Thursday, February 26, 2009
The best one is, Obama must have okayed this, then when it was unpopular he sacrificed poor Sec. LaHood, his "favorite Republican". Of course it's possible, but a lot of Admin proposals are a lot less popular with people who are much more powerful, it seems. It's also possible that it was a fake or feint (and maybe LaHood is just a foil himself -we'll see) to make Obama's real proposal more acceptable - drum roll, please - like the Republicans' usual tactic of proposing 2-3 times what they really want in tax breaks for the rich and program cuts for the poor. Yikes.
The mere suggestion of a VMT is fubar, of course - along with tolls and gas taxes - and not just because it's an "invasion of privacy". Tolls and other "user fees" are Libertarian nonsense - if you care about the less fortunate. Likewise gas taxes, like all sales taxes, hit lower income folks the hardest. When they're not flying in their corporate jets, the big CEOs and a whole host of smaller business execs are charging their gas to the company anyway - and the company passes that on to "the customer" a.k.a. you and me, or cuts "labor costs" (again, you and me).
Here's where I have to differ with my friends the Greens: taxing poor people trying to get to work, especially in rural areas and in some cities, is just inhumane. In the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area, for example, there are over 1 million people but the public transportation sucks, especially if you're, say, an African American trying to get from your home on the East Side to a job (or to look for a job) across town or in one of the many white-flight suburbs. The train has one line, north-south only, and never makes it into any of the suburbs. The east-west buslines all turn at Main Street at the white-black neighborhood boundary and head north or south. Waiting for a bus transfer is bad enough when the snow's 6 feet deep and you're late to work, even if you didn't have to get your kids off to school, too.
And car insurance is higher on the East Side, too (high crime area - yeah, the people in the neighborhood say, we noticed! That's why we want the frak out!). Nah - gas taxes are not true progressive agenda.
So, how do we pay for roads? Hold on - first let's break down the assumptions here. A) One massive chunk of that money is for new highways and roads, or for expanding old ones. Some might be necessary, given our current lack of options, but most of it ... I'm thinking ... not. When we drive down through Tennessee there are 4-6 lane highways I've never seen more than a half dozen cars on at any one time - and I grew up down there. Here in Urbana, Windsor Road, for example, too damn wide. Most of our city streets are too wide, and street parking limited, too - but that's a whipping boy of another stripe. Essentially, there's a multimillion dollar shortfall comparing gasoline taxes to road-building, don't build some roads!
B) Maintaining current roads: back to "our current lack of options". This is where public transportation comes in. We need some economic infrastructure conversion here. Adding up the taxes and ticket prices, Amtrak costs the government more than cars and roads, you say? There's one big fat gas tax you're forgetting: Iraq. You wanna pay for something big? Cut that!
Oh, and here's another one: Afghanistan.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
What makes personal corruption a greater crime than playing fast and loose with human life? Bill Clinton is impeached for lying about screwing around - not for jailing Haitian refugees he himself had said it was illegal to turn back, or for bombing Iraq, which had never attacked the US. And the W sails through 8 years without so much as an impeachment hearing when he lied about "weapons of mass destruction," overthrew two governments - very likely a third - and tried to overthrow a fourth, presided over torture and "extraordinary rendition" for the purpose of torture, and pushed deregulation and other economic policies that led directly and inexorably to the worst financial and employment crisis since the Great Depression.
Likewise Blago, refusing to raise taxes and meanwhile stealing from the state employees' pension fund (with the collaboration of the legislature, to be sure), along with other economic crimes against humanity, gets impeached and removed from office for trying to sell a US Senate seat? Not that he shouldn't have been shown the door, but there were better reasons.
Now Roland Burris, with a history of opportunism so brash he would sacrifice an innocent man's life, appointed by the then-Gov. after Blago was cuffed and escorted to the can by federal agents, after the Democratic leadership promised not to accept any Blago appointee, gets in trouble now for stuff he has probably done his whole life? He never should have been senator in the first place, but not because of sneakiness or quid pro quo.
