Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All I Want for Xmas is an AK-47

You really can't make this stuff up. (H/T "Akhilleus"). Deep in the dried up bowels of Arizona, nestled among the headless bodies of Gov. Jan Brewer's imagination, there exists an actual place called the Scottsdale Gun Club. Its big selling point? It's a state of the art conference center/high tech shooting range rolled right into one! Between intense business negotiations and leveraged buyout brainstorming sessions, you can rent an Uzi for $65 a hour -- just a little over a dollar a minute to blow off some steam after you're done shooting your mouth off. From the Gun Club website:
Scottsdale Gun Club’s conference room is utilized for smaller gatherings. The room has a large oval marble table with 8 comfortable leather office chairs surrounding it. It also comes equipped with a projector, PC, and DVD. Also available is a teleconferencing phone so you can reach those outside of the meeting. Food and refreshments are allowed in this room as well. Behind all the action sits a Garwood Mini-Gun and an HK GMG Automatic Grenade Launcher. We don’t think these will be useful for your meeting, but they are great conversation pieces and ice-breakers!
But wait! There's more!  As Akhilleus writes in an email: "In Arizona, you can go to the mall and have your picture taken with Santa while holding automatic weapons. It's Arizona's very own No Child Left Unarmed. AK-47s for everyone! And dum-dum bullets as stocking stuffers!"

You can see actual video here. Don't worry. It's short and sweet, not too graphic, except for the part where a child points his assault weapon at Santa. And, writes Akhilleus, "Don't miss the little kid carrying a grease gun. And look at Santa's face in that video. He looks like he's ready to soil his sleigh."

Awwww. But wouldn't you know -- some grinches are taking all the joy out of the Second Amendment. It's the war against weaponized Christmas, for X's sake! A Baptist preacher from Phoenix named Rev. Brent Loveless told the Christian Science Monitor that the gun-toting Santa surrounded by kids with grenade launchers might not quite jibe with the spirit of the season: “It’s a time when you’re talking about peace and good cheer and things of that nature. (It's) probably a little too much" he ventured to guess.

But the reverend, "probably" thinking of the long-term security of his gospel-preaching gig in Arizona, was quick to add that he likes to hunt and supports the right to bear arms. So I guess he bit the bullet with that addendum.  After all, Arizona has the reputation of being the most gun-friendly state in the Union, having 1200 licensed gun sellers and an actual state gun (the Colt revolver) and a law passed this year requiring that gun history be included in the high school social studies curriculum. A Google search for "Arizona gun stores" produces 22,500,000 results and this map:

Only in Arizona, kids. Only in Arizona. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There's a Place

by Neil Gillespie
The Justice Network

This post was inspired by Valerie, Anne, DreamsAmelia and others who commented on Karen’s post "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

Each of you expressed a fundamental theme of human existence, the need for shelter and community. Is it better to rent or buy a home? Is real neighborliness in person with your actual neighbors the bedrock of society, or can an online "community" suffice? And how does all this fit into the larger world or work and family?

There is another way: You can have it all, in an intentional community. The following is inspired by many people and ideas too numerous to mention here, so I’ll begin with one person, Scott Nearing. "If I am rich and you are poor," Nearing wrote, "both of us are corrupted by inequality."

Scott Nearing was a radical professor at the Wharton School. According to a University of Pennsylvania publication, he was "shocked in 1915 when he was the only assistant professor with a favorable recommendation from the faculty not to be rehired. His outspoken views against child labor and other progressive causes had run afoul of Penn’s trustees, who thought he was a dangerous influence on his many followers. Nearing won litigation concerning his dismissal, giving a significant victory to academic freedom - one step toward the creation of the tenure system."(Scott Nearing is profiled further on my website.)
"By 1917 Nearing was fired from the University of Toledo as an administrator and professor due to his opposition to America’s World War I involvement. In March 1918 he was indicted, but later exonerated by the federal government via the Espionage Act for his antiwar writing. In the 1920s he joined the Communist party until he was expelled from that organization for being too radically independent.
Nearing later  espoused a simple lifestyle of abstaining from products and economic practices that he believed hurt society. Among his 50 books was the classic Living the Good Life, co-authored with his wife Helen in 1954 and republished in 1970, inspiring the countercultural movement of the time. Nearing died in 1983 shortly after his 100th birthday."

Scott Nearing

Fast forward to 2011. The politics, economy and technology of today may provide the foundation for a new rendition of the intentional community, sometimes called a commune. Think of the possibilities of a physical community, somewhere in the wide-open spaces of America, combined with the interconnectedness of the Internet. A place run by people, not the corporations.
A place where we build our sustainable homes by hand, without debt, in the tradition of the Amish barn raising...
A place where we grow our own organic food, raise animals and fish, to nourish our body and soul...
A place where we manufacture quality products, made in America, by people, not corporations. Real jobs, with humane benefits and working conditions...
A place where we can operate e-commerce business online, with clients worldwide... 
A place where we govern ourselves without the corrupting influence of corporate money... 
A place with our own bank, banking system, and local currency... 
A place where we establish our own courts, where judges are not lawyers, and the practice of law and the delivery of legal service is open to the free market...
A place where we decide who serves on our police force and how they should behave, a place that may have a chief like OWS supporter Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police captain...
A place where we build and run our own hospitals, daycare, nursing homes and hospice...
A place where we build and run our own primary schools and university, an affordable university where the emphasis is on learning and sustainable living, in contrast to the current debt-based college education with its emphasis on sports and consumer consumption...
A place where animals are respected and incorporated into our lives, as companions, or workers mowing our lawn (grazing), public service (dogs) or transportation (horses, camels) 
A place with sustainable public transportation, electric cars, horses, or camels...
A place with a sustainable public utility that produces green power and clean water...
A place where people of all faiths, races, ethnic groups, and orientations are welcome...
A place that values creative thinking... 
This is just the beginning. Feel free to add your own ideas. Add to it the best of liberal, conservative, libertarian, progressive, radical, eastern and western thought, and others not mentioned. Barack Obama may have betrayed the dream, but we don’t have to...

