Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buckley Lived To See Dream Fulfilled, But For Many It's A Nightmare

By Manifesto Joe

The obituary du jour has been that of William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008) He was a mercurial sort who gave differing impressions to many people. And, in later years, even old foes like Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut seemed to have some personal liking for the man.

But let's remember a few things:

-- National Review was openly opposed to integration during the heyday of the civil rights movement. That went on for many years, and has been ignored in the obits by most of the MSM.

-- As a cultural commentator, he tended to shoot prejudicially, straight from the hip, as conservatives are apt to. He pronounced the Beatles so bad that they should be crowned as monarchs of anti-music. He probably wrote that after hearing just one of their less-refined early songs. I'd say that after about four LPs, the world had pretty much agreed that the Fab Four were a phenomenon. But, being Bill Buckley meant never having to say you were wrong about anything.

-- Go to YouTube and dig up that 1968 exchange with Gore Vidal at the Chicago Democratic Convention. That should clear up any inner-child notion of Buckley as a warm/fuzzy. Vidal said that after the on-camera clash, Buckley approached him and said something like, you're going to be sorry for this. Vidal told him, "Do your worst." Vidal was a little too big by then to be "blacklisted" a second time, but I'd say he and a few others like Noam Chomsky are still on sort of an MSM graylist. (But I'm sure Buckley had nothing at all to do with that.)

-- I recall one-time Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess, in a 1976 Playboy interview, talking about his split with the mainstream conservative movement. Per Buckley's emphasis on the importance of recognizing achievements of superior individuals, Hess said something like, hell, Bill IS superior. Why shouldn't he be? He always got the best food and the finest education money could buy, largely from private tutors. He didn't grow up in a ghetto eating bad, undernourishing food, so that his brain failed to develop into the organ it should have. He never went to an inner-city school. Of course Bill is superior ... Why shouldn't he be?

I confess having fallen under the spell of Buckley Junior for a time as a teenager, lured into that den of iniquity that is libertarian conservatism. I read Up From Liberalism (1959), and was sadly hooked and deluded for a while during the early '70s.

It took a few years, but in time, I realized that the only thing that had made it possible for me to EAT for a while as a child, let alone go to college later, was the FDR- and LBJ-spawned welfare state that Buckley Junior so despised and devoted his life to destroying.

And, he lived to see his dream of conservative dominance come true. Let us look over this wasteland -- as a great deal less than lords of all we survey, Bill's ghost.

After nearly 30 years of this ideology's ascendancy, we're in two costly wars without apparent end, and one of them was absolutely unnecessary. (You even admitted that about one of them before you died. My God, let's mark that one.) The annual deficit is approaching half a trillion, and the cumulative national debt is over $9 trillion. We have a federal government that is encroaching on our rights and privacy more each day, and is engaged in Nazi-like torture of anyone suspected of being an enemy.

Our infrastructure is slowly crumbling. Income inequality is the greatest it has been in 80 years. "Free trade" agreements have shipped millions of American jobs overseas. Big corporations and Wall Street types have made off with anything that wasn't nailed down, thanks to deregulation. Home foreclosures have reached alarming levels. Dependence on crude oil that went on decades after it was clearly unwise is menacing not only the U.S. economy, but the whole planet.

I hope that if God is there, and indeed forgives arrogant sinners -- as Buckley's Roman Catholicism asserts -- that the first words out of Buckley's mouth after his passing on were, "Jesus, You're a liberal?"

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Postscript: Here is Buckley vs. Vidal, Aug. 28, 1968:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bush Not Only Clueless About Economy, But Infrastructure, Too

By Manifesto Joe

One can rely on Il Doofus to rebuff godless socialism in all its insidious forms. He blocked the relentless creeping of that menace Monday during a White House meeting with a group of the nation's governors.

A bipartisan group of governors urged GWB to increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works as, among other things, an economic stimulus. His reaction was described as cool, something to the effect that he would rather see how his recently enacted tax rebate stimulus is going to work.