Hitler wasn't personally corrupt, as far as we know. So I guess he would be okay nowadays?
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I am fortunate that one of my part-time jobs I can do from home sometimes. But I did have a couple of errands, and my son seemed up to it, so. We put his bucket in the back seat with him, stopped at Walgreen's for some Gatorade, and proceeded with caution. No sharp turns, etc.
My final errand, before we had to pick up my other son from school, was to stop by some apartments I'd heard about. Every summer one of the three big migrant farmworker streams in the US spins off a minor streamlet from Texas to Central Illinois, and the mostly Mexican workers stay through corn shucking. A few even try to ride out the winter. This one would have been a bad winter to start that if you're from a hot climate. Sixteen below was a little too cold even for me, and I left Mississippi years ago for Buffalo, NY.
These are apartments north of town where local crew leaders have been housing farmworkers. The local seed farmers contract their labor through crew leaders, as in other parts, and the crew leaders supply the workers, arrange for their housing, etc. They get paid for that, and if they can find cheaper accomodations, they can keep the difference. You see where this is going.
My son had never seen anything quite like these apartments, I realized. He'd never even seen anything like the trailer park of my boyhood - old mattresses leaned up against trailers outside, old tires, junk, scrub, weeds - nor the housing projects in my home town, nor Perkin's Alley. And these apartments were worse: garbage heaped everywhere, offensive smells, broken fixtures dangling here and there, bent doors with padlocks and deep gouges in them, smashed-up cars, ruts in the earth all around the buildings, etc. My friend who told me about them swears they are worse inside, and it seems likely. Does beat some of the farmworker accomodations around Immokalee, Florida, but a slave ship is about the only thing that wouldn't be an improvement over some of those camps.
I noticed a Latino man taking some garbage to the dumpster and spoke to him. "Too much," I said. He agreed. "You live here." He nodded, a little suspiciously. "What's it like?" Nothing. "Como es?" Then he spoke: "Como es what? Los apartementos?" "Yeah, si." "You can ask him." Behind me an Anglo man in brown coveralls was bringing some more garbage. He looked like he worked there, so I just let it drop and joined my son in the car.
I asked my son what he thought as we left. "Those apartments don't look like a very nice place to live," he said. No, they didn't. I told him about the farmworkers. He has heard me talk about them before. I told him they often don't have water to drink in the fields here, like in Florida, or toilet facilities. He shook his head. Later when I got the photos developed, I heard him telling his mother and brother about it. A+, I thought, and maybe the best education he's had this year.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Listening to the neighbors’ accounts of the fire that glowed above the treetops, though, it sounded to me like another fire over 20 years ago, one that never made the news.
Perkin’s Alley was an old dirt road down by the railroad between my house, growing up, and the broom handle factory in
There was a bridge over a creek that ran beside the railroad track, where we could duck in and hide from the police late at night when we were up to our mischief, and watch the cop cars roar past on the proper paved roads, one, then another, and another, and get in a good laugh with every one.
One night in the wee hours I was upstairs in our bathroom-sized “TV room” watching our little portable black and white when I noticed a bright orange glow above the treetops. I had been out wandering around at night enough to know the normal glow of the streetlights was cotton candy pink, not like this. I watched this strange orange glow a while and decided to go check it out, just a whim.
I had walked no more than a block when I saw a little knot of people in the street about a block away staring in the direction of the glow. I still couldn’t see what they were looking at for the trees. As I got closer I could see that they had very serious expressions, the kind people find themselves with when they witness a horror they know is part of life, the part of life it’s best not to talk about. It’s not exactly sad. They almost looked sick to their stomachs, not exactly helpless, more like nothing could be done and yet they weren’t sure what to do with themselves.
