Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Make Joy, not War!

 Wishing you all a merry Christmas season, and all the joys it brings.  Happy holidays and peace to all, including those who wanted a war so badly they made one up.

Will it spoil everything if I pass along this gentle reminder?  Christmas is a time of joy and good will for everyone; all ages, all regions, all religions.  Those scrooges who want to pretend there's a war going on over it, have, sadly, forgotten what it was like to be a child.

Their loss.

Hold tender these moments, so precious, so fleeting. And remember the children.

Always the children.

My highest hopes for a happy New Year,

Monday, December 17, 2012

Yes, it's about Guns, because Treating Guns like Favorite Toys is Killing Us

After every major gun-inflicted tragedy we're told by the pro-everything-that-shoots bunch that it's too soon to be talking about gun control.  We hear again that guns don't kill people, it's the people misusing the guns who kill people.  We hear that they could just as well be using knives or garrotes or box cutters or poison or 3,000 pound vehicles.

On Friday we awoke to another unspeakable mass murder, this time involving our precious children, and I have to believe it is, at last, sadly, the turning point we've been waiting for.  We'll be having the conversation we should have kept going before, and this time something will get done.  We will not stop until we get control over our fascination with owning military-type weapons.

On Friday, December 14, 2012 a 20-year-old man killed his mother, took guns from her collection, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and deliberately shot it up, killing six adults and 20 children, most of them First Graders.

He took three guns into that school and methodically shot and killed 20 (yes, twenty) small children. He used weapons more suited to combat than to hunting or self-defense and he was able to do that because in the United States of America private citizens are allowed--even encouraged--to own combat weapons.

These are the types of guns he used:

Photo:  New York DailyNews

It's a solid fact that the United States--either through outright permission or through cowardice in the face of bullying opposition--has declared guns to be free agents, not subject to any but the most basic, toothless laws regarding safety or security or limitations.

How could that be?  It could be because so many people, including politicians who are supposed to be up on those things, want to believe that one single clause in our constitution--the grievously misunderstood Second Amendment--says so.
This one:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

There is nothing in the Second Amendment about an individual's right to keep guns.  Not unless that individual becomes a well-regulated state Militia of One.

There is nothing in the constitution that gives copyright rights to the National Rifle Association (NRA), allowing them to drop important words that tend to get in the way of their mad, skewed interpretation.  ("A well-regulated Militia" sticks in their craw,  undermining their entire premise, so it's out).

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

We want to believe our constitution is not for sale, but, in fact, the NRA has found a way to own an entire amendment.  It's now impossible to think of the Second Amendment without making a connection to the National Rifle Association.  They use it to convince the gullible that the government is coming to take their guns and the only way to stop them is to invoke their "constitutionally guaranteed citizens' right to bear arms."

They've co-opted and corrupted a constitutional amendment and turned it against the very government that instituted it and implements it. (The original meaning, that is--having to do with giving the states the right to organize a militia--or, as we've come to know it, the National Guard).

The fact is, even if the Second Amendment were abolished, guns would not be banned in this country.  Gun ownership is a long-established right, almost universally accepted and woven so tightly into our fabric there's no danger of a Great Unraveling.  It won't happen.

Where we differ--often mightily--is in what kinds of guns should be legal for private citizens to own and how they should be regulated.  Whenever a fresh gun-induced tragedy strikes, the argument starts all over again.  Those on my side pick up the fight for smaller calibers and stricter gun control and the "assault weapons are guns, too" crowd digs in and buys more firepower, just to prove they can.  It's now a multi-billion dollar industry, and the NRA, thanks to the politicians they own (along with--let's not forget--the Second Amendment), will go on daring us to try and do something about it.  They have no fear, and why should they?  They've never lost a battle yet.

I say let's take that dare.  Right now.  Today.  While the memory of 20 little first graders and the six adults who died trying to protect them is still so raw it's making our hearts bleed.

