Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I had another week full of weird things to do.  I completely forgot my driver’s license expired last month on my birthday and had to rush out to get it renewed.  I really don’t keep track of my age at all any more so I forgot the entire divisible-by-four thing.  I also have been rushing around doing odds and ends that have just been driving me nuts.  It just seems life is just one complex set of paperwork to fill out for someone or another these days.  This week I had to prove all kinds of things to all kinds of people.  I guess no one takes you at face value any more.  We’ve turned into a nation where you have to show every one your papers.  It made the week a combination of something Kafkaesque and Stalinesque.   I simultaneously wanted to laugh, cry, and slap people multiple times this week.

There’s an interesting article at The Atlantic on how the economic recovery is affecting women differently from men. The article is called “The Recession was Sexist (So is the Recovery)” and it’s worth a read. It’s written by Jordan Weissmann.

Since November 2010, 70% of new jobs have gone to men. At first blush that sounds reasonable. If men lost more jobs, they should also recoup more. The problem crops up when you look at the number of job gains as a fraction of losses. Men have regained about a third of the jobs they shed in the recession. Women have only regained about one in five.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a gender gap. And it’s not clear whether it will narrow. In November, female job gains actually outpaced males, 65,000 to 55,000. But going forward, women are going to have to contend with one of the most nastiest forces in job market: government budgets.
As the graphic to the left shows, women far outnumber men on state and local government payrolls, especially in public schools. Early in the recession, those employers were propped up by stimulus money. No longer. We live in an age of belt tightening, and government employees are being shown the door by the thousands. Last month, state and municipal payrolls shrank by 16,000 workers. There’s no sign of the trend letting up.

If you want to see the graphs that go with the discussion, you should check the article out. The trend is really noticeable.

There’s also continued filibusters from Mitch McConnell of anything that could remotely help the unemployed, families hurt by recession, and anything that looks like it might have gone near the President. I can’t believe all this belligerence is a winning strategy for them, but only time will tell. As much as I’ve had problems with Obama, McConnell’s got me so hopping mad and the clown set running for the Republican nomination have me more distressed. I’ve never seen a bunch of more mean-spirited, ignorant, hateful, religious fanatics in my life. In this situation, Obama is definitely the lesser of evils. This is an election that will bring the definition of evil to a new nadir. There’s not a woman- or child-friendly politician to be had any where.

The filibuster — a stall tactic that requires time-consuming motions and 60 votes to overcome — can be used on virtually all Senate business, including on whether to even bring up bills for debate.

Democrats say Republican tactics this week will come back to haunt them. On Thursday, Republicans are well-positioned to filibuster the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For weeks, the GOP has demanded several changes to the bureau to roll back its powers.

Democrats say it’s “the first time in history” that a nominee will be blocked because of the concerns over the agency that the person was selected by the president to head — rather than the qualifications of the nominee.

“I said to some of my Republican colleagues, ‘Do you want this to happen when someday there’ll be a Republican president?’” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “It’s clearly a terrible precedent.”

en. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he didn’t think any minority should adopt such tactics that he called “highly dangerous for the country.”

Republicans are highly dubious of the claims, saying there’s nothing unusual over holding up nominees until legitimate concerns over policy are addressed.

“This is the first time in history that I’m aware of that an agency of this kind has been created,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a member of the Senate Banking Committee.

The tit-for-tat has been going on since Tuesday when Republicans sustained a filibuster by a 54-45 vote on the Halligan nomination to the D.C. appellate court, accusing President Barack Obama of nominating an “activist judge” hostile to gun rights.

But Democrats said she was a well-qualified nominee with an exemplary résumé, and that the standard set by the so-called Gang of 14 senators in 2005 to only filibuster judicial nominees in “extraordinary circumstances” had been effectively nullifed.

Ruemmler, the White House counsel, said she could “rattle off a litany of folks who would be on any Republican shortlist” that would be rejected under the new standard, like attorney Paul Clement who is representing Republicans in the House in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. But she said it would be “ridiculous” if Democrats did that over such an ideological dispute.

The White House points to 20 judicial nominees awaiting Senate action, several of whom would fill posts considered “emergency” vacancies, and officials complain that the chamber is moving at a much slower pace now than it was when Bush was in office.

Iran has been showing film of a captured US drone. There’s been confirmation now that the film is authentic and so is the drone. This confirms some of the rumors floating around earlier this week.

Iran’s Press TV said that the Iranian army’s “electronic warfare unit” brought down the drone on 4 December as it was flying over the city of Kashmar.

Brig General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace unit, told Iranian media that the drone “fell into the trap” of the unit “who then managed to land it with minimum damage”.

He said Iran was “well aware of what priceless technological information” could be gleaned from the aircraft.

Nato said at the weekend that an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week when its operators lost control of it.

Pentagon officials have said they are concerned about Iran possibly acquiring information about the technology.

