Monday Reads: Interesting (and scary) times

Good Morning! We sure do live in interesting times. There is so much happening in the news today that there is no way I could cover all of it. As I see it, the most disturbing news is that world events are spiraling out of control, while the U.S. President dithers and does as little as possible–fiddling while the world burns.


CRISES IN JAPAN

Japan is struggling with an overwhelming natural disaster and a massive humanitarian crisis, and at the same time they–and the rest of us–face a nuclear emergency. No one knows for sure yet how bad it is, but I can’t help but suspect that we are not getting the whole story.

From Reuters:

Officials confirmed on Sunday that three nuclear reactors north of Tokyo were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.

Engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods in the damaged reactors. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

How bad could it get? Here’s what nuclear experts told Scientific American:

“Reactor analysts like to categorize potential reactor accidents into groups,” said Bergeron, who did research on nuclear reactor accident simulation at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. “And the type of accident that is occurring in Japan is known as a station blackout. It means loss of offsite AC power—power lines are down—and then a subsequent failure of emergency power on site—the diesel generators. It is considered to be extremely unlikely, but the station blackout has been one of the great concerns for decades.

[….]

Bergeron explained the basics of overheating at a nuclear fission plant. “The fuel rods are long uranium rods clad in a [zirconium alloy casing]. They’re held in a cylindrical-shaped array. And the water covers all of that. If the water descends below the level of the fuel, then the temperature starts going up and the cladding bursts, releasing a lot of fission products. And eventually the core just starts slumping and melting. Quite a bit of this happened in TMI [Three Mile Island], but the pressure vessel did not fail.”

So what if the worst happens and there is a meltdown?

“They’re venting in order to keep the containment vessel from failing. But if a core melts, it will slump to the bottom of the reactor vessel, probably melt through the reactor vessel onto the containment floor. It’s likely to spread as a molten pool—like lava—to the edge of the steel shell, and melt through. That would result in a containment failure in a matter of less than a day. It’s good that it’s got a better containment system than Chernobyl, but it’s not as strong as most of the reactors in this country.”

Basically, we’re talking about The China Syndrome. Except if a Japanese nuclear plant melts down, the core won’t be headed for China.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! There’s quite a lot of news happening, so I probably won’t be able to cover everything. I’m hoping you can help me out in the comments. Anyway, here are some stories that caught my eye.

The Guardian UK: 2 US airmen killed in Frankfurt airport shooting

Two U.S. airmen were killed and two others were wounded at Frankfurt airport when a man opened fire on them at close range with a handgun, the first such attack on American forces in Germany in a quarter century.

[….]

The alleged assailant, identified as a 21-year-old Kosovo man, was taken immediately into custody and was being questioned by authorities, said Frankfurt police spokesman Manfred Fuellhardt.

Family members in Kosovo described the suspect as a devout Muslim, who was born and raised in Germany and worked at the airport.

The attacker got into an argument with airmen outside their military bus before opening fire, killing the bus driver and one other serviceman, and wounding two others, one of whom was in life-threatening condition, Fuellhardt said. He said the attacker also briefly entered the bus.

The suspect has been identified as “Arif Uka, a Kosovo citizen from the northern town of Mitrovica.” There is quite a bit more information about him at the Guardian link. The victims had not yet been identified when I wrote this.

I’m sure you heard that yesterday the Supreme Court decided that the Wesboro Baptist Church is within their First Amendment Rights when they protest homosexuality at servicemen’s funerals. However, there are some limits on the decision, according to USA Today.

The court majority made plain that states may regulate funeral protests in some situations. Roberts observed that since the 2006 Snyder funeral, the Maryland Legislature has enacted a law prohibiting picketing within 100 feet of a funeral. Roberts also noted that Westboro’s picketing would have complied with that restriction.

The chief justice said demonstrations may be regulated as long as laws are neutral — that is, not aimed at any particular views — and narrowly crafted.

In recent years, Congress and 46 states have enacted laws to minimize picketing near cemeteries during a funeral, according to a brief filed at the court by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and 40 other senators who sided with Snyder. They said state personal-injury laws, such as the Maryland one Snyder invoked to sue Phelps, supplement government picketing restrictions.

From the news reports, it sounds like the protests in Libya are starting to turn into a full-fledged war. Late last night Voice of America reported serious “clashes” in eastern Libya:

The fighting included ground clashes and airstrikes by Libyan military planes.

Witnesses said pro-Gadhafi forces stormed into the town of Brega on the Gulf of Sirte and briefly seized its oil installations and an airstrip. Opposition fighters say they recaptured both sites. Later, Western media reported loud booms that they linked to at least two bombings from Libyan aircraft.

Witnesses say military forces carried out an airstrike in the nearby town of Ajdabiya. Both towns are on the western edge of the region of eastern Libya that is now largely under opposition control.

Gadhafi is still delusional:

The fighting occurred on the same day that Gadhafi delivered a televised speech to supporters in Tripoli. He said he could not resign because he holds no political office in a system that he said puts all power in the hands of the people.

There is a lot of pressure on President Obama to do something other than mumble meaningless cliches. At CNN, they seem to be rooting for military intervention (h/t Minkoff Minx). I’m sure CNN has visions of improving their ratings by presenting lots of carnage live and in color, like they did during the two Iraq wars. But Secretary of Defense Gates is doing his best to stifle such talk.

With rebels in Libya calling for Western airstrikes on forces supporting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates warned Congress on Wednesday that even a more modest effort to establish a no-flight zone over Libya would have to begin with an attack on the country’s air defenses and would require “a big operation in a big country.”

Mr. Gates’s caution illustrates the chasm between what the rebels and some leading members of Congress are calling for and what President Obama appears willing to do in Libya. Mr. Obama and his aides have argued that it is not yet clear that the insurgents need the help — and they have warned that the use of American airpower could fuel the arguments of those in the Middle East who see a Washington conspiracy behind homegrown uprisings.

But others disagree.