Dana Perino, White House press secretary and economist extraordinaire, is reported to have said, "There's no short-term stimulus to the economy for some of these projects."

First and foremost, no new taxes. This from a report in The New York Times:

Moreover, Ms. Perino said, the president will not accept any bill that raises taxes to finance such projects. Governors would have more money available, she said, if Congress ended the wasteful earmarking of billions of dollars for specific projects.

In a report on Monday, the National Association for Business Economics, a professional group, said, "Economic growth is expected to slow to a crawl in the first half of 2008."

Asked about the president's response, Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, said: "I think I can summarize his remarks best by saying he did not think he would be interested. He wants to see the results of the stimulus package that was just passed."

Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the National Governors Association, described the response as "a fairly significant no."

"There are tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects ready to go," Mr. Rendell said. "I asked the president if he would support spending on those projects as part of a second stimulus package, and he said no."

Other governors pushing for spending on transportation projects include Jon Corzine of New Jersey, a Democrat; Charlie Crist of Florida, a Republican; Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican; and Eliot Spitzer of New York, a Democrat.

After the cool reception at the White House, governors said they would take their proposals to Congress.

First, I'll pose something: Il Doofus doesn't realize that the U.S. economy needs more than just short-term stimulus, regardless of how quickly public works projects would have an effect. We're in long-term trouble, and federal income taxes are indeed going to have to go up in certain brackets. Two and two simply don't add up to five. You can't fight elective wars and engage in expensive nation-building abroad, while running record deficits and giving out big tax breaks at home. It was Il Doofus' game that got us here; it's time to change direction.

There are people on the right who dismiss public works projects as shovel-leaning make-work, arguing that the U.S. stayed mired in the Great Depression for years after such programs were enacted. The New Deal, they argue, didn't ultimately lift the U.S. out of the Depression -- World War II did.

That is true -- and it is a validation of the New Deal, not a repudiation of it. The war empowered the federal government to do things that an obstructionist Supreme Court and a tentative Congress wouldn't let FDR do several years earlier. The country actually became semi-socialist during World War II. No new automobiles were built for four years, because the Detroit factories were, de facto, commandeered for the war effort. Government defense spending surged, and jobs came with that. Needless to say, federal income tax rates on the wealthy weren't low. There was genuinely shared sacrifice. War isn't the best way for this to happen. But it demonstrated the short-term power of government to lift an economy out of a depression.

Then, there's the infrastructure to consider. It seems that the Minneapolis bridge collapse was quickly forgotten in other parts of the country. Our bridges and other infrastructure are in serious decline after decades of neglect. Federal public works spending seems very much in order now.

I'll bring up a personal point, going back 70 years, a biblical lifetime. In 1938, one of my two grandfathers had been forced to abandon farming amid an epic depression and the Dust Bowl. He had superior carpentry skills, but there was little work in that field. He didn't think it was a good idea to take the family to the Bakersfield, California, area and pick fruit for subsistence, a la Tom Joad.

Despite being a lifelong Republican, he took a job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). He spent about a year assembling commodes. The pay wasn't good, but it was enough to bring home some hamburger meat or chicken once a week, for a change of pace from the standard beans and cornbread.

A crucial point is that here in Texas, we are still driving safely over some of those bridges built during the WPA era. I would speculate that there are still people taking dumps on a few of the commodes that my grandfather assembled. And, during the time he had to do a WPA job, his family ate. Government can make a difference -- and infrastructure matters.

But, we have a government that is philosophically opposed to any such thing. The approach is very different, and tends to benefit only certain people. More from The Times:

In an effort to avert a recession, Mr. Bush recently signed a $168 billion measure to provide tax rebates to encourage consumer spending and to offer new tax incentives for businesses to buy equipment.

Brian G. Turmail, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said highway spending was not an effective way to stimulate the economy because "it takes too long to get the money into projects."

