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    • The End of the Rebels in the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s Future
      We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would [...]
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Republicans bringing back the bad old days

William Tell keeps his hat on

You have to give Republicans credit for their dogged persistence.  They are going to drag us kicking and screaming back to the bad old days if it takes them a lifetime.  Look at all of the systems and bad ideas that western civilization got rid of over the past couple of centuries that the Republicans have updated and passed off as new and shiny.

1.) Sumptuary Laws: Wiki defines them as “are laws that attempt to regulate habits of consumption. Black’s Law Dictionary defines them as “Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures in the matter of apparel, food, furniture, etc.””  The Chained CPI is the perfect way to restrain consumer spending, to the eventual detriment of the economy.  Back in the middle ages, the aristocrats didn’t want to have to compete with the commoners for things like purple dye and fine cloth.  If some merchant could buy that stuff for his daughter and supplies were strictly limited, that meant a duchess might have to do without.  We can’t have that.  In a similar way, the chained CPI is almost guaranteed to keep seniors from spending too much.  The working assumption is that they will scale down their purchases, going for cheaper consumer goods, probably of lower quality as well.  This will save the upper salaried from having to give up their Bush tax cuts or have their payroll taxes increased.  More money for them to spend on whatever their hearts desire, less for everyone else.  Too bad for poor seniors who scrimp and save for the meagerest luxuries.  This is what you get for a lifetime of work and getting laid off in your middle age.

Besides, it’s so much easier to tell who the lower classes are at a glance.

2.) The Truck System: Wiki defines it as “an arrangement in which employees are paid in commodities or some currency substitute (referred to as scrip), rather than with standard money. This limits employees’ ability to choose how to spend their earnings—generally to the benefit of the employer. As an example, scrip might be usable only for the purchase of goods at a company-owned store, where prices are set artificially high. The practice has been widely criticized as exploitative and similar in effect to slavery, and has been outlawed in many parts of the world.”

The proposed Medicare voucher system comes pretty close to a truck system.  Employees pay into the Medicare system throughout their working lives with the expectation that when they are of age, they will be paid their deferred compensation in the form of Medicare benefits.  Instead, they would get a voucher whose worth is much less than the originally promised benefit and it could only be used to purchase health care from a private insurer, who has no incentive to compete because there is no public option.

Truck systems have been outlawed in much of the world because it is seen as a form of slavery. Note that the proliferation of unpaid internships for college students is also a form of truck.  They cost parents a lot of money, the student gets no pay and the internship itself is frequently of questionable value in terms of acquiring further employment.

3.) Fear and lawlessness: In Republican world, the only people who have any true liberty are insane people with guns.  Apparently, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.  Absolutely nothing. Everyone else is at their mercy and must either pay handsomely for security or fight gunfire with gunfire.  That leaves the rest of us afraid to walk around or go to school safely without fear of being gunned down.  We’re the ones huddled behind castle walls while the lawless roam at will.

4.) Serfdom: This trend is disturbing.  This is what you get when you make precariats out of workers.  The more insecure their lives are, the more they are willing to take whatever work they can get to pay their bills and they’ll do it at remarkably low prices. The attacks on labor unions is designed to create more insecurity.  Note that when you decide to go along with this trend, it’s bloody hard to win back your rights without some major socioeconomic shock, like a Great Depression.  As much as people might dislike labor unions, it’s better to have them to push around the management than not have any.

5.) Exploitation: If you want to know what the Republicans and their allies in the 1%, listen to this This American Life* episode about the The Little War on the Prairie.  This war was between the Minnesota Dakota against the US government who cheated them out of their lands.  You might be surprised to find that Thomas Jefferson was the guy who laid out the strategy of how the government was going to acquire the Dakota off their lands.  Basically it goes like this: we want the Indian lands, they aren’t going to give it to us nicely.  So, we’ll sell things to them that they want and get them deeply into debt.  When they see they’re in a hole they can’t climb out of, we make them an offer they can’t refuse.  We’ll cancel the debt if they give up their land.

It worked.  It also lead to the largest mass execution on American soil in the 1860s.  Go listen to the whole thing.  Abraham Lincoln turned out to be a decent guy but he must have been overwhelmed by the Civil War.  It’s a sad story.