…even some members of the president’s own party sounded unconvinced on Wednesday. Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of the president’s chief foreign policy allies in Congress, argued that “a no-fly zone is not a long-term proposition” and warned that other nations and NATO should not be “on the sidelines” as Colonel Qaddafi’s jets begin to attack the antigovernment insurgents.

“We ought to be considering a wide range of responses, and a no-fly zone ought to be an option,” Mr. Kerry said late Wednesday. “We have a number of tools, and we should not remove any of them from the table.”

Of course no one is screaming about the deficit now or about how much all this military action would cost–that only happens when there is talk of helping pregnant women, children, the elderly, and other powerless groups.

Here’s an article by a law professor that explains the legal implications of the U.S. getting involved in military action in Libya.

It’s possible the situation in Wisconsin could continue for months with ongoing protests and the Democratic State Senators remaining in exile. This is what happens when you elect a governor who doesn’t believe in compromise and simply wants to behave like a tyrant.

The governor isn’t budging. AWOL Democrats aren’t planning to come back. And, despite talk of deadlines and threats of mass layoffs, the state doesn’t really have to pass a budget to pay its bills until at least May. Even then, there may be other options that could extend the standoff for months.

“This is a battle to the death,” said Mordecai Lee, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “Unless one party can come up with a compromise that the other party will buy, which I doubt, this really could go on indefinitely. I could see this going on until the summer.”

We have a union contract dispute going on here in the Boston area with a lot of parallels to the one in Wisconsin. The local PBS/NPR station, WGBH, which produces much of the best content for public TV stations around the country, is playing hardball with their unionized employees, who have been working without a contract since October.

Managers of the giant Boston-based public broadcast operation and officials of the Association of Employees of the Educational Foundation, Communications Workers of America, Local 1300, have been seeking a new three-year contract to replace an agreement that expired at the end of October.

WGBH employs 850 people; Local 1300 represents 280 writers, editors, production workers, and marketing employees who enjoy using automated out reach software like Apollo.

Management has been seeking concessions that include cutting in half the company’s match for employee retirement plans and is demanding authority to redefine job descriptions. That would allow WGBH to assign employees to work across various media platforms, including TV, radio, and the Web.

Union officials said they are willing to make some concessions to preserve jobs and WGBH’s financial health, including cuts in company contributions to retirement plans. But they are not willing to go along with such provisions as allowing WGBH to outsource work without negotiations, or to terminate on-air talent without cause. Union officials said they do not want WGBH to be able to assign members to perform work outside their job description.

“If they retain the ability to outsource anything and everything, it would tend to make moot all the gains we made in other areas of the contract,’’ said Jordan Weinstein, president of the AEEF/CWA, Local 1300, and local host of public radio’s “All Things Considered,’’ the weekday news program. “This is not the warm and friendly way to deal with your employees.’’

That’s all I’ve got for now. What are you reading and blogging about today?

 


Late Night Open Thread, Is it spring yet?

Fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, note the ladders that only go up to the sixth floor.

Good evening everyone, I thought I would post a few new links to catch up on the nights news.  At the end of the post check out the link to an episode of American Experience about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Perfect timing for this episode in that this year is the 100 year anniversary of the fire, which occurred on March 25th, 1911….perfect timing in that there is a union fight going on right now in  Wisconsin. We will get to this later.

First off, it looks like a poll was done and what do you know…the voters in Wisconsin would have voted for the Democrat if they could have a do over. Can I mention that saying about hindsight being 20/20?

Public Policy Polling: Do over?

We’ll have our full poll on the Wisconsin conflict out tomorrow but here’s the most interesting finding: if voters in the state could do it over today they’d support defeated Democratic nominee Tom Barrett over Scott Walker by a a 52-45 margin.

The difference between how folks would vote now and how they voted in November can almost all be attributed to shifts within union households. Voters who are not part of union households have barely shifted at all- they report having voted for Walker by 7 points last fall and they still say they would vote for Walker by a 4 point margin. But in households where there is a union member voters now say they’d go for Barrett by a 31 point margin, up quite a bit from the 14 point advantage they report having given him in November.

It’s actually Republicans, more so than Democrats or independents, whose shifting away from Walker would allow Barrett to win a rematch if there was one today. Only 3% of the Republicans we surveyed said they voted for Barrett last fall but now 10% say they would if they could do it over again. That’s an instance of Republican union voters who might have voted for the GOP based on social issues or something else last fall trending back toward Democrats because they’re putting pocketbook concerns back at the forefront and see their party as at odds with them on those because of what’s happened in the last month.

This next link is also about the above poll, however it is going to Keith Olbermann’s new website, FOK News: February 28, 2011 | FOK News Channel Just thought I would send you over to check it out, I had completely forgotten that he was launching it.

Okay the next few links are to recent articles about Unions that you might have missed.

Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Unions – NYTimes.com

The Fight for Unions in Wisconsin : The New Yorker

Sandy Banks: Cutbacks send the wrong message on unions – latimes.com

Earlier today Dakinikat wrote a post on the Republican war on nearly everybody. If you did not see it, please check it out. There is a new report out that discusses the problems with the GOP plans for spending cuts.  Seems to me that a loss of jobs in not the direction we should be going in….I do not know how accurate this Moody’s report is, I will leave that up to Dak to explain. It just seems the GOP is out to get everyone who isn’t filthy rich or a crazy religious nut case. Why are they going after women, unions, and the working class?  Anyway, here is an article from the Washington Post,  GOP spending plan would cost 700,000 jobs, new report says.

A Republican plan to sharply cut federal spending this year would destroy 700,000 jobs through 2012, according to an independent economic analysis set for release Monday.

The report, by Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, offers fresh ammunition to Democrats seeking block the Republican plan, which would terminate dozens of programs and slash federal appropriations by $61 billion over the next seven months.

Zandi, an architect of the 2009 stimulus package who has advised both political parties, predicts that the GOP package would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year.

