Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I'm sure Paul Krugman didn't read my thorny question Monday (Should we avoid alienating the religious right while pointing out the errors in their thinking, or should we be aggressive against their growing intimidation?) Maybe Krugman just read my mind, because Tuesday's column in the New York Times minces no words:
Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.
Basically, Krugman feels that we'd better stop them while we can.
One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards. ...
What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.
The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.
America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.

His column is worth your time.
Even a life-long Republican, in a column on Tuesday's Post-Dispatch op-ed page, fretted that "reproductive freedoms are being legislated away, piece by piece" and advised: "The majority of Republicans, who are moderates, must take a stand against this extremism. According to a recent American Viewpoint public opinion survey, 73 percent of Republicans support a woman's right to choose."
Eric Mink's column today was about extremists in the Republican party. And even John Danforth had a Times op-ed piece today bemoaning the takover of his party by the fanatical religious right.
Thanks to Terri Schiavo, the word "extremism" for religious zealots is gaining currency and acceptance in the general population.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Here's a thorny question: Is it counterproductive to publicly demean the radical religious right--to, for example, sneer at Pat Robertson? Would it make more sense to talk about what we believe and offer than to go out of our way to make enemies of evangelicals? OR. Do we need to stand up unapologetically against Bible thumpers who are trying to take over the country?
Obviously, the politicians who pander to them are contemptible. In a New York Times column, Frank Rich allows as how: "American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends." The Schiavo case is only one example of it. But even more unnerving than the "religio-hucksterism" we see from Republican politicians is the screed Rich offers of inroads the religious right is making into public life generally:
All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)
That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

I do recommend that you take the time to read Rich's whole column.
It's been almost eight years since my husband and I retired from teaching high school English, and we were both always pushing the envelope, broaching and discussing the social and political questions that literature raises. It sometimes got us in hot water. I wonder if that would get us called on the school board carpet today.
And I'm still wondering how vocally we ought to push back against the religious extremists. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

In the Rose Is Rose comic strip, Pasquale's greedy cousin Clem is more than just selfish; he operates according to a strict credo, which is: "Take everything." If there are three brownies, he doesn't snatch two; his credo requires absconding with all three.
Having barely squeaked out a presidential victory and somewhat widened their control of Congress, Republicans are determined to stack the courts, especially the Supreme Court, with far right judges. Instead of uniting the country with moderate judges who would represent us all, they want to "Take everything."
The Senate instituted the filibuster to protect the minority party against just such grabbiness. Sixty votes are required to cut off debate, and unless the majority party can muster that many, the minority can delay and possibly forestall some votes. Frustrated by this pesky curb on their power, Republicans are contemplating eliminating the time honored rule of the filibuster. If Bill Frist can twist enough arms to get 51 votes, the minority will be completely silenced for the first time in two hundred years.
Republicans would like us to believe they are driven to this extremity by Democratic intransigence, but they themselves have obstructed far more judicial appointments. A March 6 Newswatch article in the Post-Dispatch pointed out that Republicans used their "control of the Senate Judiciary panel to block 60 percent of [Clinton's] appellate bench choices in his last two years." Democrats, in contrast, have blocked only ten of Bush's appellate nominees.
Still, the G.O.P. feels justified in squashing the opposition. Clem would approve. "Take everything."

Friday, March 25, 2005

I dislike rudeness and incivility. Having said that, let me offer this contradiction. My new hero is an ...outspoken... Missouri Democrat named Callahan. You can just skim through the first half of the following article from the Kansas City Star. Get the gist of it, then concentrate on Callahan's latest campaign against Republicans:
Posted on Mon, Mar. 21, 2005
Panic buttons offer governor some peace of mind
By TIM HOOVER and KIT WAGAR
The Kansas City Star

