Archive for September, 2011


Speaking on Sept 27th at a Denver high school, Obama continued to echo Elizabeth Warren’s sensible take-down of the GOP  “class warfare” charge:

Around the 16 minute mark, Obama says:

And keep in mind I’m not saying this because we should be punishing success.  This is the Land of Opportunity.  What’s great about this country is that any of these young people here, if they’ve got a good idea, if they go out there and they’re willing to work hard, they can start a business, they can create value, great products, great services.  They can make millions, make billions.  That’s great.  That’s what America is all about.  Anybody can make it if they try.

But what’s also a quintessentially American idea is that those of us who’ve done well should pay our fair share to contribute to the upkeep of the nation that made our success possible — (applause) — because nobody — nobody did well on their own.  A teacher somewhere helped to give you the skills to succeed.  (Applause.)

Firefighters and police officers are protecting your property.  You’re moving your goods and products and services on roads that somebody built.  That’s how we all do well together.  We got here because somebody else invested in us, and we’ve got to make sure this generation of students can go to college on student aid or scholarships like I did.  We’ve got to make sure that we keep investing in the kind of government research that helped to create the Internet, which countless private sector companies then used to create tens of millions of jobs.

And you know what?  I’m positive — I’ve talked to them, most wealthy Americans agree with this.  Of course, the Republicans in Congress, they call this class warfare.  You know what?  If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the working class, I will accept that.  I will wear that charge as a badge of honor.  (Applause.)

The only warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against middle-class families in this country for a decade now.

(From the transcript of the speech, posted on the White House website)

 

Steve Benen noted that,

I had a chance to check this rhetoric against the speech as it was written, and most of this was ad-libbed. (Contrary to GOP rhetoric, the president rarely sticks to what appears on a teleprompter.)

The larger point, though, is that Obama’s rhetoric is echoing Warren’s rhetoric in fairly obvious ways. The president, in explicit ways we haven’t heard before, is linking his vision of government activism to a meaningful social contract.

Greg Sargent’s take on it addressed that issue and more:

… the most effective rebuttal to the “class warfare” charge is to stress that raising taxes on the wealthy is not about envy. Rather, it’s about better serving the common good in a way that makes wealth creation possible in the first place.

Another critical point: Obama’s argument doesn’t begin and end with his case about taxes. He’s weaving it in with a broader argument he’s making about values and today’s Republican Party. By regularly invoking the crude reaction of some audience members at GOP debates — the “let him die” moment, the booing of the soldier — and by continually insisting that we’re all in this together, Obama is trying to build a larger case about the choice voters face, between the optimistic, inclusive, charitable vision he’s fighting for and a fundamentally mean-spirited, exclusionary, pessimistic one that’s cloaked in cries of “class warfare.”

And for me, the whole package speaks to what I believe is the core of progressive politics, and the legacy of liberal belief. Why do we gather in communities and find common cause with each other? because it benefits us all, mutually. That would be a good thing, right?

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I had the great privilege, yesterday and today, of tattooing the logo for the United Steel Workers on a couple of very active union organizers. 

It was a simple tattoo, but I can’t tell you how proud I was to do this for these hard-working union members.  It made me feel, somehow, part of the resurgence that has arisen since the Wisconsin debates about the right of workers to organize, to lobby for their own worth and their own needs as workers.

I’d never really thought about my own relationship to union families, until, reflecting on the protests against the curtailing of worker’s rights in by Gov. Walker in Wisconsin, I asked my mother if Washington state had a union for teachers back when my dad was teaching in the public schools.

My mom, quite frankly, was a little hazy on the concept.  She told me that they’d had something – she wasn’t exactly sure if it was a union – but in any case, there’d been some sort of organization to lobby for teachers wages and benefits and working conditions, and yes, my dad (and probably my mom as well, the one year she taught 4th grade in the public schools) was a part of it.  But it was no memorable organization for my mother; it existed, it advanced the rights of teachers, it worked to some degree, but it made little lasting impression on her, outside of the basics.

I have never been a member of any kind of union, but I still feel the benefits of unions in my life as a working person.

I do not work in an industry which is likely to EVER unionize. The old adage, “like herding cats” probably was never so applicable as in the case of trying to bring tattoo artists together.

But still, I feel those benefits.  I may work more than a 40-hour work week on a very regular basis, but where did that 40 hour work-week come from?  The unions. And it’s my choice to bust past that 40 hours, not mandated by my employer.

I may forego a normal Saturday-Sunday weekend (so that I can make more money, quite frankly) in favor of taking my days off on Wednesday and Thursday, but my “right” to two days off (days I usually do bookkeeping, business-oriented shopping, and artwork for tattoo projects), and in fact my very sense of having anything like reliable “days off” comes from the Unions.

I may not have health care, or retirement/pension benefits, or any kind of bonus structure, but my knowledge of those benefits, and my educated decision to forego them in my current profession stems directly from my knowledge that these are standard, accepted benefits, baselines against which I measure my own earnings, and that knowledge is based in the history of Unions securing those rights for workers in major industries.