So, on to the American Experience that aired tonight. It was damn good. To see actual photos and hear accounts of the fire and stories from the families read out loud really makes a statement. Chilling is all I can say about this episode. Here is a review of it from the New York Times. Triangle Fire Remembered on PBS and HBO – NYTimes.com

As demonstrations in support of Wisconsin’s public-employee unions proliferate, PBS can pat itself on the back for scheduling the documentary “Triangle Fire” on Monday night — more than three weeks before the 100th anniversary of the New York garment-factory blaze it details, which figures so strongly in the imagination of the American labor movement.

[…]
…it’s the images of corpses stacked on the Greenwich Village sidewalks where they fell, as a crowd of thousands helplessly watched, that get to you, as dreadful now as they were a century ago, when they inspired a wave of workplace reform in New York State.

I think that is exactly what made this documentary an emotionally charged examination of what led up to the fire, and the heart-wrenching details from actual interviews with survivors and the families of those who lost their lives.

“Triangle Fire,” a presentation of “American Experience” on PBS, takes a more straightforward, strictly chronological approach and spends much more time on the progress of the labor movement in organizing garment workers, a tumultuous process that actually took place several years before the fire. This allows for the inclusion of piquant facts like the hiring of prostitutes to assault female pickets.

Here is the link to the website for American Experience on PBS. There is a wealth of information on the site, photos and even lesson plans. Please take a look and remember what Labor Unions did for workers, and how we are now going backwards when it comes to worker’s rights.  WGBH American Experience . Triangle Fire . Introduction | PBS

So what are you finding tonight? Go ahead and post some links.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Some of us have been watching Al Jazeera live on-line a lot lately. Suddenly Comcast wants to get into the act, so they are holding talks with the Arab network about putting them on U.S. cable TV.

Al Jazeera confirmed in a press release earlier this week it was meeting with Comcast on Tuesday about adding the 24/7 Al Jazeera English news network to Comcast’s cable lineup.

In 2006, the English-language version of Al Jazeera pushed hard get on Comcast’s lineup up but lost that battle.

Al Jazeera says it can also be seen in local markets in Vermont, Ohio and Washington, D.C. A deal with Comcast would give it a huge national imprint, and force Comcast’s competitors to follow suit.

Al-Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara made his own plea on Tuesday in Time magazine.

“The hope is that after what people have been able to see on Al Jazeera in its coverage of Egypt, that cable companies may not just see the material benefits of having Al Jazeera available, but also the wisdom,” he told Time in an interview.

Wouldn’t it be great if the channel *replaced* Fox News? Anyway, that’s my good news story for today.

Yesterday, Dakinikat posted audio of a prank phone call made to Wisconsin’s wacky governor, Scott Walker by a gonzo blogger from upstate NY who pretended to be David Koch of the notorious Koch brothers.

Now Horrible John Hinderaker at Powerline is fighting back (warning: right wing blog). The left is waging “war” against the Koch Brothers and Hineraker has set himself up as their defender.

The most extraordinary story in the news these days is the all-out assault that the Left is mounting against Charles and David Koch and their company, Koch Enterprises. A day doesn’t go buy–hardly an hour goes by–without some new attack being launched against these two lonely libertarians.

Why? Simply because they are rich–their company is one of the best-run and most successful in the world–and conservative. The Left is trying to drive them out of politics and, more important, to deter any other people of means from daring to support conservative politicians or causes.

Awwwww….those poor, poor babies.

According to the Washington Post, Walker himself is “urging others to take stands against unions.” I guess he doesn’t want to be out on that limb by himself, and he doesn’t realize that the more governors are out there with him, the sooner the limb will break off and send them all crashing to the ground. Oh, by the way, he did the urging during the aforsaid prank phone call in which he believed he was speaking to David Koch. ROFLOL! From the WaPo:

He said he communicates regularly with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and has spoken with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. And Walker has suggested that his counterparts in Michigan and Florida seek to address their budget problems in part by demanding major concessions from public workers.

“There’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big,” Walker said this week. “This is our moment.”

His comments about his GOP brethren came in an unusual forum: a recorded telephone conversation with a liberal blogger purporting to be conservative financier David Koch.

Oh man, Scott Walker will forever be a joke. And speaking of jokes, did you hear that Rick Santorum spoke out on the Wisconsin protests?

All-but-declared presidential candidate Rick Santorum is stirring the pot when it comes to government entitlements, comparing the pro-union protesters in Wisconsin to drug addicts in withdrawal.

“They are acting like their drug is being taken away from them,” Santorum told a small gathering of South Carolina Republicans Monday night, according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

The comments came the same day thousands of protesters rallied outside the Wisconsin state capitol for the second week, upset with Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to limit collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees. Walker says the plan is necessary to stem the state’s budget crisis while pro-union groups say the governor is trying to curb long-held labor rights under a guise of fiscal responsibility.

Meanwhile, Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who is widely expected to seek his party’s presidential nomination, added he thinks those who support government entitlements – including the recent health care law – are “no better than a drug dealer.”

“They give you a subtle narcotic to make you feel better as you do worse,” said Santorum.

Gee, why do I think Santorum’s White House bid is going nowhere fast?

Speaking of wingnuts (and we have been), Georgia legislator Bobby Franklin is waging an all-out war on women.

There’s a new bill on the block that may have reached the apex (I hope) of woman-hating craziness. Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin—who last year proposed making rape and domestic violence “victims” into “accusers”—has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize miscarriages and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal. Both miscarriages and abortions would be potentially punishable by death: any “prenatal murder” in the words of the bill, including “human involvement” in a miscarriage, would be a felony and carry a penalty of life in prison or death. Basically, it’s everything an “pro-life” activist could want aside from making all women who’ve had abortions wear big red “A”s on their chests.

Could that really pass–even in Georgia?

In more serious news, the carnage in Libya continues.

“It’s a massacre, you can never imagine what’s going on here,” says the man, who is in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Protests in Libya have been met with violent and brutal opposition by supporters of leader Moamar Gaddafi….

