (with the exceptions of libertarian Ron Paul and sane person Jon Huntsman) and with military action against Iran (again, with the exceptions of Paul and Huntsman). No surprises there. But on a couple of issues, Gingrich staked out a couple of positions which clearly were designed to separate him from the pack.

First, on immigration:

Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich took issue with rival Mitt Romney's hard-line stance on immigration Tuesday night as the GOP candidates returned to a pivotal issue in their latest nationally televised debate. ...

Gingrich also said he believed the Republican Party had hurt itself with Latino voters and others by adopting harsh policies on immigration.

Gingrich, who suggested a "more humane" approach was in order, took a sizable gamble here, one that Rick Perry took and then took a beating for. Yet, his rationale shows some pragmatic good sense. The GOP took a hammering in California in 2010 by its immigrant bashing, a lesson that still hasn't been learned by most in that party. It's possible that Gingrich can pull this off without too much damage just from the sheer force of his personality and volubility.

His stance on defense spending, however, was a surprise, at least to me:

Refusing to rule out defense cuts, Gingrich said that there were "some things you can do in defense that are less expensive" and that "if it takes 15 to 20 years to build a weapons system, at a time when Apple changes technology every nine months, there's something profoundly wrong with the system."


Yes, a typical Gingrich turn of phrase, but these debates are clearly designed for sound bites rather than extended discourse. And the fact of the matter is that he is right on this issue rather than just being on the right. I actually was impressed by the good sense he was willing to display.

So, is Gingrich the candidate du jour for the next three weeks as the campaign plods along to unseat Romney as the nominee? Probably. The hit pieces started after the last debate when Gingrich moved into the first tier. They will no doubt accelerate as he inches forward again. And that means we will be hearing and seeing a lot more of Newt Gingrich. That will be fun.

More popcorn is in order.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Welcome Failure

The Supercommittee failed to do its job: it was unable to reach an agreement on trimming the budget deficit within the time allotted. What a freaking shame.

I am not at all unhappy by the results. First of all, this extra-constitutional construct was a questionable idea to begin with. If Congress as a whole couldn't come up with a deal, what made it think the panel of twelve members of Congress, meeting in secret, was going to be able to do so? Even with the penalty of automatic cuts should the committee fail to reach an agreement, there were no guarantees because the Republicans wanted no such agreement. That much was clear right from the start.

Truth Out focused on the Republican intransigence and buttressed its analysis with a telling time line on negotiations between the parties, both in Congress and with the White House:

The notion that both sides share in the blame is an easy line for commentators to repeat, but it isn’t true. Time and time again, the only thing preventing an agreement on long-term deficit reduction has been the Republicans’ absolute refusal to consider any tax increases on high-income households as part of the solution. Michael Linden and I created a timeline of major events in the past six months of deficit talks... [Emphasis added]

What follows this paragraph is the time line which stretches back to February and is very revealing. I'm not going to paste it all here. Click on the link and read it, however, because it is so very clear about what was going on. Every time the Democrats went to the Republicans with a plan which included tax increases of any kind, they were rebuffed. What is so startling is that the Democrats kept coming back with "sweeteners" to the deal, including putting Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, and each time they were rebuffed again. That's not negotiation, that's extortion. The Democrats never did get it. Fortunately time ran out before the Democrats could give the entire government away as part of the deal.

So now what?

Well, the Republicans in Congress are now scrambling to undo the deal setting up the Supercommittee. The automatic cuts, mostly to the Pentagon, triggered by the failure are looming and it's an election year. Rather than admit that the failure was due to their intransigence, Republicans want a mulligan, one that the White House is unwilling to provide.

Several Republican lawmakers immediately jumped to the next step in the process, vowing to block the steep cuts in defense spending triggered by the failure.

"As every military and civilian defense official has stated, these cuts represent a threat to the national security interests of the United States and cannot be allowed to occur," said Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement.

Obama warned members of Congress that he won’t let them put off the automatic cuts without agreeing on a debt- and deficit-reduction plan.

"My message to them is simple," Obama said. "No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts.... There will be no easy off-ramps on this one."
[Emphasis added]

That's a somewhat welcome display of spine, but it's rather late in the game and it keeps everything on the table, including cuts to social and domestic programs that benefit the 99%. A little more leadership and a little less posturing would have been more welcome, even in an election year.

I guess that means it's up to us. Copy and paste that time line mentioned above into an email or fax to your congress critter, or read it to them over the phone. Deluge those offices with your anger and disgust especially if the target is facing re-election. Drop by their local offices if you can for a friendly little chat and take all of your family and friends with you. Apply a little pressure the way the lobbyists have been doing all along. Occupy their time with your firm presence.

It's time.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy Your Mind

Thanks to Hecate, whose blog you should visit regularly, I read a particularly elegant and relevant response to the horrific pepper spraying of UC Davis students by campus police. Written by Michael Chorost for Psychology Today, the essay not only analyzes the incident which has rocked the University of California system, it also establishes the credentials of the Occupy movement.

This event is powerfully symbolic. It is about contempt from those in power and the wanton use of force against the powerless.

We have seen similar things over and over again in the past few years. We have seen it in banks lobbying for public handouts and then denying relief to millions of exploited homeowners. We have seen it in tax breaks and bonuses for the rich while millions of Americans are out of work. We have seen it in church and university officers abusing children and then covering it up. We have seen it in the censorship of climate science performed in the public interest. We have seen it in the absurd declaration that corporations are "people" and entitled to spend billions of dollars to elect representatives that they will then own. We have seen it everywhere we turn.

If I had to sum up the attitude of America's governing classes in one word, I would say: contempt.

