Monday, December 31, 2012

Indestructible Hulk #1 + Obama-Biden Rolled by GOP Again

As Obama and Biden get rolled once again by the Republicans setting up a disastrous precedent for the upcoming debt ceiling confrontation (see Krugman's blog today) I take refuge in the first issue of the Indestructible Hulk, by Mark Waid & Leinil Yu.  Check out this incredible page.  The Hulk delivers the hurt to the Mad Thinker.

False Equivalence

Krugman's column today is an important one.  While ostensibly about Starbucks C.E.O. Howard Schultz's self-insertion into the fiscal cliff debate what Krugman is really after, besides outing the faux non-partisan Fix The Debt organization as a front group for prominent conservative and Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson, is an illumination of the pervasive practice of false equivalence.

False equivalence as practiced by pundits featured in the mainstream media (like Tom Brokaw on yesterday's "Meet the Press") is the operating assumption that both parties are ideologically rigid and unwilling to compromise when the actual daily reporting — the historical record — is clear that it is one party, the Republican Party, particularly after the 2010 midterm elections, that is guilty of this.  This from today's Jennifer Steinhauer synopsis of the numerous fiscal showdowns of the last two years that led up to the cliff: "But a fundamental ideological chasm between the majority of lawmakers and an empowered group of Congressional Republicans — fueled by some Tea Party victories in both chambers in 2010 — has made it more difficult than ever to reach fiscal and budgetary compromises."

A reading of Jonathan Weisman's story today about the ongoing negotiations in the Senate reinforces the idea that it is foremost the Republican Party that is seeking to jam the process and foment discord:
Much of the umbrage was oddly discordant. Mr. Obama has long advocated for a permanent fix to the alternative minimum tax, which must be “patched” each year to keep it from applying to middle-income families. Until this weekend, both Democrats and Republicans appeared willing to let the across-the-board cuts take effect, at least temporarily, while a larger deficit deal is negotiated early next year.

Indeed, many Republicans were the loudest in protesting the cuts. Now that Democrats want them canceled, Republicans equate that position to raising taxes in order to spend more.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Seahawks Pass Rush Disappears Again

Drinking lots of coffee and watching the home team underperform isn't a smart way to relax; also, I've been popping up off my bed on the floor where I watch the game to periodically check online the status of the fiscal cliff negotiations in the Senate.

The Seahawks pass rush disappeared.  The last time they lost, Week 12 in Miami, was largely due to the lack of a pash rush in the fourth quarter allowing rookie QB Ryan Tannehill to move the Dolphins down the field at will.  Today Sam Bradford had time to sit in the pocket and zip throws to his wideouts.

The Rams on the other hand had a mighty pass rush, sacking Russell Wilson time and time again.  But to the credit of Darrell Bevel there was no panic, no major shift in the play calling.  Seattle stuck with the read option and piled up good yardage on the ground.  Then the Seahawks got a lucky break break in the 4th quarter when Marshawn Lynch fumbled but Seattle recovered beyond the first down marker.  Golden Tate came through with a huge catch thanks to a Russell Wilson scramble, and we were on the way to our fifth win in a row.

Never having lost at home this season, to lose now in the final game would have been bad.  But the home team hung tough.  Now it's the playoffs at either the Cowboys or Redskins.  I'm rooting for RG3.

The Government Crackdown on Occupy

There is a good post today on naked capitalism; it provides a rundown on the story from last week that the FBI, in coordination with the banking sector and the Department of Homeland Security, surveilled Occupy Wall Street and turned a blind eye to an assassination plot targetting OWS participants (which David Lindorff writes about this weekend on the Counterpunch web site).

No surprise here. For a few months at the end of 2011 things looked hopeful, like the people were going to rise up and push back against the plutocracy. This of course got the domestic security apparatus scrambling.

I supported the Occupy movement in Seattle by participating in rallies at the original Westlake Park encampment. I also gave a modest amount of money every month to Occupy Seattle. My local union donated food and supplies. When the camp relocated to Seattle Central Community College I stopped by and visited Fridays after work. Originally it was a clean, well-run tent city; then, after the rains came in November, an appearance of squalor took hold. The arrival of inclement weather and Bloomberg's razing of the Zuccotti Park encampment proved to be hurdles too high for the movement to clear.

Elections are Supposed to Matter

I can't remember the last time I watched "Meet the Press."  And now I know why.  It's awful.

David Gregory, the moderator of the show, I used to think was a cut above the kind of corporate beltway reporter we've grown accustomed to the last several decades -- glib, superficial, completely lacking compassion for or understanding of people who have no bargaining power at work, whose job keeps him or her from homelessness and whose paycheck keeps shrinking. But I see no difference between David Gregory and any other facile shit bird who provides political opinions for the television networks.  His interview of Obama, who was competent and singularly unfiery, was peppered with petulant insinuations that the fiscal cliff impasse was somehow the fault of the White House. Why? Because in the end -- this is what I gleaned from watching the round table discussion following the interview -- it's all about results.  And if there are no results then the president cannot avoid responsibility because the president is afterall the president. This is what qualifies as expert analysis on the world's longest running television show. The round table consensus, kicked off by David Brooks, is that Obama is to blame, really, because he has not gone out of his way to engage all Republican points of view. This is known as false equivalence.  The corporate media treats both parties as equally culpable. Finally Doris Kearns Goodwin chimed in that Obama tried the "inside game" before and it didn't work; that's why he's going over the heads of congressional leadership now.

The point is that we're a democracy.  (We must try to believe this.) In democracies elections are supposed to matter. Obama won a historic election.The GOP lost -- Romney lost the presidential election; the Senate stayed Democrat despite ample predictions of a change in the majority; and while the GOP maintained control of the House, it lost seats there too.  Republicans refuse to acknowledge this, and this denial is sending us over the cliff.  In a democracy elections must matter.

At least Obama did a solid job explaining where we're at with two days left of the year. Either the Senate will cobble together a deal by this afternoon that both parties can agree on or Harry Reid will bring to a vote tomorrow a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for those who earn under $250,000 a year. Republicans must decide if their gerrymandering can keep them safe from voter wrath.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hulu Removes Old Episodes of NFL Game of the Week

A rich discovery I made last year was the ability to view online for free old episodes of the "NFL Game of the Week" on hulu.  I made a study of all the seasons from the late 1960s and early 1970s.  A time machine nirvana for this bachelor, I spent each Friday and Saturday night during the late fall and early winter studying Paul Brown's early Cincinnati Bengals teams, the always potent Cleveland Browns, the brief zenith of Plunkett's Patriots with Sam Cunningham and Mack Herron at running back and John Brodie's excellent San Francisco 49ers.  I came to the conclusion that at one time Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was the center of American masculinity.

My idea was that having made it up to around 1975 -- an enormously critical year in the political history of this country -- I would resume my exploration as soon as the days shortened this autumn.  But I couldn't find "NFL Game of the Week" on hulu; the link that was marked as a favorite on my web browser had expired.  I made a couple more cursory attempts before giving up figuring that it proved too popular and had been moved to a new location where payment was required.  Based on a new Google search and info gleaned from an online video guide web site I have not visited until now it looks as if Amazon will offer old episodes on demand at some point in the future (and will likely be free for Prime members).

Obama to Outline Budget Deal on Meet the Press

Obama will be on "Meet the Press" this Sunday morning to make the pitch for a deal that appears to be taking shape in the Senate.  According to today's story by Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire for those earning more than $400,000 a year.  Dickering continues on the estate tax.
Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, said “things are starting to gel” around a deal. According to aides familiar with the talks, the plan, in its early stages, centered on a deal that would extend all the expiring Bush income tax cuts up to $400,000 in income.