‘Amairr’ says that Libya is not a state and that Gadafi’s regime is ‘not a government’.

“It’s a militia, it’s a gang,” he says.

He says Gaddafi has brought in militias from Africa who are ‘shooting anyone who stands’.

He says the Libyan nation says it feels betrayed by other countries who are concentrating on getting their citizens out rather than helping Libyans.

Some are even calling it a potential genocide.

ISLAMABAD: “We are in the midst of a massacre here” a witness told Reuters. According to Franco Frattini, Italy’s Foreign Minister, “as many as 1,000 people have likely been killed in Libya as leader Muammar Qaddafi cracks down on protests against his rule.”

The Libyan army, air force and navy have completely fractured and there has been a de facto secession of the eastern half of the country. Al-Jazeera is reporting that some air force fighters loyal to Gaddafi have “opened fire on crowds of protestors.”

The Libyan Navy is reportedly firing on residential targets onshore and senior army officers still loyal to Qaddafi have been ordered to execute soldiers refusing to fire on unarmed protestors.

Qaddafi, the longest serving dictator on the face of the planet, continues to hold fort in Tripoli scheming to kill a million if need be to save his crumbling dictatorship. Anti-Qaddafi elements have already taken over Benghazi, Sirte, Tobruk, Misurata, Khoms, Tarhunah, Zentan, al-Zawiya and Zouara but most of these elements are unarmed and thus at risk of being slaughtered by heavily armed pro-Qaddafi forces.

The response from the West has been anemic at best. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “condemned” Libyan dictator

Muammar Gaddafi for ignoring his call to stop violence against protestors, which the UN chief stressed to the Libyan leader during a 40 minute conversation this week. “What he (Gaddafi) has d one is totally unacceptable,” Ban told journalists on Wednesday.

“After such long and extensive discussions and my strong urging, and even appeal to him, he has not heeded,” he added. “This is not acceptable.”

Ban warned that the volatile situation in the North African nation could take several directions—many of them dangerous.

“The situation is developing rapidly towards a very dangerous situation,” he said. “Therefore we need to very carefully monitor the situation.”

Um…how about actually doing something? Like maybe enforcing a no-fly zone or sending in UN peacekeeping troops as the Libyan’s have been pleading for you to do?

Reuters informs us that “the world grapples for a response.”

Yet, there seemed little cohesion and urgency in a global response, even as Washington and Brussels spoke of possible sanctions against a man whose 41 years in power have been marked by idiosyncratic defiance of the West.

“It is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” Obama said. “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous.”

The oil exports which Gaddafi used to help end his isolation in the past decade have given him means to resist the fate of his immediate neighbors, the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, who were brought down by popular unrest in the past few weeks.

It’s always about oil, isn’t it? Talk about people acting like drug addicts….

Anyway, I’ll keep my eye out for updates on the rapidly changing situation in Libya.


What are you reading and blogging about today?


Presidents’ Day Reads

Good Morning! It’s “Presidents’ Day.” Talk about a generic holiday. We used to mark two presidents’ birthdays in February–Washington’s birthday on the 22nd and Lincoln’s birthday on the 12th–but now we just have a Monday in February when everything goes on sale, and pictures of Washington and Lincoln are used to sell cars and mattresses. At least some of us get the day off work.

There’s an awful lot of news happening, and I’m guessing there could be a even more happening Libya by the time you start reading this. The latest is that protesters are in Tripoli, and the family of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is vowing to fight the protesters “to the last man standing,” according to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam in a really monotonous, rambling speech yesterday.

Anti-government protesters rallied in Tripoli’s streets, tribal leaders spoke out against Gaddafi, and army units defected to the opposition as oil exporter Libya endured one of the bloodiest revolts to convulse the Arab world.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared on national television in an attempt to both threaten and calm people, saying the army would enforce security at any price.

“Our spirits are high and the leader Muammar Gaddafi is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are behind him as is the Libyan army,” he said.

“We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing…We will not leave Libya to the Italians or the Turks.”

He also warned of “rivers of blood.” But those may be famous last words. From the Guardian UK:

In fast-moving developments after midnight, demonstrators were reported to be in Tripoli’s Green Square and preparing to march on Gaddafi’s compound as rumours spread that the leader had fled to Venezuela. Other reports described protesters in the streets of Tripoli throwing stones at billboards of Muammar Gaddafi while police used teargas to try to disperse them.

“People are in the street chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) and throwing stones at photos of Gaddafi,”an expatriate worker told Reuters by telephone from Tripoli. “The police are firing teargas everywhere, it’s even getting into the houses.”

There was also plenty of protesting going on in other Middle Eastern countries:

Libya’s extraordinary day overshadowed drama elsewhere in the region. Tensions eased in Bahrain after troops withdrew from a square in Manama occupied by Shia protesters. Thousands of security personnel were also deployed in the Iranian capital, Tehran, to forestall an opposition rally. Elsewhere in the region unrest hit Yemen, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait and Algeria.

At Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar wrote a couple of days ago that the protests in Bahrain could soon spread to Saudi Arabia. That is one fascinating article.

In Wisconsin, protesters say they aren’t going anywhere.

“We’ll be here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — as long as it takes,” Gary Lonzo, a union organizer and former Wisconsin corrections officer, said Sunday as he watched protesters banging drums and waving signs here for a sixth day in a row. “We’re not going anywhere.”

As the protests went on through falling sleet and snow, some lawmakers suggested that a compromise might yet be possible over the cuts that Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has proposed. A spokesman for Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican senator, said that Mr. Schultz supported Mr. Walker, particularly in his assessment that the state budget situation was dire, but that Mr. Schultz also hoped to work to preserve collective bargaining rights.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Democratic State Senators are staying in Illinois until further notice.

“This is not a stunt, it’s not a prank,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach, one of the Democrats who drove away from Madison early Thursday, hours before a planned vote, and would say only that he was in Chicago. “This is not an option I can ever see us doing again, but in this case, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. What they want to do is not the will of the people.”

