Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Keeping With the Theme

More good news from the courts . . .
WASHINGTON — In a major victory for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the smog from coal plants that drifts across state lines from 28 Midwestern and Appalachian states to the East Coast.
The 6-to-2 ruling bolsters the centerpiece of President Obama’s environmental agenda: a series of new regulations aimed at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republicans and the coal industry have criticized the regulations, which use the Clean Air Act as their legal authority, as a “war on coal.” The industry has waged an aggressive legal battle to undo the rules.
Legal experts said the decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, signals that the Obama administration’s efforts to use the Clean Air Act to fight global warming could withstand legal challenges. 
As long as climate change deniers continue to hold sway in Congress (not to mention at the state-level), executive actions on the part of the President and Blue-State (read: scientifically literate) Governors is our only hope for trying to turn this tide.

It's great that the Supreme Court upheld the Administration's reading of the Clean Air Act. Unlike the lede of this article, however, I wouldn't call it a victory for Obama; I'd call it a victory for all of us. It was a 6-2 decision, with Scalia and Thomas dissenting, and Alito recusing himself.

And Now for Some Good News

With GOP-dominated state legislatures doing everything they can to overturn the second half of the 20th century and trying to deny large swathes of citizens access to the voting booth, it is heartening to have victories like this:
In a decision that could have implications nationally and in Wisconsin's November elections, a federal judge on Tuesday struck down the state's voter ID law, saying it violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
What's more, U.S. District JudgeLynn Adelman made it crystal clear that the Voter ID crowd is, to state it plainly, full of horse shit:
"There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID," U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote in his 70-page ruling. "But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes."
Adelman, who is based in Milwaukee, found the state didn't have an appropriate rationale for imposing a voter ID requirement. In-person voter impersonation — the only type of fraud a voter ID law can prevent — is nonexistent or virtually nonexistent in Wisconsin, he wrote.
"Because virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future, this particular state interest has very little weight," he wrote.
"The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past."
Hopefully this ruling bodes well for pending legal challenges to Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas.

I really wish that Democrats at the state level would do a better job hammering on this issue, focusing on all of the groups that will be hurt by these voting restrictions. There is a sense on the part of a lot of people that these laws are okay (even if there isn't any fraud) because it only prevents "those people" from voting, and they aren't really citizens anyway, or at least not like "we" are. If Democrats really made it clear that these laws disenfranchise racial minorities AND women of all ages and races, AND young people of all races, I think you would fire up a large coalition of people to come together and vote these guys out. It should be enough to point out the disparate racial impact and the immorality of trying to prevent fellow-citizens from voting, but, unfortunately, that's a feature, not a bug, for too many people.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reality? What's That

I thought this was a really good assessment of various articles about the Roberts Court, race, and the dissenting views of Justice Sotomayor. The only thing I'd add is that these rulings seem of a piece with the conservative movement's general inability or unwillingness to grapple with actual reality.

On issues as diverse as global warming, the corrupting influence of money on the democratic process, and racism's role in American history and America's present, conservatives (including the conservatives on the Supreme Court) seem to live in a beautiful world of their own imagining. And this world seems to have very little to do with life as we actually live it.

The danger of basing policy on wishes, stardust, and magic sparkle-ponies generated by the free-market would seem obvious to any thinking person. But I guess that's the problem. In the conservative mind today, there isn't any thinking going on. There isn't any evidence-based analysis going on. There is only the short-term power grab, and the immediate enrichment of themselves and their cronies. In the long term, they'll all be dead. And their grandchildren will be cursing their names.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Close Your Eyes and I Disappear

So a slightly disturbing thing happened yesterday at dinner. We were all sitting around talking about our days, and I mentioned something about work. Then my eight-year-old asked, "Mom, you go to work?"

Now, in his defense, I work part-time for our own business, so I am at home when he leaves for school in the morning and when he returns from school in the afternoon. I also don't wear special "work clothes" for my job, so he doesn't see me dressed up, or in a uniform, or looking any different than I do when I'm hanging out at home on the weekend.

HOWEVER, he has seen me working from home on my computer, and he has heard me and his dad talking about work. So WTF?

I think part of the issue is that kids have no conception we exist outside of their experience of us. So very little children think the world disappears when they close their eyes, and my 3rd grader thinks I am at home all day because that's where I am when he both leaves for and returns from school. But part of his perception has got to come from the contrast between the way I work (invisible to him) and his father does (highly visible to him).

