Arab Spring spreads to Europe?

January 16, 2012

English: Emil Boc speaking.

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc - Image via Wikipedia

Eric Koenig wondered, and wrote:

On December 17, 1989, Romanian security forces fired into a crowd in the city of Timişoara. Scarcely a week later, the Romanian revolution was over and Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife had been toppled and tried and summarily executed. Now thousands of people are protesting in Romania and calling for the ouster of their President (who has been in some political hot water himself, being “suspended” briefly and narrowly escaping impeachment in 2007, during his first term) and many of the protests started in the same city.

Is history repeating itself?  Stay tuned …

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/International/2012/Jan-15/159949-romania-protests-spread-despite-health-bill-withdrawal.ashx#axzz1je7ndQhJ

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16570860

The story isn’t being followed by many US newspapers. Yet.

I think it’s not quite so simple, nor a repeat of 22 years ago.  Romanians protest austerity cuts to their government-paid health plans, according to BBC:

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc has called for dialogue and an end to violence after four days of protests against austerity cuts.

Dozens of people were hurt on Sunday, as demonstrators and riot police clashed for a second day running in the capital Bucharest.

The rallies began in support of an official who quit in protest against health care reforms.

But they have grown into a broader hostility towards government policies.

The alliance of opposition parties has called for early elections.

I think the economic grievances are not of the same kind as those in Africa and Arabia, nor are they so deep as the extreme discontent with Ceaușescu’s communist government 22 years ago.

But, who can tell what’s really going on?  We have to depend on reports from Lebanese newspapers, and rewrites of those stories from the Associated Press?

Government change poses astonishing opportunities in the past year, especially these home-grown, nationalist liberation movements.  New resources, cut back from a century ago, leave us without eyes and ears on the ground in too many foreign capitals.

English: Grave of the former dictator Nicolae ...

Bucharest grave of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu - Image via Wikipedia

Why aren’t we hearing more about the Romanian crisis in U.S. news media?  Well, there’s the war in Afghanistan, the ending war in Iraq, and trouble in Nigeria.  Then there is the South Carolina circus.   For all I know, American Idol is in the news today, too.

It’s not like either you are, or I am, Marie, the Queen of Roumania, right?  What could go wrong that might affect us?

Watch.  U.S. papers will pick up the story in small snippets over the next week or so.

Could you find Romania on an unlabeled map?

Map of Romania, from GreenwichMeanTime.com

Map of Romania, from GreenwichMeanTime.com

Location map of Romania, GreenwhichMeanTime.com

Location map of Romania, GreenwhichMeanTime.com


Fruits of the Republican War on Education

January 16, 2012

You didn’t think it was working already?

This story appeared in the Los Angeles Times, which is why Republicans discourage newspaper publishing, and why they discourage programs to teach people to read well and remember history.

In South Carolina, a discrepancy on federal spending

Campaigning Republicans draw cheers with their calls for cuts to government programs. But the state benefits from such programs to a greater extent than many others.

By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

January 14, 2012, 7:55 p.m.

Reporting from Beaufort, S.C.—

When Rick Santorum stood in front of voters at a yacht club in this small town and pledged to slash government spending, especially entitlement programs, Nancy Garvin knew she had found her candidate.

Garvin, 54, said she was sick of seeing government squander money through agencies that don’t do anything, and wants expenditures cut “in half.”

Washington is throwing money away through a lot of wasteful spending,” she said, sitting at a picnic table beneath trees draped in graying Spanish moss.

But Garvin, whose husband, a carpenter, has been out of work for four years, depends on the very government she wants to see cut back. She collects disability insurance — it is what she and her husband have survived on as he’s looked for work. Her mother is on Social Security. Garvin herself used to work as a nurse at a hospital where many patients paid for services through Medicaid, another program using federal money.

Garvin’s views are similar to those of many Republican voters in this conservative state, where candidates pledging to cut government spending were met with resounding applause last week, and where former Gov. Mark Sanford tried to refuse federal stimulus funding on principle.

South Carolina and its residents benefit from government spending, more so than many other states. For every dollar the state pays in federal taxes, it receives $1.35 in federal government benefits. By contrast, California receives only 78 cents for every dollar it pays in taxes.

“We get more back from the federal government than we send in terms of revenue,” said Doug Woodward, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina. “But I’m not sure that a lot of voters would even care if they heard that. When they say they want to see less spending in the state, they’re referring to entitlement programs.”

Much of the money spent in South Carolina goes to the programs that make up a big chunk of the federal budget — defense, Social Security and Medicaid. The state has seven military bases, and received $7 billion in Defense Department spending in 2010. One in five residents in South Carolina receives Social Security benefits — compared with just 13% in California. As an aging state, South Carolina will be more dependent on federal programs such as Social Security in the coming decade, according to AARP.

