Monday, October 31, 2011

The System's Game

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system's game. The establishment will irritate you: pull your beard, flick your face to make you fight. Because once they've got you violent then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don't know how to handle is nonviolence and humor.

-- John Lennon
[it took me forever to source this;
for the longest time I thought it must be misattributed]

In this week's sift:

  • Nonviolence and the Police. If the recent police attacks on Occupy protesters either enrage or discourage you, take some time to remember how nonviolence works, and the important roles the police play in that strategy.
  • It's Mitt Romney's Economy. Vast inequality? Paper profits and no jobs? It's all part of a revolution in corporate behavior that started in the 70s. And one of the major revolutionaries was Mitt Romney.
  • Three-eyed Fish and other short notes. Somebody really did catch a three-eyed fish near a nuclear power plant. My Halloween column. Occupy Mordor's statement. Perry's flat tax. Some very pretty pictures of the northern lights. Bad Lip Reading does Herman Cain. And more.
  • Last week's most popular post. For the third week in a row, Turn the Shame Around, with 352 views (7400 total). The most-viewed new post was Eliminate the Work Penalty(183). (Whenever I report such a low number, somebody reminds me that the blog page views don't count the readers who get the Sift via email or RSS feeds. That's around 300 people total, as best I can figure.)
  • This week's challenge. Lots of state and local elections are happening a week from tomorrow. These elections are won on turnout, so make sure to turn out. The headline vote is in Ohio, where a No on Issue 2 will repeal the anti-union bill passed by the legislature. They could still use your help.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.

-- Karl Marx

In this week's sift:

  • Eliminate the Work Penalty. I don't know why liberals let conservatives dominate the tax-simplification issue. The Right's regressive flat-tax idea doesn't simplify anything. But there's an obvious progressive reform that would.
  • Koch-Funded Study: "Global Warming is Real". Climate-change deniers expected a new study by a blue-ribbon group of scientists from outside the usual climate-science circles to show that global-warming statistics were either a mistake or a fraud. Instead, it provided independent verification of their accuracy.
  • Shoot-out at the MSNBC Corral. Friday, Rachel Maddow looked straight into the camera, addressed the Koch brothers by name, and told them to "man up" and face her rather than go after her staff.
  • Gracious Statesmanship and other short notes. Why can't Republicans be as gracious about President Obama's successes as Democrats were in 2003? We have Blackwater to thank for getting our troops out of Iraq. Meteor Blades says that the Iraq War was a crime, not a mistake. Still no End of the World. A vertical forest in Milan. Bra-burning in Japan. Where Occupy Wall Street has already succeeded. OWS humor. And Bad Lip Reading's Mitt Romney video.
  • Last week's most popular post. For the second week in a row, Turn the Shame Aroundgot the most views (1400 last week, 7000 total). The most popular new post was Suck It Up, with around 350 views.
  • Expand Your Vocabulary: metaphor shear. It's the moment when a sudden confrontation with reality makes you realize that you've been thinking inside a bogus metaphor. Anybody who takes a serious look at economics is going to experience a lot of metaphor shears.

Monday, October 17, 2011


You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

– Eric Hoffer

In this week's sift:

  • Suck It Up: Using Our Pride Against Us. Last week I talked about how the economic system uses our shame against us. This week I focus on the flip side of that phenomenon: pride.
  • A View From Dewey Square. I visited Occupy Boston the afternoon after the police had dropped by. Too bad we missed each other.
  • Blood and Teeth on the Floor and other short notes. Molly Erdman's parody captures everything I love about Elizabeth Warren. I couldn't make myself watch the Republican debate, so I let other people fact-check it. Plus, I whole bunch of other fact-checking and lie-exposing about Occupy Wall Street and the economy.
  • Last week's most popular post. Turn the Shame Around (5700 views at last count) had the second most popular first week in history.
  • This week's challenge.Woody Tasch presents an interesting challenge: What if ordinary people who were doing well enough to have savings stopped investing it all in financial institutions and instead invested in local businesses they can see and use and understand? Especially in local food enterprises: "I'm talking about investing with your friends and neighbors in small organic farms, grain mills, creameries, small slaughterhouses, seed companies, compost companies, restaurants that source locally, butchers and bakers and, sure, a bee's-wax candlemaker or two. Take 1 percent of your money out of the stock market and put it into food hubs, community kitchens, community markets, school gardens, niche organic brands, makers of sustainable agricultural inputs, and more." Doing this right is more than a one-week challenge, but how would you start?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Public Shamelessness