I’m not naïve to the corruption within some unions. I’m not unaware of how some unions, at some times, did more for their leadership, and less for the workers. But overall, unions do more or less what they are supposed to do: lobby for good working conditions, good pay, and reasonable expectations.

And so it is, without direct membership or benefit from the efforts of a labor union, I still thank them.

The following excerpts are from blog posts which have had me thinking for days.  They aren’t isolated – other bloggers, opinionators and Smart People have also been writing about these issues.  But these excerpts sum up very nicely the ideas banging around my head right now.

 

First up, Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing about Michael Moore and Bill Mahar’s clever little quip: “I went into the polls voting for the black guy, and what I got was the white guy…”

But it really isn’t [clever]. In fact, it’s racist, and Michael Moore would do well to stop repeating it. It really is no better than the Kenyan anti-colonial bit, indeed it is a good deal worse. I said this yesterday on twitter, but it would be as if my Jewish accountant messed up my taxes and I said, "Dude, you’re Jewish, what the hell?!?!"

In fact, I’d be getting exactly what I deserved. If you paid more attention to Obama’s skin color, than to his speeches, the voluminous amounts of journalism noting his moderation, his two books which are, themselves, exercises in moderation, then you have chosen to be ignorant. 

You are now being punished for that ignorance. No one should feel sorry for you. Try not being racist.

 

On a different note, Steve Benen, writing about the anti-intellectualism in Rick Perry’s campaign talk, refers to something Paul Krugman wrote about 3 years ago:

What matters is what this tells us about anti-intellectualism in Republican politics today, and the fact that the Perry and Bush jokes always generate applause from conservative audiences.

Three years ago, Paul Krugman wrote a memorable column identifying the GOP as “the party of stupid.” The columnist explained, “What I mean … is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: ‘Real men don’t think things through.’”

 

Tacking yet a different direction, here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates again, talking about our reluctance to shoulder the responsibility for building a progressive society, and instead expecting our leaders to do all the work:

Somehow we got in our head that the Civil Rights movement happened because Martin Luther King was a really nice guy. We don’t really talk about the movement as an actual force, as applying force. We don’t think about what SNCC was really trying to do when they were risking their lives to register voters in the delta. When we think about people trying to kill them we think about evil, but we should think about power and fear.

 

Finally, Geoffrey Stone, writing about how our Constitution has truly progressive roots:

More fundamentally, however, the Constitution has served as the vehicle through which generations of Americans have made and remade their nation. When one steps back, as one should on Constitution Day, and considers the most profound changes in our society since 1789, it is easy to see that, by any reasonable measure, the Constitution has served in the long run as a progressive document that has enabled us to protect the rights, liberties and well-being of our people.

 

Though these four articles tackle different subject matter, they all suggest we really look at history, at our words and concepts, and encourage us not to over-simplify the hard work of shaping and maintaining a society which takes care of all of its citizens and the endeavors to which we put our talents.

Elizabeth Warren articulates something I’ve attempted to put into words, and couldn’t quite get:

Transcript:

I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is’ whatever. 

No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Love this woman.  Hope she gets to Congress to speak for all of us.

Death Penalty

Odd coincidence of events:

First, several death penalty cases which have hit the news lately, namely Troy Davis, Gov. Rick Perry’s execution record, and Lawrence Brewer. And second, without knowing in advance the plotline, the renting of two movies which ended scripted death sentences, the execution taking place on film.*

I typically try to avoid state execution scenes in movies – good couple of minutes to check on dinner, go to the restroom, Google something, close my eyes, whatever, even in movies I otherwise like.

I feel pretty decided about the death penalty.  I don’t like it.  I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it’s effective as a social strategy, or for crime prevention. I don’t think it’s morally or ethically correct.  I’ve heard a hundred “but what if some guy killed your … blah blah blah,” and I have sympathy with the real or hypothetical victims, and I am as outraged at the murder/rape/treason as the person asking. Whatever story they tell will most likely sit in my gut and my mind for days to come. I have no problem understanding that rage, or the accompanying sorrow.

It just doesn’t persuade me to think the death penalty is the correct response.

Part of me just doesn’t think it’s right to take that power, the power of inflicting death, and levy it against another person. It’s not our decision to make.  I used to think it was God’s place to decide such things, when I believed in a deity.  Now I don’t believe in deities.  I still sort of believe in God (another whole topic) but suffice it to say I don’t think god is a supreme being. To the extent that god, or the universe, or the cosmic flow of things takes people out of this life and into a next, it happens on a grand scale, as well it should.  It some how feels entirely different – and wrong – when it comes to individuals doing the killing: in crimes, in war, in execution. Leave Death to disaster, to insurmountable disease, to Time.

Part of me chills at the basic irony of the very idea of the death penalty, in the case of executing those who have killed.  Really? we’re going to kill someone to punish them for killing someone? As Tevia said, an eye for an eye, pretty soon the whole world is blind.

