Well-Armed Citizenry

The absolute key to making a democracy work is knowing what the fuck is going on in the first place. A well-informed citizen is well-armed. And myself, I loves me the mental image of Congresscritters staring down the barrel of a savvy constituent.

Since the MSM refuse to do their fucking jobs, it’s up to us. Ordinary people, doing extraordinary work, and making democracy happen.

We’ve emerged with a strong voice in elections via sites like Daily Kos. We keep up-to-date on goings-on through blogs like The Washington Monthly, Think Progress, and Talking Points Memo. We take action through Act Blue and Firedoglake. And we have unprecidented access to our upcoming President via Change.gov. But until now, we haven’t had a friendly, easy-to-use site dedicated to keeping us up on legislation before it hits the ground running fast enough to knock us over.

That’s why I’m thrilled with this discovery:

For those who want to keep a closer eye on what happens in our nation’s Capitol, Kagro X is ruling the roost over at Congress Matters — where we hope to do for the legislative process what we’ve been doing to the electoral one: democratizing it. Remember, once legislation hits the floor of the Senate or House, it’s usually too late for us to do anything about. That’s why the lobbyists hang out in the committee rooms, not the floor. Our goal with Congress Matters will be to keep a better eye on what’s happening in those committee rooms, identify pressure points, so we can direct our activism at the right time and place. The site should prove immensely important in 2009.


Forewarned is forearmed, my darlings. I intend to put Congress Matters to good use, and I hope you do the same.

Well-Armed Citizenry

Thowing Some Fodder Out for the Union Debate

There’s a minor dust-up going on in the comments section over the Employee Free Choice Act. I’m suitably impressed that Mike at the Big Stick returned to state his position clearly, give reasons for holding it, and furthered a conversation rather than merely spouting talking points and insults and then running away in a snit. Muchos gracias, Mike. That’s exactly the way I’d like to see it done.

Not that there’s been much of a conversation yet, and I’m too damned busy to hold up my end (not to mention, unions aren’t one of my hot buttons), but I figured I’d throw out a few bits here and let folks discuss if they like.

I myself am a happy member of a good union that keeps my company from playing silly buggers with me. Our union has prevented our jobs from being shipped overseas. Alas for another division of the company that decided they were too valuable to have to unionize, they received a choice: relocate to India or find employment elsewhere. Our union doesn’t run about pressuring folks about various and sundry, but our management made the wise decision to work with rather than against the union, so there’s not much need for campaigns. There is a vague possibility we might strike this year over health care, but the union’s working hard with arbitrators to try to avoid that while still ensuring we won’t see our healthcare benefits evaporate. Having worked for companies that aren’t unionized, I have to say it’s delightful knowing that the company can’t simply unilaterally decide to slash coverage while jacking up costs to us. And it’s been comforting to know that, should management try any funny business, I’ll have a union steward handy to help me navigate the byzantine corridors of policy and ensure that if I didn’t fuck up, I won’t get fucked over. For those reasons, I’m rather fond of unions myself.

I worked for a company that fought an effort to unionize tooth and nail. It was bitter, it was ugly, and it wasn’t honest. The Employee Free Choice Act would have kept them from plying their dirty tricks, while still enabling each side to advocate for its position.

Think Progress has been following the EFCA debate, and they’ve got a rather succinct description of what it does:

Despite conservatives’ claims to the contrary, the EFCA preserves the secret ballot election process established by the National Labor Relations Board. The law simply guarantees that workers also have the option to form a union through a “card-check” system in which a union would be recognized if a majority of workers signed a petition testifying to their desire to organize. Under current law, workers can only form a union via the card-check system if their employer agrees to allow it. Otherwise, the employer can insist on a union secret ballot election. Unfortunately, as Madland notes, “Employers legally can force workers to attend anti-union meetings, including ‘one-on-one conversations’ with supervisors” and “workers often are pressured by employers to reveal their private preferences for the union.” “This takes the ‘secret’ out of the ‘secret ballot,'” Madland writes. Even more disturbing is that in “25 percent of organizing campaigns, private-sector employers illegally fire workers because they want to form a union” and “even after workers successfully form a union, in one-third of the instances, employers do not negotiate a contract.” The EFCA would strengthen penalties for such labor law violations and prevent employers from delaying first-contract negotiations. While conservatives suggest that the EFCA card-check system is “anti-business,” “in a recent survey of employers who had used majority sign-up agreements, a majority reported that the agreements resulted in improved relations with the union, enabling management to achieve other bargaining or business goals.”

