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ND-Dem's Journal
ND-Dem's Journal
February 16, 2015

The Democrats in Opposition: They can become the party of working Americans and win. Or...

... they can appease Wall Street and lose.

Where should the Democrats go now? Losing both houses of Congress frees them to function as an opposition party, not just to the Republicans, but to a political economy that serves fewer and fewer Americans.

Whether they will seize that opportunity remains an open question. To many within the party establishment, the Democrats face a choice between moving to the center to win over white electors who have either stopped voting or strayed into the Republicans’ ranks, or moving left to re-energize the Rising American Electorate, the young and minority voters who powered Barack Obama into the White House.

The idea that a progressive populist agenda—one that explicitly champions the interests of the 99 percent against those of the one—could command support in both these constituencies is still alien to many Democratic leaders.. Judging by the Beltway discourse, the question that vexes Democrats most is whether the defection of whites or the absence of minorities played the decisive role in the party’s midterm debacle.

The mere existence of this debate reveals the disquieting blindness of some party leaders to both the economic changes that have blighted Americans’ lives in recent decades and to the political opportunities that await the party that reshapes that economy to create more broadly shared prosperity...Yet while many of these races featured flawed Democratic candidates, they also shared a common handicap: the failure of the Democrats to tell voters how they planned to re-create broadly shared prosperity. This was part and parcel of an even more serious failure (one the Democrats shared with virtually every governing party in the advanced industrial democracies): their inability, only partly due to Republican obstructionism, to arrest the declining economic fortunes of all but the wealthiest 10 percent...


February 15, 2015

Bengal Famine Of 1943 - A Man-Made Holocaust

When British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed regret.. for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 in Amritsar (in which at least 400 unarmed Indian men, women and children were massacred by British soldiers), he omitted any reference to Britain’s role in a far greater tragedy of colonial India: the Bengal famine of 1943.

Seventy years ago, at least 3 million people died from starvation and malnutrition during a famine in the Indian province of Bengal -- a partly man-made disaster that has been largely forgotten by the world beyond northeastern India...

In the prior year, 1942, when Japan seized Burma, an important rice exporter, the British bought up massive amounts of rice but hoarded it. The famine only ended because Bengal thankfully delivered a strong rice harvest by 1944.

Dr. Gideon Polya, an Australian biochemist, has called the Bengal famine a man-made “holocaust.” “The British brought an unsympathetic and ruthless economic agenda to India,” he wrote...

Many observers in both modern India and Great Britain blame Winston Churchill, Britain's inspiring wartime leader at the time, for the devastation wrought by the famine...


February 15, 2015

Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The liberal delusions that provoked putin

Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend. A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.

Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it. Logic aside, Russian leaders have told their Western counterparts on many occasions that they consider NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine unacceptable, along with any effort to turn those countries against Russia -- a message that the 2008 Russian-Georgian war also made crystal clear.

Officials from the United States and its European allies contend that they tried hard to assuage Russian fears and that Moscow should understand that NATO has no designs on Russia. In addition to continually denying that its expansion was aimed at containing Russia, the alliance has never permanently deployed military forces in its new member states. In 2002, it even created a body called the NATO-Russia Council in an effort to foster cooperation. To further mollify Russia, the United States announced in 2009 that it would deploy its new missile defense system on warships in European waters, at least initially, rather than on Czech or Polish territory. But none of these measures worked; the Russians remained steadfastly opposed to NATO enlargement, especially into Georgia and Ukraine. And it is the Russians, not the West, who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them.

Sticking with the current policy would also complicate Western relations with Moscow on other issues. The United States needs Russia’s assistance to withdraw U.S. equipment from Afghanistan through Russian territory, reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and stabilize the situation in Syria. In fact, Moscow has helped Washington on all three of these issues in the past; in the summer of 2013, it was Putin who pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire by forging the deal under which Syria agreed to relinquish its chemical weapons, thereby avoiding the U.S. military strike that Obama had threatened. The United States will also someday need Russia’s help containing a rising China. Current U.S. policy, however, is only driving Moscow and Beijing closer together.


February 14, 2015

Detroit Cobbler Moe Draper Serves All Souls

"Cobblers are supposed to repair everyone’s shoes whether they have the money or not," Moe Draper tells The Detroit Free Press. In the unheated concrete-block he rents in Detroit’s open-air Eastern Market, Draper serves anyone who needs shoes repaired, regardless of whether they can pay.

