Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pushing Them Into Poverty

The World Bank declares that 50 million people world wide are being forced by the global depression into extreme poverty, and they call on rich countries to stop dallying and get with the program of assisting the worst off in the world.

There is no doubt that globally the depression has hit poorest the hardest and the consequences are barely recognized in this country.

The poorest Americans are hit hardest at home as well, and one thing that keeps getting ignored (among so many ignored items!) in the United States is that millions and millions of people are being pushed into -- or are being pushed back into -- poverty.

Current statistics show that around 6.5 million Americans are collecting unemployment insurance payments. A recipient is lucky to receive 1/2 their former pay while on unemployment, and in many cases they receive much less.

About half of those who are out of work don't receive any unemployment insurance payments at all, so the real number of unemployed is closer to 13 million. There are also an untold number of Americans who aren't employed but who do not show up in the statistics because they've given up looking for work and are now considered "out of the workforce." They may want to work, if there were jobs available, but there aren't any, at least not for them.

Added to those who are completely out of work are many millions -- at any given time between 10 and 15 million -- who can only find part time work and who are considered "underemployed."

Bob Herbert, in today's New York Times, picks up on a theme I've been hammering for quite a while: with these massive levels of unemployment and underemployment, really not seen in this country since the Great Depression, there are surprisingly no significant jobs programs to put people back to work quickly, and there are many in the field who are saying that the contraction in employment is essentially permanent, that many of the jobs people no longer have are not coming back, and further, many of those who are now unemployed cannot expect to return to the workforce. Ever.

Yet the highrollers continue raking in the Big Money, now out of the treasury coffers.


The folks who led the nation to this financial abyss are the ones being made whole on the taxpayers’ dime. We can look after them, all right. But we can’t seem to get credit flowing in any normal way again; we can’t stanch the terrible flow of home foreclosures; and we’re not doing nearly enough to address the most critical need of all: putting people back to work.

While Wall Street is breaking out the Champagne yet again, the rest of the economy is beyond terrible, and will be for the foreseeable future.

True. Everybody knows it. Nobody wants to talk about it. And more to the point, nobody who can do anything about it wants to do anything about it.

Many of these people who are being "shed" from the workforce (still around 600,000 a month) will never have a job again. Some of them became gainfully employed as part of the vaunted Clinton Welfare Reform -- when President Clinton demanded of employers that they find work for the many millions who would no longer be eligible for welfare. Employers stepped up to the plate, and jobs were found. But many of those jobs are disappearing and many of those who were employed as part of the Welfare To Work Program are now unemployed, and there are no other jobs for them, nor is there any welfare to take up the slack.

Homelessness is skyrocketing, and charitable giving is declining. The squeeze on the lower and middle classes is getting tighter and tighter, while the upper 1% continues to swim in champagne.

At some point, this situation will not be sustainable. Those on the lower end who have been "shed" by the depression will have little choice but to fight back if they intend to survive. And we can be certain that our Government, which has decided its survival is in serving the rich and the powerful almost exclusively, will find a means and a method to suppress any rising of the modern day sans coulottes crying out for a scrap of bread.

The surprising thing is that with so many currently unemployed, and with more and more added to the unemployment statistics every month, many of whom will never work again, there has been so little grumbling and so muted a rage among the masses up to this point.

The problem hasn't reached critical mass.

Monday, April 20, 2009

They still won't call it Torture

[From: http://mcncirce.com/history1.html  ]

The "Torture Memos" were released last Thursday, April 16 -- some wags said as a distraction from the Teabaggery -- and  brilliant minds all over the blogosphere went to work. The ACLU, of course, got its props for forcing the release of these memos that describe in excruciating, ugly detail just what is permitted to be done to American captives in the Great and Global War On Terror, and the efficacious results of said practices. Very Medieval.

All the witches confessed, don't forget.

The picture shows, among other common practices, what's called the strappado. As viewers of "24" will know, it is how you hold terrorists captured on the field of battle, and -- when necessary -- it's what you do to anybody else at all who crosses you or who might have "information" that must be extracted.

It's also called Palestinian Hanging because it is what the Israelis do (or are said to do) to the Arab captives they hold, routinely. It was commonly used at Abu Ghraib and at the other prisons run by Americans in the Great and Global War On Terror, and -- not to play favorites here -- it is a commonly used "technique" by all of our many enemies as well.

It is torture, plain and simple, common as dirt, and quite likely as widespread now as it was at any previous era in history.

