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WAKE UP and see exactly what happened in Wisconsin while you were sleeping
02.25.2011
11:29 am

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At least we’re still waking up on the west coast…
 

 

The Wisconsin state Assembly on Friday passed a Republican plan to curb public sector union power over the fierce objections of protesters, setting the stage for a showdown with Senate Democrats who fled the state last week to prevent a vote in that chamber.
After two all-night debating sessions and an eleventh hour Democratic bid for a compromise, the Republican-dominated Assembly abruptly ended all debate early Friday morning and approved the bill by a vote of 51 to 17.

The outcome of the vote, which was taken so fast many Democratic lawmakers who were outside the chamber when it was called were unable to participate, was greeted by chants of “it’s not over yet” and “we are here to stay” from more than a thousand protesters who stayed to watch in the capitol rotunda overnight.

 
Here’s the reaction from pro labor demonstrators in the gallery:
 

This is video from the gallery of the WI Assembly past 1 AM in the morning on 2/25/2011. The Democrats have just been told by the speaker pro tempore there will be no more debate before the vote, even though there were more than a dozen Democrats in the queue to speak. They shout “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The public citizens in the gallery were shortly told to leave by police. None of the public were allowed in the gallery at the time of the vote.

 

 
Today’s gonna be interesting!

Via Joe. My.God

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The relationship between the labor movement and wealth creation in America
02.23.2011
06:15 pm

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This is a guest editorial from Dangerous Minds reader Em, expanding on some pointed commentary he’s made elsewhere on this blog. Em—who’ll keep his last name to himself, thank you very much—works in the financial industry.

Many commentators have attempted to draw parallels between the Egyptian protestors in Tahriri square and the protestors in Wisconsin’s state capital, where the republican governer Walker has introduced legislation that would (among other things) remove the right of state workers to collectively bargain. Such commentators have done a better or worse job, but in any event didn’t appear all that convinced by what they had written, despite the feeling that there at least seemed to be similarities that could not be explained by coincidence alone. Of course, the protestors in Egypt are largely (but not exclusively) Muslim, and live in a developing economy that has never experienced first-world standards of living, while the Wisconsin protestors are predominantly white and hail from families that have experienced first-world standards of living for several generations. It would appear, therefore, that any similarities are superficial and any comparison between the two groups more poetic rather than substantive.

What the protestors in Tahriri Square as well as the public Union workers in Winsconsin have in common is the rejection of a commonly repeated narrative about how wealth is created. In this commonly repeated narrative, it is necessary to concentrate capital in the hands of a few, who will then use that capital to create businesses and generate wealth, which will trickle down to the many. In order to get this alleged wealth-pump moving, impediments to wealth concentration such as labor movements must be removed, and indeed (according to the common false narrative), the history of wealth generation in developed countries such as the USA is precisely the history of overcoming these pesky impediments. What the protestors in both Wisconsin as well as the Arab world have done is reject that narrative as well as the bogus and half-baked economic theory that is often sold as part of it.

A corrollary to this theory of wealth generation is that civil liberties such as free speech are a luxury, and should be suspended for the sake of the greater good, until wealth starts to flow and incomes rise significantly. This is a particularly pernicious part of the package, because no doubt countless men and women workers have resigned themselves to a life of incredible toil in order to (they believe) move their society forward. Inequities, injustices as well as the suspension of civil liberties were tolerated because they appeared necessary to move their country ahead into greater levels of wealth for everyone.

What the third world protestors in Tahriri Square and elsewhere in the Arab world have done, along with their compatriots in the Wisconsin State Capital, is reject this set of lies and the false either/or choice it presents of civil liberty versus economic progress. Though they may not be able to articulate it, the protestors have finally looked upon the general character of those that hold the levers of power and chose to regard the false choice they have proferred as a lie, which it is.

The first part of this larger-scale lie is that Labor has played no significant role in the generation of wealth in the developed world. In fact, empowering workers has been equated with command-driven soviet and communist models, which were arguably equitable by making everyone equally poor. In this narrative, the US has generated its unprecedented wealth precisely by defeating the evil specter of organized labor. Wealth, it is told, has been created by allowing capital to be concentrated into the hands of the wealthy, who best know how to wield it, thereby creating jobs and new wealth. What is not stated in this view is that the wealthy classes are regarded as almost a divine class, having been born (and not made) and appointed by God.

