Friday, December 30, 2011

From Wisconsin's Department of Unmitigated Gall

I received a charming little missive in my inbox today from none other than our illustrious guv himself:
E-update from the Desk of Governor Scott Walker
One of the most important duties I have serving as your Governor is to provide you directly with updates related to the operation of our state government. In an effort to improve communication, periodically I will be sending out an e-update to provide you with more information about what is going on in state government.
The e-mail smells like a pathetic effort at damage control. Um, guv? Kinda late, dontcha think? You have the nerve to send an e-mail bragging about your accomplishments? Yeah, right. All over Wisconsin we feel the weight of your many accomplishments: slashed education funding, rescinded collective bargaining rights, less access to health care, voter disenfranchisement, and 15,000 fewer jobs since July. This is like getting a missive from the devil crowing about how it’s even hotter in hell these days.

Then I stumbled on this statement made to Talking Points Memo by the Wisconsin state GOP communications director, Ben Sparks:
The Republican Party of Wisconsin is committed to ensuring that Wisconsin electors are not disenfranchised during this recall process. The Democrats have shown they are committed to preserving the status quo, where a man is able to sign a recall petition 80 times, and their frivolous attempt to intervene in this lawsuit only reinforces their willingness to force this baseless recall on Wisconsin voters at any cost.
Say what?!? There’s enough unmitigated gall in those two sentences to make your eyes water.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin, the same outfit that brought you voter suppression a la mode, is “committed to ensuring that Wisconsin electors are not disenfranchised”? Whoa. I want to hear Sparks say that to the college students, the working poor, the elderly, and every other disenfranchised voter in Wisconsin.

And which “status quo” do you suppose Sparks is accusing the Democrats of being committed to preserving? I’m guessing he was not thinking of the status quo of state workers having collective bargaining rights. Or the status quo of clean, transparent governance. Or the status quo of Wisconsin's great public education system. The people of Wisconsin long for a return to that status quo, Mr. Sparks.

But wait! There’s more! The lawsuit Sparks is referring to is the one brought by the Walker campaign and the Wisconsin Republican Party against the Government Accountability Board asking that the GAB eliminate duplicate or false signatures on recall petitions. Because, of course, it’s not enough that the nonpartisan GAB just do its job as clearly stated in state statutes.

This nonsensical lawsuit actually claims that the guv’s “constitutional rights are being violated by the state’s petition review process.” And Sparks calls the organizers’ request to be involved in the judicial process “frivolous”? Really?

In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Jeremy Levinson, the attorney for the recall organizers, said, “It’s the first time I’m aware of a recall-related lawsuit where only the official who is being targeted for recall gets to be a party, and the folks who are working to recall that official are shut out of the process.” Apparently its frivolous for all the players to ask for a seat at the table.

And who is Sparks to talk about the “willingness to force” anything “on Wisconsin voters at any cost”? This from the people who used every dirty trick in the book to cram their loathsome “budget bill” down the throats of the people of Wisconsin, who repeatedly refused to listen in spite of unprecedented protests and vehement objections. The people of Wisconsin wouldn’t have had any chance to make themselves heard had it not been for the fourteen Democratic state senators who fled the state in February.

Finally, only someone who has never listened to anything the people of Wisconsin have been saying for the last eleven months would refer to the Walker recall as “baseless.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roe vs. Wade vs. the Iowa Reality Show

As we turn our collective attention to the reality show in Iowa, it’s hard to miss that a woman’s right to choose is under attack. Many members of the rabid right like to live in a fact-free zone and are so unhinged from reality that they wouldn’t recognize it if it sat down across from them at the dinner table. Nevertheless, we must do our best to focus on reality while we face the onslaught coming from the right-wing presidential wannabes.

I have a confession to make. Back when I was young and naive, I was a pro-life evangelical. I felt that the unborn were precious (still believe that) and worthy of protection (still believe that too). Christian evangelicals often dislike complexity and tend to see things in simplistic black-and-white terms. Certainly the same could have been said of me. (Someday I’ll tell you about my metamorphosis from evangelical to Episcopalian. But not today.)

During that time I happened on an issue of Sojourners magazine that examined the question of abortion in depth from several carefully thought-out and well-expressed perspectives. I read the whole issue, front to back. Some of it I read more than once. As a result, all the black and white morphed into many shades of gray. I’ve been mulling over what I read there ever since.

What hit home for me was that legislation is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions. Legislation banning abortion serves only to put the back-alley hacks back in business, thereby causing more needless deaths, not preventing them. This can hardly be considered a desirable outcome, but it’s one that many who want to make abortion illegal refuse to acknowledge. If your goal is really to protect the unborn, rather than just beating your chest and trying to make yourself appealing to anti-abortion die-hards, then it’s well to consider how best to do that.
Reducing the annual number of abortions is certainly an admirable goal. However, there are different ways to reach that goal—some of which will help women and some of which will not.

Simply put, there are two key ways to reduce abortion—by making it less necessary or by making it less available. In our view, only the former approach is humane, effective, and just. [Center for American Progress]
Abortion is not new. It has been part of the human story from the beginning. It’s not going away, regardless of how much its foes stomp their feet. Throughout human history women have found ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

None of the options available when a woman is faced with an unwanted pregnancy are especially easy or pleasant. Regardless of the reason for the pregnancy—lapse of judgment, rape, or failed birth control—the decisions that must be made are difficult and rightly belong to the pregnant woman and the people she chooses to trust.

How is it that those most adamantly opposed to abortion seem never to spare a thought for women faced with unwanted pregnancies? In their efforts to outdo each other in their pro-life fervor, abortion opponents even cast shame and suspicion on women who miscarry, and women who are raped cannot expect an ounce of compassion from those who value the unborn more than they value rape victims.

The question is, who decides? Who decides what should be done when a woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, for whatever reason?

Surprisingly enough, a bunch of judgmental middle-aged legislators, most of them men, are not the best ones to make extremely personal decisions for women at such crucial junctures. The decision of what to do about a woman’s pregnancy shouldn’t be made by strangers. It should be made by the woman herself. And no one else.

The goal of reducing the number of abortions is a much better one than making abortion illegal. Make good reproductive health care and sex education available to everyone, and then trust women to make the very personal choices they’re confronted with responsibly and with much-needed support and assistance.

I know that’s not what we’ll hear from the reality show in Iowa. All the more reason to counter the reality show with reality. Nothing less than the very lives of our mothers, sisters, and daughters is at stake.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wisconsin Set to Throw the Republicans Out

According to Andrew Feldman’s Christmas Eve opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Despite Democrats' massive protests and their success at gathering recall signatures, most Wisconsinites did not appear to be in a ‘throw the Republicans out’ mood in 2011. If they had been, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser would be out of a job and Democrats would have won back the state Senate during the summer.”

