The myth of the $70/hour auto worker

Keith Olbermann, at 1:42, names Andrew Ross Sorkin of NYT Worst Person in the World for inventing the myth of the $70/hour auto-worker. Short version: add all Big Three liabilities, including retiree pensions and benefits, current benefits including health care, and actual wages, then divide by current worker/hours. Ta Da!

Eric Boehlert at MediaMatters also deconstructs the myth, excerpted here, at length:
It's been one week since New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that at General Motors, "the average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

The nugget was part of a column in which Sorkin argued that the government should not bail out the ailing Big Three automakers and that they instead should embrace bankruptcy.

Sorkin's point was that labor costs were out of control -- workers enjoyed "gold-plated benefits" -- and that during bankruptcy, the auto companies could address those runaway wages.

As I mentioned, it's been one week since the column appeared, which seems like plenty of time for Sorkin and the Times to correct the misleading $70-an-hour claim. But to date, there's been no clarification from the newspaper of record or from Sorkin himself.

And he isn't alone. Appearing on NPR last week, Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard told listeners that the "hourly wage" of Detroit's union autoworkers had been driven up "towards $80 an hour."

Somebody at the Times needs to clarify the record, because the average United Auto Workers member is not paid $80 an hour. Or even $70. Not even close. Yet (thanks to the Times?) the issue has become a central talking point in the unfolding national debate about the future of America's automotive industry.

Indeed, that $70-an-hour meme, actively promoted by the anti-union conservative media, has ricocheted around the traditional press as well as the political landscape, where it was picked up by congressional critics last week during hearings and used to argue against aiding GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
. . .
Question: Is the press just being sloppy on this issue of supposedly pampered autoworkers, or are there other elements in play? Because honestly, I've had trouble escaping the not-very-subtle elitist, get-a-load-of-this tone that has run through the media's misinformation on the topic; i.e., "These autoworkers get paid that?!"

Answer: No, they don't, so please stop reporting it. (And why has the press been so reticent to note that Big Three autoworkers recently made significant concessions to management?)

And it's funny, because I don't remember hearing much coverage in the press about AIG workers' six- and seven-figure salaries when the U.S. government announced it was bailing out the insurance giant. And I haven't seen or heard a single press reference to the annual salaries pocketed by Citigroup employees, even though the government has moved in quickly to bail the banking giant out of a hole its executives dug.

As Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) pointed out during congressional hearings last week, "There is apparently a cultural condition that's more ready to accept aid to a white-collar industry than the blue-collar industry, and that has to be confronted."

That cultural condition seems to extend to, and be embraced by, today's white-collar press corps.

Make no mistake: The $70-an-hour claim represents a classic case of conservative misinformation. It's also a very dangerous one. The falsehood about autoworkers is being spread at a crucial time, when a make-or-break public debate is taking place, a debate that could affect millions of American workers.
. . .
What that $70 figure (or $73) actually represents is what it costs GM in total labor expenses, on an hourly basis, to manufacture autos.

Do you see that there's a big distinction? General Motors doles out $70 an hour in overall labor costs to manufacture cars. But individual employees don't get paid $70 an hour to make cars. (The discrepancy between costs and wages is explained by additional benefits, pension fees, and health-care costs GM pays out to current and retired employees.)

Simply put, GM's labor costs are not synonymous with hourly wages earned by UAW employees. Many in the press have casually used the two interchangeably. But they're not.

Felix Salmon at Portfolio did perhaps the best job explaining the misinformation at play:

The average GM assembly-line worker makes about $28 per hour in wages, and I can assure you that GM is not paying $42 an hour in health insurance and pension plan contributions. Rather, the $70 per hour figure (or $73 an hour, or whatever) is a ridiculous number obtained by adding up GM's total labor, health, and pension costs, and then dividing by the total number of hours worked. In other words, it includes all the healthcare and retirement costs of retired workers. [emphasis in original]

Indeed, according to this Associated Press report, a chunk of GM's $70-an-hour labor costs goes toward paying current retirees' pensions and health-care coverage. In other words, that's money that's not going to end up in the pocket of any autoworker when he cashes his paycheck this week. That's money GM has to set aside in order to pay off costs associated with workers already in retirement. That money has absolutely nothing to do with calculating the hourly wage of a full-time UAW employee today. None.

So, no, UAW workers don't make $70 an hour even if you factor in benefits, because a portion of those benefits are going to people who retired years ago.