The reality, of course, is different. In developed economies, the vast majority of wealth has been created in the last hundred years or so. Scratch any millionare and you will see someone with fairly working-class roots, though perhaps it’s necessary to go back a generation or two. But the point is that wealthy individuals and families were not always wealthy, but got that way through a combination of risk-taking, hard work, capital investment, and luck. In other words, wealthy people were made and not born, and accumulated their wealth initially as members of the working class.

That wealthy people are the primary engine of job creation is demonstrably false, the evidence of which is readily found in the results of Bush’s tax cuts. The argument from the so-called right continues to be that, in placing more capital in the hands of the wealthy, jobs will be created and wealth will flow down and tax revenues will necessarily increase. However, the reality is the opposite: the fact that Bush’s tax cuts left Barack Obama with a significant deficit (even prior to the bank bailouts) is proof that this idea is at best flawed and at worst a lie: Jobs and wealth are not created by the few but, rather, by the many. This suggests that America’s Labor Union movement of the early 20th century may have been responsible for a large percentage of wealth generation, in that it placed an unprecedented abundance of capital into the hands of the middle class.

An interesting set of facts to examine is how certain pro-labor developed economies have performed during the 2008 fiscal crisis. Looking at two of Europe’s most labor-dominated economies, Sweden and Germany, we find that these two countries fared far better than most other european economies that had far less enrollment in labor unions. Although Germany (with 26% union enrollment) has taken on an approximately 4.5% deficit (compared to GDP), it has done so in order to come to the aid of Greece and other troubled economies in the EEU, while planning to return to the black by 2012. Sweden (at approximately 75% union enrollment), likewise, has deliberately taken on a temporary deficit in order to assist with the bailout of Iceland. It would appear, therefore, that the countries with some of the heaviest union pariticpation in the world sailed through the fiscal crisis with nary a scratch. The conclusion is that the working classes in these countries actually contributed significantly to economic stability and growth, and that the labor movements therein allowed capital to be placed into the hands of many, resulting in the generation of real economic growth and wealth.

Meanwhile, in the US, we have the opposite: Falling union enrollment and huge budgetary deficits incurred during the fiscal crisis. Given the budgetary deficits that existed as a result of the Bush tax cuts, is it still reasonable to conclude that placing more capital into the hands of the wealthy will actually result in additional job creation? The circumstantial evidence says no, but a deeper analysis reveals that such an assumption may have actually brought about the fiscal collapse itself.

As union enrollment collapsed in the US and real wages declined, capital fled the middle class which therefore also lost the ability to generate new small-to-medium-sized businesses. Partially as a result of weakened labor, both manufacturing as well as service jobs were moved overseas thus further depleting capital resources from the middle class along with job creation. As capital concentrated into the hands of the wealthy (who had no place to put it), they sought new opportunities and found them in the form of tthe American dream: Home ownership. Because real economic growth was rapidly draining out of the middle class, Wall Street stepped up to the plate and created new financial instruments designed to allow the wealthy to invest in what would have otherwise been very risky deals. Through the creation of a whole plethora of derivative securities (such as Collateralized Debt Obligations), the underlying riskiness of the ‘sub-prime’ housing market was in effect trapped and tamed, thereby allowing fund managers to invest in double-A rated securities magically derived from large groups of underlaying risky mortgages.

An obvious and inherent problem in this risky housing market was that it was essentially a big game of musical chairs: I would borrow money to buy your house, while you borrowed money to buy mine. We now had houses that were worth more than we bought them for, so we did it again. And again. And again. If this feels unreasonable and like a perpetual motion machine, you are correct: this couldn’t continue, and it didn’t. As for those AA-rated CDOs, they fell apart as they had not been stress-tested for scenarios like, well, reality. On Wall Street no one had wanted to know what the real risks were, because Basel II rules would have required the banks to hold far large amounts of capital in reserve, making the CDOs and other derivatives not worth the risk.

In a sense, then, it could be argued that the failure of the banking system was caused directly by the flight of capital away from the working and labor classes, and due to the overconcentration of capital in the hands of the wealthy few, who did not know what else to do with it. An unregulated Wall Street did exactly what it was supposed to do (create new investment vehicles that direct capital at new opportunities), and any dissenting CEO would be quickly replaced.

