August 1, 2014

Why labor unions are necessary

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2011 - If you came of age in the past ten years and don't belong to a union or come from a family of union members, chances are most of what you've heard about these labor organizations has been, on balance, negative.

Which helps to explain why as late as a decade ago, two thirds of Americans approved of unions while today, less than half do. Go back to the 1950s and you'll find three-quarters of Americans liking unions.

The membership decline in unions has been as bad. Between 1973 and 2007, for example, the percent of private sector workers in unions declined from nearly a quarter to 7 percent.

In a 2007 Paul Krugman of the New York Times explained what happened:

||||| It's often assumed that the U.S. labor movement died a natural death, that it was made obsolete by globalization and technological change. But what really happened is that beginning in the 1970s, corporate America, which had previously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effect declared war on organized labor.

Don't take my word for it; read Business Week, which published an article in 2002 titled How Wal-Mart Keeps Unions at Bay. The article explained that "over the past two decades, Corporate America has perfected its ability to fend off labor groups." It then described the tactics - some legal, some illegal, all involving a healthy dose of intimidation - that Wal-Mart and other giant firms use to block organizing drives.

These hardball tactics have been enabled by a political environment that has been deeply hostile to organized labor, both because politicians favored employers' interests and because conservatives sought to weaken the Democratic Party. "We're going to crush labor as a political entity," Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, once declared. |||||

The disastrous Ronald Reagan signed the White House up for the war against unions and it wasn't long before the corporate media was lending a hand, which has continued right to the present.

For example, in 2006 the Progressive Review checked on the number of paragraphs you had to read about the Delphi buyout before finding labor's view on the matter. The results:

New York Times - 26 paragraphs
Detroit News - 22 paragraphs
Washington Post -11 paragraphs in the news section and 27 in the business section.

Newspapers used to have labor reporters; they rarely do anymore. Instead even liberal public radio is filled with Marketplace but not a single program offering the other side.

And the news bias continues right down to coverage of the Wisconsin protests, as Dean Baker pointed out, citing a New York Times news article that referred to the "need for public employees to sacrifice."

And when the House Republicans tried to defund the National Labor Relations Board - a key agency founded by the New Deal - the story got covered by the Wall Street Journal and a few others (Google only lists 5). 176 Republicans had voted to support Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (R., Ga.), who said that cutting the agency’s funding “can save taxpayer dollars and help protect American job creators from an out-of-control agency.” And most of the media just ignored it.

Further there has been a growing separation between union workers and the lifestyle and culture of an increasingly elitist liberal class that was once strongly pro-union but now can hardly get itself involved in basic economic issues.

That said, it is also true that unions have done far less than they should have to prevent their own demise.

Like every large American institution - from government to universities to non-profits - unions have become self-centered, more responsive to the needs of their leaders than of their constituents, unimaginative, bureaucratic, corporatized and stuck in the mud. And, yes, you can add in corruption.

They have failed to adapt to changing economics and culture. For example, they could have used non-union approaches to organize, educate and inspire the growing number of non-union workers, much as the AARP has done with senior citizens, using a combination of social action and social benefits. True, the Wal-Mart employees are not in the union but they won't even know how to begin without someone leading the way. Traditional unions have failed them.

One of the few labor leaders to even discuss this was Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council, as the NY Times' Steven Greenhouse described in 2008:

|||| [Ott] has an unexpected and unnerving warning for New York’s more than one million union members. He warns that their wages and living standards will be threatened unless the city’s unions do far more to lift the incomes and living standards of the city’s nonunion working poor, including restaurant workers, supermarket cashiers and taxi drivers. . .

“For a working class that is going to be making minimum wage or slightly above, what’s going to happen is that as taxpayers, that will create a social base for an attack on our own standards.”. . .

Mr. Ott sees two working classes in New York: a unionized one that is doing well and a nonunion one that is struggling to get by.

“You see a working class on the subway at 6:30 in the morning and you see them at 8:30 at night heading home,” he said. “They work in the back of restaurants, they clean buildings nonunion, they’re child care workers, they’re in retail. Frankly, I marvel that these guys can find a way to live in this city." ||||


Labor unions have also been largely indifferent to non-traditional relationships such as those of cooperatives, worker ownership, and worker participation at the board level. Too often, labor just seems to be trying to recreate the 1930s all over again.

A rare exception was news that the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, a multi-billion dollar cooperative based in the Basque region of Spain, formed an alliance with the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial trade union in the U.S. The two announced that they would develop Mondragon manufacturing cooperatives in the United States and Canada that would "adapt collective bargaining principles."

Yet despite such faults and weaknesses, at the end you are left with one indisputable fact: nothing has been invented that has been as successful and positive in representing the needs and rights of workers as labor unions. Nothing. Even the lawyer in Washington or the stock broker on Wall Street should - if both decent and knowledgeable - give considerable thanks to labor unions for their weekends and vacations.

Let's review the bidding. Here, with the help of several sources, is a list of things that have been large part of significantly the result of labor union organizing and action:

The labor movement in the United States led the struggles to:

- The end of child labor

- The right of workers to negotiate with their employers over wages, benefits and working conditions

- The 8 hour work day and paid overtime

- Compensation for workers injured on the job.

- Unemployment insurance.

- A minimum wage

- Pensions

- Healthcare insurance

- :Paid sick leave, vacations and holidays

- Elimination of job discrimination by ethnicity, color, religion, sex or national origin

- Family medical leave

Further, if you look at the countries with the highest union membership - 57% to 82% in Scananvian countries, for example - you find that only a few - such as Ireland - that also make the list of countries in deep financial trouble.

While it would be difficult to draw a strict correlation, it is fair to say that nations that respect their workers are least likely to give the sort of freedom to rip everyone off that the American government has given Wall Street. At the very least, strong union membership exists because of values towards which any decent nation should strive.

July 31, 2014

Furthermore. . .

The United Nations has said almost 24% of Gaza's population have fled their homes....UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told a UN Security Council hearing the total number of displaced people in Gaza now stands at 440,000. That includes 240,000 people who have sought refuge in UN shelters.

1451 Palestinians, 59 Israelis Dead

CoreLogic, a California company that compiles financial and real estate data, found that more than 200,000 homes, about one in 10, in Colorado were at high risk from wildfire; Montana ranked second with 9.1 percent of homes at such risk, and Oregon ranked third

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a message for liberals who have been saying the 81-year-old should step down while Democratic President Barack Obama is in office so he can appoint her successor: Referring to the political polarization in Washington and the unlikelihood that another liberal in her mold could be confirmed by the Senate, Ginsburg, the senior liberal on the nine-member bench, asked rhetorically, "So tell me who the president could have nominated this spring that you would rather see on the court than me?" 

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has reportedly stepped us his scrutiny over Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to shutter a corruption-busting panel, sending a letter to the panel and threatening to investigate potential obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
The New York Times reported  that a letter from Bharara's office warned against having Moreland Commission members interfered with by Cuomo's office after several of them Monday came out in support of the Moreland Commission's work.

The average Millennial has saved exactly $0 for retirement

The CIA director reversed months of angry public denials and apologized for the agency’s past spying on staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

California's drought worsens

Richard Brenneman - While all of the state remains in a condition of Severe Drought, the latest United States Drought Monitor map reveals a dramatic increase of in the region ranked in the most severe Exceptional Drought category, which now covers 58.4 percent of the Golden State, compared to last week’s 36.5 percent. The critically impacted region now includes all of California’s Central Valley, the West’s agricultural breadbasket.

Another corporate myth dismantled

USA Today -  Bosses who yell, threaten and micromanage their way to the top, often at the expense of miserable underlings are all too common in today's workplaces.