In voices as loud as those gunshot booms resonating throughout the halls of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we can demand the end to the sales of military weapons and the ammunition that goes with them.  We can force the licensing of firearms, demand oversight at gun shows, and find a way to follow the paper trail for every gun owned in this country.

We don't need to ban all guns in order to get the assault weapons craze under control.  The collectors want those big guns because they want them and they think that's reason enough to make it a right to own them.  It's not.

The NRA has been pretty silent the last few days.  In fact, they're downright invisible. They took down their Facebook page and they're not answering their Twitter-phone.   If they're regrouping, trying to come up with some good reason why assault weapons shouldn't be banned, I can save them some trouble:  There is no good reason.

Wanting to own one because its big and bad and exciting is not a good reason.  Wanting to own one because you think the government is going rogue and you might need it to protect yourself and those around you is insanity.

Tom Toles, the Washington Post

In case you missed the latest craziness coming out of my state, Michigan, I'm ashamed to report that on the day before the mass shooting in Newtown, our legislature passed a bill allowing guns in classrooms.
The legislation is the largest rewrite of Michigan’s concealed weapon law since lawmakers made hard-to-obtain permits much easier for adults to receive beginning July 2001. Applications exploded. There were 351,599 permit holders as of Dec. 1, one for every 20 adults.
Most of the attention on the new bill has focused on provisions allowing hidden handguns in places where they are now forbidden, such as schools, university dorms and classrooms, and sporting stadiums.
The time for talking is over.  Now we act.  We get it done.

(Cross-posted at dagblog)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I don't need to know their names

It's Saturday, the day after what will forever be known as the Sandy Hook School murders.  Yesterday Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old man, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot to death six adults and 20 small children.

We're all in shock and looking for answers.  We're crying, grieving, mourning, and we want answers.  We want gun control that actually controls guns.  We want people not to blame the guns but the shooter.  We want to know the names of the victims, and, as I write this, all news stations are on alert, awaiting a press conference where those names will finally be announced.

We decided long ago that when we know the names of the dead we make a connection; we see them as human beings and not as statistics.  When George W. Bush, in an atmosphere where so many people were against his wars, decided that it was too political to show our war dead arriving home in body bags, we were furious.

When President Obama finally opened it up, publicizing the names and showing us proof that the flag-draped coffins were back on our soil, we saw it as our chance to honor the dead in a way that actually meant something. 

I want to know the names of our military dead. There is something to be said for giving them public identities in order to recognize that they gave their lives in the service of our country.  They gave their lives for us.

But when I heard this morning that they were going to release the names of the children later today, I cried. I don't want to know their names today.  I don't need to know their names today.  I don't want their names associated with yesterday's horror.  Not now.

The emotions are still so raw it could be my own shock,  my own grief, my own thoughts as a parent and about kids in general, but if the lives of those kids can't be given back to the families, the least we can do as supporters, it seems to me, is to take a moment to remember them, not as victims of a gruesome murder but as wonderful, vivacious, funny, wacky little creatures who gave those around them, every day, a reason to love them.

I don't need to know their names in order to honor their existence and to mourn with the mourners.  I can picture them as children in every school, in ever community, in every home.  I see them in the eyes of every child who trots off to school thinking the worst that could happen to them is to fail a test or make their best friend mad at them.  I know who they are.

I don't want this first day without them to be laden with gun control arguments or off-the-wall, fact-free analyses about what happened and why, only later to to be capped with funeral dirge music as the names of the children are read off, as their sweet pictures roll on and off the screen, raw reminders that their deaths were the outcome of an unspeakable act of madness.  Not today.