Either I missed this story completely, or the US corporate media ignored it. An exiled religious leader, Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has returned to Egypt after 50 years and may be trying to “stealing the revolution,” according to a retweet from Mona Eltahawy (h/t, Wonk the Vote). Quaradawi made a speech to more than a million people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday. During the rally,

Google executive Wael Ghonim, who emerged as a leading voice in Egypt’s uprising, was barred from the stage in Tahrir Square on Friday by security guards, an AFP photographer said. Ghonim tried to take the stage in Tahrir, the epicentre of anti-regime protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but men who appeared to be guarding influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi barred him from doing so.

Ghonim, who was angered by the episode, then left the square with his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.

Uh oh….

Remember Raymond Davis, who was arrested in Pakistan for shooting two Pakistani men on the street? He was more or less outed as a CIA agent during his trial. The U.S. has been trying to save him from murder charges by claiming he had diplomatic immunity. But the trial has gone on anyway, and now it’s definite that he’s CIA.

Raymond Davis has been the subject of widespread speculation since he opened fire with a semi-automatic Glock pistol on the two men who had pulled up in front of his car at a red light on 25 January.

Pakistani authorities charged him with murder, but the Obama administration has insisted he is an “administrative and technical official” attached to its Lahore consulate and has diplomatic immunity.

Based on interviews in the US and Pakistan, the Guardian can confirm that the 36-year-old former special forces soldier is employed by the CIA. “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. The revelation may complicate American efforts to free Davis, who insists he was acting in self-defence against a pair of suspected robbers, who were both carrying guns.

[….]

The Pakistani government is aware of Davis’s CIA status yet has kept quiet in the face of immense American pressure to free him under the Vienna convention. Last week President Barack Obama described Davis as “our diplomat” and dispatched his chief diplomatic troubleshooter, Senator John Kerry, to Islamabad. Kerry returned home empty-handed.

Many Pakistanis are outraged at the idea of an armed American rampaging through their second-largest city. Analysts have warned of Egyptian-style protests if Davis is released.

Oh dear, another diplomatic nightmare for our indecisive President to deal with. BTW, has he said anything about the bloody massacres in Libya yet?

The New York Post has a nasty takedown of Mitt Romney by Josh Kosman, author of a book on how private equity firms could cause the next economic crisis.

…the former private equity firm chief’s fortune — which has funded his political ambitions from the Massachusetts statehouse to his unsuccessful run for the White House in 2008 — was made on the backs of companies that ultimately collapsed, putting thousands of ordinary Americans out on the street. That truth if it becomes widely known could become costly to Romney, who, while making the media rounds recently, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that “People in America want to know who can get 15 million people back to work,” implying he was that person.

Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, bought companies and often increased short-term earnings so those businesses could then borrow enormous amounts of money. That borrowed money was used to pay Bain dividends. Then those businesses needed to maintain that high level of earnings to pay their debts.

Romney in 2007 told the New York Times he had nothing to do with taking dividends from two companies that later went bankrupt, and that one should not take a distribution from a business that put the company at risk.

Yet Geoffrey Rehnert, who helped start Bain Capital and is now co-CEO of the private equity firm The Audax Group, told me for my Penguin book, “The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Is Destroying Jobs and Killing the American Economy,” that Romney owned a controlling stake in Bain Capital between approximately 1992 and 2001. The firm under his watch took such risks, time and time again.

I’m going to leave you with this video from The Ed Show live in Madison, Wisconsin.

What are you reading and blogging about today?


Sunday Reads, It ain’t easy…

…being Wisconsin cheezy. Yes, its Sunday Morning and Minx here with your morning reads.

First off, if you missed Boston Boomers post late last night, go read it now…she has posted “some links to the important events that have taken place today in the many ongoing protests.”

If you are a Wisconsin Teacher you are having one hell of a time right now. It has been difficult watching these hard working public sector/state employees getting trashed on the news. The way these journalist and media celebrities talk, you would think these people are just like Marie Antoinette. Living the high life while the private sector folks work and pay for everything…leave out the fact that if the real rich Marie Antoinettes out there weren’t getting all those damn tax cuts…things would be a hell of a lot better for everyone.

Doctors are throwing their support behind the teachers.  You may have already seen this:

Wisconsin Doctors Tell Teachers: Call in Sick to Continue Protests – ABC News

Also from ABC News:

Largest Protest yet Fails to Sway Wis. Lawmakers – ABC News

And over at Huffpo, is this another “Beer Summit?”  As one of the supporters of Walker’s bill states:  “Beer is something we can all agree on.” Madison Puts The Civility Back Into Discourse

The slogans they had chanted had highlighted the stark differences that separated them.

“Kill the bill!” cried the opponents of Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut the pay and benefits of unionized public workers and sharply reduce their collective bargaining rights. “Pass the bill!” supporters of the proposal shouted back.

But aside from a few outsiders — like AFL-CIO chief Rich Trumka here to back opponents of the measure, and Andrew Breitbart, the conservative provocateur who appeared at the Tea Party-backed rally to support Walker — the people on hand were from Wisconsin itself and these neighbors were remarkably civil despite their sharp disagreements.

Wisconsonites are united, even in times like this, by many things, including a love of University of Wisconsin, Madison, athletics and the program’s strutting mascot Bucky the Badger; a devotion to the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers NFL football team; and, of course, a love of beer, brought to the state by its German settlers and honed by brewers whose names are part of American history: Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz.

So when the opposing rallies ended here on Saturday, many of the demonstrators retired to the numerous bars in the Capitol’s shadow, like The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant, with its 50 beers on tap — all from Wisconsin — and another 100 in bottles, 99 of them from the Badger state. The one other, from neighboring Minnesota, is listed under imports.

