Friday, September 30, 2011

Plutopods on Their Perches

We can only hope the now-viral video of champagne-guzzling oligarchs ogling the Wall Street indignados gets as much traction as the ones of Inspector Gadget squirting his pepper spray. Nothing beats an infuriating optic for giving a movement that nice added oomph.

Of course, aristocrats on balconies have been amused by peasants in the streets since time immemorial.  Or at least since 1789......

Marie Antoinette & Co Ogled at Their Peril

Or as recently as last May, when the same plutopods at the Cipriani Club at 55 Wall Street peered and sneered at another protest march. (Yes, there have been protest marches, demonstrations, rallies and sleep-ins galore in lower Manhattan this whole year.  But they have not been covered by the mainstream media, apparently because the participants were not bused in by the Koch Brothers.  And although there were a few arrests this summer, they lacked the drama of pepper spray and other assaults. In other words, since they didn't bleed, they didn't lead.)

(photo by Christopher Robbins)

Remember all those horror movies from the 50s and 60s where critters ran amok and attacked out of the blue for no apparent reason, and we come to find out it's because  humans have been so vile and corrupt for so long that nature finally has enough and retaliates?  (Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" comes to mind, along with "Them" and other giant insect films made in the wake of The Bomb).

Well, it just so happens that a swarm of 20,000 angry bees did attack the original Stock Exchange building in 2010.  They must have been pissed off about the TARP bailouts, the trillions of dollars in secret Fed loans to the multinationals and banks, the foreclosures, the foreclosure robosigning scandals, the CEO bonuses, the impunity, the fact that the current owners are convicted tax evaders, fraudsters, alleged mobsters, bribers of government officials  -- and yet, in the fine corrupt Wall Street tradition, the Cipriani clan still manages to maintain possession of its property and get richer by the minute.

Were the bees harbingers of things to come?  Let's hope.  But let us also pray that the "OccupyWallStreet" resistance movement does not meet the same fate as the bees.  The NYPD sucked them up with a giant vacuum cleaner and shipped them out to a farm in Connecticut.  So for those who plan to march on One Police Plaza this afternoon to protest the Inspector Bologna brutality, be careful out there!  Remember -- New York's finest also have weapons designed to shoot planes out of the sky.

The Cipriani Club, for those of you not in the know (and I was among the unknowing myself until earlier today) was constructed during the Gilded Age of  Wall Street's glorious heyday  and comprises an entire city block. (the better to view the hoi polloi).  It now houses restaurants, condos selling in the mid to high seven figures, spas, bars. The restaurant has the dubious distinction of being home to a $32 hamburger. It's gotten many a lousy review in the New York Times, for its terrible food, tiny chairs and conspicuous consumption.  As far as I know, the Cipriani is not among the financial district eateries donating food to the Zuccotti Park campers.  But we can always call and ask!  Here is their number: 212-699-4096. 

And speaking of reviews: Ginia Bellafante, the Times columnist who made fun of the Wall Street protesters and their regalia last weekend, should have gone into Cipriani instead.  According to the Indagare travel site, the uber-wealthy Cipriani crowd " truly verges on Fellini-esque with extreme hairdos, face-lifts and implants on parade."  And all Bellafante could come up with was a topless dancer and some cheap masks?  What has journalism come to? 

The Decline and Fall of the Wall Street Empire (Fellini "Amarcord" Poster)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Barry Loves Him Some Privatization

Inquiring minds want to know how President Obama feels about the ongoing assault on postal union employees by House Republicans who want to "improve" the USPS  by privatizing it. The Postal Service is on the verge of going broke, as explained in the previous post, because Congress has required it to fund medical pension benefits pretty much into perpetuity, making it appear bankrupt when it isn't.  It's in the best tradition of the "Shock Doctrine" school of crisis creation.  Make something up and then cash in on it.
Reader Pat Reynolds (a postal employee) has discovered a video shot in 2009, at the height of the health care reform debates, in which Obama talks about the wonders of privatization, and how a public option in health care would not necessarily hurt the for-profit insurance industry.  To prove his point, he compared the post office unfavorably with FedEx and UPS.  "I mean, if you think about it," he says, "UPS and FedEx are doin' just fine.  It's the post office that's always havin' problems."  (Yeah, he was at one of those folksy, g-droppin' town halls).

Bear in mind that during this August 2009 appearance, Obama had already taken the public option off the table even as he continued to pretend it was still viable, and that he was actually for it.  Of course, in retrospect, his praise of those fine folks at WellPoint and Aetna and UnitedHealth was painfully prescient.  Thanks to what Jon Stewart recently called a "2,000-page clusterf**k", the insurance companies are still "doin' just fine" (especially with no Public Option to compete and make them behave). They are raking in record profits after sometimes doubling the premiums of policy holders.  The net effect is that people are so broke after paying the bills they have nothing left over to see an actual doctor or dentist.  The insurance companies are in a win-win situation.  They collect the money, impoverish the patients, and don't have to pay out nearly as much to the health care providers.  It gives a whole new meaning to hoarding.  It makes normal every-day capitalistic greed look beneficent.

So this is what we can expect if the post office is privatized.  FedEx (which treats its employees abysmally and has been known to fire drivers when they have accidents in their crappy trucks so they won't have to pay medical costs) will raise the price of a 44-cent stamp to four or five bucks, fire the union postal employees who haven't already been laid off, hire a bunch of people out of the millions who are desperate for a job, pay them maybe $10 a hour, put them in poorly maintained vehicles and pay no benefits as they sleepily careen down the interstates in 12-hour marathons, and probably lose a large portion of the letters and packages entrusted to their care.  It's the new normal.  To use Obama's two favorite words when he talks about jobs, it's "innovative" and "competitive."

