Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Raise the Minimum, Bring Back Welfare

First, what's not true.  It's not true that unemployment follows a rising minimum wage.

Now what is.  Welfare helped a lot of people, but it had a lot of problems.  We need to bring it back.

People who think of poverty and the economy generally like the weather need to snap the frack out of it.  The US economy, and in fact the world economy to some degree, has been managed for many years.  It's just been managed on behalf of the rich, not most people.  Poverty is the inevitable result of the rules of the game.  Who is and is not poor depends on how you play, sure, but also what hand you're dealt, how the dice roll, what the other players do to you or for you, and so on.  But the rules were made by humans and can be changed by humans.  In fact, they are changed all the time, sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much.

Even Adam Smith - I know, who died and made him god? - said there would have to be balances to shield people from the worst effects.  Personally, I think we've learned a lot since then.  We just don't act like it sometimes.

Free State of Jones THE MOVIE!

I grew up hearing and inspired by the legend of "The Free State of Jones," the county that seceded from Mississippi after Mississippi seceded from the Union, because what's good for the goose...  (Now a major motion picture!  Coming soon to a theater near you!)

The part I remember most from my proto-attempts to find out stuff back when was the bitter irony (or hypocrisy) of Southern poor whites being, as a good book I recently discovered through my lovely and clever wife would have it, a chicken when the elephants dance.  The chickens had better be careful.  So, not only did the Confederates fail to see the humor (or fair play, as turnabout) of a county that tries the same secession trick they did as states, but the Union didn't appreciate Newt Knight and his crew hoisting the Union flag in Jones County too much, either.  At least their actions didn't show it if they did.  Fully prepared to defy the Constitutional prohibition against dicing up old states into new ones in the case of West Virginia, the news that federal troops brought to the Free State of Jones was: nope.

And as many who pay attention will know, the USA has a longstanding pattern of withdrawing and leaving allies to fend for themselves, a pattern which apparently dates back at least to Reconstruction and the Klan era.  So, if you've ever had something stuck in your craw for, oh, say, about 32 years, chattering about it like the lunatic relation any time you manage to squeeze it into a conversation without getting asked to leave, and then somebody hauls off and makes a movie out of it? ... then you know how I feel about waiting to see this film.

Anyway, I will say this more and stop.  Generally, in the argument about whether or not the Civil War was over slavery (it was), one point that often comes up in geography, specifically, Appalachia.  From West Virginia to Kentucky and Tennessee, and Northeast Mississippi (where I'm from but my ancestors were not - my great great grandfather fought for the CSA, survived, walked home from an Illinois POW camp, and taught his children to never fight in any war ever again, no matter what), the areas where Southern people ran off to fight for the Union are largely to mountainous, hostile to large slave-holding plantation-style agribusiness.  It's not uncommon knowledge that there were four "border states" that held slaves but did not secede: Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware (although most people forget Delaware and include West Virginia, which was not a state until the middle of the war - more on that below).  Less common knowledge is that there also had been four more "border states" until the opening battle at Fort Sumter - Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas - slave states that argued over secession until after the first shots were fired.  All have hilly or mountainous areas, which are distinctive features of all but Delaware - likewise Northeast Mississippi.

Jones County is not mountainous.  It's part of Mississippi's Piney Woods region, where sandy soil and gigantic old forest made farming on a large money-making scale less than feasible.  The people there raised a lot of pigs, we were taught in Mississippi history class in school, and let them run free in the woods to eat acorns much of the year.  They were poor, dirt poor.  Newt Knight himself is described as "trailer trash" by pro-Confederates today in Jones County.  Plus he "married a black," apparently a further sign of his "low breeding" and "ignorance" in the Neo-Confederate hegemony, thankfully a little less dominant now in Mississippi.  But this is an important part of the tale, because Knight's men apparently learned an important thing about the Civil War - from being in it, like my great great grandfather - a lesson that applies pretty generally to wars throughout history and still today, those brutal destructive forces of organized violence irrespective of human life or value, those instruments of naked power masquerading as justice, the very justice they mock, and usually obtains whether they are over slavery or not: it was "a rich man's war... a poor man's fight."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pawns

I grew up with people who look like these dumb clucks, talk like these dumb clucks, and I know how liberal snobs look down their noses at them... uneducated... troglodytic... banjo-pickin'... drugstore truck-drivin' men and women... not the friendly, hard-working, quick-to-laugh folks they imagine themselves to be, who'd give the shirt off their back but don't threaten their families.  So you might (if anybody were reading this) ask me, as a born-and-bred redneck, who knows working people need unions, families need free healthcare for all, public assistance is a human right for people who fall through the cracks, and with friends like the US most countries don't need any enemies,... well, which are they?

