Thursday, March 20, 2014


Happy first day of Spring, everybody! Let us rejoice in one of only two magical days in the astronomical year when, legend has it, Night and Day achieve parity. (equinox is Latin for "equal night")  Twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Isn't equality grand? I imagine that Consensus Builder in Chief Obama is reveling in this rare, balanced approach. On the one hand, darkness has its soporific benefits, as in an entire population too exhausted and depressed to notice they are living under the most secretive, privacy-killing, income-disparate political system in American history. On the other hand, that new day is forever dawning when an entire population can be fooled into thinking there's a ladder of opportunity just waiting right outside their doors, each rung leading to a seat at the table at the end of the rainbow.  If they only work hard enough and play by the same rules, that is.

It's the season of rebirth and spring peepers, those tiny frogs that come out of the grass and shriek with joy all night long. No slow boiling in a somnolent pot for these little guys. They are not, of course, to be confused with regular run-of-the mill frogs who scream at the slightest provocation, much like the paranoid billionaires we're hearing so much about these days. Here are the sights and sounds of slimy plutocrats faced with the specter of a slight tax increase:


While you're digesting that, the AccuWeather folks have thoughtfully debunked some of those pesky Vernal Equinox myths. Did you know, for example, that you are no more able to balance a raw egg on the Most Balanced Day of the year than you are on any other day? What a disappointment. It also turns out that even the equality of the Vernal Equinox is vastly overrated. It's kind of a scam, actually, much like the equality of opportunity Beltway Consensus meme everybody is croaking about.
"No, that's really more astronomical than anything we get closer with the equal length of day and night based on the effects of daylight saving. The one place where you'd probably see the most equality between day and night is at the equator, somewhere like Quito, Ecuador," said (meteorologist Dan) Kottlowski.
Go figure. True natural equality exists in a socialist country not under the control of the American Empire. That extra sunlight we think we're seeing? In the grand scheme of things, it is only an illusion.

But on that note, let's hear it anyway for national Sunshine Week, begun by a group of newspaper editors way back in the day when news people still demanded accountability from our elected leaders.


James F Traynor said...

I've been subtropical but never near the equator. I had been told that dusk was ephemeral at or near that latitude and this was demonstrated to me in the final minutes of "Silence of The Lambs"when dusk seemed merely a passing thought. Up in Saratoga, NY it lasted longer than here at my present location.

It was my favorite time of day, the changing of the guard from hawk to owl. The lake and pond surfaces seemed to swell and the swallows gave over their twilight swoops to the bats. The water surface gave off a feral odor beyond my ability to describe. Check it out if you haven't, Karen. I miss it.

James F Traynor said...

As an aside: Has anyone noted the remarkable divergence between the NYT selections of and readers' preferences to comments in the past few months?

Karen Garcia said...

I forgot that today was also International Happiness Day. Oh well, too late now.


Spring and fresh air and earthiness, frog ponds thawing, gases rising... you can't beat the aroma rush. Of course, they are predicting another nor-easter
snowstorm for next week so there goes the olfactory bliss.

Re Times "picks"... I honestly think the moderators mostly pick them at random, but they also highlight the personal anecdotes and comments of readers who are able to localize a story. I hardly ever get the golden pick, but neither, usually, do other "verifieds". And that is only fair, because the green check brigade is usually first in line. I wish they would just verify all the regulars and stop with this two-tiered system.

Pearl said...

James: In regards to divergence of readers to NYTimes comments, you mean I gather, that they are not joining in the columnist or editorial article's point of view. If so, I find this varies depending on the columnist (they
each have their cheering sections), the topic of the article or column and who are writing in the comments.
The shift I am seeing is that there is more open criticism of Obama's activities from his supporters which is ahead of the statements of the regular columnists usually. Maureen has come out courageously on this issue
recently and encouraged more but not complete support for that. I saw that several responders to her were crossovers from the more informed ones of Krugman's column including myself and I think Karen.
The most interesting response was to Krugman's column damning citizens who criticized Obamacare maintaining most of them were lying. When I wrote in my
response to him which Karen published in Sardonicky, I had received a high number of recommendations plus a NYtimes pick. However, most of the rest of
the comments were supporting his column and Obamacare. So the question is who were the people checking off my critical comment when others were supporting Krugman? My belief is that there are many democrats out there who
are most unhappy with the current administration but are silent at times until they see an opening to respond by recommending the maverick's contribution without sending in their own thoughts on a contentious issue.

It is also obvious now that I am a member of Truthout, that we have a huge collection of excellent writers who join together from various sources to speak truth to power. That includes Karen, who has now had her third column "Fat Cats and Suckups"printed in Truthout. This is all very encouraging.