We are seeing the beginning of a worldwide movement to fight for dignity and intelligent, collective governance. It is remarkable, the parallels between what we see in Tunisia, in Cairo, in Rome, in Zucotti Park, in Oakland, California, and now at UC Davis.
[Emphasis added]

Dr. Chorost even rebuts the demeaning critics of the Occupy movement who claim that they can't figure out just what the protesters want, that the movement lacks focus beyond sleeping out in public parks and college quads:

They want a fairer tax system. They want a sane energy policy that addresses climate change and searches for cleaner ways to power our civilization. They want a government that is not wholly owned by the rich. They want access to justice and education. They want a reasonable hope of getting and keeping a job that gives them a living wage and the ability to invest for the future.

They want a rational health care system that they can afford. They want government policy that is driven by thoughtful attention to rational research, not ideology. They want a transparent government that holds the powerful accountable. They want a government that understands the importance of investing now in human capital and infrastructure.

They want what 99% of the people want and what 1% of the people don't want us to have because it would cut into their wealth and power. These students and elders and workers are willing to march, and to sit in, and to use all of the non-violent tools at their disposal to accomplish those goals, knowing that the powers that be will using the traditional tools of violence to block them.

And in spite of, perhaps because of, those tools of violence the Occupy protesters are succeeding. They have changed the terms of the debate, they have challenged the press by providing their own coverage via cell phone cameras and the internet to the point that the traditional media is now providing more balanced and more complete coverage. Just as importantly, they have revealed the thuggery and mean-spiritedness of the powerful.

Dr. Chorost concludes his essay with a line that expresses some optimism:

I think we have just reached a turning point.

Good God, I hope so.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Gerard Rochford

Spemque metumque inter dubiis

(Hover between hope and fear. Virgil)

When darkness covers us the birds go silent.
Every night this time could be the last.

And when the sun goes, how do we survive
that such an emperor can be made so dull,
who has bathed us as if in gold.

Look out for the glint of a brave star.

Keep your eyes on that black sky
where you expect the moon
and her shining armourer.

Come dawn a black -bird sings of love,
the song- thrush joining in,
and a milkman working to feed his young.

Always a heart of hope feathered with fear.

--Gerard Rochford


I'll bet you never figured you'd see an article on US poverty in a Mexican newspaper. I know I sure didn't, yet that was exactly what I found during my weekend visit to Watching America. The rest of the world, including those with whom we associate massive amounts of poverty, has noticed (with some schadenfreude) that the richest country in the world has its own very real problem with rising poverty.

From Mexico's La Cronica de Hoy:

In a survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 52 percent of those surveyed considered it a mistake to think that the United States is a country of unequally distributed wealth, divided between the haves and the have-nots. ...

Hence it is a surprise that only 45 percent of the population believes that there is income inequality. Official figures and reports on other nations leave no doubt that, here, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has not grown daily.

This country, which is referred to as “the richest country in the world” on an international scale, is very low with regard to the distribution of wealth and income, almost at the bottom of the list. In fact, according to the Gini coefficient, an income inequality indicator named after the Italian economist who created it, the U.S. is ranked near Argentina, Iran and Madagascar and very far from countries such as Germany and Canada.

According to census figures to be released this week, there are 49 million poor people in the United States – nearly 3 million more than in September. That is to say, 16 percent of the population is poor, and that poverty can be seen particularly among Asians and Hispanics. These groups have passed African Americans in poverty rates for the first time with 28.2 percent and 25.4, respectively. This is because immigrant groups participate far less in social programs, education and housing subsidies.

These new figures are the highest that have been registered since such poverty statistics were first recorded 50 years ago and show notable decline in the middle class. They also show that the elderly are the most affected. It is estimated that one out of six people older than 65 are poor due principally to medical costs encountered in a country without socialized medicine.
[Emphasis added]

The article is referring to actual poverty as defined by the Census Bureau, not the "near poverty" that I posted on yesterday. Even so, the figures are startling, especially to countries we consider "third world."

And the article does not provide a complete list of causes for the increase in US poverty, but does hit a few of the more obvious ones, most notably the lack of access to affordable health care even for the elders who have access to Medicare.

What is most impressive, however, is that the article notes the disconnect between the actuality and the perception by Americans at this point with respect to the income inequality and the effect this is having on the country. That less than half of Americans recognize the disparity is stunning. That said, however, I think it likely that perceptions are slowly beginning to change because of the Occupy movement.

I certainly hope so, because until more people recognize that we're all in danger of slipping into poverty as a result of the unfair distribution of wealth the problem can't be properly addressed.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Ted Rall and published November 17,2011 in the Los Angeles Times. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Giraffe

(Photograph by Medford Taylor and published by National Geographic.)

Not Poor, But Close

File this one under "Well, duh!"

The New York Times asked the Census Bureau to take another look at findings with respect to the financial status of working Americans and the results are a little different than what the Census people expected. Many Americans who consider themselves middle class are just one unexpected bill away from catastrophe. These people may own a house (which they probably couldn't sell if they had to) and a car (but not a new one), and may be working full time, but they are still living paycheck to paycheck and just barely scraping by.

When the Census Bureau this month released a new measure of poverty, meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.

After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure. ...

Demographically, they look more like “The Brady Bunch” than “The Wire.” Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round. ...
[Emphasis added]

While the conservatives at AEI find the term "near poor" offensive and hardly scientific, the term certainly does convey how many people who bought into the American dream are feeling. Parents have had unemployed or underemployed adult children move back in with them. Many cannot afford even minimal health insurance for themselves or their families. Most haven't seen a raise significant enough to cover price hikes at the grocery store in years. A broken leg or the need for a new roof will do them in.

