Sunday, October 31, 2010

Media Stars and Media Power

Just when everyone was focused on the various assaults, stompings and arrests that have arisen during the current contentious election season, hundreds of thousands of Americans ventured onto the Mall in DC to Rally for Sanity and/or Fear. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert conducted the festivities under the bright fall sun, while satellite Rallies took place all over This Unhappy Land to boost and celebrate whatever position one has, either Fear or Sanity, depending.

Attendance at the Sanity and/or Fear Rally was apparently far greater than the Beckapalooza in August and the One Nation event earlier in October. Beck used the sophisticated and allegedly unlimited media power of the FOX conglomerate and the dazzling star power of Sarah Palin to turn out what may well have been fewer than 100,000 people to "Restore America." The One Nation rally relied on the sophisticated and allegedly unlimited organizing power of the unions to turn out perhaps 50,000 on the Mall, and Stewart and Colbert used the not inconsiderable but not particularly sophisticated and certainly not unlimited star and media power of Comedy Central to turn out hundreds of thousands of exasperated Americans who simply want the political bullshit to stop. Or so they say.

Media Stars and Media Power. Glenn Beck has long eclipsed FOX's honored elder Bill O'Reilly both on the basis of overt psychosis and on the basis of ratings and fandom. He is the titular Leader of the Tea Party "Movement" -- step aside Sarah -- and has a strongly messianic view of his own sweet self that practically anyone who's dealt with People In Recovery knows all too well.

Beck's star power and FOX's media power is -- or was until yesterday -- unparalleled in the cable teevee realm. Until yesterday, his ability to rally Americans to his incoherent, religiously insane "cause" was considered the surest sign of the political direction of the masses, and that direction was obviously to the Right, much farther to the Right than America's rulers and the elites who serve them want to go just now, indeed, so far to the right that the specter of Fascism looms -- and is welcomed by his followers.

Stewart and Colbert have brought the Media Power of FOX and the Star Power of Beck (and Palin) into... question.

The notion that what's left of the unions had the kind of organizing power they once did is foolish at best, often just a deliberate distortion. Unions have been faltering and diminishing for decades in this country, partly due to the furious assaults on them from the corporate and political sphere, and partly due to their own internal weaknesses and dysfunction. The One Nation rally had no star power to speak of and it was not given the kind of Media boost that Beck got from FOX and most of the rest of the major mass media. The One Nation rally was barely acknowledged by the ostensibly wild-eyed "activist" Blogosphere.

Not surprisingly, its attendance was "modest." There were many tens of thousands there, to be sure (Washington is a union town, after all), but not as many as at Beck's "I Have A Nightmare for You" event.

Comes now Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a couple of comic stylists in the satiric vein, both of whom have shows on the cable teevee on Comedy Central (a Viacom Company), both of whom present mock "news-talk" shows that often feature politically high and mighty guests. Even the President himself appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart the other day.

While there was considerable pre-rally coverage of the Sanity and/or Fear event it was by no means as relentlessly flogged as the Beckathon had been by FOX and many other news outlets. It was initially thought of as a sideshow, a carnival of pranksters and freaks, a relatively feeble effort to capture some of the spotlight from Beck and Palin. Stewart and Colbert are very highly regarded as observers and commentators on the passing scene, at least among "liberals and progressives" (whatever they are these days), but they have never been seen as either movement leaders or ralliers for any cause.

From his Brazilian hide-away, however, Glenn Greenwald spotted something that disturbed him in Jon Stewart's growing media presence and personna: the problem of false equivalence. The issue for Glenn and others is that some political positions and policies are so odious and dangerous they simply cannot be equated with positions and policies that are relatively mild and benign. By trying to bridge the gap between "one side" and "the other," by making mock of both, Stewart and Colbert (to a lesser extent) run the risk of falling deep into the error of fostering beliefs about the political realm that have the effect of supporting the ever more rightward and authoritarian tilt of the status quo, and worse, inspiring passivity about it.

And that, not surprisingly, has been the biggest criticism of what happened on the Mall yesterday. Passionate people are incensed that these Media Stars would mock them and call for comity, mutual respect and understanding. Absurd! OUTRAGEOUS!!!!™ Impossible! The Other Side is the Purest of Evil; to suggest otherwise, let alone to act upon it, is the Work of the Devil. It merely empowers Satan!!!!