Please.  Not today.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Puppy Training for Politicians. Or, How we got RTW in Michigan

So it has happened.  Remember the other day when I wrote that Michigan had become a Right-to-Work state? It's not that I'm prescient or anything, announcing a done deal on Saturday when it didn't actually become law until yesterday (Tuesday), when Govnerd Ricky signed the two "Hasta la Vista, Union" bills hustled through the Republican-led legislature in a dazzling demonstration of warp speed.  No, it's just that I've come to know those guys.  No amount of talking, cajoling, coercing or begging was going to change the course of that bloody action, no matter what. Not from us, anyway.

Know why?  Because it wasn't them, it was them:

The ubiquitous Koch brothers, heirs-apparent to the throne once America says "Okay, OKAY! I give up!"
  Nobody wants to believe the obvious--that these two rather dorky brothers are up to their eyeballs in evil wherever it lurks these days--but there it is.  If money really talks, when it belongs to the Brothers Koch it says, "Stick'em up and don't turn around.  I've got a friggin' humungous bunch of greenbacks and I know how to use them!"

Evidence abounds that those cunning Kochs look on American unions as icky Red maggots and have finally figured out a way to bust the guts out of them.  They do it by joining up with other gajillionaires (like Dick deVos, notorious member of the Michigan hoi polloi, given to hating the masses), by funding Tea Party think tanks such as Michigan's own Mackinac Center for (cough, cough, privatizing) Public Policy, and by buying legislators, congresspeople, and even governors for the Republicans.

It's a marvel to watch. If I weren't always on edge, scouting out good locations to run to, I might be standing in awe, pondering how, in a matter of mere months, two seemingly puny persons came out of nowhere to become our first and only potentates. (Eat your hearts out, Grover and Newt.  It is what it is. And it is money.)

But enough about them.  Or not.  How about that ALEC? (The American Legislative Exchange (cough, cough, exchange for what?) Council)  From the Center for Media and Democracy's special report on ALEC's funding and spending:
Almost 98% of ALEC's funding comes from corporations like Exxon Mobil, corporate "foundations" like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, or trade associations like the pharmaceutical industry's PhRMA and sources other than "legislative dues." Those funds help subsidize legislators' trips to ALEC meetings, where they are wined, dined, and handed "model" legislation to make law in their state. Through ALEC, corporations vote on "model" legislation with politicians behind closed doors.
 Sometimes what goes on behind closed doors gets out here in what we still laughingly call the "public."  It turns out the wording of those hallowed right-to-work bills bringing so much entertainment to Michigan Republican lawmakers were word-for-word the creations of the Koch-fueled ALEC bunch.

Both HB 4003, which affects public sector unions, and HB 4054 / SB 116 affecting private sector unions, undermine collective bargaining by allowing workers to opt-out of paying the costs of union representation. As the Center for Media and Democracy's Executive Director Lisa Graves reported today, the move is calculated political payback attacking unions for supporting Democrats. Wages are lower for both union and non-union workers in Right to Work states, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The legislation is straight out of the Koch-funded ALEC playbook. Compare the language in HB 4003 and HB 4054 with the ALEC "model" Right to Work Act:

Stunning, isn't it?  But--are you still with me?--here comes the fun part.  A 2010 article from The Mackinac Center's news service, CAPCON, called "Politician Puppy Training, What the Tea Parties can Learn from the Dogs" has surfaced.  I'm not kidding.  And neither are they.  I thought they were. I thought they were making a funny, Onion-style.  But, no.

Almost everyone loves puppies, at least until they start making messes on the carpet.  With every puppy comes the responsibility of training it to become “man's best friend.” The same can be said about legislators.  While they are, of course, not dogs, they do need to be trained in order to be turned in to a voter's best friend. While most go to Lansing or Washington to do the right thing, many will end up making messes that result in less liberty.

Training legislators, as with training puppies, must be done with care and common sense. An external system of rewards and punishments is used to guide the puppy toward doing the right thing.
There’s a lesson in this for tea party groups who seek to communicate their concerns to politicians. You don’t need to explain the principles or speak their language to get your point across. Indeed, this is often the last thing that will work. 
But, wait. . .
Like the trained puppy, your lawmakers will follow the training that has been driven into them beforehand. Trying to teach these at the last minute is ineffective.  Representative democracy, like puppy training, means you teach the big idea well in advance and then trust the politician or the puppy to do the right thing with the specific details when the big moment arrives.

