Thursday, June 25, 2009

Such aching loneliness...

Michael Jackson's passing fills me with sadness - he always seemed a tragic figure to me. His talent was colossal, almost overwhelming to consider.

A couple months ago, I was surfing the web and came across the video below, and watching it, and knowing what I knew about his [lack of a] childhood, the cruelty of his father, the distortions that early superstardom imposed on his personality, and so on -- I found the video almost impossibly moving.

Maybe it is just that I know the story of his life, but it seemed to me that as I watched him sing this song, I got a glimpse at a frightened, lonely, bewildered child, aching in vain for the kind of friend he was rhapsodizing about in this song. I didn't know him personally of course, but I got the sense that he lived (and died, now) carrying an immense burden of pain.

I hope he has found some peace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mr Guthrie got me thinkin'...

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

-- Woodie Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land

Progressives, these are our people. These are the people we fight for. These are the people who ought to haunt our thoughts and consciences and inspire our dreams as we work and advocate and build our future. These folks ought to get taken care of first: the rest can come after.

These are the people who ought to be able to go to the Doctor, not in shame at not having the money to pay, but in hope of finding a treatment for their sickness, and proud of their country for taking care of folks like them.

These are the people who wish that using the term "trailer trash" would be a public scandal -- a career-ender for any politician foolish enough to utter it.

These are people like the woman I know in the ghetto, a woman who lost 2 grandchildren to murder and is bleary-eyed with grief, and yet somehow lifted by hope as she works valiantly in programs that help at-risk youth. She prays, every night, for the ones she helps, and also for the ones she has lost to prison or murder. She deserves every program and counselor (and prayer) we can send to her and the people that she cares for with fiercely protective love.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When America was a Communist Country

Note the top tax rate in the 1950s; north of 90%. During the greatest economic upsurge in the history of any country on earth. A broad and solid middle class. Relative labor peace (and high unionization rates). Social stability to the point of being boring.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yes, In a Nutshell...

Captain Obvious (aka, Robert Reich)

Bottom line: Genuine financial reform will be almost as difficult to achieve as real universal health care. Immense private interests are amassed against the public interest in both cases because staggering amounts of money are at stake. But they are the two most important domestic issues right now. Keep careful watch, and weigh in.

Immense private interests are amassed against the public interest

There's your problem right there.

More on War-fetishizing and "Manliness" on the Right

A good friend of mine told me a story once of calling in an airstrike on a bunch of NVA regulars in a treeline about 150 yards away.

He spent the next few minutes (minutes he wishes desperately he could forget) listening to the ... consequences when napalm incinerates human beings - men about his age, just as frightened as he was, who were loved by their mothers just as much - screaming their lungs out as they were incinerated. The ones who were caught in the main blasts died pretty quickly, as they inhaled burning napalm which destroyed their lungs and suffocated them. The ones who were on the edge took long, agonizing, screaming minutes to expire.

Killing people didn't make him feel manly or heroic or powerful. He says the way he felt that day gave him a glimpse of what being in hell might feel like.

Umberto Eco talked about one of the features of "Ur-fascism" was a cult of masculinity.

Regarding the Color Change on the Blog...

...Andrew is right.

What is it with New Yorkers, anyway??

What I want to know is, why does everyone who lives within about 50 miles of New York act the way they do?

I work in a customer service call center, and we all hate calls from NY and northern NJ - there are certainly exceptions, but with many, MANY callers the premise of everything they say seems to be that my only desire in life is to cheat them out of what is rightfully theirs.

They are blunt, demanding, tactless, and display a bottomless sense of entitlement.

When I talk to folks like that, my approach is the following: "What is the minimum I'm required to do - by law - to help this person?"

On the other hand, if I'm talking to some sweet little old lady in Iowa who's practically in tears because her product is confusing her, I will walk through the fires of hell to make her as happy as I possibly can. No sacrifice is too great. I'll end the call by giving her a nice, big coupon for her next order.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Suburbs to be bulldozed

Jim Kunstler has speculated that, due to gasoline getting ever more expensive from here on out (aside from economic collapses like 2008-2009), the auto-dependent outer suburbs many people live in are going to become unworkable and will basically be abandoned soon.

And now, there are proposals to actually raze entire districts of cities.

