Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger

When in the 1950s red baiting swept the US and entertainers and organizers were dragged before US house and senate committees and it was demanded they name names under threat of prison and blacklisting, Pete Seeger went to Washington, took his seat, and refused to answer any questions.

He was charged with contempt of congress and after his case dragged on for years he eventually got off on a technicality. He kept on writing and performing inspiring music and living an inspiring life. He never gave up his ideology or his ideals, and he kept alive, through his activism, words and mostly his songs, the idea they had tried to snuff out, that everyone deserves to live a life free of want.

“Some may find them merely diverting melodies. Others may find them incitements to Red revolution. And who will say if either or both is wrong? Not I.” 
Pete Seeger in Rolling Stone, April 13, 1972

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jim Baca On The Latest Mall Shooting

This was published today by Jim Baca at his Only In New Mexico blog. I think it's a brilliant insight.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mall Shooting

The American media is something. The NRA and gun manufacturers have them by the throat. Think about it. The print and broadcaster editors have been talking constantly about perceived dangers at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. They are reporting obsessively on 'possible violence' at the games. Nothing has happened there, although it could. 
Switch back to America. If one were being balanced then every editor should be doing stories and coverage every day on possible violence in America because of readily available guns with no background checks. But they don't. They wait until it actually happens as it did today a a Maryland mall where another well armed crazy person wasted innocent shoppers. 
If we put as much effort into protecting innocents in this country as the Russians and International community are doing in Sochi to protect the games, then I would feel good.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why The Democratic Party Does Everything It Can To Suppress Economic Populism

On a somewhat depressing Ring of Fire Radio program (hosts Mike Papantonio, Sam Seder and Bobby Kennedy Jr.) this week with guest Thomas Franks (What's The Matter With Kansas) it was said there are a couple reasons Democrats aren't for working people any more.

First, DLC*-type politicians (the Clintons, Obama) control the party, or rather, their money men do (Wall Street bankers, Hedge Fund Managers, etc.) and they are dedicated Neoliberals (i.e., believe in a Reagomics economic policy of low taxes for the rich, reduced social spending, shipping manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China) and so are ideologically opposed to populism.

Second, because Democrats now believe they have a strong demographic wind at their back (they think they'll be able to count on the votes of Millennials, the growing Hispanic population, women, etc. for the foreseeable future) they see no reason whatsoever to change their present course.

It was even suggested that Republicans might even become economic populists before Democrats do.

In other words, The Democratic Party, by throwing its constituency the occasional leftist tasting bone on a social issue -- same sex marriage, gays in the military -- just reminds them that they have no place else to go. If you're out of work, being thrown out of your house, if your wages and working conditions suck, if your standard of living is headed downward, take a flying leap. Too bad for you. If only the children of the privileged can go to college and expect anything more than a dreary life, so what?

And all of our New Mexico Democratic delegation  to Washington are on board with this. Nothing they say or do, which is very little, proves otherwise. The rare lip service they give to economic issues, their hollow, content devoid promises to "fight for working new Mexicans" and for the Middle Class and blah, blah, blah, only prove their complicity.

*Democratic Leadership Council. Formed in 1985 by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others who thought the Democrat Party was too far to the Left. The DLC was eventually shut down but its Center-Right (on economic matters) ideology is carried on by Democratic think tanks like Third Way.

Ring of Fire Radio airs in Albuquerque on AM1350 on Saturday from 1-4 p.m. (re-run Sunday at 4 a.m.) and on many other stations. Today's program will be on their web site and Youtube channel next week, or it can be downloaded now to your smart phone via Stitcher. I just started using Stitcher. You can set it up to automatically download radio programs when they become available, and then listen to them at your leisure. Mine is set up to only do this while my phone is connected to my home wireless signal so it doesn't use up my 3G.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I'm Outraged, I Tell You!

In keeping with the post below (and many of my posts) New Mexico's congressfolk are outraged that congress would cut off benefits for the long term unemployed. These same congressfolk said nothing while their party was throwing the longterm unemployed under the bus as they negotiated an austerity budget deal, which they then voted for, that Republicans are now bragging about.

Lujan, Grisham, and every Democrat in Washington knew, when they removed unemployment benefits from the overall budget deal, that Republicans would never allow a separate bill to extend unemployment benefits. The Democratic Party was saying to the unemployed, Go eff yourself.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Republicans and Tea Baggers

"Republicans hailed the deal for slashing discretionary spending for the fourth year in row." (AFP)

Republicans and tea baggers. That what we have in Washington now. There are three Democrats left, none from New Mexico. Those three voted against the Republican designed budget that passed today.

Much of the media is saying it increases spending, tea baggers are saying it increases spending, but it doesn't. They are comparing it to the funding level under the so called "sequester," which gutted social programs. This budget is smaller than the last George W Bush budget six years ago.