So, how does this apply to Republican strategy?  As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, it’s the Republican plan to put us in thumbscrews.  The idea is to basically turn down the heat on the economy so that people ain’t got jobs, people ain’t got money.  The corporations will stop investing, bankers will sit on the cash like the greedy dragons they are and the whole executive branch of government will be invaded by financial industry moles who will make sure that no one outside of their little evil group to which no one we know belongs gets any relief for the debt they can’t get out from.  And let’s make this clear, we’re not talking about the people who stupidly took out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford.  Those people got their comeuppance early.  No, the squeeze is now going to be on the middle class, including the college educated, whose wages have plummeted but whose living costs have not.  As long as there is an ongoing crisis of funding the government, unemployment insurance and all the other things that keep the economy barely chugging along, the screws on us will get tighter and tighter.

The Republicans want to break the social insurance programs.  We know this because if the deficit was really bothering them, they could end the Bush Tax Cuts on the highest earners and end the wars.  If they really wanted to cure the deficit problem, they would enthusiastically back a jobs program and fund unemployment benefits so that money could go back into the economy through consumer spending and so that people could pay their taxes again.

This is not what they are advocating.  So, I can only conclude that they are willing to risk severe injury to some industries, like pharma, and the economy in general and have people lose their houses and careers because they want to push us to the point where we are overwhelmed with living expenses that we can’t pay.  Then they will generously offer to turn the money tap back on if we just give up our social insurance programs.

The temptation is going to be great in the next couple of months, especially for the state of New Jersey.  Unemployment rates here were already above 10% when Sandy hit.  Now that one of the state’s major industries, tourism, has suffered a devastating blow, there will be a lot of pressure on our Congressional delegation to cut a deal so the money can flow.  I expect every one of New Jersey’s representatives and senators to crumble.

What would happen if we don’t give in?  I don’t know but it sounds to me like taxes will go up on the wealthiest among us.  I don’t know about you but my Bush tax cut never did amount to very much.  I’d never even miss it.  But I’m guessing that if you make between $250K and $800K, it amounts to quite a bit of money.  It might mean a change in social status. I suspect that’s why the White House press corps was so anxious to find out what the plan was when Obama gave his post Sandy Hook shooting presser.  They’re trying to figure out where they will stand after January 1, 2013.

So, that’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.  The wealthy and their political arm think they can wait us out.  It’s all they’ve got left at this point.  They’re never going to be able to swing another wave election with social issues.  That demographic is dying off.  So, they’ll just keep us in pain until we give in.  Maybe it will work, maybe not.  Either way, they’re going to strangle the economy until they are no longer under any obligation to participate in social insurance.  And then they’ll move in and take everything.

That’s the Republican party in it’s modern form.  It’s still the same bunch of rapists and pillagers.  They’ve just got a formal party organization to hide behind now.  We’re now back to the bad old days of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  It’s hard to believe the middle and working class happily squandered their advantage over the past 30 years over such tripe like “family values” and “patriotism” and the “moral majority”.  I thought people would have learned their lessons by now but the Tea Party has signed up a whole new set of gullible Americans who are more than happy to bash the head of the person lower than them in the hierarchical scheme.  Some people never learn.

* I know nothing about semiotics but I find it interesting that Ira Glass, the semiotics major, manages to find stories that tie in so well to current events in a metaphorical sense.  Accident?  Coincidence?  Intentional?

You can call him Senator Al

Franken takes the oath, proudly (Photo from the NYTimes)

Franken takes the oath, proudly (Photo from the NYTimes)

He’s an occasionally tasteless, egomaniac who declared the 80’s “The Al Franken Decade”, dedicated to him, Al Franken.  But Al Franken got me and millions of others through the darkest nights of the Bush Administration in 2004.  His Sundance Channel rebroadcast of his Air America show was one of my DVR must sees.  Every night.  As I curled up on the sofa sipping my chamomile tea and wondering when it would all end.  We cried together when Kerry lost, not because we were enamoured with Kerry but because the Bushies had four more years to screw things up.

He wrote some pretty scathing books too.  Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Lying Liars were funny in a “kidding on the square” way.  In other words, Franken flayed the bastards with facts.  They were deliciously wicked reads. Not only is he funny but he’s smart as a whip and could always carry on an intelligent conversation with his guests on Air America.

But it was easy to see where Franken was coming from.  He never hid his political leanings.  He is unabashedly liberal who cares about his country in a choked up with pride and concern kind of way.  I remember seeing him in an interview a couple of years ago after Air America started.  At one point, he stopped the sarcasm and got emotional about what was happening to the country.  It’s real.