It's kind of weird to think that the way the country has occupied the landscape since 1950 or so is soon going to vanish forever.

Please Excuse my Cuss-Words

Here's the thing, rich people: you've been running the country for your benefit, not ours - to the point where the entire fucking system is now coming unglued. You have warred and underpaid and cripple-em-with-debt-ed your way into a big fucking crisis, and all I have to say to you is:


In the last 30 years, your compensation has increased to the point where you are making hundreds of times what your average employee is making. I'm sorry, but you don't work 300 times as hard as I do, you don't experience 300 times the stress I do (want stress? Try getting by on what I'm making some time - it'll be not just "fire the nanny" but "kids, we'll be eating spam for the rest of the month.")

When was the last time you were out of money? And not, stuck in Paris in the summer after college and waiting for mommy and daddy to wire more money, but more like the following situation:

Money in checking account: $8.23
Money in Savings account: $36.18
Days til payday: 8
Proportion of that paycheck that will go to rent: 90%
Proportion of the post-rent remainder of your check needed to buy food until your mid-month paycheck: 108%
Reaction: "Oh, fuck."

That's spelled S-U-F-F-E-R-I-N-G, and millions and millions and millions of people are experiencing it, not just now, but for fucking YEARS because of what you have done and what you have failed to do.

To the politicians who are too afraid to stand up to this corrupt, wicked bunch:


What is so damned hard to figure out about our situation?

We need to organize the working poor into unions who will fight to raise their poverty wages; we need to re-industrialize the economy so that we're taking raw materials and using them to create things of real value and can afford to pay good wages, as opposed to an economy based on hallucinatory "returns" on financial instruments based on abstractions of other financial instruments.

We need living wage laws, and a real, functioning social service system. Government-provided, free daycare for anyone who needs it. Single-payer healthcare. Mixed-use development that is aimed at creating communities with a mix of incomes, rather than a population divided into either "exclusive" communities or slums. Geographically dividing the upper middle class and above from the poor is a good way to destroy the social fabric of a country.

We need a tax system that rewards work, but in which wealthy people pay a higher and higher price for each incremental increase of income, and that pays support to poorer folks in larger amounts as you go down the wage ladder.

We need to support small farmers with crop subsidies and cash supplements to their incomes, while providing incentives to use their land wisely, especially incentives to grow their crops as near to pure-organic as is practicable.

We need more taxes, especially on the rich. Way more taxes. Why is the media treating the huge deficits in California and the federal government as great big, gee-what-can-we-do mysteries?? You either need to:

1. Cut services (which will cause already suffering people's lives to become constant, desperate emergencies, which in turn will result in lots of social unrest and eventually, if it gets bad enough, armed revolution) OR

2. Raise taxes substantially on people who can afford to pay more, which will result in lots of huffing and puffing from the Limbaugh and business right (but I repeat myself), and if it gets bad enough, ridiculous, badly written polemical crypto-fascist novels featuring characters named "John Galt".

All of this would seem to be obvious to me, but that's only because I'm barely getting by.

Too many people call themselves lefties because they drive Priuses, are pro-choice and treat the nanny like a member of the family. Methinks they need a reminder of what real, actual leftism looks like.

Barbara Ehrenreich on what this recession/depression is doing to the poor

The recession of the ’80s transformed the working class into the working poor, as manufacturing jobs fled to the third world, forcing American workers into the low-paying service and retail sector. The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.


Maybe “the economy,” as depicted on CNBC, will revive again, restoring the kinds of jobs that sustained the working poor, however inadequately, before the recession. Chances are, though, that they still won’t pay enough to live on, at least not at any level of safety and dignity. In fact, hourly wage growth, which had been running at about 4 percent a year, has undergone what the Economic Policy Institute calls a “dramatic collapse” in the last six months alone. In good times and grim ones, the misery at the bottom just keeps piling up, like a bad debt that will eventually come due.

Indeed. Unless things change for the better, and soon, violence against the system may become all but inevitable.


What is this bullshit on the right I come across regularly that equates war-making with manliness? Just ask a European over the age of about, oh, 70 or so how "manly" and heroic war is. And don't shut your ears when he tells you stories about how his family lived in a bombed-out cellar in some obliterated city for a year and a half, surviving on aid packages, bread and the occasional cat.

