Thursday, October 06, 2011

Attention Elites: Your World Is Ending

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Idiot Elites

New England Brahmins: People who rape the world, and whose children think of themselves as Luminous and Enlightened Beings. Money is poison.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My All-Time Favorite "Scamming the scammers" story

Guy gets a typical 419 scammer email from an "exiled dictator" - "We need you to hide our millions, in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. [etc.]"

Guy responds, and after a few emails and calls (during which he keeps "forgetting" to give them his account and routing numbers), "discloses" to scammers that he wants to sell some stolen laptops in their country - they can keep 20% of the proceeds (they're like, "Oh Sure. We'll send you your 80% share, honest...") -- the only wrinkle is he doesn't have enough funds to pay for the shipping, so he will need them to pay shipping charges collect.

After hemming and hawing and guy threatening to walk, the scammers agree.

Guy then buys two used washing machines on craigslist for 20 or 30 bucks, removes the motors and guts, and then fills them to the very top with cement. Then he crates them up and ships them, air freight, to their country.

Hilarity and death threats ensue.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Krugman Gets It

Krugman (a hero of mine) on the "affinities" of the WSJ:

Maybe subscribers buy the paper for the reporting (although if you ask me, that’s been going downhill since the Murdoch takeover). But as far as I can tell, lots of people still take the editorial page’s pronouncements seriously, even though it seems likely that you could have made a lot of money by betting against whatever that page predicts.


I guess it’s an affinity thing. The WSJ editorial page comes across as the work of people who love the rich (unless they support liberal causes), hate liberals and the poor, and feel personally affronted by lucky duckies too poor to pay income taxes; and a significant number of well-heeled readers see this and say, “those are my kind of people!”

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Proposed Slogan for Obama's 2012 Re-election campaign:

"Vote for us: we'll make sure things will get worse more slowly than under a Republican President."

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Good Question

"Which Side Area You On?" by Florence Reese

Come all you poor workers, good news to you I’ll tell,
How the good old union has come in here to dwell.
Which side are you on, which side are you on?

We’re starting our good battle, we know we’re sure to win.
Because we got the gun thugs lookin’ pretty thin.
Which side are you on, which side are you on?

You go to Harlan County, there is no neutral there.
You’ll either be a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair.
Which side are you on, which side are you on?

They say they have to guard us to educate their child.
Their children live in luxury, our children almost wild.
Which side are you on, which side are you on?

Gentlemen can you stand it, oh tell me how you can?
Will you be a gun thug or will you be a man?
Which side are you on, which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner, he’s now in the air and sun.
he'll be with you, fellow workers, till every battle’s won.
Which side are you on, which side are you on?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Concerning the Unholy Clusterf*ck in DC

David Atkins has a great post up over at Digby's joint.

I think he's pretty much nailed the basic problem: the New-Deal-to-Great-Society era is a fading memory, and the energy behind those initiatives has been allowed to dissipate.

You've got a hard-right Republican Party, and (by historic standards, at least) a center-right technocratic party in the Dems. There is no real, actual left in this country. The big "progressive" victories are:

1. Mitt Romney's healthcare plan got passed;
2. Gays can now serve openly in the imperial forces;
3. The results of Wall Street's Panic of 2008 stopped getting worse.

Nothing in the economic system has been reformed in any substantive way. Wall Street and the Rich have been allowed to go back to adding helipads to their yachts and destroying my retirement savings unmolested.

Andrew Sullivan is onto something here:

Money quote:

I read George Will’s retread column from the 1980s today and simply cannot fathom what he is talking about. Except, I fear I can. He is channeling Mitch McConnell. Boehner and McConnell have one goal and it is has nothing to do with the economy. It is destroying this president and this presidency. They are clearly calculating that the economic devastation their vandalism could create will so hurt the economy that it could bring them back to power through the wreckage. And they will use every smear, every lie, every canard possible to advance this goal. The propaganda channel dreamt of by Roger Ailes in the Nixon era will continue to pump poison into the body politic, until they defeat the man whose legitimacy as president they have never truly accepted.

They would rather destroy what’s left of the economy (and work hard, through a useless and thoroughly corrupt media, to then hang the resulting depression on the White House) than let a democrat be perceived to succeed in any way. If they succeed at this, things will get almost unimaginably dire in the US. The Republican Party has truly gone insane.

What they imagine they'll do is destroy Obama, get their guy in in 2012, then do the things they refuse to do now (some form of massive stimulus) and use that as proof that “their” ideas work better than Obama’s.

The Wisconsin situation is a preview of what would follow.

