Friday, June 26, 2009

He did something very dangerous

The other day Our President held a news conference during which he did something very dangerous. Well, two things.

One, he brought Huffington Post Blogger Nico Pitney to the front, said Nico (he named him, "Nico Pitney") and the internets had been doing outstanding work on the crisis in Iran, and said he understood that Nico might have a question from an Iranian.

Now, I have no particular brief for Nico Pitney or the Huffington Post when it comes to that. I've looked at Nico's Iran stuff from time to time, find it interesting certainly, and sometimes informative, but it is by no means definitive, and sometimes his judgement and skepticism regarding the information he is receiving and aggregating seem to fail. There's a whole other side of this Iran Thing that never seems to make it into Huffington Post or Nico's stuff. And we might get into that eventually.

As it happened, Nico did have a question from an Iranian, and he asked

"Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working toward?"

Perhaps not perfectly phrased, but interesting just the same. Exactly what the demonstrators are working toward is something of a mystery -- which isn't to say they don't know what they are protesting and what kind of redress and resolution they want. It is to say that the way what they are doing is communicated to Americans, whether through Nico's postings, or in pretty much any other form, is being re-framed and re-interpreted to suit various domestic American political interests, in some cases completely transforming whatever is going on in Iran into some kind of dumbshow recapitulation of other events at other times in other countries.

American media seems to have no idea who this Mousavi is, for example, and has no interest in finding out. That translates into what could be a complete misinterpretation of the popular unrest following his apparent defeat in the Iranian presidential election. Also, the government destabilization program that the United States has been declaring it's been operating against Iran for years is completely ignored in most of the reporting on the Iranian Crisis. Given the history of these things, to suggest that the Iranian uprising is entirely spontaneous is somewhat naive.

But that aside, Nico provided a substantive question -- which the President sidestepped rather masterfully. I don't recall him actually addressing the issues in the question, but he did have a message for Iranians which he delivered in his usual style. One assumes it went directly to the Iranian people and government, and that, as they say, was that.

One thing I've noticed about this crisis is that the some of the Iranian people are communicating (often in correctly idiomatic English) directly with Americans, appealing to Americans. I've noticed the American government has treated the crisis very delicately, and has, for the most part, treated the government of Iran with a great deal of respect (which of course gets the wingnuts to frothing). And interestingly, in the denunciations issuing forth from the Iranian government, the British seem to be the ones taking the most heat; denunciation of the United States seems to be pro-forma and really quite mild. This indicates to me that even as there is uprising and crisis in Iran, the government there and the government here are moving along the path of accommodation to some things that the Obama administration set forth very early in its tenure.

Diplomacy aside, the whole situation surrounding the "Nico Incident" is potentially dangerous for Obama because he deliberately went outside the Protocols of the White House Press Corps to bring Nico into the August Presence and to address the Iranian people directly through this (Internet, ptooey) agency. Needless to say, the White House Press Corps is still in a snit about it. And they can be a vicious little pack of snarling and snapping juveniles when they want -- which they seem very much to want right now.

The other thing Obama did at his press conference was to slap down the demands of cable teevee's "24 hour news cycle" by telling MS/NBC's Chuck Todd that he has greater responsibilities than fulfilling cable's need for "news."

That sort of comment will just get the snarling and snapping by the WH Press Corps into a fevered pitch.

Is this White House really oblivious to what these media bullies and their toadies can do -- and have done -- when they feel they have been "wronged" by the White House or a candidate thereunto? "Heathers" isn't the half of it.

Well, the gauntlet is down.

To their corners and may the best team win.

It won't be pretty.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


[OT Note: I would say something about the Red Hot Chili Peppers just because, but it will have to go in another RHCP-specific post, assuming I get around to it. In the meantime, we'll attempt to deal here with California's Meltdown.]

As we know, California is falling deeper and deeper into perdition. There is no going back.

Well. I'm assuming people all over the world know in grim detail what is going on in California as its government essentially runs out of money and out of time and can't seem to get its groove back.

Things, as they say, fall apart.

But then, of course, I realize that many Americans don't know -- and if they do know, they don't care -- about what's happening to the Golden State. The primary failure of knowledge and interest in what's going on in California seems to be taking place in Washington, DC. I can't get over the image of our representatives and rulers simply paying no attention as California's government in large part collapses.

Things have been falling apart in California for more than a generation, starting when Ronald Reagan took the Corner Office on Jan 1, 1967. That seminal event seems to have been overlooked in all the blame-casting and order-issuing that's going on.

Reagan started California on the path to its anti-progressive present, and once the momentum got under way, there was no stopping it. He started by emptying the state mental hospitals -- and providing few/no other mental health services; he continued by "administering" public education to death; imposing law/n/order (against what was then an uprising of students and Negroes) setting us on the path to the current prison state; he railed against taxation, setting the stage for the later imposition of Proposition 13, cutting property taxes primarily for commercial properties (but incidentally keeping Granny in her home, too).

California's current inability to govern itself comes from the Reaganite dismissal of Progressive California governance, and their eventual destruction of it through various means and methods such as ballot-box bugeting, strict term limits for officeholders, misuse of initiative and recall provisions, and on and on and on and on.