Nonetheless, that formulation (wages+benefits=$70 an hour) has been widespread. That's what Sorkin did in his Times column: "The average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

Not only is that inaccurate, but there's also a problem in terms of perception. It's true that autoworkers don't earn annual salaries and that when calculating hourly wages, the cost of benefits paid directly to the worker can be included. But some media outlets have been so casual and sloppy in presenting the facts that news consumers are left with the false impression that GM workers pocket $70 an hour. That's not true, and it seems some in the press are doing very little to correct that misperception.

For instance, BusinessWeek also used the same convoluted language: "Older UAW members make more than $70 per hour in combined wages and benefits." Dallas Morning News columnist Cheryl Hall did it, too: "GM's average worker makes $78.21 an hour in wages and benefits."

Why does the press use that convoluted equation when calculating how much autoworkers supposedly make?

I have a hunch it's because that $70 an hour is a real eyepopper. It makes a very deep impression within the space of just a few words.
. . .
How much money GM's workers make is certainly relevant when discussing the unfolding automotive crisis. But the press should stop confusing the issue, and tainting the perceptions of news consumers, by casually suggesting that $70-an-hour labor costs represent what UAW workers pocket every 60 minutes.

That's misleading and dishonest.

And that's why it's still not too late for Sorkin and the Times to correct the record.


Help Stop Execution of Farzad Kamangar

This morning I received news that jailed Iranian teacher union activist
I received email from Labourstart today calling on people to help stop execution of Farzad Kamangar. Labourstart's servers appear slammed, so I found Education International also has a page to support Farzad K. and added widget at top right of page. Come on! It will take under a minute to write in your name and e-mail and hit the send button.
Email from Labourstart:

Farzad Kamangar may be hanged within the next few hours.

According to the Education International, he has been taken from his
cell in Tehran's Evin prison in preparation for execution. The guards
have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him,
calling him a martyr.

We need your help and we need it right now.

Send off your message to the Iranian president:


Pass on the this message to everyone you know who might support this

We may only have a few hours left.

I know that I can count on your help. Thank you.


The Money Hole: $4.3 Trillion and Counting

Tonight on Rachel Maddow:
According to CNBC, US Govt has commited $4.3 trillion to fixing economic crisis. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, has calculated the bailout is more expensive than all of the following, combined and adjusted for inflation:
The Marshall Plan + The Louisiana Purchase + The Race to the Moon + The Savings & Loan Crisis + The Korean War + The New Deal + The Iraq War + The Vietnam War + The Lifetime Budget of Nasa

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?


Calling Garzon

Bush has begun the barrage of coming pardons, and one of the Washington parlor games is speculation as to whether or not he will issue a blanket preemptive pardon to an entire class of cronies that engaged in war crimes and other illegal activities under his administration. The preemptive pardon would shield all the happy-go-lucky water boarders who are starting to sweat the coming transfer of power. Obama has sent signals that his administration will not prosecute Bush's torturing minions:
Robert Litt, a former top Clinton administration Justice Department prosecutor, said Obama should focus on moving forward with anti-torture policy instead of looking back.

"Both for policy and political reasons, it would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time hauling people up before Congress or before grand juries and going over what went on," Litt said at a Brookings Institution discussion about Obama's legal policy. "To as great of an extent we can say, the last eight years are over, now we can move forward - that would be beneficial both to the country and the president, politically". . .

Asked this weekend during a Vermont Public Radio interview if Bush administration officials would face war crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy flatly said, "In the United States, no."
Senator Leahy's comments reminded me that, pardon or no pardon, prosecution or no prosecution in the US, none of that entire class of criminals will be travelling abroad any time soon. Or ever. It's only a matter of time before charges are filed against both the masterminds and tools of war crimes in Iraq. Writing in 2007:
In an opinion piece in the newspaper El Pais, published on the fourth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon said the war was "one of the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history".

"We should look more deeply into the possible criminal responsibility of the people who are, or were, responsible for this war and see whether there is sufficient evidence to make them answer for it," Garzon wrote.

"There is enough of an argument in 650,000 deaths for this investigation and inquiry to start without more delay," he said.
Garzon, who became famous in 1999 when he tried to extradite Pinochet from Britain and try him for crimes against humanity, was particularly critical of the former Spanish government, a major backer of the Iraq invasion.