I think the Republicans perceive, with plenty of justification, that final victory is within their grasp: with the destruction of the last vestiges of the only institutions capable of diluting the power of their plutocrat constituency (those institutions being unions and the social safety net), the working class (which will consist of everyone but the plutocrats) will be frightened and servile.

...except that was always a pipe dream; the reality is that desperate people do desperate things. Given the paranoiac, violent and apocalyptic character of much of the rank-and-file right these days, it may take the form of a right-wing authoritarian regime. (I predict that one of such a regime’s efforts will be to restore the unchallenged dominance of white males in our society, with probably extremely dire consequences for racial and cultural minorities.)

It may take the form of a left-wing revolution of some kind (I consider this extremely unlikely – as I said, there is no functioning, real-actual-left in the United States of any real consequence.)

Or, it could be that things will just collapse into disorder. A slow, grinding descent into anarchy and dissolution of the United States as a united, functioning political entity. This is the more likely possibility, in my view.

I’ve always kind of wondered what it was like to live in the Mediterranean region in Late Antiquity. I believe I am now getting a pretty clear sense of the experience.It's the fall of the western empire, except with thousands of hydrogen bombs up for grabs.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Indianapolis Winter Night

Walking out the Army gate late
on a snowy evening in early March
Lumened streetlight halos in the holy snowfall
Grace and quiet against the storm of young blood
Houses quiet and sleepy soundless lawns
A yellow warm door-glass leaks a private laugh
Jump boots squeak and shush in icy rime
To Californian eyes and ears and skin, a myth
Like a fairy world enchanted by endless futures
But then a pang of home and this time it's real
And then flakes mingle with diamond tears.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rain Resurrection

Rain and mist and sluicing roof-water
Soft and splattery roar in the garden
While in the breeze a gentle memory
Of yellow raincoats and child-games
And an ocean-spent dream of oars
There, a soft and new-green leaf cloud
As the Lazarus garden stirs in winter's tomb:
Summer somnolence promised in the blessed wet.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Forgotten

Mother Teresa used to say that the greatest pain for the poor she fed and comforted was not the physical facts of their poverty, not the chronic hunger, the infections untreated, the million little inconveniences that complicated their lives and burdened them. No; it was that they believed themselves to be Invisible; People Who Don't Matter; The Forgotten. This was the most poignant pain they experienced.

The Forgotten.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

Luke 16:19-31

America teems with the Forgotten; there are entire cities inhabited by no one but them. We know those cities by the names of Watts, Compton, The South Bronx, Richmond California, East Oakland, East Palo Alto, and many more.

These places are filled with suffering, but also grace; grace that not only sanctifies those who dwell in these places, but grace also waiting to sanctify those who live in more comfortable circumstances but learn to remember these places, and have the courage to go and serve Christ there.

And make no mistake; Christ is there waiting for you.

I lived until I was 14 in Richmond, California.

Richmond consists of The Flats - that portion of the city west of Interstate 80 and on the coastal plain next to San Francisco Bay, where the poor people live, and The Hills, which overlook the flats.
I lived in The Flats.

My great friend Sertha grew up down the street from me, and he, my late older brother Mark, Sertha's younger brother Ray, and I used to hang out together. I have great memories of playing street football with them, building forts in our back yards; kid stuff.

I also have more troubling memories of fleeing a park with Ray when we saw guns being drawn and a murder gathering, but also Ray comforting me when one of the neighborhood thugs singled me out for persecution.

Sertha was murdered about 20 years ago, in a minor drug deal gone wrong. Ray saw the aftermath, and 20 years later is still so devastated that he still lives with his mother. He needs your prayers. I look at the 11th station of the cross, and think of Ray:

Christ Speaks:

Can you imagine what a crucifixion is?

My executioners stretch my arms;
They hold my hand and wrist against the wood
and press the nail
until is stabs my flesh.
Then, with one heavy hammer smash,
they drive it through --
and pain
Bursts like a bomb of fire in my brain.

They seize the other arm;
and agony again explodes.

Then raising up my knees
so that my feet are flat against the wood,
they hammer them fast, too.


My next door neighbors were an old couple, the Penders. Mrs Pender had a stroke, and so she walked with a walker, but her heart was as warm and pure as a tropical lagoon. She had only to smile at you, and suddenly the problems you had seemed to fade into insignificance. She used to take me in sometimes when the streets got hairy, and feed me hot chocolate, and tell me that she just knew I was going to grow up and be someone really special. (She's surely long dead, and I'm sure she's praying for me. Sleep in heavenly peace, Mrs. Pender. I'm still trying to live up to your belief in me.)