I gotta say I'm kind of bothered by the fact that my kid thinks I sit around home eating bonbons all day while Dad goes out and brings home the bacon. I really do struggle with what kind of model for womanhood I am presenting to my kids. I mean, on one hand, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to afford to be home with them in the afternoon. On the other hand, I wonder if I am teaching them that women exist to serve them.

Death By A Thousand Cuts

In the real world, where non-conservatives dwell, we know that there has never been a time in human history where women did not terminate unwanted pregnancies. We know that when abortion is illegal, it doesn't mean there will be no abortions; it means women will die or suffer physical harm. We also know that a majority of people in this country believes abortion should remain legal.

Unfortunately, we are living in an era where a minority of conservative zealots gets to impose their  ideology upon the rest of us (see also: gun nuts; supply-side economics; expansive military spending).

The sole remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi is one court decision away from closure - in front of a a court that already ruled against clinics in Texas over the same spurious issues raised in this case:
Mississippi's only abortion clinic is fighting to remain open in the face of ever-tightening state regulations. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans hears arguments Monday in a dispute over a state law that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.
. . . 
Inside Jackson Women's Health Organization, there's growing uncertainty over how much longer the doors will be open. Dr. Willie Parker flies in from Chicago to perform abortions at the clinic, one of two physicians who come to Mississippi to provide abortion care.
Parker is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Mississippi's law. He's a board-certified OB-GYN but has not been able to get admitting privileges at any of the 13 regional hospitals he applied to.
"Some we received no response from, but the ones that we did, they made reference to the fact that because the care we provide is related to abortion, they felt it might be disruptive to the internal politics, as well as the external politics, for the hospital," Parker says.
Parker says it is part of a strategy to gut the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion by abusing the regulatory authority of the states and making access to abortion "so cumbersome as to be impractical even when it remains legal." 
South Dakota has one abortion clinic left in operation. North Dakota has only one abortion clinic left in operation.  There are two abortion providers in Idaho (both in Boise), Three in all of Utah (Salt Lake City only); Two in Montana; Two in Alaska. These states cover thousands of square miles, which means most of the women living in these areas effectively have no access to abortions. TRAP laws are having the desired effect, making abortion de facto, if not de jure, illegal. Yet another reminder of the importance of the federal courts and the necessity of electing pro-choice Democrats.

Money Changes Everything

And when you have as much of it as the Koch Brothers, people will kiss your ring no matter how much of a sociopath you may be. Can you think of one issue where these men are on the side of the angels rather than looking to line their pockets?
At long last, the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally it’s a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.
For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. So they’ve been pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive. 

Even their non-political philanthropy comes with all kinds of strings attached - strings that either burnish their egos or "educate" students and politicians in policies that just happen to personally benefit the Kochs.
Koch Industries and Charles and David Koch contributed $8.7-million to candidates and the Republican Party in the three election cycles from 2007 through 2012. In addition, through 2011, the Kochs gave $30.5-million to 221 universities through their charitable foundations, roughly $16-million of that going to George Mason University and its foundation. And Koch private foundations also contributed $46.3-million to the arts and other more traditionally charitable purposes during this period.
And while Koch Industries’ lobbyists were spending $53.9-million to further the multinational corporation’s federal and state policy agendas, the nonprofit policy groups it supported were simultaneously “educating” the public and lawmakers about energy, the environment, and other issues in public testimony on Capitol Hill.
I'm hard-pressed to think of any more pernicious force in American politics and culture than these two creatures. I am glad public figures are finally turning over the rocks that these guys live under to expose their activities to public view.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Native Plants I Love

Amelanchier canadensis (common name: serviceberry)

This is a really great small tree or multi-stemmed large shrub that provides 3-seasons of interest in the garden. Amelanchiers are incredibly low-maintenance; have pretty flowers and vivid fall color; plus they produce fruit reminiscent of blueberries in the summer. It is a mystery to me why this one is not used more often as a landscaping plant. We have three in our yard, and I love them.

Fall foliage

Serviceberry is native to eastern North America, can be planted in full sun to part-shade, and will  tolerate clay soils. They grow 20-30 ft. high with a 15-20 ft. spread. White flowers bloom in early spring before leaves appear (early-mid april for us here in N.C.).