Rather than asking for an increase in federal highway spending, Mr. Turmail said, governors should seek additional money from the private sector, including pension funds and investment banking concerns. ...

Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters told governors, "The federal role in transportation should be more limited than it is today," and should focus on the Interstate and Defense Highway System and traffic congestion in major metropolitan regions.

They're really on top of things, aren't they?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Weekend Jazz, From Nicola Conte

Internet radio is introducing me to music I didn't realize was out there. Here's a supercool piece from Italian acid jazz/bossa nova artist Nicola Conte, called Bossa Per Due:

Wait, there's more. Here's music from Nicola Conte's combo, live from Blue Note Milano:

Ciao, all. -- MJ

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Real Bush Presidential Library Could Probably Be Packed Into A Phone Booth

By Manifesto Joe

(And there would be a lot of magazines ...) Today, trustees of Southern Methodist University in Dallas (first lady Laura Bush's alma mater) are expected to approve a long-negotiated deal to locate the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus.

They actually faced some opposition among clergy members of the United Methodist Church, who seemed to think that some of the Bush administration's policies are quite at odds with UMC world views. You know, like, insufficiently Christian. (Translation to Southern Baptists: "Them godless lib'ruls") Strange, I can remember when Methodists were considered a mod/con denomination. Times have changed.

But, this approval is inevitable, so Dallas and SMU will host the "Bush Library." I suppose there are going be enough documents and artifacts to fill the plush, roomy digs they are going to build.

Too bad they won't have some of the mangled Humvees, vacant foreclosed homes and photos of disabled people, dying before they can even qualify for disability, on display.

An irony is that this president, from all accounts, isn't much of a reader. He's not alone on that score. Ronald Reagan was known for his love of Louis L'Amour novels. Beyond that, he didn't like to read much. Bush has, at times, allegedly been given some damned reading list that actually included stuff like Albert Camus' The Stranger.

He probably got off on the idea of offing an A-Rab on the beach. And, knowing the history, if he had actually become acquainted with Albert Camus, he would doubtlessly have called him "Bert" and would have mispronounced his last name. It would have come out something like the dude who once played shortstop for the old Kansas City Athletics.

I suppose they have to put Bush's library somewhere, so as to have some Texas repository host all the documented horror inflicted on the nation for eight years. If it were up to me, I would have recommended Midland Community College, or whatever they have out there, and put it in a corrugated metal building somewhere in the vocational trades area.

SMU minority, message: I feel your pain.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When It Comes Down To Texas, That's Scary

By Manifesto Joe

Texas still suffers from longstanding stereotypes, and perhaps our state deserves it. We're a lot more complex than the national media depict; but I would admit that we haven't generally done a lot to disprove the images that a person in, say, Vermont, would tend to have of us. Now it looks like we, of all states, may be the one that determines the next Democratic nominee, and the next president.

I don't know how Vermont residents feel, but that thought frightens me enough that I'm still undecided.

Texas? Well, it's a place that used to be the world's official capital of chauvinism, and that remains an influence that's still covertly in control. Don't delude yourself into thinking the reason you almost have to speak Spanish to order in a restaurant here now, even a Wendy's, was a result of social tolerance. Boys and girls, can you spell cheap-ass labor?

There are reasons why there are jokes like this: What does a young woman in Texas say while she's losing her virginity? Answer: "Git off, Daddy. Yore crushin' my cigarettes."

OK, so we aren't the most advanced sub-society in America. The odds of someone, picked off the streets of Houston, having read any Bertrand Russell, ever, are infinitesimal. We're very underrepresented among the states in top universities and liberal arts colleges, and that's no accident. Even our rich people, often the progeny of semiliterate wildcatters, are pseudo-cultured poseurs who put on too much bad cologne before attending a Van Cliburn performance.

But our state was quite an outpost of human individuality and toughness before the discovery of oil spoiled so many people. And recently, we've become much more complex than many of our American brethren realize.