"FedEx is Doin' Just Fine" -- Barack Obama

Oh, and speaking of that Jobs Bill -- you know, the one where Barry whips the crowds into a frenzy with his jeremiad-like  "PASS THIS BILL! PASS THIS BILL!" PASS THIS BILL RIGHT NOW!!!" harangue -- well, not so fast.  Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in no hurry to take it up, because a sudden new urgency has developed about punishing China for its currency manipulation.  That, according to Reid, is more important than JOBS RIGHT NOW.

The Washington Post quoted Reid as saying:  “We understand that there’s conversations going on about the president’s jobs bill — which I support, I’m in agreement with. We’ll get to that. But let’s get some of these things done that we have to get done first.”

You can't even make this stuff up.  No wonder Barry finally chose to go to Hollywood to spin his fantastical yarns.

P.S.: For a cogent analysis of the craven machinations of those who want to destroy the post office, read this New York Daily News editorial by Juan Gonzalez.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Support Your Local Postal Workers

Thousands of U.S. Postal Service employees are in danger of losing their jobs, thanks to a wholly manufactured budget crisis created by Congressional Republicans.  On paper, the Post Office is nearly bankrupt because of a law forcing it to prepay medical retirement benefits so far into the future (75 years) that the presumed beneficiaries haven't even been born yet.  The pension fund is actually flush with cash overpayments, $47 billion in the past four years alone.

Rallies to highlight the proposed closings of individual post offices, distribution centers and resulting layoffs are being held today (4 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. local time) in every Congressional district in the country.  A list of events, along with a petition to save the post office, can be found here. (Thanks to reader Pat for calling my attention to today's rallies.  I hope to post pics later).*

The union aims to rescind a federal requirement that the post office pay a whopping $5.5 billion annually into the employee pension fund, as well as fight back against a bill sponsored by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) that would restructure the post office by privatizing it -- and thus destroy the union by doing away with collective bargaining and lowering wages and benefits.  The post office is the largest unionized employer in the country, and the second largest employer, period (after low-wage, anti-union Wal-Mart).

According to the union: 
Events will engage the public through speeches, handouts and gatherings to make our voices heard. They are not protests.
It's anticipated that a wide variety of supporters will participate in "Save America's Postal Service" rallies, including small business owners who use the mail to advertise, businesses that consistently ship products using the Postal Service, and faith leaders and progressive allies who have concerns for the plight of working men and women.
I have always had a soft spot for the post office. As a child, I was a stamp collector, and had "snail mail" pen pals all over the world.  I have never in my life encountered a grumpy post office employee. Mailing a first class letter for only 44 cents is still the greatest bargain the world.

I do have one suggestion on how the postal service can save money, though:  we should do away with Congressional franking privileges (mailing at the taxpayers' expense) and make Issa first on the list.  As the second richest political hack in Congress, he can afford to pay for his own propaganda.  Besides, I thought misuse of the mails by thugs for fraudulent purposes was a crime. 

*Update: Thanks to Deborah Klaus, aka "DreamsAmelia" for sending pics of the rally she attended in Virginia this afternoon. The man in the blue suit is Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-08) who spoke in support of the beleaguered postal workers at a small gathering.  The young ladies holding their handmade signs are Hannah (left) and Deborah's daughter, Amelia.

Young Activists & Handmade Signs:  Save Our Mailmen! 

Scene Outside a Virginia Post Office Today
Blogger Deborah Klaus on Steps, center

Deborah writes:

Our Rep., Jim Moran, when asked at the protest why he thinks Republicans want to severely cut back the Postal Service, said because right now the post office is too stiff a competition for UPS and FedEx -- the US Postal service's low rates cut into the profits FedX and UPS could be making--both by eliminating their competition and getting more business, and being able to charge higher prices, since there would be no, or less, public sector alternative.

He said the pension requirement change was passed 5 years ago, and he has an amendment to eliminate it--doubtful it can pass this rabid Republican House, and even if it did, I asked him, what would we be looking at in 2012 if we have Republican sweeps of both chambers of Congress and the Presidency?

He smiled and said, "Well, in some cases, paranoia is realistic. I agree, I am very worried about the future of our country." I just adore him, and I grew up going to public school with his son, Jimmy, K through 12. The funny thing is, Jimmy was quite a fire brand, always getting in trouble and being sent to the principal's---but now I admire him for that, and think he has his Dad's admirable trait of not cowering before authority. He settled down to have a normal middle class life like the rest of us.
And it is our complacency that is the symptom of society's illness. We are suffering from a dearth of rabble rousers willing to stand up and speak out for the common good, to reject the purely selfish life.
Well said, Deborah, and thanks again! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NY Times Sends Arts Critic to "Cover" Wall Street Occupation

The Grey Lady has stuck her long nose up in the air and given a mighty sniff, finally deigning to publish a story on the ongoing "OccupyWallStreet" demonstrations in its dead tree edition.  After more than a hundred people were arrested on suspicion of being pedestrians Saturday, the Times take is that the whole mass protest is nothing but an amateur hour performance by airheads.

Readers were outraged at the tone of the article, which carried the subhead: "Demonstrators on Wall Street this week seemed to lack hard knowledge about the system they were fighting."  The reporter, one Ginia Bellafante, chose to make the lead paragraph all about a topless dancer who's been waiting all her life to cavort on Broadway.  Further down, she writes:
The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like “Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I’d Still Plant a Tree Today”?
Reader reactions were universally scathing.  Barbara of Mexico/New Mexico writes: "Considering this is taking place in the heart of the financial district, and that other major media is covering it well & seriously ( Al Jazeera, for one, is doing an excellent job), it is quite sad and very revealing the New York 'paper of record" chooses to treat this movement with such superficiality".