JEFFERSON CITY — When Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt took office in January, he asked the Capitol police to install four panic buttons in the Governor's Mansion, near the Capitol.
Is it the neighborhood?
Nope. Turns out, it's the staff.
As a new governor with a young first lady and a new first child, Blunt is concerned at the thought of prison inmates roaming around the house.
“I'm concerned about my family's security,” the governor said when asked about the panic buttons. “As you know, there are inmates in the mansion all the time.”
For at least 100 years, the state has used inmate labor for cleaning, cooking and maintenance duties at the mansion, Department of Corrections officials said.
To work at the mansion, the inmates must be nonviolent offenders with clean conduct records, corrections officials said. And the inmates, who are within a year or less of getting out of prison, must have already served in work-release programs to prove they can be trusted with minimal supervision.
Corrections officials said they were unaware of any instances of inmate workers ever causing problems.
Blunt and his wife, Melanie, have stayed in the mansion some since he took office in January. But the first lady has mostly stayed in Springfield, where she gave birth this month to the couple's first child, William Branch Blunt.
Blunt said his wife and son will move into the 134-year-old governor's mansion as soon as Melanie Blunt is ready.
Three corrections officers are on duty at the mansion when the inmates are there, not to mention the Missouri Highway Patrol troopers assigned to Blunt and the first lady. Other troopers are on site to provide 24-hour security at the mansion.
The state Division of Facilities Management installed the four panic buttons, purchased from a St. Louis company, at a cost of $811.
“It seemed to be a fairly low-cost way to enhance security at the mansion,” Blunt said.
***
Sen. Victor Callahan, the former chairman of the Jackson County Legislature, has been showing flashes of his old feistiness in recent Senate debates.
Callahan, an Independence Democrat, went after Republicans several times last week over bills that make it more difficult for workers to claim their injuries are work related and that end Medicaid coverage for many low-income and disabled workers.
Callahan's top objective: Gov. Matt Blunt. The senator repeatedly referred to Blunt as “his majesty” or “his excellency” and accused Blunt of ruling with disregard for working people and the poor.
His second target: Blunt's supporters in the business community.
“His Majesty Matt Blunt has overlooked the corporate element to the state's problems (with a costly Medicaid program),” Callahan said. Some of the state's largest corporations, he said, don't pay a living wage, which allows their employees to qualify for Medicaid, which pays for health care for the poor.
Callahan said such companies deliberately shift the cost of employees' health care to taxpayers. He said he would like to see a list of large companies not providing employee health insurance.
“Do you think this list would correspond to his majesty's campaign contribution list?” Callahan asked.
Sen. Gary Nodler, a Joplin Republican, called Callahan's attacks on Blunt demeaning. Nodler said Republicans were never so bold as to show such disrespect for Democrat Bob Holden when he was governor.
Nodler's memory is a bit short. It was less than two years ago — in April 2003 — when Senate Republicans began sporting stickers emblazoned with a large “OTB.” The phrase was a slap at Holden.
It stood for “One-term Bob,” which had become a rallying cry for Republicans. Democrats at the time said it ought to stand for the Republican budget — “On the Backs” of children, the elderly and the disabled.

I'm looking for Callahan's phone or e-mail so I can thank him for speaking out. I wish more of our Democrats were so outspoken.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Progressives are presenting two different, opposing attitudes about the probable failure of Bush's Social Security privatization plan.
One take on it is confident and joyous. Sidney Blumenthal in Salon, (3/3/05) is so persuaded of their imminent failure that he practically pities their predicament: "For Bush and the Republicans, the problem is salesmanship. If only they hone the pitch, convince the wary customers that they really mean well,... they will clinch the deal." Their dilemma is how to do that. Frank Luntz, their chief wordsmith, wrote a memo in which he said that the public wants:
"empathy rather than statistical declarations.... Social Security is a difficult subject because there are many obscure facts and figures. Stay away from them!!!... And PLEASE remember that you are NEVER talking about privatizing Social Security, nor are you advocating INDIVIDUAL accounts. You are talking about creating PERSONAL retirement accounts.
Blumenthal assumes that Luntz and Rove can wiggle all they want, but they won't escape from the net they've put themselves into.
Bush's impending defeat on Social Security is no minor affair. He has made this the centerpiece of domestic policy of his second term.... The repudiation of Bush on Social Security will be fundamental and profound and will shake the foundations of conservative Republicanism. Bush's agony is only beginning, if the Democrats in the Senate can maintain their discipline.
The opposite of Blumenthal is the opinion that even if the Republicans fail to institute their plan, they will have succeeded if they can just convince voters under thirty that Social Security, and by extension all entitlement programs, are shaky, undependable. If young voters do not see Democrats as offering them security, they will be unlikely to vote for Democrats in the coming decades.
Both viewpoints have merit. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