"Those who joined the U.S. president in the war against Iraq have as much or more responsibility than him because, despite having doubts and biased information, they put themselves in the hands of the aggressor to carry out an ignoble act of death and destruction that continues to this day," he said.
Garzon, famous for his efforts to bring Pinochet to justice, has caused tyrants across the globe to think twice before booking their holiday plans:
On October 17, 1998, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London at the judge's request.
Garzon accused Pinochet of genocide, terrorism and torture, based on testimony from the Spanish families of people who had disappeared in Chile.

The British government eventually refused to extradite him to Spain, citing health reasons.

But the move was not in vain. The human rights organisation Amnesty International said the arrest had a "domino effect".
"The attempt to bring Augusto Pinochet to justice has been of great international importance in the struggle to end impunity for crimes against humanity," it said.

This was especially true in Latin America, where the governments of Chile, Argentina and Guatemala decided to investigate crimes against ex-dictators.

Judge Garzon has nursed a movement born in the Nuremberg war trials and which continued with war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court and the recognition of universal jurisprudence by countries such as Belgium, Germany and Canada.

The Spanish judiciary has itself confirmed the "Garzon doctrine" by recognising the principle of "universal competence" under which courts can hears cases of genocide and crimes against humanity wherever they occur and whatever the nationality of the defendant.

Spanish courts have accepted 11 cases involving crimes against humanity, genocide or torture in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Tibet, Guatemala, the Western Sahara and Rwanda.
With or without the International Criminal Court, as soon as one of these war criminals puts their guard down, they're going down.


Auto redux

I'm happy to see Big Three scrutinized (heard of jet-pooling?), but what about this double standard of throwing money without a plan at Wall Street--where banks only have to fill out a two page application form--while refusing to bail out a key manufacturing industry. Wall Street is using billions in bailout funds to pay their bonuses, while 3 million manufacturing jobs will go down the drain. Excluding the few who voted against the big bailout, the organized opposition to the bailout sees and is seizing a tremendous opportunity to destroy the unionized manufacturing sector.

Pat Buchanan, obviously interested in preserving America's manufacturing base, made this point today on Morning Joe. The death of manufacturing will destroy the middle class. The industry has already lost millions of jobs that have been replaced by Walmart service jobs. Is this not a clear example of class warfare? The cost to the economy will be high, but just think of the disciplined labor force!


Defend the UAW

To hear the talking-heads tell it, the source of the Big Three's problems is job security and a living wage. The UAW is taking a beating in the press over the proposed auto bailout, and this meme has infected way too many people. Most news segments I've seen on CNN and MSNBC have included attacks blaming the UAW. Do a twitter search on UAW, and you find a torrent of anti-UAW postings.

This is a very dangerous slope we're on. The right sees a chance to destroy the very concept of job security and it's making huge gains in dominating the political discussion. Instead of people saying auto-workers deserve job security, they're saying, "we don't have job security, why should they?" As the UAW goes, so will the rest of the industrial unions. Economists like Jeffrey Sachs are worried that if the govt. doesn't help the Big Three we're going to lose our domestic manufacturing base. I'm worried that we're going to see all manufacturing jobs go the way of hamburger-flipping, with disastrous consequences for the middle class and income inequality.

Non-union manufacturing plants already pay higher entry-level wages than their union counterparts as a result of UAW concessions, and are actually putting downward pressure on non-union wages. The entry-level hourly wage at a union plant is $14, compared to $16 at a non-union plant. The only thing left for them to give away is what remains of their health coverage and pensions. What the public is demanding is that auto-workers who have given their lives to the Big-Three lose their jobs, lose their benefits, and retire to the poor-house.

Recent contractions in demand have already led to massive job-losses, on top of the negotiated job-losses over the past two decades that have made the industry insanely-productive. The UAW has accepted changes in manufacturing and management practices that have drastically reduced the number of unionized auto workers (a majority of the American industry is non-union), and have made working in an auto-plant unbearably stressful.

One of the reasons the Big Three is on verge of collapse is due to these concessions. They operate on a "just in time" system, meaning that parts arrive from suppliers exactly when they are needed at the assembly line so that there is little wasted storage space, materials, or labor time. During the last big GM strike, the UAW was able to strike one supplier and bring most of the company to a halt as a result. Now, if that same supplier is unable to obtain financing to maintain operations, the end result is the same (and GM is in the same financing boat meaning it can't lend cash to help the supplier stay afloat either).