The tone of the piece is easier to understand in light of the fact that Bellafante is not a political reporter or even a metro beat reporter.  She is a Times arts section critic, who in the past has written about HBO miniseries and other TV fare.  She now does something called the Big City column. That's right: The Times couldn't be bothered to send a political or news reporter to cover the populist dissent.  They sent somebody to write it up as an entertainment piece, a whimsical look at the passing parade of weirdness in the Big Apple. 

Bellafante took the most heat recently for her negative review of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" -- spawning a revolt in the blogosphere from fantasy fans, accusing her of (surprise!) literary snobbery.  Here is how she explains her philosophy: "Writing criticism is completely personal and often impressionistic. I write from a perspective that is my own, not one that seeks to represent a big tent of varying opinion."

Assigning Bellafante to cover Manhattan's version of the Arab Spring speaks volumes about the Times editors, and their choice to treat it as some sort of  amusement for the elites. They can spend millions subsidizing safely-distanced reports by Tommy Freedom and Nicky Kristof on the Egyptian revolution, and  government crackdowns in Syria and Bahrain --  but I guess they couldn't come up with cab fare for them to ride the few blocks from Times Square to Zuccotti Park to watch our own indignados getting pepper-sprayed.  For real coverage, check out the links in my previous posts, or just troll the Internets. Here, for example, is some real reporting from New York 1, the local 24 hour news channel. The truth is out there, in plain sight and out of the control of the editorial boards of the American corporate media.

Just Another Day of Street Theater or Maybe a Lost Episode of "Law & Order"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Dope on the Primary Challenge

The people have spoken. The winner and undisputed champion on the White House's new citizen petition webpage is the legalization of marijuana.  And not only are the activist stoners demanding their weed, they're insisting on being told the rationale for the O Administration's disdain for it, and them.  In other words, give us the science, dudes!  Where do you get off throwing people in jail for this?   We don't buy into your DEA propaganda!

In order for any petition to merit a glance from a White House minion, it must have garnered at least 5,000 signatures in 30 days. The plea for pot got 20,000 signatures in less than two. So, whoever said pot users are nothing but apolitical, apathetic slackers who retreat into their own hazy worlds has smoke coming out of an orifice where the sun don't shine.

Anyway. Speaking of signatures --  a consortium of people who may or may not have also signed the pot petition are looking for not one -- but six primary challengers to President Obama!  Nothing like covering more than all the bases just to be on the safe side. The effort is being led by Dr. Cornel "Obama is Wall Street's Black Mascot" West and Ralph Nader, who is not running, just asking.

The slate of dream candidates, who would theoretically run against Obama as a bloc, would represent areas where the president has broken a campaign promise, or veered to the corporate, right-wing dark side.  (why only six?)  They would include labor leaders, academicians, members of the NGO community, experts in poverty, consumer protection, human rights and health care. (Since Obama also broke his campaign promise to stop the useless War on Drugs, I hope they are including the person who started the Legalize Pot petition too).

 "We need to put strong democratic pressure on President Obama in the name of poor and working people” said West. “His administration has tilted too much toward Wall Street, we need policies that empower Main Street.”

The letter, according to the website Common Dreams, "points to numerous decisions that have drawn criticism from Obama’s own Democratic Party, including his decision to bail out Wall Street’s most profitable firms while failing to push for effective prosecution of the criminal behavior that triggered the recession, escalating the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan while simultaneously engaging in a unilateral war in Libya, his decision to extend the Bush era tax cuts, and his acquiescence to Republican extortion during the recent debt ceiling negotiations."

The letter and its signatories can be found here. The identities of the actual recipients are being withheld to protect their privacy.  I wonder if they include anybody from the Sunlight Foundation or other groups advocating for transparency? (another Obama Fail).  I guess we'll never know.

But back to the White House "We the People" petition drive.  I just checked, and the pot petition is now up to 26,819! (and counting).  Here are some other hot button issues, along with recent vote counts, important to the peeps:

* Ban non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision (165).

* Immediately disclose the government's knowledge of and communication with extraterrestrial beings (972).

* Support a ban on horse slaughter (292).

* Try Casey Anthony in federal court for lying to FBI investigators (1,719).

* Repeal the Patriot Act (4,042).

* Stop the Patriot Act (4.334).

* Ban Redundant Petitions (1). 

* Provide medical marijuana to angry space aliens posing as Republicans. (0). 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Yellow Dogs