For further reading: Two classics by Helen & Scott Nearing: "Living the Good Life" and "Leaving the Good Life" are available in a one-volume paperback called "The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living". (Schocken Books, Jan. 1990)


A Dollar, a Dream, and a Hedge Fund

Time for another episode in the continuing series known as The Audacity of Oligarchy.....

"You gotta be in it to win it!" goes the TV commercial urging people to run out and buy lottery tickets.  Another one gushes: "All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream!" 

And needy people listen to this stuff.  According to one study, the indigent spend a whopping nine percent of their incomes on lottery tickets -- in effect, making this form of gambling a perfect addition to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 regressive tax plan to soak the poor.

So it was a real bummer to read that three millionaire asset managers, hailing from one of the most exclusive and expensive enclaves in the country, have won the $254 million Powerball jackpot in Connecticut. They spent one lousy dollar - or a portion of their income the size of a subatomic particle -- on one measly ticket. There hasn't been this much outrage since millionaire Jim Sensenbrenner, congressman and heir to the Kimberly-Clark fortune, won the lottery for a third straight time.

Well, harrumph!  According to a Connecticut state lottery official, rich people can dream too, dammit!  Rich people are everyday people, just like us. And of course, we are much consoled that the lawyer for the trio says they plan to give a "substantial" portion of their after-tax, hundred million dollar-plus haul to charity. Presumably to a charity designed by the rich, for the rich -- to avoid further taxes. I know, I know -- I am probably being totally unfair. I promise to issue a retraction once they donate the whole shebang to Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross, or the free clinic movement, or food banks, or any worthy cause that doesn't take a substantial cut for its CEO.

One thing that really struck me about the coverage of this moment of oligarchic irony: the nouveau-nouveau riche asset managers just don't look all that happy in the photos. Maybe they feel bad about winning and snatching the food out of the mouth of the unemployed single mom in front of them in line that day, who'd just spent her last dollar on a ticket. (doubtful) Or, they are miffed that the government is taking a whole half of their haul in taxes (they're used to the effective 15-18% rate reserved for the .01%). Or, they are simply annoyed that they had to take time from their busy day of making money to pose in the traditional lottery photo-op.

Ho Hum.... Another Day, Another Quarter-Billion (AP Photo)

Update:  A fourth reason for their apparent discomfort: an acquaintance is telling the press that the bankers may not have actually bought the ticket after all, that they are just "fronting for the real winner." 

 Money does not buy happiness, people. (Actually, that's a lie. It really really really helps when you don't have much of it.)  But the uber-wealthy of the Forbes 400 are not joyful humans, for the most part. (I have absolutely no proof to back me up on this, but writing it makes me feel better.) They worry too much about how they can keep what they have, and fret about how they can get more.  The poster-child for unhappy billionaires has to be Walmart heiress Alice Walton:

Like the Greenwich Powerball Trio, this 62-year-old was also a wealth manager before her own $20 billion jackpot from Daddy Sam made her America's 10th richest person. She now spends her time spending her billions on art and charity to avoid taxes, as well as on lawyers to avoid prosecution. In April 1989, while speeding in her Porsche, she struck and killed a friend of hers. She was never charged, nor did she offer any compensation to the victim's family. Nine years later, she was arrested after hitting a gas meter. Her words to the arresting officer will go down in the annals of plutocratic chutzpah: "I'm Alice Walton, bitch!"

She pled guilty, though, and paid a paltry $925 fine: a speck of molecular dust in the infinity of the universe. Her most recent arrest came this past October. (mug shot above.) This time, she sent her regrets.  Mea minima culpa.

More from the Gallery of Peevish Plutocrats:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Zombie Turkey, Reanimated

Holiday weekend news dump/controlled leak, While-you-were-cooking/eating/shopping/traveling edition: The respected, pro-single payer chief of Medicare and Medicaid Services suddenly tenders his resignation. At the same time, some "anonymous" Democrats let it be known that they are becoming fond of the previously-hated Paul Ryan turkey of a plan for privatizing Medicare after all. What a coincidence!

In a story buried in The New York Times on Thanksgiving Day, reporter Robert Pear revealed that:
"Though it reached no agreement, the special Congressional committee on deficit reduction built a case for major structural changes in Medicare that would limit the government’s open-ended financial commitment to the program, lawmakers and health policy experts say.
Members of both parties told the panel that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government."
Pear never does reveal the identities of the Secretive Democrats who claim that their plan is a kinder gentler version of Ryancare, which would ultimately have phased out Medicare entirely with prepaid vouchers for beneficiaries to obtain private health coverage. But one of them is Catfood Commission I member Alice Rivlin, whom Pear says is for transforming Medicare from straight single payer to a plan with a "public option."  In other words, the same plan for universal coverage that Candidate Obama pretended to espouse back in the day.  In other words, instead of forging ahead with Medicare for All as the majority of Americans prefer, these "unnamed Democrats" are forging ahead with at least the "semi-privatization" of the only single payer system we've ever had.  And you just know that once the parasitic insurers get their claws into these "Medicare improvements", it will only be a lobbyist's hop, skip and jump to full privatization. This leaked agenda should  probably be named the conserva-dems' "Stealth Health Plus."