One important conclusion to draw from this is that, by empowering workers and trade unions, capital is placed into the hands of the many and, through this means, new wealth is generated. The idea that strong labor merely communistically disperses capital (thereby making everyone poor) is a lie. Of course, the demise of the Soviet Union and larger-scale failure of command economies tempts one to believe that labor is somehow an enemy to wealth, but this is simply untrue and is an untruth that has been weaved into a strategy of divide-and-conquer as well the suspension of civil liberties.

Wisconsin is similar to Tahriri Square in that the vast majority of working people have recognized that the commonly-chanted narrative of organized labor as enemy of wealth is a lie. In both cases, the People have recognized that the choices being offered are not the only choices, and that the suspension of civil liberties actually means the continued poverty of most, while a small number of extremely wealthy people look for ways to utilize their uselessly huge piles of capital. If this is the case, then why sacrifice freedom of speech or the right to assemble or collectively bargain? All this can do is needlessly continue suffering while strengthening the State, which gets drafted into serving a small minority. It is that minority that believes that wealth is a zero sum game, even though it isn’t, and that empowering others necessarily means a loss of wealth for ones’ self, even though it is precisely through the widespread availability of capital that new wealth is created.

About the author: Em was a founding member (with John Cale and others) of the New York punk band Doppler Effect in the early 1980s. After living in China in the late 80s, Em worked in the physics and electrical engineering space until 2002, at which time he moved into the financial world. In July, Em returned to the US after having lived in London since 2006 and is a member of the UMOUR art/event collective. He blogs at The Magic Lantern, his"litterbox of the soul.”

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Firesign Theatre: Duke of Madness Motors
02.23.2011
05:29 pm

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Peter Bergman and Firesign Theatre producer and archivist, Taylor Jessen, discuss the newly released box set of Firesign Theatre radio shows (1970-72), Duke of Madness Motors, featuring over 80 hours of MP3 audio on a DVD-ROM and a 108 page full-color book! Order your copy of Duke of Madness Motors today, because there are only 200 copies left and it’s unlikely to ever be reprinted.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Witch Dr. Head Shrinkers Kit’
02.23.2011
04:49 pm

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Here’s a delightful late-‘60s TV commercial for a shrunken head kit from Pressman Toy Corporation. Pressman says, “Now, shrunken heads for all occasions, collect ‘em, swap ‘em, give ‘em to your witch doctor friends. You can always cook up more with Pressman’s Witch Dr. Head Shrinkers Kit.”

 
(via Nerdcore )

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Malcolm X assassinated on this date in 1965
02.21.2011
11:46 pm

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On February 21, 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated by three members of the Newark chapter of the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammed.

The New York Post published this eye witness account by reporter Thomas Skinner on February 22, 1965:

I Saw Malcolm X Die.

They came early to the Audubon Ballroom, perhaps drawn by the expectation that Malcolm X would name the men who firebombed his home last Sunday, streaming from the bright afternoon sunlight into the darkness of the hall. The crowd was larger than usual for Malcolm’s recent meetings, the 400 filling three-quarters of the wooden folding seats, feet scuffling the worn floor as they waited impatiently, docilely obeying the orders of Malcolm’s guards as they were directed to their seats.

I sat at the left in the 12th row and, as we waited, the man next to me spoke of Malcolm and his followers: “Malcolm is our only hope,” he said. “You can depend on him to tell it like it is and to give Whitey hell.” Then a man was on the stage, saying: “. . . I now give you Brother Malcolm. I hope you will listen, hear, and understand.”

There was a prolonged ovation as Malcolm walked to the rostrum past a piano and a set of drums waiting for an evening dance and stood in front of a mural of a landscape as dingy as the rest of the ballroom. When, after more than a minute the crowd quieted, Malcolm looked up and said, “A salaam aleikum (Peace be unto you)” and the audience replied “Wa aleikum salaam (And unto you, peace).”