By Jay -- Ottawa

“Yellow Dog Democrat” defined: an unflinching party loyalist who votes for the Democratic ticket even when the party elevates as its candidate a scoundrel, a dead man or, for that matter, a mangy four-legged cur.  The term goes back to the nineteenth century.  The term is applicable today in the twenty-first century.  I speak of Democrats who will not budge, who will not think out of the box, no matter what.
The term is key to help me understand why many an otherwise sensible commenter, in this blog and elsewhere, continues to stick with Obama, despite his consistent betrayal of the best principles that stand for – or used to stand for -- the Democratic Party.  Yellow Dog Democrats are rarely enthusiastic about Obama.  How could they be in light of his abject failures and acknowledged willingness to turn his back on truth itself?   And yet they back him. 
Humanist ideals like compassion, or philosophical principles like the lesser of two evils argument, are usually advanced in defense of the sure thing Yellow Dog vote for Obama in 2012; but I’m not convinced about their being motivated by high principle.  Fear of Republican candidates and justices is often mentioned.  I think it’s just life-long habit, inertia, timidity and, most importantly, a failure to see the equal sign between the labels “Democrat” and “Republican.”  Note how the Yellow Dog Democrats regularly criticize just about everything and everybody affiliated with the Republican Party.  They have sidebars in their blogs mocking Republican gaffes and misdeeds.  They are trying to erase that equal sign.  Republicans bad, Democrats not so bad.  See the difference?  Is the Democratic Party of Obama, Pelosi and Reid much better?  Couldn’t right wingers post entertaining sidebars about Democratic hypocrisy?  Well, maybe the Democrats are a wee bit better.  But statistically significant, as they say?  I don’t think so.  At times the Democratic leadership under Obama has been out in front of the Republicans in pleasing the elites.  If Republicans gave away honorary degrees, Obama would gotten one for each of the past three years he's been in office. 
Since Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party has been in the ring against the Republican Party like a boxer who intends to throw the fight.  Republicans and Democrats take big money from the same corporate and financial giants.  Neither side touches the Pentagon’s bloated budgets for endless, pointless wars.  The Patriot Act, tax breaks for the rich: extended.  The aggressive Republicans and the spineless Democrats have been moving shoulder to shoulder down the same road to the same goal: national collapse.  If principle had motivated Obama and the Democrats since January 2009, the nation and the world would be in much better shape today.  The Democrats got a mandate in 2009, which they didn’t want.  They shadow boxed with the other party.  The Republican party should be on the ropes today.  Instead, the world is on the ropes.  The elites at ringside smile and puff their cigars. 

Yellow Dog Democrats write, but they don’t fight.  Yellow Dog Democrats take the crumbs and lick the hands of those who abuse them.  Where were the Yellow Dog Democrats in 2000 when the election was stolen, votes not counted, the losing candidate appointed to office by five Justices with a decision that didn’t parse?  Yellow Dog Democrats hardly even barked.  They should have been in the streets.  Where are the Yellow Dog Democrats today when the young, the old and the Middle Class are being thrown under the bus?  They bark, but they don’t bite.
Yellow Dog Democrats brag about the accomplishments of FDR and the New Deal.  But the Democratic Party of  FDR is extinct.  It is a light extinguished, fading into myth.  In fact, the Democratic Party of today, lead by Trojan Horse Obama, works diligently to overturn the New Deal, as well as to gut the Great Society programs of President Johnson. 
All three branches of government are bought.  Both major parties are bought.  These once great institutions and once great parties dance to the tune of the elites.  Both parties ignore the will of the people; just ask the pollsters.  And still, Yellow Dog Democrats, the party loyalists no matter what, swear allegiance to the likely party ticket of November 2012.  Shifting support to primary challenges or Third Parties, like the New Progressive Alliance, is labeled na├»ve, impractical, risky.  The Yellow Dog Democrats are right: Obama will become the Default President in 2012.  The best of the Empire will disappear; the worst of the Empire will endure -- and continue to be funded.
America is trapped in a two-party system subverting democracy.  And Yellow Dog Democrats are helping to seal the trap.

(Ed. note: For more fun and colorful facts about Yellow Dogs, Yellow Dawgs, Rabid Yellow Dawgs, Blue Dogs, check out this site: )

Occupy Wall Street Ending First Week

The Zuccotti Park campout protest against the tyranny of the banksters will be marking its one week anniversary tomorrow, and indications are the participation will be ratcheting up for the weekend. (weather permitting: the rain has sent people scattering). There is a ton of coverage all over the internet, so I won't be repetitive.  But I do want to share a few good links.

Melanie Butler of the NYC Indypendent writes a lively first-person account of the action, which some naysayers have criticized for not having a common purpose:
As people are leaving work we march on Wall Street, led by the bombastic musical stylings of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.  I march with Eva-Lee, a seasoned CODEPINKer and member of the Granny Peace Bridgade.She is in awe of what young people are doing and says it’s unlike any other demonstration she’s experienced: "It's the process even more than the issues. I'm just blown away by how people are treating each other!"
The city's "paper of record", the New York Times has not covered the protests other than in one blog post, but the action is getting attention from the foreign press.  From BBC News comes a story of how the disparate band of park campers have boosted the fortunes of a local pizzeria.  And the Voice of Russia talks about the militarization of the Big Apple, post-9/11.  The New Zealand Herald concentrated on topless women flashing construction workers.  In perhaps the ultimate irony, Pravda railed against the total American media blackout of the event. ("Arab Spring, American Fall")

Keith Olbermann sent a news crew to the park on Wednesday, noting on his TV show that if one Tea Partier were across the street talking to himself, corporate media would be falling all over themselves and  leading with it on their nightly broadcasts.  A few celebrities have shown up to speak to the crowd, including that maven of blue collar progressives, Roseanne Barr.  Here she is, bullhorn and all.

And at Firedoglake, Kevin Gosztola has been running a liveblog and has further links to this ever-evolving series of events.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Notes from Camp Obama, Homeless Edition

 By Anonymous

“What’s that?”
“Over there.”
“That? It’s the old Minuteman Missile Site.”
“The what?”
“Well, one of them.”
In my travels, I’ve been surprised to stumble over so many relics of the Cold War, former missile sites being among them. These entrails of our empire are no less stunning than the Assyrian walls reconstructed for our delectation at the New York Metropolitan Museum. The terrifying detail of the human-headed winged lion that was lamassu was designed to reinforce the power of the Assyrian state upon the visiting delegate. The smooth surfaces around the old missile sites are even more awesome than lamassu in their blandness and uniformity – all the power lies in their stunning technology, and not in the fearful imagination of the visitor to Assyria. 