All of these concessions have certainly made the Big Three more "competitive," so all that is left is to jettison the several billion in legacy costs--meaning health care and pensions for current and future retirees. Most if not all of the Big Three's foreign competitors come from countries with significantly stronger social safety nets, including single-payer health care. If you really want to make the auto industry competitive, don't force it into a bankruptcy it will never recover from, nationalize the legacy costs instead. It's a no-brainer. Most people support universal health coverage. How about calling for that, instead of just calling for the heads of auto-workers? If you think the economy is in trouble now, just wait until you fire the only secure workforce the country has left.

The UAW has made plenty of mistakes, including supporting the Big Three's efforts to avoid emission controls, but most of their mistakes have entailed offering too many concessions, not too few. If the popular mood is to put the UAW up against the wall, the country will only succeed in shooting itself in the foot.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]



I can't recall the last time I got a good night's sleep. But I do drink a lot of coffee, so that is possibly not a fabrication.
According to scientists, the brain is a consummate liar, a bullshit artist of the first order. To remember is to fabricate.

Why is memory so inherently dishonest? To make a long story short, it's now pretty clear that the act of remembering a memory changes the structure of the memory itself. (This is known as memory reconsolidation; Freud called it Nachtraglichkeit, or "retroactivity".) My favorite analogy is that, while we used to think of episodic memory as a "save" function in the brain (the hippocampus is the hard drive) we now know that every memory is really a "save as". To recall is to create a new file, and instantly overwrite what came before.

Obviously, this has big implications for the veracity of memory. It shows us that every time we remember anything, the memory is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what you remember and more about you. So the purely objective memory is the one memory you will never know. And the more you remember a memory, repeating it to yourself and others, the less honest that memory becomes . . . a bad night of sleep can make you even more dishonest than usual. While it's long been known that we make many of our memories while dreaming - this is why it's so important to get a good night sleep after studying for a test - it turns out that sleep deprivation causes us to make up memories.

[German] scientists conducted a rather sadistic experiment, forcing people to stay awake for up to 44 hours at a time. The end result? The insomniacs were much more likely to develop false memories. (As Freud pointed out, the most dangerous aspect of false memories is that they feel true.) The good news, though, is that there's a cheap and easy cure for such unintentional lies. When people drank a cup of coffee just before they recalled the memories, the dishonesty disappeared. Caffeine is a truth serum.


Sex, red and blue

I'm done with punditry for a bit, but allow me this last jab: if you thought our current gang of thieves could be trusted to disperse a $trillion, hope the crack was tasty.

Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera has a little post on red sex vs. blue sex.
She quotes Margaret Talbot writing in New Yorker:
Social liberals in the country's "blue states" tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter's pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in "red states" generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion.
If only the twain could meet. Pregnant girls should not be ostracized, and rational sex education should be the norm (irrational sex education is on every channel and form of media). Stupid caves. I have no illusions about teenage sex -- pleaze -- but if there is an innate reason for the imbalance in those two mirror-image attitudes, I do prefer the red sex attitude.


One more thumb down: No to RFK, Jr.

Scienceblogs is giving a thumbs down to Robert Kennedy, Jr. as candidate for EPA. Dr. Offit's Autism's False Prophets devotes a chapter to the role RFK, Jr. has played in flaming the anti-vaccine hysteria. The incriminating item is here. Revere at Effect Measure makes the case:
his uninformed championing of the vaccination/autism case speaks poorly for his commitment to relying on scientific evidence
Revere approvingly quotes Wired's Keim:
His environmental track record is excellent, but he's clung to the vaccines-causing-autism hypothesis long after large-scale epidemiological studies have discredited it as anything but a statistically insignificant cause. America doesn't need more political officials who skew science to fit personal beliefs.
More important, his ignorance has caused thousands of parents to panic and endangered the lives of countless children. (s/t DarkSyde)

I'm running out of thumbs here.

On a positive note, it feels really weird not being embarrassed to be an American. (s/t J.G.)

More on Summers

Here's the full text of an email I received this morning. The body of text is excerpted fromhere:


Larry Summers is on the Obama short list for appointment to Secretary of the Treasury.

Such an appointment would be a grave mistake, and at best, a slap in the face to Mexico and those who struggle for economic justice on both sides of the border.