This is what Reaganites and their Libertarian fellow travellers wanted.

California is now a shadow of what it once saw itself as and wanted one day to be, a shining model, an ideal, a way forward for all.

No more.

That notion is gone, vanished. Realistically, it ain't coming back.

What's going on now can be characterized as a final assault on the poor and what's left of the middle class, in an effort to force an out-migration from California to... wherever, primarily for the comfort and convenience of the super-rich, who, on their hilltops behind their gates and their walls, seek to live some crabbed and ugly version of what they thought the California Dream might be if they could only get control of it away from those Awful Progressives.

And they are very close to final success.

The Class War? Well, isn't it obvious who's winning?

Of course from down below, the victory of the rich and powerful over everyone else in California will be hollow at best. But so? They still won.

What's happening is causing some of our best remaining thinkers and doers to go all whack on us, calling down Destruction and Despair as the corrective we need to get past the Crisis. But what they don't seem to comprehend is that Destruction and Despair are integral to the Crisis; they don't have to be called upon, and they can't by themselves get us to the correct other side of the Crisis.

People are gonna die. And the "serious" thinkers and doers prove their "seriousness" by looking the deaths of others in the eye and not flinching. It's a Manhood thing. You accept that Death is inevitable and if it comes a little sooner to some folks than it might otherwise (if, say, they continued to receive care or meds paid for by the State), oh well!

Schwarzenegger set the standard in his speech from the thronlet announcing his draconian cuts only budget "solution" in May: Yes, I know you people will die. And I'm very sad about it. Oh well....

Now even so-called Progressives have taken up the cudgel: Yes, people will die, we can't do anything about it, we have to get Democracy restarted in California, that's the only thing that matters. -- a perhaps unfair paraphrase of David Dayden (dday) at Calitics and Digby's who seems to have gone completely off the deep end, seeing the Crisis as Opportunity for some kind of Vast Grassroots Takeover Through Democratic Processes... uh... Comrade. Uh... David... uh... no.

Do we really need more democracy? Not immediately, no.

We've had more than our fill of manipulated (or as some say, "Managed") democracy, and trying to lard a whole (and so far entirely fantasized) Grassroots Democracy on top of it, to solve the Crisis, is both a witches brew and a fool's game.

No, what we need is Intervention; basically direction at the top -- and from outside -- on how, specifically, to get through the current Crisis and the most appropriate means to correct the whole host of missteps and misdirections that have got us to this point.

"Democracy" on its own can't fix what's gone wrong. "Democracy" on its own is what has got us here.

I've said several times in other fora that the absence of Federal involvement and interest in what's happening in California is unconscionable. I believe sincerely that Federal officials should have been integrated into whatever planning was underway (assuming there was any) to deal with the Crisis from the outset, but apparently, there has been little or no interest on the part of the Feds in the California Crisis.

I don't know that on their own the Feds can fix much of anything, but we're in a very, very odd position, with something like $80 billion in Federal Stimulus funds on tap for California, but little or none of it (apparently) can be used to backstop programs that will face draconian (or even modest) cuts. What's up with that? It doesn't make any sense.

How exactly are Stimulus funds to be used at all if the state government can't function due to its partial collapse? It doesn't make any sense.

As California's unemployment rate skyrockets (officially 11.5% as of today, but in many counties it's over 25% and climbing, and the "official" rate doesn't count the "real" number of unemployed and underemployed which is typically double the "official" number) with no sign of stabilization or a turn around any time soon, and no significant jobs program as part of the Stimulus, just how are income taxes supposed to be levied and collected from people who have no income and won't have income any time soon?

Even the legislature's less draconian budget adjustments assume income tax collections from people who are employed, but with employment falling through the floor, just where are these collections going to come from?

This is just a small part of the strangeness that is overcoming good sense in California, and the nearly total failure of institutions to address and deal with the basics of collapse.

So just what is the way forward? Do we just throw up our hands and let the neo-liberal idealists have their way, radically reconfiguring California's present and future along the lines of Louisiana and New Orleans after the Hurricane?

That's what's on tap right now with the efforts of the Governor, the Parsky Commission, California Forward and the Bay Area Council. These are the people and the institutions that are boldly trying to blaze a new path. One that essentially confirms and permanentizes California's descent into the Third World kleptostate of massive wealth at the top supported by immense poverty below.

That's where we're going.

What's the alternative?

Monday, June 8, 2009

OT: Burglar!

see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Yes. Well. If it isn't one thing, it's another.

I had to go out of town to do some work. On the way back, using a rental car, I had a flat tire on the highway. Before AAA got there, another local dude pulled up. His truck had scrawled on the back "Mobile Mechanic" and a phone number. Well this seemed like the kind of person who'd be sent by one of the other services, so I asked him, brightly, "Were you sent by AAA?"

"Oh no," he says, "I work independently. I saw you were broken down, so I thought I'd see if you need any help."

I told him AAA was on the way and thanked him. When the guy from AAA came he said that there are so many breakdowns on that stretch of highway, there's plenty of work for everyone.