But the Tony Sopranos and Darth Vaders of popular culture are not the most effective CEOs in the real world, according to a new study from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

The best bosses are humble bosses, those who empower and appreciate their employees, are open to feedback and care about the greater good, according to the research published in Administrative Science Quarterly.

"Humility is not weakness," Angelo Kinicki, a professor of W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said during a phone interview.

"Humility has its effects across levels of an organization in an empowered, uplifting way. You can't browbeat people into performance."

The research comes from Kinicki, Anne Tsui and David Waldman of the W.P Carey School, Amy Ou of the National University of Singapore, Zhixing Xiao of George Washington University, and Lynda Jiwen Song of the Renmin University of China.

They interviewed the CEOs of 63 private companies in China and about 1,000 of the managers who work with them.

What they found is that humble bosses are strong bosses.

Traditionally, bombastic, self-assured, egocentric people are often thought to be the best leaders, Kinicki said.

"There's a stereotype that humble people are weak people, and I've never agreed with that," Kinicki said.

"Humble people are quieter, more in the background, but they lead in a different way, by empowering their employees, which trickles down," Kinicki said.

He said the qualities of a humble boss include:

• Self awareness.

•.Openness to feedback.

• Appreciation of others.

• Low self-focus.

• Appreciation of the greater good.

The qualities of CEOs with less humility include:

• More self-focus.

• Concern over their self gain, as opposed to helping the team.

• More controlling.

• Unilateral decision making.

Opposition to feedback.

The study found that the more humble CEOs acknowledged their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and are more willing to learn.

Americans still overwhelmingly negative on a lower drinking age

Alternet - A newly released Gallup study confirms that Americans on the whole are still very much a conservative bunch when it comes to alcohol. The majority still reject a federal law that would lower the minimum drinking age to 18.  A whopping 74 percent of the 1,013 adults aged 18 or older who were surveyed said they would oppose such legislation, which is consistent with public opinion thirty years ago when the federal legislation first raised the the minimum drinking age to 21. ... The United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world along with several other conservative countries including Kazakhstan, Japan and Iceland. More proof that this puritanical society we live in is not disappearing anytime soon.

And opposition includes those 18-29

Corporate money causing civil rights group to go off course on net neutrality

Huffington Post - The NAACP and several other major civil rights groups have emerged as flashpoints in the debate over net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

More than 40 civil rights groups are supporting broadband providers that oppose strict net neutrality rules. The civil rights groups say they're siding with the Internet giants because it's in the best interest of minority communities.

Yet critics say many of those groups are against stronger net neutrality rules because they've received substantial funding from Internet providers. Many of the civil rights groups currently siding with the broadband giants also supported the controversial Comcast-NBC Universal merger, came out in favor of AT&T's failed takeover of T-Mobile in 2011, and supported broadband providers the last time the Federal Communications Commission ruled on net neutrality back in 2010.

While all the civil rights groups say that net neutrality is a good idea, they disagree on how to enforce it. Some groups, including Color of Change and the Center for Media Justice, want the FCC to have more authority over Internet providers to ensure those providers don't discriminate against certain content. They also say that if net neutrality is weakened and Internet providers are allowed to charge companies to speed up their traffic, it will lead to higher costs being passed on to consumers -- which could have a disproportionate effect on minorities, many of whom already struggle to afford basic broadband connections.

Other groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, side with Internet providers and oppose subjecting those companies to greater oversight. They claim strict net neutrality rules would deter broadband companies from expanding service in their communities, preventing more minorities from adopting the Internet.

But some civil rights leaders say the different opinions are more than just an honest policy dispute. Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a media watchdog group, claims that many minority groups side with Internet providers on net neutrality because they fear they will lose funding otherwise.

"If you have programs with any of these companies, you feel beholden to go along with what they believe," said Nogales, whose group supports strict net neutrality rules.

The People's Party on campaign financing

How Americans are distanced from both their major parties

A majority of likely voters among Democrats (75%), Independents (64%) and Republicans (54%) see the wave of spending by Super PACs this election cycle as “wrong and leads to our elected officials representing the views of wealthy donors.”

MORE

Meanwhile. . .

The difference between Orwell and Huxley

Students protesting against North Face

Another bomb in DC's school test mania

How sanctions will really affect Russian oil

Richard Heinberg, Ecowatch - The New York Times reports that “The United States and Europe kicked off a joint effort on Tuesday intended to curb Russia’s long-term ability to develop new oil resources.” The new sanctions would deny Russia access to western technology needed to access polar oil and deepwater oil, as well as tight oil produced by hydrofracturing and horizontal drilling. Evidently the purpose of the sanctions is merely to punish Vladimir Putin for resisting Western attempts to surround his nation with NATO bases and missiles. It’s good to know that a lot of Russian oil is likely to stay in the ground rather than being burned in Russian, Chinese and European car and truck engines, adding to global climate change. But that’s not really the intent of the sanctions; evidently the purpose is merely to punish Vladimir Putin for resisting Western attempts to surround his nation with NATO bases and missiles. For some reason intelligible only to neoconservatives, nuclear-armed Washington seems intent on provoking a major confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. As justification, we Americans are told in no uncertain terms that Russia was behind the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17—despite a remarkable lack of actual evidence to that effect.

The foreign policy wonks at the State Department may not understand that Russian oil production has just hit a post-USSR peak and will be declining anyway. The effect of the sanctions will be to speed the Russian decline, forcing up world oil prices as soon as U.S. tight oil maxes out and goes into its inevitable nosedive in the 2017-2020 time frame. Russia, which will still be an oil exporter then, will benefit from higher oil prices (perhaps nearly enough to compensate for the loss of production resulting from the sanctions). But the U.S., which will still be one of the world’s top oil importers, will face a re-run of the 2008 oil shock that contributed to its financial crash.

Action links

NEWS
 
Action news
 
How to plan your own Moral Monday
Building peace teams
ACTIONS
Detroit Water Brigade
Moral Mondays
Tar Sands protests
Occupy
ACLU
Bad Ass Teachers
BOYCOTTS
Hobby Lobby
Israel
Academic/Cultural
Koch Brothers
Nestle
Staples
Walmart
Monsanto
Essays
Where change really comes from
Running out of change
The Clinton-Obama-Alinsky myth
 
Activism
Becoming and living as an activist
Rebellions contain multitudes
No retirement age for rebellion
 
Bad times
Getting through the bad times
The hat trick of survival
Why everything's so hard today
 
Counterculture
Getting the counter culture out of the closet
Where is the counterculture when we need it?
Change the culture & politics will follow
 
Music
Punk & protest
Music and politics
 
Non-profits
Care and feeding of non-profit boards
 
New America
Building little republics in a failing empire
America 2.0
What a populist rebellion might look like
Time for a movement
Rebuilding America
Ideas for a better U.S.
A cooperative commonwealth

Pocket paradigms

If global dumbing is not halted, we may wake up one morning and find that no one in this country knows how to make anything anymore. We may discover our dearest friends and relatives in a catatonic state before the TV and the device won't even be on. When we call for help we may find that 911 has become an endless loop voice mail system from which one can never disconnect. We may even, some day, elect a hologram as president -- and we'll be too dumb to realize it..- Sam Smith

Word

The censorial power is in the people over the government and not in the government over the people -- James Madison

Bass players

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2003 - Your editor has long held the view - although quietly for fear of being mugged - that one of the earliest signs of America's cultural collapse was the introduction of the disco drum machine. I was, to be sure, a drummer at the time, so the opinion may have been a bit premature and biased. Nonetheless, since then popular music has become increasingly stripped of melody, chord range, internal variety and surprise, and dynamics. With the arrival of rap, music itself became virtually irrelevant.