It was a fire. A solid block of brilliant fire so hot that anyone who tried to approach it got no closer than maybe 50 yards. It was impossible to even see what was burning. But it was Perkin’s Alley. Nobody said a word. There were no firetrucks. Ever.
The next day, and every day for a week, I combed the local newspaper for a story. In this paper a few stolen trash cans made headlines. But there was never one word about the biggest fire I had ever seen. My best friend the Mayor’s boy said the sheriff had set the fire. Apparently he gave the residents “five minutes to pack yer shit and get out” in the middle of the night. Then he lit it up, himself a fire from the sky. And Perkin’s Alley vanished overnight into a sort of no-man’s land between the railroad right-of-way and the broom handle factory. With poke sallet now as big as trees.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Is this just another case of the Democrats being Democrats? In other words, when the Republicans get into office they set right to work f#$%^ing stuff up: no to the Kyoto Accords, repeal the ergonomics standard, cut taxes for the rich, cut services for the poor, and on and on.
But when the Democrats get into office, well, all of a sudden we have to talk about those campaign promises, let's have a focus group, let's be bipartisan, compromise, blah, blah, blah.
Well, screw that! Tax the rich! Tax the hell out of them! Today! Take the money and provide free health care for everybody! Today! Build free libraries and schools and decent housing for people who need it, not more prisons! Buy up the produce from small farmers and hand it out to families who need food. Put people back to work with federally funded projects, projects that build stuff we need like light rail commuter trains, and schools and stuff, not bombers and big new six-lane highways, or prisons. Hire new teachers - you want to revolutionize education, someone once said, put one more teacher in every classroom in America! Pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else TODAY! Close Guantanamo Base TODAY!
Why are we screwing around with the Republicans and a bunch of Blue-Dog Democrats? If the Democrats aren't going to do the job, we may have to find somebody else who will!
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Labor secretary also can do some good, as recent appointees have proven in reverse, i.e. they proved how much evil a labor secretary can do, so in theory a good labor secretary could do some good if only by reversing what her predecessors had done.
But the symbolism attached to the Solis fight is significant. If in fact Republicans are blocking her appointment in part because of her support for the Employee Free Choice Act and unions, then we might as well face this animus now. Overcoming the anti-Solis club - in the Senate, where the Employee Free Choice Act also faces its toughest battle - will begin to build the right kind of momentum.
So let's call them on this! 1-866-544-7573
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Well, this is not the most convenient. I work two jobs, and take care of my boys in the afternoon while their mom is at work. But he really wants the car, so I figure out how I can get AAA to tow it to him. I had some other offers, but I thought it meant more to the kid.
Only I can't find the title. I look and I look and I still can't find it. The kid's calling me 2-3 times a day, and I've told him, but he still wants it badly, so I call the truck and it's away. Then I go down to the DMV, staring at my feet, to apply for a replacement title. Sixty-five bucks, it is. The helpful worker at the DMV says that since the car is over 10 years old, I can sign it over to the kid - with these two forms - and he can take it to his DMV with the $65 and buy his registration and plates at the same time, instead of waiting 2 months. The new title will go straight to the kid. Cool! I can cancel the insurance and get about $30 back!
So here I go.
Turns out the kid still has to pay $65 for a new title, and he hasn't got it. And, they say, I have to keep insurance on it until it's out of my name! But, but ... $160 just to sell the car? It's only worth $200! So how do you sell a car like this? Still runs, but not worth much. With the plates and all the kid will have to come up with $140 - with my $65 that puts the total fees we pay collectively over the value of the damn car!
It actually makes more financial sense to just scrap the car. Maybe that's what they want: toss out those old junkers and buy the newer ones. How nice. You can't get a car loan to buy and old car, either, even if you have the credit rating. It's the age of the car. It's bad enough the parts are built to wear out ...
And why is the fee the same for an old clunker and a brand new sportscar anyway? Another instance of the poor paying proportionately more than the rich. Even the license plates and insurance, which are at least graduated according to the worth of the car, are a negligible expense for the rich and a hardship for the poor.
(The legally required car insurance is itself mostly a racket, I'd argue. The supposed rationale is that the insurance companies levelize the risk: everybody pays in and only a smaller number of people get paid, so it evens out. But if your insurance has to pay, even if the "accident wasn't your fault," your rates go up. And your rates are higher if you're young - even with a spotless record - and likewise higher if you live in a neighborhood considered to be crime-ridden, i.e. poor.)
OK, it's my fault I lost the title. But why should I pay for another one that I'm never going to see? They're only producing one, and they're mailing it to him! I paid for a title when I bought the car, paid for another one when we moved to this flatter-than-flat state - now they need their poor subjects to buy two more?
I did eventually find the title - in the garage under my boys' hospital records, after digging through boxes full of mouse nests - so I could mail it to the kid, lend him the $65, get the damn car out of my name, and cancel that insurance. The car needs some work, which I had told the kid before he bought it, but he tells me that prison employees like his mom get their cars worked on virtually for free by the prisoners. There's a helluva story in itself. What a way to run an economy.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Sound lighter-than-air? The follow-up is the all-important step two. The military-resource-sucking complex continues to reap the rewards of playing World Bully Number One, established and sustained in the role by the same ruthless global strategy network that overthrew Mosadeqq in Iran, and likewise Allende in Chile, Aristide in Haiti (twice), et al.
The situation is analogous, as some very smart friends were recently saying, to the excellent reasoning for reparations to African and Native Americans - and, I'd argue, to much of the poor white population. In other words a certain group of people, in the case of the rich in the US a specific class made up of interconnected families, inherits certain "privilege" - wealth, property, influence, acceptance, trust, respect - that each individual is not required to earn as others are. A word from a person's father, who may serve on a board or contribute to a charity, or the mere knowledge of that father's position, may land a young person a job, qualify an individual for a loan, get a group of young boys off a potentially disastrous criminal charge, etc. Born with a silver ladle in your cake hole? You may not even have to pay the "inheritance tax" on that table tool if enough Congressmen understand what it's like to start out life with ... a helluva lot.
"Politics of resentment"? What's the problem with friends and family helping out? We like sharing, don't we? Sure, but (a) what these people are sharing isn't theirs - they stole it, or somebody did and slipped it to them; and (b) they're not just sharing, with their tiny inbred group; they're keeping it from everyone else - i.e. the original owners.
Land fenced in and stolen from European peasants, who were then forced to work for the thieving class and barred by law from earning a living wage; land and resources stolen from the Arawak, the Croatoan, the Powhatan, the Wicocomico, the Massachusetts, the Muskogee, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, et al., every single treaty broken; labor stolen from generations of enslaved Africans, and their descendants born in a strange land; a third of Mexico stolen; the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, the whole Central American "backyard" put under the bootheel; then the Middle East; and on and on - this is the source of the wealth we argue over "spreading around" as if it fell like mannah from heaven, materialized out of nothing to shower a chosen people favored by a righteous god and not seized in successive waves of mortal violence and brutal tyranny.
That is why radicals like us talk about reparations instead of charity. It has nothing to do with utopian societies that have all things in common, or whatever. It is an out-and-out debt, a longstanding one. And it needs to be repaid.
But first, the godfather has to step down.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
So after Reagan and Bush, and Clinton, and then another Bush - meaner, nastier - yeah, I'm positively goo-goo over some of Obama's doings. Like today: anybody who wants bailout money from here on in, he says, pays no more than $500,000. See, I just got no problem at all with that. In fact I'll take half. Easy. And I'll throw in a bonus even though nobody has asked: if I manage to screw up the business, any business, let alone the world economy, even a fraction as monumentally as my predecessor(s) ... hell, I'll give back half of the salary I did keep.
I'm actually pretty confident that bonus would never be implemented. But that's beside the point: how come nobody's asking?
But even if they were, seriously, would it be enough? Do we really believe the executive's out-frigging-rageous pay grades are the biggest kink in our collective hose? It's so micro.
Sure, it's longterm stupid to pay people a commission to dismantle our economic base one factory at a time - that is, assuming a perspective of "promoting the general welfare," which I don't - but the hole we're dug into is way too deep for a long, sloping incline out. We've got to get macro on their asses.
How about, just for starters, something like: You want bailout money? Stop spending it busting unions and conspiring to block the Employee Free Choice Act. Stop dodging OSHA regs, the EPA, overtime protections and discrimination cases with merit. You want the money? Settle those legitimate lawsuits, fix that pollution problem, and pay your damn workers what they've earned. And by the way, federal inspectors get unfettered access to every square inch of your operations - including offshore subsidiaries - and 24-7 access to all the books (both sets). Congress calls you up and says, How'd you spend the money? and you say, Dunno, and if I did, wouldn't sing - and you can just whip out that big, fat corporate checkbook and pay it all back - at about 15% APR.
Still want it? I got some ideas for a "Social Monetary Fund" to talk to you about. There's a certain flexibility we expect from you, too. No, I don't mean logistics or whatever you call outsourcing these days. I mean you need to be about developing technology that will re-tool for new trends in the economy, and new priorities for energy and social margins, not just for the latest model of the miracle of built-in obsolescence you sold us last year. We - it is we who will have to demand it - want to see swords beat into plowshares, just about literally: military capital converted for local and global standards of living. And so on.
Is Obama the savior who'll bring us all that? It's the wrong question. The real question is what are we going too do to get started in that direction?
Sunday, February 1, 2009
But - ‘things’ have been looking up this week. Obama says new federal contractors now have to first offer work to the employees currently doing the work before bringing in replacements. They can stop running anti-union campaigns on the federal tab, too. They may also have to start doing their work under Project Labor Agreements (PLA), one of those things they don’t teach us about in civics class, or in the media, because it’s too cool.
And when Obama signed his first ever bill into law, for pure symbolic value and for real, it was a good one: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, another of those little things a Dem can do that actually make a measurable difference in real people’s everyday lives. (It’s an example of what my good friend in Mississippi John Conlon was talking about when he used to say the Democrats, for all their obnoxious shortcomings, actually spend more time talking about things that help poor people than all the leftist parties in America!)
It’s also an excellent example of what to do when the courts stand in the way of justice (pun intended), like declaring corporations to be people, etc.
Not that most workers will be able to access these Ledbetter benefits any more than OSHA rights or most of the other rights we supposedly have, unless they have a good union to fight for them – which brings us to my second hobby horse for today…
First, I have to say, you gotta hate the name: Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, but not for all the reasons some of my comrades on the Left will hate. (I think names like the “Working Families Party” and so on are not the heterosexist exclusion that some of my friends in the gay rights movement argue. I know for a firsthand fact, for example, that the founders of the WFP had this in mind: a family can include anybody, and talking about working families instead of just workers broadens the scope to childcare, education, etc.)
But this bizarre faith of almost all Americans that “I am middle class” is a dangerous lie. Denial, as they say, is not just a river in Egypt. There is a class war raging in this country and so far it’s pretty lopsided: the rich are screwing the bejeezus out of the poor and working classes, every year wringing a new drop out of our hapless asses. And it does none of us any good to pretend that we’re “middle class,” like Jews in Nazi Germany calling ourselves “apolitical” or “patriotic” – it just misses the point.
Anyway. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and in the pocketbook, the doctor’s office, the classroom, you know… And all that remains to be seen. And it’s not a particularly hopeful sign that Biden is at the helm of this thing – with Summers in there, too.
But the impetus came from Change To Win, that ‘long’ lost twin of the AFL-CIO, which is a hopeful. Could we actually have a prez who listens to organized labor and other social justice groups? Could it be?