Still had a hundred miles to go before I got home. On that little bitty spare tire. Oh well. Made it. Things seemed OK. Got ready to take the car back, a caravan, me and another person to drive me back. Relative in hospice care at home asleep. Process may take forty-five minutes or so.

When we get back from the airport, car has a flat in the driveway. Oh noes! Well, I'll change this one. Meanwhile some odd stuff is going on in the house. "Has somebody been here?" Asking relative, she says that somebody was banging on both outside doors, for quite a while, but she can't see, and she can't get up, either.

We looked around. One of my laptops was gone (the one that I'd taken to work earlier) and some jewelry had been taken.

Oh. Dear.

I had to report the stolen laptop to my employer. And to the police. The jewelry was mostly of sentimental value (old watches, etc.). Police came. Reports, fingerprint dusting, all the usual.

It's been quite a long while since we've been victims of burglary, and just as then, it is the sense of being violated in your own space that's so creepy about it. We felt very lucky that my relative was not harmed, she wasn't even aware, she said, that anyone came in the house. But it does put us in a very curious situation.

How to juggle it will be the next challenge.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Walk Like an Egyptian

I watched a little bit of Obama's speech in Cairo on al Jazeera English. He seemed to be very well received. The commentators on al Jazeera were thrilled and delighted.

But it seemed to me that for all the highflown speechifying, there wasn't a whole lot of policy difference between Obama in Cairo today and Bush practically anywhere between 2006 and 2009.

As very many others have pointed out, apart from tone, there really are no significant changes in Obama's positions vis a vis terrorist/muslim affairs and Bush's.

The ones who are out in the cold are the neocons and the Family Cheney.

So, for something completely different, here is American phenom Tarik Sultan dancing at Giza in 2005:

Now you dance.

(PS: here's a link to the post I used the picture of Akenaton in back in March of last year...)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Next Exit

Hellhole, CA. (h/t Robert Cruikshank at Calitics)

The latest eminations from the Corner Office at the Capitol -- on top of what's already been proposed or enacted -- will push California way off the edge of civilized societies, into uncharted realms of barbarism and despair.

We have not been down this path before.

We're looking at the virtual elimination of every state program and service that benefits the poor and working class -- so as to maintain, insofar as possible, the comfort and convenience of the Upper 1%.

There will be no more CalWORKS -- the welfare-to-work program instituted as part of the "welfare reform" package passed during the Clinton Administration. Hundreds of State Parks will close. In Home Support Services workers will have their pay cut by a total of 20% since the beginning of the year and services will be limited to only the most gravely ill and/or disabled; people who can at least sit up on their own, tough luck.

State worker pay will be cut 14% and at least 5000 will be laid off. 19,000 or more prisoners will be released early. Probation services will be sharply reduced. Drug abuse and rehabilitation programs in prison: ffft. Gone. Mental health services will disappear. Access to Medi-Cal will be severely restricted and payments to providers will be further reduced.

All levels of public education will face severe cuts. The K-12 school year may be reduced by up to seven days. CalGrants for college students will go away -- this on top of all the additional charges added for college tuition and housing.

Healthy Families medical insurance program will be eliminated, forcing close to a million more children into the "uninsured" pool, there to sink or swim as may be. The Adult Day Health Care program is to be eliminated, ending day care for recovering patients. People on SSI will have their benefits cut again to the federal minimums.

And these are just some of the proposed cuts on top of those already enacted.

Will this lead to a Social Darwinist/Randian struggle for survival? Or will these and many more reductions and eliminations of state services be accepted with hardly a backwards glance, as the corpses of the old, the sick, the frail, the very young, the disabled and the deranged pile up in the streets, to be collected (we assume) by some private company on a no-bid contract for disposal?

"Bring out yer dead!" indeed.

At this point, I'm not really sure there will be any wide-spread murmuring as those who have got theirs batten down and those that don't... tough luck. Suckers.

No. What I'm sensing is that a lot of Californians, despite their supposed "liberal" bent, really like the idea of cutting off the old, the sick, the halt, the lame and the very young and letting them fend for themselves, or -- as one Republican put it: move somewhere else.

Emptying California of its "surplus" population seems to be percolating in the think tanks, the idea being to just get rid of those useless extra mouths. When the housing market collapsed -- years ago now -- a lot of the illegals who were building all those houses that are now being demolished went home. As joblessness rose in many sectors, the roads cleared of congestion. ERs were no longer as full. The casinos were not as jammed. Who could complain?

If Californians can figure out how to dump their homeless, their diseased, their deranged, their old, and their surplus young elsewhere -- in other states or countries, or just someplace else -- Hellhole, CA will be turned back into the Earthly Paradise it was meant to be, ne?

There's been no leadership from the Democrats in the Legislature at all. The Orange Waxy Man is leading the charge to slash, cut and dump, and very few coherent voices are being raised against him. Instead, we have the usual set of "interests" demanding their own pieces of the shrinking pie before it's all gone. There is no comprehensive alternative to the march of barbarism. Nothing.

So. Into perdition we go.