I’ve been thinking about the Cold War, having come of age in its late evening shadow. The ICBM was first developed decades before I was born, but the arms race was raging as I entered high school. 
Camp Obama (the homeless, hitchhiking version of it®) has afforded me the opportunity to encounter no small number of Cold War missile system veterans, and I’m struck by how their work on these systems affected them spiritually and psychologically. Sitting in the cabs of their trucks, or huddling over cups of coffee at the modern-day equivalent of the diner (Starbucks), they’ve told me in whispered voices their accounts of the most banal tasks at various missile sites, and I’m no less skeptical than I was in hearing out MacNamara’s late-life confessions. 
They're sly, these men: they know that I know that they know what they're trying to do with these stories. ("What's a feint? What's a left hook off the jab? What's an opening? What's doing one thing and saying another?" -Jose Torres in Oates' On Boxing.)
But their hands have liver spots. They’re growing frail. For whatever meaningless reason, no one will call them the greatest generation. (And the greatest generation of what, Tom Brokaw? Of all historical time? What makes the sacrifice of U.S. WWII veterans greater than the abject misery endured by those miserable but fearless women soldiers at Stalingrad?)
Frailty. The other sin after poverty. I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve relied on my physical endurance, without realizing that such endurance is nearly a pure product of the Cold War itself. Even though most of us never even made it to State, let alone Nationals, there wasn’t a practice or coaching session that wasn’t in overbuilt reaction to what our jr. high and high school coaches thought the Soviets would send to the Olympics. 
(Coach: "how many lanes are there on the track?" You: "There's only one lane, coach. The winning lane." I was not in the winning lane. But as I later learned, neither were those who were in the winning lane.)
I’ve often regretted this time wasted. We could have been reading Flaubert. But the missile sites, and the men’s stories, jolt me back to the weird reality, and unreality, of all that occurred during the Cold War. The veterans have been explaining the technology of the war that I slumbered through in high school, exhausted from training.
Whatever became of our star athletes? Our soldiers? What happened to THEIR soldiers? I usually think of the Cold War as the “small wars” that took place outside our country, in which some of my family fought. Only through Camp Obama (the homeless, hitchhiking version of it®) have I begun to realize that the war was here, too, in smaller, less noticeable ways.
The veteran who once manned the data station for one of the early east coast missile systems told me he was terrified all through the cold war. He’s an old man now, unafraid to express his fears. In fact, I suspect he’s afraid NOT to express his fears. If his fears were irrational (which they weren’t) then the war was for naught. All of it. But the Soviet threat was, sadly, real. 
Still, was there another way we could have met the threat? Besides all this metal and radiation? (The birds, they tell me, would drop out of the sky because of the radiation emitted by our acquisition data systems. Proud raptors fried mid-air at thousands of times the radiation of your microwave.) 
There must have been. MacNamara says that we only survived the Cuban Missile Crisis because a former ambassador to the Soviet Union dropped by a critical Kennedy administration meeting. This ambassador stated that he didn’t believe Kruschev had any interest in ending the world, and that all we needed to do was to create a face-saving way out for him. 
We did. 
It’s a miracle. 
We did. 
What other miracles are we capable of?

(Ed. Note:  The author, a professional writer, was evicted from her apartment this summer when the owners decided to rehab the building into condos for millionaires. She is among the increasing  middle class homeless population which doesn't fit the preconception of homeless people: alcoholics, drug addicts or the mentally ill. (See her comments under the Occupation of Wall Street post, below).   According to the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness, not only do many homeless people work --  very few of them rely on public assistance.  Not a few of them, like "Anonymous" belong to the transitionally homeless category  -- she has been "sleeping rough" for only a few months,  has a (dwindling) bank account, a cell phone,  continues to go on job interviews, and even has speaking engagements lined up.  Nobody in her immediate circle of professional colleagues or family members knows she is homeless.  I am only the third person she has told.  Knowing this woman, she will survive this.  Knowing this woman, I will no longer take for granted that the well-dressed people I meet necessarily have roofs over their heads).

Monday, September 19, 2011


So now with Obama's numbers in the toilet and a few Democratic stalwarts saying maybe a primary challenge might not be so crazy after all, and James Carville telling him to panic, the president hoisted himself up and went all populist this morning. It's a mere 14 months to Election Day, and it must be time to throw out not only some progressive crumbs, but whole slices of bread.

But did a military band really have to play "Stars and Stripes Forever" at this hybrid of a policy speech/campaign rally?  And what about that part where Obama says he will veto any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid UNLESS he gets his Buffett Tax on Millionaires too?  How about he will veto any cuts to Medicare, period? How about getting rid of the Homeland Security boondoggle? In other words, hold the TSA gropers hostage instead of the dying old ladies they torture!

The reviews of today's speech are mixed between those who feel it's too little, too late and a big fat fake, to those who are experiencing renewed hope that our beleaguered president has finally grown a spine, has drawn a line in the sand and thrown down the gauntlet and is fighting for the people.  I tend to go along with the former.  Obama should be leaving the deficit out of it. He should be leaving the social safety net out of it.  He should be calling for higher taxes in order to create jobs, period. Working people will bring down the deficit once they're allowed to work. I am glad the congressional progressive caucus is taking note of the presidential stealth attack on the New Deal.
It took me awhile to finally figure this quid pro quo out. At first you think he's vowing to protect Medicare and Medicaid. But what he's really setting up is a perverse inverted hostage situation. He may as well have snarled: "If you want your Death Panel, Republicans, gimme the money. Otherwise I won't stiff Grandma." Or, he is the kidnapper who calls the parents and promises he will keep the kids alive and well unless the parents pay the ransom.

