Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Protect Social Security (March 2011)

It's too bad a model program keeps on getting attacked, but it does. If you haven't called your senators yet, please do so this Wednesday. From Strengthen Social Security:

We need you to call your Senators and demand that they vote for the Sanders/Reid Social Security Protection Amendment.

Senator Sanders and Majority Leader Reid are leading the fight in the Senate to protect Social Security from drastic cuts.

Their amendment simply says:

Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries should not be cut and Social Security should not be privatized as part of any legislation to reduce the Federal deficit.

Call your Senators RIGHT NOW at 1-866-251-4044. You’ll be given a choice of which of your state’s two senators to be connected with. Call BOTH if you have the time. It only takes a minute each.

Tell the person who answers the phone:

I am a voter/constituent living in [your state]. I am calling to tell the Senator:

I oppose all cuts to Social Security and I urge them to vote yes on the Sanders/Reid Social Security Protection Amendment.

Please take the time for this very important effort today. This is for all of us who depend on Social Security.

Call Today: 1-866-251-4044.

I believe the 866 number keys off your area code, so you've moved to another state, it might prompt the wrong pair of senators.

Out here in California, we've got Senators Feinstein and Boxer. I'm not crazy about Diane Feinstein's proposal on Social Security, which seems to play into the lies that the program is in dire straits. (Medicare does need some help, but passing universal health care would lower medical costs more than anything else.) Barbara Boxer's statement on Social Security was far more encouraging:

(In my case, the 866 number only prompted me to call Feinstein, I assume because Boxer was already onboard. I called her office anyway to say thanks, because the majority of calls staffers receive tend to be negative, and that can wear ya down.)

The Campaign for America's Future crew (Dave Johnson in particular) do a nice job of covering Social Security issues if you want more information. They're particularly good about rounding up debunks of the latest dissembling op-eds.

If you like number-crunching analysis, check out the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, especially their pieces on conservative Paul Ryan's dishonest "roadmap." a piece exposing the hypocrisy of the conservatives seeking to cut Social Security (Megan McArdle tried to disprove this, with predictably pathetic results), and "Top Ten Facts about Social Security on the Program's 75th Anniversary." The Social Security category at Angry Bear is also good on the numbers front.

This Crooked Timber post is helpful on the subject, and don't miss William Greider's scathing analysis in this Columbia Journalism Review interview:

Trudy Lieberman: Let’s go back and put all this in the context of the press coverage of Social Security. What should the press be reporting that they haven’t been?

William Greider: Opponents of Social Security are deliberately confusing Social Security with Medicare; they are distorting reality. There are simple facts that should be reported: 1) Social Security never contributed a dime to the deficit; 2) Social Security softened the impact of the Reagan deficits by building up a surplus; 3) the federal government borrowed the money and spent it on other things; 4) the federal government has to pay this money back because it really belongs to the working people who paid their FICA deductions every pay day. The elites in both parties know the day is approaching when the federal government has to come up with the trillions it borrowed from the workers. That is the crisis the politicians don’t want to deal with, so they create a phony argument that slyly blames working people for their problem. That’s the propaganda they want the public to believe.

TL: What are the facts about Medicare that they should be reporting?

WG: Medicare is separate and in serious financial trouble for two basic reasons driving up costs. First, thanks to medical advances and the effective public health system, our aging population gets to live steadily longer. That ought to be understood as good news for people and society, but instead elite opinion laments it. Second, the private health-care system is still centered on the profit motive, and that gives virtually every health care provider from doctors to drug companies strong incentive to keep raising the costs. That debate has also been grossly distorted in media coverage that typically dismisses alternatives as socialist—and that ends the discussion.

TL: Who is representing the public in this debate?

WG: The same people who rallied the public against Social Security privatization in the Bush administration. They have organized again. Some are the same players. Labor is on the barricades. Some righteous members of Congress. But in general the mass media don’t go to those dissenting voices. Instead, they are reporting factual errors as correct opinion.

TL: What do you want the press to do?

WG: I am daring reporters to go and find out the truth about this and report it. I’m not asking them to draw big conclusions or to assert their opinions. Just be honest reporters. It’s so frustrating to see the coverage. I’m not asking reporters to change any minds. I’m just asking them to do some real reporting. I mean, go to the facts—the actuarial records—and talk to a variety of experts. Reporters ring up the same sources and ask them how to think about Social Security.

Grieder's on fire in this one. Check it out. And call your senator if you haven't!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Teddy Thompson - "Take Care of Yourself"

Eclectic Jukebox

The 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

There's been some good recent coverage on the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which claimed the lives of 146 workers due to unsafe conditions and the managers locking the doors. NPR had some good pieces, and so did Crooks and Liars, although the most comprehensive one I heard was the Democracy Now on 3/25/11. PBS show American Experience did a documentary on the fire which can be viewed here. HBO also just aired a documentary on the same subject. Here's the trailer:

Considering the current assault on labor, the middle class and the social contract, it's a good time to revisit the history of workers' rights, and why some regulations are absolutely necessary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Makem and Clancy - "Ar Eirinn Ni Neosainn Ce Hi"

There's no shortage of great Celtic music, but this song in Irish Gaelic is one of the prettiest I know. I did a more extensive post on it two years ago. (The poem at the start is called "The Planter.")

Eclectic Jukebox

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Shock Doctrine in Wisconsin (and America)

It's hard to keep up with all the news on Wisconsin, and the situation is ongoing. Bigger liberal blogs are doing a fantastic job covering it all. However, this Naomi Klein segment is well worth watching, especially for anyone not familiar with the concept of the shock doctrine:

Heather at C&L writes:

The Nation's Chris Hayes laid out very plainly why the protests in Wisconsin matter. This move by Gov. Scott Walker is one of a series of power grabs by Republicans with the intent of achieving some of their long time goals; destroying unions and the middle class and getting rid of our public education system.