Both. Some are just plain mean and stupid.  Frack them.  Others mean well, but they hate because they're afraid, not just for themselves but for their families and their communities, old folks, children, and they've learned by being kicked around by greedy bosses and selfish non-union coworkers and liberal snobs and hypocritical churchgoers that they have to fend for themselves.  And they're afraid because many don't know much about the world outside of football and church and work and when they start getting lots of confusing facts they don't like to feel stupid, so they better hurry up and understand, and besides the devil uses clever words to confuse good christians, so they look to leaders who boil it down to simple terms and reassure them the world is just as simple as they'd like it to be, as it is comforting for it to be.  It confirms what they were told the bible says (most never read it).  They're told by people they respect to be afraid and that it's okay to be tired of being afraid (and there I agree 100%). 

They're human door mats who want something they can be proud of, so they rally around the cross and the flag.  These things were good enough for their parents, who worked hard and loved them, or they like to remember it that way, or if not, then they try to model themselves on other respected figures in their communities for whom these things were good enough, and liberal snots try to run them down all the time, the people they respect, who deserve their respect and more, run them down because they never had the opportunities they had, because they were satisfied with making a living and raising a family, which is after all the backbone of the country, is it not?

Well, it ought to be.  Work should be respected, valued, rewarded, revered.  What they don't know and aren't trying to hear is that the very same people who need them to hate Muslims and turn away refugees and rally around the cross and the flag and sacrifice for their families and communities and country, the fabled 'one percent', aren't sacrificing.  They're making a killing.  Union-busting.  Fear-mongering.  War-profiteering.  And sometimes even running for office themselves if they think they can pull the wool down far enough.  On the other hand, some will take a different tactic and try to say they support unions and the Fight for $15, and so on.  But 'we have to be reasonable.'   'Yes, you need more money -- how about $12?  Could you get by on that?  Me?  Oh, I'll take another $12 MILLION!

Either way, they all say everybody should be proud to be uneducated, poor, down-trodden -- and truly, there is no shame in it -- but it's no great honor, either.  The honor is in overcoming these obstacles, fighting against them, pushing forward, trying to get rid of poverty and ignorance and fear, standing up for something better for ourselves, our families, our communities... organizing!

And that's that they call themselves doing.  At least the best among them do.  The problem is, if you're rallying behind somebody because they're telling you what you want to hear, because you look alike, talk alike, even though they sit in their throne/board room and call the shots and take breaks to sit on golden toilet seats and join millionaire clubs and play millionaire games, instead of together with other poor and working people who may look different, talk different, worship differently, eat, drink, sing, work differently, but who are under attack by people who want to rob them of their homes, their livelihoods, their freedom, and ultimately their lives, just as you are, then you're just a pawn.  And until the pawns of whatever color get together and turn the tables on the kings, queens, knights, bishops, and rooks, they will continue to be the first to be sacrificed in somebody else's game.

P.S. Why SEIU endorsed Clinton

To quote one of those things that I say all the time, of course there are reasons - there are always reasons.  There just happen to be better reasons to do just the opposite.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Give me your tired, your poor..." unless they're Muslims.

Yeah.  So the "nation of immigrants" wants to turn away women, children, old people, fleeing the "terrorists" we say are our enemies now?  Because they all look alike to us (at best)?  Give me a break!  Oh, yeah, and the leading GOP candidate for prez wants to make 'em wears gold stars or something?  Sieg effin heil.  Because everybody knows how patriotic and defensive (I mean, protective... er... I mean they take care of us, right?) the Republikkkans are!

And now for the Dems -- a minority of them, sure, but one of them's actually named Israel!  (No irony there!)

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of working class folks are buying into the stupid, ignorant bigotry of lies and general nonsense, calling for Obama to resign or Congress to impeach him, not for his actual crimes (blowing up children in Pakistan, etc.) but for letting in desperate people fleeing the same terrorists we're supposedly fighing and/or cowering in our conservative Christian ways -- while at the same time, the very plutocratic demagogues they support are cutting our throats: attacking unions, keeping us from getting health care, robbing our pensions and taking potshots at Social Security!