Yes. Well...

I don't have cable teevee, so I don't watch what the cable "news" personalities or their mockers have to say more than occasionally when I see it on an InterWebs replay or I'm in a hotel. Not having cable means that I haven't been brainwashed -- yes, I think that's the right term -- by the very strange interplay between the Powers That Be and the constant marketing efforts that emanate from the cable all the time. Because I don't watch it regularly, I don't obsess on what this or that cable personality says -- the way, for example, Digby has made a Blogospheric career out of her obsession with Chris Matthews and his spittle-flecked Wrongness.

But I do see these things from time to time, and to an extent I follow the running commentary about them that is not just a feature of Digby's Place, but is pervasive throughout the Blogosphere, on both sides of the political spectrum, and is in fact a core function of the Blogosphere. Without constant furious media criticism, there would be nothing to talk about on the InterWebs, né? Well, Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, but how long will that last? You see?

So. I'm aware of, but not particularly involved in the constant sniping at the Media from the Blogosphere. I've staked out a tiny little niche in my own Blogospheric and commentating efforts where I sometimes offer criticism of the critics as it were. So often, it seems to me, the furious criticism of the Major Mass Media and the Political Class it serves utterly miss the point.

How so? Simple: Stewart and Colbert were making mock, but they were making a point, too. The political system is broken and the media's partisanship makes things worse. We need to Come Together Right Now to solve the serious problems that affect us all. Stop the Violins, Visualize Whirled Peas! That's all well and good. There's a problem with it, though.

Our political and governmental system (at least to the extent it involves We the People) is not intended for the People's participation in the Solution To Problems. I would go so far as to say it never was, and on those very rare occasions when the People are actually consulted, the result is often enough governance contrary to the public interest and will.

This is a severe flaw in our political and governance structure, based in the Constitution itself and the long history of self-government under it. We the People simply don't get a vote on the major issues of the day nor on the policies and programs Our Rulers choose to institute. That's not what elections and the political process are for. At best, an election serves as an advisory on how quickly and how harshly programs and policies already adopted or in the pipeline for adoption should be implemented.

We do not vote, for example, on whether or not Our Rulers will pursue Empire. They do it, we have no say in it. We may or may not be able to influence how the Empire is instituted and consolidated, but not whether it is done, at least not through our votes.

So it is with all the major policies and programs of our Ruling Class. We the People have so little say in what they do that the notion of America's Great Representative Democracy is a complete joke.

None of the Media Stars get into that. (Beck skirts it, but only from a partisan perspective -- "They prevent us from exercising Our God-Given Sovereignty... yadda yadda," they being the ObamaSocialistFascistMaoistCommunistStalinist Hitlers, not the Benign Corporatists who simply want What's Best For Everyone and will exterminate all foes.)

We have a fundamentally corrupt and non-responsive government run by and for a diminishing cadre of the Ruling Class for its own (generally pecuniary) purposes. Our vote is irrelevant to them, and nearly irrelevant in the vaster scheme of things.

As Chris Hedges pointed out in a talk and article I linked to in an earlier post, it's delusional to think that we can change this state of affairs with our votes. We can't.

But what we would have to do to really change it is so disturbing to think about it's hardly even talked about. Even Hedges is reluctant to get into the gory details.

Neither Stewart nor Colbert will address that fundamental truth, except by accident. Beck will discuss it, but only from his messianic and purely partisan perspective. He wants what he wants himself, on behalf of his sponsors, and he will brook no opposition, opposition being Of The Devil and all.

We're in a very strange situation. As I've said many times over the years, if there is a forceful and violent Revolution in this country, it will come from the Right, not the Left. Every single indication demonstrates the truth of that observation. The largest contingent in the middle will continue to attempt to mediate (as Stewart and to a lesser extent Colbert try to do on their shows, and they tried to point out was the Best Way at their Rally yesterday), but the fervor and the energy that could lead to Revolution is all on the Right -- where it has been for many years.