Berries are really tasty.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

United We Stand

Sometimes it seems like the only news is bad news, so I was glad to see this piece in The New York Times. Agricultural work can be back-breakingly hard, and by all accounts, the workers in Immokalee, FL suffered under some of the worst conditions out there (up to and including actual slavery).

By banding together and putting pressure on tomato buyers, the Immokalee tomato workers got the tomato producers to increase wages and significantly improve working conditions. Looks like these tactics may be successful for other agricultural workers as well.
“When I first visited Immokalee, I heard appalling stories of abuse and modern slavery,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy institution in Santa Monica, Calif. “But now the tomato fields in Immokalee are probably the best working environment in American agriculture. In the past three years, they’ve gone from being the worst to the best.”
Amassing all these company partnerships took time. The workers’ coalition organized a four-year boycott of Taco Bell to get its parent company, Yum Brands, to agree in 2005 to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes, helping increase workers’ wages. In 2007 the coalition sponsored a march to Burger King’s headquarters in Miami, pushing that company to join the effort. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle and Subway have also signed on. 
Food is one of the most basic ways the personal is political, where our choices as consumers can really make a difference in working conditions, environmental impact, and animal welfare.


Thom Tillis: "I'm the Jerkiest of This Group of Jerks!"

Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Thom Tillis, has overseen a radical lurch to the right in state government. Hoping to take his scorched earth road show to the national level, Tillis is running as the establishment candidate in the GOP Senate primary against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. Hagan is facing an uphill battle to retain her seat this year, but smart maneuvering like this should help move the needle in her direction:
Tillis, who has to avoid a primary runoff, has been under fire from conservative rivals as soft on Obamacare, because he suggested the law’s general goals might not be uniformly awful and even said Obamacare is a “great idea that can’t be paid for.” Senator Kay Hagan’s campaign then ran a radio ad tweaking Tillis over that quote, in a move observers speculated was designed to hurt him among GOP primary voters. Now Tillis is up with the radio spot — flagged by North Carolina Dems — reinforcing his anti-Obamacare cred.
Interestingly, the ad describes blocking the Medicaid expansion — which would expand coverage to half a million people — as a key part of the “conservative revolution” Tillis helped engineer in Raleigh.
The Hagan campaign will make this a part of their case against Tillis, using his opposition to the Medicaid expansion to argue that Tillis’ “conservative revolution” is terrible for the middle class.
“Tillis will have to answer for his bragging about rejecting health care for 500,000 North Carolinans, a move that also cost health care providers millions, in particular those in rural areas,” Hagan spokesperson Sadie Weiner emails. “Tillis has shown time and again that he will push a special interest agenda at the expense of middle class families, whether it’s rejecting health care for 500,000 North Carolinians or handing out tax cuts to the wealthy while teachers were force to go another year without a pay raise.” 
As reactionary as Tillis and the GOP-dominated General Assembly have been, his primary opponents are even farther to the right. If Tillis has to match them in crazy to win the primary, Hagan might be able to pull off a win by appealing to the sane among us.

There is a lot of pent up shock and anger here at the General Assembly and the Governor from Duke Energy over their education cuts, voting rights restrictions, gutting of environmental rules, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and reproductive-health restrictions. Moral Mondays are just the visible evidence of that, and in a state-wide contest (where the GOP gerrymandering of 2011 can't help them cheat their way to victory), Hagan has a shot. Now all we have to do is GET OUT THE VOTE.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Relatively Recently Read

I enjoyed this one for a few reasons. A lot of the writing and observations are very good. The protagonist is compelling - not perfect, not a hero, but a complex young woman figuring out her way in a world that feels slightly beyond her control or even understanding. I liked some of the ideas Kushner examines - life as authentically lived or as performance, explorations of loyalty and betrayal, what is and isn't art. And she put me into worlds I knew nothing about, which was interesting (left-wing militants in Italy in the 1970s, speed-demons on the Bonneville Salt Flats). I'm not sold on the ending, which seemed to me a little like running out of steam. I don't mind leaving things unresolved, but this felt a little too loose. Overall, though, a good read.

Last Night . . .

. . . was pretty damn good:


The man and the band can still bring it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Northwestern U. or Walmart?