These are not matters of taste, but observable phenomenon. For example, the history of western music, until fairly recently, was in part the story of expanding the number of acceptable chords, something that can be readily seen in comparing, say, a traditional folk song to the works of Thelonious Monk. This does not mean that the folk song was bad, only that the later work was far more venturesome at the least, and more creative at best. Growing cultures keep breaking ground. Declining ones just wear it out and break it up. Retrenchment and regression replaces exploration and adventure.

Anyone who grew up with jazz grew up with this sense of adventure, sometimes found in a single tune. It has been described by one music teacher as being in part the interplay between repetition and surprise. Just when we think we know what is coming thanks to previous reiteration, the music surprises us. Further, as far back as Jelly Roll Morton, jazz musicians borrowed from different musical traditions, blending them in new and unusual ways.

There have been two anchors in all of this: the drums and the bass. And even though I was once a drummer, after I switched to piano I found myself increasingly of the opinion that the bass was the sina qua non of jazz. In fact, in my own mainstream group - blessed by a superb bassist - I did away with drums entirely, leaving room for two horns in just a quartet. Bassists are remarkable people, all the more so because most pay them so little mind. I have, in fact, never met a mean or nasty bass player. They tend to be musicians of good humor, extraordinary patience, and a sense of modesty that can be lacking in the front of the band.

I fear America's growing passion for power without the balance of community and cooperation, and without the magnificent gift of  individuals who are always quietly there doing exactly the right thing at the right time and, in the process, making everyone else sound good as well. Which is what bass players are about

July 30, 2014

Young news

Young news
Colleges & universities
Millenials down on marriage
Generation gap
Student loans & debt


ESSAYS
An apology to younger Americans
Skull & Bones

Obamaadmin claims right to force Muslims to become snitches

Firedog Lake - The United States Justice Department has moved to dismiss a lawsuit in which American Muslims allege that that twenty-five law enforcement officials, particularly FBI agents, had them placed on the No Fly List after they refused to become government informants in their community.

In April, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Creative Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of four American Muslim men, which claimed that they were “among the many innocent people who find themselves swept up in the United States government’s secretive watch list dragnet.”  When they “declined to act as informants” for the FBI and to “spy on their own American Muslim communities and other innocent people,” they faced retaliation from the FBI and subsequently discovered they were on the No Fly List.

The complaint further alleged that FBI agents “exploited the significant burdens imposed by the No Fly List, its opaque nature and ill-defined standards and its lack of procedural safeguards.” This exploitation was intended to coerce them into entering “places of worship” to conduct surveillance for the FBI.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the officials allegedly violated their First Amendment rights “not to become informants.” Officials allegedly violated their due process rights by failing to give them “any meaningful notice or opportunity to see or challenge the asserted reasons for thier placement.” The officials also violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss plainly argues “there is no constitutional right not to become an informant.” The department cited United States v. Paguio, a case from 1997 in which prosecutors “argued that prosecutors indicted her in order to pressure her co-defendant fiancé to cooperate.” The court ruled “there is no constitutional right not to ‘snitch.’”

Therefore, the Justice Department maintains that submitting the names of these four American Muslims to the Terrorist Screening Center for “consideration for the No Fly List,” even if based on their refusal to become informants, would not violate their constitutional rights. There is no clearly established right so the agents being sued are entitled to “qualified immunity” from their claims.

Water facts

Earth Policy Institute

Seventy percent of world water use is for irrigation.

Each day we drink nearly 4 liters of water, but it takes some 2,000 liters of water—500 times as much—to produce the food we consume.

1,000 tons of water is used to produce 1 ton of grain.

Between 1950 and 2000, the world’s irrigated area tripled to roughly 700 million acres. After several decades of rapid increase, however, the growth has slowed dramatically, expanding only 9 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States.

Saudi Arabia is the first country to publicly predict how aquifer depletion will reduce its grain harvest. It will soon be totally dependent on imports from the world market or overseas farming projects for its grain.

Many smaller rivers and lakes have disappeared entirely as water demands have increased.

Climate change is hydrological change. Higher global average temperatures will mean more droughts in some areas, more flooding in others, and less predictability overall.

Water facts

Brazil farmers say GMO crops no longer resistant to disease

Common Dreams - Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reported.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” — which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests — is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.”

China cracks down on GMO crops

Shanghai Daily -  Chinese authorities have vowed zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of genetically modified crops days after a media exposure of GM rice on sale at a supermarket in central China.

“The ministry will punish any companies or individuals that ignore regulations to grow or sell GM grains,” the Ministry of Agriculture said n a statement. “There will be no tolerance for those violating practices.”

Some good reasons not to mess with Ukraine

Aside from the fact that our involvement in the Ukraine dispute brings back uncomfortable memories of Russia's involvement in Cuba, here are some other historical reasons (from Wikipedia) why we may be well over our head:

In the 3rd century AD, the Goths arrived in the lands of Ukraine around 250–375 AD, which they called Oium

The Ostrogoths stayed in the area but came under the sway of the Huns from the 370s. North of the Ostrogothic kingdom was the Kyiv culture, flourishing from the 2nd–5th centuries, when it was overrun by the Huns. After they helped defeat the Huns at the battle of Nedao in 454, the Ostrogoths were allowed to settle in Pannonia

In the 7th century, the territory of modern Ukraine was the core of the state of the Bulgars (often referred to as Old Great Bulgaria) with its capital city of Phanagoria.

The Khazars founded the Khazar kingdom in the southeastern part of today's Europe, near the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. The kingdom included western Kazakhstan, and parts of eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, southern Russia, and Crimea. Around 800 AD, the kingdom converted to Judaism.

In 882, Kyiv was conquered from the Khazars by the Varangian noble Oleg who started the long period of rule of the Rurikid princes. During this time, several Slavic tribes were native to Ukraine, including the Polans, the Drevlyans, the Severians, the Ulichs, the Tiverians, the White Croats and the Dulebes.

Ukraine is the site of early Slavic expansion, and enters history proper with the establishment of the medieval state of Kyivan Rus, which emerged as a powerful nation in the Middle Ages but disintegrated in the 12th century.

Kyiv was sacked by Vladimir principality (1169) in the power struggle between princes and later by Cumans and Mongol raiders in the 12th and 13th centuries, respectively. Subsequently, all principalities of present-day Ukraine acknowledged dependence upon the Mongols (1239–1240). In 1240, the Mongols sacked Kyiv, and many people fled to other countries. 

By the middle of the 14th century, present Ukrainian territories were under the rule of three external powers: the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Kingdom of Poland.

D
uring the 15th century these lands came under the rule of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Crimean Khanate.

After a 1653 rebellion against dominantly Polish Catholic rule, an assembly of the people (rada) agreed to the Treaty of Pereyaslav in January 1654. Soon, the southeastern portion of the Polish-Lithuanian empire east of the Dnieper River came under Russian rule, for centuries.

After the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795) and conquest of Crimean Khanate, Ukraine was divided between the Tsardom of Russia and Habsburg Austria.

Ukraine emerges as the concept of a nation, and the Ukrainians as a nationality, with the Ukrainian National Revival in the early 19th century, in the wake of the peasant revolt of 1768/69 and the eventual partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Galicia fell to the Austrian Empire, and the rest of the Ukraine to the Russian Empire.

While right-bank Ukraine belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until late 1793, left-bank Ukraine had been incorporated into Tsardom of Russia in 1667 (under the Treaty of Andrusovo). In 1672, Podolia was occupied by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, while Kyiv and Braclav came under the control of Hetman Petro Doroshenko until 1681, when they were also captured by the Turks but in 1699 the Treaty of Karlowitz returned those lands to the Commonwealth.

Most of Ukraine fell to the Russian Empire under the reign of Catherine the Great; in 1793 right-bank Ukraine was annexed by Russia in the Second Partition of Poland.