And they have a good capsule description of why unions can be a very good thing indeed:

The importance of unions to the American worker cannot be understated. Union workers earn 30 percent higher wages than nonunion workers. For women and people of color, union membership improves wages even more. As union membership has declined, so too have real wages. Meanwhile, top business executives earned “344 times the salary of the average American worker in 2007.” As Madland explained in the Washington Post, income inequality “is now at the level it was in the 1920s, when unionization rates were also below 10 percent.” Furthermore, when health care costs continue to rise, “workers in unions…are 63 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance” than nonunion workers. Union workers’ health insurance coverage is “far more comprehensive than that of nonunion workers” and “[u]nion workers pay 18 percent less in health care deductibles and a smaller share of costs for family coverage.” Finally, when union workers retire, they are more likely to have “a guaranteed, defined benefit pension.” 72 percent of union workers have such retirement benefits, “compared to only 15% of nonunion workers.” “Throughout our history, when unions are strong, wages go up, health care coverage improves and pensions are strengthened,” notes Change to Win.

Finally, it was brought home to me today why unions are so often necessary. The Screen Actor’s Guild could strike, and it’s because they’re not interested in getting raped up the arse by producers yet again (h/t):

Nearly half of o
ur earnings as union performers come from residuals, but management wants us to allow them to make programs for the Internet and other new media non-union and with no residuals. This means that as audiences shift from watching us on their televisions to watching us on their computers and cell phones our ability to earn a living will go away and future generations of actors may never be able to earn a living through their craft. This change will happen faster than you think.

To add insult to injury, management also insists that we eliminate force majeure protections from our contract. These protections have existed since the first SAG contract in 1937 and protect you when production stops as the result of an “act of God” like a natural disaster or a strike by another union, such as the WGA strike earlier this year. This is an enormous rollback that will leave actors without one of the most basic protections of a union contract.


Management claims this bad deal is necessary because they need to “experiment” with new media and they claim they will renegotiate these terms with us in the future. We have already agreed to most of management’s new media terms, however, and have proposed, in the areas where we still disagree, extremely flexible terms for new media based on our successful low budget theatrical contracts and our nearly 800 made-for-new media contracts with independent producers. Our terms will allow management the latitude to experiment using union actors.

And how can we believe that management will ever improve these new media terms when they still won’t improve the home video residual formula after 22 years? Right now all the actors on a given cast share 1% of the revenue generated through DVD sales because of a formula we agreed to in 1986 when management needed to “experiment” with home video. In this negotiation, we have asked only that management at least make pension and health contributions on DVD residuals, rather than making us pay them ourselves out of our paltry 1%. They have refused even that!

The basic cable residual formula was also negotiated early in the history of that medium to reflect the then “experimental” status of basic cable programming and pays only a small fraction of network television residuals. It is now over 20 years later, 27% of all television ad dollars are now spent on basic cable, and the basic cable formula still pays only a small fraction of network television residuals. Management simply does not have a history of ever ending their “experiments” and paying us fairly.

Unions allow employees to stop begging, “Please, not in the face!” and assert the right not to be smacked around. I’d love it if we could trust business to keep their employees’ interests high on their list of priorities, but the sad truth is, most don’t. Making it easier to unionize is a good thing for workers, even if workers like Mike prefer not.

Believe it or not, I do have some sympathy with Mike’s position. I can understand the desire not to unionize. But having been on both sides, and having now seen the benefits a union can secure, I have to put myself heartily in the Union Yes! category, a 180-degree turn from a few years ago.

And that’s Dana’s dos pesos. I am now moving on to other things, and I shall leave all you all to debate to your hearts’ content if you like.

Thowing Some Fodder Out for the Union Debate

I Am Civically Literate Enough to Write This Blog

I am nearly 100% qualified to opine on political and governmental issues. Ha!

And no, I didn’t cheat and Google the answers. If I had, I wouldn’t have missed bloody Question #7. Go see if you do better.

This is an interesting little project the ISI’s got. Their official survey – the one people can’t cheat on – shows that 71% of Americans fail the test. The average score for regular citizens is 49%. For people who held public office, it’s 44%. That’s just pathetic.

Here’s a finding that shows a dramatic confusion about religion in this country:

Seventy-nine percent of those who have been elected to government office do not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the U.S.

Only 24% of college graduates know the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States.

I think we need to get to edumicating people.

At least we know without taking the test that we’re likely smarter than average:

The civic knowledge gained from engaging in frequent conversations about public affairs, reading about current events and history, and participating in more involved civic activities is greater than the gain from a bachelor’s degree alone.

And people wonder why I didn’t opt for crushing student loan debt…

I Am Civically Literate Enough to Write This Blog

Truth and Reconciliation

If we can’t have war crimes tribunals, at least let us have this:

Getting a sense of what the nation doesn’t know about the Bush administration’s secrets is not only daunting, it’s hard to know where to start. In the soon-to-be-published December issue of the Washington Monthly, editor Charles Homans has a must-read cover story: “Last Secrets of the Bush Administration: How to find out what we still don’t know.”

The thought of revisiting this history after living through it for eight years is exhausting, and both President Barack Obama and Congress will have every political reason to just move on. But we can’t — it’s too important. Fortunately, an accounting of the Bush years is a less daunting prospect than it seems from the outset. If the new president and leaders on Capitol Hill act shrewdly, they can pull it off while successfully navigating the political realities and expectations they now face. A few key actions will take us much of the distance between what we know and what we need to know.

That these “few key actions” seem necessary is an understatement. Homans’ prescription — treat the Naval Observatory like a crime scene; quickly declassify the Bush administration’s deliberations and policy implementations (especially from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel); and use commissions instead of subpoenas — offers a realistic blueprint to policy makers on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Take a look.

Part of me is hoping against hope that the Hague decides to do what we don’t have the political stomach for, and will indict Bush et al for their war crimes and human rights violations. We can’t just pretend the last eight years didn’t happen. We used to hang people for less than what Bush and his buffoons did. Turning a blind eye is out of the question.

At least some sort of commission will lance the abcess. We need at least that much if we’re going to heal as a nation and regain our international health.

Truth and Reconciliation

Folks Who Won't Need "How to Talk to an Atheist"

PZ’s cheering on Catholics for Choice, who apparently borrowed my Smack-o-Matic 3000 when I wasn’t looking and used it to belabor Bill Donahue:

  • From the beginning, the Catholic League was marked by a schizophrenic attitude that would become its hallmark: It simultaneously argued for the right of conservative Catholics to impose their values in the public sphere, while arguing against the right of others in the public sphere to offer legitimate criticism of Catholics or Catholicism.

  • The Catholic League tactics are i) manufacture controversy; ii) try to intimidate the “enemy”; iii) bully the opposition; iv) complain early and often; v) attack popular culture; and vi) silence the loyal opposition.

I haven’t had a chance to read their full takedown, but judging from what PZ quoted, it’s a thing of beauty.

I thought of my heart sister NP when I read this. She’s one of the people who kept me from looking at Catholics as a whole with a jaundiced eye, and now she’s got a whole army’s worth of backup. These folks probably won’t need to read my book, but they’re the kinds of Christians I mean when I say Christians and atheists have plenty to talk about. I don’t mind standing shoulder-to-shoulder with religious folk against stupid, intolerant fuckwits.

In fact, I think we could all have a good time of it.

Folks Who Won't Need "How to Talk to an Atheist"

It's Official. The Republicon Party Is Not Smarter Than a Seven Year-Old

I heard earlier today that Obama has sent a thank-you letter to a seven year-old blogger, but I didn’t think there would be any substance to the story. I thought wrong.

I now think we may be looking at a future Democratic president, and no, I’m not being condescending (h/t):

Here is why I’m asking grown-ups to vote for Barack Obama. I am 7 years old so I can’t vote……

My mom told me that I shouldn’t base my election analysis on “feelings” (I like him/her) or “beliefs” (I share his/her beliefs) but on logical arguments. She asked me to create my own rational explanations for my support of Obama. Here is one of my arguments:

McCain and Palin are not be qualified to be President / Vice President of the U.S. The President’s job is to do good for the country and the world. To do good for the country, the President must make smart decisions on important situations.

Governor Palin believes the world is 6000 years old. This is absurd. This is not a rational belief. This is a mistake. Scientists, experiments and evidence have shown this to be completely false. Therefore, she is not rational. If she is not rational, she should not be allowed to be President or Vice President.

Please vote for Barack Obama.

No, he’s not just regurgitating his parents’ views. He researched both campaigns for a school assignment before coming to a reasoned conclusion. He really is that amazing.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that young Mr. Stas Gunkel is in the gifted program. I hope he never loses his passion for politics. This country needs people who can think this clearly – and if he’s this much smarter than the average Republicon politician at seven, just imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s old enough to hang out at the cantina.

A heartfelt tip o’ the shot glass to his parents, who are teaching their son the value of thought. And a hearty tip o’ the (non-alcoholic) shot glass to Stas for showing us all how it’s done. You ever need me to work for your future campaign, Stas, I’ll be ready.

It's Official. The Republicon Party Is Not Smarter Than a Seven Year-Old

Tristero Borrows the Smack-o-Matic

I think it’s melting:

Attention, all you Emily Post trolls who need smelling salts after encountering the nasty vicious netroots:

“Now, listen, I’ve voted ‘present’ two or three times in my entire 25-year political career, where there might have been a conflict of interest and I didn’t feel like I should vote,” Boehner said. “In Congress, we have a red button, a green button and a yellow button, alright. Green means ‘yes,’ red means ‘no,’ and yellow means you’re a chicken shit. And the last thing we need in the White House, in the oval office, behind that big desk, is some chicken who wants to push this yellow button.”

That’s right. John Boehner said Obama’s a chicken shit.

And this is why, girls and boys, all talk about a less toxic political atmosphere with the current Republican party is sheer nonsense. Oh sure, Obama – if we are lucky enough to wake up Wed and find him elected – could find a spare Hagel lying around, or a Jim Leach to nail into his Cabinet,and that’s probably a good idea in the long run. But the reality staring us straight in the face is that the leadership of the Republican party – and a huge GOP majority having influence in the party’s ideological and strategic direction -have no interest in anything remotely resembling bipartisanship.

And neither does anyone I know personally who’s supporting Obama. Not with these murderous, corrupt clowns. We want the extreme right and their agenda out of our national politics, driven back to the margins of American discourse where it belongs. Maybe someone out there truly yearns for a less nasty politics, but not me, not now. Not with extremists who call me “traitor,” who have listed my friends as some of the 100 most dangerous people in America or placed them on terrorist watch lists, and who, from their seat as a US Representative pronounce a candidate for the American presidency a chicken shit.

Since I’m sure our resident rightwing friends will take what I just said out of context, let’s be clear. I am not saying that a robust, vibrant, and bipartisan effort on serious issues will remain ipso facto impossible or is necessarily undesirable. Nor am I saying that Democrats and only Democrats always have the “right” answer to a problem – clearly they don’t. I am saying, however, that it is absolutely impossible with the Republican party as it is now, and in its forseeable paleolithic palinized future, for Democrats to work together productively with the extremists at the top of (and throughout) the party except on the most circumscribed of issues. To get anything serious done, they will have to be fought. And that will not be pretty. I see no reason for Dems to back down and plenty of reasons to respond tit for tat, with interest.

You cannot “work with” the extreme right, but you can defeat them.

There’s more. I’ve read the whole thing. Twice. And I have to say that Tristero captured my sentiments exactly.

The Republicon party is infested with religious fanatics, racists, ignoramuses, and chickenhawks. There’s hardly a sane person left in the bunch. They’ve become a crowd of spoiled toddlers throwing shit and tantrums when they don’t get their way. They have no idea what compromise is. They have no concept of working together for the greater good. They strut their bigotry and hate proudly, they’ve gotten away with far too much, and we cannot reward them now by treating them as equals in government. They are not. They had free reign for too many years, and we’ve seen what they’ve done to this country, bled and bankrupted it, destroyed our international standing and imperiled our future. And they’ll keep right on smashing and grabbing until we put a stop to them.

This election needs to be a resounding refutation of them. But that’s just the beginning. It’s after the election that the real work begins.

The Cons need to be schooled in civility. They need to be educated. The fanatics need to be stripped of their power and tossed to the side. The few respectable Republicans left need to be brought forward so that they can rescue the party from the rabid ratfuckers who usurped it, but for the most part, it’s going to be the Dems who will have to govern, without much input from the screaming rabble. When the Cons are ready to use their Big Boy voices, we’ll be ready to listen. If they keep up the misbehaving, they need to be spanked. The adults need to get firm with them, or they’ll never be fit for polite society.

In four years, or eight, or however long it takes for them to mature, then we can have genuine bipartisanship. We might even find a way to transcend political parties and do what’s right for this country and the world. Someday. But we’re in for a world of hurt if we believe someday is today.

They’re not ready. They need a long time-out first. It’s our duty as responsible adults to give it to them.

Tristero Borrows the Smack-o-Matic

Woozle's Glorious Open Letter to a Crazy Christian Lady

Our own Woozle wrote an open letter to that Jesus freak who believes gay-friendly schools should be bombed. It has only one weakness: it’s not getting the audience it should.

Dear crazy Christian lady,

I’m writing because you seem like a nice person except for certain things you have said which frighten me a great deal. I want you to understand that those things are not true, and that you believe them only because you and your family are being used by people who want you to be afraid of reality so that they can control you.

There are certainly plenty of things to be afraid of in this world, but non-heterosexuals are the least of your worries. Most non-heterosexuals have been teased and abused all their lives; they know how it feels to be hated, they know what it feels like to be hurt, and consequently they are much less likely to hate or harm you, your family, or your friends than someone who has not had these experiences.

Do homosexuals and transsexuals routinely vandalize the property of heterosexuals, threaten their families, assault them in the street, rape and murder them? No, but the reverse is certainly true; there are entire web sites dedicated to the ever-growing roster of innocents murdered by the sort of hate you are nurturing…

Woozle goes on to take her down on her own turf. This letter might even make a few God-blind buggers think about their faith, using the Bible to shake them out of their culture war complacency. If you ever get into a debate with people like Crazy Christian Lady, this letter will be an essential resource.

Go make good use of it.

Woozle's Glorious Open Letter to a Crazy Christian Lady

Is the Revolution Coming to America?

For those who didn’t see this in comments, Last Hussar linked to his fascinating post comparing the Labour Landslide in Great Britain to the Republicon party’s U.S. implosion, and believes we could be looking at a similar moment:

Current affairs and politics geeks in the UK will remember the question that was on all their lips on the 2nd of May 1997. “Were you still up for Portillo?”. I am beginning to wonder if the same sort of thing may happen on 6th November 2008 in the USA. For those too young, too foreign (in a nice way- I don’t expect you to follow every nuance of British politics), or just too disinterested at the time, allow me explain. The Conservative (aka ‘Tory’) Government of the mid/late 90’s was deeply unpopular, and deeply divided with the Europhobes threatening rebellion, and Tony Blair’s successful rebranding the Labour Party into ‘New Labour’, basically standing, in an ideological sense, as close as they could to the Tories to pick up their voters promised a landslide. What no one forsaw was the complete massacre of Tory Top Brass that happened.

Through out the night (Counting starts shortly after the polls shut at 10pm, with the first constituencies declaring at about 11pm) more and more Tory ‘heavyweights’ lost their seats. Political parties in the UK tend to try and get their most important MPs to stand in ’safe seats’, ones they would never lose. But in ‘97 deep unpopularity morphed into tactical voting, with voters for a party that would normally finish distant third throwing their votes behind the best placed non-Tory.

Then at 4am (and I stayed up to watch it) came the shock news. Micheal Portillo, a man touted as a future Tory Leader, had lost his ’safe’ Enfield seat to the unknown Stephen Twigg (Labour). Portillo had been expected to be a leading player, possibly even a leader, in the wake of the defeat every one predicted. Could this happen to the Republicans, facing not only defeat for President, but both Congress and Senate.

What follows gives me hope. Last Hussar has an intimate understanding of both British and U.S. politics, and as such is able to provide a panoramic perspective. It’s good to see this election through other eyes.

Is the Revolution Coming to America?

America: You Really Want Us to Love It or Leave It?

Cons have this cute little conversation-stopper they use when liberals and progressives are demanding improvements to America. “Love it or leave it!” they crow.

As if wanting to improve something means you don’t love it.

As if love means never questioning your country.

“Love it or leave it.”

All right.

What if we did?

What if we decided that, yes, the fact that America isn’t perfect means we shouldn’t live here anymore? What if every single liberal packed up and moved to a country with a saner political system tomorrow? What if we left America to the cons who “love” her?

I hope the cons didn’t love America for her blue skies and clean water. We progressives were the ones who ensured that those things were protected. The Republicons, with their big bidness buddies, will take all of the brakes off of pollution – Beijing’s air will start to look downright breathable compared to what will be left here. And it’s very hard to drink the water when it’s so polluted you can set it on fire, FYI.

I hope the cons didn’t love America for her abundant wildlife, her hunting and fishing, her wilderness. Because the Republicons, with their big bidness buddies, want to fill that wilderness with coal mines and oil wells and leave nothing but toxic waste behind. They’ll be happy to blast mountains apart and chop down every tree. Last I checked, the salmon and trout and deer and bears don’t rent apartments in city centers. And the cons will learn soon enough that the caribou love of oil pipelines is nothing more than a myth. They’ll find out just how much the progressives protected for their shooting pleasure.

I hope the cons didn’t love America for her opportunity. For every self-made man who becomes a multi-millionaire, there will be thousands toiling at thankless jobs, without the education or the assistance to have a shot at pulling themselves toward the upper middle. And those thankless jobs won’t include a minimum wage, so you’d best hope the corporate overlords will somehow find a heart and pay you enough to survive on. Don’t count on it, though – all of those whose compassion trumps their greed will have left. (That’s assuming all of the jobs haven’t been shipped overseas, mind you.)

I hope the cons didn’t love their Social Security, their health insurance, or any other program that the Republicons want to privatize. The progressives have tried to ensure that the government programs that keep us from starving or dying of preventable disease aren’t eviscerated. We won’t be here to save them.

I hope the cons didn’t love America for her innovation. The Republicons have never been fond of either funding or teaching science. The progressives have ensured that science education maintains some reasonable standards, and that science has money to innovate. Without us here, creationism will rule the schools, science funding will dry up, and Americans won’t be able to compete globally against people who have the education and the science to invent.

I hope the cons didn’t love America for her Constitution, or her freedoms, or her democracy. Without the progressives to protect those things, they won’t survive as anything more than a memory.

I hope the cons didn’t love America for her preeminent place in the world. After a few years of unfettered Republicon rule, America will be nothing more than a has-been bully. And she does not have the military might to bomb every nation into submission.

If everyone who loves America enough to want to make her the best she can be leaves tomorrow, there soon won’t be much left of her for the cons to love. Where would your “love it or leave it” rhetoric be then?

You’d better be godsdamned grateful we love America enough to stay.

America: You Really Want Us to Love It or Leave It?