“I don’t see organized labor as part of the problem,” the man says. “To me, it’s part of the solution.”
OK, that would have sounded lukewarm just a couple decades ago. Now we can watch with glee as the Rush Limbaughs and Walmart CEOs get all apoplectic.
But this: “You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor union.” Now that’s pretty damn good – apart from that weirdness about the “middle class” again. As propaganda, it works, though. I wouldn’t go as far as Harold Meyerson in the TAPPED blog:
“But for a few stray remarks from Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, that’s the strongest endorsement of the case for unions that an American president has ever made.”
I mean, really. Take a whiff: getting the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) kicking and screaming through Congress and around a snotty-hostile Supreme Court that killed FDR’s first attempts on the grounds of so-called “property rights” (well, whoop-de-do, as my grandmother would say), hey, that has to count for a lot. Now, it’s true that FDR was under a lot of pressure to do something Keynesian – and fast – and I’m not one to say vespers at the altar of the NLRA. It’s flaws are legion. Buttload legion. Starting with: agricultural employees, some of whom are now partly as a result of NLRA exclusions reduced to modern-day slavery, as well as domestic workers (ditto) got nada. In the cold. To the wolves.
Still, the proof of the NLRA pudding for just about forty years was nothing to sneeze at. Unions exploded. That includes existing unions increasing in size, faster than the union leaderships actually wanted (because it made their memberships harder to control) as well as new unions popping up like mushrooms all over the country. What this meant where the rubber hits the pavement Meyerson puts down crystal clear:
It was “the only time in American history that median household income increased at the identical level that productivity increased […], when both rates increased by 104 percent.”
And on that note, and most importantly, union leaders seem to be feeling a bit warmer and less fuzzy about the Obama phenom’s enthusiasm for the Employee Free Choice Act. Rahm Emmanuel had been giving off some noxious gas about the Employee Free Choice Act, which is long overdue by a couple decades. That’s about how long ago the NLRA stopped doing its job. And it’s been doing its job less and less every year. Too quote one of mine and my kids’ recent fave movies: “We’ve lost engine one! And engine two is no longer on fire!”
The Employee Free Choice Act has big holes, too. Ag workers, domestic folks, S.O.L. But the Employee Free Choice Act fixes the biggest engine-failure of the NLRA: the fact that American workers today, almost alone in the industrialized world, can face a brutal gauntlet of tyrannical ruthlessness in-between signing cards saying they want a union and the actual NLRB-supervised election.
The Employee Free Choice Act eliminates that anti-worker “waiting period”: workers want a union, 50% + 1 sign a card saying so, they have a union, period. It’s simple, it’s civilized, democratic, it’s the right of free association, and that’s exactly why Walmart and Bank of America don’t want it. That’s why they’re prepared to fight what the New York Times called “Armageddon” to block it. They, and the media (which is also “they” because it’s big business, too), know what they’ve been keeping most of us from learning: most Americans consistently tell pollsters that they would join a union if they could, and the only thing keeping them from it is the NLRA’s waiting period, that and the multi-billion-dollar union-busting industry that makes a damn good living in houses-they-don’t-even-know-how-many with their kids in big-name private schools taking advantage of that hole.
The trouble in passing the Employee Free Choice Act is not, strictly speaking, the prez, of course. The bill passed the House already, but couldn’t get past the Senate Republican filibuster in the old Congress. That’s why 60 is the magic number for labor, to defeat a filibuster in the Senate. With Al Franken in the Senate, maybe this time it can happen. But some of the Democrats are unreliable on this one, so Obama’s use of the bully pulpit – and other White House arm-twisting – may be crucial. So this is a good sign.
We have a lot of fires to put out, not all of them Bush-fires, and then probably many lifetimes of work to do after that to even approach justice for the downtrodden of the world. But with stuff like this coming out of Washington, after so many years of bitter hopelessness, it’s hard not to dream about those golden years that didn’t seem all that golden at the time, between 1948 and 1973.