My guess is that if you asked the administrators atop the food chain at Northwestern University, they would tell you they had very little in common with mega-corporation Walmart. Northwestern is an elite educational institution training the best and brightest for successful futures. Walmart is a discount retail chain employing and selling products to folks who don't graduate from places like Northwestern, dontcha know?

Well, these two institutions may be more alike than you think. At least when it comes to their shared antipathy to Unionization:

Northwestern:
“Understand that by voting to have a union, you would be transferring your trust from those you know — me, your coaches and the administrators here — to what you don’t know — a third party who may or may not have the team’s best interests in mind,” [Coach] Fitzgerald wrote to the team in an email.
Walmart:

 Northwestern:
Players have heard warnings that the formation of a union would make it harder for them to land jobs after graduation; that Fitzgerald might leave; that alumni donations would dry up; that Northwestern’s planned $225 million athletic center could be scrapped. 
Walmart:

 Northwestern:
In recent weeks, the university put together a 21-page document for the football team answering questions that Northwestern officials said they had received through an anonymous suggestion box, emails and phone calls. 
The document, which was first reported by CBSSports.com, highlighted Northwestern’s track record of strong academics and fair treatment of its players.
 Walmart:

Amazing how similar these statements are. Amazing how similar the tactics are when bosses try to prevent workers from organizing to claim any part of the pie.

No, Women Are Not the Problem

I have been really bothered by the recent spate of books purporting to help (already powerful and affluent) women have it all if we simply follow the advice laid out in their pages. Books like Lean In, or the Confidence Code, or Thrive, are basically high-brow versions of victim blaming. These authors essentially brush aside structural and cultural impediments to women's equality and happiness, and instead tell us that, gosh darn it, if we just learn to ask for that raise more forcefully, or pretend we know stuff we really don't, or get more sleep and increase our volunteer hours, all our lady-problems will be solved. Isn't it pretty to think so.

Feminist writer and critic Jessica Valenti had a really nice take-down of this ridiculous trend in yesterday's Guardian:
Despite an ongoing, glaring lack of equality for women in culture and in policy, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman's new book, The Confidence Code, argues that what's truly holding women back is their own self-doubt. In fact, Kay and Shipman dismiss the importance of institutional barriers upfront, writing in the introduction that, while there's truth behind concerns about sexism, the "more profound" issue is women's "lack of self-belief". Think Lean In meets The Secret.
Yet, in just the past year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a woman can be fired if her boss finds her attractive, a New York court decidedthat unpaid interns can't sue for sexual harassment, and the Paycheck Fairness Act was defeated by Republicans who claimed women actually prefer lower-paying jobs.
So you'll have to excuse my guffaw when I hear what American women really need is more "confidence." It seems to me our insecurity is well-earned!
You know what is going to help women achieve equality with men? Creating policies that promote gender equality and don't punish women for being the ones who bear children; stopping sexual predation; and changing a culture that is rife with large and small instances of misogyny and sexism.

In support of that last goal, all of those incredibly privileged women writing those books should take a lesson from the young actress Emma Stone, who had the presence of mind and the guts to publicly call out sexism when she saw it - from her boyfriend, no less - and did it in a way that allowed him to learn from his error, rather than get defensive about it.

This is what feminism looks like.

Native Places I Love

Just got back from chaperoning a field trip to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. The kids had a great time doing lots of hands-on activities, learning about the different regions of our state, investigating soil composition and plant growth, and generally running around enjoying the outside.

Thanks NCBG, and thanks school district for planning such fun learning experiences for our kids!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Know Nothings

Because they want to know nothing.

Entire North Carolina GOP Senate Field: Climate Change Is Not Fact

Fittingly, all four Republican candidates in the North Carolina Senate race were asked on Earth Day if they believed climate change is a proven fact. And all four candidates said "no." 
The question was asked during a GOP primary debate on Tuesday night. The candidates, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Rev. Mark Harris, Dr. Greg Brannon, and nursing practitioner Heather Grant, in response to the question, said "no."
GOP politicians on the state-level are doing everything in their power to make sure all North Carolinians are as ignorant as the candidates their party runs for office:


Hard to believe all of the gains made over the past 30 years are being undone is such a short time. I hate that our state is becoming an object lesson in what happens when right-wing zealots take over the reins of power.

 

 

On Parenting

This Be The Verse

BY PHILIP LARKIN
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
Some days are diamonds, some days are stone. Some days I think I got this whole being a parent thing; some days I wonder about the therapy bills in their future.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FREEDUMB!!!!!!

I thought this was the perfect (and perfectly hilarious) response to all the libertarian freedom-fighters rallying to the cause of Outlaw-Rancher Cliven Bundy:
Cliven Bundy's anti-government act has inspired a new event from one of the people who's involved in Burning Man. Welcome to Bundy Fest!
Come celebrate TOTAL FREEDOM at BUNDYFEST, just across the road from the Cliven Bundy Ranch, in Bunkerville, Nevada! 240 bands, 24 hours a day, for a SOLID ROCKIN' MONTH!!!!
*NO PERMITS REQUIRED
*CAMP ABSOLUTELY ANYWHERE
*FULL NUDITY NOT A PROBLEM
*GAY-FRIENDLY ATMOSPHERE
*PENIS ERECTION CONTEST: Erect the largest penis in the open desert, win valuable prize! (tbd) 
BACKGROUND: For years, we paid permitting fees to hold Burning Man on the beautiful Playa in Northern Nevada. But now, Cliven Bundy has shown us a NEW WAY! ABSOLUTE FREEDOM! Bundy has declared the entire area surrounding Bundy Ranch as a TOTALLY RULES-FREE ZONE! ANYTHING GOES! WOO-HOO!!!
Check out their Facebook page for more details and an informational video.

It's not Rich Versus Poor

It's the plutocrats versus everyone else . . .
When labor advocates and law enforcement officials talk about wage theft, they are usually referring to situations in which low-wage service-sector employees are forced to work off the clock, paid subminimum wages, cheated out of overtime pay or denied their tips. It is a huge and underpoliced problem. It is also, it turns out, not confined to low-wage workers.
In the days ahead, a settlement is expected in the antitrust lawsuit pitting 64,613 software engineers against Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe. The engineers say they lost up to $3 billion in wages from 2005-9, when the companies colluded in a scheme not to solicit one another’s employees. The collusion, according to the engineers, kept their pay lower than it would have been had the companies actually competed for talent. 
. . . 
When wage theft against low-wage workers is combined with that against highly paid workers, a bad problem becomes much worse. Data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute show that in 2012, the Department of Labor helped 308,000 workers recover $280 million in back pay for wage-theft violations — nearly double the amount stolen that year in robberies on the street, at banks, gas stations and convenience stores.
Once again, why aren't these thieves going to jail? It's all well and good that the Justice Department and various state-level agencies are starting to do something for employees whose wages have been stolen, but where is the disincentive preventing employers from doing this in the first place?

Yesterday, I talked about the potential transforming power of a politics of love. For me, that includes standing up for people who are being taken advantage of, even if we have no personal connection to them. I can't see that it is moral simply to turn a blind eye to injustice committed by the economically  powerful. That doesn't mean I t would advocate torturing the executives who steal from their employees, but I would advocate giving them an opportunity to do the right thing, and if they choose not to, well then there should be consequences that make it not worth their while to steal. If it is good enough for the guy sticking up the convenience store, it should be good enough for the guy sticking up software engineers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Only Love Can Conquer Hate

I have been thinking a lot lately about the potential political implications of a philosophy of love. Over the past few months I had found myself so consistently angry about the state of affairs in the world, I felt I needed to do something to counteract the resentment and bitterness that was growing inside me. To that end, I began meditating again after a long hiatus, and I added a component of lovingkindness to my daily practice.

At first I found it painfully difficult to wish my enemies well. It felt fraudulent to ask for happiness and peace for Dick Cheney, or that no harm befall the Koch brothers. But as I continued on this path, very much in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode, it started to make sense to me that if these men were at peace and were deeply happy, they would not feel the need to bomb other countries and rob them of their resources, or gather to themselves all the riches of the world while actively seeking to impoverish others.

I know this mode of thought sounds incredibly na├»ve. It reminds me of a time during a Nietzsche seminar in graduate school when I noted that, in his laser-like focus on power and power relationships, Nietzsche seemed to be leaving out an examination of love as a force that moves us, as a force for change. The professor sort of smiled and did the verbal equivalent of patting me on the head, and as the only woman in the room, you can bet that I didn’t bring up the question of love again.

But it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that a singular focus on power and how to exercise power over others is an impoverished way to live, for everyone involved. And that the politics of love is a truly revolutionary politics that can have long-term impact in ways power-politics simply cannot.