I have the distinction of counting myself as an old-school Texan, having had three of four grandparents born here, and all of their parents as well (with a little Cherokee Indian mixed in). We're those South Plains types who, linguists say, contributed to the American language in some elaborate and creative ways, with words like "discombobulated."

And then, there's the melding of English and Spanish that was inevitable in a place like this. "Vamoose," from the old Westerns, was simply hillbilly butchery of vamos (let's go)

I think the melding of the food styles turned out much better on the whole.

But, on to the main point: The modern, urbanized Texas has potential that is often unrealized:

-- Travis County, where our capital of Austin is, went for John Kerry in 2004.

-- Dallas County split pretty closely in Bush vs. Kerry. And, the Dallas County district attorney, Craig Watkins, is a Democrat and an African-American. And he's doing a job that is making a lot of people downright proud.

-- We have somehow produced a number of the U.S. progressive movement's finest, among them the late great Molly Ivins, our former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, and others.

We have emerged as arguably the biggest American melting pot, and perhaps it is appropriate that we should be the deciding state to determine the Democratic nominee.

I'll be watching what happens in the Austin debate on Thursday night, because I'm genuinely undecided. I have likes and dislikes regarding both Clinton and Obama. But I'm a Democrat -- Ronald Reagan stirred me there, and George W. Bush cemented me -- so I'm for whichever one of the Democrats wins.

I hope my fellow Texans choose wisely. Yee-haa; y vamos, muchachos y muchachas. A todos mis amigos: Vote Democratic.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spitzer's "Crack Tax" Sounds Goofy, But Can We Do Worse?

By Manifesto Joe

The latest odd notion from an elected official in the War on Drugs has ruffled fur across the spectrum. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, facing a $4.4 billion budget shortfall, has proposed levying a tax on drug dealers' illegal stashes.

Taxing something illegal does entail a certain absurdity. But the War on Drugs reached absurd proportions many years ago. Given the broader history, I'm not sure why this scheme has gotten all these raspberries, from so many sides.

The bigger picture is that the War on Drugs is the domestic Vietnam. It's a war that was lost many years ago, but the main combatants won't surrender. The saddest aspect has been the failure to recognize fundamental human nature: Sobriety seems, in the final analysis, just a bit overrated. Successful societies recognize this and modestly go about finding ways to manage things, keeping most people sober for crucial work, and refraining from ill-fated moral crusades.

On to the proposal. The Washington Post reports that:

The new tax would apply to cocaine, heroin and marijuana, and could be paid with pre-bought "tax stamps" affixed to the bags of dope.

It didn't take WaPo long to lapse into borderline editorializing. In the second paragraph of the online story, the reporter wrote:

Some critics in the legislature are asking what the governor has been smoking.

Yes, there are plenty of critics of this idea, so let's go over the spectrum.

Republican state Sen. Martin J. Golden was reported as the wag who dubbed the proposal "the crack tax." WaPo went on to report: Some opponents said that because cocaine and weed would be subject to the new levies, it should more aptly be called "the crack-pot tax."

The conservative side of the aisle also says this would lend a perverse legitimacy to illegal drugs. Making them taxable would have them seem comparable to the legally condoned vices of alcohol and tobacco.

And the criticism isn't limited to Republican adversaries of Democrat Spitzer. The WaPo report goes on:

On the other side of the aisle, some Democrats, too, were stunned by the plan. "My initial instinct is: I don't understand it," said Bill Perkins, a state senator from Harlem. "Most of the dealers I'm familiar with are petty crack dealers -- most of them are crackheads. They are broke, to say the least. I just don't understand how you impose a tax" on broke crackheads, he said.

Taxing illegal drugs is more widespread than is generally known. At least 21 states have some form of tax for illicit drugs, although some of those laws have been challenged in courts, and others have fallen into disuse. Almost all the remaining drug-tax laws are used mainly by local law enforcement agencies as a way to seize drug money and fund counter-narcotics operations.