A chaotic period of warfare ensued after the Russian Revolution. The internationally recognized Ukrainian People's Republic emerged from its own civil war. The Ukrainian–Soviet War followed, in which the Red Army established control in late 1919.The conquerors created the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which on 30 December 1922 became one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine first became independent with the Ukrainian War of Independence of 1917 to 1921, but the resulting Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (in 1919 merged from the Ukrainian People's Republic and West Ukrainian People's Republic) was quickly subsumed in the Soviet Union.

The Soviet famine of 1932–33 or Holodomor killed an estimated 6 to 8 million people in the Soviet Union, the majority of them in Ukraine.

Nazi Germany with its allies invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Many Ukrainians initially regarded the Wehrmacht soldiers as liberators from Soviet rule, while others formed a partisan movement. Some elements of the Ukrainian nationalist underground formed a Ukrainian Insurgent Army that fought both Soviet forces and the Nazi. Others collaborated with the Germans. In Volhynia, Ukrainian "fighters" committed a massacre against up to 100,000 Polish civilians. Residual small groups of the UPA-partizans acted near the Polish and Soviet border as long as to the 1950s.

After World War II some amendments to the Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR were accepted, which allowed it to act as a separate subject of international law in some cases and to a certain extent, remaining a part of the Soviet Union at the same time.

On January 21, 1990, over 300,000 Ukrainians[29] organised a human chain for Ukrainian independence between Kyiv and Lviv, in memory of the 1919 unification of the Ukrainian People's Republic and the West Ukrainian National Republic. Citizens came out to the streets and highways, forming live chains by holding hands in support of unity. Ukraine officially declared itself an independent state on August 24, 1991, when the communist Supreme Soviet (parliament) of Ukraine proclaimed that Ukraine will no longer follow the laws of USSR and only the laws of the Ukrainian SSR, de facto declaring Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union.

With the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, Ukraine now became an area of overlapping spheres of influence of the European Union and the Russian Federation. This manifested in a political split between the "pro-Russian" Eastern Ukraine, and the "pro-European" Western Ukraine, leading to an ongoing period of political turmoil, beginning with the "Orange Revolution" of 2004, and culminating in 2014 with the "Euromaidan" uprising and the Crimean Crisis, in which the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol voted to detach itself from Ukraine and seek accession to the Russian Federation.

Report: Government spying hurting journalists and lawyers

ACLU - Large-scale U.S. surveillance is seriously hampering U.S.-based journalists and lawyers in their work, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report. Surveillance is undermining media freedom and the right to counsel, and ultimately obstructing the American people's ability to hold their government to account, the groups said.

The 120-page report is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior U.S. government officials. It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented U.S. government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions. The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public's right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.

Journalists interviewed for the report said that surveillance intimidates sources, making them more hesitant to discuss even unclassified issues of public concern. The sources fear they could lose their security clearances, be fired, or – in the worst case – come under criminal investigation.

"People are increasingly scared to talk about anything," observed one Pulitzer Prize winner, including unclassified matters that are of legitimate public concern.

Many journalists described adopting elaborate techniques in an environment of tremendous uncertainty in an effort to protect evidence of their interaction with sources. The techniques ranged from using encryption and air-gapped computers (which stay completely isolated from unsecured networks, including the Internet), to communicating with sources through disposable "burner" phones, to abandoning electronic communications altogether. Those cumbersome new techniques are slowing down reporters in their pursuit of increasingly skittish sources, resulting in less information reaching the public.

Gaza strips

Israel, a country that is roughly the size of America's 12th largest state, Virginia, gets more US federal funding than eleven of our states.

Israel and the United States have done nothing significant since 9/11 to make it less likely that they would be a target of attacks. Their acts of war have increased the probability. In fact, according to the Christian Science Monitor:
The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says that new players on the scene are more radical than Al Qaeda, and the core Al Qaeda ideology has lost none of its potency. The nation is no safer after 13 years of war, warns a top US military official who leads one of the nation’s largest intelligence organizations. “We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than Al Qaeda,” says Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which employs some 17,000 American intelligence collectors in 140 countries around the world.

In the current conflict, more than four times as many Palestinian civilians have been killed than died in the passenger plane crash in Ukraine. As it stands, the US Congress is strongly supporting international war crimes.

Time is running out for Israel. Even horrible events like the Holocaust fade in the public mind with time as those directly involved pass on. They become historical rather than emotional stories, not unlike WWI and the Civil War are today. And age makes a difference. One recent poll found 53% of those 65 and older supporting Israel's current behavior while only 18% of those 18 to 29 do.

Both America's and Israel's policies are driven by a destructively false sense of exceptionalism. In fact, the exceptionally good has been disappearing in each land in recent decades and their character has been far more driven by narcissistic machismo typified by relying on the the likes of Benjamin Netenyahu  and John Kerry to reach a settlement with Palestine.

If Israel were a state in America, and applied its policies towards blacks and latinos, the rest of the nation would be rightfully disgusted. And imagine if Massachusetts declared itself a Catholic democracy or New York City a Jewish one.


As a result of the destruction of the power plant, Gaza City is completely without electricity. Only one high tension line carrying electricity bought from Israel is currently functioning. Nine lines were damaged in hostilities. ...Hundreds of thousands of people are completely cut off from electricity supply, thus also affecting their access to running water and sanitation services. - Gisha, Israel

It’s worth listening carefully when Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli people. What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force. Despite years of ceasefires and truces, the siege of Gaza has never been lifted. - Rashid Khaidi, New Yorker

El Salvador recalled its Israeli ambassador from Tel Aviv on Wednesday to protest the military operation in Gaza, making it the fifth Latin American country to do so.  - Haaretz, Israel

While Jews were once viewed with skepticism if not antisemitism in the U.S., members of the cultural/religious group [even Jews who have abandoned their religion are still perceived or, typically, still self-identify as Jews] are now the most favorably perceived of groups with a religious identity, scoring above even the two main Christian denominations. While the overall decline of expressed intolerance toward ethnic groups is undoubtedly a major region for the attitudinal change, we suspect part of the shift results from the embrace of Israel by the Christian Right, an increasing number of whom embrace the doctrine that the return of all Jews to that nation is considered a prerequisite for the Millennium. - Richard Brenneman

BLOG Jews

Five years ago Israel undertook a very similar attack on Gaza. Maybe you don’t remember, but over nearly three weeks in December and January ’08-’09 it flattened Gaza, killing more than 1300, including nearly 400 children. The operation was called Cast Lead.
The death toll this time is over 1000, and we can only pray it won’t reach Cast Lead’s level.
Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to investigate the Israeli offensive (and Palestinian militants’ actions too) for potential war crimes.

Deja vu all over again, but that happened last time, too. Cast Lead resulted in a UN Human Rights Council investigation and a scathing 400-page report nine months after the onslaught that accused Israel and Palestinian authorities of war crimes — the Goldstone Report.
That report mentioned Israeli “impunity” from consequences for its actions again and again. For instance:
The [investigative] Mission was struck by the repeated comment of Palestinian victims, human rights defenders, civil society interlocutors and officials that they hoped that this would be the last investigative mission of its kind, because action for justice would follow from it. It was struck, as well, by the comment that every time a report is published and no action follows, this “emboldens Israel and her conviction of being untouchable”. To deny modes of accountability reinforces impunity, and tarnishes the credibility of the United Nations and of the international community. The Mission believes these comments ought to be at the forefront in the consideration by Members States and United Nations bodies of its findings and recommendations and action consequent upon them.
The Goldstone Report even went so far as to call for universal jurisdiction — i.e., not just the International Criminal Court, but Country Joe Sixpack could indict Tzipi Livni for war crimes if she came to visit the Roman ruins there — so as to end Israel’s sense of having no accountability. - Mondoweiss