The worst representatives of untruth in the NYtimes seem to be the editorial boards on issues such as the Ukraine crisis as well as avoiding criticism of
Obama in their contributions. But then they sometimes surprise with a brave article which may indicate that there are different writers on the editorial board who have their say at different times. I hope I have interpreted your
short comment correctly and more observations would be interesting on this topic. Because how the times readers react is an indication of how the wind
may be blowing.

I recently received a begging e-mail from the Obama money raising interests to contribute to his fine work. It started: "Hey Pearl". Even before I knew
who sent me the e-mail my hackles were raised as it would have been if the letter were addressed to "Dear Folks" and how that indicates how we are perceived. Obama sounds in real trouble at this point in time, hopefully.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

A little off the subject but I was explaining to the students in my Year 6 class today the difference between a first world country, second world country and third world country. I talked about the size of the middle classes and the access to things like decent housing, safe food, and medical care. I pointed out how blessed we were to live in Australia where even the poor are taken care of by the rest of society.

In total innocence, one of my students asked, "Is America a second or third world country?"

"That's an interesting question. Why do you ask?" I replied.

"Because not everyone has a house where they can live, enough food or can go to the doctor when they are sick." was her thoughtful observation.

Out of the mouths of babes.

James F Traynor said...

Yeah, that was sloppy of me. I knew it wasn't clear. What I meant was the readers seem to be drifting away from the Times' line. And it seems to be the articulate readers, the 'respectable' professional types, those who see the lack of drapery on the emperor, but are too polite to mention it. The Walter Cronkites of the world. I used to be like that, or tried to be, until I realized I simply wasn't a silk purse, just the sow's ear. It's a lot like Vietnam; the economic body bags are coming home, but now they contain too many college grads - and from the 'better' schools. The bourgeoisie are getting restive and beginning to vocalize it.

Jay - Ottawa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay - Ottawa said...

In countries claiming to be democratic why do majorities continue to accept authoritarian measures without a peep? Same old question, right? Under neoliberal authoritarian governments of the West, why can’t the opposition get its act together? Is it only through fear and force that authoritarians rule? If not, how are populations groomed to accept more and more heat like those frogs in the soon-to-be boiling pot?

According to a long and heavy-duty essay in Truthout, it’s the bureaucracies, stupid.

The argument somewhat parallels Naomi Klein’s ideas in “The Shock Doctrine” and rests its case on insights by a couple big hitters in academic circles: Max Weber and Michel Foucault. We’re being groomed all the time by “captured” agencies, which were originally created for the common good. Tom Paine pointed us at the wrong people; it’s Kafka who targeted the day-in, day-out troublemakers slaving away at making us slaves. It’s not only Obama and the Congress; it’s the compliant bureaucracies, stupid. Both in and out of uniform.

“Arms up, Mam, so I can pass the wand over your person.”

“Hey Brownie, you, YOU!, up against the wall. Feet apart. Shut up.”

“Just sign this waiver of everything, and we’ll let you use our application.”

“Because of the terrorist threat, we have to know everything about everybody, including you, granny. So answer all questions on the form, please.”

Those snippets of dialogue were by my theatrical group providing examples of how we're conditioned around the clock. The following is from the Truthout essay:

“In authentic democratic contexts, bureaucracies may indeed play a functional role in efficiently carrying out agreed-upon services and even aid in the furtherance of general or common good. However, under increasingly autocratic governmental regimes, they can just as efficiently do the reverse - that is, they can turn the virtue of common good into a perceived vice.… [E]ven in our own day we can see examples of how emerging autocratic governments can use bureaucratic systems such as Canada's Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the US Department of Homeland Security, NSA, GCHQ or CSEC to great advantage. When such governments seize upon natural or man-made disasters, imminent economic recession, global competitiveness, the threat of terrorism or impending war, to authorize autocratic forms of governance, they require these sorts of bureaucracies to carry out their agendas.

“Bureaucratic power-knowledge is not only the most efficient means through which autocratic government agendas can be disseminated; it is also, by its very nature, a perfect mechanism of concealment…. Bureaucracies serve to conceal autocratic government agendas, and autocratic perspectives are widely disseminated in rigid bureaucratic institutions.”

Have a nice day, fellow robots. And stay – STAY ! – well within the “orthodox boundaries” established for our safety.

Zee said...

@Jay and @All--

Bloated Bureaucracies, the Enemy of Democracy: Part I

The TruthOut essay by Guerin is too long and too deep to grasp in full without printing it off and reading it—several times. I think I've caught the gist of it, but I will try further to understand exactly what Guerin is saying, because (1) it seems so à propos to what is happening in both Canada and the U.S., under the allegedly-opposite “flags” of the duopoly, and, (2) because of something else I've read recently.