I am surprised that we haven't heard more outrage from "progressive" Democratic lawmakers on this horror show of a zombie turkey carcass reanimation plan. Oh yeah.... they probably haven't heard about it yet.  They are still deep in their tryptophan comas. 

Meanwhile, also in keeping with the spirit of holiday news dumps, Dr. Donald Berwick is out of a job, without so much as a "heckuva job, Don" sendoff from President Obama.  Recess-appointed last year, Berwick evoked the wrath of Republicans, livid that this respected physician had publicly praised the (single payer) British Health Service. The resignation appears to be the final chapter in the latest installment of what "Confidence Men" author Ron Suskind credits former Economic Advisor Larry Summers with saying: that the White House policy is to be seen as "caught trying" -- in other words, the president states a policy, or names a progressive appointee, only to sit back and passive-aggressively watch as the rabid nihilistic Republicans conveniently eviscerate it/him/her. (The poster child for this de facto policy is, of course, Elizabeth Warren.) From another Times article by the ubiquitous Mr. Pear: 
"Mr. Obama said he would nominate Dr. Berwick’s principal deputy, Marilyn B. Tavenner, to succeed him as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Ms. Tavenner, the secretary of the Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources when Tim Kaine was governor, is more of a manager and less of a visionary than Dr. Berwick, who has been working for more than two decades to transform the health care system and raise the quality of care....
Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group, said that with Dr. Berwick’s resignation, the government was losing “a visionary leader, a champion for patients,” who knew how to improve care while reducing costs."
Oh well.... Obama atoned for abandoning yet another person who made the mistake of actually working for the public good. He pardoned not one, but two, turkeys this Thanksgiving. Why double the fun?  I have a few theories. One: the poultry duo symbolizes the bipartishit of the Oligarchy. Plus, like the prosecution-immune Wall Street bankers, turkeys are mean and somewhat stupid creatures. And even if you kill a mother turkey before her eggs are hatched, the chicks ("poults") won't care. They will mindlessly follow the first fat hen they see.

Poulitics as Usual

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Black Friday was barely underway when the first-ever (they think) incident of shoppers being pepper-sprayed was reported this morning.

No, it was not Lt. Pike. A woman desperate to get her hands on some cheap Chinese electronics in a California Walmart (where else) blasted fellow alleged humanoids in the annual consumer stampede that makes America so.... exceptional.  According to police, 20 people were injured, and the unidentified woman was still at large. From the LA Times:

Alejandra Seminario, 24, said she was waiting in line to grab some toys at the store around 9:55 p.m. when people the next aisle over started shouting and ripping at the plastic wrap encasing gaming consoles, which was supposed to be opened at 10 p.m.

"People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray," the Sylmar resident said. "I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes."
Although "part of the store" was evacuated, the store itself remained open for business.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that 9,000 shoppers were lined up in front of the Macy's flagship store on Herald Square overnight in hopes of snagging a bargain.... or because they get a rush in a crush...  or just to be able, someday, to tell the grandkids that they were there.

Anti-Wall Street Day of Rage, NYC, March 2011 (Pre-Occupy; not covered by MSM)

Tahrir Square, Cairo, November 2011

Best Buy, USA, Nov. 25, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Some coping mechanisms:

Sarah Vowell thinks we should fuggedabout the "Mayflower-cruising Jesus freaks" but instead commemorate the deaths of 11,000 Revolutionary War patriots in a British prison ship on the East River in NYC. Daily Show clip here (I have no control over the introductory K-Mart Doorbusters commercial -- sorry!)

Wednesday Addams explains the meaning of Thanksgiving, with Danish subtitles over which I also have no control.  This beautifully horrid little girl grew up to play a 60s Pan Am stewardess on TV.  Sometimes these precocious types burn out. 

If you're still wondering about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.... don't ask me.  But for those of you in a curmudgeonly mood, here is a festive holiday read called "Why I Hate Thanksgiving".

From Reader Will comes Jon Stewart giving the cop who started the whole pepper spray craze his very own show!
And last penultimate but not least, listen to the 2003 Thanksgiving radio interview  that the late historian Howard Zinn gave to Tavis Smiley. (Some readers were having trouble linking to the NPR site, so thanks to Jay - Ottawa for sharing this Zinn page.)

Last but not least, DreamsAmelia sends this link to Greg Brown singing "I Don't Want to Have a Nice Day." 

Have a Nice Day!

Buy Nothing Day

This holiday season, if you're too embarrassed to tell your friends and family that you are now so broke that you can no longer afford to buy crap they don't want anyway, just tell them you are Occupying Christmas. This tactic will work even if you are not part of the bona fide 33 Percent Poverty Passel: it is now chic to be anti-consumerist.  For the first time in my memory, there is a widespread backlash against Black Friday. Yes! Bust the door-busters! Boycott Best Buy!