Counter-intuitively, this means that you can often make the biggest difference well after the vote is over. Afterward, you can find out what your lawmaker knew at the time, and judge whether they made the right decision or not. If they barked smartly and did their business outside where it belongs, a tea party group can send a big important message by effusively praising them for it. But if they chewed your slippers, they should face swift consequences.
With this past experience in mind, a politician will learn what is expected of them the NEXT time an important vote comes up. Whether the issue is taxes, spending, regulations or what not, a message has been sent to the politician regarding the type of conduct is acceptable – and what is not. Either way, they learn that praise or punishment from a tea party is a real consequence of their future actions.
...We try and give you the information that the politician had at the time of the vote, so you can make a fair decision about whether that vote reflected the metaphorical distinction between your puppy going on the rug or barking at the door.

And that’s when it is most effective for you to decide whether to scratch behind their ears or smack them on the nose. Either way, they’ll remember the next time.
There's more, and, as hilarious as this is, remember, this wild primer on housebreaking is a legitimate plan. There are lessons to be learned here, and if we don't pay attention, we'll go on losing until all is lost 

In a chilling article in New York Magazine called "In Michigan, the Republican Will to Power", Jonathan Chait writes: 
Last year, the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing activist group, explained, “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation but really what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.” Republicans understand full well that Michigan leans Democratic, and the GOP has total power at the moment, so its best use of that power is to crush one of the largest bastions of support for the opposing party.

In the coming days we need to keep talking about the impact right-to-work has on our nation's workers. We need to stress the need for the strong organized workplace oversight only labor unions can provide.

We need to explain and offset the thundering opposition to a prosperous working class.  We need to expose the lies.  Our voices will be drowned out by those who have a vested interest in keeping the RTW momentum going, but we're not puppies and they're not our trainers.  They'll have no real power over us unless we give it to them by lying down and rolling over.

(Addendum:  More from Harold Meyerson at WaPo and Chris Savage at Eclectablog)

(Addendum II:  Selected for Mike's Blog Round-up at Crooks and Liars.  Thank you!)

(And, of course, cross-posted at dagblog)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Right to Work" comes to Michigan, the State the Unions Built

Last week Michigan's Republican-majority legislature, with no committee meetings, no floor debate, in a rush to get this done before January when their control lessens, voted to add my beautiful state to a growing number of states--23 of them so far--that have been downgraded to what some have been led to believe is an assurance of a "Right-to-Work".

Anyone coming from another country would think, reading that, that it could only be a good thing.  Everybody should have the right to work, after all, and what kind of crazy country needs to legislate that?
But, as usual, the proponents have chosen a reasonable-sounding misnomer in order to cover the cruelty behind their crass actions.

What it really means is that everybody in my state will, in fact, have the right to work (as does everyone of working age on the planet), but any other right--even those that others before them have fought long and hard for--equitable wages, benefits, pensions, work-place safety, grievance representation--will be left outside the door.  Those rights will no longer be rights unless the employer says they are.

State Right-to-Work laws (known as "right-to-work-for-less laws" in our circles) give approval to open shops, where union participation and the collection of union dues is voluntary, not compulsory--a simple step geared to defund and thus defang union activity.

To workers who have been convinced that the company will take care of them, who see progress in not having to pay union dues, who encourage Right-to-Work laws because it's not fair that union members make more money than they do, what is happening in Michigan and the 23 other states is a liberation of sorts.  To others (like me) it's more like tumbling downhill after years of working our way up the mountain.