Chris' fellow contributor to The Nation, Naomi Klein discussed how what Walker doing is a classic example of the Shock Doctrine, where politicians create a crisis and then using that crisis as an excuse to push through horribly unpopular economic policies. And as Hayes and Klein both explained, what ends up happening in Wisconsin is not only going to have local implications, but national as well.

Along with conservatives seeking to destroy unions, the middle class and public education, don't forget public libraries and public media! Nick Gillepsie, of the Koch-funded publication/website Reason, argued earlier this year that libraries should be privatized because librarians are lazy and overpaid, and public libraries serve the elite. These claims would come as great surprise to anyone who knows anything whatsoever about public libraries. In fact, especially for the poor and lower middle class, public libraries are the primary (if not only) source for information and internet access. And when other social services shut down in major cities, the homeless turn to public libraries. None of this is exactly a secret.

Conservatives have attacked public broadcasting for decades, but they've ramped up their assault on NPR especially in the past several months. The recent Ron Schiller incident is just the latest excuse. Back in February, NPR show To the Point looked at the NPR funding issue. One of host Warren Olney's guests was Adam Thierer, of the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University, who argued that NPR should receive no government funding (and he wasn't the biggest wanker on the show). To the Point looked at the NPR funding issue again on 3/10/11, and this time, one of the guests was David Boaz, executive vice president on the Cato Institute, which was founded, and continues to be funded by... the Koch brothers. Boaz argued against funding for NPR as well, and also against the certainty of climate change and against the regulation of businesses (the Kochs are billionaire oil men). Gillepsie's consistently wrong or disingenuous, and always smug, and Boaz is pretty smarmy too, while Thierer has an amiable manner. Perhaps all of them truly believe what they're saying. However, they're furthering the Koch's plutocratic agenda, which means attacking absolutely everything related to the commons and the social contract, and the very idea that the government should do anything for the people. In this case, that also entails destroying all public institutions that will inform the citizenry.

This is a part of the long game by conservatives in America. It includes, as Digby and others have noted, de-funding everything and everyone who might help the Democratic Party or liberal causes, including disenfranchising young, college voters, because they tend to vote liberal. And beyond the scorched earth approach to partisanship, which is bad enough, this long game is anti-democracy, pro-plutocracy and pro-feudalism.

The fight in Wisconsin is a microcosm of the battle of our age, the attack of the plutocrats. It even has the most notorious of American plutocrats, the Koch brothers, at its center. However, the nature of this attack on the middle class, the push to steal collective bargaining rights from public employees, is extremely important – and should be familiar.

One of the defining features of movement conservatism is its extreme, destructive nature. In the chart above, revamped from an old post ("The Chart That Explains It All") I labeled it "authoritarian conservatism," but it could also be called "plutocracy" or "neo-feudalism." While liberals, independents and reasonable, moderate conservatives have their differences, they all believe in some sort of social contract, objective principles, some sort of fair, sustainable system and responsible governance. They may jockey for power within that system, and liberals in particular fight to (in their eyes) improve the system and make it more fair. They may even seek sweeping changes of, say, financial regulation of Wall Street. However, there are some foundational things, such as civil rights and due process, they do not attack and instead defend.

Movement conservatives, despite some variety in their specific obsessions, do not think this way. The goal is power, acquiring it, holding it, and wielding it with impunity and without consequence. When it comes to a system, they will burn it all down, eagerly. In most fights, they don't just seek to win, they seek to crush their perceived enemies permanently. In particular, they attack the very ability of their opponents to fight back, negotiate, and challenge their will. They don't just want to win the game, they want to rig it further so that no one else can ever compete ever again. It should be obvious by now, but Scott Walker and most of the Wisconsin Republicans simply do not care about either good policy or the will of the people – they're serving the interests of the Kochs and their ilk. And while the demonstrations in Madison and around the country are extremely impressive and inspiring, it's important to remember that the William F. Buckleys and Koch brothers of the world, never, ever stop. Even if they lose a skirmish, they'll be back, and they'll keep funding a plutocratic agenda that benefits themselves at the expense of the country. Fights like those in Wisconsin are absolutely essential, but the Kochs and other right-wingers consistently set the framework for discussion and the terms of battle. That results in liberals, independents and moderate conservatives getting tied up fighting purely defensive battles for core values and institutions that never should have needed defending in the first place. The next step is for all Americans who believe in that social contract - and a government of the people, by the people, for the people - to recognize the nature of this threat and start putting the plutocrats on the defensive.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lykke Li - "I Follow Rivers"

Eclectic Jukebox

Protect Public Broadcasting (March 2011)

If you haven't contacted your Representative and Senators yet about protecting public broadcasting (primarily NPR and PBS), the site 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting will help you do so. It also provides some helpful facts, graphics and other resources.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Roy Buchanan – "Sweet Dreams"

NPR ran a great story by Robert Goldstein about the 60th anniversary of the Fender Telecaster earlier this week. Among other tunes, the story included this one, which also features prominently in Martin Scorsese's film The Departed. Sweet, indeed.

Eclectic Jukebox

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sheen, Beck, or Qaddafi?

Who said that crazy thing, Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck or Muammar Qaddafi? This New York magazine quiz is just wrong - inspired - and scary. (Via Digby.)

I got 10/15, which isn't bad, I suppose, for not following any of their statements that closely. And I clearly underestimated the craziness of Charlie Sheen.

Bonus! "Charlie Sheen Quotes As New Yorker Cartoons." Yikes.

(Here's to less craziness of the destructive variety in the world.)