Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene Aftermath

The full scope of the disaster in the Northeast is just now becoming clear, with some roads  slowly reopening, electricity and internet  being spottily restored and people venturing out to inspect the damage.  It's a scene of utter destruction. 

But to give you an idea of the spirit that reigns in these parts right along with the devastation, here is a film made by Jo Ostrander, a resident of the little town of Shokan in northern Ulster County, NY.  This whole area is known as "greater Woodstock".  I call it the Dried Lentil Belt.  Much of the region is populated by hippies who never left after that epic weekend in 1969, along with a lot of artists and craftspeople.  One of the towns  pictured in the video is Phoenicia, recently named the "sixth coolest small town in America".   The award winning indie film, "You Can Count on Me" and the cult horror classic "Wendigo" were filmed there.  

This area is not wealthy, not by a long stretch.  Average household income in Phoenicia is about $22,000.  Nearby Margaretville has been figuratively underwater for years, with close to 20 percent of the population living below the poverty level.  Now it's literally underwater.

I can now count among my list of accomplishments the fact that my neighborhood has been named an official federal disaster area by the president.  But of course, the austerian politicians want this flood-ravaged region to tighten its belt and share the sacrifice.  If any federal money is forthcoming for repairs of infrastructure and humanitarian aid, they want us to cut back in other ways.  They also want to raise taxes on the victims of this catastrophe, having just now noticed that nearly half of poor people haven't been earning enough to pay taxes.  So maybe they can wrest a compromise from the White House  trading a few dollars of storm damage relief for a reduction in food stamp benefits or the earned income tax credit.

Maybe they should also reflect on the fact that the dams are bursting, and torrents of polluted water flow downhill to Wall Street.  The drinking water of the oligarchs originates in this disaster zone.

Update: Marie Burns of is at least temporarily back online from Disaster Zone Central. Glad to hear she is ok.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Floodville, cont.

Posting has been and will be intermittent, due to ongoing power outages and/or loss of the internets. Outages were actually increasing today, since trees continue to fall on power lines. An entire subdivision not far from me was evacuated because a little creek transformed into a raging torrent ruptured a gas pipeline. A cloud of gas is still wafting above the Hudson Valley somewhere.

Anyway, in checking in to the news today after being in an information vacuum for the past 24 hours, I am glad to see The Times is finally noticing that New York extends past the five boroughs and there is a major freaking catastrophe going on.  Many of our towns, including in our neighboring Vermont, are literally cut off. So far, reported deaths have been surprisingly few, given the epic scope of this disaster. But I am afraid many isolated people in isolated areas have been lost or remain stranded without anybody even noticing. Power may not be restored to many until next week.  And the locales affected were already underwater, economically. 

I have to say I am worried about our friend Marie Burns of -- she was in her cottage in one of the devastated areas upstate and we haven't heard from her. If she could get out, I know she would post in a McDonald's or other WiFi area.  So I have a feeling her road may be blocked. Since vehicles can't get through, volunteers are searching the area on foot. The last I heard from Marie, she was as well-prepared as she could be, stocked up on food, water, etc.

Here are some more photos from the local paper. Why do some parents think it's a cute idea to have their kids pose waist-deep in flood waters? 

P.S.  Having just gotten the internet and electricity back, having endured a horizontal lashing of 10 inches of wind-driven rain, I received an email from my apartment management stating they are going to power wash the outdoor area and to bring in all my loose belongings. I think they must be related to the people who tell their kids to go outside and swim in the fun new water park in the front yard.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Greetings from Floodville

Although New York City escaped with a few puddles lapping around Anderson Cooper's designer galoshes, we haven't been so lucky in points north and west.  I am one of the fortunate third of about 150,000 Ulster County residents who still has electricity, but my town is totally cut off by rock slides and floods.  Several people have had to be rescued from the rising waters, and there have been reports of drivers trapped in cars. In New Paltz, an indefinite ban on all vehicular and pedestrian traffic has been imposed. So while Irene is departing, she is leaving quite a mess behind.  No reports of injuries, but as you can see from this photo album, plenty of damage. (I live on Route 32, which looks like it is collapsing down the road from me!). The people without power look to be without it for days to come, since repair crews can't make it through blocked and washed-out roads. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

All Irene, All the Time

Here in the Eastern U.S., we're hunkering down and battening down the hatches as Hurricane Irene barrels up the coast, pounding 50 million people with rain, lashing us with wind, whipping us with surf. It's not only The Perfect Storm -- it's the Storm of the Century!  All twelve years of it! Trees will snap like matchsticks, roofs will peel away like sardine can lids.

Now that I have the hackneyed hyperbole out of the way, here are my nominations for best and worst hurricane headlines so far:

Best: "To Flee or Not to Flee?"  (New York Daily News)

Worst: "Weak but Strong" (New York Post).

Potential headline in the aftermath: "Obama to New York: Drop Dead! (except FEMA trailers will be set up for Wall Street employees and the National Guard will transport generators to give confidence to the markets and keep those high speed trades humming).

Meanwhile, I am following all the advice.  Flashlights and batteries, check.  Bread, water, peanut butter, premade cold coffee, check.  Fill bathtub with water, check.  They never tell you why you should fill the tub, but I am guessing it's so you can flush the toilet once in awhile after three days without electricity.  I doubt I'll be up for a luxurious soak in stale tepid water, and the thought of sticking a straw in it for a nice satisfying slurp doesn't thrill me.  But we know what Grover Norquist would do: "My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

The way some of the usual conservative suspects are talking, though, we won't have to wait 25 years.... not if Irene destroys the elitist "Acela Corridor", as David Brooks calls it.  Ron Paul chose this week to launch into a diatribe against FEMA.  "There's no magic about FEMA," he said. "They're a great contribution to deficit financing, but frankly, they don't have a penny in the bank.  We should be coordinated, but coordinated voluntarily with the states.  A state can decide. We don't need somebody in Washington."

Unbelievably, Paul yearns for the good old days before the Army Corps of Engineers built a seawall in his district (Galveston, Texas) to protect it from hurricanes.  The deadliest storm in American history hit Galveston in 1900, killing a documented 6,000 people (including children in an orphanage), with another 2,000 missing and presumed dead.

And Eric Cantor, whining House majority leader: where do I even start?  Before the earthquake hit his home district this week, it never dawned on me that he even had a district, or constituents. To me, he was just this weasely little operative who one day magically appeared under the Capitol Dome before the TV cameras.  He has always been there and he will never leave.  But no!  He actually visited the disaster scene and talked to people who apparently voted for him.

Unbelievably, he told the victims that federal disaster aid would only be forthcoming if money can be cut from other areas of the budget (probably from WIC or food stamps), because -- again -- it's not the function of Washington to do stuff that actually helps people. And these same people will presumably elect him again... and again... and again.

But I think we can all count on Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine principles to kick into high gear in Irene's aftermath.  Politicians like Cantor will find a way to cash in.  Psychopaths will find a million different ways to turn a profit on the suffering of millions of people.... mainly poor people.  As Barbara Bush Senior did after Hurricane Katrina, millionaires will ostentatiously give to charity, but only if said charity benefits a friend or family member's business.

Sometimes I take a great notion to jump into the bathtub and drown. (Apologies to Huddy Ledbetter, composer of "Goodnight Irene.")   Here is the Willie Nelson version.

Note.... Utility company is telling us to expect power outages to last at least several days, so this will be likely be my last post for awhile.  Have a great weekend, everybody, and stay safe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Scandal Within a Scandal

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been unceremoniously kicked off the panel of state AGs negotiating a sweetheart deal with the big bank scammers over the robo-signing foreclosure fraud mess, because he wouldn't go along to get along.  He was being too mean to Wall Street, and throwing a monkey wrench in the works, as New York Fed member Kathryn Wylde so bluntly put it Monday.  He is insisting on treating the bankers as suspected criminals rather than the fine upstanding community parasites they are. (see my previous post).

The man doing the kicking was Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, head of the 50-state panel investigating working with the banks on a simple settlement to make it all go away, quickly. Since the whitewash probe started last year, Miller's campaign war chest has received $261,445 in donations from the financial services industry -- 88 times the total of all contributions he had received in the past decade, according to findings of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.(NIMSP) 

Miller, a Democrat, was in the midst of a tough re-election battle as he took over the investigation -- and the out-of-state money began pouring in.  From the Des Moines Register:

Miller said the (NIMSP) report “is false or misleading from the start to the finish,” noting that almost all of the specific contributors listed in the report are not involved in the foreclosure irregularity issue.
Furthermore the report compares Miller’s campaign finances with other recent elections, including in 2006 when he ran unopposed. The comparison is unfair, he said.
“It’s riddled with misrepresentations and falsehoods,” Miller said. “But the main falsehood is that these people had vested interest in the investigation. None did except for two that give $15,000 and have been longtime friends of mine.”
So  -- only two of his pals compromised the investigation, thus ameliorating the whole conflict-of-interest miasma of corruption, huh?  This admission seemingly takes Miller's involvement well beyond the mere "appearance of impropriety."  The Dubuque Telegraph Herald certainly smelled a rat. From a May 1 editorial: 
Maybe Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has done nothing wrong in accepting campaign donations from finance, insurance and real estate companies. But the appearance, at face value, of a conflict of interest is so strong, Miller has more explaining to do. Last fall, it was Miller who led the charge against Big Banks' improper foreclosure practices, but lately, he seems much more low-key about the pursuit of lenders who forced families out of their homes. A report published last week by the National Institute on Money in State Politics suggests one reason Miller has eased off the accelerator has to do with a war chest full of big donations.
This begs the question: who investigates a state attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the state, for possible corruption?  Eric Holder?  Don't hold your breath: if he's going after anyone, it's Schneiderman.  Besides, Tom Miller and Obama go way back.  He was instrumental in ensuring Barack's victory in the Iowa when he was still a relative unknown, saying in February 2007: "Endorsing a candidate this early is no ordinary occurrence in the Iowa caucuses - but Barack Obama is no ordinary candidate."  (little did we know then just how out of the ordinary).

Iowa AG Tom "Unconflicted" Miller
 Meanwhile, calls for the resignation of Kathryn Wylde for her own brand of conflict of interest have started popping up. There was that one demand from an activist group last March, (previous post), and now macroeconomic analyst Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture is ramping it up, noting Wylde is supposed to be representing the public  from her seat on the New York Fed.  But, he writes, the fact that Wylde seems to think her job is defending Wall Street over the real victims of the mortgage debacle is not all that surprising and is merely paralleling the pro-bank stance of the Obama Administration:
I do not know if Ms. Wylde understands what her proper role should be, but clearly she is somewhat confused. She appears to be far more interested in representing the banks than the public.
Note that the Federal Reserve (and indirectly, the NY Fed) are conflicted players in this. On the one hand, they are supposed to be bank regulators (a task they have performed poorly). But they are also substantial investors in the banks, and their  regulatory oversight role is obviously conflicted.
There have been all manner of criminal and civil trespasses committed, and we should find out who ordered them, who committed them and why. AG Schneiderman should continue investigating the robo-signing, bring civil and criminal charges where necessary.
Recall that the original problems came about in large part due to Alan Greenspan’s Nonfeasance — the failure to perform his professional obligations of oversight and regulation. That any member of the Federal Reserve or NY Fed wants this closed before any investigation has been undertaken is a scandal of the highest magnitude.
Kathryn S. Wylde, and any other Fed member shirking their duties and committing nonfeasance should step down immediately.
Wylde is a very busy woman, with many fingers on the pulse (or in the pie) of New York. From her bio:

An internationally known expert in housing, economic development and urban policy, Wylde serves on a number of boards and advisory groups, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the New York State Commission to Modernize the Regulation of Financial Services, the Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board, NYC Economic Development Corporation, The Legal Aid Society, NYC Leadership Academy, the Research Alliance for NYC Public Schools, the Manhattan Institute, the Biomedical Research Alliance of New York, and the Special Commission on the Future of NYS Courts.
Along with the Iowa attorney general, Wylde just does not see any conflict of interest. As she so blithely put it in an email to the Huffington Post in defending her defense of Wall Street, the banks she does not regulate "leave their institutional identities at the door and work with us on challenges facing the city and state."  (translation: buying off Gov. Andrew Cuomo via her "Committee to Save New York" lobbying cabal, getting him to dump the millionaires' surtax, leading to a budget deficit, leading to the announced layoffs today of over 700 teachers in New York City alone).

Appearance of impropriety or not, these Wall Street hacks and defenders of justice simply don't seem to care what we think.  Let them keep shooting their mouths off.  They're drowning in their own B.S.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chutzpah, Oligarch Style

Rumors have been swirling that too-big-to-fail Bank of America is on the verge of collapsing under the weight of its own greed and corruption.  Its stock has lost a third of its value in the past few volatile  weeks.  Its foreclosure robo-signing fraud settlement with the Feds is being delayed by an upstart attorney general who has the temerity to be doing the right thing by the victims, and not accepting a piddling settlement from the bank.

The feds have no jurisdiction over what New York AG Eric Schneiderman does regarding his own investigation and prosecution of BoA, but that hasn't stopped the Obama Administration from trying.  According to a New York Times article by Gretchen Morgenson,  the Obama Justice Department and HUD are putting pressure on Schneiderman to just drop whatever he's doing and agree to their overly generous deal. Blogger Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, (thanks to Denis Neville for the link) who has been covering this banking scandal drama better than anyone, today came right out and said it: the Obama Administration is just plain corrupt:
Admittedly, corruption among our elites generally and in Washington in particular has become so widespread and blatant as to fall into the “dog bites man” category. But the nauseating gap between the Administration’s propaganda and the many and varied ways it sells out average Americans on behalf of its favored backers, in this case the too big to fail banks, has become so noisome that it has become impossible to ignore the fetid smell.
The Administration has now taken to pressuring parties that are not part of the machinery reporting to the President to fall in and do his bidding. We’ve gotten so used to the US attorney general being conveniently missing in action that we have forgotten that regulators and the AG are supposed to be independent. As one correspondent noted by e-mail, “When officials allegiances are to El Supremo rather than the Constitution, you walk the path to fascism.”
Luckily for us, though, this White House is so inept that the blatant strong-arming is being done right out in the open, for an unbelieving public to gawk and gasp at. The so-called "attack dog" unleashed by the White House/Wall Street cabal is one Kathryn Wylde, pal of Timothy Geithner and board member of the New York Fed. She had the bad taste to actually confront Schneiderman at the funeral of former Governor Hugh Carey last week and demand he leave her poor Wall Street alone! When it comes to entitled boors, apparently nothing is sacred if it interferes with the pursuit of the almighty dollar.  Not even the funeral of a governor.

 Kathryn Wylde gets around.  Not only is she on the board of the Fed, she started a big business lobbying group called "Partnership for New York City", made up of bankers and real estate moguls.  She then went on to spawn the "Committee to Save New York" whose main purpose was to kill the so-called millionaire surtax in New York State, thus leading to one of those manufactured debt crises we have come to expect.  As a result, the state has imposed draconian teacher and public employee layoffs, decreased government services and massive cuts to the Medicaid program.  Wylde's group also has close ties to newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo, another Wall Street lackey conserva-dem in the Obama mold.  The group ran a whole series of campaign-type TV ads earlier this year, simply to thank their bought-and-paid-for governor for making them even richer.  If Cuomo hadn't "saved" the wealthy, according to Wylde, there would have been a mass exodus of hedge fund managers (and their campaign contributions) to Greenwich, CT! 

Kathryn of Oligarchia

Kathryn Wylde apparently has not learned the trick of any oligarch worth his salt: keeping a low profile and not whooping with glee in TV commercials when the banksters catch yet another break. The political art of lying is not in her skill set. Asked about her run-in with Scheiderman, she bragged to The Times that she told the AG: "It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible." (fraud and grand larceny are okay, but maybe murder might cross her line).

 This spring, a group of activists actually showed up at her house and demanded that she quit her job.  Here is the clip  (she seems polite in a shell-shocked sort of way -- notice how she's clenching the railing of her front porch as the hippies converge!)

Meanwhile, Eric Schneiderman has been joined by a few other state attorneys general in Just Saying No to the Obama Administration's strong-arm tactics.  They include Beau Biden of Delaware, son of the vice president.

P.S.  If you'd like to drop a line of support to Schneiderman, you can do so here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Richie Rich Goes to Washington

Just when we were finally convinced that Congress is but a giant shill for the millionaires, Roll Call comes out with its annual list of the 50 richest legislators -- and it turns out that Congress is truly one great big shill for itself.  Minimum requirement to make this year's top 50? A net worth of at least $6 million. If you are a mere millionaire, as are two thirds of Congress, you're a comparative pauper.

The biggest surprise this year was that a relative unknown (outside of Texas, that is) beat out last year's winner, alleged arsonist and car thief Darryl Issa, to top The List. Mike McCaul, representing the 10th Congressional district (a long and winding road from Austin to Houston, courtesy of Tom Delay-machinated redistricting), saw his net worth increase by a stunning 300 percent, to $294.21 million, thanks to a very generous Sugar Daddy-in-Law.  McCaul's wife is the daughter of Lowry Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications, the media conglomerate most famous for being the home of Right Wing Hate Radio. One of McCoul's biggest fans is Rush Limbaugh, so the money machine grinds in an endless closed circle.  Clear Channel pays Limbaugh millions to spew his hate, and the millions he generates in ad revenue go to Clear Channel, and Clear Channel bestows its largesse upon McCaul, and McCaul makes the laws to benefit the in-laws and Rush and Clear Channel. Round and round it goes, and it never stops.  Hate springs eternal.

But never mind all that. McCaul self-righteously voted in favor of the Broadcast Decency Act because he doesn't want tender ears exposed to F-bombs:

"It's my hope that (this sends) a clear message to American broadcasters to be very careful about what they allow on our publicly regulated airwaves. As a father of five young children, I shouldn't have to worry about my kids seeing or hearing trash on our radios or televisions. It is not too much to expect our airwaves to keep it clean while our children are watching or listening." (McCaul press release).

But racist tirades and misogynistic jokes?  Fine with him.  As a matter of fact,  Rush hosted a private fund-raiser for McCaul, who tried to keep it secret and banned the press. (Limbaugh had just called Sonia Sotomayor a reverse racist and more and McC said nothing).  But Rick Perry was there to make Rush an honorary Texan, and he just couldn't resist posting the video to YouTube.  McCaul is the guffawing guy in the blue tie, to Rush's right. 
McCaul, Limbaugh, Perry
McCaul has been rated one of the most right-wing Republicans in Congress. As a former Justice Department attorney and chairman of the Subcomittee on Homeland Security, he has advocated increased high tech surveillance at the border and also sponsored legislation calling for an army of vigilantes, including the Minuteman Project, to patrol the Mexican border:
McCaul's bill would create a "Border Corps" of volunteers, trained and equipped by the federal government to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in fortifying U.S. borders. 
The congressman said it would be up to Homeland Security Department officials whether Border Corps volunteers would be armed. He said the Border Corps volunteers would act as "the eyes and ears" of U.S. Border Patrol officers. 
McCaul said he had not assessed how much money his proposed Border Corps would cost the taxpayers. 
When asked about the possible danger of volunteers patrolling U.S. borders, McCaul said, "I would submit that the current situation is dangerous in that you have volunteers down there who are completely unsupervised and without adequate training."  (Cox News)

Here are a few more fun McCaul quotes and factoids:

He voted against the Affordable Care act, stem cell research, the Dream Act granting amnesty to certain qualified undocumented immigrants (surprise!), relief for underwater homeowners, the auto bailout, education funding for returning Iraq and Afghanistan war vets.

But, he'd rushed back to Congress to make sure Terry Schiavo wasn't taken off life support. ("We are judged by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us and we must not allow any American to be deprived of the right to life without due process of law" he intoned at the time.)

He's sponsoring legislation that would forbid Congress members from naming pet projects after themselves. Says McCaul, owner of a mansion that he and his wife paid $3 million cash for: "It's a problem of perception that these projects receive special treatment because of the names they bear. When the American people see this it feeds the belief that members of Congress are arrogant and out of touch with the people we represent."

After evacuees from Hurricane Katrina flooded into Texas, McCaul called them "an interesting social experiment" and worried about the increased crime they might foment, given "their long history of government dependence."

Be It Ever So Humble, It's All in the Perception.

There's a lot more where that gift from Daddy-in-Law came from, so McCaul very sensibly and altruistically voted against the Death Tax, because: "Death should not be a taxable event. For too long the federal government has been taxing working Americans, not once, not twice but three times on their hard earned money. When they earn it there's an income tax, when they spend it there's a sales tax even when they die the government takes a tax from the grave."  (Yeah!  Power to the Rich People, Mikey!)

But I digress.  There are other rich Congress people to worry about. Among the top 50: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (an acceptable synonym for wealth if there ever was one); Sen. James Risch; Rep. Tom Price and Rep. Nan Hayworth.

In the interest of fairness, there are a few impoverished congress members as well. (They must be doing something wrong). Among the reps reporting a negative net worth are Sen Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, and deadbeat Tea Party dad Joe Walsh, who actually lost his condo to foreclosure. Forget reaching across the aisle to each other, these people need to learn how to reach into each other's pockets.  Just so long as they stay out of ours.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Where is the American Anna?

Guest Post by Jay -- Ottawa

Anna Hazare – the “Anna” of this man’s name is an honorific meaning “Elder Brother” -- is enjoying enviable success at throwing the forces of corruption in India into considerable confusion.  Common people are flooding the streets of several cities in support of his demands for reform.  The Arab Spring must be moving east, not west.  The “spark” in India is not a reform party or a last-straw incident throwing the street into rage; this spark is a person.  They call him Anna.

Here in the US our op-eds and blogs with endless lists of particulars against X, Y and Z politicians and big shots are soporifics for the Average Jane and Joe.  What’s the use of loading any more word bricks on the crooks or on the MSM with paragraphs from our commentariat’s elite, be they world-class witty, blue-collar sassy or lawyerly elegant?  Aren’t we just a band of brothers and sisters in retreat consoling ourselves with right thinking?  Is the nation any better today than it was a last year or the year before, despite our critical elite’s rapier essays?  And our sincere applause?  Poetry changes nothing.  Ask any poet.

Something more is needed to whip up an effective level of attention.  I’m about to tell you what that is.  Given the nature of the world and the needs of politics, what we sorely lack is a hero.  To turn the country around we need intelligence and justice and commitment incarnate in human form – we need an ‘Anna’ -- a hero of integrity who is a visionary, who is not reluctant to use power, who is determined to turn the ship of state around before the current crew runs it up on a sand bar to be cut up and carted away.  Progressives need a person of the first rank in the front ranks of reform.  Until a hero steps forward the intellectuals are as doomed as the ignorant.  Awareness never saved timid kings from the falling axe.  Why should it spare us who wail and wring our hands in the bottom half of the economic pyramid?

We have allies, like the New Progressive Alliance (NPA) -- Homework assignment: visit their website OFTEN.  The NPA has gone beyond our intellectualizing and finger pointing.  Much like that most famous of advance men, John the Baptist, the NPA is laying the groundwork, preparing the way for “The Hero,” someone with a record, not too young, not to old, a leader who identifies with the common citizen and who knows how to deal with the frauds who are now in charge of just about everything.  The NPA has completed its work on a political platform for the New Progressive Party.  They are building the infrastructure for a third party at the state level.  All they need….

All they need is a real person to fill the top spot and shift the center of gravity from cake to bread, from greed to care, from Wall to Main, from Dives to Lazarus.  The US has about 310 million people, not as large a population as India, but still, a large pool of talent.  Are there not 50, are there not 10, is there not even one person of stature and integrity to serve as a magnet to pull together all our resentments and all our hopes into one unstoppable force to set things right in America?  If such a hero ever steps forward to lead, so will academics and business people like the brain trust FDR assembled to implement the New Deal.  Think about it: Would there have been any New Deal without FDR, any Great Society without LBJ?  One politician can make it happen.

We need a hero, a real champion, a happy warrior who holds nothing back.  If there were such a man or woman to back for high office, so much of our eloquent closet talk would be transformed into notes of a positive crusade appreciated by the entire spectrum of our society. 

Ideas alone will never engage majorities, but heroes with ideas will.  If an Elizabeth Warren seized the banner of the NPA, would we set aside our petty differences and work as hard for her as we ever had for any other candidate?  Progressivism will never make headway until it is advanced by a charismatic leader.  Am I asking for too much: a Messiah; some kind of Deus ex Machina?  Probably.  But I see no other way out of our present difficulty.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Real War Crime

Guest post by Anne Lavoie

Consider this: Lockheed Martin, GE, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Boeing are giant, wealthy corporations who have made most of their profits from war profiteering. Their wealth has come to them from a carefully laid out strategy conducted over many years, but the biggest payoff of all is close at hand  - fire sale prices on almost every public institution in our country, in every state and within the federal government due to the policy of Austerity. Hard to believe, but Endless Wars are simply not enough for these corporate Godzillas.
To get the full picture, realize that several of these corporations have deliberately and insidiously branched out from war/defense profiteering to becoming involved in nearly every public service the governments at federal and local levels provide, positioned to greedily benefit financially. They are wealthy enough to not just to have bought our federal government, but soon will be able to buy the states and anything else they want at bargain basement prices. The world is their oyster.
First they positioned themselves in the defense industry to profit from war. They then used their war profits, made from our tax dollars, to pay legislators to fund more spending on war equipment and supplies. Then they set up their corporate factories in nearly every Congressional district to influence the politicians with jobs and campaign contributions, again using money made from war profits, funded by our tax dollars. Then they had the audacity to use the same recycled tax dollars to get out of paying taxes on their profits, writing legislation and paying off our legislators to pass it, giving them tax breaks, loopholes, incentives, and refunds. They paid legislators to encourage and vote for war paid for with our tax dollars going to them, and gained more contracts to profit from those wars. We are now at the point where the country is nearly bankrupt from borrowing money for wars and paying for all the related ancillary costs to our society.  Even our Social Security funds went to them to pay for their wars.
They have not just stolen our democracy, they have stolen the wealth of the nation through endless wars conducted for their benefit. They didn't even have to fire a shot, not directly at us anyway. They let the 'enemies' do that, then made money with every shot fired, every tank blown up, every missile fired - more and more money for them as we replace equipment and supplies, not to mention the fallen soldiers themselves. Those war dead and all their suffering survivors are testament that theirs has been the cruelest, most hideous, and most selfish crime - death and destruction for corporate greed and power. A true war crime if there ever was one.
When you actually steal a precious Democracy and nearly crash a national economy, it is WAR in my book. A one-sided one that we have lost and they have won. These corporations are eager and waiting for the collapse of America so they can buy it up at bargain basement prices, then go on to the rest of the world to do the same. They want it all, and will get it, if we let them and if our paid-off government gives it to them.
Now consider this: Even individually these corporations are far and away wealthier than our entire country, because our country is $14 trillion in debt and mounting fast. Have you seen THEIR balance sheet? That's where our tax dollars went, so really those are our companies. They used OUR capital to make profits, profits that they don't believe in paying taxes on to save the nation. The Banksters are doing the same thing. Getting essentially free money and loaning it out at a profit. We all want that deal!
So I have a solution, and I don't care if it brings howls of derision. It is not to try to tax them. It is to nationalize all the war profiteering corporations, in the interest of National Security, of course. For once, let the government take on private wealth, not private debt, to save the nation. Then we can end the wars, liquidate their assets, resolve the debt immediately, and start over. If that doesn't do it, the banks can be next.
All's fair in love and war. This is War. And my dream. Don't wake me up!

Hello, Carbon Dioxide

If there is one thing the cadre of Republican presidential candidates can all agree on, it's that they want to destroy the "job-killing" Environmental Protection Agency.  They think clean air and clean water are overrated. The government is trying to dictate our lung function.  We have the right to breathe all the air we want, no matter the color.  It's equal opportunity air.

Michele Bachmann, for one, wants to totally dismantle the "job-killing organization of America".  Proud mother of five womb-derived and 23 foster children that she is, she vows to make EPA "the mother of all repeal bills."  You'd think she might  have a vested personal interest in air quality, given that some scientific studies point to a correlation between high pollution levels and emergency room visits for migraine headaches.  Then again, the Teapublicans are famous for pretending to scoff at elitist science on purely fake religious grounds. But it's really all about the money, honey. If evolution were a profit-maker, they'd be all for it.

Rick Perry, who gained national notoriety for his pre-announcement Christian prayer-fest in Texas, is even more of an opportunistic crony capitalist than true right-wing ideologue. (Thanks to Marie Burns of for this link). 

So who is really behind this venomous anti-EPA Republican campaign issue?  Not ordinary self-professed Republicans, who when polled, like the agency just fine and want it funded.  Look no further than the Business Roundtable and its corporate cousins, comprising the most powerful CEOs on the planet.

 Big Business put enormous pressure on the White House to delay new ozone emission standards for a record fourth time.  It just costs them too much to give up polluting.  The talking points in their letter to Obama* could have come right out of the Bachmann/Perry playbook, which really derive from the corporate playbook under the guise of that good old-time religion. If God didn't want us to breathe his air, he wouldna given us lungs... or something.

So, while the circumspect, rational and pragmatic President Obama would never go all fire and brimstone in calling for the end of the EPA itself, he is performing his Democratic corporatist role of defanging it, tooth by tooth, behind closed doors, at the behest of the powerful vested interests he, too, serves.  No explanation, either -- simply that the EPA needs more time to "study" how best to implement the tough new ozone rules.  Is it any coincidence that some of the major polluters/ "job creators" are in swing states crucial to the president's re-election?  One of Obama's overriding mantras in his jobs agenda is to make it easier for businesses to hire.  That means code for easing environmental regulations.

And the BRT cohort is most grateful to Obama for seeing things from their perspective.  From their Aug. 12 press release:  "The decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to seek further delay on its proposed ozone rules tells us the Obama Administration recognizes the disastrous consequences that more restrictive regulations would have on the economy and job creation." (bold mine).

So there you have it, people.  You can either breathe or you can find a job.  You can't have both.  Wheeze while you work, (if you can) and stop griping about the heat dome overhead.  You can't actually see pollutants, can you?  They're a mirage, just like Perry's Texas Miracle. By creating yet another kicked can, our government (which purports to work in our best interests) has just become complicit in an estimated 12,000 deaths and 58,000 asthma attacks during the coming year.

*Text of  August 3 Letter to Obama:

Dear Mr. President:

As associations that represent thousands of American businesses, both large and small, who employ millions of U.S. workers, we are deeply concerned about the harmful impact the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed final rule on ground-level ozone could have on U.S. job creation and economic recovery. We strongly urge you to refrain from finalizing this rule and instead wait for the scientific review process currently underway in support of the required 2013 review to take its course.
All of us value clean air. The companies we represent, their employees and their managers all care about the quality of the air that Americans breathe. All of us breathe the same air and so do our families. We appreciate the fact that ground-level ozone levels continue to drop across most of the United States under the current de facto standard established in 1997. Moreover, U.S. companies are proactively making significant investments to meet the stricter de jure standard established in 2008, even though it has not yet been implemented.
The newest standard proposed by EPA, however, likely would cast hundreds of counties across the United States out of compliance, making it difficult for businesses to build new facilities in those counties or expand existing ones. Further, EPA has estimated the proposed standard will cost between $20 and $90 billion annually. In our view, EPA’s estimate is based on optimistic assumptions about the development of new control technology, meaning that the costs and impact on jobs and economic growth could be much worse.
What we do know for certain is that EPA’s proposed rule, whether the final standard is 0.060 parts per million (ppm) or 0.070 ppm, would limit business expansion in nearly every populated region of the United States and impair the ability of U.S. companies to create new jobs.
Mr. President, we urge you to delay this discretionary, out-of-cycle ozone standard and wait until 2013 before determining whether a new standard is needed. Now is not the time to saddle our economy with the extraordinary costs associated with EPA’s proposed national ozone standard.
Thank you for your attention to the grave consequences of this proposed rule.
Business Roundtable, American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
And thus, the corporate titans shall give generously to both political parties, each of which shall operate in the interest of the Job Creators, while the Dems and Pubs go on pretending they don't have just tons of stuff in common. 

Job, Created (William Blake)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Hokey Folky Pokey: Day Three

The United States of Cognitive Dissonance

 It is perhaps ironic and fitting that "American Gothic" by Grant Wood was painted in Iowa and was originally meant as a satiric vision of dour hard-workin' folks in the Heartland.  Iowans themselves were reportedly mightily ticked that a painting was making fun of them.  But famous works of art have a tendency to take on lives of their own after awhile, and the painting soon became an emblem of pro-Americanism.  And Iowans got their come-uppance by devising a satiric political scam of their own in the form of a pay-to-play, pick-a-prez straw poll.

Obama himself took on a meaning during his campaign that had little to do with any core principles of his own (he appears to have none) but everything to do with slick marketing and a gullible public hungry for change and grateful for a silver oratorical tongue to replace the chronic false folksiness of the villainous and speech-impaired George W. Bush.

Now, nearly three years after his election, Obama has unbelievably devolved from Dream Candidate to a bumbling Bush clone, complete with the down-home fakery and mumbling excuses of why he can't.  Instead of clearing brush at the ranch, he's posing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style on a haystack in front of a red barn.

His million dollar not-a-campaign bus tour through Minnesota and Iowa and Illinois is about two and half days too long at this point.  The man is a parody of every windrip of a politician who ever dropped a G and wiped the sweat from his brow with an expensive linen handkerchief.  And the pivot from man of the people to pampered elitist vacationing in Martha's Vineyard in less than a day is jarring, to say the least.  The Man must bask, golf, give Michelle "90 percent of what she wants" before he deigns to address the American people on an actual jobs program post-Labor Day.  I guess to do it before Labor Day would remind people that workers and would-be workers really have nothing to celebrate this year.  Unemployment is actually candy-coated at 9.1 percent.  The respected think tank "Shadow Government" is putting it closer to 25 percent.... worse than the worst months of the Great Depression.

It was Noam Chomsky who warned us to beware of the folksy politician.  "When a politician uses the word 'folks' get ready for the next series of lies," he said of Obama in 2009.

Official White House Propaganda Photos: The Law of Unintended Meanings

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Silly Season

While we slog through the Dog Days of Great Depression II  (2008 -  ) we can at least count on nonstop entertainment  The '30s had Shirley Temple and Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. We have Michele and Sarah and Mitt and Rick and 'Rack.

First of all, we should all breathe a sigh of relief that Michele Bachmann is not running to replace Judge Judy.  As she somewhat tetchily revealed to hard-hitting interviewer David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday, she is not in the business of judging the gays. She will not necessarily ban gays from her cabinet, as long as they agree with her (anti-gay) views She is running for president, not Judge, David! She reminded him she has raised five uterine children, 23 foster children, was a tax attorney, and has been happily married for 33 years, and that submission means the same thing as respect in her household. And that she is not judgmental. So good. She is absolutely qualified to say she is running for president.

Poor Tim Pawlenty dropped out before he even got started.  So no President Pawlenty.  T-Paw won't morph into P-Paw.  On the other hand, we might just get a P-Rick, as in Rick "Concealed Weapon" Perry, a.k.a. Governor Goodhair of the Banana Republic of Texas. He's been caught joking about secession again, saying we can leave any time we want to. So I guess if he wins, the USA can just secede from itself. Sounds good to me. 

 And let's not forget President Obama.  He is embarking on a three-day bus tour through the Heartland, as I am sure you already know.  I kind of thought it was going to be a jobs tour, and that he'd be announcing plans for .... jobs or something.  But it's really more like an Empathy Tour, which I guess is as close to Emp-loyment as we are going to see from him.  But don't ever call it a campaign tour.  Those million dollar buses he's riding in battleground states are not campaign buses.  They are Secret Service buses, and will be used for all manner of future presidents and VIPs and such.  I don't want to make a big deal out of the $2.2 million cost to the taxpayers of these luxury tanks, because Fox News and Rush are already doing that. But suffice it to say, the ObamaCares Bus does not look like this: 

But more like this:

With a luxuriously appointed interior like this:

Complaining about government waste is a waste of breath anyway.  Remember when Vice President Joe Biden announced that new Department of Government Waste, Fraud and Abuse, to cut such frippery as those thousands of disgusting 99-cent cute animal websites?  The endangered Desert Tortoise was actually also on the Endangered Website List.  A double death knell if there ever was one.

That was in June. You will be pleased to know that the Desert Tortoise gov page is still up and running in all its glory.  Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, home heating assistance will all be thrown under the austerity bus.  But the Tortoise is still here. He is protected by his hard shell of resistance.  And he still pees copiously on any cruel human hand that dares mess with him.  Maybe we should all take a tip from the turtle.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's the Re-election, Stupid!

Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors -- New York Times, 8/13/11.
Team Obama is officially nuts.  Granted, not as nuts as the Tea Party they like to hold up as a measure of their own supreme sanity, but crazy nonetheless.  Their campaign strategy is for the Boss to do as little as possible between now and November 2012, despite 20 percent real unemployment and an official poverty rate of one in five adults and one in four children, in order to appeal to all those "independent" voters.  Obama apparently thinks suffering people would rather vote for a nonconfrontational nice guy than somone who will fight for them.  And not only does he believe paralytic good will get him a second term, he makes no bones about slashing the social safety net with abandon if he does get a re-try. Again, from the Times front page article:
As part of this appeal to centrist voters, the president intends to continue his push for a so-called grand bargain on deficit reduction — a deal with Republicans to make even larger spending cuts, including to the social safety net, in exchange for some revenue increases — despite the strong opposition of Congressional Democrats who want to use the issue to draw contrasts with Republicans.
One of the advisers pushing for the do-nothing approach is Big Banker William Daley,  late of Morgan Stanley and the Chicago political machine. David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, came to the White House after a million-dollar stint with G.E. Yes, that G.E. -- which offshores jobs and evades taxes, whose CEO heads the president's utterly fake Jobs Council.  What, exactly, Plouffe did for G.E. remains vague, but of course he swears up and down it had nothing to do with lobbying.  Obama promised he would allow no lobbyists in his administration, and we all know how well he keeps his campaign promises.

And what about those trade deals they insist will create American jobs?  More prevarication.  The deal with Columbia will enable even more corporations to pay off local drug cartels to get rid of trade unions who might be impeding their free enterprise.  No jobs for us here, but plenty of graft, death and corruption south of the border.  Ditto for Panama.  This job-creator of a trade deal will allow tycoons and corporations one more safe, tax-free haven for their hoarded profits.  The deal with South Korea will be Nafta-esque in its scope and consequences, with one more cheap labor market creating even more job exports and the potential for even more worker abuse if the impoverished "free zone" North Koreans are used as wage slaves.

Obama is counting on Republican greed and eagerness to please their masters to overcome any hatred they have for him, and allow this Trade Trifecta to pass, and then have a big old signing ceremony/ Bipartisan spinorama. The administration envisions brainwashed cheering crowds in Centristland, apparently.

 And that over-hyped patent legislation is simply designed to make it harder for poorer entrepreneurs to file the paperwork to protect their inventions, and easier for -- you guessed it -- corporations top-heavy with legal teams to grab up all the inventions for their own use and shut the little guy out. But in Obama's world, if they hire one or two people at minimum wage, they will be heroic job-creators.  And if they hire one or two disabled veterans, the president will proclaim himself a hero and invite them to the White House for a self-serving campaign photo-op.

It's safe to say that not only is the White House doing nothing to improve the lives of people victimized by this wholly plutocrat-caused economic collapse, it will be making it worse.  Much worse.  The plan is to make the corporations even richer, to make the income disparity in this country even more glaring.  If that isn't corruption in its deepest form, I don't know what is.  

Gone to the Dark Side

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend at Bernie's

For those of you sick of the he said/she said network and cable TV stenographers of the pundit class, here is a preview of C-Span's Sunday "Newsmakers" program featuring Bernie Sanders, independent Socialist senator of Vermont.

My only complaint about Bernie is he doesn't go far enough in condemning our current corrupt system. He is way too polite.  All the sell-out Democrats with whom he has to work are, of course, still "smart" and "experienced".  He buys into the "shared sacrifice" meme, when what he should be calling for is shared prosperity.  Wealth disparity is now inconceivably even worse than we thought: new estimates place the top one percent in possession of more wealth than 90 percent of the total population, combined.  They possess 40 percent of our total wealth, period. Notice I say "our" wealth, because not only do corporate persons pay little to no taxes, they are even entitled to tax refunds in many cases. (G.E.) The moneyed interests pay off Congress to write the laws for their exclusive benefit. So I don't think we should be "sharing" anything with these plutocrats.  These hoarders are in dire need of an intervention in the form of taxation U-Hauls to get rid of all their monetary clutter and put it in the permanent storage of the United States Treasury and the looted Social Security trust fund. 

Still, Sanders is refreshingly blunt about the upshot of the new Super Committee: "There's going to be pain, and there's going to be death." 

In Praise of Name-Calling

A guest post by Jay -- Ottawa.

I was a Democrat for decades and had relatives who were Democrats for all the right reasons, justice being at the core of what they believed in.  Some of the fine works from the New Deal where I come from are crumbling from neglect.  Others are being sold off into private hands, like the architectural gem of a post office in the center of the city that was sold to a developer for a song,  It’s what we see passing away from the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society that moves us to utter epithets.
In the middle of the Clinton years I asked my local elections bureau to change my affiliation to Independent.  My values didn’t change, but the Democratic Party’s surely did.  It’s what a party stands for and what it does that are important, not its label or its history.  The Democratic Party of today is not the Democratic Party of the New Deal. The New Deal has been replaced by the Raw Deal, with Obama’s cooperation.
I voted for Obama in 2008.  He had promised to bring the Democratic Party back to its roots in the New Deal.  He was lying, we now know.  He didn’t struggle, slip and slide trying.  He just went with the flow of Wall Street money.  He betrayed his own promises to the voters.  The only serious conclusion is that he intended to deceive.  His actions since his inauguration are proof enough to millions of people who have been betrayed, thrown into want, made homeless, lost their jobs, and cut off from all those safety nets from the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society.  But don’t be too cross with Obama.  And for god’s sake don’t get labeled “Left,” which must be on the other side of the fence surrounding all loyal, card-carrying Democrats.  Actually, lots of us appreciate being lumped with the "Left," which term we don't consider an aspersion.
I am not yet the worst off among the betrayed.  It is they who have every right to call names to the people who injured them gravely.  Millions have had their life savings wiped out, with Obama’s cooperation.  Millions have been evicted from their homes, with Obama’s cooperation.  Millions have lost their jobs, and therefore their means of support, with Obama’s cooperation.  Some have lost their lives.  Is it getting serious yet?
Just look at the cast of advisors and administrators with whom he has stuffed his administration.  May we call them names for all the harm they've done?  Obama knows what he’s doing.  His ‘handlers’ don’t handle him – unless you think him an idiot, which I don’t.  It is he who runs the handlers, obviously.  Betrayals, penury, homelessness and more; but mind your tongue.  No name calling against people who kick you down the stairs.  In my opinion, making nice to him now is the most  childish thing to do.
The wars that were ongoing under Bush have been expanded, with Obama’s cooperation.  Drones and small team raids drop into a number of countries repeatedly.  If you are not aware of that, you’re not keeping up with events.  Do you suppose the people labelled "Collateral Damage" have a right to look up and call names?  Are the problems getting serious enough yet to let slip an epithet once in a while?
At home the Bill of Rights is being shredded, with Obama’s cooperation.  The three branches of government have let millions of us down repeatedly.  There’s no end in sight.  The wolves will eventually reach every door outside the gated communities of America.  But, hey, Obama’s only the leader of the Democratic Party with more corporate money in his pocket than all his likely opponents combined.
FDR called people terribly naughty names.  Tut, tut.  So did Truman and Johnson.  There was precedent for that.  Moses called people names, as did Christ.  Look it up.  Some of my favorite atheists are good at it too.  And, oh lordy, the words Mark Twain used while chewing on a cigar.
Name-calling is not childish.  Serious adults do it all the time, for good reason.  The issue is whether the crime in question deserves such rebuke.  You have my long list of particulars above.
There comes a point in human affairs when the lectures and proscriptions of Miss Manners become dilettantish and absurd -- not to mention complicit with the status quo.  And so, at times, I am obliged to conclude with a disparaging name or association.  The following is an example of the practice, with apologies to Venezuelans who invented the trope.
The Republicans and the Democrats, the Kochs and Cote, McConnell and Obama: “They’re caiman crocodiles from the same pond.”

Jay -- Ottawa

** Note to Readers: Thanks for your many astute, wonderful and thoughtful comments.  I welcome guest posts too.  These should be submitted directly to me at