“People want to see lower government spending, especially on the Republican side,” said Karen Kedrowski, a politics professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. “But when they’re asked specifically about high-dollar items, including Social Security and defense, they are not willing to accept significant cuts.”

Kedrowski’s university recently polled South Carolina Republicans to ask about reducing the deficit by making cuts to government programs: 73% of voters said they weren’t willing to have their current Social Security or Medicare benefits reduced to address budget concerns. More than half said they weren’t willing to cut defense spending either.

It’s not just wealthy Republican voters in the Palmetto State who say they eschew entitlement programs, Kedrowski said.

“There’s also a disproportionate number of low-income people who vote Republican because they respond to the populist messages, even when it is against their economic interests to do so,” she said.

Sheila Barton, 56, runs a floral shop in Pickens, a town that Rick Perry visited recently to stroll down Main Street and shake hands with store owners and residents.

“Americans don’t want a government that’s playing a bigger role in their lives,” Perry had said at a speech earlier that morning. “No one’s ever come up to me and said, ‘We sure need to have more government in our lives.’”

Barton agrees — in principle.

“There’s a lot of things that are wasteful,” she said, but when pressed to name some, she said she couldn’t really think of any off the top of her head. Defense spending should be increased, she said, and people who have paid into Social Security should receive their benefits. And local government programs need more funding, she said — she’s currently a guardian for local children through the court system.

There is some evidence that South Carolina’s opposition to government spending might further strangle the state’s already weak economy — if it leads to cuts in Social Security. Roberto Gallardo of the Southern Rural Development Center says that economies in many small towns in South Carolina are increasingly dependent on Social Security payments.

The percentage of total personal income in South Carolina coming from Social Security’s Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance programs was 7.6% in 2009, up from 3.8% in 1970. South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation on the group’s Social Security Dependency Index, which measures how reliant local economies are on Social Security payments for job creation and consumer spending. Neighboring North Carolina ranked 23rd.

That means candidates have to walk a fine line here — promising to cut government to alleviate voters’ fears, while still preserving the programs that require most of the spending. How else to appeal to such voters as Clifton Anderson of Camden, who went to see Rick Santorum speak in a diner in Ridgeway?

“His ideas of downsizing government are most important to me,” said Anderson, about Santorum. He continued, in the next breath: “I also like his idea about strengthening defense.”

alana.semuels@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times


Fly your flag today, in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 16, 2012

You already have it up and waving, right?  Did I really need to remind you?

Google logo for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2012

Google logo for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2012 - click for more information

Fly your flag today, in honor of our nation, and in honor of our nation’s honoring the memory and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

U.S. law encourages Americans to fly the U.S. flag on holidays and a few other occasions. Congress set aside the third Monday in January as a holiday to commemorate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To honor Dr. King, for several years civil rights leaders and others have urged us to find some way to serve our communities on this day — Americans have done it long enough to make it a tradition. Here’s the official find-a-way-to-serve page from the the federal government; look out your window, go spend a few minutes at your city hall, post office, or at the biggest church in town, or walk into any middle school in America, and opportunities to serve will caress you at every turn.

More, much more:

King, by photographer Ben Fernandez's "Countdown to Eternity"

King, by photographer Ben Fernandez's portfolio of photos from one year in the life of Dr. King, "Countdown to Eternity"

MLK logo from Google mlk2010

Google's logo for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2010 - click for more information


Typewriter of the moment: Comedian Stan Laurel

January 16, 2012

Stan Laurel at his typewriter, via Mike Lynch Cartoons

Stan Laurel at his typewriter, where he composed notes to fans. Image via Mike Lynch Cartoons

That is Stan Laurel, half of the comedic team of Laurel and Hardy, famous from the movies of the black & white era, famous from the caricatures in the cartoons our children, perhaps, have seen.  The photo is circa 1958.

Oliver Hardy died in 1957 from a series of strokes, and Laurel suffered a stroke himself.  He was unable to make movies any more, he said.  But he did bother to personally answer all his correspondence from fans.  On the typewriter pictured, he typed out short notes in response the fan mail, like this one, from 1958:

Note from comedian Stan Laurel to a fan - via Mike Lynch Cartoons, via Letters of Note

Note from comedian Stan Laurel to a fan - via Mike Lynch Cartoons, via Letters of Note

Laurel died in 1965.  It’s a bygone era.

No, I haven’t identified the typewriter.

The text of the note can be found at Mike Lynch Cartoons.  I gather Lynch got the images from Letters of Note, a blog devoted to written correspondence of some historic value (it’s very interesting).

  • Laurel and Hardy in “Nothing But Trouble,” 1944

Even more: 


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