And this year, it's even worse, because Black Friday is morphing into Tawdry Thursday: stores are opening on Thanksgiving night in order to beat out the competition. It's the apogee of the insidious Christmas creep that now starts before Halloween.  Shopaholics are justifying cutting the sacred family mealtime short by characterizing the early retail feeding frenzy as the beginning of a new all-American tradition. Instead of schmoozing over the pumpkin pie, suggests retail analyst Olivier Rubel, park yourselves in the Walmart parking lot for some real family together time. The big box stores are counting on you.

 "People like to shop," he told The Sacramento Bee. "When stores are open longer, more people can come to find deals or discounts. Stores are just lengthening the time of a promotion, which will increase the volume of sales."

(Rubel is also a professor at the UC-Davis Graduate School of Management. So double-kudos to the student protestors on that campus!)

And now for the remedy. From AdBusters, the same fine publication that spread the word about the Original #OWS, comes your guide to Buy Nothing Day, the official start of OccupyXmas:
You've been sleeping on the streets for two months pleading peacefully for a new spirit in economics. And just as your camps are raided, your eyes pepper-sprayed and your head's knocked in, another group of people is preparing to camp out. Only these people aren't here to occupy Wall Street, they're here to secure their spot in line for a Black Friday bargain at Super Target and Macy's.
Occupy gave the world a new way of thinking about the fat cats and financial pirates on Wall Street. Now lets give them a new way of thinking about the holidays, about our own consumption habits. Let's use the coming 20th annual Buy Nothing Day to launch an all-out offensive to unseat the corporate kings on the holiday throne.
This year’s Black Friday will be the first campaign of the holiday season where we set the tone for a new type of holiday culminating with #OCCUPYXMAS. As the global protests of the 99% against corporate greed and casino capitalism continues, lets take the opportunity to hit the empire where it really hurts…the wallet.
On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams! We don’t camp on the sidewalk for a reduced price tag on a flat screen TV or psycho-killer video game. Instead, we occupy the very paradigm that is fueling our eco, social and political decline.
Historically, Buy Nothing Day has been about fasting from hyper consumerism – a break from the cash register and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption. On this 20th anniversary of Buy Nothing Day, we take it to the next level, marrying it with the message of #occupy…
Shenanigans begin November 25!

(Poster Courtesy of Adbusters)

Shop locally this year even if it means buying less stuff. Support Main Street and screw Wall Street.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bloomer Rumor

He is not, he nasally drawls, running for president. He is devoted to the third term he paid millions of dollars of his own good earned money for, and he's going to abide. He owes it to the financiers of New York. He's not a quitter.That's why Mayor Mike Bloomberg is on the road telling everybody who will listen that Barack Obama is a gigantic disgrace of a failure over the collapse of the Supercommittee --but that he, the Duke of Omnium, is not not I repeat not interested in mounting a third party challenge.

MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell just coyly asked (sorry, no clip available yet) if he is running, and he did the mildly affronted act as only a muted shrillionaire can. No, he (paraphrasingly) said with a moue: I am only making the rounds of the national teevee talk shows to bitch about what a mealy-mouthed weakling Obama has turned out to be. We need my a balanced approach, the midpoint of sanity between crazy liberalism and crazy Tea Partyism.  I am the dream come true of the David Brooks/Tom Friedman school of mythical centrist punditry. I am the genteel sloppy seconds of Chris Christie. I am the CEO king of Third Way. I scoff at the notion that the banks had anything at all to do with the financial collapse.  That was Congress, forcing the banks to lend money to the lesser people to buy homes that were not entitled to. I am the great elite hope of Wall Street. I vanquished Zuccotti Park, did I not?

The corporate media are in awe of the Audacity of Oligarchy. They are marching in lockstep and breathlessly calling the Bloomberg Media Tour a "rare public rebuke"  of a sitting president.

Not to be outdone by Obama's famous Sunday night announcement of the death of Osama, Bloomer even staged his own Sunday night presser with his sidekick Ray Kelly to announce the existence of his very own terrorist, who was about to blow up all kinds of stuff with Christmas tree lights and matches. Bloomer outfitted himself in a casual orange sweater for the affair to show what a relaxed informal Bob Newharty rich guy he is.  He even played a video produced just for the special occasion. It showed a car getting blown up by New York's finest. Mayor Shrillionaire did not say if he paid for the stunt out of his own good money, or if the taxpayers will foot the bill. He did insinuate, however, that the Obama Justice Dept./FBI fell down on the job and that it was only through the dedication of his private NYPD security force that he kept New Yorkers safe from a mentally challenged, informant-groomed, "lone wolf" threat.  

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll shows that Bloomer would get 13 percent of the vote in the general election and that Ron Paul would garner 18 percent. Foursome, anyone?  Actually, a sextet would do nicely. I nominate Bernie and Ralph.

Bloomer in His Lone Wolf Hunting Sweater

Obama, Occupied

Mic Check!  Head Honcho heckled this afternoon at New Hampshire high school.  See the clip here

The full text of the protesters' prepared statement: 
"Mr. President, over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested while bankers continue to destroy the American economy.You must stop the assault on our 1st Amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out." 
Although it wasn't clear whether the hecklers were an Occupy group from outside the school, or if the protesters were part of the student body itself, or a mix, their chanting began when the president gave a shout-out to the senior class. He seemed to take the interruption with equaminity, and even addressed the protesters during prepared remarks:
"A lot of the folks who've been down in New York and all across the country in the 'Occupy' movement, there is a profound sense of frustration, there's a profound sense of frustration about the fact that the essence of the American dream, which is that if you work hard, if you stick to it that you can make it, feels like that's slipping away. And that's not the way things are supposed to be, not here, not in America. This is a place where your hard work and your responsibility's supposed to pay off, it's supposed to be a big, compassionate country where everybody who works hard should have a chance to get ahead, not just the person who owns the factory, but then men and women who work on the factory floor."
At least he didn't admonish them as Newt Gingrich did, to take a bath and get a job.... or as Karl Rove did, to shut up and stop occupying his American space.  It was a pretty typical "I feel your pain" political campaign speech, and it contained so many usages of the word "folks" I lost count of them all.

