Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Food Stamper, Please!

I guess Scalawag is the New Black?

ScalawagsAs I keep saying, I'm not surprised they go after the poors, but that they go after the disabled...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Can Of Worms Has Been Weaponized

Apparently the Supreme Court has weaponized a can of worms.  Not to mix my metaphors but let the popcorn popping begin.

Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have filed motions asking a U.S. court to block officials from preventing the inmates from taking part in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The lawyers argue that – in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision – the detainees’ rights are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The motions were filed this week with the Washington D.C. district court on behalf of Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan. U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve said both men asked for the intervention after military officials at the prison "prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan."
During Ramadan, a month of prayer and reflection that began last weekend, Muslims are required to fast every day from sunrise to sunset. But what is at issue in this case is the ability to perform extra prayers, called tarawih, "in which [Muslims] recite one-thirtieth of the Quran in consecutive segments throughout the month."

The Only Ethical Thing To Do In Missisippi

Booman has a really revolting piece up today about the "ethical way to win in Mississippi" for the Democratic Party, in the form of Travis Childers.  I tried reading the piece as a poorly informed white Democratic voter (which I am not)  and then I tried reading the post as Black Democratic voter (which I am not) and I came away disgusted at the short sighted, cowardly, approach he assumes Childers should take. The whole discussion reminds me of the way the Democrats have only recently come to realize how important "the women's vote" is but they still don't seem to value the non-white women's vote over the white women's vote.  One of those two groups--non white women and single women--vote overwhelmingly for Democrats when they are appealed to directly. Only apathy and disconnection prevent younger, single, non white women from voting.  White women are, comparatively, more Republican and conservative.  They vote and they vote regularly but they are not reliably Democratic votes.  Isn't this the case with Mississippi? Its something like 30 percent AA voters and they are solidly Democratic voters who are underrepresented in elections instead of serving as a powerful wedge forcing Senators like Cochran to the left (if he wants their vote) and bringing people like Childers to the left if he wants their votes as well.  

 Basically the issue is this: The race is now and always has been between Cochran and Some other Guy with enough votes.  Cochran squeaked through with the help of some AA/Democratic voters.  And he may have lost a lot of McDaniel's voters because of it. Does that make Childers (D) finally a player in the eventual race?  Well--Childers can try to get in as a blue dog democrat on a pro to racist line, with the help of McDaniel's voters or he can try to run an all out, balls to the wall, race against Cochran looking primarily for progressive voters and AA voters energized, presumably, by their recent foray into tipping point politics when they took the primary from McDaniel.  Which is best for Democrats and Democratic voters long term?

Booman answers the question this way

What interests me about this race is the ethics. It's pretty clear that the Republican Party is badly split between supporters of incumbent Thad Cochran, who is a decent fellow, and his challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who runs in neo-confederate circles and has the support of an extreme Tea Party faction. This wedge pre-exists anything Childers might do to exploit it. If Childers can convince a significant percentage of McDaniel supporters to vote for him, he can actually win this seat, but it is not clear how he can go about doing that without leveraging the racism that is at the core of opposition to Cochran.
Cochran was expected to lose his run-off with McDaniel but exceeded expectations by convincing a not inconsiderable number of black voters to back him. The Tea Party faction is claiming that a lot of these black voters violated the law by voting in the Republican run-off after voting in the Democratic primary. That issue can be settled in court, but regardless of legal merits, Cochran's open solicitation of black votes is seen as dirty pool by McDaniel's supporters who think that a Republican primary should be decided by exclusively Republican voters regardless of what the law specifies.
Travis Childers has the option of exacerbating this racial tension for his own political advantage, but this would be the wrong thing to do. Yet, if he doesn't do it, he will almost certainly lose. In fact, even if he does do it, he will probably lose.

"Democrats in Washington are watching the feud cautiously, not yet convinced it will put even Mississippi in play. The Democratic nominee, Mr. Childers, has raised little money and was always seen as a good candidate against Mr. McDaniel but as a marginal one against Mr. Cochran.
Conservative activists are not so sure. Dwayne Hall, vice president of the Miller County Patriots, a Tea Party group in Texarkana, Ark., says he has set up a Google alert for the McDaniel-Cochran fight and emails his network of fellow activists all the news from Mississippi.
“I’m no longer a member of the Republican Party, and I’d expect a lot of my fellow patriots to resign, too,” he said, adding: “I’m perfectly willing to do a protest vote in November if that’s my best option. I’m keeping that option open.”

 Booman again:
So, how can Childers convince people like Dwayne Hall to advocate on his behalf without dirtying himself with the racial politics of it all? Childers needs to nurture that "protest vote," but he doesn't want to shame himself in the process. So far, he's walking the tightrope.
Its not ok to look at the race this way.  Its not a game of parlor ethics--its life and death for the party and its voters.  Its not ok to toss away the advantage that AA voters bought, against strong headwinds and voter apathy (which white democratic voters also show at primaries).   Its not ok to spit in the face of AA voters by appealing to a racist spite voter.  AA voters are, for once, in a good position politically--if Cochran has to beg and plead with them for votes to get in over Childers that's good for the local AA constituents.  If Childers has to beg and plead for the local AA voters, rather than taking them for granted, that is good for the AA voters and for the Democratic party long term.  We are better off as a party being clearly identified with progressive causes and with AA voters than hemming, hawing, and begging for crazy teabagger votes.  If Childer's needs a strategy it should be to ratfuck Cochran with the McDaniel's voters without for a minute publicly asking for their votes or doing anything other than making a strong play for 1) traditional Democratic voters and 2) Republican voters who are disgusted with both Cochran and McDaniel for whatever reason.  AA voters and the AA community bought both Cochran and Childers some breathing space--they should be rewarded by the party that wants their votes, not treated as unimportant compared to the angry white teabagger vote.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Woah. Another Poem Put Here For Future Reference.