From my neighborhood in Richmond, you could see, about a mile away and on the other side of the freeway, The Hills and the comparatively lavish homes of middle- and upper-middle class folks. The people in those houses, to us, seemed situated across some invisible and unbridgeable divide. On those occasions when we ventured up into those hills, we were greeted with cold stares and parents pulling their kids inside. We were Other, and a threat.

When I began middle school in the hills, I was shocked by the attitudes of the kids in my school. My dear childhood friends and neighbors lived in "Niggertown" and were dismissed as "Zulus" and worse.

My friends and neighbors were People Who Don't Matter.

That's when I got my first clear view of a deep wound in American life.

Those kids in the hills (and their parents: the kids didn't emerge from the womb with those attitudes) were immeasurably poorer for not knowing the people I knew; they were deprived of the joy of being held by Mrs. Pender; they never met the kind police woman who probably did more than anyone to keep me from entering a life of crime; they never sat on the porch with my down-the-street neighbor - an older boy who'd had polio - and had the experience of basking in the warm generosity of his overflowing heart; they never walked my friend Ray's bike home for him after a spectacular bicycle wreck.

The violence and the tattered social fabric in Richmond is a poignant expression of the outrage -- more than that, the the unutterable pain -- of priceless children of God who have been told, with words and the bleeding wounds of a million injustices large and small, that they are the Forgotten, the People Who Don't Matter.

These are the kinds of people Christ described as "the last [who] will be first."

The gulf between the flats and the hills is replicated all across the United States, and this is a terribly diminished country for it.

Richmond, and the many places like it, stand as monuments to a deep sickness and sinfulness in American life. They are searing indictments of our greed and selfishness.

May the God Who made us all, break our hearts. May we all be reunited across the gulf that divides us. May we not only come to understand one another, but may God so reconcile us with one another that we truly, deeply realize our brother- and sisterhood, and then weep tears of joy in each others' arms, flooded with gratitude that our long separation from our brothers and sisters is at an end.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Andy Williams and Middle Age

I remember watching this show about a billion years ago, cuddled in my father's arms in my PJs. Dad loved this show, and I enjoyed his enjoyment as much as I enjoyed the show itself.

It is sad to think that a show like this - sophisticated (Andy Williams practically invented the concept of "suave") and soothing - would probably be impossible today. In a world where Lady Gaga crawls around in her panties on MTV on a regular basis, maybe we've lost something important.

But then, maybe this is just middle age nostalgia talking.

Japan Nuclear Plant Situation looking Very Ominous

It appears that a massive release of nuclear contamination may be coming. Prayers and thoughts with the Japanese. Yeesh.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

THIS is what I'm talking about: The PEOPLES PARTY

Courtesy of Dr. Robert Reich, this is from a flyer being passed around in Wisconsin:

It's emerging from the heartland - from Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa -- and it is spreading across the nation. It doesn't have a formal organization or Washington lobbyists beyond it, but it's gaining strength nonetheless. Like the Tea Party did with Republicans in 2010, the People's Party will pressure Democrats in primaries and general elections leading up to 2012 and beyond to have the courage of the party's core convictions. But unlike the Tea Party, which has been co-opted by the super-rich, the People's Party represents the needs and aspirations of America's vast working middle class, along with the less fortunate.

The People's Party is dedicated to the truth that America is a rich nation - richer by far than any other, richer than it's ever been. The People's Party rejects the claims of plutocrats who want us to believe we can no longer afford to live decently - who are cutting the wages and benefits of most people, attacking unions, and squeezing public budgets. The People's Party will not allow them to turn us against one another - unionized against non-unionized, public employee against private employee, immigrant against native born. Nor will the People's Party allow the privileged and powerful to distract us from the explosive concentration of income and wealth at the top, the decline in taxes paid by the top, and their increasing and untrammeled political power.

We have joined together to reverse these trends and to promote a working people's bill of rights. We are committed to:

1. Increasing the pay and bargaining power of average working people. We'll stop efforts to destroy unions and collective bargaining rights. Protect workers who try to form unions from being fired. Make it easier for workers to form unions through simple up-or-down votes at the workplace.

2. Requiring America's super-rich to pay their fair share. Increase top marginal tax rates and the number of tax brackets at the top. Treat income from capital gains the same as ordinary income. Restore the estate tax. Revoke the citizenship of anyone found to be sheltering income abroad.

3. Protecting and expanding government programs vital to the working middle class and the poor. These include Social Security, K-12 education, Pell Grants for disadvantaged students, public transportation, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

4. Ending corporate welfare and cutting military outlays. Trim defense spending. End special tax subsidies for specific corporations or industries - at both state and federal levels. Cut agricultural subsidies.