I think his friends told him to hold off running for Senate in 2006.  He probably wasn’t ready but you could tell he was disappointed to not be able to pick up where Paul Wellstone left off.  But 2008 was a good year for him and he learned what it takes to be a good politician and also how to be patient during an agonizing 8 months of recount.  Now, he’ll have his chance to be a dedicated public servant.

Today as he took the oath, many congressional staffers who wanted to see him sworn in were prevented from doing so.  The gallery was too crowded.  There was an ovation afterwards.  People who still see him as a comedian don’t understand how courageous he looked to the rest of us.  It’s hard to go against the irresistable force of public opinion and conventional wisdom and to put one’s fortune and sacred honor on the line for principle and personal belief.  In this day and age, it’s just not done.  But he did it.

Al Franken has managed to snag some pretty impressive committee assignments. He will be a junior member of the Committess on Aging, Indian Affairs, HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) and Judiciary.  That last assignment is a bit unusual for a guy who is not a lawyer.  But Al has a chance to become our voice in the nomination hearings of Sonia Sotomayor starting next week.  We’ll have to work out a live blog schedule to cover it.  I hope Franken recognizes that Sotomayor probably isn’t going to change the dynamics when it comes to abortion but her opinions on business practices, corporations, the unitary executive theory and discrimination law need to be fleshed out.  I’m looking forward to seeing Franken sink his teeth into it.

So, Good Luck, Al.  We know you can do this.  Make the voters of Minnesota and the rest of us proud.

Now, get to work!


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Tuesday: Franken wins. Finally. Sort of.

A three judge panel ruled that Franken was the winner of November’s election and firmly rejected Norm Coleman’s claims to the contrary.  This after a 3 month trial where Norm Coleman tried to get many previously rejected absentee ballots included but instead only increased Franken’s lead over him.  Franken wins by a little over 300 votes.

So, you would think that the election board could certify him and after 6 long months Minnesota would have a senator, right?  Silly readers, MN is governed by a Republican, Tim Pawlenty.  Besides, the GOP party apparatus never let little things like votes stand in the way of victory.  Come to think of it, neither does the Democratic party anymore, but I digress.  Norm Coleman has 10 days to file an appeal.  According to Richard Hasen, election law expert, Coleman’s case was dealt a heavy blow by the panel:

“It is the kind of opinion that is unlikely to be disturbed on appeal by either the Minnesota Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court,” said Richard Hasen, an expert on election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “The opinion considers the major arguments made by Coleman and rejects them in a detailed and measured way.”

Added University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs: “This is judicial speak for ‘nothing here,’ and it is most definitely aimed at the appeals process. It’s a signal that they are supremely unimpressed by the Coleman case.”

Now, no one who read the panel’s ruling thinks that Coleman has a chance in hell of succeeding but that’s not the point.  The point is to keep this dragging out as long as possible.  If he has 10 days to file an appeal, we can expect it to be filed at 11:59pm on the 10th day.  That will be 10 fewer days that Franken gets to be senator.  And then there is the appeals process itself, which is going to cost mucho dinero.  Would Norm Coleman take his case to the Supreme Court even if he hasn’t got a prayer of winning?  Um, yeah.  Would the Supreme Court take up the case. ponder it for awhile and then eventually rule in Franken’s favor?  Sure.  That’s as it should be, in Karl Rove’s world.  Keep Franken out of the Senate for as long as possible.  Having him in there makes Republicans dangerously irrelevent.  Well, at least the Democrats would have no further excuses for acting like bankers have them by the junk.  Come to think of it, *both* parties may have an interest in keeping him out of the Senate…

If you want to see Franken seated, eventually, donate here and help him keep up the good fight.

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Note to new readers: The Confluence and it’s frontpagers have no interest in the COLB (Certificate of Live Birth) controversy and think that if Obama *is* a Muslim, he has a very weird way of showing it. Frankly, we feel that there are many legitimate reasons to object to Barack Obama’s rise to power and the presidency and that the birth certificate issue is just a unproductive distraction.  We don’t want to offend anyone who still thinks it is important, but we encourage you to get your fix on a more accomodating blog, like NoQuarter.  Any comments on COLB or Obama’s illusory ties to Islam here may be subject to moderation.


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