The controversial idea grew out of the efforts to fight bootleggers such as Al Capone during Prohibition -- going after the bootleggers for unpaid taxes often required a lighter burden of proof than a criminal prosecution. Taxing illicit drugs gained popularity during the 1980s and early 1990s, when prosecutors and law enforcement authorities were pushing for mandatory sentences and other measures to signal a crackdown on drugs and drug use.

By the way, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws thinks it's a dumb notion, too. WaPo said that Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, called it "a wacky idea. It's a quintessential example of the absurdity of the war on some drugs."

How could this actually work? After the arrests: More from WaPo:

Most states with the law sell stamps that drug dealers can buy in advance, like what Spitzer is proposing. Because no drug dealers are known to buy the stamps and pay their tax in advance, the tax is usually levied after they are caught.

Some states have designed distinctive drug stamps, often depicting a marijuana leaf. Nebraska's drug stamp depicts a rolled joint crossed with a syringe in front of a skull and what appears to be a headstone, with the label "R.I.P."

Most of the folks who buy these stamps up Nebraska way are said to be likely stamp collectors.

Yeah, it really seems like a pretty silly idea. But it's just one more in a long line of them.

The War on Drugs has been going on, officially, since around 1970. I recall being subjected to a half-year of propaganda for an entire class period during high school; and the semester ended with perhaps the smartest kid at our school, a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, getting busted for possession of a joint.

The '70s era seems like ancient history to many, a time when pot was the substance of choice and few had heard of anything resembling crack cocaine. The latter took hold of the streets of America in the '80s, and attitudes understandably changed. But the draconian response did perhaps more long-term damage than good.

This is from the Alaska Justice Forum, Spring 2000:

The “war on drugs” has led to an enormous increase in both the numbers and percentages of inmates in the federal system incarcerated primarily for drug offenses ...

The inmate population sentenced for drug offenses is now almost 60 per cent of the total federal inmate population. Between 1985 and 1998 the number of federal inmates sentenced for drug charges grew by nearly 500 per cent.

Here's more from

State prisons held a total of 1,274,600 inmates on all charges at yearend 2004. In absolute numbers an estimated 633,700 inmates in State prison at yearend 2004 (the latest year for which offense data is available) were held for violent offenses: 151,500 for murder, 178,900 for robbery, 129,400 for assault, and 153,800 for rape and other sexual assaults. In addition, 265,600 inmates were held for property offenses, 249,400 for drug offenses, and 88,900 for public-order offenses.

Source: Sabol, William J., PhD, Couture, Heather, and Harrison, Paige M., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2007), NCJ219416, p. 24, Appendix Table 9.

Federal prisons were estimated to hold 176,268 sentenced inmates as of Sept. 30, 2006. Of these, 16,507 were incarcerated for violent offenses, including 2,923 for homicide, 9,645 for robbery, and 3,939 for other violent crimes. In addition, 10,015 inmates were serving time for property crimes, including 519 for burglary, 6,437 for fraud, and 3,059 for other property offenses. A total of 93,751 were incarcerated for drug offenses. Also, 54,336 were incarcerated for public-order offenses, incluging 19,496 for immigration offenses and 24,298 for weapons offenses.

Source: Sabol, William J., PhD, Couture, Heather, and Harrison, Paige M., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2007), NCJ219416, p. 26, Appendix Table 13.

The War on Drugs, as it has been fought for about 38 years, has overcrowded prisons and jails at all levels; raised taxes enough to seriously burden most Americans; and has actually done relatively little to stem the use of illegal drugs, considering the penalties some can face. If we wanted to get really draconian, I suppose we could start executing drug dealers as they do in certain Mideast countries, most notably Saudi Arabia. And maybe we could start severing the hands of thieves while we're at it.

But if I wanted solutions like that, I would have emigrated long ago. This is the U.S., and, last time I checked, we had a Bill of Rights.