Over pints of Evil Doppleganger Double Mai Bock and Lost Lake Pilsner, knots of demonstrators debated the questions that have galvanized union employees across the country and brought the business of the state legislature to a standstill. Is Walker’s proposal part of the Republican’s effort to put the state’s finances in order, a repudiation of the state’s long history of progressive politics, or the latest example of that tradition?

Wisconsin HS Student schools Greta over Walker’s radical assault on Unions and even proposes raising taxes on the rich | Crooks and Liars

Middleton High school student Jacob Fiskel joins in the protests and explains to Greta van Susteren why it’s important that teachers and public workers do what they have to, even if they stay at home if they don’t want to lose their right to collective bargaining because of Gov. Walker’s outrageous proposal to try and destroy unions. He’s gone as far as reading the National Guard against them. I found it interesting that when Greta asked Jacob what the state should do to fix the budget problem, Jacob called out the rich. Now that’s shared sacrifice.

Greta: In terms of your state, do you have some suggestions on how to deal with your budget crisis?

Fiskel; Yes I do. I think we should really consider raising taxes on the rich. I know the argument is that it’s going to hurt small businesses, but with this plan you’re taking spending money away from teachers and public workers and small businesses are going to lose millions of dollars. But if we can raises taxes on the rich we can afford it and we can start to pay for our budget problems. Earlier Gov. Walker has already cut a hundred million dollars of corporate taxes and that’s one of the reasons why we’re in this mess.

Greta: What do you think is going to happen with those Senators in Illinois? DO you think they should stay in Il. or come back to Madison to vote on this?

Fiskel: I think they should do whatever is necessary for them to be able to talk with Gov. Walker and the Republicans to make sure that our demands are met and to make sure that the public workers of Wisconsin get the respect that they deserve?

Greta was not aggressive with Jacob and let him speak his mind. He even said that the actions Walker is taking would affect the quality of teachers and education on the whole state. Doesn’t Jacob make much more sense than let’s say, Rep. Paul Ryan?

Yes, this kid is smart and articulate…look how quick he is with answers.

Dakinikat has been covering Wisconsin so if you have not read her post, please check them out:

Death by Propaganda « Sky Dancing

And now for the Propaganda « Sky Dancing

On Wisconsin! (Breaking News) « Sky Dancing

Okay, one thing that seemed to come out of the Egyptian rising was just how impressive the reports from field journalist and reporters were.  Much more impressive than their counterparts reporting from comfy news studios.  Did you wonder what the affect of zero internet service had on these reporters during the revolt? What effect has the internet had on journalism? | Technology | The Observer

For Peter Beaumont, this newspaper’s foreign affairs editor, the revolution in Egypt revealed more than the power of the people in triumphing over repressive regimes; on a personal level, he discovered something new about his working practices.

Beaumont trained as a journalist in the days before the world wide web, but, like most of his profession, he has integrated new technologies into his news-gathering techniques as they’ve emerged. Covering the events in Cairo during the internet blackout in Egypt was like taking a step back in time.

“We went back to what we used to do: write up the story on the computer, go to the business centre, print it out and dictate it over the phone,” he says. “We didn’t have to worry about what was on the internet; we just had to worry about what we were seeing. It was absolutely liberating.”

Minx’s Missing Link: This article came out just last night, but it seems so interesting that I thought many readers would like to scan it over. Not to mention that cool picture of a camel swigging back a bottle of water. That is one talented camelid.

What does the Arab world do when its water runs out? | Environment | The Observer

A camel takes a drink in Jordan. The Middle East faces conflict if its water shortage is not tackled. Photograph: Neal Clark/Robert Harding Collection

Poverty, repression, decades of injustice and mass unemployment have all been cited as causes of the political convulsions in the Middle East and north Africa these last weeks. But a less recognised reason for the turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and now Iran has been rising food prices, directly linked to a growing regional water crisis.

The diverse states that make up the Arab world, stretching from the Atlantic coast to Iraq, have some of the world’s greatest oil reserves, but this disguises the fact that they mostly occupy hyper-arid places. Rivers are few, water demand is increasing as populations grow, underground reserves are shrinking and nearly all depend on imported staple foods that are now trading at record prices. [Guardian]

Easy Like Sunday Morning Link:

Was Charlie Chaplin a Gypsy? | Film | The Guardian

In a bomb-proof concrete vault beneath one of the more moneyed stretches of Switzerland lies something better than bullion. Here, behind blast doors and security screens, are stored the remains of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. You might wonder what more there is to know about Charles Spencer Chaplin. Born in London in 1889; survivor of a tough workhouse childhood; the embodiment of screen comedy; fugitive from J Edgar Hoover; the presiding genius of The Kid and The Gold Rush and The Great Dictator. His signature character, the Little Tramp, was once so fiercely present in the global consciousness that commentators studied its effects like a branch of epidemiology. In 1915, “Chaplinitis” was identified as a global affliction. On 12 November 1916, a bizarre outbreak of mass hysteria produced 800 simultaneous sightings of Chaplin across America.

Though the virus is less contagious today, Chaplin’s face is still one of the most widely recognised images on the planet. And yet, in that Montruex vault, there is a wealth of material that has barely been touched. There are letters that evoke his bitter estrangement from America in the 1950s. There are reel-to-reel recordings of him improvising at the piano (“I’m so depressed,” he trills, groping his way towards a tune that rings right). A cache of press cuttings details the British Army’s banning of the Chaplin moustache from the trenches of the first world war. Other clippings indicate that, in the early 1930s, he considered returning to his homeland and entering politics. [Guardian]

Give the rest of the article a read, it goes on to discuss the possible re-writing of The Tramp’s family history.

So what are you reading today? Anything positive? Don’t know about you, but I need a jolt of humanity about now.