A politics based on love doesn’t doesn’t mean sitting around holding hands, singing “Kumbaya” while the tanks roll. It means staking out a moral and political position based on commonality and justice and an open heart, one based on solidarity and not dominance. We have seen this approach effect real and lasting change in the material conditions of people’s lives without the blowback of “bomb your enemies back to the stone-age.”

Ghandi saying “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” was revolutionary, and borne out of a philosophy of love. I can’t but feel that Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, “through violence, you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”


It is hard work to love your enemy. It is a profoundly radical act. It is the only hope we have for a just and peaceful world.

99 More Just Like Her

Charlie Pierce has written a great profile of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It's a long read, but worth it, because it leaves you feeling hopeful. She leaves you feeling hopeful, because she's a fighter who wins. One of our employees, a guy in his late 20s who is smart and into politics, says to me every time Warren's name comes up, "I want to marry her and have her kids." I know how he feels.

ELIZABETH WARREN IS THE TEACHER 

She has come to remind us who we are, or at least who we once were. She is the only one warning that conditions in the financial sector are in some ways worse now than before the collapse of 2008. Her message has gained her many powerful enemies. And it has a lot of people very eager for Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Clean Getaway

The other day I had a post about Matt Tiabbi's new book, The Divide, which looks at the ways economic inequality translates into unequal justice being meted out to the poor and the wealthy. For another example of this disturbing phenomenon, check out Catherine Rampell's column in The Washington Post on wage-theft being practiced by some of the country's largest corporations against their low-wage workers.
Over the past year, low-wage workers and their supporters have protestedstruck and polemicized for a raise of some kind, a proposition that has support from the White House and most Americans, if not Republican politicians. But low-wage workers face an even more upsetting affliction that both parties should feel comfortable condemning: Employers are stealing from their employees, often with impunity.
“Wage theft” is an old problem. It can take many forms, including paying less than the minimum hourly wage, working employees off the clock, not paying required overtime rates and shifting hours into the next pay period so that overtime isn’t incurred. Unfortunately, reliable data on the magnitude of the problem are scarce. Workers can be afraid to report the theft for fear of losing their jobs altogether, especially in today’s terrible economy, and many don’t know their rights. Often workers don’t even realize their pay is being skimmed.
It's the same issue with the bankster thieves: white-collar criminals can steal with impunity, while the guy who commits a smash-and-grab goes to jail behind it. Unless and until people in positions of power in corporations that break the law are forced to do time rather than pay meaningless financial penalties, nothing will change. Fines for defrauding customers, or polluting waterways, or laundering money for terrorists and drug cartels are just the cost of doing business for these guys. They don't pay for their illegal acts, we do, and I for one am sick of it.




Native Plants I Love

Fothergilla major (common name: witch-alder)

Fothergilla is a deciduous shrub native to the southeastern U.S. As its common name suggests, it is a relative of our native witch-hazel. I love this plant because there is nothing else like it, with its bottlebrush-like, white flowers that bloom in April here in the Piedmont of N.C.

Close up of flowers taken this morning

Witch-alder can be planted in sun or part shade and is very low maintenance. We use them as  foundation shrubs in front of some evergreen Japanese hollies (ilex crenata) put in by the previous homeowners. The dark green of the hollies creates a great backdrop for the Fothergilla's white flowers and striking fall foliage. The flowers also have a lovely honey-like scent, which is nice to have by the front entrance.

Fall foliage adds another season of interest

The genus is named for John Fothergill, an 18th century Quaker physician from Essex, England who was an early collector of American plants.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Relatively Recently Read


The Wheel on the School is a book I have loved ever since it was read to me as a child. I have read it many times since then, completely taken in by its quiet story and the the way DeJong narrates the complex lives of children. The brushed ink drawings by Maurice Sendak also add to the book's charm.