Spitzer's idea seems no sillier than others we've been hearing for going on four decades. At least in his scheme, mainstream society might actually collect a bit of quid from the underground economy.

There's a bottom line: People like to get high. They have always liked to get high. They have been getting high, on one substance or another, since antiquity. Granted, this is an indulgence that functioning societies the world over have always found it necessary to control. People cannot be permitted to perform certain tasks while high -- and there are certain substances that are far worse than others, and they require sterner measures to achieve the desired control.

But, "a drug-free society," as was trumpeted in public-service ads during the '80s, is a Puritan fantasy. There will never be one. Anywhere. Ever. The rational response to a social problem from this, when it presents itself, is management -- drug education, humane treatment for addicts, alternatives to incarceration, and yes -- even legalization of certain substances. The 18th Amendment (prohibition of alcohol) in the U.S. was a joke, and after about 14 years of it, even people in predominantly Mormon Utah were forced to admit that. They were the last required state to ratify repeal. Tobacco is becoming increasingly taboo in mainstream life, but I wouldn't predict that it will ever go away. (How will I score my occasional Punch Rothchild cigars?)

Marijuana, I admit to having had considerable experience with, many years ago. In 1978, I wouldn't have believed anyone who told me the stuff would still be illegal the way it is now, 30 years later. It's not a harmless drug -- there are none of those, not even pharmaceuticals. But we have enough collective societal experience with this substance now to know that it's probably no worse than too much Jagermeister. It's a matter of how it's used.

But sadly, irrational beliefs can linger for generations. (The Republican Party has built its very profitable chain of stores on that fact.)

Anyway, when you find yourself deep in a hole, the best strategy seems to be to stop digging. Spitzer's idea doesn't seem any sillier than what we've been doing for decades. It's time to rethink the whole thing. At least he seems to be thinking -- not enough, but just a bit -- outside a very constricting box.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's About Time, You Bums: House Dems Finally Stand Up On Attorney Firings

By Manifesto Joe

Some of us have been waiting far too long for something like this to finally happen, given that we have an executive branch that flouts the law and even exhibits utter contempt for it.

The Associated Press reports: The House voted Thursday to hold two of President Bush's confidants in contempt for failing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether a purge of federal prosecutors was politically motivated.

Angry Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walkout.

So the crybabies gathered up their marbles and left. More is coming on why they said they did that.

The vote was 223-32 to hold White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt. The citations charge Miers with failing to testify and accuse her and Bolten of refusing Congress' demands for documents related to the 2006-2007 firings.

What Republicans said Democrats should be doing instead was on extending a law, scheduled to expire tomorrow, allowing the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails in the U.S. in cases of suspected terrorist activity. More from AP:

"We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us," said Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

"Let's just get up and leave," he told his colleagues, before storming out of the House chamber with scores of Republicans in tow.

The vote, which Democrats had been threatening for months, was the latest wrinkle in a more than yearlong constitutional clash between Congress and the White House. The administration says the information being sought is off-limits under executive privilege, and argues that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution.

It's high damned time a vote was finally held, instead of just more seemingly empty threats aired. Instead of granting ever more power to a dangerous executive branch, now's the time to cut these well-tailored hooligans down to size. A bit more from AP:

If Congress didn't enforce the subpoenas, said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, it would "be giving its tacit consent to the dangerous idea of an imperial presidency, above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances."

The White House said the Justice Department would not ask the U.S. attorney to pursue the House contempt charges. However, the measure would allow the House to bring its own lawsuit on the matter.

At best, Boehner and other Republicans behaved like myopic hypocrites, and at worst, like saboteurs of any semblance of checks and balances. The Bush administration wave of U.S. attorney firings was partisan political hackery at its worst, and cost one Cabinet member his job. (Remember Fredo?) The least that could have been expected was for the other hacks to comply with the subpoenas.