"When a politician uses the word 'folks' " writes Noam Chomsky in Hopes and Prospects, "we should brace ourselves for the deceit or worse that is coming." 

All braced up and ready to go.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Gift of Gas

Tearing your hair out this holiday season wondering what to get for that indigent family member who is so hard to buy for? You are in luck! With government home heating assistance programs getting slashed and electric bills rising and a third of all American families now classified as poor or near-poor, your friendly local power company has come up with a brilliant solution: keep those cut-offs at bay, the Christmas lights twinkling and the home fires burning with a utility bill gift card!

No need to buy another cheap Chinese sweater to stave off hypothermia for the shivering Grandma subsisting on a meager Social Security check. This year, instead of her turning down the thermostat to 50 so she can eat, she can stay warm as toast and even see what she's doing as the lights stay on while she mails in her prepaid gift card with her utility bill.  

This is definitely a win-win-win-win proposition. First and foremost, the utility wins. It gets paid early -- before it provides even a single kilowatt of electricity, or one cubic foot of gas! Just think of how happy the investors will be with the added dividends. And if there is any money left over, they'll even be able to toy with the idea of spending some of it on infrastructure improvement, like trimming some trees that have a tendency to knock down power lines during the periodic freak storms that are becoming ever more periodic. Customers left in the dark for weeks may see outages reduced to mere days. Gas lines that are inspected and replaced may reduce neighborhood explosions. Of course, this is optional on the part of the utilities. As with every corporation, the American way is to reward investors first, CEOs second, customers third, and employees maybe. Disasters due in part to poor maintenance invariably come with the price tag of a rate increase.

But back to the gift cards -- according to the marketing, you win too. You have the satisfaction of knowing that your gift will keep your loved one warm and bright. You can even be anonymous. And the recipient wins: he or she will be spared the embarrassment of collection calls threatening cut-off, or the indignity of having to prove imminent starvation and dire penury to Social Service agencies in order to qualify for a one-time government heating bill handout.  And last but not least, the middle-man wins: companies handling the gift card business for utilities will get their generous cut, too. Who said there are no winners in an economic depression?

Utility companies nationwide are facing hard times. Delinquent accounts are reaching epidemic proportions, and most states have laws that forbid them from shutting people off in the dead of winter. Right now, they are forced by the states to simply reduce the wattage to the delinquents until they pay up. In other words, provide just enough heat for survival and enough light so they don't trip and break a bone. But if they reach for that remote and attempt to watch TV?  Zap! You cannot have poor people enjoying themselves in the middle of a depression, even during the holidays.

At least one utility company is even marketing its gift cards for those hard-to-shop-for affluent family members and friends who have everything -- but who still "might appreciate a little help with their energy bill." What a relief. Now I know just what to get for Mayor Bloomberg.  I can imagine the way his eyes will light up when he receives his $10 Con Ed gift certificate from an anonymous fan. It'll bring back fond memories of the day he froze out Zuccotti Park by first confiscating the OWS generators and then completely bulldozing down the tents.

Mr. Warmth

Sunday, November 20, 2011


 "I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protestors. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere." -- Barack Obama, Jan. 28, 2011.

Q: On another domestic matter, does the president have any reaction to the way the Occupy Wall Street protesters were removed, how that was handled? 
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: He’s aware of it, obviously, from the reports. And our position and the president’s position is that obviously every municipality has to make its own decisions about how to handle these issues, and we would hope and want, as these decisions are made, that it balances between a long tradition of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in this country and obviously of demonstrating and protesting, and also the very important need to maintain law and order and health and safety standards, which was obviously a concern in this case. -- Pool report from Aboard Air Force One, President's Australia trip, Nov. 16, 2011.
From Bloomberg's mouth to Carney's lips... or from Homeland Security/Justice Dept. to America's mayors  to Carney's lips to conventional wisdom as practiced by the stenographers of the corporate media.
Whatever happened to the American practice of sanctimoniously "condemning" or "deploring" violent government crackdowns on peaceful citizens? I Googled "Hillary Clinton deplores" and got a quarter-million hits. A sampling of the headlines:
Clinton Deplores Syrian Crackdown, Urges Govt Reforms.... Sec. Clinton Says U.S. Deplores Violence in Equador.... Clinton Deplores Iran's Actions....  Clinton Deplores Bahrain Violence, Wants Reform.
And when it comes to the United States going whole hog and actually condemning another country's undemocratic actions, I hit the jackpot: more than 9 million Google hits.  We've condemned the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, Sudan's attacks on refugee camps and the violent crackdowns in Bahrain, to name just a few. We have even condemned UNESCO's pro-Palestine vote.
But so far, not one federal official has deplored, condemned, expressed chagrin, outrage, regret or shock over the epidemic outbreak of police brutality against Occupy protesters this week. If nothing else, the apparently orchestrated attacks have shown how much cop couture has changed in recent years. Blue shirts and badges have been replaced by the Darth Vader collection. The police have morphed from protectors and public servants to a paramilitary force replete with high tech weaponry left over from the forever wars.