First, not all of those who protested Walker’s draconian budget bill in February and March were Democrats. And it’s not only Democrats who are circulating recall Walker and Kleefisch petitions or signing them. Many of those who voted for Walker are more than disillusioned and disappointed. They’re furious—furious enough to work very hard on the recall effort. And the signatures are coming, not just from Madison and Milwaukee but from all over Wisconsin. Over 507,000 signatures were collected in the first 28 days—that’s 94 percent of the signatures needed (540,208) and 70 percent of the signatures hoped for (720,277)—in less than half the time allotted (60 days).

You may recall that voter turnout for the Prosser/Kloppenburg Supreme Court race was unprecedented. The outcome was perilously close and is still considered highly questionable. When the election began, Kloppenburg was not particularly well known, and she was trying to unseat the incumbent. Even if the dubious votes that Kathy Nickolaus miraculously discovered were indeed legitimate, the election can’t be dismissed as a failure for Democrats. We sure as hell gave Prosser a run for his money—a LOT of money, come to that. And I wonder how those who voted for Prosser in April feel about his bad behavior since then.

You can hardly call the recall elections of this past summer a Republican victory. The accomplishments of Democrats, progressives, and labor organizations this summer were truly remarkable. On August 10, 2011, John Nichols told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that “Democrats and progressive groups, labor especially, took on six entrenched Republican incumbents in districts that were drawn to elect Republicans and that, in some cases, have elected Republicans steadily for more than a century. So, this fight was played out on the turf of conservative Republicans. With that reality, you saw two Democrats win.” Recall elections targeted six Republican senators and three Democratic senators. Democrats held on to all three senate seats and successfully recalled two Republican senators.

In August, Ian Millhiser pointed out how truly remarkable those achievements were:
All of the Republican state senators who were eligible for recall in [2011] were Republicans who held on in 2008 despite the fact that they had to stand for election during a Democratic wave. Likewise, all of the Republicans who were elected in 2010 only because they were fortunate enough to run during a Republican wave were immune from recall. Come 2012, however, all of this changes.
In 2011, we were only just getting started. Some of the battles we have already fought were at least as challenging as the ones that await us in 2012, if not more so. We set very high goals for ourselves, and that we didn’t attain everything we went after doesn’t mean that the victories we did achieve count for nothing. Our accomplishments thus far are formidable and cannot be dismissed or discounted.

Feldman is quite correct that unseating Walker will be a daunting challenge. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating how angry Wisconsinites—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—are about Walker’s actions. Feldman is also right about the need for Democrats to “create a bold agenda that does nothing less than revive Wisconsin's progressive tradition.” But for my part, I am inclined to believe that Wisconsin is indeed in a “throw the Republicans out” kind of mood.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Transformative Power of Protest

This weekend HuffPost ran a piece by Steven van Zandt called "There Is Only One Issue in America," that one issue being the financing of public elections. I can think of many important issues other than that one, and I am naturally skeptical of solutions that seem to come with "it's so simple" stamped on them. Still, this one issue is unquestionably a biggie.

But here is what really raised my hackles:
Yes, we can demonstrate. We can march. We can write and sign petitions to our Representatives. We can occupy.

And we should because it's healthy to vent, and we don't feel so all alone. But the truth is, other than the value of venting, we're wasting our time. It is naïve to expect political results from any of these activities.
The results of political demonstrations and marches are seldom immediately apparent. But they are legion. They are not merely "venting." They are not just an opportunity to not "feel so all alone." They are an opportunity to be not "so all alone." What did the demonstrations in Madison last February and March accomplish? What has the Occupy movement accomplished?

They have galvanized people. They have forged connections and built a community of resistance. They have transformed us into a formidable force to be reckoned with that won't back down and won't settle for the status quo.

Of course, demonstrations and protests on their own aren't enough. But they do indeed lead to some very desirable outcomes. They build awareness and stir us from our complacency. They change the direction and tone of public discourse. They cause us to identify and align ourselves with our communities in a new way. They provide us with the opportunity to teach our children what democracy looks like, to teach them who we are, while at the same time affirming that for ourselves. For some of us, representing in actions like these has been an all-out life-changing experience. We are new people, with new connections and new vision, new knowledge and understanding, new determination, and a new appreciation for the power that We The People actually do wield but far too often relinquish.

In Wisconsin, the recall efforts of this summer and the current Walker recall efforts would not have happened without the demonstrations of February and March. Those who are working so hard right now to collect signatures wouldn't have as much energy or focus had they not participated in last winter's demonstrations. The visceral experience of not being alone in our outrage convinced many of us of how much we could accomplish together and how truly excellent our compadres are. The protests were a breath of fresh air to those who are being disenfranchised, ignored, and abandoned by the ruling elite. They were like a giant hug for every public school teacher in the state. They were an acknowledgment to the world that we are here, we are strong, and we are fighting back—together.

I'm sorry you missed out on all the fun, Steven. The demonstrations here in Madison and in Zucotti Park have been far from a waste of time. They haven't had the direct effect on those in power that we envision—yet. But they most definitely have had a powerful effect on everyone who participated in them. We will never be the same again. The power brokers won't let go of their stranglehold quickly or easily. But they are worried. About us. About what we're going to do next. Because they know they cannot withstand the tsunami that is the unrelenting power of the people.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Strong: Coffee

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a latte drinker, but you don’t need to stand in line at your local coffee shop every day to know there's something wrong in this country when Folgers drinkers can imbibe openly in public but we can't openly drink lattes without derision or ridicule.

As latte lover in chief, I'll end the right's war on latte. And I'll fight against right-wing attacks on our beloved fair-trade organic addiction. Real Americans love their latte strong. They can make it strong again.

I'm Mary Ray Worley and I approve this message.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adviento 3: El Anhelo de la Humanidad

From time to time, I have the privilege of sharing a brief meditation at my church (Grace Episcopal Church, right across from the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin). In Spanish. I don't usually post these things on the blog, but hey. Why not? A few of our readers will be able to understand it.

El Adviento es mi favorita estación del año litúrgico, porque creo que la esperanza, el anhelo es un parte muy importante de la vida cristiana. También es parte de la condición humana. El anhelo es nuestro compañero cada día. Y a veces es un compañero incómodo, ruidoso, un poco salvaje. Como María esperando el nacimiento de su hijo Jesús, esperamos la llegada de Dios en nuestro mundo, en nuestra nación, en nuestra comunidad, en nuestro trabajo, en nuestra familia.

Esperamos la intervención de Dios en nuestros problemas y nuestras relaciones. A causa de este anhelo, entendemos el milagro de la venida de Dios. El mundo también tiene ese anhelo, aunque muchas personas no lo entienden. Cada día, en cada parte del mundo, cristianos esperan el reino de Dios. Como oramos: “Venga tu reino. Hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo.”

Como la Virgen María, esperamos con gozo y confianza un nacimiento maravilloso: de la justicia, de la paz, de la unidad, de la compasión, de la igualdad, del entendimiento, del amor profundo y abundante entre todos los pueblos del mundo, en otras palabras, el nacimiento del reino de Dios en la tierra. Y esta esperanza crece in nuestros corazones, como un niño precioso, poco a poco creciendo en la fuerza. Tenemos que alimentarla y cuidarla y mantenerla calentita como una madre cariñosa. El desánimo siempre la busca como un lobo feroz. También el miedo. Y el odio. Y la falta del perdón. El hambriento y la desesperación. Esas enfermedades del mundo pueden devorar nuestra esperanza. Pero podemos protegerla en oración, en la comunidad de la iglesia, en leer las escrituras, y en la alabanza entusiasmada.