Now let's see if the House Democrats actually file the lawsuits. And how about impeaching Cheney, while they're on a small roll?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rebates, Pronto; Now What About Social Security Fairness?

By Manifesto Joe

When it came to those federal income tax rebates, everybody on Capitol Hill has moved pretty quickly. I'm sure it has nothing to do with this being an election year. But what does one make of a situation in which a bill has 334 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, but after years of introductions and reintroductions, it's never gone to the floor for a vote?

In July I posted about the proposed Social Security Fairness Act of 2007. For those unfamiliar -- well, you're lucky, for one thing. My wife, and my mother, both former civil servants, aren't so fortunate. But you'll need the background. This is from the July post:

Two of the most insidious things ever done to large numbers of Americans were done way back in 1977 and 1983. In '77, Congress passed the Government Pension Offset, which slashed the amount of Social Security benefits people receive when their spouses are on the Civil Service Retirement System. The cut was two-thirds of the amount of the government pension.

Then, in '83, there was the Windfall Elimination Provision. This directly cut Social Security benefits for CSRS retirees who mostly worked for government entities but also spent part of their working lives in the private sector, covered by Social Security.

And, this doesn't just affect those who worked for the federal government. These reductions also apply to those who worked for state and local governments, by formula.

"You will get something," one reads upon investigation of the Social Security Web site. Yep, we know how that is. It hurts worst the first time.

Not much has happened since July. Or since the year before that, and the year before that. ...

A hearing on the Senate version, S. 206, was held Nov. 6 by the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy, chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry is one of 35 co-sponsors in the Senate -- it's strange how much smaller the proportion of co-sponsors is in that body.

Texas AFT (American Federation of Teachers) reported on the hearing:

Witnesses at today's hearing did a good job of stressing that these offsets cut fully EARNED benefits--either earned by an employee's own work in other jobs covered by Social Security or earned by a spouse who was in covered employment. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who is a principal coauthor of the Fairness Act (S. 206), told the story of teacher Julie Worcester, who worked in jobs covered by Social Security for 20 years, then at age 49 went to college to become a teacher and taught for 15 years, until age 68. Mrs. Worcester was subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision, depriving her of much of her earned Social Security pension because she also gets a public pension for serving as a teacher in Maine. The bottom line is that she receives less than $160 from Social Security each month, her total retirement income is $800 a month--and she can't live on that, so at age 78 she is still working part-time as a substitute teacher.

Expert witnesses from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and a Washington think tank gave the usual justifications for the two offsets, essentially boiling down to the claim that they are designed to keep higher-wage employees from reaping a "windfall" when they retire. But Sen. Kerry and other witnesses noted that the offsets in practice are indiscriminate, doing particular harm to employees with low incomes.

Sen. Kerry also made another point that deserves more attention. Kerry said these offsets "penalize people who are making a good choice about how to retire decently in this country, and that's getting harder to do." Members of Congress are "pretty good at taking care of our own health care, pensions, and benefits," he continued, and they "ought to be bending over backward to empower people" to secure a decent retirement income, through a combination of Social Security and a pension from public employment, instead of punishing them for doing so.

What has happened since? More from Texas AFT:

The Fairness Act until now has been blocked session after session by House leaders adamantly opposed to its passage. But those leaders were swept out of office in 2006, and now both the House and Senate are headed by past co-sponsors of the Fairness Act, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada--both hailing from states with large populations of public employees adversely affected by the two unfair offsets. So the outlook for action on the fairness agenda looks brighter in the current Congress. A hearing has already been held in the U.S. Senate on repeal of the GPO and WEP, and a hearing has been promised in the U.S. House Social Security Subcommittee as well for early 2008

We're still waiting to "hear" something about that hearing. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y, the ever-mercurial chairman of House Ways and Means, has promised it will be held and issued a verbose statement of support, of which I will spare you. That's where we are now.