He reminds me of Martin Sheen and two of his famous political roles. There's the heroic, humanistic and pragmatic president in "West Wing."  That's the one the White House wants us to see.  Then there's the sinister, bellicose, fake populist future president in Stephen King's "The Dead Zone".  At best, Obama is simply being disingenuous in offering up the poor and the sick and the old as payment in kind for the rich people paying more taxes. He knows nothing will pass, so he might as well squeeze in his austerity bona fides while he's at it. At worst, he is among the most corrupt presidents we have ever had. Killing us softly with his smile.

It gets worse. The New York Times reports that Budget Director Jacob Lew is bragging that far from this being a Class War, there is pain enough for everybody. Medicare deductibles will go up. Homebound elderly people receiving visiting nurse services will have to fork over a co-pay for each visit. Payments to teaching hospitals and rural hospitals will be reduced. This should make the wealthy feel so much better, knowing that disabled and impoverished widows will not be receiving all that self-indulgent treatment on the backs of Lloyd Blankfein and most of the millionaire politicians in Congress.  The budget, by the way, also lowers veterans' benefits, but in no way affects the health or retirement packages of the President and Congress. 

The mainstream media are, however, willing stenographers of the narrative du jour. MSNBC is jubilant, while Fox is pouting. Today, the triple play theme is: "The Republicans are Screaming Class Warfare!", "The President Finds His Mojo!", and "Chuck 'I Wanna Be Majority Leader' Schumer Says Happy Days Are Here Again." 

I had written a response to Paul Krugman's "The Bleeding Cure" column last night before Sousafest (it was not accepted for publication) about how the austerians are bleeding the economy dry. I laid part of the blame at the feet of the abysmal corporate media: 

Until the journalistic class gets over its obsession with “fair and balanced”, the medieval economic austerians will be granted equal time and continuing credence. The media feel compelled to compensate for their nonexistent “liberal bias” with reactionary drivel. The talk shows (you can't call them news) are filled with bipartisan deficit hawks more concerned with the debt than the jobs crisis. The corporate sponsors of these shows invariably include oil companies, drug companies, G.E. -- all with a vested interest in loopholes, free trade and continued control of the government. 
In the bubble of Washington, the conventional wisdom (an oxymoron if there ever was one) dictates that token stimulus spending must always be offset by a gleefully relentless gutting of what’s left of the New Deal. Notwithstanding that his jobs bill is a small step in the right direction, President Obama still finds it necessary to reassure the jittery investor class and “job creators” that every penny spent on jobs will be more than matched by his Grand Bargain of Severe Cuts to programs for the old, young, sick and poor. The headline in Sunday’s Times announced that the president “would ask” millionaires to pay just a tad more so their minimum wage employees won’t feel so bad and maybe re-elect him. Notice the abject, pleading, apologetic tone. Instead of “J’Accuse!” aimed at the banksters, we get “Pretty Please.” Instead of calling for shared prosperity, he harps on shared sacrifice. He just can’t ask good old Uncle Warren Buffett to pay just a tad more without insisting the rest of us share the pain. 
Not only are the people in charge bleeding the country, they’re letting the wounds they create fester, dooming the patient. The bandaids they are applying are simply hiding the results of rampant corruption instead of attacking the source: deregulation, and a permanent war machine -- and money, money, money subsuming our democracy.

Stickin' it To the People!

Economist Robert Reich is not impressed with the Buffett Plan either. In his latest blog post, he writes:
But this is Barack Obama, whose idea of negotiating is to give away half the house before he’s even asked the other side for the bathroom sink.
Apparently Obama will propose that people earning more than $1 million a year pay at least the same tax rate as middle-class earners. That’s aiming mighty low.
Glenn Greenwald is also leery of Obama's true motives, and answers the question why the president is suddenly embracing populism and lefty ideals after three years of showing his base utter contempt: (thanks to Marie Burns for the link),
Some Democrats are honest and cynical enough to acknowledge that Obama is doing all these things purely for political gain and -- because his re-election is their top priority -- to celebrate it even while acknowledging it will never become reality....   I at least appreciate the candor of those...  who acknowledge that this will not become reality and is not even designed to, but celebrate it because it will help Obama get re-elected by making the GOP (rather than him) look like the servants of Wall Street.  It's the ones pretending that this eleventh-hour election-time awakening is reflective of some sort of substantive significance that are hard to bear.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wall Street "Occupation" Starting Today

Taking their cue from the sidewalk sleepover protest this summer known as "Bloombergville",  thousands of demonstrators are expected to converge in the financial district today for some free-floating street theater in what is being called the Occupation of Wall Street.  It's the latest in a whole series of protests against budget cuts and financial malfeasance -- but this time, the event is getting the attention of the mainstream media.

Do you suppose it's because the whole Arab Spring phenonemon now holds a certain trendy allure for the corporate journalists?  The first Wall Street "Day of Rage" last March sponsored by New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts only got mentioned in a few independent blogs and Al Jazeera, even though it attracted thousands of people.  This time, the anti-consumerism magazine "AdBusters" was doing the (loose) organizing and perhaps is savvier at publicity and use of social media to get the message out... via Twitter and Facebook.

All indications are that this day of leaderless, mellow musical rage will be similar to previous demonstrations, but some media (especially right wing media) are forecasting a Marxist bloodbath.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on the radio warning that the high youth unemployment rate could lead to riots in the streets -- though he didn't really specify his streets, on this particular day.