Just a few years ago, Draper himself was homeless. For four months in 2010 he lived in his truck and shoe repair store downtown because he had nowhere to go. So he knows first hand how important shoes are for the needy.

Which is why Draper chose to learn the craft of cobbling after 15 years of shining shoes. First he researched how to become a tradesman. Then he attended industry association classes to practice...

Each week thousands of people flock to Eastern Market for its Saturday Market to enjoy one of the most authentic urban adventures in the United States. This is where Draper rolls up the metal window of his tiny shack in Shed 4, shines shoes for free and repairs them starting at $25.

Draper has a lot of gratitude. He recounts the story of a man who once tried to rob him. “I told him that basically he would set a record for the dumbest thing possible for robbing me. I said, ‘You’ll be so frustrated to see how much money is in my pocket right now.’ I think I only had like $10. I told him he’d get more out of letting me repair his shoes for free than he would if he robbed me. … He’s a paying customer now. … I’ve had more people talk about me for giving them free service, and I believe that’s why good things have come to me.”

February 13, 2015

50 Years Ago, Americans Fired Their Dysfunctional Congress

It’s almost impossible to find anyone who is optimistic about Congress. The good news is that this is not the first time we've despaired over Congressional dysfunction. In fact, in the years leading up to one of the biggest outbursts of legislative productivity—the passage of the Great Society in 1965 and 1966—there was a huge chorus of critics who decried the inaction of Congress. Revisiting that history can teach us about how to navigate the present political morass.

We just finished one of the least productive sessions in American history. Partisan gridlock, incivility, and extremism have paralyzed Capitol Hill. There are not many observers who believe that President Obama’s current policy agenda stands much of a chance of passing through a broken Congress.

Whereas Obama has been stymied by congressional Republicans who controlled the House and capitalized on minority power in the Senate, Kennedy squared off against a coalition of southern Democratic committee chairmen and Republicans. Since the 1937 backlash against Franklin Roosevelt, this conservative coalition had been the principle roadblock to liberal reform. Southerners, elected to safe districts, thrived in a committee system based on seniority.

The longer a person stayed in office, the more power they obtained. Mississippi Senator James Eastland, an ardent racist, chaired a subcommittee responsible for civil rights. He liked to joke that he had special pockets made in his pants just to carry around all the bills he wouldn’t let come up for a vote. In the Senate, southerners killed bills through the filibuster, which, according to journalist William White, made the upper chamber “the South’s unending revenge upon the North for Gettysburg...”

When Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy in November 1963, most of the president’s domestic agenda was stalled. In Life magazine’s memorial issue for JFK in December, the lead article by the editors warned: “The 88th Congress, before the assassination, had sat longer than any peacetime Congress in memory while accomplishing practically nothing. It was feebly led, wedded to its own lethargy and impervious to criticism. It could not even pass routine appropriations bills. It was a scandal of drift and inefficiency...”


February 13, 2015

Why Are Kindle Books So Expensive?

I read a lot of books and never got why books on Amazon’s Kindle were so expensive. $9.99? Greedy authors. A lot of people agree, you can see by just browsing Kindle books...

The customers are firmly in the “The Author / Publisher is Greedy” camp. I never crunched the numbers until I released my own travel book, and I found out why kindle books are so expensive: it is about the % Amazon takes.


February 12, 2015

The great internet swindle: ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

By any measure... the internet, plainly, has transformed all our lives, making so much of what we do every day – communicating, shopping, finding, watching, booking – unimaginably easier than it was. A Pew survey in the United States found last year that 90% of Americans believed the internet had been good for them.

So it takes a brave man to argue that there is another side to the internet... Keen (who was once so sure the internet was the answer that he sank all he had into a startup) is now a thoughtful and erudite contrarian who believes the internet is actually doing untold damage. The net, he argues, was meant to be “power to the people, a platform for equality”: an open, decentralised, democratising technology that liberates as it empowers as it informs. Instead, it has handed extraordinary power and wealth to a tiny handful of people... Individually, it may work wonders for us. Collectively, it’s doing us no good at all. “It was supposed to be win-win,” Keen declares. “The network’s users were supposed to be its beneficiaries. But in a lot of ways, we are its victims...”