"Discretionary spending six years ago for the title covering the Departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services totaled $144.8 billion — or roughly $162 billion in current dollars. The comparable section of the omnibus now provides $156.8 — leaving Obama with $5 billion less in discretionary funds. In the case of the chapter funding transportation and housing programs — two areas for which he has talked of infrastructure investments — the same type of comparisons show a drop of about $4 billion." (Politico)

The economy will continue going nowhere, unemployment will remain high, wages and living standards will continue to decline, which is just what Republicans and tea baggers want. Democrats would have held onto the tremendous political advantage they had after the government shutdown and forced the Republicans to accept their terms, but in this budget it's the other way around. That's because there are no Democrats any more.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The New Casino

I was just talking to my mother in Michigan and she was mentioning some of the benefits New Buffalo Township is seeing from a casino built in the township by the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians, which was pretty controversial when it went in.

The school district is provided with laptops for every student, and after graduation they get a $2,500 per semester scholarship, up to $25,000 over five years. Mom said my sister-in-law just finished her masters degree with a $6,000 grant from the Pokagons. She also got gas money because the extension university she attended is 30 miles away in Benton Harbor. She's now back in teaching.

The Indians have built a park in the township and helped the state build another. I know the site of one of them. It's along the Galien River, which, before it empties into Lake Michigan winds through the wooded dunes that stretch several miles inland from the lake, where there are large marshes along either side that were always teeming with wildlife, especially migratory waterfowl. It's one of the most beautiful areas around there. I used to go duck hunting out there. After turning off Red Arrow Highway onto a two-track and driving through the woods to the edge of a dune and climbing down the bank I'd walk out into the marsh in chest waders. Robbie Kruger had made a blind out there, or you could just stand behind a bush. Now there's stairs and trails and a boardwalk and so forth.

Every student, and seniors, gets $600 a year toward an eye exam and glasses. Mom says my niece, who needs special glasses, takes advantage of that. Once a week a truck shows up at the casino with meat, vegetables, fruit, canned and dry goods, and township residents can come down and fill up a box and take it home, for free.

The Pokagon have paid for water system improvements like lines, a lift station and a water tower. I don't know how much that amounts to in dollars and cents but some of the township residents were glad to have water. People who tried to drill sometimes got water right away and sometimes would get nothing or salt water.

The benefits the town gets are because when my Mom was township supervisor and the casino was being debated, she negotiated a separate deal with the Pokagans apart from the deal they negotiated with the state. The Indians are exempt from paying taxes, she said, but they agreed to pay a percentage of their take to the state. The state gets a couple percent, and that is shared with the city and the township and the county, and Mom, in her agreement, got another percent for the township.

Agnes Conway - Mom

Mom says has never gambled at the casino but goes to one of the restaurants now and then and gets the free food sometimes. As I say, the casino has been controversial. I came across an article in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch, where they were going to get a casino built by the same developer. A Dispatch reporter went up to New Buffalo and found that some of the locals are still not happy with the casino. New Buffalo is a little over an hour from Chicago and many of the people there have retired there, and they don't want no casinos. They don't want no casinos, no pool halls, no strip joints, and no jobs. Us locals are allowed to stay though, because they need someone to do their yard work and plumbing and remodeling.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

In Defiance Of The Law

This is a protest in Bilbao, Spain, in support of Basque political prisoners, held yesterday, January 11, 2014, in defiance of a new Spanish law outlawing protests. There are huge protests like this daily now in different parts of the world. South Korea, Ukraine, Cambodia, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, are a few I can name off the top of my head. In England, Germany, France, Greece, and other places, large protests have occurred recently and can be re-organized quickly.

Those of us who were around in the 1960s remember the huge marches on Washington, and massive uprisings in other parts of the world. In France, protesters nearly took over the country. They were running parts of Paris through local committees.

Concessions were made. Civil Rights bills were passed. The Vietnam War was ended. The streets emptied, and a counter-revolution was launched. Politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were elected. The great Neoliberal project variously known of as Reaganomics or Thatcherism began to undo the economic gains working classes had made in the post World War II era.

Making concessions is authority's most powerful weapon, but the Neoliberals in power today, from Merkel to Obama to the Egyptian Army to the Chines Communist Party, with the goal of a worldwide low cost labor force within reach, aren't as likely to use that option as the politicians of the 1960s were.

Authorities are trying to clamp down with violence, as they just did in Cambodia, as Obama did in clearing the Occupy camps, and by outlawing protest, but as in this case in Spain, people have begun defying the law, an important development in the escalation toward what could be a critical mass, maybe in the Spring when it's warmer in the north.

Don't underestimate the willingness of authority to escalate, but there is also a limit to their power. Communication technology is such that things can rapidly feed off each other. The defiance shown here in Spain will give confidence to others. Stay tuned. Agitate. Educate.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Which Side Are New Mexico's Democrats On?