Bespectacled and dapper in a dark suit, his sandy hair glinting in the light, Malcolm said: “Brothers and sisters . . .” He was interrupted by two men in the center of the ballroom, about four rows in front and to the right of me, who rose and, arguing with each other, moved forward. Then there was a scuffle in the back of the room and, as I turned my head to see what was happening, I heard Malcolm X say his last words: “Now, now brothers, break it up,” he said softly. “Be cool, be calm.” Then all hell broke loose. There was a muffled sound of shots and Malcolm, blood on his face and chest, fell limply back over the chairs behind him. The two men who had approached him ran to the exit on my side of the room shooting wildly behind them as they ran. I fell to the floor, got up, tried to find a way out of the bedlam. Malcolm’s wife, Betty, was near the stage, screaming in a frenzy. “They’re killing my husband,” she cried. “They’re killing my husband.” Groping my way through the first frightened, then enraged crowd, I heard people screaming, “Don’t let them kill him.” “Kill those bastards.” “Don’t let him get away.” “Get him.”

At an exit I saw some of Malcolm’s men beating with all their strength on two men. Police were trying to fight their way toward the two. The press of the crowd forced me back inside. I saw a half-dozen of Malcolm’s followers bending over his inert body on the stage, their clothes stained with their leader’s blood. Then they put him on a litter while guards kept everyone off the platform. A woman bending over him said: “He’s still alive. His heart’s beating.” Four policemen took the stretcher and carried Malcolm through the crowd and some of the women came out of their shock long enough to moan and one said: “I don’t think he’s going to make it. I hope he doesn’t die, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

I spotted a phone booth in the rear of the hall, fumbled for a dime, and called a photographer. Then I sat there, the surprise wearing off a bit, and tried desperately to remember what had happened. One of my first thoughts was that this was the first day of National Brotherhood Week.”

Gil Noble, producer and host of the public affairs program Like It Is, directs and narrates this heartfelt documentary on Malcolm X.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Nina Simone: in the name of freedom
02.21.2011
11:39 pm

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Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born 77 years ago today in the tiny town of Tryon, North Carolina. As Nina Simone, she’d go on to become the most powerful singer/songwriter of the Civil Rights era, blending the rawest aspects of jazz, blues, soul, and gospel into a unique style that buoyed her message of liberation.

As a generation of despots falls in the Middle East and people confront the forces of greed in Wisconsin, it seems apropos to recall what Simone bestowed on the world…
 

 
After the jump: Simone repossesses the Beatles’ “Revolution” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in the name of avant-garde freedom blues…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
The changing face of London during the Swinging Sixties
02.21.2011
07:36 pm

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These two short films from Rank’s classic Look at Life, hint at two of J G Ballard’s preoccupations - high rises and cars.

“Rising to High Office”, made in 1963, examines the development of high rise corporate life; while “Goodbye Piccadilly” looks at the planned redevelopment of the famous London landmark at the start of the sixties that intended to create a “double-decker” Piccadilly Circus, with a new pedestrian concourse above the ground-level traffic. The plans were lasted for most of the decade, but were killed off in 1972 when it was discovered the plans would not help the required increase in traffic flow.

Amazing quality and in fabulous color, they capture a little seen aspect of the changing face of London during its most famous decade.
 

 
Previously on DM

London in the sixties: 2 groovy films on fashion and cafe culture


 
High Rise London in the swinging sixties, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Reagan: The critics speak 2
02.20.2011
10:20 am

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All observations made during his presidency, except for Edmund Morris’s recollection from the recent HBO documentary:

“A high-powered cheerleader for our worst instincts, a nasty man whose major talent is to make us feel good about being creepy and who lets us pretend that tomorrow will never come.”
     —Activist Roger Wilkins

“His answer to any questions about young men being killed for some vague and perhaps non-existent reason in Central America has been to smile, nod, wave a hand and walk on.  And America applauds, thus proving that senility is a communicable disease.”
     —Columnist Jimmy Breslin

“Poor dear, there’s nothing between his ears.”
     —British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

“I dig the cat. He’s spontaneous. A lot of times he’ll blurt stuff out – I can relate to that.”
     —Van Halen replacement lead singer Sammy Hagar