The Weekly Sift has moved to

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.

-- Benjamin Franklin, Sayings of Poor Richard

In this week's sift:

  • Turn the Shame Around. It took Herman Cain to teach me what Occupy Wall Street is about: casting off shame and putting it where it belongs. The Powers That Be would have us be ashamed that we weren't good enough to crack the top 1%. But what is really shameful is an economy that only works for the top 1%.
  • What Kind of King Do You Want To Be? Wednesday I had to explain to a teen-ager why the news is important. I told him that in a democracy the People are King, and the children are in training to be King. Whatever we need to know to be a good King, that defines what news is. And when we're a bad King, people die.
  • Palin's Big Con and other short notes. Did Sarah Palin bluff running for president just to con money out of her fans? Jon Stewart thinks so. Stephen Colbert apologizes to a ham that looks like Karl Rove. The secret "kill list" for American citizens. Hank Williams Jr., Scott Brown, and Rick Perry deal with PR problems. Occupy Sesame Street. And more.
  • Last week's most popular post. It was a slow week. For the second week in a row, the short notes were the top new post. The Brilliance/Pointlessness of Occupying Wall Street and other short notes garnered 127 views. Meanwhile, Six True Things Politicians Can't Say (from September 19) got 193 views. At 67K, it has accounted for about half of the page views since this blog moved to in July.
  • Expand Your Vocabulary. A new feature, which will alternate with This Week's Challenge. This week I want to call your attention to the term composition fallacy: assuming that what works for one person will work if everybody does it. (The classic example is standing up to get a better view at a football game.) In politics, composition fallacies are used to make structural problems in the economy look like individual moral failings. One unemployed person can network and pound the pavement and retrain until he finds a new job. Does it follow that unemployment would go away if all the unemployed tried harder? No.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Changing the System

The Weekly Sift has moved. Check out the new site at

If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.

-- attributed to Emma Goldman (but I'm having a hard time sourcing it)

In this week's Sift:

  • ConConCon: Can the Grass Roots Find Common Ground? In the current money-dominated system, neither the liberal nor the conservative grass roots can pass any kind of fundamental change through the bottleneck of Congress. What if the two sides could trust each other long enough to reform our democracy, and then have the kind of democratic struggle the Founders envisioned?
  • Execution Without Trial. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who supported al Qaeda and may have been actively plotting to kill Americans. Friday he was killed by a drone missile, despite never having been indicted or convicted of any crime. How should we feel about that?
  • The Brilliance/Pointlessness of Occupying Wall Street, and other short notes. Does it make sense to have a protest movement but no demands? More poor, poor bigots. You still don't know how bad paperless voting machines are. 85K Americans died last year because they weren't French. Christians face the failure of abstinence. Plus more depressing stuff, leading to baby pandas. Because who doesn't like baby pandas?
  • Last Week's Most Popular Post. At 146 views, Poor, Poor Bigots and other short notes was the first short-notes post ever to out-draw the week's longer articles. Everything I posted last week ran well behind Six True Things Politicians Can't Say from September 12 (438 views last week, 67,000 total).
  • This Week's Challenge. A college teacher says civics education has gotten so bad we all need to work on it: "Each one of us who does know how the system works, who votes, who has strong feelings about democracy and justice, has a responsibility to teach someone who as of yet doesn't know this." That means you, right?