In case you missed Ellen Goodman's column on abortion in last Saturday's Post, I'm here to help you out. I went looking for it on the net and found it--ah, serendipity--on a website called "Are We There Yet?" The website, a mixture of cartoons and columns, is worth a visit. You'll have to scroll a bit to get to Goodman, but the journey is as much worth your while as the destination.
As for the destination itself, Goodman's column, here's the conclusion:
A new report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute says that public-funded family planning has gone down in 27 states, forcing clinics to turn away four out of 10 women who need subsidized contraception. The Bush budget has proposed cutting Medicaid funding further, while Congress is fixated on making it a crime to take a minor across state lines for an abortion.
Which is the better way to reduce abortions? By prosecution or prevention? After years of playing defense, NARAL Pro-Choice America has gone on the offense. In a recent ad, they challenged opponents to join them in decreasing abortions by increasing access to birth control.
At the same time, Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, an abortion-rights opponent, has introduced a model bill for the pro-life/pro-choice/pro-contraception middle. The Prevention First Act would more than double federal money for family planning clinics, require private health plans to cover prescription contraceptives, and force abstinence-only education programs to be accurate when they describe contraceptives.
This bill has been greeted with the sound of one party clapping.
Still think the Democrats are too beholden to the pro-choice left? We're seeing a Republican Party beholden to the anti-birth control right. One side wants to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the other to punish them. Who holds the title to the middle ground now?

NARAL is currently urging its Missouri members to call their state senators, asking them to get the Patient Protection Act out of committee. Here's what NARAL says about Missouri Senate Bill 458:
Emergency contraception (EC) is perhaps the single most promising way to reduce abortion and teen pregnancy. It is readily available without a prescription in the rest of the developed world.
Right-wing extremists in Missouri are pressuring pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for this safe legal and effective birth control which is NOT an “abortion pill”. It does not work if you are pregnant and does not harm a fetus.
The Patient Protection Act requires pharmacists to fill prescriptions as written by a physician. It requires them to alert their employer in advance if they are unwilling, and to accommodate the timely filling of prescriptions “without undue hardship."

That pill sounds like good middle ground to me, if the right were in any mood to look for a meeting of the minds.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I've been waiting a long time for a backlash against the greed and stupidity of Republican policies. It's hard to be patient, but I believe the backlash will materialize--with a lot of help from us. And occasionally, I see signs of it. Paul Krugman's Friday column about the appointment of Wolfowitz to head the World Bank includes several of those hints. Latin America, having wandered for decades in the wilderness of our free trade policies, now seems headed down a more populist road. Krugman believes they're unlikely to listen to the Ugly American Bank.
Through much of the 1990's, they bought into the "Washington consensus" - which we should note came from Clinton administration officials as well as from Wall Street economists and conservative think tanks - which said that privatization, deregulation and free trade would lead to economic takeoff. Instead, growth remained sluggish, inequality increased, and the region was struck by a series of economic crises.The result has been the rise of governments that, to varying degrees, reject policies they perceive as made in America. Venezuela's leader is the most obstreperous. But the most dramatic example of the backlash is Argentina, once the darling of Wall Street and the think tanks. Today, after a devastating recession, the country is run by a populist who often blames foreigners for the country's economic problems, and has forced Argentina's foreign creditors to accept a settlement that gives them only 32 cents on the dollar. And the backlash has reached our closest neighbor. Mexico's current president, Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, is a firm believer in free markets. But his administration is widely considered a failure. Meanwhile, Mexico City's leftist mayor, Manuel López Obrador, has become immensely popular. And his populist rhetoric has raised fears that if he becomes president he will roll back the free-market and free-trade policies of the past two decades.
Krugman also describes how our insistence on a free market template in Iraq has contributed to the disaster there.
In Lakoff's terms, the Bushies are trying to bully the world like an authoritarian father. That can have unintended consequences when the children come of age.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Daily Kos had a most interesting blog last Thursday:
In the past year, like so many other Democrats and progressives, I latched onto George Lakoff's advice about "framing" with the ferociously desperate optimism of a drowning man spotting a passing tree trunk.
Unfortunately, according to the writer, Hudson, our newfound enthusiasm for framing is often headed off at the pass by what Hudson terms "fencing":
As we Democrats play catch-up on the framing of specific issues, the Republicans (having largely mastered framing already) have refocused and redoubled their efforts to fence voters off from ever contemplating Democratic and progressive frames.
While still holding up their end when necessary to frame a debate, the Republicans are spending more and more of their time browbeating the public into blocking out our arguments altogether.
In the Bush-Kerry campaign, "fencing" mostly took the form of playground insults and other humiliations:
Kerry looks French. Kerry spends a fortune on haircuts. Kerry is vain and pompous. Kerry has funny hair. Kerry's voice is funny. Kerry reminds people of Lurch on The Addams family. Kerry wears Lycra--fluorescent-striped Lycra. Kerry rides a fancy European bike. Kerry looks fruity when he windsurfs. Kerry wears expensive suits, ties, sunglasses, shoes and belts. Kerry asks for French mustard when he orders a hot dog. Kerry falls when he skis, then blames it on the Secret Service. Kerry hung out with Hanoi Jane. Kerry threw his medals over a fence. Kerry faked his war wounds. Kerry only marries rich women. Kerry's latest wife is a rich, loudmouthed foreigner whom he can't control. Kerry is a phony. And of course, Kerry flip-flops.
Almost all of these jibes--which most sixth graders would be embarrassed to say--were also accompanied by photographs or video.
The goals of these juvenile but relentless attacks was obvious: To make Kerry into a ridiculous figure.