Weber was cited in a recent essay on the topic of the stunning stupidity and pointlessness of much of the bureaucracy that supports the United States' Federal government, and there I understood all too well what Weber was getting at, having encountered it while working for, with, and, sometimes, against, various Federal bureaucracies myself:

“The director of the U.S. government office that monitors scientific misconduct in biomedical research has resigned after 2 years out of frustration with the “remarkably dysfunctional” federal bureaucracy. David Wright, director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), writes in a scathing resignation letter obtained by ScienceInsider that the huge amount of time he spent trying to get things done made much of his time at ORI 'the very worst job I have ever had.'”

In his actual letter of resignation, Wright recounts several entertaining examples of epic federal bureaucratic stupidity and ineptitude which I won't recount here. You can read them for yourself. But he points out that which is obvious to anyone who dares to delve into—or work with—government bureaucracies, the reasons for bureaucratic stovepiping, stonewalling and otherwise re-inventing the wheel in order to look busy:

“... there is the nature of the federal bureaucracy itself. The sociologist Max Weber observed in the early 20th century that while bureaucracy is in some instances an optimal organizational mode for a rationalized, industrial society, it has drawbacks. One is that public bureaucracies quit being about serving the public and focus instead on perpetuating themselves. This is exactly my experience with [Office of Assistant Secretary for Health]. We spend exorbitant amounts of time in meetings and in generating repetitive and often meaningless data and reports to make our precinct of the bureaucracy look productive. None of this renders the slightest bit of assistance to ORI in handling allegations of misconduct or in promoting the responsible conduct of research. Instead, it sucks away time and resources that we might better use to meet our mission. Since I’ve been here I’ve been advised by my superiors that I had 'to make my bosses look good.' I’ve been admonished: 'Dave, you are a visionary leader but what we need here are team players.' Recently, I was advised that if I wanted to be happy in government service, I had to 'lower my expectations.' The one thing no one in OASH leadership has said to me in two years is ‘how can we help ORI better serve the research community?’ Not once.” —David Wright

Misanthrope that I am, I believe that our ever-growing Federal bureaucracy inevitably brings out—indeed, enables—the worst in human nature at all levels.

At the bottom-most circle of corruption, it's merely the automatic, group-think, survival instinct of the bureaucracy to perpetuate itself as Weber points out, as individual employees work together to ensure that they have a decent job and perhaps a comfortable retirement at the end. David Wright's anecdotes of self-serving waste are perfect examples.

(To be continued...)

Zee said...

Bloated Bureaucracies, the Enemy of Democracy: Part II

At the next higher level of corruption, employees seek to perpetuate the power, prestige and perquisites of their positions, and to further elevate themselves above the hoi polloi. Think: Wasted taxpayer dollars funding lavish General Services Administration conferences in Las Vegas, with senior GSA officials taking “selfies” of themselves drinking wine and soaking in the hot-tubs included with their expensive hotel suites.

Even further up the chain, elements of our faceless Federal bureaucracy are used by the Executive and Legislative branches to pay off political supporters, either with cushy jobs in the bureaucracy or with guaranteed business loans, grants and the like to “outsiders.” Here, I refer you all to Peter Schweizer's book Throw Them All Out! See, especially, Ch.5, where Schweizer details how Obama gave jobs within the Department of Energy to unqualified political supporters, the latter of whom in turn doled out some $12B in payoffs to other of Obama's political supporters by funding “R &D enterprises” that somehow seemed to lose money while still making the principals rich.

What Guerin describes in his essay brings us to the two top levels of the bureaucratic corruption that are most inimical to democracy. First, the incestuous, self-serving, revolving-door relationship between Federal regulatory agencies and those who are regulated:

“There are myriad examples of government regulatory agencies that, over time, have become captive to the destructive priorities of industry and corporate capitalism. In the United States, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration are subject to powerful moneyed lobbyists and are overrun by former industry workers and technocrats.”

And at the very top level of evil, there are those bureaucracies that are used to impose an increasingly-autocratic form of government on us, with the overwhelming majority of the American public being unaware of what is happening. Think: Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, the Pentagon, and who knows what-all else. And I think we all suspect that these agencies are growing apace.

“ The relationship between bureaucracy and autocracy is, in fact, a mutually reinforcing one. Bureaucracies serve to conceal autocratic government agendas, and autocratic perspectives are widely disseminated in rigid bureaucratic institutions.” —Fred Guerin

Yes, a sprawling, largely faceless, entrenched, survival-driven bureaucracy—the unacknowledged Fourth Branch of our Federal government—is a tremendous threat to any real democracy. The admixture of such organizations with flawed human nature is an inevitable formula for waste and corruption at all levels, from the merely petty to near-monstrous.

I have dared in the past to suggest that our government is in need not only of “reform” in many sectors, but a significant reduction in its size and power, and I still believe that is true. I see it as the only way to tame the beast, human nature being what it is.

Anyone who believes, along with Nancy Pelosi, that

“The cupboard is bare. There are no more cuts to make.”

is deliberately just not looking very hard.