 The coldly sadistic pepper-spraying by a campus cop against students in California on Friday is only the latest example. These were the school police, for crying out loud, whose job description used to be making sure the dorms were locked up at night and students didn't jaywalk or park illegally. Regarding this latest incident, the most common phrases popping up via Google are "UC-Davis Calls for Investigation" and "Chancellor Refuses to Resign". The verb of choice is "probe", and the noun du jour is "task force." The best description of the attack the school's chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, could come up with was a cold one -- "chilling." No disgust, no outrage --or, heaven forbid, condemnation. The chancellor is giving herself 90 days to come up with a whitewash, and the cop and his complicit pals still have their jobs.
James Fallows of The Atlantic has a good rundown and more photos here.

Photo by Wayne Tilcock, The Davis Enterprise

It has now gotten so bad that a former poet laureate of the United States has been beaten up by police for merely showing up at a Berkeley Occupy rally. Read his account in The New York Times. These uniformed thugs have obviously received more training than your run-of-the-mill police academy could ever have provided.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Twilight in America

Americans are as hypocritical as ever (we consider ourselves more religious than Europeans, yet don't believe as much in safety nets to help our less fortunate neighbors). But here's the good news: we are getting rid of our smug snobbery in droves! More of us than ever have rejected the notion that this is the greatest country that was or ever shall be.The idea of "American exceptionalism" is going down the tubes at long last. Do you think this might have anything to do with another new finding showing that one in three of us is now either dirt poor or "borderline" poor? Contrary to the conservative mindset, meritocracy is a myth. Horatio Alger is dead, not that he ever existed in the first place. But try telling that to Paul Ryan or Newt Gingrich and the ghost of Ayn Rand.

The results of the latest Pew Poll, as well as a new study by the Census Bureau are now in, and they should not be surprising to anyone who's been a) Paying Attention; or b) Struggling to Make Ends Meet. 

Three years into the Great Stagnation/Long Depression/Prosperity is Just Around the Corner propaganda campaign, the "P" word is finally being uttered in the mainstream media. The New York Times, wishing to expand upon the latest poverty numbers coming out of the Census Bureau a few weeks ago, actually commissioned a supplemental study to find out just how many people are really poor when geography and cost of living and social safety net programs are factored in. Researchers claim to be absolutely shocked to discover that a growing number of people (100 million strong) are just barely scraping by, and are just a paycheck or illness away from being out on the streets. From today's Times article:

" 'These numbers are higher than we anticipated,' said Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”
Outside the bureau, skeptics of the new measure warned that the phrase “near poor” — a common term, but not one the government officially uses — may suggest more hardship than most families in this income level experience. A family of four can fall into this range, adjusted for regional living costs, with an income of up to $25,500 in rural North Dakota or $51,000 in Silicon Valley. 
But most economists called the new measure better than the old, and many said the findings, while disturbing, comported with what was previously known about stagnant wages.

'It’s very consistent with everything we’ve been hearing in the last few years about families’ struggle, earnings not keeping up for the bottom half,' said Sheila Zedlewski, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social research group."
And this is the week that the Pew Poll released its figures showing only about half of us still feel ourselves superior to everybody else in the world.  "Only" half, huh?  Conservatism dies hard, though it's on the way out. Here's the chart:

In his New York times column this morning, Charles Blow bemoans the Great Decline:
"We are settling into a dangerous national pessimism. We must answer the big questions. Was our nation’s greatness about having God or having grit? Is exceptionalism an anointing or an ethos? If the answers are grit and ethos, then we must work to recapture them. We must work our way out of these doldrums. We must learn our way out. We must innovate our way out.
We have to stop snuggling up to nostalgia, acknowledge that we have allowed a mighty country to be brought low and set a course to restitution. And that course is through hard work and tough choices. You choose greatness; it doesn’t choose you."
Nice and noble sentiments, and reminiscent of many a presidential campaign speech, from Reagan's "Morning in America" to Obama's recent and now-abandoned "Win the Future."

The top-recommended Reader Comment is by Nan Socolow, who eloquently and concisely writes:

"As America is exceptional among nations, so was the Roman Empire exceptional among nations. So was the British Empire exceptional among nations, and the French Empire under Napoleon after the Revolution. It is wonderful to aspire to be Ronald Reagan's "shining city on the hill" again. But the time of that Shining City has come and gone, and so has morning in America. And now, because we have stretched the American Empire further than it can be stretched - with bloody wars in the Middle East, with crumbling infrastructure, with an economy that has spiraled down and down and circles the drain, with the gross inequality between the very rich and the poor among us, this century will not be the American century of Exceptionalism. Modern China is on the cusp of becoming an exceptional empire, as ancient China surely was. That President Obama is in Australia right now, agreeing to contain the growing Empire of China for the Australians, as America contained the Soviet Union decades ago, is telling. America has suffered for the past decades from egregiously sick government under the Republican party, from corruption and decay within, much as Rome suffered within in her waning years of Empire. Today, Americans, wired into the newest communications technology, are mindlessly dancing with the stars instead of working toward a rebirth of our exceptionalism. With ubiquitous noisy wire chatter of social media obscuring the facts of American existence today, how can we be exceptional? With our political and financial and cultural institutions as they have never been before - bereft and barren of compassion and empathy for the least of our citizens - we do not deserve to be called exceptional any longer."