Try and describe how glorious and manly war is, and he is rightly going to look at you as if you are insane.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Machinery of Night

If liberty and freedom survive in America, I'm convinced that it will be in no small part due to the relentless clarity and general excellence of Glenn Greenwald's analysis:

A much more critical issue here is whether the President should have the power to conceal evidence about the Government's actions on the ground that what the Government did was so bad, so wrong, so inflammatory, so lawless, that to allow disclosure and transparency would reflect poorly on our country, thereby increase anti-American sentiment, and thus jeopardize The Troops. Once you accept that rationale -- the more extreme the Government's abuses are, the more compelling is the need for suppression -- then open government, one of the central planks of the Obama campaign and the linchpin of a healthy democracy, becomes an illusion.

I hope Obama, and enough Democrats in Congress, come to see the truth of this: if not, we the people need to demand that they see it or suffer our wrath.

The pessimist in me fears that the country may be too asleep from mindless, pornographic entertainment and the decayed remains of the Fourth Estate to care much about the potential utter ruination of America as a Republic. Maybe the Powerful in America have figured out that you don't need to be a formal autocracy to rule the world and your citizens as an empire; you just need to keep the plebes busy with porn and "When Planes Crash" -style "reality" television and gladiatorial contests and bread and circuses. Just keep their reptilian brains busy and stimulated enough so they don't notice their increasing powerlessness and slavery - they just feel free because they vote every four years for candidates, none of whom pose any real threat to the lever-pullers controlling the Machinery of Night (to borrow a phrase from Ginsburg) that binds their souls and enacts their slavery.

Or, maybe Americans will begin to talk to one another one-on-one about the danger posed to their freedom by ceaseless propaganda-in-service-of-empire, and turn off their televisions and porn and stop eating themselves into gaseous stupors, so they can look hard enough to actually see what's really going on all around them.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Torture and Freedom

One of the things that makes torture so dangerous to democracy is that it metastasizes; once it is ok to use on foreigners, it becomes conceivable to use it on citizens (”only in certain very narrow circumstances” of course, and with a court order, etc…) and then no one is safe.

For all the talk from the right about national health care or auto company bailouts being “tyranny” or “threats to freedom,” their relative silence in the face of real, actual tyranny and threats to freedom speaks volumes. The right wing scares me deeply.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Yeah, What She Said

What the talking heads of the right do not realize is that regardless of whatever Barack Obama is, he is a vast improvement over anything the republicans have EVER produced. Constructive conversation of open minds solves issues that threats can't begin to address.

Katt Mann, Lyford Cay, Bahamas

An Encouraging Sign

New York Times:

After months of insisting he would leave the details to Congress, President Obama has concluded that he must exert greater control over the health care debate and is preparing an intense push for legislation that will include speeches, town-hall-style meetings and much deeper engagement with lawmakers, senior White House officials say.

I've been looking forward to Obama doing some congressional arm-twisting; JFK was inspiring but had trouble getting his vision for the country enacted in Congress; it took the formidable wheeling-and-dealing skills of LBJ after JFK's assasination to actually get a lot of his agenda passed into law. Obama has the potential to be an LBJ-JFK synthesis.

P.S.: I hope Afghanistan is not his Vietnam.

Some Things We Lost

There was a time before the mid-sixties when kids (especially teenaged ones) dressed more or less like their parents. If you doubt this, go to your school district office and check yearbooks for your local high school from the the decade of the sixties - especially the grades BELOW 12th (seniors have pretty much always dressed in tuxes). Some time during that decade, the clothing stopped looking adult and starting looking what we think of today as "teenaged."

For kids to NOT dress like their parents was definitely a change, and not for the un-alloyed better, in my view. The shift signified by that event has had corrosive effects on our cultural integrity which have been a mixed blessing: yes, the 50s were a time of mindless conformity, but too much "do-your-own-thing" does not account for the obligations and responsibilities we have toward one another, and too much fissioned individualism corrodes social cohesion.

In 1948, Oakland California had about the same population as it does today, about the same racial make-up, roughly the same mix of incomes...and 15 murders. Last year there were over 100.

Things that make me want to shower

When you say the word "racism" most people think of Bull Connor and firehoses in the 1950s and 60s. Things are better since then to be sure, but we still have a long way to go. This is appalling:

Wells Fargo, Ms. Jacobson said in an interview, saw the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation’s home-owning mania. Loan officers, she said, pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages. Another loan officer stated in an affidavit filed last week that employees had referred to blacks as “mud people” and to subprime lending as “ghetto loans.”