Is it any wonder that the Occupy movement has struck a chord with so many of these "middle class" Americans? Or that they have become cynical about politicians who routinely get pay raises, yet can't find a way to right the dismal economic picture for their constituents?

I'm not sure just what the tipping point will be, but I do think some kind of implosion is near. I just hope I live long enough to see it.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

(Photograph by Beverly Joubert and published at National Geographic.)

Raising Cain

No, Herman. One does not stiff the main newspaper in an early primary state like New Hampshire. It just isn't done, not even if you got burned in an interview with another newspaper. It makes you look petty and amateurish:

Herman Cain may have picked a powerful enemy in New Hampshire on Thursday, skipping a scheduled interview with the Union Leader newspaper during a brief visit to the state.

The cancellation came just days after Cain struggled mightily with a question about Libya during a videotaped interview with reporters and editors from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ...

After the Journal Sentinel interview was released, Cain's campaign contacted the Union Leader to say they would not allow C-SPAN cameras to be present for the session, as they had been for meetings with other candidates.

The campaign again contacted the paper to say that rather than the hourlong interview they had agreed to, Cain would be available for only 20 minutes. Cline said they told Cain's campaign it was "not worth our time to do it for 20 minutes." The campaign promised to get back to them, but never did.

Cain, like several of the other candidates for the 2012 nomination, has pretty much ignored New Hampshire this time around, which I find quite surprising. Most have concentrated on Iowa, probably because that state's caucus is the first of the real selection events. However, most have still shown up for a photo op to file their candidacy papers in person. Herman literally mailed it in. Now he's playing cat and mouse with the state's most powerful newspaper. He even has been quoted as saying that the Union Leader canceled the interview.

Such petulance and ass-covering will not play well in New Hampshire. It also doesn't look too good to the rest of the country.

Foolish, foolish move.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

When Will They Ever Learn

Move over, Watertiger, my head needs to bounce off your desk a few times. At a time when the Supercommittee is looking for ways to "trim" Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and to cut back on education and environmental protection, President Obama has decided we need to open new military bases in the Pacific.

Confronting anxiety about China's growing political and economic clout, President Obama announced a strategic shift by the United States to reassert its role as the dominant military power in the Pacific as it pulls back from post-Sept. 11 wars.

Speaking Thursday in the Australian capital, Canberra, Obama pledged to support the dispatch of more U.S. troops, joint training operations and military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region as the Pentagon draws down in Iraq and Afghanistan. He called the commitment to boost the U.S. military presence a top priority.

"The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay," Obama said in an address to the Australian Parliament. ...

They include stationing 2,500 Marines at an Australian military base in what officials called the first constant U.S. troop presence in that country since the Vietnam War era. The first 200 to 250 Marines will arrive next year, and the unit will grow over several years.

Deploying the contingent in Darwin, on Australia's remote northern coast, gives U.S. planners a way to quickly project power in the crucial sea lanes of the South China Sea and the chokehold straits near Singapore, U.S. officials said. The U.S. Air Force also will gain increased access to military airfields in northern Australia.

But it's ok: we're winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two wars that bled the country dry and did it mostly off-budget. That should give us plenty of money to expand our imperialistic saber rattling. Besides, that South China Sea has to be kept open so we can import more goods from China, Taiwan, and Singapore.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011


It was bound to happen. Sooner or later, Newt Gingrich was going to get a bounce in his candidacy for the 2012 GOP nomination. It's not so much his unconventional campaign "tactics," nor the fact that, as he puts it, he has more substance than any other candidate currently running. Rather, it's the other candidates on parade. None of them have exactly thrilled the Republicans who do the actual selecting. Now it's Newt's turn to face some scrutiny.

Paul Whitefield's musings on Newt's rise, while a bit hyperbolic, does get the flavor du jour quality of the Republican race at this point.

In the Shakespearean comedy/tragedy that is the Republican presidential race, it's apparently time for a little eye of Newt.

The Grand Old Party has seemingly dispensed with Michele "Lady Macbeth" Bachmann, who learned it's still a man's world after all. Also Herman "Othello" Cain, brought low by sexual innuendo. And then the third candidate, uh, let me think, uh, oops -- oh right, Rick Perry, who, having posed the question "To be, or not to be," found out that the answer is the latter.

So now it's Newt Gringrich's turn to rise as the great conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

Interestingly, all of the allusions listed by Whitefield come from the Bard's tragedies. I suppose that's just his snarky way of noting Newt's comedic value. Still, that's a pretty fair description of the race to date. The Republican base refuses to capitulate when it comes to Mitt Romney, even though he's probably the one candidate who can defeat President Obama, at least at this point.

But Newt? The serial adulterer?

Whitefield hones in on why this unlikely rise in the polls will probably not go much further:

Not to mention the question of whether the prickly Gingrich can connect with the common man. For example, at a time when many Americans are struggling just to make ends meet, he talks about how he mused about those problems while on vacation in Greece last summer.

So when he says stuff like "I'm like a lot of other Americans. I'm looking for a job" -- this from a man who lives in the tony Washington suburb of McLean, Va., not to mention one who has a million dollars in revolving credit at Tiffany and Co. -- well, let's just say it comes across a bit forced.


But we still have eleventy-seven more debates to go, most before the earliest GOP caucus/primary. Surely Newt will have a chance to ignite a fabulous flame-out before January.

Which reminds me: I'm getting low on popcorn.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


This recent AP article made me uncomfortable, even after several readings. We're using drones to patrol our border with Mexico.

Last week's mission was just another night out for a Predator program that is playing a larger role in border security as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection adds to its force of unmanned aircraft. The agency received its second Predator B aircraft in Texas last month and will add its sixth overall on the Southwest border when another is based in Arizona by the end of the year.