Some spending cuts would pay for a provision putting off a sudden reduction in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients. The deal would also prevent an expansion of the alternative minimum tax to keep it from hitting more of the middle class. It would extend a raft of already expired business tax cuts, like the research and development credit, and would renew tax cuts for the working poor and the middle class included in the 2009 stimulus law.
A farm bill has to be produced as well: "The most recent farm bill, passed in 2008, expired on Sept. 30. If a new farm bill is not passed or the current one extended, farm programs would lose billions in financing and revert to the 1949 law." 

The debt ceiling will be kicked down the road for the new Congress, assuring that this drama of ill will and mendacity will continue unabated into next year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

NFL Religion

The consumer is maximally exploited. There is no longer any room to maneuver. Shock greets one at every turn. Time has been constricted to the binary logic -- the on-off, 01 -- of machine language. More often now I think of the Shangri La of three months on unemployment that I enjoyed during the spring of 2011, the period of being a masterless man.

The Redskins-Cowboys titanic struggle to see who goes to the playoffs is this Sunday night. I'm suiting up in spirit with RG3, the scholar athlete sweet bird of youth transcendent. The NFL, larded as it is with corporate commercialism, still flies faster than a speeding bullet. Compare it to the decline of organized religion. When I walk around every church I come across seems to be in a state of abandonment and blight. Comic book superheroes and sports stars are our gods now.

Fiscal Cliff a Political Creation of GOP

The canard in D.C. plays on.  Members of the Senate are back in session and the House has been called back for Sunday.  Jonathan Weisman reports that there is both hope and pessimism that a deal can be struck: hope from Mitch McConnell that talks are finally percolating; gloom from Harry Reid that procedurally there is not enough time on the clock to finalize any legislation before the end of the year.

Yes, year's end.  Thank goodness.  Today is my last working day of 2012.  And I am relieved.  Jennifer Steinhauer has an entertaining story about the prickly and despondent senators called away from holiday back to the Capitol; it's rich with atmospheric detail, which is unusual for political correspondence.  This is the delightful second-to-last paragraph:
The House and Senate have held numerous pro forma sessions during the week between Christmas and New Year over the years, and in 1995 during a major budget battle. But the last time they held roll call votes that week, before Thursday, was during the second session of the 91st Congress, in 1970, amid a large spending fight and a filibuster over financing for a supersonic transport plane.
For some reason I am fascinated by a SST filibuster in the final days of 1970. Pat and Dick in the White House. The Weather Underground on the run.

The mirage of a deal taking shape, according to Weisman, seeks to "avert most of the tax increases on Jan. 1, to prevent a sudden cut in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients and to extend expiring unemployment benefits."

Nelson Schwartz has a story about the economic impact of the fiscal cliff negotiations.  Consumer confidence took a big hit in the first part of the month; it's being compared to the debt ceiling debacle from the summer of 2011:
Several economists said the current situation recalls the standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. In that case, too, consumer confidence eroded as both sides in Washington refused to blink until the last moment, but experts added the consequences were likely to be longer-lasting this time because the changes in tax policy affect individuals directly.
We must remember, as housing prices finally start to recover and unemployment continues its incremental decline, that the fiscal cliff is a political creation of the Republican Party. The GOP wants to alter fundamentally popular government programs, social democratic programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Republicans are willing to risk a crisis to achieve this goal.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Andrew Smithers Interview

Today at work I clicked on a link I spotted on Google News and read an interview of Andrew Smithers by Jon Shayne, a.k.a, Merle Hazard.  The interview appears on Paul Solman's PBS web page.

Here is the key quote from Smithers:
[T]here have been two major changes. First, the share of output which goes to all employees has fallen to its lowest recorded level. Second, the proportion of total remuneration that goes to the higher paid has shot up. Both of these changes have been bad from the viewpoint of the average worker. The result is that current management reward systems are producing both economic damage and social disquiet.
Smithers thinks that the current situation -- the domination of the 1% -- is so out of whack it can't been maintained and we will soon realign with historical norms.

But what will spark this realignment?  Is another crash coming?  It's certainly a strong possibility.

Strategy of Deception

We used to play a game called "smear the queer" when I was a kid.  One kid would run around carrying a ball chased by a pack of screaming kids until he was tackled or passed it off because he didn't want to be tackled.  The Republicans are engaged in a game of "smear the queer" as a strategy of deception in the fiscal cliff budget negotiations.  First Boehner was the ball carrier.  All eyes were on him.  The pack chased him around for several weeks.  Then he was tackled -- smeared --  when he couldn't get a conservative version of increased tax rates (for those earning over a million dollars a year) through his own caucus.  Now Boehner has tossed the ball to McConnell who is starting to make his moves, his zigs and zags, as the pack renews its chase.

House Republicans leaders say the Senate must act.  In order for this to happen minority leader Mitch McConnell must agree to not use  procedural maneuvers to block a deal.  This from today's story by Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer:
But Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said no one from the White House or from Mr. Reid’s office has reached out to begin negotiations. Democrats say that Mr. McConnell knows full well what they are proposing: the same Senate bill that passed in July extending all the expiring Bush-era income tax cuts on incomes below $250,000, setting the tax rate on dividends and capital gains at 20 percent, and stopping the alternative minimum tax from rising to hit more middle class taxpayers. Onto that, Democrats would like to add an extension of expiring unemployment benefits and a delay in across-the-board spending cuts while negotiations on a broader deficit reduction plan slips into next year.

Democrats now suggest that Republicans are content to wait until after the January deadline. On Jan. 3, Mr. Boehner is likely to be re-elected speaker for the 113th Congress. After that roll call, he may feel less pressure from his right flank against a deal.
Also in the Weisman and Steinhauer story is Geithner's note to Congress yesterday that the government will hit the debt ceiling on Monday.

So where are we at with five days left of the year?  Republicans are running out the clock, making it appear as if they're working towards a deal when they are not.  The press is starting to report the impact of cliff diving on the working and unemployed (loss of $1,000 for a household making $50,000 a year when 2% payroll tax cut expires; in the first quarter of 2013 three million people will lose federal unemployment benefits averaging $290 a week).  And we haven't even begun to address raising the debt ceiling.

It does not look good.

And clearly that's the impression the GOP desires.  When the Republicans don't control the federal government they want to make sure that it doesn't work.  They pursued this course for the last four years.  And even though they lost a historic election in November -- a clear rebuke from the electorate -- they appear intent on pursuing an obstructionist course for the next four years.  Republican leadership thinks that Obama will buckle confronted with government default.  And once he does the burgeoning youthful, multiracial, progressive electorate will be demoralized and accept defeat and realize that elections don't matter.  That's the GOP wish.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sunday Night's Seahawks Blow Out of the 49ers

Every day is a chore to make some meager meaning.  And often we are wrong, as I was in a previous post when I stated that being a fan is at best a break-even proposition.  Last Sunday night's Seahawk game was a rich surprise, an unexpected gift, particularly after San Francisco's drubbing of the Patriots in Foxboro the previous week.  I savored this Seahawk win for days.  Doug Baldwin's virile TD grabs.  Red Bryant's field goal block and Richard Sherman's return of it for paydirt.  Marshawn Lynch's power running and Russell Wilson's channeling of Fran Tarkenton.  To take my mind off a migraine during a delayed flight home yesterday I contemplated the play calling of Darrell Bevell: his use of the tight ends; how he incorporates everyone into the game plan.  Brilliant.

This isn't the first time that I've savored Sunday Seahawk victories.  Walking home along 12th Avenue I have replayed in my mind the Russell Wilson long bomb to Sidney Rice that stunned the Patriots in Week 6 and the read-option overtime demolition of Urlacher's Bear defense at Soldier Field in Week 13.  Those two games alone have put me in surplus for the season.  And now that Seattle is in the playoffs, regardless of whether we end up division champs or a wild card entrant, I am far past the break-even point.  Anything is possible for this team, even a super bowl victory. 