However, Marie Burns of the New York Times eXaminer sees reason to rejoice, noting that a closer reading of the poll results gives lie to the old adage that youth is wasted on the young: 
"Now, I see these results as a good thing. They show that young Americans are becoming less parochial. They reject the narrow ideology that the U.S. – whether because of its pioneer history or its form of government or its ethnic diversity or, worst of all, a divine preference – has a unique “spirit” that other cultures cannot hope to match. Instead, more young Americans now view their nation as one among many. They are citizens of the world; they respect and appreciate diverse cultures and customs. Unlike many of their elders, these young Americans are not provincial, flag-wrapped, imperious jerks. Good for the kids!"

You can read her entire piece here.  For more incisive articles by Marie and other anti-establishment writers, be sure to click the link to the eXaminer on my blogroll. (veer to the right of this page in order to arrive at Left).

So there you have it, folks. We may be poor, but damn! Are we beginning to wise up, or what? Occupy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Scream Machine

It's been called the audio equivalent of a fire hose. Israeli forces have dubbed their version of  it "The Scream" and used it successfully against Palestinian protesters at checkpoints.  The U.S. Navy has used it to deter pirates and terrorists in small craft from boarding ships.  And now, police departments in American  jurisdictions are using it for crowd control at OWS protests. The official name for the gizmo is Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD).

Invented, as the name implies, as a long distance communication gadget, the uses of LRAD have evolved right along with the insidious government morph from democracy to fascism-light.   The version the NYPD used in the Zuccotti park eviction is theoretically non-lethal.  But if you happen to be standing near one when it's deployed, your hearing can be irreversibly damaged  The effect has been described as a buzz saw going off inside your brain. According to Gizmodo:

"Use of the device has come under fire because of the potential for permanent hearing loss. Human discomfort starts when a sound hits 120dB, well below the LRAD's threshold. Permanent hearing loss begins at 130dB, and if the device is turned up to 140dB, anyone within its path would not only suffer hearing loss, they could potentially lose their balance and be unable to move out of the path of the audio. The device is also entirely operator dependent, which could lead to serious ramifications if the officer in charge doesn't have sufficient training".
Police insist they are not using the device as a weapon. NYPD Spokesman Paul Brown said:
“We don’t use it to disrupt. We don’t use it as some horrible noisemaker. We set it up away from where a crowd is. We create a 50-foot safety zone. It sends out a clear, uniform message that can be heard for several blocks.”
But according to manufacturer's own website, the master blaster is one cool all-purpose tool. At an average cost of $35,000, it's the perfect gift for a goon squad looking to avoid the fuss and muss of tear gas or smoke. It's a virtual smorgasboard of unlimited versatility. Besides its original purpose as a high-tech megaphone, it has been used for search and rescue, perimeter and infrastructure protection, enforcing security zones from remote secure locations (maybe from the same Nevada trailers where they deploy predator Drones?), SWAT operations  and crowd and riot control, and serving warrants (huh?)  But here's the disclaimer:  "LRAD Corporation maintains a strict policy of selling LRAD systems only to qualified government agencies and commercial entities that are fully trained in the device's operation and use".  Which leads one to ask what kind of commercial entity could possibly have a use for a Scream Machine. Goldman Sachs? BP? K Street? Store security at Walmart?

And come to think of it, with the big cities crying poverty and firing teachers and closing schools and hospitals and imposing all kinds of austerity measures on the citizenry, where in the world are they coming up with the cash to buy their LRADs?  NYPD has two, and they're mounted on special command Humvees, themselves going for well over $100,000 apiece.  

Just last month Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired close to 700 city education department employees.  St. Vincent's, the big charity hospital located near the World Trade Center attacks, was closed down last year after having served the city's poor for 160 years, and its buildings were gutted to make way for luxury condos, priced between $1 - $12 million.  Nurses and community members blasted Bloomberg at a rally this spring to mark the one-year anniversary of another of the city's sellouts to the highest bidder. See video here

Had enough?  Me too. The outrage is enough to make you Scream.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day of Action

Reminder: today is the Occupy movement's Mass Day of Action, with events scheduled all over the country and worldwide.

 OccupyWallSt, after a breakfast march to Wall Street itself, will be jamming  the subway system in New York City at 3 p.m. I can hardly wait for Mayor Bloomberg to declare the subway system a pit of filth, disease and rats, and shut down all the trains.  Ditto for the planned march to the bridges beginning from Foley Square, just in time for rush hour at 5 p.m.  Bloomberg didn't care much about bridge traffic the other day when motorists were stuck for hours after he ordered the 59th St. Bridge shut down for the filming of yet another Batman movie.  As is his imperialistic wont, he never bothered to inform the people who live, drive and work in the city that they would be inconvenienced.  Some drivers, seeing a guy in a Batman costume dangling from the span, thought he was a real jumper (Gothamist).

As of this writing, crowds were converging near the New York Stock Exchange -- a phalanx of NYPD troops in riot gear keeping them away from the actual money pit.

Meanwhile that $600 million of MF Global customer money that went down another mysterious pit recently is still missing.  Since former MF (apt initials) CEO, former Goldman Sachs CEO, Former Senator, and Former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is a VIP and erstwhile Treasury Secretary candidate, nobody is actually calling him a thief -- at least not in the pages of The New York Times.  For now, he is just a doting but ditzy parent of a kidnap victim:

“The lost money is sort of like a lost child,” said Bart Chilton, a Democratic member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “Every day that passes is more and more concerning, and there’s less and less hope.”