The aircraft are credited with apprehending more than 7,500 people since they were deployed six years ago. They bring the latest in military technology to one of the oldest cat-and-mouse pursuits in the country. But on the border, even sophisticated devices struggle with the weather and conditions — just as humans do. ...

The Predators, which are being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were introduced on the border in 2005, the year before Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on his country's drug gangs and violence along the border exploded. Since then, the aircraft have logged more than 10,000 flight hours and aided in intercepting 46,600 pounds (21,100 kilograms) of illegal drugs.

"It's like any other law enforcement platform," said Lothar Eckardt, director of the Office of Air and Marine's Predator operation housed at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. "No different than a helicopter."
[Emphasis added]

I attributed part of my discomfort to the fact that I wasn't aware that the drones were being used for so long. I doubt there was any cover-up, especially since several congress critters from states along the border have been working hard to get additional Predators assigned to their states and the Mexican government has gone along with their use, even over Mexican territory. I suppose I just missed the import of the news that what we have come to see as a battlefield tool is now flying over the US and Mexico.

And that leads to another source of uneasiness: the use of a weapon developed by the Pentagon for use in war. I've never been happy with the term "War on Drugs" for what I consider to be a foolish policy. The euphemism has led and continues to lead to an expensive and mostly failed attempt to control the use of "illegal" drugs in this country. It also serves to excuse blatant incursions on civil liberties. That said, however, I also admit that the violent Mexican drug cartels are wreaking havoc on both sides of the border. It's just that our military's involvement in the program is worrisome.

There is no indication that the drones being used along the border have been loaded with missiles, but they could be. That would be the next logical step. And that takes the program beyond just another Defense Department initiative that benefits the civilian population. This is not at all like the internet (originally designed for the Pentagon), nor even the GPS satellites which run our smart phones and our on-board driving directions systems.

And, of course, a drone is not "just like a helicopter." It is a lot more expensive, even without the missile. Surely there are better uses for the millions now being spent on these fancy "eyes."

But nobody appears to mind, especially given the amount of marijuana and cocaine, not to mention "illegals", being captured. I suppose that outrage won't come until a drone is loaded with weaponry and takes out a couple of people breaching our sanctified border to look for work, if then.

I'm still uneasy.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Granny Bird Award: Those Who Knew And Did Nothing

This edition of the award, given from time to time to individuals or groups who adversely affect the rights and interests of the elders, goes to all the people who knew that Jerry Sandusky was molesting children and did nothing to stop him. It goes to everyone at Penn State who knew, to the public school employees who certainly suspected, to the donors to his "child care" organization who may have availed themselves of Sandusky's services: all of them. Their excuse that "No one said no to Jerry Sandusky" is appalling.

No one said no to Jerry Sandusky.

That's the underlying message from those closest to the alleged victims in the child-molestation scandal that has engulfed Pennsylvania State University.

After all, Jerry Sandusky, once the heir apparent to legendary football coach Joe Paterno, had been an assistant football coach at Penn State, a longtime community volunteer, and the founder of a well-known charity to help troubled youth.

Last Saturday, after a multiyear grand jury investigation, Sandusky was arrested on charges of sex abuse of eight minors from 1994 to 2009.

I have avoided comment on this horrific story for many reasons, chief of which was my profound disgust and heartbreak over the details as they slowly began to emerge. People freakin' knew, they knew. But Sandusky was a big shot at the big shot football program at the big shot university. They let him slide. They protected him. They let the children suffer.

Like all elders I know, I am deeply concerned for the generations which will follow me. I may not have children or grandchildren, but my friends and relatives do. I care about those children and all children. They represent the future, the continuation of our species even after I'm gone. I don't like the thought of all that the next generations will have to face because of our misfeasance. And I hate the thought that these children will have an even heavier burden because of the malfeasance of the perpetrator(s) and their enablers.

May God forgive them all. Quite frankly, right now, I cannot.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Repeat That, Repeat

Repeat that, repeat,
Cuckoo, bird, and open ear wells, heart-springs, delightfully sweet,
With a ballad, with a ballad, a rebound
Off trundled timber and scoops of the hillside ground, hollow hollow hollow ground:
The whole landscape flushes on a sudden at a sound.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Looking Backward

My visit to Watching America was a bit of a mixed bag this weekend. Oh, there were several articles that looked promising, but they just didn't grab me. The one that did was seriously flawed: it stated that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize went to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Libya. Ms. Sirleaf is from and is now president of Liberia. Either the translator of the article from Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau screwed up the translation or completely missed the mistake made by the original author. Either way, the mistake points out the dangers of translation.

In any event, the article deals with awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to politicians still active on the world front. The author uses two examples, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf and Barack Obama, of why this isn't such a good idea. I was particularly interested by the comments on Obama's award.

The 2008 Nobel Peace laureate Obama became a war president in 2009 and this year's winner allows the police to beat demonstrators with billy clubs. It would be best to give the peace award only to retired politicians when they can do no further harm. ...

Now they're left with someone between Martin Luther King and Albert Schweitzer who has thousands of terrorists shot to death from the air; sometimes they hit the bad guys and sometimes they hit their women and children. It's all justified by the principle that politicians sometimes must do terrible things to prevent even worse things from happening.

But that shouldn't apply to the Nobel Peace Prize because it exists to honor those people with the highest moral principles. When good wartime presidents get on that list, it reduces the principle of a peace prize to the ad absurdum level.

When Barack Obama was awarded this most prestigious of international honors, he had done absolutely nothing to earn it beyond making pretty campaign speeches promising hope and change. And the hope was soon dashed as the changes never came. Policies he promised would end didn't. Some were even expanded.

We were all taken aback by the award, but many of us also felt a little queasy by the unfounded prediction of a great and glorious new administration, one worthy of this great prize. I would imagine that these days members of that Nobel committee are also feeling a little queasy, as well they should.


Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Rob Tornoe and published by Media Matters. Click on image to enlarge. via.)


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: "Albino" Trapdoor Spider

(Photograph courtesy Volker W. Framenau and published at National Geographic.)

Not Quite Surprising News

According to the Republican presidential candidates, it's time to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. The programs are too expensive and too poorly run to keep in their present form. That isn't all that surprising. Wall Street doesn't like all that money tied up in government programs when it could be all tied up in the banksters' and streeters' ledgers. And the Tea Partiers have made it clear that they want a smaller government and less money flowing from their pockets into the government coffers. The candidates, along with a lot of congress critters, have a mandate from the voters.

Or do they?

Perhaps not, according to a recent poll taken of Republican voters in Florida.

Florida Republican voters have a clear feeling about cuts to Medicare and Social Security: Don’t do it, according to a new poll by the AARP.

By wide margins, the survey shows that Republicans of all kinds — whether they’re Hispanic, moderates or in the tea party — would rather fix the nation’s budget by withdrawing from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, eliminating foreign aid or eliminating so-called tax loopholes. ...

The issues are particularly important in Florida, which has the largest number of retirees in the nation. The poll shows that 60 percent of the Republican primary voters in Florida are retired, and that 87 percent of all respondents say Social Security benefits are or will be important to their retirement. Nearly 45 percent say they rely on Medicare for health insurance.

If you think about it, this isn't all that surprising, either. It's a form, I guess, of NIMBYism. "Cut, but not those programs which are important to me." And the numbers are pretty dramatic:

But even modest changes to benefits for future retirees are opposed by 66 percent of voters, the poll shows. Only 27 percent favor future reductions, which could include raising the retirement age, though the poll didn’t specifically address that issue.

Asked if they favored or opposed reducing Medicare benefits to help reduce the deficit, only 22 percent liked the idea. About 70 percent didn’t.

When given predetermined choices to cut the deficit, most voters wanted to “eliminate tax loopholes” (40 percent), cut foreign aid (34 percent) or reduce involvement in foreign wars (18 percent).
[Emphasis added]

Quite a disconnect with the voters, there. And it just leaves Wall Street as wanting those government programs switched to the market place, which also is not all that surprising. After all, there has to be a reason why even some Democrats in Congress are willing to go after these programs in some grand attempt at reducing the deficit without hurting the feelings of our owners.

So the voters, regardless of party affiliation, have some work to do. One place to start is with the current crop of elected officials. Rep. John Conyers has an idea that I think is a good one. Click on over to his web site and join him in "co-sponsoring" a bill which will leave these programs in place. Let Congress know what the 99%, those who actually do the electing, think of shredding the safety net.

Like I said, it's a good place to start.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

What Leftrev Said

For an important reminder that the "99%" is comprised of individuals and what that means and should mean to all of us, go see what leftrev said.

She said it much better than I ever could.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Price Of Injustice

The center-left editorial board of the Los Angeles Times got another one right. This time the subject was the failure to provide detained undocumented immigrants with legal counsel.

Until now, federal courts have held that only criminal defendants are entitled to court-appointed counsel. An immigration case, even if it involves detention, is a civil matter. As a result, the vast majority of detainees, including children and the mentally ill, are forced to represent themselves in immigration court. [Emphasis added]

Yes, that's right. Being in this country unlawfully is not a crime. It's a civil matter, something most people (especially conservatives) don't understand. As a result, there is no automatic right to legal counsel. And that means that most people don't stand a chance at hearings and that many get lost in detention for years. That's hardly fair or consistent with due process. It's also very expensive for the taxpayer.

A 2011 study, headed by a federal judge, found that immigrants with lawyers are five times more likely to win their cases than those without. Put simply, an immigrant's access to an attorney can be as important as the facts in his or her case.

The only reasonable solution is to provide attorneys to those immigrant detainees who need them. It would cost, of course, but due process comes with a price. And in some cases, assigning lawyers to detainees could actually lead to savings. The government spends an average of $40,000 a year on each detainee. Providing lawyers could help screen those cases. If a detainee had no legal case or grounds for relief, his attorney could explain that to him, and he would probably agree to leave the country rather than remain in detention, sometimes for years.
[Emphasis added]

Clearly we can do better on the issue. During this time of "deficit cutting," maybe Congress should look at the issue from the standpoint of the sheer wastefulness of the system as presently constituted. Of course, that would require cutting through the xenophobic crap being spewed during an election season, so I don't see anything happening in Congress for another year. Further, I don't see much evidence of a spine in the White House when it comes to real justice on this issue. Like I said, it's election season.

Perhaps, as the editorial points out, it's time for some judicial action on the due process issue.

I certainly hope so.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bought And Paid For

One of the best discoveries I've made this year is Open Secrets, a site which follows the money when it comes to our elected officials. I make regular visits and during my latest one I found this brief article posted on the Supercommittee and the lobbyists who are undoubtedly swarming all over the members of that august body.

After the short introduction, a gallery of photos of the members follows. I knew there was only one woman and only one African American on the committee, but I was still shocked by the reminder. I guess only white guys know how to deal with deficits.

What follows is just as shocking, and very, very illuminating. Two interactive charts are provided. The first one breaks down campaign contributions to the members, listing the contributors and how much each gave by party from 1989 to 2011. It starts with the top 25, but can show the top 100. It will also show just one party, or both. The reader can make the adjustment.

The second chart shows donation by sector to each of the committee members for the same period. One can select the sector and scope out who got how much, and how that ranked in the candidates total donations. That one is a shocker as will. For example, the money given by Agribusinesses pretty much assures that farm subsidies are not going to be cut by the committee. Same-same for the financial industry and the insurance industry. Click on over and play around with the charts.

Is it any wonder that the Supercommittee is working in secret?

I am not optimistic.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Something I Did Not Know

The recurring thrust by conservatives to impose special identification requirements on voters, thinly veiled as "anti-fraud" measures, has cropped up again as election season nears. The intent, of course, is to make it difficult, if not impossible, for certain groups to vote: the elders, the poor, the immigrant citizens, all of whom tend to vote for Democrats. These people have been effectively disenfranchised.

But there is another class of citizens who have long been actually disenfranchised. Those who are incarcerated and/or those who have been convicted of a felony lose their right to vote even after they have served out their time. So much for the rehabilitation aspect of prison. What I didn't know, however, is the racist history behind the laws disenfranchising felons.

Erika L. Wood, an associate professor of law at New York Law School, sketches out that history in a brief essay published by the New York Times.

Erika L. Wood is an associate professor of law at New York Law School.

Next November more than 5 million Americans will not be allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction in their past. Nearly 4 million of these people are not in prison, yet they remain disenfranchised for years, often for decades and sometimes for life. ...

These laws trace their roots through the troubled history of American race relations. In the late 1800s criminal disenfranchisement laws spread as part of a larger backlash against the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments – the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments – that ended slavery, granted equal citizenship to freed slaves and prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Criminal disenfranchisement laws followed in their wake. They were employed right alongside poll taxes and literacy tests as part of an organized effort to design supposedly race neutral laws that were in fact intentional barriers to African-American voting. ...

Historical records memorializing state constitutional conventions reveal some astounding rhetoric in support of these laws. During the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901, delegate Carter Glass (later a prominent senator, the Glass of the Glass-Steagall Act) described the suffrage proposal which included felony disenfranchisement as a plan that would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years.” The strategy was not limited to southern states. In New York, African-American suffrage was the subject of much debate at the 1821 and 1846 constitutional conventions. In a refrain that echoes throughout the century-long suffrage debate, New York delegate Samuel Young implored: “Look to your jails and penitentiaries. By whom are they filled? By the very race whom it is now proposed to clothe with the power of deciding upon your political rights.”
[Emphasis added]

And because of "quirky" sentencing laws, the various state laws denying this very basic right in a democracy have been very successful:

Nationwide, 13 percent of black men have lost the right to vote, a rate that is seven times the national average. But the ripple effects of large-scale incarceration now extend well beyond the individuals who are imprisoned, and as a result minority communities throughout the country have lost political influence. It’s a simple equation: communities with high incarceration rates have fewer votes to cast. The whole community suffers the result. [Emphasis added]

These laws are dreadfully wrong for many reasons. As I noted earlier, it removes one incentive for complete rehabilitation. The punishment continues long after the sentence is completed. It also effectively disenfranchises entire communities, depriving even "the innocent" of voting power. Ms. Woods notes one way to correct this appalling situation:

Representative John Conyers Jr. recently reintroduced into the House the Democracy Restoration Act ..., a bill that would go a long way toward ending disenfranchisement. A broad coalition of law enforcement, religious leaders and civil rights groups support the measure, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to all Americans who are out of prison.

This is a good resolution to the disenfranchisement. A phone call, fax, or email to your congress critters is in order.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Ears Were Burned

Yesterday, I pointed out the foolishness of the GOP candidates' trashing the "illegals" to prove their bona fides as conservatives. All that does is push one of the fasting growing demographics in the nation towards the Democrats. It's not, however, a done deal for the Democrats when it comes to the Latino vote, far from it, as members of the administration discovered this weekend during a visit to California's Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside Counties).

Obama administration officials ventured to the Inland Empire on Saturday for a policy summit with Latinos, getting an earful from residents stung by the region's flattened economy and critical of Washington's failure to reform the nation's immigration system. ...

The economic wounds from the recession remain raw in a region where fortunes plummeted with the crash of the housing market and construction industry. Once a haven for Latino immigrants looking for housing construction jobs, unemployment now hovers around 14% in San Bernardino County and 13% in Riverside County. ...

Nationwide, the Latino unemployment rate is just over 13%, compared with the national average of about 9%. Nearly a quarter of the 51 million Latinos in the U.S. live in poverty, compared with 15% for the nation as a whole.

San Bernardino, a city where Latinos account for 6 of every 10 residents, has the second-highest poverty rate among the nation's major cities. A U.S. Census report released in September showed that 34.7% of city residents live below the poverty line

Those attending the meeting agreed that President Obama inherited an economic mess from the Bush administration, but most felt the new president should have put a jobs program together right from the start instead of squandering his leverage on health care reform.

And, of course, the issue which galls this community most deeply is immigration reform which hasn't even begun to be addressed by the White House.

But in 2008, Obama promised to push for comprehensive immigration reforms that would provide a path to legal status for the estimated 10 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and so far there has been no legislation.

Instead, the administration has deported more immigrants than the Bush administration, nearly 1 million over the past three years.

Daniel Guzman, an immigrant rights activist, said Obama has been an "absolute failure" on immigration reform and is losing support among Latino voters. Obama's approval rating among Latinos was 51% in a recent Pew Research poll, compared with 58% a year ago.
[Emphasis added]

The 2012 election is not going to be a walk in the park for either party, but the Democrats can't afford to lose any more core constituents, which is what will happen if the White House doesn't start paying attention.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Wilfred Owen

Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

--Wilfred Owen


It always surprises me that members of the press in other countries not only follow American election campaigns closely, but also seem to have a pretty good handle on just what is going on. My trip to Watching America this week certainly bore this out. One article in particular appealed to me because it pointed out the same stupid move by Republicans that a number of us have pointing out for several years now.