If you read the rest of the blog, you'll hear his analysis of how fencing can backfire and whether Dems should be doing unto Republicans as they've been doing unto us.
P.S. I won't be blogging until next week. Gotta take my machine to the shop.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I listened to a caller ask Rush Limbaugh one day, "Don't you think that many of the problems in schools are caused by parents who don't teach their children how to behave?" As a retired teacher, I was thinking, "Right on!" But Rush blithely ignored the caller's suggestion and went instead into a fifteen minute rant on teachers who ignore the basics and teach feel good, self esteem junk. That's a favorite straw-man. Sure, I remember a period when that kind of touchy-feely curriculum was in vogue--twenty-five years ago. But not now. Nevertheless, Mallard Fillmore punches on this straw-man regularly. Last week, Mallard asked a pretty boy liberal: "Tyler, as a spokesperson for the self-esteem generation, what would you say is its signature quality...its abysmal ignorance...or its complete inability to handle pressure or adversity?" After looking puzzled, the liberal replied: "Could I have an easier question?"
Republicans bash our educational system to create a climate in which they can disassemble public schools. Last week, pundit Kathleen Parker spent a column sneering at visitors to Mount Vernon who ask the tour guides there, "Washington liberated the slaves, right?" Parker reinforced her point that our schools are not doing the job by citing a survey in which seven out of ten fourth graders "believed that the original thirteen colonies included Illinois, Texas and California." That's a shame, but they were only fourth graders. Furthermore, having only a foggy notion of our history is nothing new in our history. A column written to rebut Parker pointed out that:
Sam Wineberg, a Stanford professor and leading researcher on the teaching and learning of history, has written about a test given in 1915-16 to 1,500 upper-elementary, high school and college students in Texas. It included questions about Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Dred Scott decision, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Cyrus H. McCormick and much more. Scores ranged from 16 percent for the upper-elementary students to 33 percent for high school kids to 49 percent for those in college.
In 1943 a similar test showing lack of historical knowledge made the front page of the New York Times. Granted, our schools have never succeeded as well as we might wish, but what Kathleen Parker, Rush Limbaugh, and the Mallard Fillmore cartoonist want isn't to shine on a spotlight that might improve public education, any more than they want to save Social Security or Medicare. They turn a blind eye to the fact that schools do what they can, given the class loads teachers cope with and the students they have to work with.
When my sister-in-law's children were starting school, she asked my husband, who taught high school English, what was necessary for them to succeed. He told her to read with them every evening and to ask them what they learned in school that day--not "how was school?" but "what did you learn?" Molly took his advice to heart; both girls, in high school now, are A students. To the degree that parents trust in the flickering, blue screen as babysitter instead of following my husband's advice, they will send our public school teachers young people with short attention spans and little motivation.
For a period of one month, I'd like to see Kathleen Parker deal with a public high school English teacher's workload, including handling classroom discipline, critiquing rough drafts, and planning lessons. That would shut her up.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Perhaps you're not aware that you're a Marxist--well, in at least three respects. In 1848 Das Capital shocked folks by advocating abolition of child labor, a progressive income tax, and free public education. The Right Wing in this country is still? again? opposing the shocking, sensible idea of public education.
As with their opposition to others of our institutions, their real aims are disguised, they claim only to want reform. But the voucher system they push would, if widely used, eventually dismantle public schools, especially in poor neighborhoods. Another prong of the attack is "No Child Left Behind", an Orwellian term meaning "We'll punish schools that can't meet this underfunded mandate."
Consider, in contrast, the "Success by Six" program that Howard Dean instituted when he was governor of Vermont. Aware that students who come to school prepared to learn will learn, he launched early immunization, hearing tests and lead poisoning testing, programs to prevent sex abuse, to prevent teenage pregnancies and early education efforts. Statistical analysis of the effects of these programs showed impressive progress.
Missourians are less fortunate. We have Matt Blunt and Peter Kinder. In response to their proposed slashing of educational programs in the city, St. Louis Police chief, Joe Mokwa, wrote in the Post-Dispatch:
Quality pre-kindergarten programs, such as Head Start, and quality child care help kids learn to get along with others, follow directions and start school ready to succeed. One landmark study showed that excluding at-risk kids from a pre-kindergarten program multiplied by five times the risk that they would grow up to be arrested five or more times by age 27. In another study, boys left out of a quality after-school program--the "prime time for juvenile crime" is 3-6 p.m.--had six times more criminal convictions compared to those in the program.
We can pay for education or we can pay for crime. Our choice. But spending our resources to buy more prison cells means wasted lives. Bitter young men who could have contributed will do nothing more than provide employment for prison guards.
More tomorrow on education.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