I still haven’t gotten used to seeing armadillos all around the place since I moved down here. Looks like Kentucky is going to have to get used to them too as they are moving north and east.
The move started in the 1980s and has been increasing since then. Like many local critters, they appear to be moving north with climates getting warmer.

“The first road-killed armadillo I encountered in Kentucky was in 2003, and the first live one I saw was in 2006,” said John MacGregor, a herpetologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

MacGregor said in recent years there have been several confirmed sightings by staff biologists in eastern and south central Kentucky.

Steve Bonney, northeastern region wildlife coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, encountered a road-killed armadillo in Rowan County in 2009 on the way to work. “I routinely record road kills. When I saw what I thought was an armadillo, my radar went off,” said Bonney. “It kind of shocked me.”

When Bonney arrived at work, he immediately drove back to the site of the road kill on Ky. 801 in Farmers, Kentucky to photograph and pick up the armadillo.

Of the 20 known species of armadillos, the nine-banded armadillo is the most widely distributed. It is the only armadillo species to have ventured north of Mexico. Today, the nine-banded armadillo is established as far east as South Carolina and as far west as southern Nebraska. Loughry said range expansion “has been consistent over the years, and is the continuation of a long-term trend.”

But what biologists can’t agree on is why range expansion is occurring so fast. Factors that may be fueling this expansion include: climate change, the armadillo’s general adaptability, its high reproductive rate and little desire on the part of humans to hunt or eat armadillos.

The two most likely things to cause armadillo mortality are getting run over by vehicles on roads or being eaten by coyotes.

If any of them amble up to a neighborhood near you, here’s some cajun recipes for those of you brave enough to try them.

Here’s an interesting interview with Bruce Judson on the Societal Dangers of income inequality. Judson is a professor of management that specializes in entrepreneurship at Yale School of Managment.  He has a new e-book coming out on making capitalism work for the 99%. BC is Bryce Covert of ND 2.0.

BC: What does inequality mean for the middle class, which is the foundation of our country’s economy?

BJ: Early America lacked the class barriers then prevalent in Europe: Everyone mixed with each other. This led the more fortunate to have empathy and a visceral understanding for the problems of the less fortunate. As economic inequality has increased, we see far less mixing among people at different income levels. Now everyone has less of a sense that they are part of one large community and that we have a responsibility to each other.

Political theorists, going back to Aristotle, have all concluded that a vibrant middle class is essential for a vibrant democracy. The members of the middle class hope to move up, so they want mobility to remain a desirable option, but they also fear moving down, so they are more likely to support a social safety net. In essence, the middle is the group that ensures stability as a barrier to legislative extremes that unduly reward the wealthy or harm the poor.

Unfortunately, inequality that chips away at the middle class can lead to violence. There was violence that occurred in the Depression, with riots in the Midwest. People also started to take the law into their own hands. In penny auctions, after your farm was foreclosed on, you showed up at the courthouse with all of your friends — farmers who had their rifles with them — and took over the bidding and bought back your farm for penny. As income inequality increases, the dispossessed may start to feel they have been treated unfairly and things can get ugly.

BC: Your work also predicted revolution. What’s your current take?

BJ: The book did not predict revolution. The book said that if we allow income inequality to continue growing unchecked, then we would face a high risk of political instability or revolution. We discussed earlier how the book detailed a series of stages, or a narrative, for how growing economic inequality can lead to social upheaval. Unfortunately the narrative I detailed seems to be happening.

My best estimate is we have now passed through 60 percent of the narrative. A lot needs to happen before the risk of political instability becomes a reality. I am hopeful that with inequality now on the national agenda, we will see the reforms needed.

So, there’s a lot of juicy stuff in that interview including Judson’s take on the Occupy movement.

BC: Does the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement make you more or less hopeful for the nation’s future?

BJ: It absolutely makes me hopeful that we will start to see some meaningful reforms. The Occupy movement is casting a bright and unforgiving light on some of the unacceptable practices in our society that, sadly, have become commonplace.

I believe the Occupy movement is not going away. The reason it grew so quickly is that it was the flashpoint for the country’s anger and widespread feelings of unfairness. It’s almost inevitable that in some way it will expand to include people who feel they’ve been unfairly foreclosed on, the record numbers of Americans experiencing long-term unemployment, and many of the unemployed in general who feel they’ve been cheated out of the opportunity to work – mainstream America.

The danger is that if the Occupy movement does not succeed, and nothing takes its place, we will move further along the narrative I described.

So, that’s my offerings this morning. I have a few more paper chases to do today before I settle in for the weekend. I’m thinking I’ll end this week with a nice long soak in the tub, some read wine, and the new Vanity Fair with the Gaga in red pic on the cover. I’m going to read about the romance between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and look at all those really old photos. I’d say that out to put reality out of my mind for awhile. Okay, I’m going to read the Stiglitz article first (Fix the Economy? What Obama and the GOP won’t tell you). Then, I’m going to read Christopher Hitchens on Nietzsche, then I’ll do the Queen’s young romance. So, okay, I”ll give you one taste.