From France's Le Figaro:

This is the new Republican buzzword: “illegals.” Translation: illegal aliens. Without papers. According to the good old method perfected by Karl Rove, you create a euphemism to stigmatize — without seeming to — a particular group and rally the troops. The euphemism of the season: "illegals.” Meaning: latinos.

Pretty astute, yes? That's exactly what's going on amongst the candidates for the 2012 nomination, which is, as this article points out, very stupid.

Bush understood that Latinos were natural allies, more conservative than black voters, who are traditionally aligned with Democrats. During the 2000 election, he received a substantial share of the Latino vote. Between 2000 and 2006, the number of Hispanics increased from 35.6 million to 44.3 million. They now represent 14.8 percent of the population. [Emphasis added]

And the number of "legals" among the "illegals" will increase even more as the next generation of Latinos reach the voting age. This is something that some Republicans are beginning to understand, but only after a severe electoral trouncing, such as the one administered in 2010 by the Democrats in California. Republicans lost every statewide office and lost one member of the state legislature. Key to the disaster was the wildly anti-immigrant stances taken by the candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, and the candidate for US Senate, Carly Fiorina. During the post mortem, a key campaign adviser saw the problem and urged his colleagues to start correcting the problem well in advance of 2012. I haven't seen that happening, at least not in California.

And it's certainly not happening on the presidential nomination trail right now. All are calling for a bigger and better fence along the border. All are calling for increased military patrols at the border. All are calling for the denial of any kind of benefits for even the children of the "illegals". Playing to the base now to secure the nomination may very well come back to bite the ultimate nominee came November, 2012.

But, hey, why should I point that out to the likes of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Both should know better.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (November 4, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, November 05, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Finnish Bear

(Photograph by Michel Giaccaglia, My Shot, and published by National Geographic.

Mitt Joins The Crowd

The entire contingent of GOP candidates for president appear to have only one thing in common: bashing Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Yesterday, Mitt Romney joined them with his own proposal to carve up these "entitlements". I'd have awarded Mitt the "Granny Bird Award" but his plans were too hazy, too ambiguous to nail down, so he will have to wait for the coveted award. I'm sure it will be real soon, now, that he will fill in the blanks enough for me to make my decision.

Romney's proposals to reduce federal spending to 20% of the nation's gross domestic product by 2016 were far-reaching but often lacked specifics.

The former Massachusetts governor said he would lower the cost of Social Security by raising the eligibility age for benefits, but he did not specify how quickly those changes would be phased in. He estimated that he could achieve tens of billions of dollars in savings by capping the cost of Medicaid, the federal program that provides medical care to the poor, and allowing the states to take it over — a move his campaign said would "empower them to innovate."

In one of the most controversial elements of his plan, Romney proposed a major restructuring of Medicare, which currently provides health insurance to about 47 million elderly and disabled people. Under the changes, Medicare would become just one of many plans that seniors could purchase with a new "premium support" system that would give them a set amount of money each year to purchase a plan.
[Emphasis added]

What we have here is a little me-too-ism, some "I can cut Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid just like the other guys." Extending the work life of roofers, mechanics, waitresses, and all of the rest of us at a time when the job market is non-existent for all but farm laborers working at subsistence levels is such utter cheap-sausage that I'm surprised the wealthy scion took so long to discover it. At least he's smart enough to not disclose just how soon the changes would be phased in. He knows the nomination is one thing, but winning the general election is another.

As to his proposals on Medicare and Medicaid, he really hasn't revealed much more than his colleagues have already set out. These safety nets, nets woven by contributions made by the recipients over the years, are superfluous. Let the market decide, the market driven by profit not the timely and effective provision of health care.

Yesterday I pointed to the staggering number of people who now fit into the category of the "poorest of the poor." Mitt and his cohorts are obviously not satisfied that only 1 of 15 Americans are mired in deep poverty. Their goal is raise that number, especially among the elderly.


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Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Land Of The Free, Home of the Poor

While this report is really not all that surprising, its implications are still staggering.

The ranks of America's poorest poor have climbed to a record high — 1 in 15 people — spread widely across metropolitan areas as the housing bust pushed many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income.

New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation's haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty. ...

About 20.5 million Americans, or 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, make up the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the official poverty level. Those living in deep poverty represent nearly half of the 46.2 million people scraping by below the poverty line. In 2010, the poorest poor meant an income of $5,570 or less for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

And who are these "poorest of the poor"? The answer is shocking, or at least should be because it defies conventional wisdom:

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at Brookings, described a demographic shift in people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have less access to good schools, hospitals and government services. As concentrated poverty spreads to new areas, including suburbs, the residents are now more likely to be white, native-born and high school or college graduates — not the conventional image of high-school dropouts or single mothers in inner-city ghettos. ...

...Poverty for Americans 65 and older is on track to nearly double after factoring in rising out-of-pocket medical expenses, from 9 percent to over 15 percent. Poverty increases are also anticipated for the working-age population because of commuting and child-care costs, while child poverty will dip partly due to the positive effect of food stamps.
[Emphasis added]

That's not a pretty picture, and it's one that will get uglier in the coming years as unemployment continues in the 8-9% range, as predicted this week by the Fed. Putting people back to work might roll back these numbers, but it's an election year and congressional Republicans are more interested in pinning the economy on the incumbent than in trying to fix the problem by approving job creation programs that would work for all, rather than the 1%.

And people wonder why Occupying Wall Street continues to strike a responsive chord with so many disparate parts of the population.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

What's That Smell?