5. Saving Social Security while making it more progressive. Exempt the first $20,000 of income from Social Security taxes. Make up the difference - and any need for additional Social Security revenues - by raising the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

6. Ending Wall Street's dominance of the economy and preventing any future taxpayer-funded bailout. Break up Wall Street's largest banks and put a cap their size. Link pay on the Street to long-term profits rather than short-term speculation. Subject all financial transactions to a one-tenth of one percent transactions tax.

7. Fully enforcing regulations that protect workers, consumers, small investors, and the environment. Raise penalties on corporations that violate them. Expand enforcement staffs. Provide more private rights of action.

8. Providing affordable health care to all Americans. The new health law isn't enough. We'll fight for a single payer - making Medicare available to all. End fee-for-service and create "accountable-care" organizations that focus on healthy outcomes.

9. Slowing and eventually reversing climate change. We'll fight to limit carbon emissions. Impose a ceiling on emissions or a carbon tax on polluters. Return the revenues from these to the American people, in the form of tax cuts for the working middle class.

10. Getting big money out of politics. We'll fight to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overrule Citizens United v. FEC. Require full disclosure of all contributions for or against any candidate. Provide full public financing for all presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative candidates in all general elections.

A few of the places it's happening:

* Madison (ongoing).

* Des Moines (ongoing).

* March 10: Indianapolis. Gather at 10am and rally at 11:30am at Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. Rallies will continue at the capitol until the impasse is over.

* March 11: St. Louis. Downtown at 3:30 pm at Kiener Plaza. SB 1 is expected to be voted on in the Senate the week of 3/7 or 3/14.

* April 4: In cities across America. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - Demonstrations to show that "We Are One."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Spaghetti Sacramental

Grateful Face of Christ
Showing Yourself in the faces
In the stories
In the Sacred vulnerability
Of the Holy Homeless
Breaking my heart and
Filling my heart
I give them noodles
And in return you give me You
I am not worthy, not nearly,
But you forgive, and more
You show me what it is
To be you:
Your other Self.

How to Rock

The Kinks' guitar playing is pretty primitive, and it sounds like they recorded this using mono equipment...inside a metal shipping container...with a microphone they accidentally ran over in the parking lot...but the lack of polish is more than made up for by the sheer manic, propulsive animal *energy* of the thing. One of the great rock songs.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Sixties Berkeley

Kodachrome and orange and bouffant
Gloves and perfume and jaunty pillbox
Mommy's hand at Woolworths
Gentle hippies wearing blankets,
They are smiling and sullen at once
The smell of teargas,
Running freaks and soldier's jeeps and then
Mom's rage-grip on the steering wheel
She's Cursing Nixon and napalm
And afraid for her children,
Who sing "Up up and away
In my beautiful balloon."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wisconsin and Ohio: The Place Where We Began the Counter-offensive?

Looks like the unions and their supporters in Ohio may face a challenge of their union-busting legislation at the ballot box. Progressives in Wisconsin are planning to gather signatures for a recall election for the Republican lawmakers who support the stripping of collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin state workers.

On a side note, I'm reminded of all the "progressives" who've whined over my years of blogging that "street protests will do no good/are just soooo 'sixties'/are ineffective in the era of [insert title of currently popular and brainless TV show here] blah blah blah."

What the union members and supporters are doing in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is doing their jobs as citizens by involving themselves in the process.

They do enough of that, and all the bread and circuses in the world won't hold back progress.

On the other hand, if all you do is whine about what hopeless dolts your fellow citizens are while sitting on your hands, well then yeah, things will continue to suck.


Robert Reich Gives a Nice Summary

Conservative economists have it wrong. The underlying problem isn’t that so many Americans have priced themselves out of the global/high-tech labor market. It’s that they’re getting a smaller and smaller share of the pie.

Yes indeed.

Today's unemployment news is good only in the sense that the raw numbers are moving in the right direction; unemployment decreased from 9.0 to 8.9 percent.

But, as Reich says, the new jobs ain't like the old ones:

The National Employment Law Project did just that. Its new data brief shows that most of the new jobs created since February 2010 (about 1.26 million) pay significantly lower wages than the jobs lost (8.4 million) between January 2008 and February 2010.
While the biggest losses were higher-wage jobs paying an average of $19.05 to $31.40 an hour, the biggest gains have been lower-wage jobs paying an average of $9.03 to $12.91 an hour.

This is not a recipe for sustainable prosperity and broadly-rising standards of living. It's a recipe for an America where there are a few oligarchs doing just great, while the bulk of us shop at dollar stores and barely get by.

The thing is, most people alive right now remember a different economic reality; one where prosperity was broadly shared and Americans were proud of having the world's highest standard of living.

