A Progressive Plan for Action

English: Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. ...
English: Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on December 24, 2009, by state. Two Democratic yeas One Democratic yea, one Republican nay One Republican nay, one Republican not voting Two Republican nays (Photo credit: Wikipedia)





A Progressive Plan for Action


Michael Lind’s article, The South is Holding America Hostage, strikes me as compelling. Certainly, the history of the South and my personal experiences living in that part of the country provides support for that point of view. And he is also right that like an army on the offensive, they have their opposition constantly fumbling around trying to set up some kind of last minute, patchwork, cobbled together defense.


Lind offers a set of goals to put what he calls the “Southern Autonomy Project” on the defensive. I find many of them good choices.


I would like to add as goals, a nationwide system of high speed rail, a system of free college education and implied in that a total and complete end to the student load system and a repair of America’s failing infrastructure.


James Pilant


The South is holding America hostage


The Tea Party’s not crazy — they had a plan. Now liberals and progressives need one, too





Setting political difficulty aside, it is intellectually easy to set forth a grand national strategy that consists of coordinated federal policies to defeat the Southern Autonomy Project.


A federal living wage.  At one blow, a much higher federal minimum wage would cripple the ability of Southern states to lure companies from more generous states which supplement the too-low present federal minimum wage with higher local state or urban minimum wages.  (Strong national unions could do the same, but that is not a realistic option at present.)


Nationalization of social insurance.  Social insurance programs with both federal and state components, like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), allow Southern states to be stingier than many other states, creating more desperate workers who are more dependent on the mercy of employers and elite-dominated charities. Completely federalizing Medicaid (as President Ronald Reagan suggested!) and other hybrid federal-state social insurance programs would cripple the Southern Autonomy Project further.


Real voting rights.  Using the authority of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Congress should completely federalize voting requirements for all federal, state and local elections, making it as easy as possible for U.S. citizens to vote — over the objections of kicking and screaming neo-Confederates.


Nonpartisan redistricting.  Partisan redistricting by majorities in state legislatures should be replaced by nonpartisan redistricting commissions, as in California, New Jersey and other states.  The redistricting commissions should be truly nonpartisan, not “bipartisan” arrangements in which incumbent Republicans and incumbent Democrats cut deals to protect their safe seats from competition. (Electoral reforms like instant run-off voting and proportional representation are struggles for a more distant future).


Abolish the Senate filibuster.  The filibuster is not part of the U.S. constitution. It has been used by Southern white conservatives from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first to preserve Southern white power and economic privilege. This relic of premodern  British parliamentary politics should be abolished. Democracy means majority rule. If the Southern Right loses a battle in Congress, it can try to round up allies and win next time. It should no longer be able to paralyze the Senate, the Congress or the federal government as a whole.


Abolish the federal debt ceiling completely.  The federal debt ceiling is another institution like the filibuster which has now been ruined by being abused by Southern conservatives. Now that the Southern right is trying to turn it into a recurrent tool of hostage-taking when it loses votes in Congress, the federal debt ceiling should be abolished. The federal government should be authorized to borrow any amount necessary to fund spending appropriated or authorized by Congress, if there is any shortfall in tax revenues.


From around the web.


From the web site,




The Progressive Liberal agenda has always

been about caring for and empowering the least among us (Matthew 25),

and setting a secure floor under our citizenry. Teddy Roosevelt’s Square

Deal: a living wage, a basic safety net; Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal:

Social Security; Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society: the elimination of

poverty and racial injustice, and Medicare/Medicaid. It’s been about

building America from the ground up using government only for what is

absolutely necessary and providing a basic standing point: free public

education, free medical care, and care for the needy and elderly as in

all other developed countries in the world. And, yes, tax the wealthy

and very wealthy more than the middle class folks who

are just working every day. Why? Because the wealthy benefit more from

the commons and thus should pay a higher percentage of their income for



Every positive step forward in this

country has been brought by the Progressive Left… and the Right’s agenda

has been to say No. Progressives brought us the 50-hour work week, then

the 40-hour work week. The Right said No. Progressives brought us the

Minimum Wage. The Right said No. Progressives brought us the right to

unionize the workplace. The Right said No. Progressives brought us

worker safety laws so people don’t die in factories or offices which

used to be one of the leading causes of death in the US, but not

anymore. The Right said No.



Government Shutdown is Making U.S. an Object of Ridicule



English: US Capitol, Washington DC, the seat o...
English: US Capitol, Washington DC, the seat of government for the United States Congress. Nederlands: Het Capitool, de zetel van de volksvertegenwoordiging van de Verenigde Staten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I am appalled by what’s happening. I freely confess I don’t know what will happen if this last beyond the 17th and we go into default. It could be anything from very little happening to a worldwide economic catastrophe culminating in a decade long Depression. If I were a legislator, I like to think I would want to avoid going into default where the unknowns are so perilous. But I do not believe I can count on the intelligence or judgment of those willing to shut down the government as a form of blackmail. It was irresponsible to begin with, and it has only become less moral, less ethical and less intelligent as the days have gone by.




James Pilant




Trudy Rubin: Shutdown repercussions | Opinion | McClatchy DC












How far we have come since the heady days of the 1990s, when eager civic activists from ex-communist and third-world countries looked to U.S. experts to show them how a multiparty system worked.Indeed, America\’s longtime allies are bewildered by a system where a small minority of legislators can hijack Congress. They also can\’t understand why Congress has to vote separately to authorize the borrowing of funds to pay for expenses it has already approved. Perhaps because no other modern democracy except Denmark has such a system.The commentary in friendly countries has been scathing.\”For a country that fancies itself the greatest democracy on Earth, the fact that a small band of outliers in one party can essentially shut down the federal government over a petty political brawl seems woefully undemocratic,\” Lee-Anne Goodman of Canadian Press told the Talking Points Memo blog. Le Monde columnist Alain Frachon told the New York Times that \”Washington is looking more like the Italian political system, with its permanent crises.\”David Usborne wrote in the British newspaper The Independent: \”America is indeed exceptional, at least in terms of its place in the global financial system,\” but \”in almost every other respect right now it is starting to look exceptionally silly.\” Even if a budget and debt-ceiling deal is completed in the next two weeks, he add …






via Trudy Rubin: Shutdown repercussions | Opinion | McClatchy DC.






From around the web.






From the web site, Newsworks.












For instance, the BBC intoned,

“That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly

provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic

growth is astonishing….Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war,

the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’

wages.” In western Europe, a think-tank scholar tweeted, “Next time you

blame the woes of developing nations on ‘poor governance,’ think about

how the U.S. government arrived at today.”






In France, the newspaper Le Monde assailed the “grotesque” shutdown, and aimed its editorial message at one of America’s founding fathers: “Jefferson, wake up! They’ve gone crazy!” In Germany, Der Spiegel Online declared, “A superpower has paralyzed itself,” and the business daily Handelsbatt depicted the Statue of Liberty in chains, capped by the headline, “The Blocked World Power.” In Spain, the El Pais newspaper marveled at America’s “suicidal madness.”






Granted, some of these reactions have a touch of schadenfreude,

taking pleasure in our misfortune. That’s especially true with the

French, who always love to tweak us, even while forgetting that if not

for America 69 years ago, they would’ve stayed under the Nazi heel. But

why give them an excuse to treat us as a laughingstock?






And the current scoffing spans the continents. In China, an

entertainer tweeted, “Chinese must be wondering – When will America

embrace real reform? How long can this system survive? Where is

America’s Gorbachev?” In China, a government-run news website said

the nation should be “on guard against spillover of irresponsible U.S.

politics.” In India, business executives told the Voice of America that

they couldn’t fathom how an advanced nation like America could allow its

government to close, and a college student in New Dehli said it was

“sad and shocking.” In the Philippines, an editorial writer asked, “How

did the world’s lone superpower come to such a sorry pass?” In Malaysia,

a news website ran the headline, “U.S. shutdown leaves the world

scratching its head,” and the story said that some Malaysians “had

trouble suppressing smirks.” And The Australian newspaper said that the shutdown “doesn’t say much for the budgetary process in the world’s largest economy.” And so on.






From the web site, Esquire.












In the year of our Lord 2010, the voters of the United States elected

the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been

Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible,

though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more

vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for

trees. But there has never been in a single Congress — or, more

precisely, in a single House of the Congress — a more lethal combination

of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory

than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal

government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous

Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a

law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health

insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a

law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on

the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also

happens to have been the party’s 2012 nominee for president of the

United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in

large measure, closed this morning.

















Related articles


Felix Salmon Makes a Key Observation

Barack Obama and the limitations of probabilistic decision making | Felix Salmon

For Obama, if a decision doesn’t work out, he’s OK with that, since he reckons there’s a statistical certainty that a good third of his decisions will fail to work out. And he takes solace in the idea that so long as the process of arriving at the decision was a good one, by which he means that it was properly technocratic and probabilistic, then he did the best that he could have done.

But that kind of decision-making framework leaves very little room for ideals — for actually putting into practice the kind of vision you have for America. By making decisions on a case-by-case basis, you can end up missing out on building something bigger and much more coherent. In 2008, America voted for a man who was truly excellent at staring into the distance, a man looking at the big picture, and at a centuries-long legacy. Instead, hampered by the financial crisis and by a dysfunctional Congress, they got a man who spends his days weighing success probabilities: a tactician, rather than a strategist.

Barack Obama and the limitations of probabilistic decision making | Felix Salmon

“Little room for ideals:” Exactly, the President lacks the desire to fight on moral or ethical grounds but governs based on some kind of intellectual calculus, a bloodless exercise in which losses are measured in much the same way as a  a lost chess game.

Mr. Salmon hit on something I have long suspected, and I very much wish both he and I were wrong but we are not. The President lives in a world devoid of ethical calculus. He lives by the probability of the possible. We voted for a new direction for American democracy, a different vision, but we got a President who cannot envision a different reality – only manipulate the current one.

James Pilant

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Student Loan Debt a Lifetime Burden for Middle Class but Major Money Maker for Goldman Sachs

Kids today still screwed – Student Loan Debt – Salon.com

Just in case anyone decided to “scam” themselves some free higher education by going to college and then declaring bankruptcy, Congress decided in 1998 to make sure that student loan debt had no statute of limitations and could not be discharged except in the event of extreme (and effectively unprovable) hardship. Then tuition began skyrocketing, players like Goldman Sachs got into the student lending business, and middle-class job opportunities for people without college degrees disappeared. The result, naturally, has been extremely profitable for certain people (Lally Weymouth) and basically awful for everyone else in America. Now, Eric Pianin is in Lally Weymouth’s Washington Post saying that student loan debt might be “the next debt bomb.

Kids today still screwed – Student Loan Debt – Salon.com

My poor students are getting battered by an economy where there are few jobs in a nation where last year’s college graduates owed an average of $24,000 in student loans.

Other nations do not place the burden of higher education on the students. It is a matter of public expenditure. The United States has long been the leader in college graduates worldwide and no we are fourth. I see no prospect of that getting better but only worse. Education is not a commodity. It is a public good necessary for a successful society.

We can do better than this. We are a better people than this.

James Pilant

Should We Go Back to the Good Ole Days with Women’s Health?

It is so obvious to me that women should have access to birth control that I find it hard to take the opponents seriously. I agree with Martha Plimpton that the opposition to it is based on the bizarre idea that women do not know how to manage their lives and therefore need to be regulated. Women’s freedom is just as important as men’s. When it comes to rights, all humans are important.

James Pilant

Martha Plimpton: Stop undermining women’s health with personhood amendments and ultrasound laws

But we don’t live in caves anymore. And it has long been known that where women have the ability to control their own reproductive lives, standards of living rise, children are healthier, education levels rise, and women’s contributions to society increase. This is true in developing countries around the world, and in countries across Europe where low rates of teen pregnancy and infant mortality put ours to shame. When you keep women from exercising their right to physical self-determination, the actual consequences reveal themselves. It’s long past time we started focusing on the solutions that actually keep women healthy, instead of using basic aspects of women’s health as a tool of cultural, moral, and political control.

Martha Plimpton: Stop undermining women’s health with personhood amendments and ultrasound laws

In addition, here is Susan Fluke and the testimony she would have offered to Congress had the Chairman of the Committee allowed it.

Sandra Fluke Speaks: The Republican War on Womens Health

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Will Rogers – Mortgage Relief

Will Rogers (19th century photo)

Image via Wikipedia

I am a big fan of the American humorist, Will Rogers. I have a first edition of one of his biographies, (Will Rogers, Ambassador of Good Will, Prince of Wit and Wisdom – P.J. O’Brien) and hope to collect a complete set of his newspaper columns.

The mortgage foreclosure crisis has  long been a concern of mine. I’ve written about it many times.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Rogers had his own views on the subject –

… Why my lord, there is dozens of different things that will help the farmer on his land, besides water, or fertilizer, either. There is the interest on the first, and second mortgages. Why don’t they introduce a bill in Congress to help the farmer by paying off his mortgages? That’s what eating him upon the farm, it’s not lack of irrigation, or lack of fertilizer – it’s abundance of interest payments; that’ s the baby that is there every minute of every day. Talk and sing about “Old Man River,” but it’s old man “interest” that keeps the farmer running to town every few days. He has to have a bookkeeper to keep a set of book to keep track of when his various Notes and Mortgage interest comes due. It’s the thought of the old mortgages that keep him awake at night.

But if you notice, they are always trying to put through some kind of bill in Congress, but nobody ever puts one through to do something about interest. No sir, you couldn’t do that, because then you are getting into the business of the boys that really hold the hoops while the jumping is going on. You could no more get a bill through to whittle the old interest down, than you could get a politician to admit a mistake.

(The column was written in 1928 and is found on pages 134-135 of A Will Rogers Treasury, compiled by Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N. Sterling, Crown Publishing 1982)

Rogers was not a big fan of Congress or the big banks. In 1928, the farming depression was in its tenth year. American farmers had prospered during the First World War and had borrowed heavily to increase production by buying more land, mechanizing their farms, fertilizing and irrigating their crops. When the war ended and the soldiers of that war returned home and resumed farming the price of every kind of agricultural commodity dropped dramatically. The farmers were left on the hook for large mortgages that were difficult to pay. Believing in their way of life they doubled down getting further into debt but the agricultural depression did not let up until the Second World War. I wouldn’t be until the Roosevelt Administration that the farmers began to receive significant aid.

Will Rogers was a member of the one percent, the highest paid film star of his time but he never forgot where he came from and who was important even though they didn’t have that much money.

James Pilant

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I Showed the Documentary, Gasland, Today

Films receive a wide variety of responses in the college classroom. The response to Gasland was excellent. The class paid careful attention, had good questions and comments. I knew of the film but did not intend to use it in class. My Tuesday-Thursday class actually asked to see it. So, I read up on it, and it struck me as useful. I’ve shown it in three classes now with the same positive results in each class.

Josh Fox

This is a Josh Fox film. The first time you see it, you are shocked by his story of unregulated drilling of natural gas known as fracking. But is only the second time, you realize the skill of our documentarian. The film never sags. It always keeps the audience engaged. The film is well paced and its plotline beautifully constructed. I’ll be watching for any of his films in the future. It may well be that his work will grow in skill as time goes by.

It is troubling to consider that for most of us, Josh Fox is our only defense against the practice of fracking. Only a handful of states regulate it, and the response of most of officialdom to complaints is basically to drop dead.

You see, an act of Congress relieved the giant energy companies of the need to comply with federal environmental laws. Federal agencies aren’t even allowed to study what the companies are doing. We only have partial knowledge of the chemicals being used, and the very fact that these companies essentially placed themselves outside the law through a compliant Congress raises suspicions of their motives.

I think until strong regulation is enacted to deal with the fracking problem, I will be using the film in class.

Below is a link to the web address for Josh Fox’s film, Gasland.


And here is the link for the trailer.


Here is the link to buy it on Amazon.com.


I recommend it for classroom use at the college level.

James Pilant

Tapwater that ignites.
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Meltdown Monday: Like watching my fantasy baseball team get slaughtered, only it matters (via Minding the Workplace)

David Yamada and I definitely see eye to eye on this issue. I have no retirement investments on Wall Street, so I am one step further away. Still, I am very upset by the self destructive tendencies of the Congress of the United States and its effect on world markets. I’m looking to the elections in 2012. Surely we can do better than this!

James Pilant

I confess that I have spent my day alternating between semi-productive writing and e-mailing tasks and less productive glances at the stock market reports. At the bell, the Dow has finished another 600 points down. Like millions of Americans, what happens with the stock market bears directly and indirectly on my financial health. And like many fellow Americans, I am a bit player in this casino economy. Some of my retirement savings are invested i … Read More

via Minding the Workplace

Wall Street plunges after S&P downgrade (via Reuters)

Stocks plunged on Monday, with the S&P down more than 6 percent for its largest drop in nearly three years on rising fears of a recession exacerbated by the United States’ loss of its triple-A credit rating.

I wonder what would have happened if we had actually defaulted. I guess it would have been very entertaining from a news standpoint. Of course, from the point of view of an American trying to get by, it would have been less entertaining.

How bad is this going to be? I expected this to be the kind of response an actual default would have caused. So, I’m not that good a guide. Apparently these financial gurus bear more resemblance to an overpopulation of lemmings than to coldly analytical Ivy League grads.

The next shoe to drop will be the reaction of the overseas markets especially the Asian ones. If there is a sell off there. We may continue the sell off here.

Great fun. I tell my students we are in the midst of history being made. This history does not seem to me to be fairly similar to other historical eras. I think the self destructive tendencies of the Congress are worse then at any other time besides the Civil War. We could be creating a fiscal situation unprecedented in all of world history, a great power literally committing financial suicide – a great power giving up its planetary pre-eminence to avoid raising taxes on the rich.

James Pilant


What on earth is S365? (via (B)LogtheLeg)

The debt ceiling agreement clobbers grad students. It makes it harder to get loans for those working toward advanced degrees. We in this country need to encourage education not just at the bachelor level but at all levels. We don’t just live to make money but to extend our civilization. It’s important to continue this process.

Let’s cut grad students a break and maintain their ability to stay in school.

James Pilant

Based on the timing on this post, I think you can infer it's the debt ceiling bill that passed the House earlier. But let's go a bit in depth, and discuss something which I don't believe was discussed on the Floor of the House. I'm not going to delve into the numbers of the debt ceiling, for you all can read that on whichever source you choose. What many of your outside sources will not tell you is the name of the bill itself. It is entitled, "To … Read More

via (B)LogtheLeg