Thank you Richard Sherman.  Thank you Kam Chancellor.  Thank you Doug Baldwin.  Thank you Sidney Rice.  Thank you Golden Tate.  Thank you Russell Wilson.  Thank you Marshawn Lynch.  Thank you for this feeling of bounty, this loss of self.  What does one call it?  Don't we call it love?

Great thanks to my coworker and union sister who attended last Sunday's Seahawk-49er game and provided the photos.  (Note the urinating 'Hawk tailgaters.)

Cracker Paranoia

The fiscal cliff coverage in today's paper is relegated to the business page.  The story by Nelson Schwartz summarizes where we are at in the last week of the year and what economists think the impact that tax increases and spending cuts will have on the 7.7% unemployment recorded in November.  Consensus opinion seems to be pointing to several votes after January 1 to suspend the sequester and restore the Bush tax cuts for the 98% of us who do not earn more than $250,000 a year.
If the impasse lasted even longer and the full force of more than $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts hit the economy, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the country would slip into recession in the first half of 2013, with unemployment rising to 9.1 percent by the fourth quarter of 2013. But for all the pessimism recently, most observers still think a compromise will be reached, even if it takes a few more weeks.
We can say goodbye to the 2% payroll tax holiday that we've been enjoying since the stimulus bill was passed in 2009.

There is a good frontpage story by Trip Gabriel on the current state of the Tea Party.  Dick Armey has been removed as the head of FreedowWorks.  "He was eased out with an $8 million consulting contract."  FreedomWorks spent $40 million on the 2012 election cycle and Ted Cruz's senate win in Texas is all it can boast of.  Imagine if the Green Party -- any progressive third party -- had $40 million to spend.

Rather than campaign on fiscal cliff issues the Tea Party has decided to spotlight cracker paranoia:
Mr. Cummings, who is the Midwest coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, a national group, said a major issue he would be focusing on now was Agenda 21, a United Nations resolution that encourages sustainable development. It has no force of law in the United States, but a passionate element of the Tea Party sees it as a plot against American property rights.

Billie Tucker, an activist with the First Coast Tea Party in Florida, said she and others suspected that corruption on local election boards had led to Mr. Obama’s victory in the state. Activists want to investigate.

“Some people say it’s just a conspiracy theory, but there’s rumbling all around,” she said. “There’s all kinds of data, and no one’s talking about it, including, hello, the mainstream media.”

Another issue boiling is the “nullification” of the Affordable Care Act. Angry that Mr. Obama’s re-election means that the health care law will not be repealed, some activists claim that states can deny the authority of the federal government and refuse to carry it out.

At a Florida State Senate meeting this month, two dozen Tea Party activists called the law “tyrannical” and said the state had the right to nullify it.

Mr. Gaetz, the Senate president, a conservative Republican, said in an interview that he, too, disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law. But he called nullification “kooky.”

“We’re not a banana republic,” he said. It is “dangerous to the foundation of the republic when we pick and choose which laws we will obey.”
The Tea Party was never anything more than the John Birch Society pumped up with millions of dollars by the 1% and given a sheen of popularity by the mainstream media reporting on the legislative drama of Obamacare.  It'll be interesting to see if hardshell Obama-oriented conspiracy addicts can continue to provide the mirage of boots on the ground for the GOP.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Filial Piety Modeled on Mr. White

I am relieved, because of the burden of travel (the airports, the rental cars), that my exercise of filial piety in the form of visits to the mater and pater is finished for the year.  My next tentatively scheduled trip is Memorial Day.

I consider the relationship to my parents along the lines of the relationship of Mr. White to Mr. Orange in the beginning of Reservoir Dogs.  Mr. Orange has just been belly shot and is bloody and in agony and shrieking in pain and Mr. White cradles him in his arms and combs his hair and tells him he is not going to die.

Xmas on Capitol Hill

Returning to Capitol Hill on Christmas Day the first thing I notice is young people walking miniature dogs. 

Streets mostly barren.  Apartment buildings dark.  Restaurants and bars closed.  The neighborhood is blissfully abandoned.  The only sign of life are the young unshaven men being led by little dogs in the dark afternoon rain.  Christmas is over.  Tomorrow it's back to work.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Obama Governs Like a Clinton

The Boehner flameout fills today's paper.  Before leaving for Hawaii Obama made a statement, according to Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman, "for Congress to approve a stripped-down measure by year’s end to prevent a tax increase for all but the richest taxpayers and to extend aid for two million unemployed Americans."

The stripped-down deal is a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000 a year, an increase in the tax on dividends and capital gains from 15% to 20%, a continuation of emergency unemployment benefits and a suspension of the sequester.  In order for this to happen Boehner has to bring the deal to the floor of the House for a vote and McConnell has to agree not to filibuster it in the Senate.  It is doubtful they will do so.  But assuming they comply my worry remains Obama and what he's willing to bargain away to get any deal at all.

At this point I'm willing to concede that I have been wrong and that the cynical interpretation of the Obama presidency by the Counterpunch Left -- that he is a faithful servant of an imperialistic, plutocratic status quo -- is right.  Of course everything isn't hard and fast and black and white.  But it can't be denied that Obama governs like a Clinton. 

Here is the question that needs to be asked -- and asked of the Counterpunch Left -- "Is the disappointment of an Obama presidency worse than a Romney White House?"

Is this even a legitimate question or just the "lesser-of-two-evils" refrain?

I'm off to Southern Oregon for the holiday.  I'll be back Christmas Day.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Food Bank at Noon

At the noon lunch hour I witnessed a long line of people stretching down South King Street beneath I-5.  There's a food bank at South King and 10th Avenue that serves the Asian community.  Whenever I return from a trip to the post office at lunch I walk up King Street and I frequently see people waiting in line.  The food bank is a modular structure surrounded by a high chainlink fence.  There is a gate manned by one or two attendants.  People seem to be admitted individually.  And when a person returns she or he will be carrying a plastic shopping bag filled with produce which often times she or he will pick through and clean squatting right there in the gutter along King Street.

Boehner Can't Deliver

The jig is up.  Boehner crashes and burns.  He can't deliver his own "Plan B."  As summarized by Jonathan Weisman in a frontpage, top-of-the-fold, right-hand-side story in this morning's paper (with the subhead "Embarrassing Setback"):
The refusal of a band of House Republicans to allow income tax rates to rise on incomes over $1 million came after Mr. Obama scored a decisive re-election victory campaigning for higher taxes on incomes over $250,000. Since the November election, the president’s approval ratings have risen, and opinion polls have shown a strong majority not only favoring his tax position, but saying they will blame Republicans for a failure to reach a deficit deal.

With a series of votes on Thursday, the speaker, who faces election for his post in the new Congress next month, had hoped to assemble a Republican path away from the cliff. With a show of Republican unity, he also sought to strengthen his own hand in negotiations with Mr. Obama. The House did narrowly pass legislation to cancel automatic, across-the-board military cuts set to begin next month, and shift them to domestic programs.

But the main component of “Plan B,” a bill to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts for everyone with incomes under $1 million, could not win enough Republican support to overcome united Democratic opposition. Democrats questioned Mr. Boehner’s ability to deliver any agreement. 
The situation as it stands now is that Republicans are going home for Christmas.  Their conference is split.  Some want a compromise; others don't.  Boehner is crippled.  The way forward being talked about is for Boehner to bring something to the floor that could pass with Democratic support and some Republican votes.  It would be a kamikaze mission for Boehner who would likely lose his speakership as a result, but some see this as a choice Boehner is willing to make provided he gets an agreement he likes with Obama.  This from the conclusion of Weisman's story:

“The math changes” with a bipartisan deal, said Representative Steven C. LaTourette, a retiring Republican moderate from Ohio, who predicted Mr. Boehner could win at least half of House Republicans. “If there’s a negotiated settlement with the president, the speaker will put it on the floor and we’ll see where the chips fall.” 
I don't see it.  Nothing Boehner has done indicates that he would buck his caucus and work with the Democrats and Obama to seal a big deal.  What does worry me -- particularly after watching his last press conference -- is what Obama might concede to a wounded Boehner to get him to try a kamikaze mission.  Obama can be rolled. 

At this point I wouldn't bother with Boehner at all.  He's unreliable; he can't deliver.  He's a sound bite, a hallucination.  Let him go.  Let's go off cliff; let's reset the terms of the debate.  We'll deal with the Mad Mullahs in the New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Political Action Committee Meeting Woes

Children splashing in their urine.  I'm sorry.  I'm not being charitable.  But that's what it felt like I was witnessing as I sat at a conference table for two hours at a meeting of my local union's political action committee (PAC).  People -- not everyone -- need to get their gun off; they need to hear themselves and they need to be heard.  So discussion rather than staying on point will digress and then circle back and then digress again.

I've been active in my union off and on for over ten years.  Back in my salad days of the millennium I was something of a small caliber politico active in a variety of causes with an assortment of groups.  I was a union steward and briefly a central labor council delegate.  But I burned out and pulled back.  Then I changed unions and put in a nightmarish stint at a SEIU local before returning to the fold of the office employees international about a year-and-a-half later.  I began commuting two-and-a-half hours a day on the bus working as a dispatcher for a commercial carpenters local at the same time I was wrapped up in a doomed relationship with a massage therapist.  I couldn't spare a moment to volunteer, or so I thought.

After I parted company with my girlfriend I started to become active again.  First, I devoted what turned out to be an inordinate amount of energy to make a modest correction in our local's out-of-work list.  Next, along with a coworker ally, I set my sights on boosting PAC membership.  It's a work in progress.  Currently less than 2% of our local's members contribute to the PAC.  Woeful.  People are distracted, ignorant, while collective bargaining rights disappear in front of our eyes. 

There is nothing to do but try harder no matter how discouraging it gets.  Labor unions are precious no matter how imperfect; they are one of the great manifestations of Western rationality.

Wile E. Coyote Politics

On my arrival home last night after sitting through a two-hour political action committee meeting I watched Obama's thirty-six minute press conference.  He announced that vice president Biden will lead the effort to come up with legislative proposals for gun regulation.  Then he took questions.  All questions except one dealt with the fiscal cliff.  The first questioner asked why Obama broke a campaign pledge to exclude Social Security from the budget negotiations.  Obama was defensive; and throughout the question-and-answer period the defense of his decision to meet Boehner "at least halfway" revealed a contradiction.  On the one hand Obama correctly argued that he campaigned and was elected based on a pledge to raise taxes on the wealthy, that this is what a majority of Americans want; then on the other hand he said people want compromise, and that's what he did.  Of course people can desire contradictory things.  And maybe Obama is just trying to give the people what they want.  But it's bad politics.

Krugman points out in his blog from yesterday that Obama's offer to Boehner maintains most of the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains.  Krugman was reserving judgment until he had learned more about what Obama had offered.  Now his position is that Obama must make absolutely no more concessions even if this means going over the cliff.  The problem, as Krugman points out, is that Republicans are interpreting Obama's latest offer as a sign of weakness and as proof that further concessions are close at hand.

And that is how to look at Boehner's "Plan B" scheduled for a vote today -- as a way not only to curry favor with voters if negotiations collapse but also as one last volley meant to extract more concessions from the president.  That's assuming that Boehner can get it passed.  The reporting today from Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman casts doubt on this. 

One bright spot if Boehner can't deliver his "Plan B" is we'll know that the jig is up.  Talks will be finished.  Boehner, unable to get his own bill through, won't be able to deliver anything.  Then we can, like Wile E. Coyote, settle in and get ready for life on the downside of the cliff.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Boehner's Plan B

The journey through the fiscal cliff labyrinth continues.  With each day the path to a deal grows more twisted.  The story today from Jonathan Weisman regards Boehner's "Plan B."  This is the speaker's plan to bring a vote to the floor of the House on Thursday on a tax increase for people earning more than a million dollars a year.  The Democrats are opposed as are a number of Republicans in Boehner's caucus.  "Plan B" is another ruse hatched by GOP leadership looking for a way to soften the blow of public disapproval once negotiations finally collapse.  The money quote from Weisman is towards the end of his story:
It is not clear whether the Boehner plan is a serious alternative or primarily a bargaining tactic to extract more concessions from Mr. Obama. Rob Nabors, the president’s chief liaison to Congress, met with House Democrats on Tuesday and said talks were moving forward.

But privately, he expressed pessimism that Mr. Boehner could sign on to any deal, according to people familiar with those conversations.
The reaction to the news that Obama is willing to accept a chained CPI continues to grow. While still hedging based on the lack of details as to what Obama actually agreed to, Krugman has come out against the chained CPI as a cruel benefit cut for seniors and an awful move -- cutting Social Security -- for a Democratic president to make. Annie Lowrey has a "Debt Reckoning" sidebar today explaining the chained CPI. It's an index that takes into account consumer substitution of higher-priced items with less costly ones. The example that is always trotted out is that if apples are expensive people will buy oranges, if they're cheaper, instead. A chained CPI is supposed to reflect this substitution. As Krugman says, "What it does mean is that after retirement your payments grow more slowly, about 0.3 percent each year. So if you retire at 65, your income at 75 would be 3 percent less under this proposal than under current law; at 85 it would be 6 percent less."
Peter Baker has a "think" piece about Obama's response to the Newtown massacre and how likely it is that he will lead a legislative battle to regulate guns.  Obama has been taciturn about his plans.  The gist of Baker's analysis is that Obama only engages in fights he thinks he can win.  He's a status quo leader.  Of course there's a lot of work to be done within the parameters of the current system.  But if the system is failing fundamentally -- as Newtown clearly showed -- we need a paradigm shift.  Last month's election provided the impetus for such a shift.  But now -- with pictures of John Boehner leading the news each day -- it's back to the Washington D.C. corporate-occupied-territory mindset.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fleeing the Beast of the Sea & Fighting John Boehner

Last night I dreamed of walking along a dirt road in the mountains and coming upon a feral dog.  It was a large, shorthair dog with big paws and with long whiskers and pointy ears like a cat.  I stopped in my tracks and the feral dog crouched as if to attack.  I turned on my heels and took off running back the way I came. 

I had come from a campround.  At the campground was a small bandshell where some campers were lounging with their assorted camping gear.  Among the campers was Speaker of the House John Boehner and his entourage.

Seeing such an august authority figure I cried out for help.  The large cat-like feral dog that was chasing me had morphed into two feral dogs.  Identical twins.  John Boehner ignored me, pretending that I didn't exist.

I either fought off the feral dogs or outsprinted them to the safety of the mountain campground bandshell.  Once there I started shouting at Boehner, "You saw that I was in trouble.  Why didn't you try to help?"

He wouldn't look at me.  He could only act distracted and mutter under his breath.  Finally I grabbed him by the face and slammed his head to the ground and started throwing blows to his body.  His entourage interceded and got him back up on his feet and then an argument ensued covering what I can't remember but it went on a long time and was interspersed with more punching and grappling and this lasted until I checked my watch at three or four in the morning.

There are two beasts in the Book of Revelation: the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth.  The beast of the sea looks cat-like.  I've never read the Book of Revelation.  In college I took a course from Art Quinn on the rhetoric of the Bible and read the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, but not the Book of Revelation.  Back somewhere in my mind though I'm sure I knew -- maybe from watching The Omen when I was a kid -- that the beast is cat-like. 

Maintenance of a Failed Satus Quo

A fiscal cliff deal does seem to be in the offing.  I read Jonathan Weisman's story online last night and again this morning with the delivery of the paper and the gist of the bargain is that Obama has reduced his revenue demand by four hundred billion dollars, from $1.6 trillion to $1.2 trillion, in an attempt to meet Boehner, who recently raised his revenue target from $800 billion to $1 trillion.  Also, "The White House plan would permanently extend Bush-era tax cuts on household incomes below $400,000, meaning that only the top tax bracket, 35 percent, would increase to 39.6 percent. The current cutoff between the top rate and the next highest rate, 33 percent, is $388,350."  Obama's position now is to let only the top tax rate, not the top two tax rates, revert to Clinton-era levels.

On the spending side, Obama has come up with $1.22 trillion in cuts over ten years, part of which is from changing the way the government calculates inflation.  Medicare and Medicaid are to be cut by $400 billion.

Obama wants a two-year increase in the debt ceiling.  Boehner is willing to give one year.  Included in any deal, Obama wants an extension of the emergency federal unemployment benefits and some more stimulus spending .  Nothing was reported on the fate of the estate tax.  Boehner is set to bring the deal to his conference this morning.

If this is the deal, I'm not satisfied.  It is basically a maintenance of the status quo, a status quo which is not working for working people.  Recalling Paul Krugman's column from last Friday, where he argued that the fiscal cliff is more a political crisis than a budgetary one, the deal being reported by Weisman doesn't alter the political landscape in the way that going off the cliff would.  And that's what we need -- a big paradigm shift.  We've got to start acting more collectively to address the numerous huge problems that confront us.  We will not be able to do so as long as the Mad Mullahs, who serve at the behest of the 1%, hold sway in the House.  Going off the fiscal cliff would call the question.

What I've been calling the Counterpunch Left is apparently right and I've been wrong.  Obama is a Manchurian Candidate for the plutocracy to that extent that he maintains a status quo that is fundamentally plutocratic and unsustainable.

It's interesting that Krugman blogged yesterday afternoon that he wants to see if the "Republican crazies" scuttle the deal before weighing in on whether to support it.  He says a "chained CPI" is a real benefit cut but far less damaging than an increase in the Medicare eligibility age.  He says there's some merit in going off the cliff in order to out the GOP Mad Mullahs; then he says, "but there’s also an argument that this might not work."

Monday, December 17, 2012

No Exit

Today was one of those Mondays when I feel more tired walking through the front door than when I left last Friday at 5 p.m.  How does this happen?  Was it Obama's speech at the vigil in Newtown?  The 49ers-Patriots game on Sunday Night Football?  My Lake Union Loop run earlier that Sunday?  Whatever it was I could tell my coworkers felt the same -- stunned to be back in front of one's computer monitor with a new week about to begin.

The thought that clouds my mind is, "Somewhere I've made a mistake.  I shouldn't be hear.  I've got to find a way out."  And then my mind answers itself, "Oh, well, now, come on.  Just hang in there and deal with it.  You can't get out now."

The whole day is like bone rubbing on bone.  Outside a cold wind announces winter is on its way.  I listen to PJ Harvey's "White Chalk" at lunch recalling that it was my preferred album for sleeping on the #101 bus when I worked in Renton.  I force myself through the day.  I try to get as much done as possible.  Because when in doubt, when you feel as if you are about to be suffocated by your job, there is always the work itself; that's where the only hope for solace is.

Negotiations Progress + Right Wing Strategy

The fiscal cliff news today reported by Jonathan Weisman and Jackie Calmes is that there is progress in the negotiations between Boehner and Obama.  The progress is that Boehner has finally agreed to a rate increase for the rich.  The problem is that the rate increase would apply only to households making more than $1 million a year, raising only $300 billion over ten years.  This is far short of Obama's recently lowered demand of $1.4 trillion in new revenue over ten years.  Republicans have yet to specify how they will make up the difference.  What deductions would be eliminated?

Another idea floated by Boehner is a one-year increase in the debt ceiling.  And while Boehner has shelved the proposal to raise Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, he is sticking to his demand that government reduce its cost-of-living adjustments.

It seems like a ruse to me, the smallest of gestures; so when talks finally collapse and the Bush tax cuts expire for everyone and the sequester kicks in Boehner can say, "See, I tried; I gave ground."  This way he can deflect some of the public ire that polls show is coming the GOP's way once we go off the cliff.

An important story in today's paper is Nicholas Confessore and Monica Davey's description of how Amway scion Dick Devos along with the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity ginned up right-to-work legislation in Michigan.  Rightist strategy appears oriented towards gaining control in state legislatures and thereby ensuring "a favorable position for Congressional redistricting." 

The Mad Mullahs in the House of Representatives are going to be with us for a while.  Will we continue to placate them?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Seahawks Read Option Source of Strength

The bizarre aspect of fan psychology is that I only feel intense emotion when the home team is losing.  When the Seahawks are winning and winning big it's no big deal, the status quo, just another day at the office.  The last two weeks the Seahawks have scored 50 points -- 50 points so far in the 4th quarter against Buffalo; 58 last week against Arizona.  Rather than study every snap, as I usually do, I tended to chores in the kitchen.  If the game is remotely close, or even if Seattle is being demolished, I will watch every play.  What does this say about being a devoted fan?  That one can never come out ahead.  It's either emotional devastation or business as usual.

That being said, I do think the Seahawks have made a quantum leap in the right direction.  It was the Chicago game and the success Russell Wilson had running the read option.  It was a question I had earlier this season.  Why wasn't Pete Carroll running more option plays?  Well, now -- look at the first half of today's game -- the Seattle offense is foremost Russell Wilson running the read option, and every other set -- spread formation, the I -- second.  And this is as it should be.  You keep the ball on the ground, Marshawn Lynch still gets his yards, but Wilson can also complete passes to his receivers.  San Francisco is also now primarily a read-option offense with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.  We'll see how the 49ers do tonight against New England.

The Seahawk defense looked a little soft in the first half against the Bills.  But they've had to fill holes in the secondary.  Then in the second half they put the game away by generating several turnovers.  Earl Thomas hit paydirt with a dynamite interception and long return.

I'm starting to believe we can make a run in the playoffs.  The 49ers next week at home will tell a lot.

Lewis Lapham on Substance Abuse

During the first half of the Broncos-Ravens game I read Lewis Lapham's piece on drugs and the national security state that appeared last Sunday on  He makes the argument that the war on drugs is a war against human nature; that the quest for intoxication has been with us from the beginning.
If what was at issue was a concern for people trapped in the jail cells of addiction, the keepers of the nation’s conscience would be better advised to address the conditions -- poverty, lack of opportunity and education, racial discrimination -- from which drugs provide an illusory means of escape. That they are not so advised stands as proven by their fond endorsement of the more expensive ventures into the realms of virtual reality. Our pharmaceutical industries produce a cornucopia of prescription drugs -- eye-opening, stupefying, mood-swinging, game-changing, anxiety-alleviating, performance-enhancing -- currently at a global market-value of more than $300 billion.

Add the time-honored demand for alcohol, the modernist taste for cocaine, and the uses, as both stimulant and narcotic, of tobacco, coffee, sugar, and pornography, and the annual mustering of consummations devoutly to be wished comes to the cost of more than $1.5 trillion. The taking arms against a sea of troubles is an expenditure that dwarfs the appropriation for the military budget.

Given the American antecedents both metaphysical and commercial -- Thomas Paine drank, “and right freely”; in 1910, the federal government received 71% of its internal revenue from taxes paid on the sale and manufacture of alcohol -- it is little wonder that the sons of liberty now lead the world in the consumption of better living through chemistry. The new and improved forms of self-invention fit the question -- to be, or not to be -- to any and all occasions.

For the aging Wall Street speculator stepping out for an evening to squander his investment in Viagra. For the damsel in distress shopping around for a nose like the one seen advertised in a painting by Botticelli. For the distracted child depending on a therapeutic jolt of Adderall to learn to read the Constitution. For the stationary herds of industrial-strength cows so heavily doped with bovine growth hormone that they require massive infusions of antibiotic to survive the otherwise lethal atmospheres of their breeding pens. Visionary risk-takers, one and all, willing to chance what dreams may come on the way West to an all-night pharmacy.

The war against human nature strengthens the fear of one’s fellow man. The red, white, and blue pills sell the hope of heaven made with artificial sweeteners. 
My twenties were devoted to heavy drinking, a habit developed at the university (see the poetry of William Cartwright).  I stopped when I hit thirty.  Then I started again in my late thirties due to the shock of returning to office work after being away from it for the better part of 1990s.  I stopped again and rode the water wagon for several years before toppling off because of the stress brought on by a new girlfriend.  I quit for the final time after seeing that alcohol actually made everything worse.  Exercise is a far superior way to handle stress whether it's from a job and/or interpersonal relationships.  Exercise is the true intoxicant. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Jungle Action

Cold and rainy in the Emerald City today.  Dark too.  There was nothing for a grown man to do but read comic books and stay indoors.  I am Marvel man.  I started reading comic books in grade school.  Because my hearing was poor, along with my seating placement at the back of the class (due to where my last name fell in the alphabet), I struggled early on and was regularly in the remedial reading group.  Then, thanks to my cousins, I discovered the joys of comic books.  And in the space of one summer between the third and fourth grades I went from the bottom to the top reading group.  Thanks to comic books.

I started reading them again as my last relationship was beginning to disintegrate.  I had pinned a lot of hopes on that relationship.  White man.  Black woman.  I believed fervently in the idea of being together.  But the reality turned out to be abysmal (see Chaucer's "The Merchant's Tale").

I think I was looking for some bedrock to lay my head on.   I needed to tap into the heroes of my youth.  Comic books fit the bill.

On the wall in my kitchen are cover scans of Black Panther's historic Bronze Age run in Jungle Action

Guidelines for Consensus Decision Making

I've mentioned before that my primary responsibility at work is to go through boxes of old documents and determine what needs to be salvaged and what can be shredded.  Occasionally I'll come across a gem, something out of the past that gleams across decades of correspondence between employer and union.  I found these guidelines in a box from the 1980s; they were on a photocopied sheet with a handwritten note on the top, "From Brother Huff."  Brother Huff might have been a helpful member on a bargaining committee.  What strikes me during this holiday season of clicking time clock negotiations on the fiscal cliff is how far removed our politics are from consensus.  I think these guidelines are accurate and effective not only in a bargaining situation but for worklife in general.  That our political discourse is the direct opposite of the guidelines is proof to me that the system (what does one call it, plutocratic, a.k.a., "pay to play," representative democracy?) is designed to produce indecision.


Treat differences of opinion as a way of:

  • Gathering additional information
  • Clarifying issues
  • Forcing the group to seek better alternatives.

If conflicts arise, try to deal with them immediately so they don't continue to hinder the group. Your willingness to take the risk and deal with personal conflicts can mean the difference between success or failure for the entire group.
  1. Be wary of quick and easy agreements. Examine the reasons for the apparent agreement to be sure that a true consensus has been reached.
  2. Try not to compete. Even if you win, in the long run the group may lose.
  3. Avoid arguing.
  4. Avoid win/lose stalemates.
  5. Avoid either/or propositions.
  6. Avoid a compromise if you feel your position is the most reasonable -- provided you have carefully listened to and answered the objections to your point of view.
  7. Try not to settle an issue by voting. It will split the team into winners and losers.
  8. Try to stick with the discussion even if somebody attacks you or your ideas.
  9. Don't attack people. It only causes them to be defensive and therefore less effective.
  10. Don't ignore conflict. Find out why it exists so that it can be dealt with and resolved.
  11. Listen and pay attention to what others have to say.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Friday after work I like to get my grocery shopping out of the way for the week.  I consider this the height of bachelor rationality -- using the last bit of fuel in my tank from the work week to take care of a chore that would otherwise chew into the weekend. 

At the checkout counter tonight my cashier buddy Marc tells me his day has been a rough one.  I agree.  It has been. 

"But it'll pass," I say. 

Then in unison: "It always does."

Fiscal Cliff Not a Debt Crisis But a Political Crisis

Based on a reading of today's paper I think it's clear that there will be no deal on the fiscal cliff.  Not only have the Republicans failed to identify the loopholes they will close in order to raise the $800 billion in revenue that Boehner has agreed to but they refuse to identify which spending cuts they want to make.  As put in an unsigned editorial in the New York Times:
None of these brave budget-cutters want to go on television and say, cut the F.B.I. Or cut the Border Patrol. Or cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that’s exactly what they’re doing by insisting on slashing discretionary spending. Republicans are so afraid of this reality that they won’t even detail their demands for cuts to the White House in the fiscal-cliff talks, instead waiting for President Obama to go first so they won’t be stuck with the blame. 
Both Paul Krugman's column and the front page story by Jonathan Weisman and Jackie Calmes point to months of bitter "trench warfare" to come.  This from the Weisman and Calmes:
If no deal is reached, Republicans are increasingly talking about a more hostile outcome in which the House passes legislation that extends tax cuts for the middle class, sets relatively low tax rates on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates, and cancels the across-the-board defense cuts, but leaves in place across-the-board domestic cuts. Then House Republicans would engage in what Mr. Boehner, in a private meeting last week, called “trench warfare,” a running battle with the president on spending, first as the government approaches its statutory borrowing limit early next year, then in late March, when a stopgap government spending bill runs out. But such legislation might not be able to pass the Senate, leaving the country no closer to a resolution. 
Get ready for more brinkmanship and the resulting market somersaults, first when we run up againt the debt ceiling next month and then in March when the continuing resolution that keeps the government running expires.

In Krugman's column one finds a refreshing, unvarnished assessment.  The fiscal cliff is not a debt crisis it's a political crisis brought on by a political party that is at a dead end ideologically.
It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.
And it's a party that still has enough juice to pass right-to-work legislation in a historically strong union state like Michigan; it's a party that is insulated by rigorous gerrymandering; and it is a party that, like the Marvel comics super villain Thanos, worships death.  Because what else can supporting the Pentagon at the expense of all other discretionary spending not to mention Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security mean?  It's best not to try to placate such a party, as Obama did in the summer 2011 debt ceiling negotiations.  Let's go off the cliff and meet the death worshippers head on.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'm Set Free

My last two girlfriends siphoned energy from me as sure as vampires drain their victims of blood.  I realized this early on in each of the relationships.  But rather than act on my realization and liberate myself I suffered on, rationalizing that my situation wasn't that bad.  What's the Velvet Underground line?  "Between thought and expression lies a lifetime."

One girlfriend, the prior one, liked to say, "All you want to do is fuck me."  The other girlfriend, the later one, liked to say, "You've lost your swagger."

It's been three years since I liberated myself.  And I've got to say life has been getting progressively better.  At one time I would've thought that the life of an abstemious bachelor would be the equivalent of living in hell.  Now I'm frightened that it might one day disappear.

The Woes of the Speaker of the House

Boehner has trouble with his caucus.  The gist of today's fiscal cliff story from Jonathan Weisman is captured in the quote from Democratic leader Chris Van Hollen:
“The biggest impediment right now is the speaker’s ability to get a decent number of Republican votes for an agreement,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who is the lead Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

“I’m getting increasingly concerned that one of the reasons the speaker is deciding to, I think, string out these discussions is that he wants to wait until Jan. 3, when the election for speaker takes place,” he said.
Which makes sense.  It appears the only way that the fiscal cliff is going to be resolved in the next two weeks is if Boehner can bring something back to the House for a vote, knowing full well that by doing so he might have to rely on Democrats and not Republicans to get it passed.  According to Van Hollen, Boehner is unwilling to do this; he wants to wait until his leadership position is secure.