“We just went right after them,” said Ms. Jacobson, who is white and said she was once the bank’s top-producing subprime loan officer nationally. “Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches, because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

Ms. Jacobson’s account and that of the other loan officer who gave an affidavit, Tony Paschal, both of whom have left Wells Fargo, provide the first detailed accusations of deliberate racial steering into subprimes by one of the nation’s top banks.

I'm guessing there aren't a whole lot of blacks in the loan unit in question - "mud people"?? That's something I'd expect to read on far-right racist sites like Stormfront or the Klan. But we can't have affirmative action because that's, you know, racist.

On Obama's Cairo Speech

The long road back from GW Bush's disastrous presidency shows signs that it may get less bumpy as time goes on:

From Cairo to Baghdad, Arabs watching President Obama's speech said he won their admiration for peppering the address with the type of moral message Muslims receive at weekly homilies as well as the straightforward talk that they rarely get from their own leadership.

"He seems like a committed and serious man," said Ahmed Farouk, a 25-year-old movie producer who sat in an Egyptian coffee house a few minutes drive from Cairo University, where Mr. Obama spoke. "Just one of him is worth 10 George Bushes."

Muslims in Nairobi, Kenya, generally were encouraged by Mr. Obama's outreach Thursday, especially his emphasis on living in peace with the Muslim world, saying his speech had done much to repair damage to that relationship. But they still are waiting for action to match his words.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Whole lotta Shakin'

I just felt an earthquake. I haven't checked the USGS site yet: I'm guessing 3.8 on the Richter...

...and having now checked: 3.2 preliminary magnitude.

Friday, June 05, 2009

More from batocchio

Conservative stances on economics, foreign policy and human rights provide a pretty bleak snapshot of the Republican party. The poor remain faceless to them, as do foreigners blithely bombed and the victims of torture and abuse. Torture, with its dynamics of power and false confessions, actually makes a frighteningly apt metaphor for movement conservatives and obstinate ideologues everywhere. Why do these people ignore data and counsel, inflict suffering on populations foreign and domestic, and fiercely dismiss overwhelming evidence against their favored approach? Just as with torture itself, it's simple - they like the answers it gives them.

Not a Cheering Thought

If present trends continue, scientists may eventually have the capacity to destroy the entire universe and the uncountable trillions of beings, plants, civilizations, etc. that dwell in it. I'm not kidding.

Louis Menard, On Neoconservatism's Exhaustion

Via Digby Batocchio guest-posting on Digby's blog (whose entire post you need to read - it is one of the best things I've read in left-blogistan in years), Louis Menard back in 2006 examined the then-seriously-fraying neo-conservative movement in terms of its psychology.

The present condition of the neoconservative movement is the outcome of a classic case of the gradual sclerosis of political attitudes. All the stages of the movement’s development were based on the primitive psychology of the “break”—the felt need, as one ages, to demonize the exact position one formerly occupied. The enemy is always the person still clinging to the delusions you just outgrew. So—going all the way back to the omphalos, Alcove 1 in the City College cafeteria, where Kristol and his) friends fought with the Stalinists in Alcove 2—the Trotskyists hated the fellow-travellers they once had been; the Cold War liberals hated the Trotskyists they once had been; and the neoconservatives hated the liberals they once had been. Now the hardening is complete. Neoconservatism has merged with the politics that its founders, in their youth, held in greatest contempt: the jingoist and capitalist American right. We look from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it is impossible to say which is which.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Musicians who suck

If I hear Donovan's "Catch the Wind" in one more friggin' commercial, I'm taking a sledgehammer to my television. I am not kidding.

Here's the thing: Donovan sucked. Hard. "Catch the Wind" is basically a re-write bald-faced rip-off of Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" but with all the lyrical artistry and originality gone. He sang it with the closest approximation of Dylan's voice he could muster, and played his guitar in the closest approximation of Dylan's guitar playing he could muster.

And his later stuff? "Mellow Yellow" and "Epistle to Dipsy" were Sergeant Pepper...after he been busted down to private. He. Friggin'. Sucked. Why does anyone love this guy??