Si la justicia y la compasión y la paz sean fáciles, no las valoremos, no entendamos que preciosas son. No entendamos la grandeza del regalo de Dios. El anhelo nos forma. Y no estamos solos en ese anhelo. Lo compartimos con la Santísima Virgen María y Juan El Bautista. Cuando ella dice que Dios “puso en alto a los humildes [y] llenó de bienes a los hambrientos,” ella no habla del mundo presente. Porque todavía hay los pobres, los hambrientos, y los desamparados en nuestra comunidad. Pero María confirma que Dios ya ha hecho, ya ha vencido. Y nosotros, juntos con María y todos los santos, podemos vivir en la victoria de Dios.

Es un gran privilegio, un gozo participar en la lucha para las cosas que Dios valora más. Juntos con los discípulos de Cristo en todas las edades y épocas y en todo el mundo, y con nuestros hermanas y hermanos aquí en la iglesia. Tenemos la honra de compartir con Cristo en una lucha de más importancia. Esta lucha nos forma, como el anhelo nos forma. Siempre tenemos que recordar que servimos a Uno que ya ha vencido. Él ha compartido no solamente su victoria, mas que su lucha con nosotros. Porque en la lucha, podemos entender el significado, la importancia de la victoria.

El anhelo, la lucha, y la victoria nos forman en la imagen de Dios. Este es nuestra esperanza, que vamos a ver, cara a cara, Jesús en su trono, Jesús, nuestro rey, Jesús en su victoria. Este es nuestro anhelo: que vamos a ver la justicia y la paz de Dios, el reino de Dios en toda su gloria. En su primera carta a los Corintios (capitula 13, versículo 12), San Pablo escribió: “Ahora vemos de manera indirecta, como en un espejo, y borrosamente; pero un día veremos cara a cara. Mi conocimiento es ahora imperfecto, pero un día conoceré a Dios como él me ha conocido siempre a mí.” Este es nuestro gran anhelo, y la esperanza de María y Juan El Bautista, y todos los santos: Dios con nosotros, Emmanuel.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Profit Über Alles: House's Antiregulatory Folly Is Their Idea of a Jobs Bill

On Wednesday, in a 241-to-184 vote, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 10, the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny" (REINS) Act, which would require congressional approval from both houses for any major new regulations. Four Democrats slithered across the aisle and voted with the Republicans: John Barrow (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Mike McIntyre (NC), and Collin Peterson (MN).

The claim, unsurprisingly, is that, released from the presumably unbearable burden of regulations, businesses will be able hire more employees. But there is little evidence that regulations hamper the economy.

What we have here is nothing more or less than the Tea Partiers proving to their constituents and, more importantly, to their corporate sugar daddies that they're doing all they can to "rein in" and undermine the executive branch. Never mind that Obama has put forward fewer regulations than W had at this point in his tenure. Never mind that the bill is highly unlikely to be introduced in the Senate. Never mind checks and balances (I swear none of these guys was paying attention in high school civics class).

This is the House's pathetically laughable idea of a jobs bill. While the Tea Partiers kowtow to their corporate backers and cozy up to ideological lunacy, the economy continues to teeter on a precipice. It's immoral and unconscionable for these jackals to play politics and unrelentingly adhere to their crackpot ideology while unemployment levels are so high.

From an editorial in Sunday's New York Times:
Reins is a terrible piece of legislation that would undermine a functioning regulatory system that protects people from harm. ... In a nutshell, the bill would stop any major regulation issued by a federal agency and costing more than $100 million from taking effect unless it received approval from both houses of Congress and the president. Many such rules are issued every year involving everything from food safety to efficiency standards for cars. Disapproval from one house would be enough to kill a rule and force the agency to start all over again. A rule would also die if one house failed to act within 70 days.

The bill is the fullest flowering of the Republicans’ antiregulatory philosophy. Beyond that, it would upend the traditional relationship between the legislative and executive branches. Under long-standing practice, Congress enacts laws—the Clean Air Act, for instance—and then empowers the executive branch to negotiate with stakeholders and write detailed regulations.

Congress delegates this responsibility because it has neither the time nor the expertise to develop the rules or the machinery and manpower to enforce them. Reins would radically re-position Congress to make final decisions that involve detailed technical matters.
Remember, the House of Representatives is currently a body that can't negotiate its way out of a paper bag. Would we really want them in charge of the minutiae of regulation? And would we want our regulations subject to the enormous lobbying influences that currently reign (pun intended) in Congress? Of course, not. The idea is beyond absurd.

Rabid-right ideologues believe that the private sector is infinitely better than any public sector body. Given how dysfunctional this Congress is, I can almost see their point. But even as toxic as Congress has been lately, corporations and their influence peddling have been far more so. The assertion that businesses and corporations will self-regulate is patently ludicrous.

What should not be lost on the American people is that issues of health and safety and the common good should never be left up to people whose only concern is the bottom line. Because then, of course, human costs will never be counted when they're tallying up the cost/benefit analysis.

Yesterday's Huffington Post quotes Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX): "Who do the regulators answer to? No one." Ah yes, but whom does Congress answer to? Not the American people, clearly. No, members of Congress answer to big money, for whom environmental, health, and safety laws are nothing more than meddlesome interference. Profit über alles.

Rep. Poe continued: "When the regulators go to work everyday, like most people go to work, their work assignment's a little different. In my opinion, they sit around a big oak table, sipping their lattes. They have out their iPads and their computers, and they decide, 'Who shall we regulate today?' And they write a regulation and send it out to the masses and make us deal with the cost to that."

Rep. Poe is full of crap. Whose well-being does he have in mind when he complains about big oak tables (as if he never sat at one), iPads and computers (who doesn't use one?), and lattes (that's really hitting below the belt). As if the process of writing and passing regulations were altogether arbitrary, as if pure profit motive could ensure the well-being of the environment and Americans' health and safety. Republicans in Congress think protection of the environment, health, and safety should be left up to CEOs and their lobbyists. And this is their idea of a jobs bill.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Madison Police: Providing a Safe Place for Democracy

Recently we've seen a lot of iconic images of police brutality against peaceful protesters from all over the country.





From New York City to Tampa to Denver to Oakland and Davis, California, police are apparently under the illusion that violence is an appropriate response when the people exercise their constitutional right to free speech and peaceable assembly to petition for a redress of serious grievances.

But in Madison, Wisconsin, site of some of the biggest protests in the country earlier this year and just a few days ago, the police have by and large protected our right to peaceably assemble. This past Saturday, between 25,000 and 30,000 protesters demonstrated around the capitol square in Madison in support of the effort to recall Scott Walker, and according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the capitol police had "reported no arrests as of Saturday afternoon." No arrests. No brutality. No pepper spray.