Officially Boehner's bargaining position is unchanged.  He opposes an increase in tax rates for the rich; accepts the need to raise revenue in the amount of $800 billion by altering the tax code to close loopholes; and is waiting for Obama to agree to a major entitlement change, e.g., raising the Medicare eligibility age.  Unofficially Boehner is reported to be willing to accept an increase in tax rates for the rich as long he gets the Medicare change and/or a COLA reduction for Social Security.

Obama has been here once before, with the summer of 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, and he got burned.  He acquiesced to entitlement cuts, got outed, and then Boehner couldn't deliver.  Obama is not stupid.  He will not make the same mistake twice.  And the reason he won't, all strategy aside, is that the facts are overwhelming regarding the enormous redistribution of wealth over the last 30 years to the top 1%.  This from an excellent story today by Annie Lowrey:
The Congressional Budget Office has found that between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent of households saw their inflation-adjusted income grow 275 percent. For the bottom 20 percent, it grew just 18 percent, and federal tax and transfer programs also did less and less to reduce income inequality over that period.

The mounting concentration of wealth is even more dramatic. A recent Economic Policy Institute study found that between 1983 and 2010 about three-quarters of all new wealth accrued to the wealthiest 5 percent of households. Over the same period, the bottom 60 percent actually became poorer.
As we enter the third week of December I don't see that anything much has really changed.  Because of the Mad Mullahs in his conference Boehner doesn't feel like he can deliver anything unless he has big entitlement cuts, cuts which come at the expense of a working class that has been hammered decade after decade.  It's the debt ceiling negotiations all over again; it's as if the 2012 election never happened.  The wild card in all this is the rapid approach of Mad Mullah paradise, the debt limit.  I saw an interview the other day with Jackie Calmes.   She said a stumbling block in the talks has been the unwillingness of Republicans to bargain away their vote to raise the government's borrowing limit.

So the action over the next two weeks is going to be in what gets peeled off from the fiscal cliff negotiations and passed on its own.  Pay attention because what Congress decides to deal with by December 31 is what is really important to the people in power.  An argument can be made, and there are mentions of it in the press, that the Bush tax cuts will be extended for the 98%.  It could happen.  Politicians are interested in reelection.  But I see movement foremost on the estate tax, maybe in combination with an extension in emergency unemployment benefits.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Anthology of American Folk Music

One distinct advantage of being a bachelor is that I can ignore housekeeping for as long as I wish.  Unfortunately the building owner has scheduled for tomorrow and Friday the replacement of the smoke detector in each apartment.  Fearful of how my studio might look to the contractor performing the work I decided to vacuum tonight.  The overall appearance of insanity remains untouched but at least the rugs will be tidy.

Tonight Greg Vandy is doing a tribute on the Roadhouse to Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.  I listened repeatedly to the Anthology (what Greil Marcus has called prima facie evidence of the "Old, Weird America") for a two-year period, during which time I was either unemployed or underemployed but working hard nonetheless to help organize the local Green Party.

Low Union Density = Republican Majority

Looking at the map of the United States there is a strong correlation between union density, right to work and presidential voting.  Historically the right-to-work states are the Confederate States of America plus the Great Plains and Mountain West (minus Montana, Colorado and New Mexico).  These are all states generally speaking that have the lowest union density and vote for the Republican presidential candidate.

There are anomalies.  For instance, Nevada is a right-to-work state and is in the top 15 in terms of union density, outstripping traditionally strong union states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.  But this can probably be explained by the importance of Las Vegas to the state's economy and the historic role of organized labor in the development of that city.  (Another anomaly is Alaska, which has one of the highest rates of union membership, is not right to work and hasn't gone to a Democrat since LBJ in 1964.  Not to be glib but having traveled to Alaska it is easy to conclude that it is a world unto itself.  There is a heavy military as well as oil industry footprint.)

All in all it's a reliable formula.  You want to drop union density?  Pass a right-to-work law and gradually the state will turn Red on the electoral map.  Thinking about my own office workers bargaining unit, if people were given the option not to pay dues, at first there might be only one or two who would choose not to; but over time that number would certainly increase.  Idaho passed right to work in the 1980s and its unions have steadily eroded.  Last year the Idaho legislature amended the law to make it tougher, banning even the use of market recovery money.  Market recovery is when unions subsidize a signatory contractor so that it can be competitive in the bidding process with non-union companies.

Reading Monica Davey's story this morning about Michigan going right to work, her description of how the Republican Governor Rick Snyder immediately and on the down-low signed the bills into law and then announced it to the media after the fact, the whole thing -- state troopers facing off against union protesters outside -- has the vibe of a putsch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The seagulls now rule Pratt Park unchallenged.  The ravens have been dispersed.  I felt thankful for the protection of the spindly naked tree limbs as I ate an apple for lunch.  Overhead big seagulls sped, peering down at me looking for an opportunity to feed.  The security offered by being in close proximity to a tree felt primal, like it goes all the way back to the K–T boundary mass extinction event.  I am reminded of the line from one of the Lord of the Rings movies when the Luciferian Saruman says, "Tear down the ancient trees."  Or something to that effect.

The Gerrymandered House of Representatives

There is an excellent unsigned editorial in today's New York Times on the effort underway in Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature to pass right to work.  Parts of the editorial could have come from Workers World, a socialist weekly I've read for many years: "Concern for the rights of individual workers, of course, is not the real reason business is pushing so hard for these laws. Gutting unions is the fastest way to achieve lower wages and higher profits."

According to Monica Davey's front page story the pivotal figure in this fight is Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder who originally opposed right-to-work legislation as divisive but then suddenly changed his mind and requested last week that the legislature give him something to sign in a matter of days.  UAW's Bob King is quoted as saying that Snyder succumbed to Rightist pressure groups.  One can almost smell the sulfur belching from a Georgia Pacific smokestack.

Equally dispiriting in today's paper is Jonathan Weisman's story about GOP anti-tax purity in the House, which is based on rigorous gerrymandering.  This is the second time in as many weeks that Weisman has addressed the issue of how it is that Republicans in the House can be so out of touch with the national sentiment on raising taxes on the rich.  Polls consistently show that a supermajority want the wealthy to pay more and Social Security left alone, the exact opposite of the House majority.  How can this be?  Of the two houses of the United States Congress isn't the House of Representatives supposed to be the people's house?
House Democratic candidates won about 50.5 percent of the national vote in November, but took just 46 percent of the seats. In the last 40 years, only one other time — 1996 — did the party that won the majority of the votes end up with a minority of the House, said Nicholas Goedert, a political science researcher at Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri. Democrats actually gained two seats in the Senate.

Political scientists point to two factors influencing this divergence: a redistricting process dominated by Republican legislatures, and even more so, the concentration of Democratic voters in urban enclaves.

Gerrymandering did matter. In nine states redistricted by Republicans, the Democratic vote share was well above the percentage of seats won, Mr. Goedert said. For instance, in North Carolina, Democratic House candidates won 51 percent of the vote but only 27 percent of the House seats. Where Democrats drew the lines, in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, Democratic House delegations fared better than their vote totals, but not as drastically. This points to an inherent advantage for Republicans. In closely contested years, like 2012, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities has put them at a loss — and given House Republicans little reason to fear national opinion.
In other words, the House has become another Senate — a block on the popular will.  With Citizens United the law of the land, a rural congressional district is chump change for a Super PAC.  I imagine the GOP can mantain its 30-seat House majority for quite a while.  Barring a radical shift our future seems certain to be some form of plutocratic dystopia.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Walking Dead Season 3 Halfway Point

I found out just now that Walking Dead Season 3 is not going to air again until February, which, if I remember correctly, happened last year as well -- the season was split in half with a couple months hiatus in the middle.

Why is the show so popular?  The season three premiere was the most-watched basic cable drama telecast in history. 