For the first time a majority of members of congress and senators are millionaires, according to the Center For Responsive Politics which has compiled financial disclosure data that all US house and senate members are required by law to file.

Here is a sampling of the list with the lowest and highest net worth figures they've filed and the average of all filings. The number before their name indicates their ranking as of 2012.

                                                          lowest           average             highest

1. Darrell Issa (R-CA)                 $330,380,031   464,115,018   597,850,005

 38. Steve Pearce (R-NM)                 7,983,015     22,614,007      37,245,000
157. Tom Udall (D-NM)                   1,674,044       2,881,022        4,088,000
356. Michelle Grisham (D-NM)          200,004           435,001          669,998
432. Ben Lujan (D-NM)                        46,005           205,502           364,999
444. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)            -106,984           171,007          448,999

531. David Valadao (R-CA)            -24,498,997    -12,167,002          164,993

These are the people who let unemployment benefits lapse at Christmas and recently cut Medicare and food stamps, and are devising a bipartisan way to cut Social Security. By the way, seven of the top ten richest house and senate members are Democrats and the $1.04 million average wealth of Democrats is higher than that of Republicans, $1 million.

Wealth is important for two reasons.  The most obvious is that as humans we are most concerned about the things that affect ourselves. This plays out in many ways. One is that we naturally tend to protect our own economic interests.

The other, more subtle way wealth is important is that because of the physical fact that we are in economic class A, we simply do not have occasion to think about the problems people in other economic classes face. Their problems don't normally occur to us. We just don't spend much time thinking about them, and -- very significantly -- we don't know how their lives are affected by them.

Here are some other house and senate members and how they rank:

   2. Mark Warner (D-VA)                 96,221,316   257,481,658    418,742,000
 10. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)                   1,046,071     87,997,030    174,947,989
 23. Alan Grayson (D-FL)                  -2,212,951   40,362,024       82,936,999
 77. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)            3,820,028     6,990,514        10,161,000
 96. Paul Ryan (R-WI)                         2,206,097     5,405,558          8,605,000
112. Harry Reid (D-NV)                      2,565,061     4,372,030          6,178,999
123. John Boenher (R-OH)                  1,914,122     3,924,561          5,935,000
355. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)                    116,014          460,506           804,998
372. Rand Paul (R-KY)                          231,006          398,003           565,000
477. John Lewis (D-GA)                            9,009            72,004            135,000

Alan Grayson holds himself out as a champion of the working class and promotes himself heavily in progressive media.

Elizabeth Warren, in her first term in the senate, is often held up in progressive media as champion of the 99 percent's interests because she speaks out about them often, especially about the way big banks and corporations are ripping us off and are not well policed or well regulated.

Bernie Sanders, the Socialist senator (and formerly house member) from Vermont, has been the most steadfast of the current members of congress in speaking out about economic justice. Bernie is almost always on the right side of an issue.

I mention John Lewis, the veteran of the civil rights movement, because he has been in congress going on 27 years and has not amassed any more wealth than the typical middle class homeowner, while typically congress members become more and more wealthy during their years in office. A prime example is former senator Jeff "Bing Bing" Bingaman who left Washington worth more than $10 million and whose wife received multi-million dollar payments for her lobbying services.

The chart is on the web in two forms. One is searchable but only displays 250 names at a time. Another lists them all in one spreadsheet type chart.

According to a story about the study in The Wire the top source of wealth for senators and members of congress is not their salaries but investments and book deals.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

People On Disability Are Wrecking The Economy

Fox News has been saying that people are faking disabilities to get SSI payments, according to a post I just saw on Facebook, and that it's ruining the US economy. It's a link to an article in Media Matters. They are the people who do the well-respected show Counterspin, heard on many public radio stations including KANW in Albuquerque, that points out examples of conservative and corporatist bias in the media.

"Only about 1 in 25 Americans receive disability benefits, but nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability," says Media Matters. They point out that more Americans than ever have disabilities because modern medicine lets people live longer, so that we have a larger population of old people than we would have, and it's also letting people survive conditions that would have killed them in the past, though not always without them being disabled.

They continue:

"Furthermore, as Media Matters has repeatedly and extensively documented, despite Fox's never-ending campaign to demonize Social Security disability, it is not an "option" that out-of-work individuals can rely on if they do not have severe disabilities. The eligibility criteria are stringent, with waiting periods that are typically months long, and more than half of all applicants are denied. There is also no evidence that people receiving disability benefits are hurting the economy."

Again proving the point that Fox News isn't a good place to get your facts.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Those Funny, Funny Republicans

This was shared on one of the pages I follow on Facebook. More of this kind of hilarity can be seen in this posting of misspelled tea bagger protest signs.