Ugh, just ugh.

Why, SEIU?

Okay, I know why.  But the decision to back Clinton over Sanders by any labor union, especially one that mostly represents poor people, is just weak.  First presidentail candidate in my life worth giving a dime to, and my own union chickens out.  Disgusting.

And a lot of people in SEIU feel the same as I do.  I got a lot of praise for the following simple comment on our local's staff email:

"I got the word from some (unhappy) members who saw Clinton's endorsement by SEIU in the news today.  Some of you may disagree, and I have to say I am not surprised by the decision, but I also have to say I am deeply disappointed in SEIU.  Not only has Clinton opposed a $15 national minimum wage, which Sanders supports, but she has repeatedly if inconsistently supported so-called 'free trade' agreements over the objections of organized labor, environmentalists, etc.  She voted for the disastrous Iraq War, which Sanders voted against, and as First Lady supported the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act and the disgusting "end of 60 years of support for the nation's poorest children."

That's on top of her record of working for Wall Street and sitting on the board of Walmart at a time when Bernie Sanders was fighting for the rights of working people.  I am sure her proposals for reforming the ACA will improve it, but why does she actually oppose single-payer health care (which Sanders supports), which would help working people much more?

But most importantly, we may have missed an opportunity to stand behind the best candidate for president in the last 40 or more years.  The decision, in which we join AFSCME, NEA, AFT, and others, will most likely signal any candidate for years to come who would have hoped to run on real working class issues not to bother because they are unlikely to get the support of very many labor unions.  I hope they do not listen but listen instead to NNU and the APWU, who are signaling readiness to fight for what working people need.

Presumably SEIU's decision was partly based on her supposed electability -- and we may find out how electable she is -- but, besides being skeptical of most polls (the overall popular vote doesn't count, so most polls mean next to nothing), I phone-banked SEIU members for her in New York when she ran for Senate (wow, they hated her!) and I don't find many fans of hers down here -- maybe you Chicago folks do?  And at least least some of those polls, which may or may not be accurate, show Sanders faring better against any Republican than Clinton would.  It's hard to say, I know.  I have no doubt SEIU will support the better candidate next November, not necessarily the more electable one.  I just wish we could do the same in the primaries."

I sent a similar message to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.  I doubt I'll get much praise for that.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Worst Places to be Black

A brilliant, eye-opening article in the generally excellent Dollars & Sense magazine this month uses several indicators to show that the worst place in America to be African American is currently, somewhat surprisingly, Wisconsin.  It echoes earlier reports, but still runs counter to many general prejudices.

Though the article describes some history, of discrimination and police abuse, it relies most and most appropriately on socioeconomic rates in which the state is worst among the 50 (incarceration, child well-being, child poverty, unemployment) or close to it (homeownership, teen pregnancy, poverty).  And in this, some related surprises emerge -- besides the fact that Misissippi isn't #1 (worst) in any of these!  (I know, right?)

There are other indicators, too, such as graduation rates, which might surprise you.

OK, so Mississippi appears to be right up there (to the bad) for most other indicators (although #38 for black incarceration and #46 for black home ownership).  New York is worst in African American home ownership (which I might have guessed after working for ACORN there) and teen pregnancy.  Minnesota has the worst African American poverty rate.  Eleven to 12 percent of all Minnesotans live in poverty, hitting children hardest of course (around 15%).  But these statistics are all the more disturbing because Minnesota actually has one of the best poverty rates in the nation for white folks (about 6% to 8%), which of course means - hold on this is almost like math - black poverty would have to be extra bad to jack up the overall poverty rate so much.  And it is (around 38%)!

Put this together with Mr. Loewen's work on sundown towns in your smug Northern pipe and smoke it!  But seriously, Loewen finds a lot of racism in the South, too - because there just is a lot there - so don't celebrate too fast, Southern folks!