Season three is distinctly superior to the first two; it offers a richer action-adventure narrative.  During the first two seasons I often asked myself, "Why am I watching this?"  But watch I did.  And I can speculate why.  I think the depiction of a post-apocalyptic landscape free of electronics and background noise appeals to us subconsciously.  (Loud sounds attract the zombies who sometimes travel in herds.  So silence is golden.)  Season two in particular was very quiet.  No background music at all, just a lot of melodramatic dialogue between the survivors on an old farm in the rural South.

I think a deeply quiet world populated by perambulating corpses is the dream that has captivated our post-9/11, post-recession collective imagination.

Other Taxes on the Table Besides Income

The last fews days there has been a noticeable reduction in fiscal cliff coverage.  I interpret this as a sign that neogiations are being conducted in earnest.

Today Brian Knowlton and Jackie Calmes have a story about a one-on-one meeting in the White House yesterday between Boehner and Obama; also, they mention GOP Senator Bob Corker's appearance on "Fox News Sunday" where he argued that his party should publicly concede the debate over raising the top tax rates in order to shift the focus to entitlement cuts.

Jackie Calmes had a front page story in the Sunday paper yesterday on revenue arithmetic.  Raising the top tax rates only gets Obama a quarter of his desired $1.6 trillion in new revenue over 10 years:

Seldom mentioned is that Mr. Obama’s revenue total also reflects four other changes from Bush-era tax cuts: higher tax rates on investment income from capital gains and dividends, and the restoration of two other Clinton-era provisions limiting deductions and tax exemptions for affluent individuals.

Together those changes would raise $407.4 billion over a decade — nearly as much as the president’s proposal on higher rates, which would raise $441.6 billion by 2023, for a total of $849 billion. Another $119 billion would come from higher estate taxes, opposed by Republicans and some Democrats.

And both the president and Republicans are committed to raising hundreds of billions of dollars by overhauling the tax code to further limit or end the tax breaks that high-income taxpayers can claim, though they differ in how to do that.
The Counterpunch left is convinced Obama is a Manchurian Candidate for the plutocracy and that a large, painful selling out on Medicare and Social Security is coming our way.  If this proves true then I will have been wrong about Obama.  I suppose a red line for me is the eligibility age for Medicare.  If it goes up as part of the bargain to avoid the fiscal cliff then I think we've been sold down the river.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Chance Encounter With the Jingle Bell Run

Plodding along Lakeview Boulevard during a run this morning on my way up to Capitol Hill I heard chants and hoots and whistles emanating from the I-5 Express lanes.  It sounded like a protest march.  But then I saw a Santa Claus hat and I knew instantly that it must be the annual Jingle Bell Run.  I thought it was next Sunday.

The 2009 Seattle Jingle Bell Run was the first 5K run I had done since one put on by the Community Alliance for Global Justice in 2003.  Participating in fun runs every month or two is a good way to maintain one's training year round.  My suggestion to anyone who wants to feel better is read Christopher McDougall's "Born To Run" and start running, even if it's at 12-minute-mile pace.  I am persuaded by McDougall's thesis that running is the activity that allows us the most direct access to our species-being.  As a bachelor it is my greatest love.

The route of the Jingle Bell Run is pretty miserable.  It starts at Westlake Center with runners massed at 5th and Pine.  Then it runs uphill south on 5th until entering the I-5 northbound Express lanes at Cherry.  The majority of the remainder of the race is run in the Express lanes that tunnel under the Convention Center before finishing back at Westlake Center.  I opted out this year.  Too many runners and walkers and too much tunnel running.

UFC at Key Arena

My Sunday devotional to the televisual began early this week by taking in "UFC on Fox 5: Henderson vs. Diaz," which was taking place just down the road last night at KeyArena.

I saw four fights.  (Apparently bouts were going on all day, starting at 1:30 p.m PT, but coverage on Fox began at 5:00 p.m. PT.)  Of those four fights only one ended in a knock out, the first fight.  Matt Brown landed two solid shots to the face of Mike Swick, dropping him against the cage of the octagon.

The other fights went the distance but were lopsided.  They were all good, all brutal.  Rory McDonald dominated BJ Penn with kicks and punches and won by unanimous decision.  Penn ended up going to the hospital.  The big Swede Alexander Gustafsson looked good landing knees, punches and kicks in his unanimous decision over Shogun Rua.  And Benson Henderson successfully defended his lightweight title by completely controlling Nate Diaz.

Mixed martial arts fights are better, shorter -- more honest -- than the boxing I watched growing up during the 1970s heavyweight heyday of Ali, Frazier, Foreman and Norton.  In my experience most street fights end up on the ground and don't last very long.  MMA emphasizes grappling and most of the fighters seem to be trained in Jiu Jitsu.  The visual of two combatants interlocked on the ground, a ball of arms and legs with two heads sticking out, is reminiscent of a Hieronymus Bosch hell realm.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Planetary Emergency

Reading "The Planetary Emergency" by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark in the current Monthly Review the consensus is that irreversible climate change sets in with a rise in temperature of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), which corresponds to one trillion cumulative metric tons of carbon emissions.  We're going to hit the one trillion metric ton mark in 2043.  Three decades.

The answer?  We've got to stop growing.  But capitalism is based on growth, on constantly increasing consumption, on the American ideal of every Chinese family owning a car or two and eating meat three times a day.  So get ready to rumble.  Conflict is coming our way, either in the form of dealing with the catastrophic effects of climate change (imagine being a character in Cormac McCarthy's The Road) or in the many politically necessary battles required to radically change the status quo.  It's more than likely that we'll be dealing with both at the same time.

LV's Produce

Besides walking up to Douglass Truth Library or sitting on a bench in Pratt Park my other lunchtime activity includes walking to the International District, a.k.a. Chinatown.  I go to the post office.  I go to the bank to get quarters to do my laundry.  I go shopping.  My favorite place is LV's Produce located on Jackson just before it dips under I-5.

Yesterday while I was at the checkout counter purchasing limes, serrano peppers, coconut milk and Thai curry paste a tiny, bizarre incident occurred.

A young man reeking of an insecticide-like cologne and vibrating with junkieness approached the young Chinese woman who operates the cash register.  He asks to see the manager.  The young woman, who is a friendly and polite teenager with good English for a non-native speaker, asks the guy to hold on while she finishes ringing up my purchase.  But the young insecticide man doesn't listen.  He asks, "Is the manager here?  Are you getting the manager?  I want to ask him something.  There's something I need to know.  Are you the manager?"

The young insecticide man has worked himself from left to right around the L-shaped checkout counter.  My first thought is that he's looking for work.  But his stammering agitated state does not preclude the possibility of a robbery, something which the teenage Chinese woman -- who I like; who always greets me with a smile and a hello when I enter the shop; who is fresh and clean and pretty -- seems to begin to register as her jaw slackens slightly, her neck stiffens and fear rises in her eyes.

The young insecticide man continues addressing the teenage Chinese woman, "Can I talk to you?  Here, come here.  I don't want to say it in front of him," referring to me.  "I don't know him."

I look at the teenage Chinese woman as I slowly load the grocercies into my shoulder bag.  I try to communicate to her without saying anything -- I've learned over the years that silence is often more meaningful in a conflict situation -- that I'm not going anywhere.  Be not afraid.  She replies to the young insecticide man, "No!  What do you want?"

"Do you accept food stamps?"

"No!  No stamps."

"Well, it's not something I feel proud about.  My wife and I were just looking to get some groceries."

And with that he is out the door and off into the rain.  I could have said something, like don't feel bad.  Food stamps are good, a vital government program that benefits everyone.  And besides, don't forget, we're the government, or we're supposed to be.  But as I said, in most situations silence is the more meaningful response.

I nod farewell to the teenage Chinese woman, who, though undoubtedly experienced at handling this type of situation given LV's Produce location, seems, nonetheless, to be adrift in confusion.  And then I am myself off into the rain.