Regulators and investigators are literally living at their desks trying to avoid actually having to charge Corzine with anything. Meanwhile, the people who actually had their life savings, pensions and futures stolen by the Global Financial Cabal are being arrested as they protest near the NYSE. Catch the livestream.

Update: Foley Square livestream is here: (thanks to reader Will).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Choking on a Gingrich

Ross Douthat, resident preppie of The New York Times op-ed pages, regales us this morning with a tale of choking on his cocktail(s) and hors d'oeuvre back when Newt Gingrich crashed and burned during his penultimate presidential campaign. (Ross has to make sure we know that he is a member of the Beltway media elite, and that they sometimes chuckle at parties with their mouths full, just like the rest of us). In his best pseudo-intellectual fashion, Ross now proclaims The Second Coming of Newt.

Nan Socolow, in turn, gagged on a Douthat, but managed to turn out this comment anyway:

Gingrich Redux!  The Second Coming of Newt Gingrich!  So there you were, Mr. Douthat, swilling martinis, scarfing pricey canapes high on the hog at a Washington DC GOP cocktail party.  And everyone was giggling at the prospect of Newt's return to the Republican cosmos?  And then there were the polls - media-hyped with the intensity that has typified our bizarro political mondo of today - and Newt got a BUMP in the polls (I see a python swallowing a big pig, that kind of bump)!  So what?  This Poll Bump was preceded by all the other bumps - Trump, Christie, Palin, Pawlenty, Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, Paul, Cain, all gone down in flames, all toast now. 
And you announce that Newtie is framing 2012 in manichean terms.  Why treat us to the polysyllabic word "manichean" instead of saying that Newt's present GOP ethos is just the early Iranian struggle between the Power of Good (the Tea Party?) and the Power of Evil (Guess who?).  Manichean doesn't cut the mustard. 
Alas, despite his demeanor as a handsome Big Cheese, Romney is unelectable. All the other Right Wing contenders are crashing and burning and soon Romney will be the Cheese standing alone.  And you think Newt Gingrich is electable?  If his bump is anything more than the usual pig in a python of GOP politics I'll eat my flipflops.
Newtie is the perfect Cerberus, the dog with big heads guarding the Underworld of the Extreme Right and not allowing anyone to escape.  And as for Gingrich's chances of winning the Presidency (or even the nomination next summer), with his checkered background and gynormous blots on his copybook - several wives, several religions, his essential narcissism and Tiffany line of credit, his chances are slim to none.  As Porky Pig used to laugh and stutter at the end of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons - "e-be-dee, e-be-dee, th- th- that's all folks!"

Newterus at the Right-Wing Gates (graphic by Kat Garcia)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Outing of the Oligarchs

Shrillionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg has finally dropped all pretense of being a public servant, serving at the pleasure of the public. This arrogant King of the Plutocrats, who defied term limits by buying his way into a previously illegal third term, has broken the law once again.

He is deliberately ignoring a court order* which allows the Occupy campers back into Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, their tarps, their books -- and their power. Michael Bloomberg should be impeached, recalled, sued, criminally charged, in no particular order, separately or concurrently. While we're waiting for the justice that most assuredly will come, this craven smarmy little man deserves all the invective we can hurl his way, all the shame we can pile upon this smirking personification of  egotistical self-serving entitlement. At his press conference this morning, in which he took sole responsibility for evicting Occupy, Bloomberg claimed he'd heard rumors of the court order, but had yet to verify its existence.

He lied. He ignored the court order, because he considers himself above the law.  At the time of the 8 a.m. news event, he had already been served with papers.

New York City Public Advocate Bill di Blasio called Bloomberg's actions provocative and legally questionable. 

Zuccotti Park, of course, is only the latest in what seems like a lightning-quick falling of the dominoes of Occupy encampments throughout the country. If you think this is part of a coordinated effort, you are right. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has admitted as much in a BBC interview, saying she recently participated in a conference call with 18 other mayors to plan anti-Occupy strategy.  Was this week of preplanned violent crackdowns also coordinated with the president's convenient absence from the country? The mayors and their police chiefs even had identical talking points. How often have you heard the words "health and safety concerns" from officials' mouths this week?  Along with the NIMBY defense: of course they have a right to protest!  Just not here, there or anywhere. Public space for the public?  Hah!

November 15, 2011: A day of infamy. The day when the bankers and the corporations and the puppet politicians finally came out of the closet and proclaimed their fascism. The day when Democracy was officially flouted by the New Security State. The day when the Gestapo conducted a raid and even declared the airspace above the scene of their outrageous brutality their own private property, and announced that freedom of the press is subject to their whim.

And the whole world is watching.  

*Update, 5:23 pm:  A judge has now ruled that occupiers may return to the park, minus their tents and tarps and other means of survival. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was on TV just now, barely able to contain the glee under his dour exterior, vowing that the protesters will no longer even be permitted to lie down in the park. How they enforce this unilaterally-enacted law should be interesting. It's also fascinating how many mainstream media outlets are now proclaiming the entire OWS movement DOA. These people haven't a clue. 

Like every other strong arm tactic displayed by the police, this one will only make the movement stronger. It's not about the geographical location, pundits. The overwhelming anger, and the newfound solidarity among different kinds of people who have found a commonality in suffering, are here to stay. Call us protesters without borders.