Death by Propaganda

I’ve worked in both the public and private sector. I’ve also worked in union and non-union shops. Additionally, I was part of the collective bargaining process for community college instructors in a right to work state some time ago so I’m familiar with the process.  I’ve been a manager and economist that has done strategic budgeting and planning so I’m used to salary and benefit surveys even though I’ve no experience in HR.   I also check my facts before taking any one else’s words or wishful thinking.  It’s easy to look for a scapegoat for the budget woes of states.  The answer lies more in the nature of  governors and legislators getting to balance a budget when funds are pouring in than it does in the joy that some people appear to be getting by scapegoating public sector workers and their unions.

For some reason, there’s this idea floating around that public sector employees are raking in the bucks at every one else’s expense.  Also, there’s another canard out there that it’s public employees and their generous pensions that are breaking the back of state budgets.   I know that’s not really the case for several reasons.  The first one is that I know how the collective bargaining process works for a public employee because I’ve done it and the resultant salaries and benefits packages usually aren’t up to private sector levels.  It’s based on bringing a rubric of like institutions in like communities and like jobs  to the negotiating table.  You basically point to that rubric and say here’s the top, bottom, and middle salaries for people in similar jobs in similar institutions.  You point to their numbers and then you point to your institutions numbers and you suggest what it would take to put your institution in line with those averages. You  negotiate to averages.  You can’t negotiate to the best circumstance or you’ll be taken to labor “court” by management and the judges will force you to concede to a more reasonable position.  The only time I’ve seen institutions go for the top salary positions is when they’re making a concerted effort to increase their academic standards and recruiting like the Duke Business School did awhile back.  That, however, was a complete outlier.

As a union negotiator, you bring the rubric of institutions that would give your membership the best deal in the first round.  The institution brings the rubric of institutions that give them the best deal.  That rubric has to reflect similar circumstances to your membership.  You can’t compare yourself to Harvard if you’re not an Ivy league school.   You can’t compare yourself to Hawaii if you’re in the Midwest.  Your rubric has to be a set of  best matched institutions.

If everything works according to plan you negotiate a joint rubric that represents a middle ground and that middle ground will determine the end package that will likely stand for several years.  If you can’t get that done, you declare an impasse and go to the NLRB or some other government entity that decides which rubric you’re going to use and that settles the situation.  This happens with both benefits and salaries. It’s repeated every time negotiation year begins.  It’s not an outrageous process at all.  In the end, the membership either accepts it or rejects it. In my experience, teachers are generally pretty wimpy when it comes to accepting offers.  I loved negotiating at a combination technical and community college because the craft people were used to unions and negotiations and were pretty good negotiators.  The lead negotiator was a scrappy heating and air conditioning instructor of Italian and Sicilian heritage. I just loved talking strategy with him.  Usually, the academic faculty would roll over easily for any scraps.  This is a two way negotiating street.  It only works when both parties sit down and are willing to hammer out a deal.

The reason this is not working in Wisconsin right now is that one side is refusing to negotiate at all.  Not only that, but one side is changing the rules in the middle of the game.  If there is no offset, there is no middle ground.  This is the only way to get raises in public institutions.  I can tell you that since I left that situation and moved to public institutions in Louisiana where you don’t get raises unless you have a governor that’s willing to fight the legislature for an across the board raise for every one.    As a faculty, you live and die by whatever salary you got at the onset or you quit. In my experience, the best and the brightest do just that.   They bring their new offers and see if they’ll be matched.  If not, they move on.  I’ve seen  the institution then go to the job market and hire much younger and less experienced professors for much bigger salaries after not being able to offer even half that much to a recently tenured one. No one wants to be the one to offer a raise because every one will then want their salary raised to market level. It’s easier to let the good ones go instead.   This is especially true in the econ/finance areas and also engineering and computer science because you can easily go to Wall Street or the private sector and make major amounts of money.  If you’re represented by a negotiating unit,  you come out with a decent cost of living raise annually and if your particular job has had an increase in marketability, you’re salary will move closer to the market. You never approach a private sector equivalence.

I’ve never seen anything in the public sector remotely approach a salary you can get in the private sector.  The benefits tend to be better but the monetary compensation is almost always worse.  I’ve given you an example from the salary survey done by the AFT in 2010 in the table at the top. It reflects the national salary survey of 2010 done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which is the government’s data collector on labor markets.  That’s the same people that collect unemployment statistics and inflation statistics.  They have no ‘agenda’ but to collect the data.  Individual groups just use the data to learn what the going market rate is for public and private sector jobs.

Now, I want to give you examples of things from the state of Louisiana.  I’m going to use two resources.  First, is a search engine set up by The Times Picayune of all state employee salaries.  Use it to search out only one thing.  The job title clerk.  Clerks in state government have a union.  So, just stick clerk in the job title and submit.  You’re going to see there’s quite a few “pages” of clerk names, departments, and salaries.  Six lucky people on the first page make high salaries for having that clerk title.  The next group on the next few pages make between about $25,000 to $35,000 annually. You’ll see that the vast majority of these folks basically make around $15,000 -19,000 annually by the time you get pass about 3- 4 pages out of a total of 14 pages of names.  I would like to remind you that the poverty level for a family of four is $22,050 annually.  For a family of two it is 14,570 and for one person it is $10,830.  These levels are for the entire country.

There’s another graphic that you can check that shows exactly who the top paid employees are and how much they make.  I can assure you that none of these folks are covered by the state employees unions and none of them have any peers who have lower or higher salaries or benefits depending on when they entered service alone.  These people are mostly political appointees of the governor.  In this case, they are political appointees of Bobby Jindal.  I’m going to show you the graph that is relevant. (It’s down below this section.)   The salary structure is top heavy.  You can go back and search who has the top money. You will see that it is top university administrators and coaches. Even these salaries do not stack up to private sector CEOs or coaches. It isn’t the clerks that are making outrageous salaries and it isn’t their bargaining unit that is at fault for any of this. You’ll also see if you got that page that many state workers are attorneys, engineers, teachers, nurses and doctors.  These are professional people.  You cannot expect to recruit and retain the best professional, well-educated service workers if you do not offer them a competitive salary.  The most mobile ones will leave eventually if you don’t offer them raises and benefits commensurate with the private sector.  You can go to any of the BLS salary surveys and you will see what the AFT put in that nice graphic above year after year after year.  You will not get a compensation in the public sector that is more generous than the private sector at those levels of expertise. If there is a private sector ‘competitor’ for offering the job.  Believe it or not, not every one is an English teacher that might likely wind up as a waitress.  Here in New Orleans, most of the English teachers at my university would make better money if they’d wait tables or pour cocktails in the French Quarter.  The only difference is that English teachers get a pension and insurance and they get to do the job they love.