They and I won't accept an America where there are a few people at the top making obscene heaps of money, while the vast bulk of the population lives one paycheck away from penury. Such an America is one that cries out to the heavens for justice. Such an America is a nation where social stability will begin to seriously degrade.

There seems to be this idea in the heads of our political elites that the United States is exempt from political instability because we're America and thus apart from history (hubris much?).

Unless our political and economic structures are reformed, our elites are going to learn that the US is solidly within the river of history, and that river will flood, and they will learn that history has neither pity nor remorse.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cui Bono?

Kyle Cupp discusses the implications and limitations of consensus, in the context of global warming:

Consensus implies the existence of other views and, indeed, dissent. As consensus does not equal truth, truth demands that others get a hearing and that our ears remain open to the voice of dissent or what Lyotard called paralogy, the innovation of new concepts that emerge in thought oppositional to the established ways of thinking.

Of course, keeping an open ear doesn’t mean we refuse to act when consensus urges a course of action. Knowledge is never absolute, and prudence dictates that we act without perfect knowledge.

Despite what prudence dictates, no action will be forthcoming until something more compelling than the money and power available to politicians who serve the interests of the oligarchy who benefits from America's fossil fuel addiction. As I said in his commbox:

There seems to be an emerging strategy in the political organs that serve the interests of the Plutocracy: deny global warming until it is too late to act to mitigate it (such actions having the effect of limiting their ability to make as much money as possible), then break out the no-use-crying-over-spilt-milk arguments after it is safely too late to do anything about it.

Apropos of Nothing Much...

May I just say that Deepak Chopra has struck me, every time I've heard him, as a guy who's grown rich from saying reassuring and flattering things to affluent people, who then pay good money to attend his seminars to receive further flattery and aggrandizement? Sort of "spiritual anesthetic" for the NPR set.

Monday, February 28, 2011

American "Manhood"

I am around a half-century old, and as such, was probably in the last cadre of Americans saddled with the notions of American manhood that would have been recognizable to DH Lawrence:

The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted.

I have come to realize that the notions I was raised on and which I absorbed from a million TV westerns and adventure shows was a fraud, and a terribly destructive one.

I have done so much in my life in an ultimately fruitless attempt to live up to a species of manhood modeled in a million ways in my youth - I hunt deer, drink scotch, volunteered for the US Army in my youth like all the generations of men in my family did, and so on.

I got a hint that what I was searching for was an illusion during my tour in the Army.

When I was fresh out of basic, I had a Sergeant I’ll call Sergeant Williams, who had been in Vietnam. I was telling him one day about my eagerness to see action and so on (I was an especially clueless human being when I was young.)

He looked at me a moment and then said, “Let me tell you a story.”

He then told me a story from when he had been a much younger man, and was out on a patrol in the boonies in Vietnam.

His unit took fire from a treeline, and a couple guys were hit. Amid the noise of the firefight, his lieutenant came to him, handed him the radio, and said, “we have fast-movers [an air strike] coming in – talk them in.”

Williams marked their position with smoke, and guided the planes in…and they dropped napalm on that treeline. He then spent the next few minutes (minutes he would give anything to forget) listening to men about his age — just as scared as he was, loved by their mothers just as much — burning to death.

Because of him.

“That day gave me some idea of what Hell might be like” said Sgt. Williams, eyes fixed in the middle distance.

Clueless me said, “Yeah, Sarge, burning is a tough way to go…”

He looked at me sharply then, and, stabbing his finger into his chest, said: “No, Talbot. I’m talking about the way I felt that day.”


John Wayne. John Wayne. John Fucking Wayne.

But the thing is, John Wayne himself couldn't live up to his own image - he smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day, and pounded down enough scotch to put a bison into a coma. He couldn't do it either. John Wayne himself couldn't be John Wayne.

Well, I'm done with that. No more.

That mythic American manhood doesn't really exist. It never did.

My God, but I'm tired of chasing ghosts.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Blue Islands in a Sea of Red

For all Meteor Blade's justifiable anger concerning Broun's irresponsible failure to condemn his constituent's nutty comment, I think there's a deeper question that needs to be addressed, and that is this: Why are so many working-class white people, in the south and elsewhere, so angry?

This is a question that it would be good for progressives to explore in some depth. Be prepared to be surprised.

You know, this reminds me of the Question Everyone Made Sure To Forget after 9/11/01: "Why do they hate us?" People forgot that because everyone who did ask it was accused of "wanting to give the terrorists therapy" and so on. But it was a good question - and our failure to seriously explore it as a country has severely hindered our response to that event.

And so it is with the eliminationist rhetoric oozing up from the right. To say "well, Rush and Savage are ginning it up" is facile but not really satisfactory, in my view; a hard question that progressives would do well to ask is, "in what sense is their anger justifiable, or at least comprehensible? Why do they hate us?"