Summers, while serving as Under Secretary of the Treasury in 1995, engineered the destruction of Mexico’s economy through forced increase of interest rates to unmanageable levels - business & farm loans went from 11% to 56%, credit card rates from 7% to 61%, home loans from 5% to 75%, car loans from 7% to 91%. The result was massive human suffering and the forced migration of millions of economic refugees to the United States.

Appointing Summers would signal a continuance of the greed superceding human dignity as the cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Please review the following background information of Mr Summers and ask whomever you know on the transition team to advise against selecting Summers.

In solidarity,
Peter Cervantes-Gautschi

Excerpt from “Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning”, Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, December 4, 2007, Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy (CIP):

Profiting From Hardship in Mexico

On Dec. 22, 1994 the Mexican peso was devalued over 40%. This, coupled with an increase in the U.S. prime rate enacted by the U.S. Federal Reserve, rendered Mexico nearly bankrupt largely due to dollar-denominated bond debt to Wall Street banks.8
The U.S. government got the International Monetary Fund and Canada to give Mexico money to put together a bailout package to pay its creditors, most of which were Wall Street banks. The International Monetary Fund contracted Mexico's bailout loan to the U.S. Treasury Department.9 Acting in the interest of Wall Street creditors, Peter King got Congress to adopt legislation that imposed monthly oversight on the bailout implementation by the Banking Committee.10

To get the bailout money, Mexico was required to meet stipulations that violated its own Constitution, which limited foreign ownership of the banking industry to 5% and forbade home mortgage interest rates above 7%.11 The bailout package required that foreign banks get 49% of the banking market. Limits on interest rates for all loans were eliminated to pay off Citi, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and the other foreign bond investors. Another stipulation on the bailout money required Mexico to put a cap on wages nationwide.12

Although it was a major Mexican bond creditor, JP Morgan became Mexico's financial adviser.13 An arrangement like this in the United States would have been seen as a blatantly illegal conflict of interest.

Impoverishing Mexican Families for Profit

Mexico's national bank was forced to raise the money to pay off the inflated bond debts to the foreign bond investors by dramatically increasing interest rates on the full spectrum of loans in Mexico.

Over the next two years interest rates on business and farm loans rose from an average of 11% to an average of 56%. Credit card debt interest rates went from 7% to 61%, interest rates on car loans went from 7% to 91%, and home loan interest rates rose from an average of 5% to 75%.14 In the same period the Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, and HSBC acquired most of Mexico's banking market.15

The impact of 1995 loan interest rate increases was more than millions of people and thousands of businesses could handle. Thousands of farms and businesses, both large and small, went bankrupt. In 1995 alone over 12,000 of Mexico's businesses filed for bankruptcy, and as economic activity came to a standstill and demand was cut, orders were canceled and plants operated at less than minimum levels. Idle capacity in many branches of the manufacturing sector increased to 70%.16 It became impossible for millions of workers to support their families by earning paychecks in their own country. Unable to earn enough to support their families, millions of workers migrated to the United States to find family wage work.17

The Wall Street banks profited handsomely. In 1998 for example, after recouping and profiting from their short-term bond investments through direct and enabled payments from the bailout package, JP Morgan and Citi owned over $4.1 billion dollars and $1.9 billion dollars respectively worth of loans in Mexico. A few years later Citi became the owner of 23.2% of the Mexican loan market through its acquisition of Banamex.18 The banking and finance sector rewarded the Republican members of the banking committees in Congress with millions of dollars in campaign contributions.19

Excerpt from a special (translated to English) commission report adopted unanimously by the Mexican Senate on September 21, 2007 :

4. A recent book complements the explanation of the excessive interest-rate increase in 1995.

The previous Support Document offered detailed information about a meeting at Los Pinos between the president of Mexico and the undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury, Larry Summers. During that meeting and against the advice of the Mexican team that was negotiating at that very moment in Washington, the decision was made to raise interest rates excessively during 1995. That information is in a memoir written by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, now a chairman of Citigroup, a U.S. company that is the world’s largest financial institution.

In September 2007, the former president of the U.S. Federal Reserve also published his memoirs. Additional revelations appear there about the source of the decision to inordinately hike interest rates, a decision that was to the great detriment of Mexico. Alan Greenspan notes in his memoir:

That experience formed a lasting bond between Rubin, Summers, and me. . . Larry could be shrewd too: it was his idea to put such a high interest rate on the Mexico loans that the Mexicans felt compelled to pay us back early.