Last week I commented on an organization, America Elects, which had announced plans to place a third party presidential candidate on the ballot in all fifty states. It appears that the group is going to make its goal, which raises both of my eyebrows.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The group announced Wednesday that it has qualified for the Ohio ballot and is awaiting certification in California, Utah, Hawaii and Arkansas. It has already gained ballot access in three other key swing states – Florida, Michigan and Nevada – as well as Arizona, Alaska and Kansas.

“The American people are dissatisfied with the two-party system and the limited choice it offers,” Chief Operating Officer Elliot Ackerman said Wednesday at a press conference at the National Press Club. ...

The group plans to hold a web-based national convention in June, through which participants will nominate a presidential candidate. A vice presidential candidate will also be chosen, but the group’s rules require that the candidates on the eventual ticket cannot share a party affiliation.

Yes, the American people are dissatisfied with both parties at this point in our history, and for good reason. Both appear to be in the back pockets of corporate interests, our owners. The Occupy Wall Street movement didn't just arise because kids needed something to protest and fill their time. I'm not so certain that justifies a third party emerging from the collective forehead of some group which has been manufactured just in time for the 2012 presidential elections. As I noted last week, the problems we see involve both the White House and Congress, neither of which are paying any attention to the other 99% of us, yet America Elects is only focused on the presidency.

The group claims it doesn't intend just to be a spoiler, pointing to the rule that the presidential and vice presidential candidates must have different party affiliations, but that hardly seems an adequate response. The nominations will come from an internet poll, one that can be as easily manipulated as the straw polls that candidates win by putting on the most lavish of barbecues, as we've seen thus far in the GOP campaigns. Something else has to be going on.

And, as the current Times article suggests, something is: America Elects is not operating as a political party, but as a nonprofit.

The group has come under fire for its status as a nonprofit social welfare organization, which allows it to keep the names of its donors secret. We reported in July that the group had raised $20 million from between 300 and 400 donors, with no contribution exceeding $5 million.

In late September, campaign finance watchdog groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center sent a letter to the IRS asking that the service investigate Americans Elect and three other groups claiming social welfare status.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, raised the issue again on Wednesday as Americans Elect was trumpeting its successes at the National Press Club.

“A political party is not entitled to be treated as a ‘social welfare’ organization under federal tax laws and is required to disclose its donors. Period,” Wertheimer said. “The idea that a political party – whose whole purpose is to nominate and elect candidates for office – can also be a ‘social welfare’ organization for tax purposes is an oxymoron.”
[Emphasis added]

Money is pouring into the group's coffers, but there is no way of telling from whom. That smells like bad haddock to me. It suggests that the election is going to be manipulated by the very people who have been manipulating our government for decades.

There's something wrong here, and it does need to be investigated thoroughly and now.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Not So Different

Sometimes getting some distance yields a new and helpful perspective. That certainly seems to be the case for Lawrence Weschler, whose op-ed essay appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Weschler, director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, was traveling in Uganda when he and his driver were shaken down by a police officer and a couple of soldiers for taking pictures. It cost his driver $20 to avoid any further problems. The driver was calm about the transaction: he considered the corruption just part of doing business in that troubled country.

Clearly Weschler was appalled at the bribery, but upon further reflection he had to admit that the corruption endemic to Uganda was not all that different than what he sees in this country.

In America, corruption is concentrated at the highest levels of society, masquerading, for example, under the name of "campaign finance." Election campaigns have become so expensive that candidates have to go begging to anyone who will finance them. And the billionaires and millionaires and hedge-fund operators and CEOs and their lobbyists are, in turn, only too happy to contribute. They lard the "people's representatives" with grotesque "contributions," after which those representatives prove only too willing to turn around and carve out billions of dollars in specifically targeted tax breaks and subsidies structured exclusively for them.

As a result, while we don't, in general, have to pay off police officers during traffic stops, we do live in a society in which one of the richest men in America reports that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Education, meanwhile, is funded by local property taxes, and the rich make sure it stays that way. The result? Their kids get a far better education than those living in poorer neighborhoods. When people try to remedy that injustice through affirmative action programs, the rich protest and get judges to overturn the programs as racist. They are, however, perfectly happy to take advantage of programs that favor the children of alumni. And it's all perfectly legal.

In Uganda, corruption tends to arise out of desperation. In America, more typically, the wellsprings are greed, pure and simple. And it's hard to decide which is the more dismaying, the more disfiguring, the more disgusting.
[Emphasis added]



Tuesday, November 01, 2011


One of the basic rules attached to accepting employment is that the employee show up for work. Apparently that rule only applies to us little people, according to this article in the New York Times:

According to an analysis of House attendance, nearly 20 current members have missed more than 10 percent of the votes this year. ...

While a 10 percent rate of absenteeism might not seem all that significant, the vast majority of lawmakers try to miss as few votes as possible, with the view that their constituents consider voting a basic function of serving in Congress.
[Emphasis added]

If one assumes that an employment year consists of fifty weeks of at least four days of work, that means there are two hundred work days. Not too many of us have twenty sick/personal leave days as part of our employment deal. Additionally, the congressional employment year has far fewer work weeks, what with summer and holiday breaks, and the work week rarely goes beyond three days. Given the reduced requirement, it isn't asking too much of our congress critters to show up to fulfill the terms of their employment contract with the electorate.

There are, of course, very legitimate excuses for being absent, among them personal illness or family illness. It's pretty hard to fault Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for missing all but one vote this year as she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head. But some of the excuses offered are ludicrous and range from going home to participate in a charity fishing contest to meeting with constituents, the ones who sent the representative to Washington to handle the business of the country. My favorite excuse is that some votes are just not important. Why then are they being held?

It seems to me that if the rest of us can drag our sorry backsides out of the rack day after day to make a living, so can the people we're paying six figures to represent us in Washington.