The culmination of today's events will be a 3 p.m. rally at Chase Square. According to the website OccupyWallSt, the NYPD is expecting total crowds of about 5000. Participants hope the protests last until December, or at least through Monday, when President Obama is due in town to speak to the U.N. (and raise some bundled Wall Street cash).*

This summer's peaceful encampment ended after a few weeks with the arrests of what were called "The Bloombergville 13" on charges of obstructing traffic.  In New York City, it is legal to sleep on the sidewalks as long as you only take up half the walkway so as not to trip up pedestrians. And despite what the poster above advises, tents are supposedly illegal within the city limits. If you come, bundle up.  The nights are getting nippy in the concrete and steel canyon.

Wall Street Day of Rage, March 2011 (it was peaceful)

* Update: Live feeds and tweets can be found here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Eat with Barack and Fight the Attacks!

The title of my latest email from Barack was "Karen, Can We Meet for Dinner?"

I don't know about you, but this is the first time in my longish life that I have ever opened a dinner invitation only to find out that it's a bait and switch gimmick to win a coveted date with the man of my dreams -- that first I will have to plunk down 15 bucks and even then, I have only a slim chance of winning dinner with Barack. Wow. And they said the Clintons were tacky for renting out the Lincoln Bedroom.

That creepy email went unanswered by me, and,I suspect. by thousands of other disappointed lovesick "folks" who are aghast that Dear Leader would be renting himself out this way -- because today I got a follow-up missive from Campaign Manager Jim Messina, titled "About That Dinner".
Karen --
You got an email from the President a couple days ago, inviting you to sit down to dinner with him.

 (And I didn't even have the decency to RSVP.  How veddy rude).
I know some people might think this is just some kind of trick or something. It's not. 
( Actually, I thought it was totally legit until you brought up the tricky part yourself, you idiot.) 

The fact is that someday soon, four people reading this note right now will be on a plane to have dinner with President Obama in Washington, or Chicago, or wherever he might be that day. 

(It will definitely be in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina.... or in any battleground state that has a restaurant with a condemned shovel-ready bridge in the background.) 

Think about that for a second. The four people who win will sit down with the President of the United States of America -- not for a two-minute photo-op or a quick meet-and-greet, but for a private meal with face-to-face conversation. That's just not something too many people will ever get to do.
(Ten minutes for a bolted-down meal sounds so pleasant. What if he asks a question and my mouth is full of chili-dogs or whatever folksy food is on the menu?) 

The President obviously has very little time to spend on anything related to the campaign. And this is how he chooses to spend it -- having real, substantive conversations with people like you.

(All those frequent taxpayer-funded Air Force One trips to factories in battleground states have absolutely nothing to do with the campaign.  They are high governance in its purest form.  And speaking of purest, no purists allowed at this meal.  Only centrist pragmatic progressives, preferably from the independent heartland of the polls).
This is really something you should be a part of.
(But I won't be, because the odds of this happening are about on a par with getting on "Dancing With the Stars" or being struck by lightning.) 
Donate $15 today and you'll be automatically entered for the chance to have dinner with President and three other supporters.
Worst-case scenario: you don't get selected.
(Uh-uh. Worst case scenario is one in six Americans now lives in poverty and if selected, couldn't afford a new outfit for the dinner, let alone gas for the trip to the airport.  Let alone the 15 bucks.) 
 But if you donate, you'll have pitched in to support an organization that's funded at the grassroots level by folks across the country -- not Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs. You'll have given this campaign a boost, however small, to hire organizers, open offices, and build our organization this fall so it's ready for the hard work ahead of us. 
(There are two campaigns: the folk-funded one using unpaid f***ed folk slaves, and the real one, funded by Wall Street and union-busting billionaire hotel chain heiresses from Chicago.)
And best-case scenario, you'll find yourself sitting across the dinner table from President Obama.
(I can think of about a million better case scenarios in my own particular life and in the lives of the American underclass in general, thank you very much).
 So give it a shot -- donate $15 or more today:

(Why do you always close your emails with just your last name?  There has to be some deep and disturbing psychological explanation for it, and frankly, I don't want to know what it is.)

Reported!  The Evil John Bolton Falsely Accuses Obama of Hating Your Guns.

Speaking of disturbing.... I have been meaning to write about another weird email I got a few days ago from "Messina". It seems he wants folks like me to troll the internets looking for trash talk about Barack and then report back to a very special website to report the trash. It's called and it's filled with scary grainy photos of Obamenemies such as John Bolton, who is spreading the outrageous false rumor that Barack wants to take away everybody's guns!  The horror!  We certainly have to nip that untrue rumor right in the bud, pragmatists!  Because Obama is very much pro-Second Amendment and reneged on his campaign promise to ban assault weapons.  He even wants to keep the clips, because the answer to the Gabby Giffords shooting is that we can all just get along in a bipartisanshippy way.

Next thing you know, some evil Teabagger will be spreading the awful rumor that the Dinner With Barack sweepstakes is a scam.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Panic, Fire, Indict

As I watch the Republican debates, I realize that we are on the brink of a crazy person running our nation. I sit in front of the television and shudder at the thought of one of these creationism-loving, global-warming-denying, immigration-bashing, Social-Security-cutting, clean-air-hating, mortality-fascinated, Wall-Street-protecting Republicans running my country. -- CNN contributor James Carville.
As I saw the clip of James Carville waxing hysterical about the Tea Party candidates, I couldn't help but wonder how he can, in good conscience, draw a paycheck from the same network that "teamed up" with the Tea Party Express to present a travesty of a GOP debate Monday night.  The only thing worse than watching some of the reverential 9/11 coverage on CNN was being subjected to the pre-debate hype. Interspersed with the endless images of collapsing towers, it was a real double dip treat of fear dished out by a cable TV "news" outlet seemingly now vying with Fox for all those Koch Brothers advertising dollars.