In other words, the Mexican government made an unacceptable deal with Undersecretary Summers, akin to what the mother country gave its colonies. Mexico was treated as if it were a country without a history, without prestige, and without institutions. In his memoir, Rubin comments that the result of his intervention in Mexico led one of his colleagues to declare triumphantly to the New York Times: "This was Bob Rubin's Bosnia. And today he got the troops out." Never should the Mexican government have accepted that extremely high and abusive interest rate.

The gravest problem was that these very high interest rates influenced the rates for other loans made to Mexico and also rigidified high levels of domestic interest rates. Beginning in March 1995, interest rates in Mexico exploded. Rates of return went positive in real terms for the next 10 years, and this contributed to the double problem of excessively costly (and almost nonexistent) financing for Mexican companies and high earnings for those who had invested in Mexican bonds, which led to the overvaluation of the peso.

In his memoir, Rubin also acknowledges that the IMF was recommending lower interest rates, but in the end, that institution accepted the excessively high proposal. However, the IMF experts could not have been unaware of the very damaging effect that those interest rates would have for the Mexican economy.

Show more discipline

Emanuel? Fine. He's an ass, but the fact the right is having fits over
this guy as Chief of Staff tells me he's a good choice. But Summers?
Isn't he a proponent of the deregulation ideology that got us into
this mess? He might be a brilliant mind, but he lacks all common
sense. He lost his last two jobs in part because of this, at Harvard
and at World Bank. At the former for thinking he could get away with
saying girls aren't too good with math, and at the latter for
proposing to make use of comparative advantage by sending dangerous
waste to the country of Africa. You might be able to point to some
contested science for both of those, but it shows a complete ignorance
of politics. Emanuel is a show of discipline, Summers is nothing but
test scores.


Frosty reception

Maybe Fox is on this bandwagon, who knows (I watch MSNBC solely to spite FOX), but Russia sent mixed signals to Obama on his victory: a tough speech on deploying missiles near Poland's border with a telegram congratulating Obama's victory. If you google "Medvedev congratulates Obama" you get a page of links with that headline, with text: "Medvedev did not congratulate Obama." As I noted in my posts on Georgia, an Obama presidency scares Russia because of the threat of Obama rallying allies to contain Russia's expansionary interests. Russia has been riding high on America hatin', and the last they need is an America love-fest.

The Russian press coverage is interesting: Nezavisimaya Gazeta has an interesting article proclaiming the victory of a velvet revolution (literally flower revolution) in the US, something associated with thorns in Russia's paw Ukraine and Georgia, while Komsomolskaya Pravda has a series of shallow articles on electing the dark-skinned guy, and then this one from their US based correspondent:
This was not my country, not my history, but I got goosebumps as soon as they started announcing the results . . . I was sitting in a bar in Omaha, Nebraska. Near me were sitting simple Americans, glued to the television, crying.


I'll hold your hand. Not!

I had totally forgotten about these guys!

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at 236.com.

s/t to my big dog JW



Obama puts a fork in it.

I'm live micro-blogging on twitter tonight. Check my tweets!

s/t nezua.


Where I endorse Obama: an ode to pragmatism

On Thursday, after I dropped my daughter off at school, I walked over to the Obama campaign office to volunteer. "Do you have anything for me to do?" "Can you sit at an information table?" "Sure." So for two hours, in 35d weather, I sat on the corner of Chestnut and 15th with Barb, a veteran volunteer. We handed out a ton of Obama buttons (suggested donations accepted), some lawn signs, signed up one lawyer volunteer, answered a few questions about the election, and served as a face for the Obama machine. Along the way we were interviewed by Indonesian TV! And a NYT reporter interviewed me as part of a spread this Sunday about "local color" along the campaign trail. The questions from both can be summed up in the sentence above: "We handed out a ton of Obama buttons . . ." All the interviewers were women, and all the cameramen were people, er, men. I haven't really volunteered that much, but I have volunteered a few times over the past two or three months, so when the Indonesian interviewer asked me how long I had been volunteering, I felt bad about saying: "I showed up this morning," so I lied and said a few months. A lie, an embellishment, or the truth? Depends on whether one is Joe six-pack, a lawyer, or a politician, I suppose.