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 05:41 PM:
The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days --
Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.
The universe winds down. That's how it's made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

This appeared at Making Light, by the writer John M. Ford who seems to have written it spontaneously for that thread.  It is too beautiful and I needed to preserve it somewhere for future reference. I hope that is all right with the author.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Poem Someone Else Linked To

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

--Billy Collins

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Believe in Inequality? Why, I've Seen It Done!

Interesting David Leonhardt article about Piketty's theory of inequality.

So I called Piketty at his office in Paris, and he agreed to walk me through it.

He suggested imagining a hypothetical village from centuries ago in which neither the population nor the economy was growing. Every year, the village produced the same amount of goods for the same number of people to divide — a reality that was typical before the Enlightenment, when material living standards and human longevity barely rose. (The peasants of the 15th century were not better off than peasants in ancient Rome.) Even in a zero-growth society, however, assets that helped people produce goods — also known as capital — had value. Capital, Piketty told me, counts as anything “useful, any kind of equipment. Basic tools. Stones in prehistorical times.” Anything, in other words, that “makes people more productive.”
In our hypothetical village, a large farm might produce $10,000 worth of crops in a year and yield $1,000 in profit for its owner. A small farm might have the same 10 percent rate of return: $1,000 in annual crop sales, yielding $100 in profit. If the large farmer and small farmer each spent all of their money every year, the situation could continue ad infinitum, Piketty said, and the rate of inequality in the village would not change.
But one of capital’s great advantages is that its owners can make enough income to spend some of their money and sock the rest of it away. If the large farmer saved $500 of that $1,000 profit, he could buy more capital, which would bring more profit. Perhaps a few owners of smaller farms had debts to pay, and one of the large farmers bought them out. Eventually, the owner of the expanding farm might find himself owning land that yielded $1,500 or $2,000 in annual profit, allowing him to put aside more and more for future capital acquisitions. Less-stylized versions of this story have been playing out for centuries.
I have come to think of this idea as Piketty’s First Law of Inequality. The fact that the rich earn enough money to save money allows them to make investments that other people simply cannot afford. 

As I was reading about this imaginary village I realized I'd lived in just such a village, in Nepal 25 years ago.  And it was obvious how a basic inequality of capital influenced inequality of outcome.  I lived in a big house, owned by a wealthy family, in a region where people produced for subsistence.  The biggest inputs after land itself was seed, water, and human labor (performed largely by family members and especially women family members.)  Large families had more labor, but large families also tended to divide land and end up with smaller plots.  Wealthy families farmed their land by hiring labor from poorer families.  This was done with a combination of money and manipulation of important local inputs like food, seed, water, loans, gifts, and social connections.  A wealthy family, like my family, could afford to loan out food and to hoard seed in return for labor at a season in which labor was in demand.  Poor families, which needed that labor themselves, needed food or seed during other parts of the year. An underdeveloped market for other products, no ready cash, no banking system other than loans extended by rich families, meant that they had to trade what they had (labor) in exchange for necessities when their bargaining power was low.   Even where poor families owned something of value--land, gold, labor--the leverage that wealthy families had over poor families was the ability to time their transactions.  Larger amounts of something desirable (land, gold, labor, power, seed, water, government connections) meant that wealthy families could use their surplus at seasonally or socially critical times to force access to labor at other critical times at a price they preferred.  Sound familiar?

So why isn't it inevitable?  Well, lots of things can break into the system--new technology can replace family technology and make small families more productive (so they don't have to split their land up among too many children).  New sources of off farm employment can arise--in the case of Nepal, in the old days, men who went off to serve with the Gurkhas could send cash back to buy new land, in new locations, or to employ laborers to take their own place in the system. Each of these influxes of cash money into the economy disrupted the control of the former elites.  Education which created new choices for elites other than farming drew elite families out of the village entirely and rendered farming and control over the farming economy irrelevant.  For an interim period, before the collapse of the farming economy, foreign seed banks and low cost loans also intervened between local elites and their control over the labor economy.  No system has to stay at the equilibrium preferred by the elites. As Leonhardt and Piketty both argue rising inequality is a choice.

Cross posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

With Friends Like These

Mayor Clevenger was forced to step down after townspeople object to being "slimed" by association with his support for the man who recently shot several Christians in an attempted murder of Jews.  He praised the murderer with faint damns and some of his constituents objected.    But you get the feeling that not everyone's heart was in it.

A woman who stood next to him also spoke.
"I personally know and love a Jew," she said. "I have a grandson who is Jewish."
After saying that, she added that the investment firm of Goldman Sachs in New York City has played a large role in damaging the U.S. economy.
One speaker said Clevenger's comments not only engendered fallout locally but "across the nation."
She said Clevenger was hurting businesses, including local restaurants, as well as the Hillbilly Gas Mart.

Sometimes you get the feeling the jokes would write themselves but they have chosen suicide, instead.