Also shown in the picture is the Famous Waterboard. Which -- according to reports -- was used hundreds of times on American captives in the Great and Global War On Terror; it is the same torture for which American service personnel were courtmartialed during the Vietnam War and during the Philippines Insurrection. Japanese prisoners were sentenced to death for doing it to American prisoners of war during WWII.

And yet, still, even now, Our Major Mass Media will not call it -- or anything else done by our various services and their contractors -- torture.

It's the most amazing thing.

This is how the New York Times refers to waterboarding captives hundreds of times:

C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported.

And this infuriates me. The whole world calls it torture, not just "top Obama administration officials" (like the President himself, e.g.), but the New York Times, in its wisdom, will not call it torture, nor, apparenly, will any other mainstream mass media outlet.

Since the Torture Memos implicate all sorts of people, including an array of Busheviks, sitting judges, CIA operatives, contractors and mercenaries, medical and legal professionals, and on and on, could it be that the NYT's interconnections with all those interests, all of whom might suffer irreparable harm if the Times took to calling these "techniques" what they are -- ie: Torture -- prevents the Times from using the correct term for fear that people they know and people like them might wind up before a tribunal somewhere?

I don't know.

All I know is that the continued refusal of the major mass media in this country to call a thing "torture" -- unless it is being done by our many enemies (under those circumstances, they have no problem using the right terminology) helps keep Americans befuddled and confused and deeply ambivalent about what's been done and what is being done in their names.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Re: Teabaggery

(Picture lifted from FDL --  I think. But who can recall? So many things...)

Organized by FOX "News" and a couple of right wing think tanks, hundreds of thousands turned out on April 15 -- some in clever little 18th Century get ups -- to protest "taxes and spending" by hollering about immigrants and the price of tea and hurling their teabags hither and yon. 

It was the Feel Good uprising of the season, kicking off the Insurrection and Rebellion activities to come.

Or something.

Ten thousand protestors were expected locally; news reports had it that around 5,000 assembled -- still a throng, though hardly a mass movement. They were harangued by radio personalities and FOX "News" presenters, by Republican state representatives, and by anti-taxers from far and wide. I half expected them to come armed -- as they proudly did during the 2000 Election Recount Protests (yes, they were protesting counting the votes, harangued and whipped to a frenzy by many of the same radio personalities and teevee stars), where gun-waving and flag-waving seemed to get equal emphasis. But so far as I know, armaments were mostly kept at home, and the protesters seemed to be having more fun than trying to raise hell.

Of course they said that about the Boston Tea Party, too. So I wouldn't put too much stock in how much "fun" appeared to be under way.

The Left Blogosphere, of course, made a point of mocking and deriding the Teabaggers, and of course they made much of the endless double-entendre "teabagging" provides. The form of "teabagging" I'm familiar with -- a sort of frat-house hijink in which the balls of the teabagger are placed on the head of or in the mouth of a sleeping -- or passed-out-drunk -- brother as a gentle form of good spirited insult -- seemed almost the appropriate metaphor for the actions of the multitude on Teabagging Day, for it seemed they were out more for highjinks than not. These people are not used to taking to the streets, after all, so most of them don't know the correct protocols, don't have the right gravitas for serious marches and sign carrying and full-throated chants. It's not really in them.

The problem for me with the Left Blogistan mockery of all this was the fact that there is still little or no recognition within the higher reaches of the so-called "progressive" blogosphere that the middle and lower classes -- regardless of their political orientation -- are drowning in debt, and their condition and position is made exponentially worse by all the trillions of dollars pledged and paid to those who are already among the very richest in our land (and overseas). There is little or no recognition that in all the frenzy to bailout and stimulate coming from Washington, very little -- indeed, almost nothing -- is being directed toward relieving that enormous debt burden the masses are struggling under, and in fact, that burden is increasing with every bailout.

Part of what the Teabaggers are responding to is the fact that essentially all the money in the whole wide world is being handed over to those who already have more money than God, and people like the poor schmuck in his 18th Century Revolutionary get up have to pay for it. 

Nobody is taking the schmuck's side at all -- except FOX "News" and the various right wing interests that are always on the look out for opportunities and found one in the inchoate rage of the masses.

Masses and rage that the Left (so-called) has avoided like the plague. The Left that never misses and opportunity to miss an opportunity...

I could go on, but we have to get to the Torture Memos before the weekend is out, and -- OT -- there are home hospice care issues that have tended to keep me well away from my own bloggery more often than not. 