Okay, now I’m going to go all economist on you.  When you are a teacher, a firefighter, or a public health or safety worker, you face what is called a monopsony. That means there is likely to be one source of jobs and so you face the buyer’s version of a monopoly.  What this means is the chips will be stack against you coming out with a ‘competitive’ wage.  For example, how many forensic scientists do you suppose work outside of the local police departments?    You may face a number of municipalities that could hire you in this situation.  It is not, however, illegal for municipalities to collude on setting standards for salaries and benefits.  Hence, you may face the same situation in city after city.

There seems to be this mindset that public servants should be public slaves from some quarters.  Why should the clerk who fills out your driver’s license form be treated differently than the clerk that fills out your bank deposit slip?  Why this double standard that public employees can’t be represented by unions?  Well, first, I think many people still believe that public employees served by unions some how get a better deal than the others.  This generally is not the case for all things.  The only items that have held together for state employees that are not as available in the private sector tends to be the pension benefits and probably the insurance.  One of the reasons that the insurance tends to be not such a big deal is that many states self insure and they have huge pools of employees so they can be more generous with benefits at a lower cost.  I’ve generally lived in states where the biggest employer is the state.  That’s a lot of people and insurance gets cheaper as the pool grows larger.

I think one of the other reasons is that people in nonunion jobs feel helpless about their futures and they are angry that they really don’t have the same safety in numbers that you see with union shops.  You can’t be bullied by an employer when there is a union in place.  This does have a tendency to protect even the worst employee, but when you work for capricious bosses, and we all do, you’ll never be safer than when you have union representation.  You also are more aware of when your number will be up during downsizing and you will get a recall if they start rehiring if you’re a member of a union.  This type of job security is generally the most important thing to a state employee which is why they work for lower monetary compensation.  But again, why begrudge others what you could have if you’d just organize your work place?

I’ve been seeing way to many sites discuss ‘greedy’ teachers who selfishly walk out of the classroom to protest their right to organize.  I really don’t get this meme at all.  Wouldn’t you fight for your family’s livelihood if it were threatened?  Why are teachers supposed to be treated differently than any one else?

A Governor or any other publicly elected official isn’t just held to account on voting day. Democracy is a day-in-and-day out process.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was elected to handle the budget.  He immediately cut $117 billion in revenues coming from businesses and created a $130 billion deficit.   His answer to covering his self created deficit was to change the terms of thousands of previously negotiated commitments to public employees.  He backed out of the state’s commitment.  He’s also refused to remove the union busting portions of the bill in exchange for salary and benefit concessions.  How is this anything but dogmatic and unfair to state employees?  Who makes heroes out of people that break commitments?  Each of those families made plans based on the sanctity of the promise the state of Wisconsin  made to them.  They were part of the agreement and they should be part of renegotiating the agreement because that’s the rules of the game there.  Changing the rules of a game in the middle of play is cheating.

If Governor Walker was so interested in frugality, then he should’ve started by not passing those $117 million in tax breaks.  An election victory is not a blank check in a democracy.

Within days of becoming governor, Mr. Walker — who hung a sign on the doorknob of his office that reads “Wisconsin is open for business” — began stirring things up, and drawing headlines.

He rejected $810 million in federal money that the state was getting to build a train line between Madison and Milwaukee, saying the project would ultimately cost the state too much to operate. He decided to turn the state’s Department of Commerce into a “public-private hybrid,” in which hundreds of workers would need to reapply for their jobs.

He and state lawmakers passed $117 million in tax breaks for businesses and others, a move that many of his critics point to now as a sign that Mr. Walker made the state’s budget gap worse, then claimed an emergency that requires sacrifices from unions. Technically, the tax cuts do not go into effect in this year’s budget (which Mr. Walker says includes a $137 million shortfall), but in the coming two-year budget, during which the gap is estimated at $3.6 billion.

Democrats here say Mr. Walker’s style has led to a sea change in Wisconsin’s political tradition.

“Every other Republican governor has had moderates in their caucus and histories of working with Democrats,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state’s Democratic Party. “But he is a hard-right partisan who does not negotiate, does not compromise. He is totally modeled after a slash-and-burn, scorched-earth approach that has never existed here before.”

There’s some very interesting polls coming out of the Wisconsin protests.  Here is some poll analysis on unions and public unions from the CSM.

Asked about “when you hear of a disagreement between state or local governments and unions that represent government workers,” more Americans say their first reaction is to side with the union (44 percent) than with state or local governments (38 percent). And substantially more Americans see union contracts as ensuring that workers are “treated fairly” than as giving workers an “unfair advantage.”

Other polls have found mixed results. Here’s some coverage at Huffpo for the Pew poll cited above as well as a few others.   Either way, it’s interesting to note that Walker has some pretty strong ties to the notorious Koch Brothers. These trust fund babies spend a lot of John Bircher Daddy’s money trying to bust unions.  I don’t think this can be discounted either.

According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly.

When there is big corporate money in elections, there is only one offset these days.  That would be the money and free labored offered up by unions.  Undoubtedly, the public sector unions are some of the last big unions standing.  I can only imagine how much the Kochs and others would like to gut the fund raising and GOTV efforts of unions that are usually made available to candidates that thwart their Bircher plots.  After all, there’s very little standing right now to check the power and political donations of megacorporations.  This fact alone should make any one support the few unions left standing.  However, the bigger question remains.  Why do so many people begrudge public workers a voice in the terms of their employment?