My older son has reread The Wheel on the School a number of times, and I just read it with my younger son, who seems to be another convert. It is funny to me that this book, set in an era before computers and cars, about some children in a Dutch fishing village trying to find a wheel to put on their school to attract a pair of nesting storks, should hold their attention like it does. But I'm glad they feel moved by this story about the importance of imagination and courage and community. I'm glad we can share a little visit to this world with each other.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Eat the Rich

We are well and truly rogered:
Looking at 1,779 national policy outcomes in the United States over a period of over twenty years, Gilens and Page found that:
economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.
The differences between the influence of average people and moneyed elites on the policy-making process were not small, either. Bartels says that the preferences of economic elites (defined here as citizens at the 90th percentile or above of the income distribution) were fifteen times as important in affecting the government policies that were enacted on the national level.
The same pattern held for interest groups. “Mass-based interest groups,” says Bartels, mattered “only about half as much as business interest groups.” As the authors note, their findings reflect not only “the ability of actors to shape policy outcomes on contested issues” but also “their ability to shape the agenda that policy makers consider.” In other words, the wealthy have massive influence on which issues policymakers will even take into consideration in the first place. The power to rule an issue off the nation’s political agenda altogether may be the greatest political power of all.
How bad is it going to have to get before this dynamic changes? Without the looming specter of Communism hanging over the heads of the ultra-rich in the 1930s, the New Deal would never have come into being. What on earth is there today to force the .1% in this country to more evenly distribute the wealth created by all of us?

Black and Green

I have really enjoyed reading Tom Levinson's posts at the Balloon Juice blog, and he recently posted a really insightful piece at The Atlantic illustrating the ways in which various decisions by the Roberts court have strengthened institutional racism. Levinson is a science writer and educator by trade, but he  applies his thoughtfulness and intellect to a good many subjects.

Levinson's fellow writer at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, has been doing amazing work on race and racism (among other topics), and I feel like I am getting a much-needed education reading the conversations over there. It's not so much that the facts are new to me, but more that I didn't make enough of an effort to understand the real history of white supremacy in America, and the way that white privilege permeates everything. Once the scales fall away, as it were, the next question must be what do we white people do to destroy this system that gives us such privilege? If you believe at all in a just society, that question is imperative.

Getting rid of lawmakers and a judiciary that reify white power would be a good place to begin:
Once you start seeing American history through the corrective lens created by the generations of scholars and researchers on whose work Coates reports, then it becomes possible—necessary, really—to read current events in a new light. Take, for example, the McCutcheon decision that continued the Roberts Court program of gutting campaign-finance laws. 
The conventional—and correct, as far as it goes—view of the outcome, enabling wealthy donors to contribute to as many candidates as they choose, is that this further tilts the political playing field towards the richest among us at the expense of every American voter. See noted analyst Jon Stewart for a succinct presentation of this view. 
But that first-order take on this latest from the Supreme Court's right wing misses a crucial dimension. It isn't just rich folks who benefit from the Roberts Court's view that money equals speech. Those who gain possess other key identifiers. 
One guess as to what those other identifiers might be.  The piece is a devastating indictment of the Roberts Court.


Bernie!

Love, love, love Senator Bernie Sanders. He is a true progressive champion, and pulls no punches when it comes to calling out the (in the words of FDR) "malefactors of great wealth." But what I really love about him is that he doesn't just point fingers, he also offers solutions for closing the inequality gap - from real tax reform to sensible regulations on the financial industry, to strengthening civil rights protections. Now if we could only get enough other Democrats to join him.  The Republicans, to absolutely no one's surprise, would seem to be a lost cause.

Sanders had a great piece in the Huffington Post yesterday reminding us again who the big money boyz are behind the conservative movement, and why they are a danger to our republic:
Given the reality that the Koch brothers are now the most important and powerful players in American politics, it is important to know what they want and what their agenda is.
It is not widely known that David Koch was the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate in 1980. He believed that Ronald Reagan was much too liberal. Despite Mr. Koch putting a substantial sum of money into the campaign, his ticket only received 1 percent of the vote. Most Americans thought the Libertarian Party platform of 1980 was extremist and way out of touch with what the American people wanted and needed.
Fast-forward 34 years and the most significant reality of modern politics is how successful David Koch and like-minded billionaires have been in moving the Republican Party to the extreme right. Amazingly, much of what was considered "extremist" and "kooky" in 1980 has become part of today's mainstream Republican thinking.
These brothers, literally born of Bircherism (their father was one of the founders of the John Birch Society), have steadily moved their extreme agenda into the heart of the Republican party. The "vast rightwing conspiracy" Hillary Clinton was mocked mercilessly for calling out is paying serious dividends. Good for Senator Sanders and others in the Democratic Party for continuing to reveal the men behind the curtain.