[The United Nations Relief and Works Agency] said it had found a cache of rockets concealed at another Gaza school - the third such discovery since the conflict began.
It condemned unnamed militant groups for putting civilians at risk. [UNRWA chief Pierre] Krahenbuhl said the Jabalya school's precise location and the fact that it was sheltering thousands of displaced people had been communicated to the Israeli military 17 times, with the last notification just hours before the fatal shelling - Daily Mail, UK




Pocket paradigms

Fortunately there is no evidence that global dumbing has entered the human gene pool. Nature, before people began fiddling with it, handled the problem rather neatly by regularly killing off the entropic and giving birth to new life and energy. I find considerable comfort in the fact that I have never seen a small child facilitate anything nor one enamored of process in any form. Instead, they like to make things, do things, laugh and sing. Thus I strongly suspect that we have just taught ourselves to be dumb and, however difficult, it remains possible to re-educate ourselves, even if it means going back to kindergarten to learn how..- Sam Smith

Word

In America you can say anything you want -- as long as it doesn't have any effect -- Paul Goodman

A half century of American music

From 59 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2004 - Last evening I went to a party for fellow musicians given by singer and trombonist Dave Burns, who for more than three decades and 2,000 gigs has headed the Hot Mustard Jazz Band, a fixture in the Washington area. Burns has been singing since the age of two when, in Pineville Kentucky "they'd put me on the marble counter at the drugstore and I'd sing songs for a penny."

As the Princeton Alumni Weekly explained it, "Burns ran away from Pineville at 15, living a hobo-like existence until landing in D.C., where he dropped out of high school three times before joining the Air Force. A 'voracious reader,' he realized he'd need a degree after his tour of duty and audaciously applied to Oxford, the University of Kentucky, Occidental College in Pasadena, California - and Princeton. 'I told them if they took a gamble on me I wouldn't disappoint them,' he says of Princeton. True to his word, Burns won a Fulbright scholarship and joined the Foreign Service."

I realized when I looked around the room that I was looking at a half century of American music. There was the sainted Keeter Betts who has played bass for just about everyone in jazz locally and nationally, clarinetist Wally Garner who recalled playing with Louis Armstrong, the jazz writer Royal Stokes and musicians with whom I had shared gigs like Gary Wilkerson and Don Rouse. All of us were playing in the 1950s and some even earlier.

It struck me later was what an atypical Washington evening it was. I gave up my own band seven years ago and I had kind of forgotten what a pleasant, friendly bunch of people jazz musicians can be. All those breaks; all those conversations. I suspect it has something to do with the genre, which requires both individuality and cooperation, something I once described this way:

"The essence of jazz is the same as that of democracy: the greatest amount of individual freedom consistent with a healthy community. Each musician is allowed extraordinary liberty during a solo and then is expected to conscientiously back up the other musicians in turn. The two most exciting moments in jazz are during flights of individual virtuosity and when the entire musical group seems to become one.

"The genius of jazz (and democracy) is that the same people are willing and able to do both. Here's how Wynton Marsalis describes it: 'Jazz is a music of conversation, and that's what you need in a democracy. You have to be willing to hear another person's point of view.'"

July 29, 2014

Furthermore. . .

Appeals court strikes down Virginia same-sex marriage ban: "Today's decision is significant because it also renders unconstitutional similar marriage bans in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia"

Federal contractor workers strike

São Paulo could run out of drinking water in100 days

Bloomberg:

Sao Paulo risks having its biggest reservoir run out of drinking water within 100 days unless it starts rationing, Brazilian federal prosecutors warned.
Water utility Sabesp and Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin have 10 days to come up with measures to deal with the crisis, according to a statement on the prosecutors’ website. Both may be sued to force them to start rationing if they don’t take appropriate action, it said.
The utility disagreed with the recommendation, it said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News. “That measure would penalize customers and may have the opposite effect,” it said.
Efforts by Sabesp and the population have already reduced demand equivalent to a rationing regime that would allow water for 36 hours, followed by a cut in supply for 72 hours, the company said.

The strange employer role in American healthcare

Eliot Daley, NJ.Com - Most Americans don’t understand how unusual and ridiculous the American system of employee-sponsored healthcare is.... In all our industrialized peer countries,employers have zero say-so in employees’ health care coverage and decisions. ...They have no say-so in how their employees spend their wages, either. And why should they?

But in the fierce competition for scarce human resources in America after the second World War, U.S. companies hamstrung by wage and price controls began sweetening pay packages with some healthcare benefits, and our current jerry-built "system” was cobbled together from that shaky and now-discredited foundation. An expedient and inadvertent patchwork from the git-go, no wonder it produces such miserable results: We Americans spend vastly more money for intolerably lousier healthcare outcomes as a nation than any country with which we would care to compare ourselves.

But the expensive, lousy results for Americans as a whole are just part of why it’s so wrong. From that happenstance marriage of convenience between employer and employee binding them together in personal matters of healthcare, we now wallow in the ludicrous Alice-in-Wonderland finding that an employer can dictate how the employee will spend the healthcare-related part of his or her legitimate compensation while, presumably, even this absurd court won’t get around to holding that the employer could have any say-so whatsoever about how any of the rest of the employee’s compensation “package” would be spent.

Enough already. We who have been employers in recent decades never wanted to be responsible for this mess, anyhow. We inherited it from those who started it more than half a century ago as a canard to end-run wage and price controls, and we’re living with the compounded deceptions and compromises that are the evil spawn of that unholy arrangement. Let’s just declare it hopelessly flawed, sever the link with employment, and support the movement toward a program of coverage that enables every American and every employee to spend what healthcare monies are available to them on the care they, and they alone, are inclined to purchase...

Eliot Daley's website

A dirty truth about the drug war

Us_drug_arrest_rates 

VOX


Now a Gaza water crisis

Institute for Public Accuracy - NBC News reports: "The fuel tanks at Gaza’s only power plant came under attack early Tuesday, threatening to deepen an already dire humanitarian situation. The attack came hours after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a televised speech of a 'prolonged' campaign in Gaza against Hamas. Israel carried out 76 strikes overnight -- one of the biggest bombardments in the nearly month-long campaign. ...
The Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group, a coalition of 27 organizations working in the water and sanitation sector in the occupied Palestinian territories, recently released a statement: "Since the start of the Israeli assault on Gaza on July 8, 2014, the water and wastewater infrastructure in Gaza has been heavily affected by Israeli airstrikes. Main water supply and waste water infrastructure has been hit and as a result the water supply or sewage services to 1.2 million (2/3 of the total population in Gaza) have been cut or severely disrupted. The targeting of civilian objects under situation of hostilities is prohibited according to International Humanitarian Law and is considered a war crime. ...

"Prior to the current escalation, Gaza already suffered from a water crisis, with limited availability of water resources, fuel and the Israeli imposed blockade since 2007. The only water resource for Gaza is the coastal aquifer, which according to the UN may become unusable by 2016 due to over-abstraction."

50 Virginia campus presidents attack Obama's planned college rating system

Washington Post - Fifty presidents of public and private nonprofit colleges and universities in Virginia have signed a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressing “serious reservations” about the Obama administration’s “misguided” development of a school rating system that could include data such as how much students earn after graduation.

...The 50 presidents of Virginia institutions of higher education who signed the letter — including the leaders of the University of Virginia, College of William & Mary and George Mason  University — said that while they applaud Obama’s efforts to make higher education more affordable, a federal ratings system would wind up limiting the amount of financial aid that many poor students can receive. They also said that using graduation rates as currently determined by schools would be unfair because they are widely believed to be flawed.

NSA terror junkie figures out how to make millions out of his government career

Shane Harris, Foreign Policy - Keith Alexander, the recently retired director of the National Security Agency, left many in Washington slack-jawed when it was reported that he might charge companies up to $1 million a month to help them protect their computer networks from hackers. What insights or expertise about cybersecurity could possibly justify such a sky-high fee, some wondered, even for a man as well-connected in the military-industrial complex as the former head of the nation's largest intelligence agency?