Keen cites San Francisco-based writer Rebecca Solnit’s incisive take on Google: imagine it is 100 years ago, and the post office, the phone company, the public libraries, the printing houses, Ordnance Survey maps and the cinemas were all controlled by the same secretive and unaccountable organisation. Plus, he adds, almost as an afterthought: “Google doesn’t just own the post office – it has the right to open everyone’s letters.” This, Keen argues, is the net economy’s natural tendency: “Google is the search and information monopoly and the largest advertising company in history...
Uber’s about being the transport monopoly; Airbnb the hospitality monopoly; TaskRabbit the labour monopoly. These are all, ultimately, monopoly plays – that’s the logic. And that should worry people...”

Keen’s book cites a 2013 survey by the US Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which found that while it takes, on average, a regular bricks-and-mortar store 47 employees to generate $10m in turnover, Bezos’s many-tentacled, all-consuming and completely ruthless “Everything Store” achieves the same with 14. Amazon, that report concluded, probably destroyed 27,000 US jobs in 2012.

“And we love it,” Keen says. “We all use Amazon. We strike this Faustian deal. It’s ultra-convenient, fantastic service, great interface, absurdly cheap prices. But what’s the cost? Truly appalling working conditions; we know this. Deep hostility to unions. A massive impact on independent retail; in books, savage bullying of publishers... But we’re seduced into thinking it’s good; Amazon has told us what we want to hear. Bezos says, ‘This is about you, the consumer.’ The problem is, we’re not just consumers. We’re citizens, too.”

One chapter of the book is devoted to Keen’s lament for Rochester, the home town of Eastman Kodak – a company that in 1989, the year Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, was worth $31bn and employed 145,000 people. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012.... Meanwhile, 55,000 Kodak pensioners are out of luck. Just the previous year, as a timeline at its headquarters records, 380bn photographs were taken around the world – 11% of all the photographs ever taken...The number of photographers’ jobs in the US has fallen by 43%, he notes; the number of newspaper editorial jobs by 27%. He cites US singer-songwriter Ellen Shipley, who calculated in 2012 that one of her most popular tracks was streamed 3.1m times on the internet radio Pandora, for which she received a total of $31.93, and points to the 45% of revenue skimmed off all independently produced content on YouTube. Meanwhile, the internet’s inherent “1% model” is functioning perfectly: in 2013, Keen notes, the top 1% of music artists received 77% of all artist-recorded music income. Blockbusters do brilliantly; most of the rest withers....


February 12, 2015

Detroit man who walked 21 miles/d for work moves out of fear for safety

The Detroit man whose determination to walk more than 20 miles a day to get to and from work inspired an online campaign that raised more than $350,000 for him abruptly moved on Tuesday after telling police that he did not feel safe with his newfound fortune.

According to the Detroit Free Press — whose profile of 56-year-old James Robertson led to the outpouring of donations and gifts, including a new car — the factory worker was moved to a temporary home after consulting with local law enforcement officials...

In December, an 86-year-old Detroit man went missing after reportedly winning $20,000 in a lottery game, police said. Last week, he was found stabbed to death, and police charged a 20-year-old with his murder.

"[Robertson] knew about that story," Tosqui said. "And I also know about an incident in the 1st Precinct where a gentleman was killed after he allegedly won some money. In those two examples, no one approached the department. But if somebody won the lottery tomorrow and contacted us, we would look at the situation in the same way and see what we could do," he said.

Robertson told the paper he plans to stay in the temporary residence until he finds a permanent home, possibly closer to his $10.55-an-hour factory job in Rochester Hills.


After the move, Robertson said, "I wanted to get it over with — there were so many factors involved" about potential risks to his safety and need to safeguard his new car. He said he was relieved to be out of the rooming house where he'd lived for more than 15 years, and relieved to be away from his landlady — the woman he'd long called his girlfriend — because "the issue was, she liked to control everyone and everything."

After setting up Tuesday's meeting with Robertson, Tosqui said he contacted a local businessman and asked whether he had an empty apartment that he could make available for Robertson, at no cost "for a few days," while the native Detroiter decides where he wants to live permanently.

Robertson's decision to move came after he confided that he was concerned about his safety, and that some of the other residents at the boardinghouse where he lived wanted a share of his windfall and threatened Robertson with violence, said Pollock, 47, of Rochester, who befriended the intrepid commuter.


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