You've probably heard someone or other refer to the Bushies as fascists. But if I were to claim that on this blog, no armed troops would burst into my house, smashing furniture and dragging me off to prison. Nope. My comfortable existence would continue. We do not live in pre-war Germany.
Still, although the Bush administration does not resort to domestic violence, it has troubling tendencies.
David Neiwert, on his website, Orcinus, defines fascism and analyzes the elements of it in today's neocon movement. The particular beliefs, he says, vary from one culture to another, but the component that always predominates is the will for absolute power--a power that is achieved by fostering passions and ignoring thought. Indeed, fascist leaders typically rely on gut instinct rather than reason. Neiwert lists the elements of fascism that he sees today:
These "mobilizing passions," mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set fascism's foundations:
-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
-- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;
-- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external;
-- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
-- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;
-- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;
-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;
-- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle.
If these "mobilizing passions" seem familiar, they should: They have been adopted, as I described in Part 1, by the American conservative movement -- embodied by the Republican Party -- as the very architecture of its agenda since the advent of the invasion of Iraq, and particularly as the core of its 2004 campaign for the presidency.
This is not a mere coincidence, and the danger it represents -- obviously -- is profound.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The horrible bankruptcy bill is, according to Molly Ivins's March 3 column, even worse than you thought it was. It's "genuinely loathsome."
Sure, some people who declare bankruptcy are just deadbeats, but the main reasons for bankruptcy are job loss and medical bills. (Bankruptcies from medical debts have risen 2200 percent over a twenty year period. And, by the way, having health insurance is no guarantee of safety. Three-fourths of those who go bankrupt because of medical costs have health insurance.)
Yet Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, piously pretends that irresponsibility and greed cause the majority of financial failures. Molly quotes him:
"People who have the ability to repay some or all of their debt should not be able to use bankruptcy as a financial planning tool so they get out of paying their debt scot-free, while honest Americans who play by the rules have to foot the bill."
That's a startling example of the "straw-man" school of argument. The study by the Harvard profs shows that in the two years before filing for bankruptcy, 19 percent of families went without food, 40 percent had their phone service shut off, 43 percent could not fill a doctor's prescription and 53 percent went without important medical care.
So, who are these feckless, irresponsible moochers using bankruptcy to avoid paying legitimate debts? Why, look at this: The New York Times reports "legal specialists say the proposed law leaves open an increasingly popular loophole that lets wealthy people protect substantial assets from creditors even after filing for bankruptcy."
What, our Republican Congress passing a bill that favors rich people at the expense of "honest Americans who play by the rules and have to foot the bill"? If you have a lot of money (most people filing for bankruptcy don't have this problem), you just put it in an asset protection trust and walk away.

I recommend reading the entire column.
I would also recommend that our Democratic legislators find t.v. cameras and begin pounding podiums. Let's write our Representatives, asking them to do that. Let's write the Post-Dispatch. Point out the hardships that many ordinary Americans suffer when they go bankrupt and emphasize the injustice of allowing the rich to declare bankruptcy and yet keep their assets. Legislators assume that for every letter they get, there are at least 10,000 people who think the same thing. You can speak for 10,000 people. And you don't need to sound like a professional writer, either. Just make your point clearly and simply.
If you do write, please mention it in the Comments section here. If you're so inclined, post your letter under Comments.
I'm sending this blog to Lacy Clay. I didn't succeed at finding an e-mail address for him, but here are snail mail addresses for him and Carnahan:
The Honorable William Lacy Clay, Jr.
United States House of Representatives
131 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-2501
The Honorable Russ Carnahan
United States House of Representatives
1232 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Friday, March 04, 2005