However, I want to say: rate is not everything.  You may have noticed that Wisconsin and Minnesota are unlikely candidates for this dubious honor due to the fact that, well, they just don't have a lot of black folks.  So, you may well ask (and if you refrain, I will) where is most of the black poverty?  You know, in terms of absolute numbers?  Well, as you should already know, the poorest parts of the country are also mostly, but not always, the blackest

Por ejemplo, using only slightly out of date population figures (2010 Census), Mississippi has substantially more African Americans living in poverty (412,000+) than the total black population of Minnesota (312,000), where the black poverty rate is worst.  (Or, using the 2014 Census estimated populations, 431,000 Mississippi African Americans in poverty vs. 382,000 total black Minnesotans -- about 145,000 in poverty.)

But aren't most poor people white?  Sure.  But most people in the US are white anyway, so that shouldn't surprise anybody.  Even most welfare goes to white folks.  So, back to rates

African Americans are 'disproportionately' poor, 'overrepresented' among the poor (and incarcerated, etc.) - and the inequality is actually growing in many ways.  None of this measures how it feels to be African American in any of these areas, of course, or how many people say nasty things, or good things, lie to you, laugh at you, look at you cross-eyed, etc.  But racism may be deeper in some places, broader in others.  Apparently, everywhere needs work. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Rape, Child Soldiers, and Imperial Priorities

I just bought and read, of all things, a graphic novel (most would say way too graphic) about Joseph Kony (pronounced /coin/) and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) -- if you're like, who? you're not alone, just keep reading.  It skips a lot of the story, but Army of God is still well worth a read.  And I learned some stomach-churning nightmare updates to some stomach-churning nightmare history I knew.  Who wouldn't want to read about that, right?  But sometimes reality isn't as pretty as I am.

Where to start?  Ever heard of Africa's World War?  An ongoing informal poll says practically nobody has.  It just goes to show that over 5 million people can be smeared off the face of the earth with guns, machetes, and the most horrific methods most people never even imagine, even today, and few will be the wiser, as long as the victims are Africans.  (BTW, I disagree with the review linked above in a couple of respects, but most importantly that the "trouble" "began in 1994" with "Hutu death squads" -- the Interahamwe paramilitary group that primarily initiated the Rwandan genocide had roots going back many colonial years, and there's a much deeper story there, but that's another discussion.)

But the LRA started in Uganda.  You know: area in eastern central Africa around the long-hidden (to Europeans) and long-sought (by Europeans) source of the Nile (also close to the source of Africa's other huge river, the Congo), became vital to Britain's 'national interests' in the region in the 1800's through big investments (the usual foot in the door) in Egypt (big dam at Sinai - passage through from Mediterranean to Persian Gulf and beyond - money, power, etc.) and whoever controls the Nile controls Eqypt, so Sudan, hunt for the Source, and war, war, war.  Imperial Britain had decided to conquer a long strip of land from Egypt to South Africa, just to be sure.  That's where Cecil Rhodes and those fun guys come in, the so-called "Scramble for Africa."  Anyway, as you may know, these things often go badly for the people who happen to live there, and it did.  All the way up to Idi Amin, and so on.

Now, in the 1980's Alice Lakwena was told by the Christian "Holy Spirit" to overthrow the Ugandan government in defense of the Acholi people in the North.  She and her followers, the Holy Spirit Movement, were made impervious to bullets, etc., by the usual methods: faith and prayer, you know.  There was also some special goo you put on.  Anyway, this was Joseph Kony's cue.  Claiming to be Alice's cousin, or nephew, he joined Lakwena at first, but she broke with him reportedly because God didn't want them to kill civilians and prisoners.  After Ugandan forces crushed the Holy Spirit Movement Kony took over and reformed the remnants into the Lord's Resistance Army with none of the tenuous hold on sanity of the Holy Spirit Movement.

LRA continued targetting civilians suspected of collaborating with the Ugandan government, recruiting child soldiers by kidnapping and brutal violence, employing rape as a weapon of war, until they were eventually defeated by the Ugandan army in and reportedly chased out of Uganda by ordinary Ugandans.  That's where I had lost track of them for years, amateur that I am.  To me, they were just one of those weird little stories from history that make humanity hard to fathom at times, disturbing, but gone.  I was wrong.