Look at a county-by-county breakdown map of the 2008 presidential election results:

See all that red? I see that as a problem. Yes Obama won, and convincingly, but blue islands in a sea of deeply alienated red is not a recipe for the survival of the United States as a cohesive whole. We need to give the folks in that sea of red reason to vote for the "D" on the ballot, or the US will sooner or later cease to be viable as a unified, cohesive entity.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fascinating stuff

Sam Rocha, one of my co-bloggers over at the Catholic Blog I contribute to, Vox Nova, gave an amazing talk about race and identity at the college where he teaches. Well worth the time to watch it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hilarious Blog Found.

She actually seemed to like throwing up. To the simple dog, throwing up was like some magical power that she never knew she possessed - the ability to create infinite food.

Good for hours of convulsive laughter. Go read it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"A Precious Thing of Terrible, Unfathomable Beauty

Will Wilkinson at the Economist {Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan]

The surge of overwhelming bliss that has overtaken Egyptians is the rare beautitude of democratic will. The hot blush of liberation, a dazzled sense of infinite possibility swelling millions of happy breasts is a precious thing of terrible, unfathomable beauty, and it won't come to these people again. Whatever the future may hold, this is the happiest many people will ever feel. This is the best day of some peoples' lives. The tiny Dionysian anarchist on my other shoulder is no angel, but I cannot deny that there is something holy in this feeling, that it is one of few human experiences that justifies life—that satisfies, however briefly, our desperate craving for more intensity, for more meaning, for more life from life. Whatever the future holds, there will be disappointment, at best. But there is always disappointment. Today, there is joy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Mother Teresa Had It Right

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow human beings throughout the world who and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.


-Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Note to self: Listen to that little, nagging voice next time.

Yeah, so...I notice this afternoon that my toilet won't flush, even after repeated plunging with the toilet plunger.

Then I get the brilliant idea to use water pressure to clear the jam, so I get one of those hose-attachment drain-unplugging thingies from the hardware store, and come home to my apartment and put it into the the toilet, then go outside and downstairs to the hose valve and turn it on full blast, thinking the harder the better.

Coming back in the front door, I hear an ominous sound from the bathroom. I brace myself, look into the bathroom, and see a fountain of sewage erupting out of the bathtub drain. At great force.

My bathroom looked and smelled like the aftermath of a Category 8 eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano of poop.

I think the Roto Rooter guy is going to have PTSD after looking at the place. I'm just wondering if I should tell the landlord about this.

Monday, January 31, 2011

One Last Time: John Galt Doesn't Care About You.

When I read the solutions to our economic malaise put forward by non-economic-progressives – and especially by those on the right, but even by a few folks who identify as libertarian left – what I hear is that we, the little people, ought to want to suffer a little more in order to make sure that our reptilian corporate masters become incrementally wealthier, so that they can then build factories and office buildings and then we "parasites" can have jobs; when those factories succeed and prosper, no one but the owners can benefit, because They’re Supposed To Have All The Money (or something...I’m paraphrasing here, plus it’s been awhile since I’ve read Ayn Rand.)

Think about this: Obama cutting most people’s taxes, and raises taxes only on the rich (and that higher tax paid by the rich would still be lower than during the administration of that communist monster, Ronald Reagan) is described as "socialism."

That is glaring evidence to me that the whole game is rigged, by the people who have the means to so rig it.

My fear is that the consequences of this situation (yawning inequality, declining wages, a disintigrating safety net, and so on) will be blamed on racial and ethnic scapegoats, who will then be persecuted, rather than on those who ought to take the blame.

Of course, when things completely unravel, I imagine Our Reptilian Corporate Masters will just pull their yachts out into international waters and watch our cities burn – and then decamp for their next victims, who will then be hollowed out and bled dry.

It is the dawn of Locust Capitalism.

A Rigged Game

There is not enough purchasing power in the hands of people who will spend it.

Fix that, and you fix the economy.

The thing is, the things that will fix that (more-progressive tax rates and wealth redistribution) are labeled as communist socialist that's what Stalin did and he killed millions genocide radical (etc. etc. etc.)

The oligarchs have the whole game rigged in their favor. Until that changes, nothing else will.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just So We're Clear

I see the most fundamental cause of the continuing economic crisis as this: purchasing power (in the form of the median household income) hasn't been growing fast enough for the last 30 years to support economic growth.

Our Reptilian Corporate Masters came up with what they thought was a great substitute: encouraging the people who weren't getting raises to take on more and more and more debt - either the usual way (credit cards) or by encouraging them to pull hallucinated "equity" out of their inflated houses.