Hitchens describes chemotherapy.  This is something I know well.  I also know what it’s like to kiss death and know that it hovers over your bed waiting for you to move closer to its embrace.

I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.

These are progressive weaknesses that in a more “normal” life might have taken decades to catch up with me. But, as with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less. In other words, the process both etiolates you and moves you nearer toward death. How could it be otherwise? Just as I was beginning to reflect along these lines, I came across an article on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. We now know, from dearly bought experience, much more about this malady than we used to. Apparently, one of the symptoms by which it is made known is that a tough veteran will say, seeking to make light of his experience, that “what didn’t kill me made me stronger.” This is one of the manifestations that “denial” takes.

I am attracted to the German etymology of the word “stark,” and its relative used by Nietzsche, stärker, which means “stronger.” In Yiddish, to call someone a shtarker is to credit him with being a militant, a tough guy, a hard worker. So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

20 Comments on “Friday Reads”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    It amazes me that there are those out there who applaud the current congressional leadership for their efforts to block everything that comes before them. So many out there, unable to find a job, are being used as a ping pong ball for nothing more than political upmanship.

    We are talking about people’s lives here, not whether or not to fund another submarine, yet aside from the fact that the entire aim of the GOP is to make the current president a “one termer”, this is what congress does in service of the common good.

    Refusing to lift a mere 3% on the wealthiest people in the nation while insisting this group are “job creators” is repulsive. Slashing entitlements is not the way to go but they are forever trying to convince us otherwise.

    The sad part to all this is that we have no control over the voters in Kentucky who will keep sending Mitch McConnell back to DC. As disgusting as his policies have been to thwart the middle class he will more than likely win another 6 year term and gridlock will be with us for another generation.

    • ralphb says:

      The Republicans are doing their best to make sure the economy stays in the tank, hoping to get their own in power before doing anything which might help. That strategy is so damn cynical and unworthy they are turning me into something I never thought I would be, an Obama supporter. Help!!!!!

      • bostonboomer says:

        I have the same problem. Well, maybe not a supporter, but willing to vote for him if it’s necessary.

      • peggysue22 says:

        It is strange that the more the Republicans yak, the better Obama and his court jesters and supporters look. But this has so often been the case when we’re left with a ‘lesser of two evils’ choice. Only this year the Repugs have gone off the rails in meanness, bigotry and obstruction politics. The suffering of people seemingly mean nothing to them. Not that Obama is Mr. Empathy. The words are there; the action is nowhere.

        The only hopeful signs are some of the people running for the Senate and Congress. In addition to Elizabeth Warren, I mentioned Baldenegro and Baldwin the other day. I think we need to concentrate there, send as many good, solid people we can to DC to counteract this nonsense and ideological push from the neoliberal right and left and the libertarians sneaking through the back door.

        That’s the only chance we have of turning things around. As long as OWS keeps the spotlight on the real enemies, we have a halfway shot.

        I’m not ready to give up yet.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Love the armadillo story! I’ve never seen an armadillo, and I can’t wait to see one in my neighborhood. Will it happen in my lifetime I wonder?

  3. bostonboomer says:

    I read Bruce Judson’s book “It Could Happen Here” awhile back. I might go get the new e-book.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Thousands showed up at Occupy Boston and prevented Mayor Menino from evicting them. Dewey Square was still occupied this morning.

    • ralphb says:

      Right on! That’s what should be happening in all the occupation evictions. Let’s hope it spreads,

    • ralphb says:

      It’s good that Occupy Boston is still up. Meanwhile Occupy Austin won a court victory and can now legally expand to the State Capital 24/7. They have the Capital site running and the original at City Hall with plans for actions through January.

      Lots of occupiers are still occupying but, because Zuccotti Park was cleared, people now seem to think it’s all over. I guess if it doesn’t happen in NYC or LA it doesn’t happen?

      • bostonboomer says:

        Excellent! Actually it’s NYC and DC that count. Even LA doesn’t get massive coverage unless something really bad happens.

      • ralphb says:

        Edge says there are actions daily in NYC, so the park being cleared doesn’t mean too much. Holding the park was probably taking energy that could be expended elsewhere anyway.

  5. ralphb says:

    If you like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trillogy, this is kind of cool.

    Krugman is from Trantor; Gingrich ain’t

    Far be it from me to discourage mainstream political commentary that’s framed in terms of science fiction, but Ray Smock’s Newt Gingrich the Galactic Historian gets it wrong:

    If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Newt Gingrich is from the planet Trantor, a fictional world created by Isaac Asimov in his classic Foundation series about galactic empire.

    Wrong. The Honorable Newt is not from Trantor. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is from Trantor. This is known. He’s said on multiple occasions that he went into economics because the field of psychohistory doesn’t exist. What Krugman took from the Foundation Trilogy was the idea that you could learn everything about history and put it together in order to understand not only what has happened, but why things happen the way they do. Remind you of Gingrich? Me neither.*

  6. Roofingbird says:

    Frankly, I’d MUCH rather have armadillos in my yard than these: