April 16, 2011

Calling em like you see em

Usually this blog on weekends is devoted to silly stuff, with the heavy lifting saved for the week. Today, however, I can't help but break tradition and give a shout out to Congressman David McKinley, a Republican who represents West Virginia's First District.

Congressman McKinley was one of only four Republicans to vote against Congressman Paul Ryan's radical budget plan that would gut Medicare and severely damage Medicaid and CHIP while giving more tax breaks to the affluent.

I don't live in his district but felt led to call his Wheeling office to express my gratitude. His staff person told me that he promised long ago to protect programs for seniors and I remember that during his campaign he promised to act independently.

His courage and adherence to principles over partisanship and reality over ideology is very commendable. I would encourage anyone who lives in West Virginia, and especially those in his district to contact his office and express gratitude for his vote on this crucial issue.

April 15, 2011

Res publica

I'm not sure at what point I became a classics geek, but reading a book from my long-dead grandfather's bookshelf must have been a contributing factor. The book was one that has delighted readers for nearly 2000 years--and also inspired several of Shakespeare's plays.

I'm referring to Plutarch's Lives, which were really parallel biographical essays about prominent Greeks and Romans. Plutarch was a Greek scholar and official who lived from around 46 to 120 AD. His Lives weren't scholarly biographies, but great stories which aimed to extract moral lessons. He would compare and contrast two people who found themselves in similar situations.

Some of the characters, such as Theseus and Romulus, were more legendary than historical, but others were real people whose lives were well documented, such as Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

What surprised me about reading it was the fact that I liked the Romans a lot better than I thought I would. The Greeks were brilliant hot dogs but they couldn't keep it together for very long. The Romans had more staying power.

I've been thinking about the Roman Republic lately in light of current events. I am not one of those cranks who thinks that history repeats itself. But, as Mark Twain said, sometimes it rhymes. Here's the short version, which I might write more about later: the Roman Republic worked as well as it did because of a class compromise.

The Roman constitution was mostly unwritten, but it eventually granted some powers to the lower orders. The republic fell apart when the elite walked away from the compromise. While they enriched themselves and amassed huge land holdings, common people were often landless, heavily indebted, and unemployed. A period of protracted, almost gangland conflict ensued until Augustus was firmly established as undisputed emperor.

As an empire, it would endure for centuries--in the east part of it lasted until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. But the republic was long gone before Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC.

If extremists in Congress, like Paul Ryan for example, push through their agenda to gut Medicare and Medicaid and slash other programs that benefit people with low and moderate incomes to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy, this would signal the end of what's left of the American class compromise. I'm sure the empire could hang on for a while, but the republic would be seriously damaged.

A BETTER PLAN. The Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled its own plan, which includes investing in jobs and people.

DRAWING A LINE. Here's Paul Krugman on the president's budget proposal.

WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED? Ryan is a big Ayn Rand fan and requires his staff to read that stuff.

"GOVERNMENT BY PEOPLE WHO HATE YOU." Here's Dean Baker's take-no-prisoners analysis of the Ryan plan.

SAY WHAT? Here's an interesting item on the origins of human language.


April 14, 2011

Slouching towards Ragnarok

Recent political events have made me think of Naomi Klein's 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it, she argues that economic elites and their political allies have a pattern of taking advantage of natural or human-made disasters to push through an extreme agenda that would never fly in normal times.

We're seeing that unroll right before our eyes as extremists in Congress are taking advantage of deficit hysteria to push through a radical budget bill developed by Congressman Paul Ryan. Short version: it would gut Medicaid, dismantle Medicare and dramatically spending on programs that benefit ordinary Americans--while extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a webinar yesterday (I'm paraphrasing but it was pretty close to this) that when you look at the details, the Ryan plan is more about redistributing wealth upwards than reducing the deficit.

If this goes through, it would basically be closing time for the middle class.

However, there is something you can do. The Coalition on Human Needs is urging people to call their representatives toll free at:


and deliver a message something like this:

I am a constituent and I strongly urge you to vote NO on the House Budget Committee's Budget Resolution. It would slash Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, education... in fact, all the investments that help Americans to be economically secure. It denies vital help for low-income and middle class people while giving trillions of dollars in tax cuts to millionaires and big corporations. Please reject these extreme proposals - they would weaken federal protections in a recession and stall economic growth for us all.

The House is likely to vote on the measure this week so now is the time.

OBAMA'S PLAN. Here are reactions to the president's deficit reduction proposals from Dean Baker with the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

WEST VIRGINIA AND THE CIVIL WAR. Here's an item about our progressive past from the Washington Post.

ON THE OTHER HAND, here's an item from the New York Times about our not-so-progressive present.


April 13, 2011

Just kidding

We once again interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to announce new arrivals at Goat Rope Farm.

Yesterday morning, Juno, daughter of caprine doyenne Arcadia S. Venus, was herself delivered of two kids representing respectively both the male and female persuasion.

I'm not sure what's gotten into the female goats around here...

WHAT WAS CUT IN THE LAST BUDGET DEAL: a lot, for ordinary people. And that's just the start of it.

A MODEST PROPOSAL. This NY Times item suggests that if Congress did nothing about the deficit things would get better--by letting Bush era tax cuts die.

AYN RAND AND PARENTHOOD. They don't seem to go too well together.

JUSTICE IS BLIND (BUT TIME OF DAY MATTERS). A study of parole hearings found that whether you get it or not may depend to a surprising degree on what time of day your case is heard.


April 12, 2011

Round and round

One economist I try to follow is Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. I've learned a lot from several of his works, including a study of how abundance of natural resources affects economic growth, and such books as The End of Poverty and Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. (I even used the latter as a textbook in a college class I taught.)

This piece by Sachs in the Huffington Post caught my eye. And this quote jumped off the page:
In the end, we have gotten from President Obama what we feared from Senator McCain: an expanded war in Afghanistan, an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, sharp cuts in spending for communities and programs for the poor, a continuation of Guantanamo and military tribunals, unchecked bankers' pay and bonuses, and enough loopholes to reduce corporate taxes to less than 2 percent of GDP this year, despite a boom in corporate profits.
Yippee! Not.

That's not the whole story. But, alas, it is part of it.

ALONG THOSE LINES, here's a political rant.

DEALING WITH BULLIES. Capitulation doesn't work too well.

RISKY BUSINESS. The House Republican plan to gut Medicare carries political risks.


FRACK! Marcellus shale drilling methods might wind up polluting more than burning coal.


April 11, 2011

Goats versus picnic tables

Don't bet on the picnic tables.

WHERE'S THE BEEF? Krugman takes the president to task again here.

TALKING SENSE. This op-ed by some friends of mine talks sense about taxes, budgets and deficits.

JAWING AROUND. A Kentucky coal miner found the jawbone of a 300 million year old shark 700 feet underground.

AUTHOR CHRIS HEDGES spoke in Charleston WV this weekend about the decline of liberal institutions.

UNION SUPPORTERS rallied at the state capitol Sunday as well. El Cabrero was on the way when the fan belt died in my old car.

BOUNCE BACK from stress if you want to live to be 100