The answer, Alexander said in an interview Monday, is a new technology, based on a patented and "unique" approach to detecting malicious hackers and cyber-intruders that the retired Army general said he has invented, along with his business partners at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., the company he co-founded after leaving the government and retiring from military service in March. But the technology is also directly informed by the years of experience Alexander has had tracking hackers, and the insights he gained from classified operations as the director of the NSA, which give him a rare competitive advantage over the many firms competing for a share of the cybersecurity market.

The fact that Alexander is building what he believes is a new kind of technology for countering hackers hasn't been previously reported. And it helps to explain why he feels confident in charging banks, trade associations, and large corporations millions of dollars a year to keep their networks safe. Alexander said he'll file at least nine patents, and possibly more, for a system to detect so-called advanced persistent threats, or hackers who clandestinely burrow into a computer network in order to steal secrets or damage the network itself. It was those kinds of hackers who Alexander, when he was running the NSA, said were responsible for "the greatest transfer of wealth in American history" because they were routinely stealing trade secrets and competitive information from U.S. companies and giving it to their competitors, often in China.

Alexander is believed to be the first ex-director of the NSA to file patents on technology that's directly related to the job he had in government. He said that he had spoken to lawyers at the NSA, and privately, to ensure that his new patents were "ironclad" and didn't rely on any work that he'd done for the agency -- which still holds the intellectual property rights to other technology Alexander invented while he ran the agency.

MORE

Great moments with Chris Christie

Washington Post - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is consistent — at least when it comes to espousing total indifference to what Newark residents want for their state-operated public school system. Christie just bragged (see video below) that he told new Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that Baraka’s views on education reform don’t matter a whit — and the governor declared himself “the decider.”

The Newark school system is the largest in New Jersey, with about 40,000 students. It has been under state control since 1994 and was the recipient of the famous $100 million matching donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which has been used to underwhelming effect.

Superintendent Cami Anderson, a former Teach For America corps member who Christie appointed in 2011, has come under intense attack for her “One Newark” district reorganization plan — which includes plans to close some traditional schools; lay off more than 1,000 teachers and hire Teach For America recruits to fill some open spots; and create a single enrollment system for Newark’s 21 charters and 71 traditional public schools. She has also been blasted for a management style that even reform supporters concede is dismissive, arrogant and ineffective. This past April, dozens of members of the Newark clergy sent a letter to Christie warning him that Anderson’s reform efforts were causing “unnecessary instability” in the city and that they were are “concerned about the level of public anger we see growing in the community” over the issue.

Christie has consistently defended her, saying some months ago:

“I don’t care about community criticism, I care about the job she’s doing.”

Christie, apparently, is the only one who gets to assess whether she is doing a good job. Last May, Newark residents gave their own evaluation by electing Baraka, a former high school principal, councilman and son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, as the next mayor of Newark. He campaigned on an anti-Anderson platform.

When education issues came up at the Aspen Institute event, Christie talked about some of the reforms and said to applause:

“He came in to talk to me about his agenda and said he wanted to speak to me about the education system in Newark.  And I said to him listen I’ll listen to whatever you have to say but the state runs the school system, I am the decider, and you have nothing to do with it.”

Tip to journalists: Stop talking about Medicare or Social Security going bankrupt

Sam Smith - Just because Social Security and Medicare are currently in trust funds doesn't mean they will go "bankrupt" if the trust funds run out of money. The trust funds are an artificial structure that can be supplemented by ordinary appropriations just the way, say, presidential and congressional salaries are. Using the term "bankrupt" is tremendously biased reporting.

Besides, if trust funds are so great, why isn't the Pentagon in one?

Why American corporations are no longer American

Robert Reich, Salon - HOnly about a fifth of IBM’s worldwide employees are American, for example, and only 40 percent of GE’s. Most of Caterpillar’s recent hires and investments have been made outside the US.

In fact, since 2000, almost every big American multinational corporation has created more jobs outside the United States than inside. If you add in their foreign sub-contractors, the foreign total is even higher.

At the same time, though, many foreign-based companies have been creating jobs in the United States. They now employ around 6 million Americans, and account for almost 20 percent of U.S. exports. Even a household brand like Anheuser-Busch, the nation’s best-selling beer maker, employing thousands of Americans, is foreign (part of Belgian-based beer giant InBev).

Meanwhile, foreign investors are buying an increasing number of shares in American corporations, and American investors are buying up foreign stocks.

Who’s us? Who’s them?

Increasingly, corporate nationality is whatever a corporation decides it is.

... Rather than focus on the newly-fashionable tax-avoidance strategy of changing corporate nationality, it makes more sense to tax any global corporation on all income earned in the United States (with high penalties for shifting that income abroad), and no longer tax “American” corporations on revenues earned outside America. Most other nations already follow this principle.

In other words, let’s stop worrying about whether big global corporations are “American.” We can’t win that game. Focus instead on what we want global corporations of whatever nationality to do in America, and on how we can get them to do it.

A third of Americans are dealing with collection agencies

Al Jazeera - More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study by the Urban Institute.

Consumers affected fall behind on credit cards and hospital bills or see their mortgages, auto loans or student debt pile up, unpaid. Even past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency, potentially harming credit scores and job prospects, said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

The study found that 35.1 percent of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records. The study points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009.

Home owenership at 19 year low


Reuters - Homeownership in the United States hit a 19-year low in the second quarter as financially squeezed Americans opted to rent, pointing to a sluggish housing market recovery.The seasonally adjusted homeownership rate fell to 64.8 percent, the lowest level since the second quarter of 1995, the Commerce Department said

Moving on from pot, gay marriage and abortion

Al Diamon, Portland Phoenix, ME - Allow me a selfish moment. I’ve grown weary of advocating for causes that may be good for society as a whole, but don’t benefit me at all. When some issue I’ve supported in this column finally achieves its moment of victory, I’m often left with an empty feeling because I have no interest in taking advantage of whatever change I’ve helped effect.

For instance, marijuana. It was never my drug of choice back in the days when I was choosing among outlawed pharmaceuticals. Now that it’s on the verge of becoming legal—a move I strongly support—I still won’t be inhaling.

Likewise, same-sex marriage. I think everybody should be able to marry whomever they like. For me, that would be Meredith Vieira or Emmylou Harris. Or, possibly, Meredith Vieira and Emmylou Harris. Unfortunately, the new law has done nothing to facilitate my efforts. I’m strongly in favor of the right of law-abiding citizens to buy and own guns. But I don’t possess any of my own. The same lifelong lack of eye-hand coordination that prevented me from hitting breaking balls renders me incapable of using a firearm to hit anything smaller than Godzilla.

When it comes to abortion, I’m firmly pro-choice. But for obvious reasons, I’ll never have to brave the gauntlet of rabid pro-lifers outside Planned Parenthood’s Portland office to get one. Nor will Meredith or Emmylou. Or my actual wife...

So, just this once, I’d like to devote this space to a cause that, if successful, would have a positive impact on me. To that end, I’ve formed a group called the Freedom of Liquor Acquisition and Storage Koalition, also known as F.L.A.S.K....

You might not realize it, but while it’s legal to carry a gun in Maine (either openly or, with a permit, concealed), putting a flask containing an alcoholic beverage in your hip pocket is against the law. The cops consider it to be the same as walking around in public with an open bottle of booze. This ill-considered statute turns a sizable segment of the population into lawbreakers, even though there’s never been a study showing any correlation between flask ownership and criminal activity. There’s even some indication that the opposite may be true.

“Using a flask properly is about quiet sophistication and softening the edges of a tough world with stolen moments among friends and reminding yourself that you’re a man who drinks real booze,” wrote Michael A. Lubarsky on the website AskMen.com.