“Reagan swaggering around. Poor old thing! He’s about as masculine as Marjorie Main. He was never a symbol of masculinity – though he sort of plays it ... There is something rather grandmotherly about Reagan. And then again, he’s rather boyish. Between the two, he comes off as non-threatening ... He isn’t popular. There isn’t anything about his policies anybody likes. The pollsters’ questions are so dumb: ‘Do you find him a nice old thing who makes you feel good when he honks away on the box?’ ‘Yes, he’s a nice old thing who makes me feel good when he honks away on the box.’ Well, that isn’t an endorsement of war in Nicaragua.”
     —Author Gore Vidal

“His errors glide past unchallenged ... The general message of the American press is that, yes, while it is perfectly true that the emperor has no clothes, nudity is actually very acceptable this year.”
     —British journalist Simon Hoggart

“The difficulty about figuring Reagan out was he was not introspective.  Therefore, to try and interview this guy, who was so incurious about himself, was very unrewarding.  He would tend to take refuge behind anecdotes and jokes, but when I tried to probe him about fundamental things – his religious beliefs, his feelings about women and children – I just got this echoing sound that I was talking into a large, rather cool cave.”
         —Reagan biographer Edmund Morris

Excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor, available here as an enhanced eBook.

Below, Ronald and Nancy Reagan like drugs. A lot.
 

Posted by Paul Slansky | Leave a comment
Reagan: The critics speak
02.18.2011
08:30 pm

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History

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As I wind up my two weeks on Dangerous Minds, my last two posts consist of my favorite observations by others, offered during his presidency:

“Ronald Reagan is merely an anthology of the worst of American popular culture, edited for television.”
     —Media critic Mark Crispin Miller

“God, he’s a bore. And a bad actor. Besides, he has a low order of intelligence. With a certain cunning. And not animal cunning. Human cunning. Animal cunning is too fine an expression for him. He’s inflated, he’s egotistical. He’s one of those people who thinks he’s right. And he’s not right. He’s not right about anything.”
     —Director John Huston

“I would never refuse an assignment unless it completely repelled me. ... A national magazine asked me to go to Santa Barbara to photograph the President at his ranch. Well, I hate Santa Barbara and, far worse, I hate Reagan. I can’t ignore my feelings and just make a pretty picture.”
     —Photographer/environmentalist Ansel Adams

“It takes deep bravery to be fearless about one’s own hypocrisy. Politicians of average duplicity cower at being found out. Not Reagan.”
     —Columnist Colman McCarthy

“Look at the Reagan of the 1930s: a no-talent jerk with looks, charm, and a line of blarney who talks himself into one cushy job after another ... Then come the 1950s. In return for his manful anti-communistical efforts in the screen actors’ union, the pimps, procurers, and purveyors of popular culture who own stage, screen and radio arrange for him to be paid off with a job selling General Electric toasters on TV and smarmy right-wing politics on the chicken-croquette circuit. How humiliating to think of this unlettered, self-assured bumpkin being our president.”
     —Journalist Nicholas von Hoffman

“If we told Reagan to walk outside, turn around three times, pick up an acorn, and throw it out to the crowd, we’d be lucky to get a question from him asking, ‘Why?’”
     —Unnamed White House aide

“He’s melting. No one’s noticed yet, but he is melting. We’re talking about a semi-solid mass with dark hair. If the Democrats had come out and just said, ‘He’s melting,’ I think they would have done much better.”
     —Actress/writer Carrie Fisher

Excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor, available here as an enhanced eBook.

Posted by Paul Slansky | Leave a comment
Reagan answers some questions about the Arms-for-Hostages scandal
02.17.2011
04:40 pm

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History

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Some highlights from President Reagan’s March 19, 1987 press conference, at which he finally answered questions that had built up in the four months since the Iran-contra scandal broke:

“... I don’t know ... I don’t know ... I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was ... I did not know at that time that there was any money involved. I only knew that ... All we’d learned ... Helen, I don’t know. I only know that ... All that I know ... Sam, all I know is that ... I can’t remember ... There are other people that don’t remember either ... I did not know that I had said it in such a way ... I didn’t realize that I had said that ... We didn’t know ... I didn’t know how far we could go ... I still do not have the answer ... It was a complete surprise to me ... We’re still waiting for that to be explained ... I don’t know ... I don’t know ...”

Excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor, available here as an enhanced eBook.

 

Posted by Paul Slansky | Leave a comment
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