Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

David Atkins (thereisnospoon) was the guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. I was interested to see how he would acquit himself, and actually, he wasn't bad. And what he says about getting involved in local politics is absolutely true, and people ought to pay attention. Seriously, if you clean up nice and have not been convicted of anything more serious than marijuana possession, you should consider putting your skills to work in local politics. There's a huge rats nest infesting the Democratic party and it needs to be cleaned out. You won't fix that just by staying home and blogging, even though staying home and blogging may have its virtues.

Robert Scheer on The Shameful Exploitation of Bradley Manning: "Keep an American soldier locked up naked in a cage and driven half mad while deprived of all basic rights, and you will be instantly condemned as a barbaric terrorist. Unless the jailer is an authorized agent of the U.S. government, in which case even treatment approaching torture will go largely unnoticed. Certainly if a likable constitutional law professor happens to be president, all such assaults on human dignity will easily pass muster." And The New York Times, which published many stories based on the Wikileaks material that Manning allegedly passed to them, just as they did when they earned their "credibility" with Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, couldn't be bothered to send a reporter to cover Manning's first public testimony. "What is protected in the First Amendment is not the right of commercial enterprises to exploit the news for profit, but rather of citizens to become informed. That requires the courage of heroic sources, including Bradley Manning."

The Sad Saga Of The Estate Tax: "So, here we are, two years later, at another lame-duck session and with the same Barack Obama working with the same congressional Republicans on the estate tax again. A post-election poll for Americans for Tax Fairness found that by a margin of 58 to 32%, people support 'increase[ing] the estate tax, also called the inheritance tax, on estates of more than seven million dollars for a couple.' Obama is, as usual, aiming very low and asking for way too little. Even as much of a corporate shill as former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, currently cochairman of Goldman Sachs, thinks Obama should step up his proposal. 'A substantial estate tax," explained this week, "can provide revenues at a time when our federal government badly needs additional revenues." " Of course, revenue isn't the real reason for the estate tax - it's about preventing individual families from building dynasties that become more powerful than government. From becoming, as the Waltons and the Kochs have, so powerful that their whims can overwhelm the needs of the entire country.

"How Organizing for Change Is Very Different Than Winning Elections: [...] The point I'm really trying to raise is that the Democratic Party has way too much control over what the AFL-CIO and the other unions are doing. Instead of labor telling the Democratic Party what they're going to do, the Democratic Party scripts out for labor what they're going to do. Which isn't really working for unions very much at all." (This called to mind an interesting thing Becky Bond said to Sam Seder on The Majority Report the other day, about how when Chris Van Hollen 's office calls complaining about how they've got their members screaming at them to say the right thing, the answer was basically: If you're not going to say the right thing, then we're going to keep screaming. She also refers to "the fiscal bluff" - a neat pun and probably one we should all start using. That show is also worth listening to for the interview with Ken Burns about the documentary he's made with his daughter about The Central Park Five.)

Peter Maass says, "Don't Trust Zero Dark Thirty [...] Much of the pre-release debate about the movie has focused on whether it portrays torture as effective, in the sense of prying information out of al Qaeda suspects. Yes, the movie conveys that view, and I think it's inaccurate. Many experts, including key senators who oversaw an extensive congressional investigation, have concluded that torture did not play a significant role in finding bin Laden, and that torture in general is a counter-productive way to get information from prisoners. But the heated debate on torture misses what's far more important and troubling about a film that seems destined for blockbuster and Academy Award status. Zero Dark Thirty represents a new genre of embedded filmmaking that is the problematic offspring of the worrisome endeavor known as embedded journalism. [...] The fundamental problem is that our government has again gotten away with offering privileged access to carefully selected individuals and getting a flattering story in return. Embeds, officially begun during the invasion of Iraq, are deeply troubling because not every journalist or filmmaker can get these coveted invitations (Seymour Hersh and Matt Taibbi are probably not on the CIA press office's speed dial), and once you get one, you face the quandary of keeping a critical distance from sympathetic people whom you get to know and who are probably quite convincing. That's the reason the embed or special invitation exists; the government does its best to keep journalists, even friendly ones, away from disgruntled officials who have unflattering stories to tell." And there goes the value of the 1st Amendment. Add that to the already disturbing fact that Hollywood has been increasingly willing, over the last two or three decades, to tell stories that encourage us to be callous toward others and to punch our better angels in the face, and you have an ugly brew bubbling up from our entertainment industry.