Now that hallucinated "wealth" is gone, the credit cards are maxed, and, since no one's gotten a raise for the last 30 years, there is nothing to support economic growth in the country. At all (exports? not when a billion Chinese will work for a fraction of a living wage in America.)

Paul Krugman has predicted that full employment won't return until some time in 2018.

That's not a recipe for social stability - to put it very, very mildly. I fear for the country.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What is Needed

Jonathan Schell at The Nation gets at something essential, something glaringly missing, from Obama's State of the Union Speech on Tuesday:

It’s true that the United States educational system is measurably slipping. It’s also true that the country’s infrastructure has decayed badly. And yes, the United States would benefit from whatever technical innovation it can bring off, just as any country would. But none of those problems, needful of attention as they are in their own right, is the chief cause of the United States’s economic doldrums—its stubborn high unemployment, its persisting housing bust, its galloping economic inequality. These were the fruit of an economic crash brought on by a misguided, corrupt, incompetent, larcenous, unregulated financial establishment. The relevant remedies are not better technology or some contemporary equivalent of sending a man to the moon. (In any case, although Obama insisted “We do big things,” he didn’t offer one.) The remedies needed are a re-regulation and reconstruction of the financial system, plus a major, Keynesian style stimulus program to create jobs and purchasing power, and so to jar the economy out of its stupor. But none of that was in Obama’s speech. On the contrary, his proposal to freeze spending for five years threatened more economic stagnation.

(Emphases mine.)

The basic cause of the American economic predicament is that purchasing power (that is, the inflation-adjusted paychecks ordinary workers get) has not appreciably increased in over 30 years. People not making enough money to keep the economy growing means the economy can't grow.

Actually, not quite true.

The economy can still grow, but since wages aren't increasing (except for a few people at the top, who, precisely because there aren't very many of them, can't make up for the shortfall in consumer spending) the only recourse for consumers is buying things on credit cards - i.e., growth financed through debt. This is exactly what we've seen in the years since the median wage stopped growing:

The thing is, financing economic growth by increasing personal indebtedness is literally not sustainable, because eventually, the credit cards are maxed out, and then everyone needs to pay down their debts before they can begin spending again. While this is happening, the economy shrinks, since people are not spending on anything except essentials. This results in layoffs, which means some people can no longer keep up their debt payments, which results in bankruptcies, which results in the banks who are owed that money raising interest rates to cover the increased risk, which results in more bankruptcies, which means more trouble for banks, etc.

Eventually, confidence in the entire system begins to erode, which leads to a general panic and the entire financial system grinding to a halt.

See October 1929 and September 2008 for an idea of what that looks and feels like.

It's an experience that it is best to avoid, if at all possible. In fact, I think it would be a good idea to come up with policies designed to prevent that situation from ever happening again.

Growth through debt leads eventually to systemic crisis - we know this.

Growth from rising incomes leads to sustainable and widely-shared prosperity - we know this.

If two things happen, the United States will be poised for its greatest economic upsurge in history.

Thing Number One: Debt needs to be paid down, and the acquisition of new debt needs to be discouraged.

I propose that there is a one-time, 20% federal tax on all financial assets over $2 million - assets in IRA's and 401(k) plans would be exempt, provided the particular accounts were held on, say, September 15, 2008 (this would prevent using retirement accounts as an anticipatory shelter.) Yes, the stock and bond markets would take a hit; can't be helped, and the stock market is way over-valued anyway, by historical standards. The stock market should be there to finance capital investment, not to enrich Wall Street greedheads.

Such a tax would generate revenues sufficient to pay off the entire national debt owed by the United States government - and also enough to both balance this year's budget, and to send every taxpayer a check for $20,000. Tell them: "This is YOUR bailout."

THAT should be sufficient to get things moving in a big way.

Thing Number Two: Going forward, the aim of economic policy should be to get the real median wage growing on a consistent basis.

How? Here are some basic, proven ideas.

1. Give workers a bigger voice in how profits are distributed. A great way to do that is by encouraging union membership. Let me put this bluntly: the government ought to do everything it can to encourage unionization across all economic sectors. A good start would be repealing the Taft-Hartley act, and passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

2. Use the tax system to discourage out-sized payouts for corporate executives and banksters. Restore the tax brackets (adjusted for inflation) to what they were in 1955. Top marginal tax rate: 91.5 percent.
This will discourage the obscene paychecks Our Reptilian Corporate Masters currently award themselves, and encourage them (through deductions) to do economically beneficial things with the money.