On February 19 of this year, soon after Walker et al. launched their heinous all-out attack on workers, schools, and health care in Wisconsin, the Madison police went so far as to commend Wisconsin protesters on their good behavior:
Law Enforcement Praises Protesters' Conduct
On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights. You conducted yourselves with great decorum and civility, and if the eyes of the nation were upon Wisconsin, then you have shown how democracy can flourish even amongst those who passionately disagree. ... The goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place. That goal has been realized for yet another day.
"The goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place." That was very cool at the time, but in light of recent events, it's extraordinary. So let's turn it around, shall we?

The people of Wisconsin praise law enforcement officers' conduct.


I'm sure I'm not alone in my gratitude for the police who have supported our efforts and our right to peaceably assemble. Thank you for not pepper-spraying or clubbing us, for not telling us we can't exercise our constitutional rights. Thank you for treating us with dignity and respect rather than with violence and brutality. Thank you for not hurting our friends and family—the elderly and the very young—who have gathered with us. You are truly a shining example in what otherwise is a dark night of shame. Just as the rest of the nation has been inspired by Wisconsin protesters, we hope that the nation's law enforcement agencies will be similarly inspired by you.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Norquist Beyond the Thunderdome

Irresistible title on Huffington Post: "Patriotic Millionaires to Grover Norquist: 'Move to Somalia.'"
WASHINGTON — Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, millionaires who want the government to tax them more, met with foremost anti-tax guru Grover Norquist in Washington late Wednesday afternoon.... Patriotic Millionaires ... believe that America has been good to them and that it is their duty to give back. ...

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Norquist felt the group only represented liberal interests. "They were there with a heavy partisan message," Norquist told HuffPost Thursday. "The kinds of arguments I got from these old people weren't interesting when I was 12, the left has not advanced. These guys are Democratic Party hacks. [emphasis added]
Norquist, full-time lobbyist, president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, who has never run for office much less been elected, is advocate-in-chief for the extreme right-wing no-taxes-not-ever, drown-government-in-a-bathtub political ideology. According to Norquist, paying taxes is not just a partisan message, but a "heavy partisan message." Since when is taxation a left-wing idea? As Mr. Norquist well knows, some Republicans actually believe in taxation. Norquist's hubris allows him to believe that it's up to him to determine what's left and what's right. No doubt he also believes that government is a left-wing idea. And democracy. You know, radical lefty stuff like that.

Norquist (age 55) calls the members of the Patriotic Millionaires who went to visit him "old people." "Old people"? Who does he think he's talking to? A bunch of never-trust-anyone-over-thirty teenagers? I wasn't able to find out exactly which group members met with Mr. Norquist, or exactly how old they are, but in what I found it didn't appear that any were more than about ten years older than old Norquist, and one or two were younger. Check out this photo of the visiting old-geezer delegation of millionaires. Funny how Norquist seems to fit right in with the old white men at the table, isn't it?

"The kinds of arguments I got from these old people weren't interesting when I was 12." Really? Aside from there being very few 12-year-olds who find the idea of taxation especially riveting, since when is "interesting to a 12-year-old" a criterion for the validity of an idea? Norquist is freely admitting here that what he found uninteresting as a 12-year-old is still uninteresting to him today. And he's complaining that the left hasn't advanced?

Indeed he is. Advanced how? No doubt Norquist wants the left to move on from the tired old ideas of justice, equity, and democracy. Is he suggesting that the left should advance as the right has "advanced"? The most casual observation of the Republican presidential debates is indication enough of how the right has "advanced."

And finally, Mr. Norquist labels the Patriotic Millionaires who met with him as "hacks." Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "hack" (as Norquist is using the word) as follows: "3 a : one who hires out his professional service : one who forfeits individual freedom of action or initiative or professional integrity in exchange for wages or other assured reward : HIRELING, MERCENARY." Uh yeah. Right. Those damned hireling mercenary millionaires who want people like themselves to pay more taxes. Unconscionable.

Norquist's response to the millionaires was the oh-so-predictable "there's nothing stopping you guys from paying higher taxes; just send a check to the government!" Eric Schoenberg, adjunct associate professor at Columbia Business School, pointedly asked Norquist: "Would you be willing to sign a pledge where you're willing to forgo all the benefits that government provides? Are you willing to sign a pledge that says you don't want the U.S. military to protect you? That you will refuse to contact the police if somebody steals from you? That you will refuse to contact the fire department if your house is on fire? Because that's the equivalent! Why should you get a free ride? Why should you benefit from my willingness to support the government?" Norquist claims that if he didn't have to pay any taxes for it, he would indeed forgo all of those things. Schoenberg responded: "There's an easy way to do that: move to Somalia!" There's an idea. But of course hard-core ideologue Norquist attributes Somalia's problems to "too much government."

Norquist needs to be banished somewhere where not only does he not benefit from any past or present government services, but neither does anyone he might want to do business with. Picture what Norquist's no-taxes/no-government world would look like: Mad Max on steroids. No wonder these guys want everybody to carry a gun. They prefer the rule of the gun to the rule of law. This nightmare scenario would make feudalism look "advanced."

Mr. Norquist, you are the hack. In fact, you are a greedy old hack who hasn't advanced any more than a selfish, immature, immoral 12-year-old. Paying taxes is not a partisan activity, sir. (Ooh, is it possible that I'm channeling Keith Olbermann?) Paying taxes is a matter of patriotism and duty and concern for the well-being of our country, all of our country. Your moral bankruptcy compels you to care only for yourself. Somalia is too good for you. You really deserve to live somewhere where there are no public services and no rule of law. I suggest you go beyond the Thunderdome.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clipboard Army

At this moment I'm printing out petitions—lots of them—on my totally crappy printer that I have to feed one page at a time. Don't care. Gotta print 'em. Gotta do it.

I would totally love to be able to go stand on a street corner or go door to door collecting signatures, but alas, my body just won't go along for that ride. So here's the plan: I'm going to take my li'l ol' clipboard with me everywhere I go until we're done. I'm thinking about hanging out at my local coffee dive with my clipboard nice and visible. And I signed up to help the recall folks in the office.

To print out petitions to recall both Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch (the lieutenant governor), go to United Wisconsin to Recall Walker. On the right side of the page, click on "Print a petition for recall." You may have to futz with landscaping, as I did, to get the petitions to print out correctly. (The actual petitions are pages 2 and 3. The rest of the pages are instructions and talking points.) Read all the instructions carefully and follow them carefully.

Ten thousand signatures a day. That's how many we need just to get phase 1 of the Recall done. That's a lot, folks. So no slacking off. This is big-time serious business. If we really want this, and I know we do, we're going to have to work really hard for it. Don't worry about what you can't do. Just do what you can, and encourage your friends to do the same. Don't be ashamed to be a member of the clipboard army. In fact, you should be proud. Very, very proud. After all, this is what democracy looks like.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Only Money Has Free Speech

As it is now, advertisers make the decisions about the media, not the people, because the media exist for the purpose of making money. . . .

The fact that people with money can hire lobbyists to represent them in Washington limits equity in the political system. Poor people don’t have the money for this—if they spent everything they had, they couldn’t get enough money together to equal the lobbying power of the rich. After an election, people don’t have access to government, because lack of money prevents them from having equal access to the people in power. That’s an inequity that’s built into the system. That’s where money is more powerful than people.

People do have a right to vote. But whom do they have a right to vote for? They have a right to vote for whoever is chosen. That’s our dilemma right now. It starts with how much it costs to run for office—it now costs $3 million to run for governor in Tennessee. That rules out a lot of people. So the choice is between two people who are willing to spend $3 million, which is not a democratic choice. You can say that the people have a right to vote, but they only have the right to choose between two millionaires or people whom other people with money are willing to back.

Myles Horton, The Long Haul, © 1990, pp. 169-170

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Immigration Uproar

An editorial on CNN Opinion purports to explain why the uproar over immigration has gone nationwide, but the authors, Audrey Singer and Jill H. Wilson, both at the Brookings Institution, left out some key factors. The factors they cite are the economic downturn and the increase of immigrant populations in urban and suburban areas from 2000 to 2010. "The friction in places unaccustomed to or unprepared for new inflows of foreigners, particularly those who are assumed to be present illegally, manifests itself in different ways."

Scapegoating is common when there's an economic downturn, because those who are actually to blame for the country's economic woes want to divert attention away from themselves. Fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia is a time-honored method of deflecting blame toward those who have the least power:
History is full of irrefutable evidence that when the economy gets bad, scapegoats are targeted, and the worst instincts of humanity reveal themselves. Alabama has asked its citizens to cross invisible boundaries of humanity—waging political battles on the backs of school children, cutting access to the most basic human needs, like water. —Ilyse Hogue.
Although most Americans favor reasonable, comprehensive immigration reform, the small percentage of those who don't are the ones who are the most vocal. They believe they have a personal, vested interest in driving people of color out of their communities. Their fear and hatred compels them. That hatred is validated and reinforced by the terrorizing raids of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On the other hand, few of those who favor reasonable reform are as compelled or as vocal. Because they may not feel that they personally have a vested interest in the outcome, they keep silent while the xenophobes freely and prolifically spew their hatred.

our lives being to end

Another reason anti-immigrant uproar has gone nationwide is that there's a lot of money being funneled into it. And capitalism, whose great golden calf is the bottom line unhindered by any moral compunctions, is always in favor of cheap, exploitable labor with no legal protections. Just ask the booming prisons-for-profit industry.

The Immigration Policy Center dispels the notion that immigrants are the cause of unemployment:
Immigrants are not the cause of unemployment in the United States. Empirical research has demonstrated repeatedly that there is no correlation between immigration and unemployment. In fact, immigrants—including the unauthorized—create jobs through their purchasing power and their entrepreneurship, buying goods and services from U.S. businesses and creating their own businesses, both of which sustain U.S. jobs. The presence of new immigrant workers and consumers in an area also spurs the expansion of businesses, which creates new jobs.
We have to realize that we do indeed, all of us, have a stake in what happens to the immigrants in our midst. We must raise our voices above the uproar and advocate for common sense and compassion. The immigrants among us are our brothers and sisters, and in answer to a very old question, we are indeed their keepers.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Privatized Profits, Socialized Risk

No matter how outraged you are, it's impossible to keep up (h/t Lily Tomlin). In last week's installment of "Let's Hope No One's Paying Attention," the Bank of America moved uninsured Merrill derivatives to its commercial bank's federally insured ledgers. In other words, if Bank of America fails, the FDIC must clean up its mess. And apparently the FDIC isn't any too happy about it. But the Fed is reportedly all in favor of the move. Matt Taibbi explains: "Essentially, an irresponsible debtor, B of A, is keeping a loan shark from breaking his legs by getting his rich parents to co-sign his loan. The parents in this metaphor would be the FDIC." Actually, the "parents" would be both the FDIC (Mom) and the Federal Reserve (Dad). But Dad is egging the miscreant on instead of calling him to account.

The Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation was created by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, when Depression with a capital D had brought the country to its knees, leading to the bank panic of 1933. The Glass-Steagall Act separated investment banking from commercial banking in order to protect depositors (like you and me) from the risk inherent in investment banking. In effect, it prevented Wall Street from gambling with money deposited in commercial banks. And it created the FDIC to protect commercial banks' deposits.

In 1999, Republicans, enjoying a majority in both chambers of Congress and counting on nobody paying attention (all too often a safe bet), passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the part of Glass-Steagall that prohibited a single institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company. During the debate over the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Rep. John Dingall (D-Michigan), eloquently warned of the consequences: "Under of this legislation ... liability in one area is going to fall over in the liability of the next. Taxpayers are going to be called upon to cure the failures that we're creating tonight. And it's going to cost a lot of money."

So the riskier Merrill Lynch liability is now spilling over into the federally insured liability of Bank of America's commercial operation. And, as predicted, taxpayers are being called upon to cure the failures created by Congress in 1999. Jonathan Weil reports:
Unfortunately, none of the actors here went on the record to explain what's going on. We don't know what kinds of derivatives these are, or even the dollars at stake, only that they are big enough to make the FDIC upset. The entire story would be playing out in secret were it not for some unidentified whistleblowers who seem to have this crazy idea that the public should be informed about what the regulators and Bank of America are up to.
We've been told the Dodd-Frank Act passed by Congress last year would end federal bailouts of large banks. It doesn't exactly do that, though. Taxpayer money still would be at risk in the event that the FDIC has to exercise its new resolution powers. ... While the law says the FDIC is supposed to tap the banking industry to pay for any eventual losses, it's hard to imagine the agency could ever charge enough to cover the costs from a failure at a company with $2.2 trillion of assets.
So in spite of the outcry of Occupy Wall Street, the behemoth Bank of America, in all of its too-big-to-fail glory, is still acting as though no one is paying any attention. Hiding behind the voluminous skirts of the FDIC, whose deposit insurance "is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government," B of A continues its dance of privatized profits backed by socialized risk. Where are the decriers of socialism when you need them?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ALEC Corporations: Boycott Them

Corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council write model legislation and pressure state legislatures to adopt it. These laws break unions, take away worker protections and environmental regulations, capture control of government for use of corporate interests at the expense of the public good. They include: AT&T, Kraft Foods, UPS, Walmart,, FedEx, Frito-Lay, HP, JC Penney, McDonalds, Microsoft, Miller Brewing Company, Outback Steakhouse, Sprint Nextel, Sony, Time Warner, United Airlines, Verizon, Visa, American Express, KFC/Taco Bell, Walgreens, and hundreds of others. Money you spend there will be used as weapons against democracy, against the middle class, against the environment, against civil liberties. Check the list before you buy. Shop at the smallest, most local places.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We Are All Immigrants

If you missed it last night, or you've turned your television off like we have, you can watch Frontline: Lost in Detention online (54 minutes). Not for the faint of heart, it shows the abusiveness and insanity of US immigration enforcement.

Because of the likelihood of abuse, a few things should never be privatized. Prisons, health care, and education are at the top of that list. Capitalism is fine. But when it morphs into unbridled greed, as it clearly has done, it can only lead to human suffering, gross injustice, and economic collapse.

Alabama's new anti-immigrant law is already hurting its farmers, because much to the surprise of Governor Bentley, most U.S. citizens really don't want to do farm work. "Jobless resident Americans lack the physical stamina and the mental toughness to see the job through," says Alabama farmer Jerry Spencer. There's a certain measure of desperation, determination, and fortitude required to do that kind of work. Most of us aren't that desperate, determined, or tough. But if the economy and our elected officials continue on their current path, it's likely that our children will be.

All human beings are migrants. We are born into this life, we stay for a while, and then we move on. None of us are permanent residents. In the meantime, we go where we believe we have the best chance to provide for our families. Those who are desperate, determined, and strong enough to do the work that U.S. citizens do not want to do, who see grueling farm work as their best chance to provide for their families, pose no threat to anyone. We need them. And our well-being is tied to theirs.

--TomRW & MaryRW

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't It Always Seem to Go...

My husband works for the US Postal Service, so the assault on the USPS certainly affects us directly. Nothing short of our livelihood is at stake. But that's only part of why I am determined to do all I can to help save the post office. The loss of the US Postal Service would have widespread and devastating effects on all of us. It would have an adverse effect on our unemployment levels, our economy, our commerce and community life. It is not an exaggeration to say that the loss of the US Postal Service would affect every single person in the country.

The USPS is under assault from many different angles: massive closings of post offices across the country, massive closings of processing plants, breaking union contracts to make massive layoffs, going to five-day delivery, reduction of service standards for first-class mail. This is a long-planned and well-coordinated attack, a nightmarish game of Whac-A-Mole with threats on all sides. And not even one mole has yet been whacked.

Any one of those threats could lead either to the complete demise of the US Postal Service or to such a serious downgrade that the USPS would essentially become an arm of the direct marketing association.

The US Postal Service is the second-largest nonmilitary employer in the United States, second only to Walmart. In the last four years, the number of USPS employees has been reduced by 110,000, plus another 20,500 so far in 2011. This doesn’t include the 120,000 layoffs the postmaster general wants to make or the 100,000 more jobs to be lost to attrition. That’s a loss of 350,500 out of 645,000, well over half. To so rashly jeopardize so many good middle-class jobs when the unemployment level is so high is nothing but gross negligence and reckless folly. And yet, that’s exactly what the postmaster general is intent on doing.

With unemployment rates still perilously high, the number of jobs already lost (130,500) is significant. To lose another 220,000 jobs would have a potentially catastrophic effect on unemployment levels and on the economy. It could be enough to push us into a full-blown economic depression.

The Post Office is such a fixture in American lives that we seldom give it much thought. Nearly every town has a post office. Larger towns have several. Your letter carrier will not only deliver your mail but pick up outgoing mail. Many of us give the USPS so little thought that we think we could manage without it no problem.

But think carefully for a moment about what your community would be like without its post office. Think about how many times in your life you’ve gone to the post office, how many times you’ve put outgoing mail in your mailbox, how many times you’ve ordered products online that have been shipped via USPS, how many times you've received birthday cards, holiday cards, condolences, and thank-you notes that made your day.

Maybe some of us wouldn’t notice much. After all, who writes letters and sends them through the mail anymore? Isn’t it the Internet that connects us all now? But the vast majority of Americans, especially those in rural areas, would feel the loss of the Post Office acutely. Yes, the Internet has bound us together in new and exciting ways, but not in ways that obviate the need for our postal service.
The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. (39 U.S.C. 101(a))
Those who want to dismantle the postal service are counting on Americans being asleep and complacent. They know we don't want to lose our post office, they know we'll be outraged, but they hope that by the time we wake up it will be too late.

Action Items: Moles to Whack

Sign and share the petition to maintain the current service standards for first-class mail. Deadline is October 21, 2011.

Send a letter objecting to the USPS's proposal to "relax" first-class delivery standards to Manager, Industry Engagement and Outreach, United States Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW – Room 4617, Washington, DC 20260, or e-mail to Deadline is October 21, 2011.

Sign and share the petition to Congress to keep the USPS from being destroyed. We're planning to close this petition and send it to Congress in the very near future. It'd be great if we could get 3,000 signatures before we send it (we currently have 2,864).

Sign and share the petition to preserve six-day mail delivery.

Sign and share the petition to save the postal service.

Stay informed. There are already many posts on the Worley Dervish about the assault on the USPS, and we'll continue to post about unfolding developments. There's always lots of good information at Save the Post Office, a website put together by Steve Hutkins.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Does Columbus Have to Do with Me?

Today in my Facebook newsfeed I’ve seen lots of “Rethink Columbus Day” posts. Rethinking Columbus Day is an excellent idea. Yes, let’s do. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day sounds great to me. But let’s give indigenous peoples—and our children—more than just a day off in the fall.

The “Ocean Blue” story so many of us were told about Columbus was not just a story about someone who lived in the fifteenth century. It was a story about ourselves. Here’s how the story goes: We, Americans of western European descent, are explorers, adventurers, and, yes, conquerors. We are bold and sophisticated, excelling in written language, technology, and learning. We are the good guys in the white hats. We are rugged individualists who rely on our own ingenuity and resourcefulness to cross the ocean, the continent, the world.

But just under the surface of the myth lies the bloody truth: western Europeans raped and pillaged the people Columbus “discovered”; they terrorized them with their brutality and forced them into slavery. The truth should make us squirm. This is a discomfort we need to sit with for a while.

We are not who we were told we are. We are not who we thought. No white horses, no white hats. We are descendants of arrogant, avaricious imperialists who thought the only possible value of indigenous peoples of any continent was their monetary value as slaves. I am not saying that we are culpable for our ancestors sins, but I am saying that we are still living with their effects. And until we realize that, and soberly weigh our ancestors’ beliefs and culture—and our own, which stem at least in part from theirs—we will not be able to adequately address the violence, greed, and arrogance from which we sprang.

No, not everything we inherited from our predecessors’ culture is bad. But neither is it nearly so squeaky clean nor so heroic as we once believed. If we believe the lies we tell about our ancestors, we will believe the lies we tell about ourselves. But if we honestly and soberly assess our forebears, we’re much more likely to be able to honestly and soberly assess ourselves. Imperialism is not just a sin of the past. It has not vanished; it has changed its form and focus. Neither are racism, arrogance, and greed confined to the past. There is no virtue in wallowing in guilt or angst, but a sober and truthful assessment of who we were and who we are is necessary if we are to make real progress in the things that really matter. And I believe that when all is said and done, what really matters is how we treat each other, and by “each other” I mean our fellow human beings.

If how you see your ancestors affects how you see yourself (and it does), then so too does how you treat others—all others. If you treat all those you encounter in your life—whether in person, online, in the media, or even just in your imagination—with respect and openness, if you assume that everyone is worthy of your time and attention, then you will also know that you too are worthy. We are not defined by the sins of our ancestors. But the sins of our ancestors will live on until we look at them squarely and see them for what they really are. Then, perhaps, we will be free to cultivate respect and humility and compassion—not only for others, but for ourselves and for our children.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Urgent Call to Action: Save First-Class Mail

The management of the US Postal Service has proposed a drastic and irreversible reduction in first-class mail delivery standards. Currently 41.5 percent of first-class mail is delivered in one day, 26.6 percent in two days, and 31.6 percent in three days. The proposal would eliminate one-day delivery altogether. Two-day deliveries would increase to 50.6 percent and three-day to 49.1 percent. The proposed increase in delivery time would be devastating to the many individuals, small businesses, and entrepreneurs who rely on first-class mail.

The proposal, the stated goal of which is to “bring operating costs in line with revenues,” would enable the USPS to eliminate 60 percent of the USPS’s processing-and-distribution plants, purportedly to cut costs. But the presumed savings are actually quite small (only $3 billion, or 4 percent of the USPS’s annual budget). All the mail would still have to be delivered. It would just have to be hauled farther to be processed, thus increasing fuel costs and the commensurate harm to the environment.

The possibility of raising revenues by increasing prices and expanding services is never mentioned. Bowing to pressure from the Direct Marketing Association, the postal service recently withdrew a request for an “exigent rate increase.” The USPS charges direct mailers less than what it costs to deliver their advertising mail, so in essence the direct mailers are stealing from the USPS with each piece of mail they send. Regarding the withdrawal of the proposed rate increase, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe exclaimed that the direct mailing industry is “way too fragile” to survive a price increase. Clearly, the health of that industry is more important to him than the health of the USPS.

In its projection of the effects of the proposed change in service standards, the USPS does not even mention the American people. It lists only the possible effects on “commercial mailers.” Noncommercial mailers—citizens, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and rural communities—are not given even the slightest consideration.

Because the reduction in service standards would enable the USPS to dismantle its extraordinary processing-and-distribution network, a return to the current service standards would be impossible, thus permanently undermining the USPS’s ability to serve the American people, further reducing mail volume and postal revenues, and further imperiling the US Postal Service itself. The vast majority of the American people won’t fully realize the effects of the proposed reduction in service until it’s too late.

The notice in the Federal Register invites comments from the public between now and October 21, 2011. Letters may be sent to Manager, Industry Engagement and Outreach, United States Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW – Room 4617, Washington, DC 20260, or e-mailed to

In hopes of gathering more signatures, we have created a petition at calling for retention of the current first-class service standards. We have less than two weeks to gather as many signatures as possible. Please sign the petition and write your own letter, and ask others to do the same. Once USPS management’s proposal is accepted, there will be no turning back.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Privatized Postal Disservice

This article, “Privatised mail: a second-class delivery” in The Guardian sheds light on some of the chaos and hardship resulting from privatized postal service. Undelivered mail stacks up in the apartments of privatized carriers in Holland, who are paid piece rates amounting to far less than the minimum wage.

The longer version of the same article, “In the Sorting Office,” in the London Review of Books, includes some of the political history in the Reagan-Thatcher era that brought the privatization about.
The winners from Holland’s liberalization of the postal market were the big organizations who bulk mailed. The losers? Almost everybody else.
The author, James Meek, wrongly accepts that the Internet necessarily means less demand for postal service. The opposite is true. Customers e-mailing documents to USPS to be printed at and delivered from the destination post office could be the biggest boon to mail since paper.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

USPS: Vultures Roosting in the Eagle's Nest

The vultures on the verge of destroying the US Postal Service are not merely circling. They've landed in the nest, ready to plunder and privatize, having fully captured USPS management and oversight. It's clear to many that the the Post Office has enemies in Congress, to wit Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), among others. But it's also apparent that there are those in management and oversight who are just as determined to destroy the Post Office, who are in the service not of the American people but of those who consider the USPS their competition and who are eager to devour the advantages it currently maintains.

The postmaster general plans to make drastic cuts that will do away with first-class service, give the pickings to FedEx and the like, and continue propping up bulk mailers (who currently pay less than what it costs the USPS to process and deliver their junk mail). Those cuts will devastate small towns and inner cities, reduce the USPS to a third-class bulk mailer, and replace its middle-class workforce with a workforce of the working poor. All this for what?

Abdicating 6-day delivery to private postal services would, by Government Accountability Office estimates, save costs of only 4 percent of the USPS budget. USPS management has admitted that it wiped one small-town post office off the map because it "'cost' the USPS $1,500 a year more than it made in sales of stamps and money orders." Never mind the mandate that the USPS serve all Americans. Never mind that the USPS is not meant to make a profit but rather to be a self-sustaining service to the American people. Never mind that closing a post office because it is not "profitable" is against the law.

The devastating cuts proposed by the postmaster general—the projected savings of which are absurdly small—will serve only to weaken the USPS, not strengthen it, not put it on firm financial footing. All of the aspects of USPS service that are on the chopping block—6-day delivery, half the distribution network, half the retail network, half the workforce—represent USPS's greatest assets. So why proceed when the financial savings are so small and the resulting loss so devastating? The only conceivable answer is that the intent is not to save money or alleviate the USPS's financial difficulties, but to serve the interests of the vultures ready to devour this national treasure.

The planned devastation of the USPS is based not on need but on greed. The claim of financial emergency is a pretext to break the USPS up and feed the choice bits to the private mailing industry.

The postmaster general says he expects to close 16,000 post offices in six years—that's half of the nation's post offices! And he plans to close or consolidate as many as 313 of the 487 processing plants by 2013—destroying first-class service while estimating the destruction would "save" costs equal to only 4 percent of USPS's budget. When this happens—and USPS management is proceeding fast, in violation of federal law—there will be no more 44-cent postage. Only FedEx rates. There will be no more service to rural, remote, and distressed areas. Newspaper and magazine delivery will be eliminated.

The Internet could be the biggest source of new business imaginable. Customers could e-mail documents to the USPS, which would then print and deliver them from the destination post office. This would be a hugely popular service: next-day delivery anywhere in the country, of anything you can send to a printer. Fast, cheap, and hard copy. All it would require is leadership interested in providing a service to the public.

But what we have now is leadership more interested in providing profit to private moneyed interests than in serving the American people. That is the end result of setting up a public service to function "more like a business," as was done in changing the U.S. Post Office Department to the US Postal Service in 1970-71.

The United States Postal Service is a national treasure that needs to be saved from the formidable forces arrayed against it. And those forces are not only in Congress, but in the USPS itself. Those who seek to save the USPS will not succeed unless they recognize the threat within, and they must do so very quickly or it will be too late.