The Bushevik years, for example, were filled with Revolutionary action at the top of the political and economic pyramid. The Revolution they were conducting at the top is being consolidated by the current regime, and We the People have essentially nothing to say about it.

Stewart and Colbert can see what's going on, I think, but they advise doing nothing about it besides pleading with Our Betters to be less hostile with one another, and excoriating the People for Taking Sides.

That's not a matter of Glenn Greenwald's false equivalence, it's a matter of fundamental institutional collapse. Since We the People have no say in what is done by Our Rulers, and they're off on a completely different track than that of the Public Interest, the problem isn't comedians trying to mediate between what are basically phony "sides", the problem is the collapse of our often faulty Republic and its replacement with Empire on behalf of a small and diminishing Ruling Class.

So far, few but the most radical libertarians have noticed, but they offer no comprehensive (or desirable) alternatives.

As is often said, "We Are Doomed." Well, at least until we take matters out of the hands of the Ruling Class and their Running Dogs.

That'll be the day.

[The best part of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear for me was Stephen Colbert's Giant Puppet of Fear Puppet, "Fearzilla", a subtle yet appropriate skewering of the widespread Blogospheric denunciation of Giant Puppets at various anti-war and other rallies in the past.]

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What WikiLeaks' American Media Partner Has Done With the Documents

During the past week, I've been in some fairly contentious argument over at Glenn's Place regarding the nature of Julian Assange's relationship with the New York Times, his American business partner in the publication and interpretation of the leaked American military field reports concerning both Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've been uneasy about WikiLeaks, Julian, and the intense amount of hype surrounding the leaks that have been published by the Times (and a number of other outlets in other countries.)

My unease has to do, in part, with the fact that Julian has partnered with the New York Times, the leading American media cheerleader for war and empire. The Times, indeed, has been running interference for Julian and WikiLeaks. A very odd situation to say the least.

The excuse for this business partnership that I hear all the time is that the Times' circulation guarantees the widest distribution of the field reports in this country, and it was a perfectly acceptable decision by Julian to partner with them. It's self evident.

Except it isn't. The Times' circulation guarantees that their interpretation of the documents will be widely disseminated and will become (has already become) the Standard Narrative in this country regarding what's in the documents. That, to me, is the most obvious upshot of this strange partnership. Yet it is apparently a completely new thought to many who encounter it, and it is very difficult for them to accept.

The public for the most part won't read the documents themselves. I've given it a shot with what WikiLeaks has posted, and it's a hard slog. For their part, the Times hasn't actually published the documents themselves; they've selected some of them to highlight and interpret, but you have to go to WikiLeaks or one of the overseas sites to get the full doc dump. And enormous volume of these reports, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, guarantees that no one (sane) is going to read them all. Not gonna happen.

What has happened, though, is that the New York Times, being the sole US media partner for WikiLeaks, has determined what is and is not important to know from these reports and has focused its coverage there. And their coverage has formed the basis of the coverage by all other American media. For most of them, the New York Times interpretation of the documents is the Standard Narrative.

These are the headlines of the stories the Times has printed on the Iraq War Logs:

  • WikiLeaks Founder on the Run, Chased by Turmoil

  • Growing Use of Contractors Added to War's Chaos

  • Mix of Trust and Despair Helped Turn the Tide in Iraq

  • Tensions Remain High Along Kurdish-Arab Line

  • Deadly Day in Iraq

  • Archive Offers Grim Portrait of Civilian Deaths

  • Detainees Suffered Most in Iraqi Custody, U.S. Logs Say

  • Iran's Role in Aiding Iraqi Militias Is Detailed in Reports

    Of course the story on Julian himself has garnered the most attention -- at least from the Blogosphere -- and it has caused a firestorm led by Glenn Greenwald, whose polemical attacks on the Times and writer John Burns for "smearing" Julian (by reporting some of the well-known accusations against him) border on the hysterical and ludicrous.

    The stories about what's in the documents have so far been largely ignored by the US Blogosphere. Other US media has been mostly concerned with Julian, his antics, or following the Pentagon line that there's "nothing new" in the documents, and condemning WikiLeaks for releasing them.