Monday, April 6, 2009


Not every topic you're not interested in is a distraction from everything else.

Not everyone you disagree with is a narcissist or a sociopath.

Banks are not your friends.

The media is not your friend.

Just a reminder, as if one were needed.


Is there a Lenin in our future? A demagogue and a firebrand who will harness the rage and outrage of the American People and ride it like a tiger into a New Dawn? A revolution as it were?

Hard to say, though there have been and still are plenty of candidates on the right who would dearly love to capture the revolutionary ferment for themselves and precipitate their longed-for crypto-Fascist dictatorship of wealth and privilege and be done, finally, with the impediments of law and the constitution and the Public Interest.

But Limbaugh, Gingrich and the like are getting old, and though they may enjoy their demagogery for its own sake, and Gingrich for his part loves to parse and prate and come up with slogans that are supposed to pass for policy prescriptions. Few are listening.

Hannity? Younger. Fiery-er. Or Beck's untamed emotional fury?

Well, there are plenty of candidates on the right, almost none on the left, what left there is in this country. The absence of a Left or any (real) Leftist firebrands in this country leaves a vacuum, and it is filled by corporatist/imperialists like... well... Our President, His Excellency Barack Obama. He fills that vacuum very well, it seems to me, but there is no doubt in my mind that he's got no interest in building a movement and leading a revolution. The idea is absurd. His whole purpose in office seems clear: to further a neo-liberal program of loot and pillage to further enhance the power and wealth of the already obscenely wealthy and powerful, with occasional scraps and bones thrown to the masses to keep them tame or at least quiet.

For now his program is working. Whether it can continue to, as the real economy continues to spiral into the toilet and more and more real people suffer, can't be foretold. Things are not nearly as bad as they most certainly can get.

But every one of us is aware as never before of the suffering all around us if we are not already in that state ourselves. There is little or no succor available to most of those who have fallen through the gaping voids in the American "safety net", and as more and more Americans fall into the Abyss, their outcries are heard more and more clearly.

Many of those who have lost their jobs are not going to be re-employed, ever. The industries or businesses they once worked in are gone and are not coming back. There are no jobs programs to put people back to work in part because there is no intention of re-employing many of those who are now "surplus labor". One of the caveats of Clinton's Welfare Reform efforts was a requirement that business and industry provide jobs for the millions who would no longer be receiving welfare. And the plutocracy stepped up (of course they had "incentives," but that's another issue.) Jobs were found for many people who had not been employable for much of their lives. It was the most amazing thing. Many of them stayed employed, even though they had never been considered stable workers before.

But now, many of these workers -- we might even expect most of them -- have been sloughed off, forced back out of the labor system, and more than likely most of them will never go back to work. But there are no welfare or other programs for them. Right now, many of them are winding up in the tent encampments that are springing up around nearly every major city in the country. "Hoovervilles" in modern dress. They are living on whatever charity communities can muster, but there is less and less of that as the need increases and the number of those who can contribute declines.

What happens in a few years when these encampments have grown with more and more "surplus" and dispossessed Americans, and nothing has been done to relieve their situation? Hardly anyone is even considering that.

But as the vaunted middle class continues to be devastated by the economic decline, more and more seemingly secure individuals and households will wind up in the camps, and what then? What happens when there is no work, no money, no more charity?

Do Americans just lie down and die?

In fact, Death is stalking the land even now, as the economic collapse forces governments and foundations and other institutions to cut back on or eliminate programs of medical aid to various populations, cutting them off from treatment, drugs and so on that have kept them alive, and they are dying. That's what happens.

Suicide and mass killing statistics aren't looking good. How much worse these factors can become before Americans are induced to do something about it is hard to gauge. Americans have been almost sublimely passive for many years now, no matter what happens, and though we wonder what might trigger them to action, nothing that has so far happened has spurred very many of them from their torpor. As a friend said, as long as they have their Big Screen TeeVees and their Take and Bake Pizza, they'll sit in their easy chairs and eat and be entertained and do nothing.

And that is just the way The Powers That Be like it.

But as more and more of them head to the tent-camps with their few pitiful possessions....?

Is there a Lenin on the horizon?

As the Russian Empire collapsed, there wasn't a Lenin -- not until he appeared, out of exile, seemingly out of nowhere, at the Finland Station in Petrograd and started haranguing the People. To act. To do something. To take control of their own future.

The rest, as they say, is History.