In any case, I enjoyed Carville's colorful tirade.  Another quotable quote from his laundry list of advice to Obama:
 Fire somebody. No -- fire a lot of people. This may be news to you but this is not going well. For precedent, see Russian Army 64th division at Stalingrad. There were enough deaths at Stalingrad to make the entire tea party collectively orgasm.
Since the Republicans won the erstwhile solidly Democratic seat of Anthony Weiner the other day, the Democrats are already in full panic throttle.  Did you notice that first thing this morning, the White House suddenly let it be known that Social Security is now off the Grand Bargaining Table?  This, just a day or two after it floated a trial balloon to telegraph that Obama still wanted those benefits cut. It probably had more to do with septuagenarian crooner Pat Boone's Republican robocalls warning NYC voters of Obama's plans for their benefits, and the subsequent Congressional GOP rout, than with any change of heart on the president's part toward the well-being of retirees.  If it's not about his re-election, it doesn't exist.

Now that Obama can no longer take New York for granted, maybe he'll set foot here for a purpose other than collecting millions at the fund-raising dinners of his wealthy bundlers. New York State extends far beyond Manhattan and Westchester. Just ask the drowned communities in the Hudson Valley and Catskills.

But as far as indicting any Wall Street miscreants is concerned, it's not gonna happen. He begged banker tool Timothy Geithner to stay. He just hired banker tool Bill Daley to be his chief of staff. The last thing in the world Obama would ever do would be to dump on his own constituency. 

Hymne a L'Obama

"If you love me, you've got to help me pass this bill." -- Barack Obama, North Carolina speech.

"If the sun should tumble from the sky,
If the sea should suddenly run dry,
If you love me, really love me,
Let it happen, I won't care.

If it seems that everything is lost,
I will smile and never count the cost,
If you love me, really love me,
Let it happen, darling, I won't care.

Shall I catch a shooting star?
Shall I bring it where you are?
If you want me to, I will.
You can set me any task.
I'll do anything you ask,
If you'll only love me still". --
Edith Piaf, Hymne a L'Amour

King of Swing (States)

Normally, when  somebody in a frenzy-whipped Obama campaign rally yells out "I love you", the perennial candidate/sometime President replies: "I love you back!"  In this case it was probably too much to expect a response along the lines of "If you love your country, support this bill."  

Unfortunately when we set him any task (like a Public Option, protecting the environment, stopping the wars), he does virtually nothing that we ask.  It does indeed seem that everything is lost, and the cost is all on us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Teacher's View

Guest Post by Valerie Long Tweedie

People who buy into the idea of Charter Schools think they will be getting a private school education on the government's dime. They believe that their children will be in a school where the school will pick and choose the students and only the best students will get in - the riff-raff will have to go somewhere else. (Where they don’t specify – but it is the old “not in my backyard scenario.”) The problem of how to educate children with special needs will not be addressed. These are the expensive children to educate so no charter school will want them. I think anyone can see where this is going – “My kid is the only one who is important and to hell with the rest of you.”
This selfish, amoral attitude is the problem with our youth today – and it is equally a problem with the adults. As a nation, we have lost our compassion and our generosity; that belief that I am willing to have a little bit less so that someone else, less fortunate than I, can have a little more.  THAT is what is wrong with our world today - no empathy, no ability to try to walk in someone else’s shoes, no appreciation for the advantages that have been afforded us and a recognition that others are not always equally advantaged. When I talk to conservatives complaining about the welfare state, saying charity is not the government’s job, I always ask them, “How much did you give to charity last year?” They always sputter about sponsoring some child in Mexico and giving to their church. The truth is, there isn’t much “Christian Charity” to be found these days and that is not the fault of the public schools.
I was a teacher in public school in Washington State until five years ago. In days gone by if there was a fight on the playground, we would have a class meeting about it. We would discuss how it happened and look at the situation from all sides. We would discuss what was fair and what was right and sometimes, we would acknowledge that someone behaved badly because (s)he was frustrated and hurt. We would talk about whether letting someone play as opposed to excluding that child was really such a terrible price to pay for having a good learning environment where everyone felt valued. I valorised children who were kind and patient and inclusive. Those kids got leadership positions – because they WERE leaders. These class meetings took time, but educators realised that schools were microcosms of society and the parents, teachers and society as a whole accepted that one of the tenets of public education was to socialise children as preparation for them being contributing members of American society. Looking back, I realise how important these lessons were to instilling democratic values in our students. 
 But in the years leading up to my leaving the States, school was about one thing and one thing only – test scores. Teachers were told on a daily basis how the “schools were failing our students” and what a crappy job teachers were doing. As if all teachers had to do was open up their students' heads and pour in the knowledge. Time for class meetings and “morality” lessons had to be stolen from the curriculum and weren’t considered a good use of class time. Morality and socialising were seen as being in the domain of parents (only) – great if you were blessed with great parents, not so great if you had a dysfunctional family. 
I have taught in high socioeconomic public schools in both the U.S. and Germany and in low socioeconomic public schools in the U.S. And I have taught in private schools all over the world as well - some of them prestigious, some of them low fee parochial. The truth is this: how well children learn and how well they get along with others is heavily influenced by their home environment. If kids are less moral today – more selfish, more inconsiderate, more disrespectful and more focussed on material possessions than they are on their fellow man – that is more a reflection of their families and the values they are being taught at home than it is of the schools they attend. I can tell you, as a teacher, I love having kids in class who are taught to consider someone else and not just themselves. But in our world today, parents are focussed on wanting to make their child feel wonderful and unique, but unfortunately have neglected to teach these same children that others matter just as much as they do.