John Nichols writes good Save the Post Office columns in The Nation and The Capital Times. And there's always a lot of good information at Save the Post Office, which Steve Hutkins puts together.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dear Amazon

Dear Amazon,
I'm writing to let you know that, in spite of the fact that I own a Kindle, I'm not going to spend another cent at Amazon until I hear that you are (1) treating your employees better and (2) no longer a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). All of the people you employ are worthy of human respect and dignity, and our democracy must no longer be subverted by corporations who think their money entitles them to legislative work-arounds. Not only am I not going to spend another cent on Amazon, but I'm encouraging my friends who support workers and love democracy to do the same.
Most sincerely,
Mary Ray Worley
P.S. And I'm deleting my wish list.
I e-mailed the above letter to Amazon this afternoon. I received the following response:
Thank you for your feedback. Please see our message at:
We hope to see you again soon.
Best regards,
Sai Rongali
The link goes to a page with this message:
A Message from Amazon - September 22, 2011

There's been recent news coverage regarding temperatures and working conditions in our Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, fulfillment center.

Certain parts of the country experienced unusually high temperatures this summer. We spent more than $2.4 million urgently installing industrial air conditioning units in four of our fulfillment centers, including our Breinigsville facility. These industrial air conditioning units were online and operational by late July and early August. This was not mandated by any governmental agency, and in fact air conditioning remains an unusual practice in warehouses. We'll continue to operate these air conditioning units or equivalent ones in future summers.

We have temporary employees working in our facilities for two reasons - to manage variation in customer demand throughout the year and as a way of finding high-quality full-time employees. There are 1,381 full-time employees in Breinigsville, all of whom receive full-time benefits including healthcare. Since January of this year, 850 temporary employees in Breinigsville have been converted to full-time employment.

We welcome and embrace questions about our preparedness and planning, and indeed we routinely ask those internally, but those who know us well don't doubt our intent or our focus on employee safety.

Thank you. [emphasis added]
I like how hard they work to make sure the reader knows how protecting their temporary employees from being cooked alive is not "mandated by any government agency." Never mind that it's mandated by human decency.

I really hope it's true that Amazon is going to some considerable effort to do right by their temporary employees, and that they'll insist that their private contractors do the same. But I couldn't help but notice that nothing was said about Amazon's membership in ALEC. So they won't be seeing me again soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to #SaveUSPS? Remove the Fangs from Its Throat

The rally today on the Capitol Square in Madison to save the US Postal Service was good. It was well attended, and the weather didn't interfere. We had a few speakers—politicians and union leaders—and we handed out info sheets, asked folks to sign the petition supporting HR 1351, and talked to people about what's needed to save the USPS. Best of all, it was heartening to hang out with other posties.

This rally and hundreds of others across the country were planned by the postal unions to garner support for HR 1351, the USPS Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act. From the rally, you might think that the one magical fix needed to ease all of the USPS's woes is just to pass this one bill. In fact, the bill is a needed but tiny step toward fixing the Post Office's situation. It is a temporary fix for one of the worst provisions of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which in fact dealt two ruinous blows to USPS finances.

The PAEA requires that the USPS transfer to the Treasury $5.5 billion per year for 10 years, ostensibly to fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. This is the part of the PAEA that the postal unions are most concerned about, because it places an undue and even absurd burden on the USPS that is placed on no other government agency. In fact, it forces the USPS to provide for the retirement health benefits of people who aren't even born yet.

Another provision of the PAEA caps all postage rates for "market dominant" service at the rate of increase of the Consumer Price Index. "Market dominant" service is anything that the USPS has little or no competition for, such as first-class mail and bulk mail, including catalogs, periodicals, and advertising circulars. This requirement directly contradicts 39 USC 101(d), which states that "postal rates shall be established to apportion the costs of all postal operations to all users of the mail on a fair and equitable basis." In other words, the prices the Post Office charges should cover its overall expenses. But the provision in the PAEA actually prohibits that it do so. And, of course, the price of fuel has increased considerably faster than has the Consumer Price Index.

HR 1351 does nothing to address the postage rate cap, which is ruinous because the USPS loses money on every single catalog and other piece of bulk mail it processes and delivers. HR 1351 does not even repeal the prefunding requirement, the excessive obligation faced by no private company and no government agency. Instead, HR 1351 merely allows the USPS to use money it has already overpaid into its pension funds to cover future payments to the retiree health benefit fund. HR 1351 would reduce the size of the largest hole in the USPS's budget, the $5.5 billion per year prefunding requirement. This would be good, but it would not prevent the destruction of the U.S. Postal Service.

The fundamental threat to the USPS comes from its own management. Easing the artificial financial burden on the USPS would reduce the need to savagely sever employees, jettison post offices, and dismantle the distribution network. But the problem was never a need to do these things. The USPS's finances could be perfect, and management could—and, from its recent words and actions, would—still seek to destroy the USPS as we know it.
  • Postal management wants reduce delivery from 6 days per week to 5 days per week, which, as we have already pointed out, is a colossally bad idea. Former president of the APWU William Burrus cites the folly of going with a 5-day delivery scheme:
  • The Postal Service has been granted a monopoly on access to the mailbox, but if the USPS abandons delivery on a sixth day, it is doubtful the American public will permit the monopoly to continue. If five-day delivery were enacted, the Private Express Statute would likely be modified to permit a private company to deliver mail on the non-delivery day. Rest assured, once the sanctity of the mail box is pierced, it will not be restored at a later date.
  • Postal management wants to separate retail sales from sorting and delivery operations, as a prelude to abandoning its retail network to private stores and outsourcing sorting and delivery to private mail-processing and delivery companies.
  • It wants to close half of the nation's post offices. USPS management seeks to close 16,000 of its present 32,000 post offices by 2017—essentially all those that aren't entry points for large amounts of bulk mail. Further closures would follow. These closures are illegal under current law, which stipulates that "no small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities." Yet USPS management fully intends to proceed with a massive number of closings.
  • USPS management wants to decimate its mail-processing network, closing some 313 of its approximately 487 mail-processing plants. Management knows, and admits, that the remaining few plants do not, and could not, have the capacity to handle even the current recession-reduced mail volume at current delivery standards. USPS management seeks the approval of the Postal Regulatory Commission to increase delivery times by at least a day or two for all mail. This will be the end of first-class mail as we know it, ceding all important mail delivery to FedEx and other expedited delivery services. By management's own estimates, this permanent destruction of its ability to provide first-class service would save costs amounting to only 4% of budget.
Any one of the above attacks is sufficient to cause the ultimate destruction of the US Postal Service. So any effective effort to defend the USPS as we know it must address every single one of them and the reason the USPS is facing this multipronged attack. The New York Metro Area Postal Union (APWU, AFL-CIO) is demanding that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe resign immediately, and if he will not, it calls on the Postal Board of Governors to fire him. In colluding with those who would destroy the USPS, "Donahoe is violating his oath of office and failing to meet the requirements of his position to be responsible for the overall operation of the Postal Service."

The New York Metro Area Postal Union is absolutely right, and the postal unions would do well to join the call for the Postmaster General's resignation. Furthermore, they should insist that the USPS again be managed as a government service and not as a business. The management of the USPS has been captured by the private mailing industry to the point that decisions are made for the benefit of big mailers and not for the American people—whom the post office is meant to serve. The "uncoupling" that is really needed, contrary to the USPS Office of the Inspector General's assertion, is that the fangs of the private mailing industry should be removed from the throat of the USPS.