Here's Riverdaughter on the STEM-worker shortage scam and a number of other things she may not realize I've bitched about before. Yes, I'd rather have them get real green cards (not just the carrot that never reaches the teeth) and the same real rights that US citizens are supposed to have to act against abusive employers than have them here as pure guest-workers. But, right now, the idea that there is a dearth of educated Americans who can fill those jobs just infuriates me. As I've said before, I know far too many out-of-work people with experience and good degrees to believe any of this nonsense about how we just need to "educate ourselves to compete". They don't want us competing for good jobs and good wages, they want us competing with slave labor, and to do that they need to keep us away from jobs and other sources of income. The H1B visa exists for jobs where there are genuine labor shortages or there are only a tiny, tiny handful of experts and a few people who get paid not so much for what they do but for being who they are, and yet it's used to replace people who could easily be found in the US in their thousands. You don't need to hire a random foreign mathematician from a foreign country when we've already got plenty of them; you do need to hire Whit Diffie to be Whit Diffie (certainly not for mathematics skills which he himself describes as "indifferent"). If you decided that what we really needed were musicians, you wouldn't have to go to a foreign country to hire unknown musicians to fill slots on the bill of a place that just needed some music time filled up, but you have to hire Mike Jagger to be Mick Jagger, because he's the only The Mick Jagger there is. If the only true expert in the world on the cultivation of a certain plant that we just discovered can cure cancer is an African, it makes sense to give him a special visa to come to America and work on it (and teach Americans to do that same work), but when it's a gig where literally thousands of people already have the training and experience you need and are available to work right at home, then by the gods you'd better be hiring those people instead of complaining that you can't find them and need to import foreigners.

Tom Tomorrow on the bipartisan adventures of Simpson & Bowles

"The Christmas Song", performed by the Temptations


  1. Yes, indeed, this business about Americans being unemployable because of their educations or skill levels is just so much bullshit. It's about not wanting to pay for those skills. There were similar assertions of need for retraining and low skill levels in the early `80s, in the early `90s (when the first white-collar job recession occurred) and now, again. Let's put this in perspective--the huge job losses of 2008-9 did not happen because American businesses suddenly and collectively determined that their workers were ill-trained or ill-prepared for the work they did. Therefore, any arguments about the lack of skills leading to "structural" unemployment are specious. Skills can get rusty over time, but native intelligence and education don't simply disappear, and the extended periods of unemployment today stem from employers' desires to gain greater control over the job marketplace and reset wages and benefits to lower levels.

    As for the flap over "Zero Dark Thirty," I can't for the life of me see the assertion that the film is presented from the government's view as even mildly contentious. The military, the CIA, the FBI, etc., have routinely withheld access and/or support for film projects they deem insufficiently favorable to them, and have lavished considerable resources on projects they considered as serving their interests ("Top Gun" and "Blackhawk Down" being excellent examples of the latter, "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon" of the former). The producers of "Zero Dark Thirty" were given exceptional access, so it ought to be entirely uncontroversial to presume that they were either intellectually inclined toward the CIA's justifications for torture in the first place, or were nudged in that direction by government officials as a consequence of the access given.

    A good look at how this process works is outlined in the documentary, "Operation Hollywood." It's more insidious than one might imagine at first.

  2. Sarah Jaffe is correct that labor has become too subservient to the Democratic Party and I definitely agree that movement politics is the way to go, but I think the solutions are more complicated than she says.