MORE

The massive abuse of forfeiture

Overlawyered - In Philadelphia, the city has seized a widow’s home and car for forfeiture after her son was nabbed on charges of selling pot [Inquirer] “Minneapolis police plan to keep $200,000 seized in a raid of a tobacco shop, even though they didn’t find any evidence to merit criminal charges. Meanwhile, a former Michigan town police chief awaits trial on embezzlement and racketeering charges for allegedly using drug forfeiture money to buy pot, prostitutes and a tanning bed for his wife.” [Radley Balko] Nebraska cops seize nearly $50,000 from a Wisconsin man driving from Colorado, “a known source state for marijuana,” but a court orders it returned [same]. Connecticut police use forfeiture proceeds “to buy new police dogs, undercover vehicles, technology, fitness equipment — and to pay for travel to events around the country.” [New Haven Register]

Words and writing

Words & writing news
 
ESSAYS ON WRITING
Post literate America
Words & meaning
The missing predicate in my life
SomeRulesForWriting L.L.C. (SRFW)!
Words and cruelty
The rise of "fuck"
What's a humanities?
Cliche challenge
 

Pocket paradigms

A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product is wasted energy. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout..- Sam Smith

Word

Free thought, necessarily involving freedom of speech & press, I may tersely define thus: no opinion a law - no opinion a crime." - Alexander Berkman

The issue that's killing the left

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2010 - Rasmussen Reports has come out with a fascinating poll that goes a long way towards explaining why not only liberals are doing so badly, but the left in general, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Here's what the poll found:

- Forty-three percent of U.S. voters rate the performance of their local government as tops compared to its counterparts on the state and federal level.

- Nineteen percent say state government is better than the other two.

- Just 14% think the federal government does a better job.

- And 25% aren't sure.

- Fifty-six percent of all voters believe the federal government has too much influence over state government. Only 12% percent say the federal government doesn't have enough influence over states, and another 26% say the balance is about right.

This is a huge matter that Democrats and progressives don't even discuss, yet helps to create the sort of popular anger that has developed over the past year. Nearly two thirds of the voters think state and local governments are better than the federal version.

There are two ironies in this:

- The Democrats could do everything they should be doing - only far better - if they simply paid more attention to the level and manner it is done.

- Those expressing outrage at what the Democrats are doing think the level and manner is the same as its underlying virtue and thus end up opposing programs that would serve them well. And so they serve the interests of the very centralized authority they think they are opposing.

Neither side seems able to separate the question of what needs to be done from who should, and how to, do it. The liberals think it can only be done at the federal level which leads conservatives to conclude it shouldn't be done at all.

Liberals are afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of devolution -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. Even FDR managed to fight the depression with a staff smaller than Hillary Clinton's and World War II with one smaller than Al Gore's. Conservative columnist William Safire admitted that "in a general sense, devolution is a synonym for 'power sharing,' a movement that grew popular in the sixties and seventies as charges of 'bureaucracy' were often leveled at centralized authority." In other words, devolution used to be in the left's bag.

The modern liberals' embrace of centralized authority makes them vulnerable to the charge that their politics is one of intentions rather than results -- symbolized by huge agencies like the Department of Housing & Urban Development that fail miserably to produce policies worthy of their name.

Still stuck back in the states' rights controversy over integration, liberals fail to see how often states and localities move ahead of the federal government. Think, for example, of where gays would be if there were no local laws to help them.

As late as 1992, the one hundred largest localities in America pursued an estimated 1,700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government in the previous decade. As Washington was vainly struggling to get a handle on the tobacco industry, 750 communities passed indoor no-smoking laws. And, more recently, we have had the local drive towards relaxing anti-marijuana laws and the major local and state outcry against the Real ID act.

Conservatives, on the other hand, often confuse the devolution of government with its destruction. Thus while the liberals are underachieving, the conservatives are undermining.

The question must be repeatedly asked of new and present policies: how can these programs be brought close to the supposed beneficiaries, the citizens? And how can government money go where it's supposed to go?

Because such questions are not asked often enough, we find huge disparities in the effectiveness of federal programs. For example, both Social Security and Medicare work well with little overhead. In such programs, the government serves primarily as a redistribution center for tax revenues.

On the other hand, an environmentalist who ran a weatherization program once told me that she figured it cost $30,000 in federal and local overhead for each $1600 in weather-proofing provided a low income home.

A study of Milwaukee County in 1988 found government agencies spending more than $1 billion annually on fighting poverty. If this money had been given in cash to the poor, it would have meant more than $33,000 for each low income family -- well above the poverty level.

The problem is not just with traditional liberals. My fellow Green Party members - heavily decentralist in many ways - fail to see the possibility for new alliances with others if the devolutionary principle were raised in a more visible and universal fashion. Similarly, localism is quite popular among environmentalists, but it only seems to apply to growing food and not to saving democracy.

And now we have a Democratic president who has, in one short year, managed to mangle two of the issues his party used to be good at - heath care and reviving the economy - in no small part because of an assumption that he and his grad school retinue are far better equipped to decide how to do it all than, say, the mayor of Cleveland or the state legislature of Montana.

The end result is that his programs have failed and the underlying policies have unfairly gotten a bad name.

How much saner it would be to recognize the desire of people to share not only in the benefits, but in the exercise, of power and adjust one's policies to reflect this.

The point here is not to argue any particular solution, but to say that the ever increasing centralization of decisions at the federal level - thanks to both major parties - is a fundamental cause of both our problems and the anger about them.

As I wrote some time back, "What works so well in the manufacture of a Ford Taurus -- efficiency of scale and mass production -- fails to work in social policy because, unlike a Taurus, humans think, cry, love, get distracted, criticize, worry or don't give a shit. Yet we keep acting as though such traits don't exist or don't matter. We have come to accept the notion that the enormous institutions of government, media, industry and academia are natural to the human condition and then wonder why they don't work better than they do. In fact, as ecological planner Ernest Callenbach pointed out, 'we are medium-sized animals who naturally live in small groups -- perhaps 20 or so -- as opposed to bees or antelopes who live in very large groups. When managers or generals or architects force us into large groups, we speedily try to break them down into sub-units of comfortable size.'"

It's time for liberals and progressives to bring their politics down to the 'hood. They'd be surprised at the friends they would make.

Sam Smith, 1993- A couple of summers ago at the annual convention of the longtime liberal group, Americans for Democratic Action, I proposed a resolution on the decentralization of power. Here's a portion:
|||| There is growing evidence that old ideological conflicts such as between left and right, and between capitalism and communism, are becoming far less important as the world confronts the social and economic results of a century marked by increasing concentration of power in countries of widely varying political persuasion. A new ideology is rising, the ideology of devolution -- the decentralization of power. Already it has swept through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Its voice is heard in Spain, in Quebec and in Northern Ireland. It is the voice of people attempting to regain control over societies that have become increasingly authoritarian, unresponsive, and insensitive, a revolt of ordinary humans against the excesses of the state. . .

All around us is evidence of the disintegration of effective government and a growing alienation of the people from that government as a result. Our systems of governance have become too big, too corrupt, too inflexible and too remote from democratic concerns to respond equitably and rationally to the changing needs of the people. Government has many beneficial functions it can perform, but these can only be achieved when the government itself is structured so as to reflect -- and not thwart -- the will of the people.

Therefore we embrace the devolutionary spirit of the times and, recognizing that the ideology of scale must now be considered as carefully as the ideology of liberal and conservative, we urge that this nation begin devolving power back to the people -- that we correct a decades-long course which has too often led to increasingly centralized power with increasingly ineffective and undemocratic results. To this end, we propose the following critical issues to fellow liberals and progressives to consider, debate and act upon while there is still time to reverse the authoritarian course of the American government:

- How do we end the growing concentration of power in the presidency and return to the tripartite system of government intended by the Constitution? How can Congress reassert its constitutional role in the federal government?

- How do we prevent federal government green-mail of the states -- the granting or withholding of federal funds to force state legislation -- from being used as a way around the powers constitutionally granted the states?

- How can we decentralize federal agencies to the state and local level?

- How do we create a new respect for state and local rights? The bitter struggle to establish the federal government's primacy in the protection of civil rights of all its citizens has been used far too long as an excuse to concentrate all forms of power in Washington. That legal battle has been won. We must now recognize the importance of state and local government in creative, responsive governance and not continue to assume that good government can only come from within the Beltway.

- How do we reduce restrictions on federal funds granted states and localities in order to foster imaginative local application of those funds and to prevent the sort of federal abuse apparent, for example, in restrictions on family planning advice?

- How do we encourage -- including funding -- neighborhood government in our cities so that the people most affected by the American urban disaster can try their own hand at rebuilding their communities?

The principle that all government should be devolved to the lowest practical level should be raised to its proper primacy in the progressive agenda. We cannot overstate the peril involved in continuing to concentrate governmental power in the federal executive.|||||
The resolution proved too much for the traditional liberals of ADA and the resolution was roundly defeated in committee. Many voters, however, have divined the problem of excessive scale while remaining, unsurprisingly, confused as to what to do about it. False prophets on the right tout a phony "empowerment," The media muddles the matter with its usual in-depth cliches. What is lacking is not devolutionary theory, nor grand schemes, nor useful experiments, but rather a practical progressive politics of devolution. We need to apply our theories and our experience to the every day politics of ordinary citizens. If we do, I think we will surprise ourselves and others in a discovery of where the American mainstream really flows.

Here, for starters, are a few suggestions of devolutionary issues progressives could press:

- Public schools: In the sixties there was a strong movement for community control of the schools. Because it came largely from minority communities and because the majority was not adequately distressed about public education it faltered.

- Neighborhood government: Real neighborhood government would not be merely advisory as is the case with Washington DC's neighborhood commissions. It would include the power to sue the city government, to incorporate, to run its own programs, to contract to provide those of city hall, and to have some measure of budgetary authority over city expenditures within its boundaries. Not the least among its powers should be a role in the justice system, since it is impossible to recreate order in our communities while denying communities any place in maintaining order.

We should create the "small republics," that Jefferson dreamed of, autonomous communities where every citizen became "an acting member of the common government, transacting in person a great portion of its rights and duties, subordinate indeed, yet important, and entirely within his own competence."

- States' rights: While maintaining federal preeminence in fields such as civil rights, progressives should be strong advocates of states' rights on issues not properly the federal government's business such as raising the drinking age or the 55 mph speed limit. Such advocacy would help to form new coalitions and stir up the ideological pot. In particular, progressives should oppose the use of federal green-mail -- forcing states and localities to take measures at the risk of losing federal funding -- as a clear end run around the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights. As the Supreme Court noted in Kansas v. Colorado, this amendment "discloses the widespread fear that the national government might, under the pressure of supposed general welfare, attempt to exercise powers which had not been granted."

- Federal spending: In an important and necessary break with liberal thinking, progressives should become advocates of a much smaller federal government by pressing for the direct distribution of funds to the state and local level. Whatever problems of malfeasance or nonfeasance may result, they are almost guaranteed to be less than the misuse of these funds at the federal level. As Congress' own auditor, Comptroller General Charles Bowsher, recently told a hearing that "there are hardly any [federal] agencies that are well managed." The flaw in liberal thinking is that federal housing funds are used for housing, agriculture funds for farmers and so forth. In fact, an extraordinary percentage of these moneys are used to maintain a superstructure to carry out poor housing policy or bad farm policy. The basic principle should be to get the money to the streets or the farms as quickly -- and with as few intermediaries -- as possible.

Further, progressives should challenge the presumption that the feds know best. At the present time, much of the best government is at the state and local level. It could do even better without the paperwork and the restrictions dreamed up in Washington to fill the working day. And even when that doesn't prove true, you don't have to drive as far to make your political anger known.

- Small business: Many progressives act as though an economy isn't necessary. It would pay great dividends if the progressive agenda included support for small businesses. Small businesses generate an extraordinary number of new jobs. Further, small business is where many of the values of the progressive movement can be best expressed in an economic context. While ideally many of these businesses should be cooperatives, even within the strictures of conventional capitalism they offer significant advantages over the mega-corporation. Writing in the New York Times, brokerage firm president Muriel Siebert said recently: "Unlike monolithic Fortune 500 companies, small businesses behave like families. [A study] indicated that one reason for the durability of businesses owned by women is the value they place on their workers. It showed that small businesses hold on to workers through periods when revenues decline. Rather than eliminate workers, they tend to cut other expenses, including their own salaries. . . Nearly half of the workers laid off by large companies have to swallow pay reductions when they find new full-time work; two out of three work for at least 20 percent less money than before." As Jon Rowe says of Korean family-run groceries, "a family operates on loyalty and trust, the market operates on contract and law."

- Decentralizing the federal government: There are a number of federal agencies that are already quite decentralized. Interestingly, these agencies are among those most often praised. The National Park Service, the Peace Corps, the Coast Guard, and US Attorneys all have dispersed units with a relatively high degree of autonomy and a strong sense of turf responsibility by their employees. A further example can be found within the postal service. While many complain about mail service, you rarely hear them gripe about their own mail carrier, who is given a finite task in a finite geographical area. I stumbled across this phenomenon while serving in the Coast Guard. At the time, the Guard had about 1800 units worldwide but only 3000 officers, with many of the officers concentrated on larger ships and in headquarters units. Thus there were scores of units run by enlisted personnel who rarely saw an officer. The system worked extremely well. It worked because, once training and adequate equipment had been provided, there was relatively little a bureaucratic superstructure could do to improve the operations of a lifeboat or loran station. As with education, a bureaucracy in such circumstances can do itself far more good than it can do anyone in the field.

Similarly, a former Peace Corps regional director told me that in his agency's far-flung and decentralized system, there was no way he could control activities in the two dozen countries under his purview, yet the Peace Corps became one of the most popular federal programs in recent times. Can the success of these decentralized agencies be replicated, say, in housing or urban development? Why not give it a try? If federal housing moneys were distributed by 50 state directors who were given considerable leeway in the mix of policies they could fund and approve, we would, for starters, begin to have a better idea of which programs work and which don't.

- Raising the issue: Every policy and piece of legislation should be subjected to evaluation not only according to the old rules of right and left but according to the ideology of scale. We must constantly be asking not only whether what is proposed is right, but whether it is being done at the right level of society's organization.

These are just a few examples of how a politics of devolution might begin to develop. It is needed if for no other reason than it is our best defense against the increasing authoritarianism of the federal government and the monopolization of economic activity. It is also needed because, without it, democracy becomes little more than a choice between alternative propaganda machines. In the 1960s, Robert McNamara declared, "Running any large organization is the same, whether it's the Ford Motor Company, the Catholic Church or the Department of Defense. Once you get the certain scale, they're all the same." And so, increasingly to our detriment, they are. We must learn and teach, and make a central part of our politics, that while small is not always beautiful, it has -- for our ecology, our liberties, and our souls -- become absolutely essential.

Wikipedia- Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. . . Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole.

The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching. The concept or principle is found in several constitutions around the world (for example, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which asserts States rights).

It is presently best known as a fundamental principle of European Union law. According to this principle, the EU may only act (i.e. make laws) where action of individual countries is insufficient. . . .

The present formulation is contained in Article 5(2) of the Treaty on European Union:

"In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community."

Subsidiarity in the Catholic church - The principle of subsidiarity was first developed by German theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning. . . . Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. . .

"Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.

The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of communism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. . .