And it seems to let the killer off entirely too easy.  If we are punishing, then punish.  I don’t mean we should be cruel, but people should be held accountable when they are in the wrong. To live in relative isolation with your own miserable self, cut off from normal social interactions, is to my mind a natural consequences version of justice.  Maybe even an opportunity to face yourself down and correct your impact on the world. Our prisons are not exactly suited to encouraging inmates to reflect upon their wrongs, but it has been known to happen.

And if not, you are held away from the greater community, where you can’t harm us.

To kill them lets them off far too easily.

And then there is this:  we are our brother’s keepers. Children who grow up and commit horrible acts of violence on others are, nonetheless, children who grew up in our communities.  We, as a society, produced them.  They are our community’s responsibility.  To kill them let’s us off too easy.

But executions are still happening, around me, around the world.  They make me sad, they sometimes enrage me.  I close my eyes, I leave the room, I google something.  And, sometimes I write.

—————-

* Spoiler if you haven’t seen them (consider yourself duly warned): The Changeling, with Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, and Lonely Hearts, with Selma Hayek and John Travolta.

* sigh *

Oh my… cobwebs are accumulating again.

It’s hard to write.  It’s harder to write when the world is keeping me busy.  And that’s just when I should be writing.

I crack open the notebook (computer) to look in my mailbox, scan the Mudflats, spend a good amount of time reading my favorite political and economic blogs, check out the articles they link to, scan the front pages of my local papers, maybe HuffPo.

I notice that when it comes to the online versions of newspapers (web fronts to otherwise print paper, and aggregates like HuffPo), I scan headlines, read what seems interesting, and move on pretty quickly from article to article.  In that way, it’s much like reading the traditional print newspapers every morning.  Without the crackling.  The cat still jumps into the middle of what I’m reading; some things never change.

After all that, I go back to the Mudflats forum.  It’s sort of like the online front porch of the general store down the street.  I take a breather.  Then I check all the political blogs again.  I throw in some light reading along the way (White Whine, Juanita Jean, facebook).  I refill my coffee cup several times.

That whole routine takes me about an hour or more, and then it’s usually time to go to work, or get the day-off errands done.  With all that I’ve read and been sparked by, I have plenty to journalize about.  Time does not, however, permit.  Also: hard to physically write ones thoughts down when operating cars and vacuum cleaners.  Also, too:* very difficult to journalize when doing dishes.  But isn’t that just the time the thoughts are really spinning? Must be something about the water.

At night, it’s much the same routine (Mudflats, east-coast blog wrap-ups, catching up on my less-stringently tracked blogs), a dash of online news, and more Mudflats. 

And at that point (midnight or better once all I do after I get off work at 9pm or so) I’m too beat to write coherently.

*sigh*

I have so many thoughts, intermingled and unexplored and over-explored, and know writing would help me sort it out.  Such a jumble though – easier to look at the tangle of thoughts than to actually sort it out.  But it takes energy, focus. Timing my ability to maintaining focus is the crux of the matter.  And convincing myself that I don’t have to write it ALL down, complete and organized, is another hurdle to get over.

Maybe I should just go ahead and write incoherently.  It’s very quiet in here, after all.  No one will notice. 

Coherent or not, I need to push myself to write.  Even if it’s just about writing.  I’ll try.  Really.  This time.

Coffee?

 

 

* to Palinize the tangent of thought…

Jobs

Lotsa talk for weeks now about jobs – with Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act* being promoted by the White House, numerous smart economists and bloggers, and most Democrats, the long-awaited Pivot To Jobs!!!!!! has apparently arrived.

The Democrats are saying we need to stimulate jobs directly through federal and state spending, that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Short term spending will create income to be spent on food, shelter, household goods, services, luxury items, houses, cars, education, everything which we use. Those transactions will be taxed, which will start a cycle of digging ourselves out of the mess we’re in.  Makes sense to me.

The Republicans say that giving tax breaks to the “job creators” will help them create jobs. Except if they wanted to create jobs they could do so right now – the job creators are stashing cash in investments, not labor. But if jobs are going to be created through tax cuts, from where I stand it will happen at an awfully slow pace. We’ll lose more and have farther to dig ourselves out of. It might just create a downward spiral. I think the Republicans are talking Unicorns and Rainbows, waving magical wands of job creation.

I’m in a small business.  Our sales have suffered over the last three years. Why? I ask tons of customers how they are doing, whether they’ve stayed busy in their own work, why they were laid off (amazing how many people get tattoos when they are laid off, but that’s another story…), and what their sense of the economy – local and nationwide – is.

What I hear from our customers is that they are holding back on tattoo work, or not getting tattoo work, because they aren’t working. They’ve lost their overtime. Couples are down to one-and-a-half, or even just one job. A few are on unemployment. Our business would be better if all of them were working like they were before the crash. Duh. No brainer there.

My impression of what it going on is honed by talking to my customers who are themselves small business owners. When people have more money to spend, these business people will start hiring to meet increased demand. Till then – also a no-brainer – they won’t need people to meet a demand which does not exist.

No surprise I back the Democratic approach; it syncs with everything I think government is structured to address to help us, as a people, as a whole, ride out the storms.

I like Unicorns and rainbows, and magic wands. But I like them in fiction, where they belong, not here in the real world where they tend to really muck things up.

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