    The reasons unions have become subservient to the Democratic Party is because they have lost so much strength. That is the consequence of their own members losing the plot on why they are in unions. One of the striking things about the recall of Scott Walker was how many members of union households voted for Walker: just 62% voted for Barrett, while 38% voted for Walker. Since union households represented 33% of voters, if they had gotten 72% to vote for Barrett instead of 62%, Tom Barrett would be governor.

    This decline in influence has been happening since the 1950s. It's a complicated story. For decades, unions were their own worst enemies. Reactionaries attacked progressives and opposed civil rights. Organized crime infiltrated the unions. Unions lost their role in establishing justice and equity in the workplace. They became agents to bargain for money. People stopped being proud of belonging to a union.

    Movement politics helps to remind people why they support a cause. It helps them to form alternative lines of communication to other branches of the movement, weakening the power of electronic media. It also means more accountability within the movement. Labor leadership has improved a lot since George Meany and Jimmy Hoffa senior. But it needs constant reform, constant pressure from below to perform.

    Jaffe identifies militancy/political extremism as the essential ingredient, but that's not really right. What made the old Reds such great organizers was that they cared about the cause enough to put themselves fully into it. With only an exception or two that I can think of, that level of personal commitment doesn't exist anywhere on the left. When the grassoots cares enough to talk to their friends, their neighbors, and most essentially their own household members, then a movement has influence.

    On a personal note, standing in line at the Post Office, I explained to several people why they were standing in line: the Congress is forcing the PO to pre-pay pensions 75 years in advance as part of a financial game to cover the costs of unpaid wars and tax cuts. And, of course, to advance an agenda of privatizing everything to pay off political contributors like Fred Smith of Fedex.

    That's what grassroots movement activism looks like. While I am sure that Jaffe has a lot of accumulated wisdom about the tricks of the trade in organizing, at its very most basic, activism is knowing what you stand for, and being willing and able to explain it to others.

  3. binLaden died of kidney failure in a hospital in Pakistan on December 2001(pig era). Obituaries, with photographs, were published around the world.

  4. my experiences with local level dems has been exceptionally poor, and i've had quite a bit it.

    urban wise, i know a bunch of pre-obama chicago af-am machine lower level types, who are probably higher level by now, i'll find out soon as i just moved back here only recently and have lost touch. they were interesting people, in the sense that they were brilliant, motivated and driven. but the machine swallows all here and it remains true that you "can't beat city hall." it has evolved from the earlier days as history teaches it once was like, but most only in the evolving ethnicities of the players.

    the Game is still all there is, and really harsh and upstream paddling for true progressive labor/reformer types. i dated the cutest one of those here for a while, who was always disappointed in how more liberals and dems weren't more Earnest. i may understand that a tad better now. but you've got to be damn tough to survive, let alone thrive, in city machine politics, and i mean that literally as well as figuratively. the Drug War has made even dem/minority politics much harsher than it used to be, and i'm not kidding about that at all.

    my work in muni govt has only been at the volunteer level or participant level, and wow is that shit corrupt! whoa! it's flat out pay for play where i used to live (middling midwestern suburban). party or ideological orientation doesn't matter; it's who can deliver the dollars to the biggest local concerns, which often were not locally owned. this is a big deal b/c as state govts go broke, munis are going to see more and more huge outside/foreign owned corporations come in and say "hey, let us dump all this radioactive crap in your stream, pay no taxes, and hand some county supervisor $1M and it will happen while hardly any residents know it did. so few people can name any of their muni officials.

    the muni where i live now seems a little cleaner. i will eventually find out why that is; i always make it a point to get to know muni gov where i live and have already met the mayor, secretary of the village, the state house rep and the HOA board of my large burb division.