3. Re-regulate the financial sector. Restore and strengthen the Glass–Steagall Act. Break up the big banks to the point that the insolvency of one won't threaten the economy. (While I'm at it: impose a retro-active tax of 100% on all non-salary compensation of every executive of every financial institution that received federal bailout money. It might not prevail in the ensuing litigation, but it would be fun to watch them squirm. I mean, screw these people.)

All this would, of course, cause keening howls of outrage and pain on Wall Street and the executive suites of America's corporate headquarters, and confusion and alarm amongst the Wall Street Fetishists on CNBC. There isn't a violin small enough.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We Need a Movement

Brad DeLong:

Perhaps Washington is simply too disconnected [from the economic hardship of most Americans]: my brother-in-law observes that the only place in America where it is hard to get a table at dinner time in a good restaurant right now is within two miles of Capitol Hill.

Sometime in the late seventies, the Dems started dumping their traditional "party of labor and the common man/woman" role, and became the party of the social-libertarian/technocratic faction of the top 20% of the income scale.

This is what allowed the Republicans (starting with Reagan) to begin their destruction of the safety net. They did this in the service of their only real constituency: The Richest One Percent of Americans and their minions and courtiers.

So, you have the representatives of the top one percent of the income scale (the Republican Party) competing with the Democratic Party to be the representatives of the nineteen percent of the income scale right below them.

The problem, of course, is that the 80 percent below them haven't gotten a meaningful raise in 30 years; no one is representing their interests.

That's also why the safety net has been systematically weakened (a frightened and submissive workforce is what Our Reptilian Corporate Masters most desire).

That's why everyone has such crippling student loan debt - and this is increasingly true even of people who attend state colleges and universities - make class mobility prohibitively expensive to guard the privileges of those at the top, and keep those with student loan debt focused on educational choices that will lead to high-paying jobs, rather than the kind of education that will show them the deeply corrupt nature of the game.

This benefits the wealth and status of Our Reptilian Corporate Masters, who are the only people whose interests are being served by the current system; until and unless this changes, the current bad economic situation won't get appreciably better for the great majority of Americans.


The Circle That Will Never Be Squared is having the yawning inequality of wealth we have in the United States, having a "safety net" that is being weakened, leaving millions in the cold (and that is becoming increasingly literal) - and also having social stability. You can't have both.


History tells us that these kinds of situations can either be reformed (see TR and the trust-busters, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, FDR and the New Deal, and so on) or, if the oligarchs have so tight a grip on the levers of power, including the means of mass communication, that they can prevent reform, then eventually the people will rise up. This can go badly wrong, and is best avoided, if possible.

If there were a real, actual "Left" in this country, there would be mass protests and agitation about the glaring injustices of the current plutocracy. The tea party (not the astroturfing financiers; I'm speaking here of the rank-and-file) is a worrying sign that the character of the eventual reckoning may be racist, nativist and involve scapegoating of the weak and vulnerable.

If this comes to pass, the Tea Party's astroturfing rich will have the bulk of the responsibility for the consequences; but the scandalous silence of what passes for the American "Left" will be seen as having helped enable the disaster.

We need a mass movement from the left, for social and economic justice. We need a left-ish answer to the Tea Party.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lady Day

Billie Holiday, in a live performance that shines with her greatness.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On President Obama's Remarks in Tucson

This is one of the most remarkable speeches I've seen him give. I have my issues with Obama, but this was simply masterful.

I hope this can bring some sobriety to the discussion.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

Barack Obama


This section is especially apropos of the venomous discourse inspired by this incident:
[W]hen a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Occam Would Be Proud Of Me For This

Look: the Democratic Congress and the Democratic President didn't pass truly progressive legislation because they didn't want to. They didn't want to because doing so would cost Our Reptilian Corporate Masters power, and then Our Reptilian Corporate Masters would close the purse strings and the Democrats would drown in Republican money.

Which, you know, happened anyway.

The biggest "Progressive Victory" is that gay people will now be able to join the imperial forces and fight and die to defend the interests of Our Reptilian Corporate Masters.

The imbalances in wealth and income between Our Reptilian Corporate Masters and everyone else are manifestly unjust; this is The Only Challenge That Matters when it comes to promoting a Progressive Agenda. That is the rotten root from which grows practically everything else.

We need to find a way, from the grassroots up, to address and correct the structures that perpetuate and aggravate those imbalances - traditionally this has meant steeply progressive tax rates, support for labor and financial regulation.

Unless some countervailing power prevents it, capitalism always concentrates wealth, and thus power, in the hands of a thinner and thinner slice of folks at the top. This can either be reformed (progressive taxation, support for labor, financial regulation, etc.) or if it isn't, we need to resign ourselves to living in a society more or less constantly on the verge of armed revolution.