On, there have been 162 comments on the Senate version alone. Here are just a few off the top:

Joan Sullivent
I am 66 y/o retired Civil Servant with both WEP offset and full GPO offset. My own Social Security benefit is just barely more than my Medicare premium. I have to work part time job just to survive. The passing of this bill would allow me to actually retire!

Diane Cordell
I am soon to retire and subject to the GPO and WEP. Having spent 15 years as a homemaker, now divorced, my spousal benefits are not available to me. I entered the workforce in my 40s with a high school education. Needless to say my403b will provide a minimal retirement income. the passage of this bill would give me the SS benefits I have earned.

Barbara Smith
Please support the Social Security Fairness Act H. R 82.

I am an older teacher who returned to the classroom 10 years ago. I now get Social Security of about $800 per month. If I retire from teaching I will loose my SS and get only CA teacher's retirement of around $1000 per month I do not think it is fair to eliminate my SS.

I am penalized by returning to teaching. If my husband should die, I will no longer be eligible for his larger amount of SS. I know of several other teachers with the same problem.

William Reid
I am a recently-retired postal worker with over 30 years of service. I paid enough into social security (40 quarters) to qualify for benefits. However, because I retired under the old CSRS system, I will be robbed of over 60 percent of my SS benefits under the windfall offset law. Now, there is talk on Capitol Hill of providing SS benefits to illegal aliens. Can any of you congressmen imagine how disenfranchising it is to hear of such propals when we older American citizens cannot collect the SS benefits that we rightfully earned? Don't we American workers deserve the same consideration as the immigrants who enter our country illegally?

It was interesting to watch how quickly Congress has been moving on a tax rebate plan that will cost $145 billion. But then, some are worried about paying retired civil servants all that they have earned, so they can actually retire, and still buy groceries and clothes, gas, and so forth?

I suppose that's why they call it politics. To sort of paraphrase Clemenceau, that's all the more reason why it's too important to be left to the politicians.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Weekend Bop, Grassroots-Style

I was actually looking on YouTube for a video of the great Horace Silver (1928- ) playing this Latin-flavored piece, but there wasn't one. But I ran across these dudes in a grassroots jazz quintet in Kenmore, WA, and decided they aren't bad at all. Check out their rendition of Song For My Father:

If you want to hear Horace Silver and Joe Henderson do it, it's on a 1964 Blue Note album. The song is the album's title.

But, these amateurs(?) -- no, they're better than that -- are very OK, in my opinion. It gives me hope for grassroots music preservation. -- MJ

Monday, February 4, 2008

Public May Be Ahead Of Candidates On Medical Marijuana

By Manifesto Joe

Testifying before Congress last summer, the chief scientist in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. David Murray, reportedly said that the medical use of marijuana had sparked violence and robberies in California.

I suppose I've seen too many silly old movies like Reefer Madness. I envisioned, in grainy black and white, wild-eyed, pot-crazed cancer patients, knocking over convenience stores to get at the Milk Duds stash.

More seriously, this season's leading Republican presidential candidates seem to be toeing the White House line on this issue. The Democrats, characteristically, have been more open-minded. But they all seem to be trailing the American public.

As long ago as 2002, a Time/CNN survey found that 80 percent of Americans support the use of marijuana as medicine. And in the same survey, 72 percent said nonmedicinal users should be fined, not thrown in the hoosegow. In other words, they favored decriminalization.

Here's a video sampling of what some of the candidates, current and former, have said about medical marijuana.

From Barack Obama, who admits having inhaled his share as a young man:

From Mitt Romney, evasion and swill:

Here's Hillary Clinton. At least she answered the question:

Now John McCain. He makes one thing perfectly clear -- he's opposed to incarcerating the dead:

This from recent dropout John Edwards. Even with some problems, I'm sad he's not still in the running:

Last, but not least, heeeere's Ron Paul. True to 19th-century American values, he's for states' rights on the issue:

That's all we have time for today, folks. Until next time, 2012, don't get diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.