"Corporate taxes have declined from 35 percent of federal revenues to 7.4 percent over the past half-century." So says The Nation in its Feb. 21 article, "Taking the Offensive on Wealth". So corporations pay one fifth of the taxes they did in the fifties. The Dems should trumpet that statistic loudly and often. Rush Limbaugh's not going to do it for them. Democrats should be pumping their fists in indignation over the fact that "this past year, corporations received an additional $137 billion in legislated cuts." Let's see. That sum would pay for more than a year and a half of the war in Iraq.
Putting the brakes on the free ride corporations have been enjoying is one of several tax remedies the writer recommends. (St. Louis County Library carries copies of The Nation if you'd like to read all the remedies explained in the article.)
The bottom line is:
Progressives need to grasp fully, and then communicate, the morally outrageous nature of what is happening in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. The typical American full-time worker earned just $35,906 in 2003. The TOTAL income of the typical family (including spouse, etc.) came to just under $53,000. Try raising a family or think about sending your kids to college on that--and remember that roughly half of all families are below this figure. Meanwhile, to take just three examples: Richard Fuld Jr., chief executive of Lehman Brothers Holdings, made $67.7 million in 2003; George David of United Technologies made $70.5 million; and Reuben Mark of Colgate-Palmolive made $148 million. Something is powerfully amiss in this disparity and it is getting worse--something progressives have not yet found a way to fully dramatize.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Now is the time for progressives to "launch a comprehensive challenge to America's extreme concentration of income and wealth", according to an article titled "Taking the Offensive on Wealth" in the Feb.21 issue of The Nation. The egregious disparity in wealth has grown so much worse under Bush that the time is ripe for reform.
America has experienced what economist and New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman calls "tectonic shifts" in income and wealth in recent years. The top 1 percent now claim more income each year than the bottom 100 million Americans taken together. An only slightly larger elite group, the top 5 percent, own just under 70 percent of financial wealth. ... The economist and Nobel Laureate, Paul Samuelson, has regularly dramatized what the general patterns mean. In the 1948 version of his widely used textbook, Samuelson wrote, "If we made...an income pyramid out of a child's play blocks, with each layer portraying $1000 of income, the peak would be far higher than the Eiffel Tower, but almost all of us would be within a yard of the ground." By the end of the century, Samuelson found that although there would be some modest alterations at the bottom, the world had changed so much that the peak would be as high as Mount Everest.
Three forces make this a feasible time for a serious challenge: First, Bush's tax cuts are creating pain for the middle class in the form of reduced public services, higher tuition rates and higher property taxes--for starters. Public dissatisfaction has, in fact, recently driven California, New Jersey, and even conservative Virginia, to raise income taxes on the wealthy.
A second force in favor of a challenge is the egregious behavior of the very rich--their corruption as evidenced by Enron, WorldCom, Fannie Mae, et. al.--and their conspicuous consumption, as in a $6000 shower curtain and a $15,000 umbrella stand.
The third force is the willingness of Democrats to propose plans for taking back the tax cuts to the rich. In the past, they've been afraid to stand up because of their own dependence on corporate contributors. But with the advent of MoveOn and Dean as DNC chair, we're aware that the grassroots can fund the party without corporate bribes. We can dare again the to become the party of economic justice.
More tomorrow on this article.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Molly Ivins recently pointed out that campaign finance and corporate lobbying are bad enough. Now, the right plans to aim $200 million in ads to convince us to screw ourselves.
Also of note is what appears to be a new dimension in how monied special interests buy legislation through Congress. We are all familiar with both corporate lobbyists and the system of legalized bribery known as "campaign finance." But now comes an unholy tsunami of corporate money aimed not at politicians but at ourselves. Over $200 million will be spent to convince us that we should privatize Social Security and change the rules of class-action lawsuits. In other words, they want to make us in favor of our own screwing by corporate special interests.

This has been done before, but not at this incredible level. When the insurance industry mounted a $10 million campaign in 1993 to defeat the Clinton health insurance plan (remember Harry and Louise?), no one had ever seen that kind of money spent to kill a single bill before. And now, The Washington Post reports, "Corporate America, the financial services industry, conservative think tanks, much of the Washington trade association community, the Republican Party, and GOP lobbyists and consultants are prepared to spend $200 million or more to influence the outcome of two of the toughest legislative fights in recent memory."

Their money frustrates me. Two hundred mill is a drop in the bucket for them, but a tough sum for us to raise to fight them.
Click here to read Molly's column.