    The Times' selection of stories to published based on the leaked reports (as opposed to their profile of Julian) is interesting, and I argue that they are essentially making two points: Iran must be destroyed, and Our Glorious Empire must endure forever because the gibbering Natives are incapable of governing themselves according to civilized norms.

    And in this context, the Times story of Contractor Chaos in Iraq perfectly complements the broader notion that "Natives" -- that is, apparently, anyone who is not a member of the elites, in this case, mercenaries employed by Our Glorious Empire because there aren't enough Glorious Troops to Do The Job -- are incapable of governing themselves and behaving according to civilized norms. They are, at best, all of them, children. Give us some of that old White Man's Burden, eh?

    The story of the Tide Turning is a story of gibbering Natives, perfidious Persians, and Glorious Americans, particularly His Imperial Divinity Gen. David Petraeus, who single handedly rescued the pitiful survivors of "sectarian strife" from their own worst impulses.

    In the story of High Tension between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq, we find even more gibbering Natives and the Glorious Imperial Troops finding themselves between many rocks and hard places trying to keep the peace. Mediation, yay!

    "A Deadly Day in Iraq" is an interactive map that shows us all the killings and violence in Baghdad during the height of what's called the "cleansing" -- when bodies were turning up everywhere, bombs were going off, and neighborhoods were systematically patrolled by roving death squads and expulsion teams. At no point is it even hinted that Americans shared any responsibility for what was going on. They were merely observers documenting the atrocities. No, according to the Times, the killing and cleansing stopped when the Glorious Surge Arrived, yay!

    More gibbering Natives incapable of governing themselves are described in the Grim Portrait of Civilian Deaths article. For the most part, of course, the Deaths resulted from Native-on-Native action in the passion of the moment, but some were due to unfortunate accidents like when Glorious American Troops accidentally fired (repeatedly) on approaching civilian vehicles at checkpoints. As they so often did. Accidentally.

    Of course the story of detainee torture in Native hands is well-known by now. Clearly, the Iraqis were and no doubt are far worse with their torture than Americans could ever hope to be. This is proved by the documents.

    The story of the Perfidious Persians has probably gotten the widest play of any of the Times' stories derived from the leaked reports. Time after time, Glorious Americans find themselves threatened or accosted by Persians or gibbering Iraqi Natives who have been trained and equipped by the Persians. The Greeks at Marathon did not face a more brutal and organized Persian threat than Americans faced in Iraq. Persia delenda est!!!!

    So this is what is being disseminated by Julian Assange's American Media Partner, this is the story that is being told in America. There is no consciousness, at all, that The United States (and needless to say, the New York Times) precipitated the tragedy that is Iraq, and that this Imperial Project is in any way misbegotten.

    I have said, and I will say again, Julian had to know this would happen when he partnered with the Times. My question is, If he didn't want this to happen, why did he partner with them?

    There are other, more trustworthy choices in this country. Well, at least for the time being.

    Something just isn't right...
  • No Further Comment Necessary

    Just watch it. Watch it all the way through. Consider. This is Your Glorious Empire.

    Read Jeremy's story in The Nation.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    The New Normal

    The Conventional Wisdom likely to be borne out after the election on Tuesday is that Republicans will make substantial gains in Congress, the Senate, statehouses across the land and governorships. Indeed, they may make unprecedented gains. Historic gains.

    No one expects the Democrats to maintain a majority in the House, though the Senate is likely to stay nominally Democratic for the time being. Right now it is a toss up whether Harry Reid will hold on to his Senate seat in Nevada or lose it to TeaBagger favorite Sharon Angle. Odds are shifting toward Angle. If Harry loses his seat, the Senate Majority (or Minority, depending on outcome) Leadership would fall to someone else, and who that might be is somewhat murky at this time. Whoever it might be, one can be sure it won't be anyone more "Progressive" than Harry Reid. In other words, not "Progressive" at all.

    Gridlock and worse it predicted by those In The Know, a repeat of the post-1995 Clinton era in which Government ground to a halt several times while the Republican Congress and the nominally Democratic White House contended with one another for supremacy.

    And there was the little matter of the Impeachment over some stains on a Blue Dress.

    Many in the chattering classes are looking forward to a return to that situation for it enhances their own glory, or at least they think it does, and a wide range of new right-wing blood can be injected into the punditocracy.