The people proposing Michigan's move to Right-to-Work understand that money is power--and why wouldn't they?  Millions of Big Money dollars went into the campaign to make this happen. There's a reason these people hate unions.  Unions attempt to give a portion of power to the working class by way of equitable wages and fairness in the workplace.  All of that, of course, costs employers more money, which, if you follow their logic, is a really mean thing for their ungrateful worker-bees to try to do.

The truth is, few businesses are one-person operations.  Employers need employees, and employees have a right to expect to be paid well for their efforts.  The truth is, wages and benefits have stagnated in this country since the 1970s, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who would argue that it coincided with the drastic drop in union activity.

The truth is, workers need representation and the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and workplace rights.

The truth is, we are stronger as a country when workplaces are seen as a shared venture, with everyone profiting.  (Sometimes, it's true, the ones at the top have to be dragged into that argument, but the end result is always the same:  When everybody profits, the country profits.)

So let's look at what others are saying about this:

Media Matters looks at the myths the Wall Street Journal is pushing about Right-to-Work.

Chris Savage at Eclectablog, the go-to blog for understanding Michigan political shenanigans, guest-posts about RTW on the AFL-CIO website

Stephen Henderson,  Detroit Free Press Editorial Page editor, says, "Do the Math". it never works.

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) speaks out against the RTW bill, calling it "the freedom to freeload"   (FYI: Grand Rapids is the grand bastion of conservatism in our state.  We like it when Dems are represented there.)

Union activist Jamie Sanderson, from Georgetown, SC, looks at Michigan's RTW battle through other eyes.

Andy Kroll at Mother Jones weighs in, calling it a "Scott Walker showdown", after the Wisconsin governor's efforts to kill public unions in that state.

And finally, Kenneth Quinnell over at the AFL-CIO blog exposes the Koch Brothers connection with the flurry of the "right to work for less" laws in Michigan and other Republican-led states. 

This battle isn't over.   

I know.  We say that all the time. Well, here it is again.

As long as there are people left to fight, battles are never over, and this one, the battle for worker rights in Michigan, the birthplace of the modern union movement, is a landmark battle worth fighting.  Big money is prepared to fight us to the end.  They want to win.  They think they will win.  But they've underestimated us before, and the truth is, it didn't hurt them in the least when workers won.

We didn't become a great country by caving to big interests.  We became a great country by working together to build a strong and expanding middle class.  And we did it because we recognized the value and worth of laborers.

And when we didn't any longer, the truth is, our great country declined.

(Cross-posted at dagblog)

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Monday and Grover Norquist still hasn't been Elected

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the [Republican] party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach.

The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics.  "Bipartisanship is another term of date rape," says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP.  "I don't want to abolish government.  I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

(From We're not in Lake Woebegon anymore -- Garrison Keillor, 2004 -- an adapted excerpt from "Homegrown Democrat.")

When that piece was written eight years ago Grover Norquist, a private citizen who has never held public office, and has never served as a cabinet or staff member to any elected public official, had, since the tight-ass days of Reagan the Great, been entrenched as the go-to guy for educating elected Republicans on the mandatoriness of No New Taxes.

So last week in the Here and Now, teetering as we are on the edge of that Fiscal Cliff,  it was all Grover all the time again, and more than a few of us resumed the old familiar scratching of heads over how this can keep happening.

As Claire McKaskill so deliciously brought it into the real world last week, "I feel almost sorry for John Boehner. There is incredible pressure on him from a base of his party that is unreasonable about this. And he’s got to decide, is his speakership more important or is the country more important. And in some ways, he has got to deal with this base of the Republican Party who Grover Norquist represents, and, you know, everybody’s elevated Grover-- I mean, I met him for the first time this morning. Nice to meet him. But, you know, who is he? Why is he this guy that is--has--has captured so much attention in this?"

Well, exactly.  Haven't we all been asking that same question?  Who is this guy anyway?  Even a good read of his bio doesn't really explain why the Republican electeds have to go so often to this guy for support and sustenance.  Can't they figure these things out for themselves?  There's something more than a little creepy about him--besides being Newt Gingrich's first base coach during the government shutdown of the 90s, it's no secret Grover worked with Ollie North during the Iran-Contra mess and has had his name (and his emails) linked with the likes of Jack Abramoff.  In the words of Lynn Cheney (who had to gall to say this about John Kerry) "He's not a nice man."

Steve Kornacki over at Salon suggested Norquist is just a figurehead and really doesn't speak for the party on tax issues.  He's a handy vehicle for the electeds who really, really want what Grover tells them they're absolutely required to want. But when 95% of the House Republicans and all but one of the 2012 presidential candidates have signed Grover's own baby, the unauthorized "Taxpayer Protection Pledge", and when Grover is in the news and making appearances on all the news shows last week (except MSNBC and Current, of course--they only just talked about him), he is the figurehead in charge.  (Yes, I know it's unprecedented, but so is the idea of a Grover Norquist.  In a representative democracy, anyway.)

But last week Ezra Klein said Grover is winning.  He puts it this way:
You might think that Grover Norquist would be in hiding right now. Republicans are parading before the cameras, one after the other, to proclaim their intention of breaking his anti-tax pledge. And yet Norquist is everywhere. He’s doing television shows and talking with reporters. Wednesday, he was the headline guest at Politico’s Playbook Breakfast.

Amidst the liberal glee over the demise of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, it’s worth being clear about something: Norquist is winning. Big time. It’s this moment, the death of his pledge’s mostly unblemished record, that he’s been working toward all these years.
Don’t take Norquist’s pledge at face value. It’s an absurdity. From a budgetary standpoint, it’s an obscenity. And everyone — Norquist included, because he is very, very smart — knew it would eventually fall. It’s how it falls that matters. And right now, it’s falling exactly according to plan.
 Alrighty then.  Whatever.

I've been trying to think of a person who might ever have been the Democratic version of a Grover Norquist and I'm coming up blank.  (If any of you can think of one, now would be a good time to share it.  Anybody?) 

I can think of someone on the outside the Democrats should be listening to.  Not that I want to see any of our electeds signing pledges--that would be crazy--but if ever the Democratic leaders needed someone to be giving them some Big Picture, outside-the-Beltway clarification to what needs to be done, it's right now, right this minute.  And I believe Robert Reich is just the guy to do it.

If there's one problem with my current hero, however, it's that he's too polite.  He's a hard-fact guy who engages in wishful thinking instead of talking about bathtub drownings or the commitments of Peter King's wife.  (Woo hoo, Peter! I've never liked you, for obvious reasons, but good answer!  "My wife would knock off Grover Norquist's head.")

But back to our guy.  It's true--no histrionics with Professor Reich--but man, can he relate:
What worries me most about the tactical maneuvers over the "fiscal cliff" and "grand bargain" is that official Washington seems to be losing sight of the larger picture: We still have a huge number of unemployed, and many of those who have jobs continue to lose ground. If we were a sane society, we'd raise taxes on the rich in order to afford a first-rate system of public education for all our people, starting with early-childhood and extending through four-year college or technical; we'd borrow at historically-low rates (the yield on the ten-year Treasury is still below 1.4 percent) to put millions to work upgrading our crumbling infrastructure; and we'd turn our extraordinarily inefficient and costly healthcare system -- the single biggest driver of future budget deficits -- into a single-payer system focused on prevention and on healthy outcomes. Instead, we're locked into a game of chicken over the budget deficit, and preparing to cut public investments and safety nets.

 And the best part of Robert Reich?  Besides the fact that he gets it and knows how we should deal with it?  He served under Presidents Ford and Carter and was Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton.  He actually served in our government and understands how it's supposed to operate. Someone like Robert Reich should be our go-to guy, but even if he isn't, at least we can't be accused of looking to someone like Grover Norquist to lead us.

That's something, anyway.