The Obama campaign would have been just as thrilled to read I was a first-time volunteer, since they have been doing a tremendous job of getting new volunteers out. I've gotten a few calls based on voter rolls, emails from a variety of sources such as AFL, and MoveOn, not just the campaign, and I've seen volunteers from all walks of life, and a well-oiled machine. Some hiccups: a few waits, missed calls I would have expected, but all in all, clock-work. No wonder O'Reilly thinks they are Nazis. The infomercial smoothly transitioning into the last two minutes of a live speech in Florida, spending LESS on staff than McCain, mobilizing thousands of volunteers across the country, their innovative use of the web, text-messaging, twitter, etc. I know a few people who doubt the grass-roots organizing orientation of the campaign, but this morning I can walk into the Obama office and start putting together signs without knowing anyone's name or saying a word to anyone. With a sentence or two I can start making GOTV calls or grab materials to go walk my neighborhood. I think Randy Shaw says it well in Beyond the Fields:
We saw glimpses of the potential for this kind of organizing campaign in MoveOn's 2004 and 2006 volunteer operations, the Dean Campaign and even the Bush and Kerry campaigns. And there are great examples of this kind of organizing if you go back to the social movements of several decades ago. But the Obama campaign is the first in the Internet era to realize the dream of a disciplined, volunteer-driven, bottom-up-AND-top-down, distributed and massively scaleable organizing campaign. For anyone who knows how many times this has failed to happen, this is practically an apocryphal event.
s/t Miss Laura

You can really see how Obama's campaign springs from a perfected community organizing model that was promoted by Cesar Chavez and copied in neighborhoods around the country. If Obama wins, this model will signify a paradigm shift for political campaigns,one with tremendous potential for promoting social change.

But this potential has its limits. Over 20% of the country still thinks Obama is a Muslim. Heck, many Muslims think Obama is a Muslim. The power of the name, I suppose.

I was disappointed reporters just asked about what I was mechanically doing. I wasn't asked why I supported Obama, which would have been a lot harder to answer. I know people who are supporting Obama because he is a Democrat, and they are Democrats, or who would have voted for but not supported other Democrats, but who support Obama because he is black. [Racists! The gall!] I'm a little in the latter camp, but it merits explaining. I hate Democrats as Politicians. I think they're vile, lack principles, convictions, either allow themselves to be portrayed as something they are not, or lie for political gain, and have a glass jaw. They have no balls. That's what I tend to think.

I pride myself on having never voted for a Clinton. I used to think Democrats were no better, or to be exact, Republicans were no worse. I was no fan of Bush, but figured his "compassionate conservatism" and history of bipartisanship in Texas meant he would be no worse than his father and perhaps marginally worse than Clinton. Gore's uninspiring campaign and choice of Lieberman as a running mate cemented any doubts I had. I saw a constant erosion of rights under Clinton, and thought things couldn't get much worse. I considered voting for McCain if he won the nomination. I was a proud Nader voter in 2000.

Immediately, I learned that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worst. This was reinforced time after time over the next eight years. From the Supreme Court committing treason and deciding the President, to immediately eliminating the fiscal surplus, it became clear that extreme partisanship was the name of the game. And when 9-11 provided an opening, they ran with it and proceeded to destroy every established legal norm that they could, both at home and abroad, and opened the treasury to be looted by their rich, well-connected friends in one of the most sickening examples of greed maybe surpassed by the orgy of the oligarchs after the fall of the Soviet Union. We're talking about disappearing truck loads of cash. Hitchens complains we've become a banana republic, but that was the guiding principle of the administration he supported over the last eight years. At the helm of a collapsing empire, Bush and Co. tried to take down as many others with them as possible, while stealing as much as they could. No wonder Rumsfeld was able to turn a blind eye to the looting of Iraq's national treasures. That was no mistake, that was a guiding principle. For these reasons, I held my nose and supported Kerry in 2004.

Since that time, we've seen Obama throw out the political playbook, and show Democrats could fight by mobilizing people on the ground. Obama's deft handling of the caucus system was at the heart of the 50 state strategy paying off today. There are plenty of reasons not to be enamored of Obama. He is a battle-proven politician, which means that he is not bound by his ideals. The FISA sell-out demonstrated that. Although I joined the MyBarackObama group against his FISA decision and was one of the many disenchanted, I don't see how one can argue with that decision now. The last month of the campaign has been dominated by the loudest minority calling Obama a terrorist, but they had not a single piece of legislation they could point to. If they had, I do think it would have swayed the "silent" majority.