    1. i did some time up on the state house and senate back in MI. also interesting. also relatively intractable, if one is dem. the word you're looking for is "gerrymandering." thugs know how and do do it every chance they get at every level, above and beyond the creation of districts. just look at the midnight till dawn 'nobody is watching' mass bill passing that just took place in the MI house. lame duck sessions have become some of the most damaging times in all of american politics.

      the dems, otoh, are told they have one and only one priority: not pissing off the mildly religious, cookie and coffee dem neighboor session attending, bluehairs and boomers who give regular donations to the state party in moderate amounts. the ones who believe that NPR is radical and those homosexuals shouldn't be so rude and demanding. they rule the state party dem politics world.

      if you go to a little people session, your ideas are completely ignored unless bring a large check and/or become part of the local player circuit. which isn't that hard to do. but to stomach?

      everything at the local level of dem politics right now is top down, horribly so. i remember this one young man speaking up at a meeting with some really good organizing ideas that involved those new fangled computer thingees (this was before 06 and the eventual realization of the obama types that the young man was right). his elders who were party officials listened to him with that "oh, what a nice young man he must be" look, said some platitudes, and quickly went on to describe a method of fundraising that not only had failed consiseantly for the last 6 election cycles, but relied almost entirely in Not Scaring the Bluehairs with checkbooks. as a strategy it was guaranteed to failure, and it did. i can't remember how much better the thugs were with outreach and fundraising but it was a lot that year.

      term limits really killed the power of the dem party at the state level. the higher ups i talked with (including a rep from one lucky district to have been grandfathered in, he actually knew what he was doing) all described the situation as one in which most elected dems were well meaning moms and small business owners just trying to help out their communities for 2 or 4 years and then going home, no real ambition beyond that.

      they described, and all the ones i talked to sounded like this, the rethugs as having completely embraced the revolving door of elected offical (muni), elected official (state house), elected official (national), superhighly paid lobbyist. indeed, most of the thugs i shared a smoke with out on the balcony between session were clowns, wholly uninterested in the process of government for which they were "responsible." they mostly seemed to be there to get a nice piece of lobbyist ass or dinner later.

    2. all their bills were prepared by high paid high powered lobbying orgs and they were pretty much told when and how to vote on them by said same. dems, on the other hand, struggled to find funding for the truly progressive lobbying groups that might have served a similar role, or were struggling with the herding cats process of trying not to piss off this entrenched labor or environmental group while placating this feminist org or lawyers association. they never seemed to me to ever be able to get their act together, frankly.

      i watched many good bills go down in flames not just because the thugs voted as a solid, corrupt block, but also because there were always 1/3 of the voting dems to scared to commit to something really progressive because "in my district, the voters don't approve of this form of DFHism." this in turn was mostly true because the thugs had a well organized, lobbyist funded permanent media drive running in the local media, "if Dem rep votes for X all your Y will be destroyed!!!!!" while the dems utterly lacked anything resembling such a media pushback/generation.

      all in all it was very depressing and the reason i wanted to (but couldn't for personal reasons not relating to the drive and excellence of the candidate) try the 3rd party route for a change. i know there are a lot of good people who believe that "we can change it from the inside" but it's only much worse today. and the Obama machine really is the reason for that, as well as that early turning point of the Gore team's cowardice. but i don't call them "spineless, self centered sellouts" for nothing.

      so, you know, i did try, i did observe, i did report about it (for 'real' news organizations, even! not "just" blogs!) and i did ask my former "speaker's girl" mother about her experiences in the detroit&state level machine. she said things hadn't changed much except for how term limits really altered the nature of the game. mainly by, moving all the real "backroom deal" power from the hands of the congresscritter to the unelected lobbyist who guided the short terms from job to fail upward next job.

      yes, local. no, "elected politicians." unless someone's got a strategy to counter billions of professionally scripted, theorized, produced and distributed mind control that i just never thought of and can be implemented in 6 years or less, successfully. we're already an oligarchy, that's not going to change soon. the recent shooting suggests our slide towards true, open faced neo fascism rife with the murder of progressives and liberals has begun.

    3. and my apologies for the length. i haven't slept in two days, i've sort of lost that well grounded perspective about stuff. feel free to erase or shorten.