Kony and the LRA apparently fled into the Sudan and there found new life away from their original political objectives.  Now a self-perpetuating horror, a useful one for unscrupulous power-seekers, the LRA became involved in the Sudanese civil war -- usually outrageously oversimplified into a Muslim-Christian, North-South conflict -- which most people only know because Darfur was useful to the US for a short time.  (Another story for another time.)  But the zombie-looking personal cult-army of child soldiers and rapists soon wore out their welcome -- if you can imagine that -- and migrated south the the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  (Yes, here you may say, oh god.)

Enter the Rwandan genocide.  What happened to the Interahamwe and allied Hutu machete army when the Western media lost interest in them?  When they lost their bid for power despite slaughtering almost a million people (mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, many from lists the Interahamwe had developed) in less than four bloody months, they were driven into the very same Congo.  The new Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government invaded Congo (a.k.a. Zaire) ostensibly in pursuit, and overthrew the government, later beaking with their new Congolese ally and invading again.  The conflict spiraled outward somewhat like the small, localized killing and conflict between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 once did until at least nine countries were involved.  (The Times review of Gerard Prunier's African World War linked above somehow describes this as a "civil war"!?!?)

The world powers took little interest in the African World War or its aftermath -- in which, yes, the LRA is still wreaking incredible havoc, murdering, burning, looting, raping, kidnapping.  There are only a few hundred of them, as far as anyone can tell, but they may have displaced as many as two million people.  But, after all, they have no oil -- fortunately for them.  It was the intense interest of world powers in the region that began the cycle of mass violence, similarly to the cycles of oil-inspired war that picked up where the Crusades left off.  But central Africa is not without interest for world powers.  It's human life that's incidental.

The UN sent a large mission in, made up of Pakisani, Bangladeshi, and other troops, to restore order.  In its post-911 paranoia, the US had entered the fray, designating the LRA as a "terrorist" group (which they obviously are) and began training local militias, no doubt for their own nefarious objectives if history is any guide. 

But it has been up to activists -- yes, again, those radical trouble-makers whom we have to thank for just about every legal right or benefit we enjoy -- to focus on the human cost.  And they kept stirring.  Organizing.  Report issuing.  Video making.  Conference holding.  Now Kony's troops have been "largely dispersed," according to reports.  His officers are dead, facing trial, or otherwse out of commission.  But Kony still lives.  And, more importantly, the peoples of central Africa are still suffering from the aftermath of the above, world powers are still serving their own interests (or the interests of their elite rulers), and we still know next to nothing about Africa or what our governments and big fat cat investors are doing there.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mercenaries and the VA

Veterans in this country get a raw deal.  Send 'em off to the proverbial harm's way with a promise that if they make it back, but the fine print says we cut that.  And then we cut it some more.  (Undoubtedly some vets get what they need, but some don't, and - here's a tale from the not-so-distant past: Back when I was a union rep for some employees of the Buffalo VA, I once had to represent a member for discipline because she processed claims that were indisputably legit.  All the claims had to go through her small, cramped office, and she had received a direct order that when a claim came in she was not to process it or even look at it.  What was she to do with it, you ask?  Deny them all.  Automatically.  Sans peak.  And add each to the pile on a table on one side of the room that strained under the weight of such unsung paperwork, where it would remain, subject to the gnawing criticism of, well, if not rats, then silverfish and the like.  Until the wronged veteran appealed the denial.  Then and only then was she allowed to take a gander, and if qualified, approve the delivery of veteran benefits.  But one case was so pitiful, and clearly qualified, and the veteran and his family called and pleaded so heart-rendingly, that she went out on a limb... and processed a valid claim.  Boom!  Insubordination!  Nice, huh?)

Anyway, back to the present.  People like Bernie Sanders get big bills passed to help veterans.  People like the Tea party cut benefits.  And Hillary Clinton, loathsome though she may be in other regards, are given a spotlight, of all things, over a particularly stupid roost to which the chickens returned home in 2012.  Benghazi.  Ugh, more on that later.  But today, after her special extended spotlight, which probably helped her candidacy for free more than events she has spent millions on, what's rightwing talk-show-host-dom on about?  Glenn Doherty, who died at Beghazi fighting tha attackers, still hasn't gotten his veterans' benefits three years later.

Probably because he was a f***ing mercenary.

[under construction]

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Health care markets

So a friend got this email from Patrick Leahy about supporting the effort to remove big health insurance companies' exemptions from anti-trust laws. I saw it on an email list, but only after some Libertarian smartass had chimed in:

[under construction]