I support Obama because I have to live in this empire in decline and want to leave a better country to my child. On just about every issue, Obama is not the best, but much better than his opponent. Wealth redistribution, reigning in capitalism, following the rule of law, seeking to encourage rather than alienate allies, expanding health care, getting out of Iraq, resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, on these and more you can make an argument that Obama is somehow "selling out", but in every case his plan is better than the alternative. The country we live in leaves us the choice of incremental change, or of things continuing their downward spiral. Things can and will get worse. Much much worse. And it is not enough to point to the need for a mass movement to address these issues. The only succesful mass movement of the last eight years is the one created by Obama.

If you are a single issue voter, and your issue is support for Iran, you should vote for McCain because he will continue to isolate the US and strengthen the hand of Iran throughout the Middle East. If your single issue is Israel, you should vote for Obama because he will restore the moral authority of the United States and bring the community of nations together in support of common solutions. McCain, as with the current administration, would be unable to lead any other nation out of a burning building. If your issue is unconceived fetuses, you vote McCain. If your issue is ideological purity, you abstain or vote for a third party candidate. But my concern is tangible incremental change, so I'm voting Obama. Whatever his stance on any particular policy, you can point to him as the candidate that encourages people to believe they can change government and have a stake in deciding the path the country takes, and has actively mobilized people in a massive way towards a common goal. That's a dangerous and commendable message.

Plus he's black. That alone is outstanding in this country, and I am very excited that my daughter might not have to deal with as much of the racial baggage as previous generations. How awesome is that?

Grand Rapids, bastion of tolerance

I remember back in 1988 walking several miles uphill in the snow to attend a rally for Bush Sr on Monroe Mall. I was punked out with long unkempt hair, a motorcycle jacket, combat boots, torn jeans, and I was immediately handed a Bush sign to hold up. By accident, I held the sign upside down and an older buttoned-down gentlemen next to me said, "Better turn that right side up or you'll be confused for a Democrat." We shared a good laugh together, and I turned the sign right-side up. I was always confused by that "insider" camraderie, since outside of that rally I was pretty certain that same fellow would have demonized me.

Still, I was surprised to read McCain is pre-emptively ejecting the "student demographic" from his rallies. The Iowa State Daily reported:
Lara Elborno, a student at the University of Iowa, said she was approached by a police officer and a McCain staffer and was told she had to leave or she would be arrested for trespassing.

“It was a very confusing, very frustrating situation,” Elborno said. “I said that I had a right to be there, I wasn’t doing anything disruptive — I was sitting, waiting for the rally to start.” . . . Elborno said after seeing the people who were asked to leave, she was concerned that McCain’s staffers were profiling people on appearance to determine who might be a potential protester.

“When I started talking to them, it kind of became clear that they were kind of just telling people to leave that they thought maybe would be disruptive, but based on what? Based on how they looked,” Elborno said. “It was pretty much all young people, the college demographic.” . . . [One] girl was crying . . . and she said ‘I already voted for McCain, I’m a Republican, and they said we had to leave because we didn’t look right,’”. . . “They were handpicking these people and they had nothing to go off of, besides the way the people looked.”
I suppose McCain rallies are rather sparse so a small group of protesters could do a job heckling, but it really shows the lack of confidence within the campaign. Even though they are receiving criticism for the homogeneity of their rallies, they want to keep the crowds homogenous not for appearances' sake but to avoid a disruption that would have long media legs. Sounds like a job for Billionaires for McCain.

I was watching Morning Joe Thursday morning and they ran a schtick where the young (left-leaning conservative?) Ken-looking guy went through his neighborhood on the "Upper West Side" [does everyone know where this is? because I don't think they ever specified] wearing a McCain/Palin t-shirt and trying to give another one away. After a long string of people who refused, ignored him, or said they had no friends who were supporting McCain, he finally found one alienated couple who said they were no longer getting invited to many dinner parties. The blond (right-leaning liberal?) anchor-chick was HORRIFIED. Like, what? Go to the heart of liberalism, OH MY GOSH, you find liberals. Go to the heart of conservatism, bet you find, SHOCK, conservatives. And you betcha can make a strong argument that only educated elites are open-minded enough to pal around with people who disagree on politics. It's been years now that politics joined religion as a topic not meant for polite conversation, so shut the fuck up. I volunteered for the Obama campaign that same morning and although I was in reliably liberal central Philly, I had one guy tell me I should be put in jail. Oh, my god, I just couldn't believe it. Please.

h/t kos