    Yes, this is all about normalizing a further lurch to the right in our governing class.

    The New Normal.

    In this New Normal, Republicans who are actually not in charge of the Government will be in effective control of it. In other words, Democrats will be in charge, but their orders and commands will come from Republicans -- who in turn will be operating from the strictly reactionary corporate playbook.

    The White House, which has been nearly passive or actively yielding in the face of Republican resistance to its largely corporate favoring programs, will certainly be inclined to continue on the same path, with the added bonus of being able to blame the Rs for policies the White House itself favors.

    The domestic economic situation will get worse for the vast majority of Americans, and it will get wildly better for the handful at the very top. And this will be normalized into the "Recovery" that has been so very elusive. Reducing the standard of living of the masses has obviously been part of the economic policy of the White House and Congress throughout the Endless Recession. We can anticipate that the reduction in living standards that's been under way for years will only accelerate under the New Normal of a nominally Democratic government -- controlled by Republicans.

    But it will be very comfortable for some. The trick -- and the opportunity -- will be in finding some comfort for the masses, millions of whom have already been pushed into poverty, millions more soon to join them.

    Will Americans learn to accept their New Normal poverty? From appearances, most of those facing or experiencing hardship already have. Millions upon millions have already been forced out of their jobs and their homes, and despite their discomfort, they really aren't making much of a stink about it, nor are they even threatening to. That fact alone has emboldened the Ruling Class into believing that they can get away with pretty much anything. And so far, given the remarkable success of the TeaBagging operation of the Ruling Class, they appear to be right.

    The New Normal will mean an ever greater expansion of Ruling Class interest and authority and a further diminution of Peoples' interests and authority. "Government" will get smaller by handing an ever greater amount of its operations and authority to private corporations unaccountable to the public. With less and less authority, the Government will have less and less to do with the People for whom it is ostensibly established and become far more openly in thrall to the corporate interests it actually serves.

    The New Normal will mean that the People will go along with this fundamental change in what the Government is and how it operates, and they will do so on a very simple basis:


    Tens of millions of Americans are idle due to the Endless Recession and the utter failure -- no, I call it Languid Indifference -- of the White House and Congress, with the connivance of the corporate class, to get them back to work. This situation has been a matter of policy, not accident, and it has been pretty obvious that the policy has been implemented in order to reduce the wages and benefits of those who manage to stay employed and to ensure that people returning to the workforce and new workers do so at significantly reduced levels of compensation.

    The failure to raise employment levels during the last two years (even at reduced compensation) is an albatross around the necks of the Democrats ostensibly in charge, and it is the principal reason why so many of them are going to lose in Tuesday's election.

    The Republicans have been promising "Jobs" throughout the election season (Democrats for the most part don't even mention "Jobs") and they will likely deliver. In their characteristic way.

    We can assume the elimination of wage and hour laws, the crushing and elimination of unions, and the "relaxation" of health and safety regulations. Of course, this will all be agreed to by the White House -- "reluctantly" -- in order to "Get America Moving Again."

    Basic employment standards in this country will be reduced and normalized to global standards, and sure enough, unemployment will begin to fall. I would not be surprised if unemployment is halved in the next two years, provided that the Newly Normalized reductions in employment standards are implemented. If they are resisted, the screws will continue to be put on the masses.

    Of course all social programs are in dire jeopardy, but those that enhance the income and status of the Ruling Class will not be going away. Social Security and Medicare will continue, in the New Normal, but on the unstated premise that their function is to enhance the wealth and privilege of the wealthy and privileged classes. Workers -- those who have work -- will see their benefits reduced, but they will not be eliminated. Accessing and utilizing benefits will become more difficult, for some, impossible. But the benefits will still be there.

    The People will have less and less say -- eventually none -- in the course of the Nation's future. As it is, elections are in no way referenda on that course. One does not get a vote on the Programs being implemented; one's vote is limited to an advisory on how harshly and how quickly those Programs are to be implemented. But even the advisory role will be extinguished in time, and elections will have as much effect on the Ruling Classes in this country as elections had under the Roman Empire.

    Because, of course, the New Normal involves the "progress" of our Nation's governance from that of a faltering Republic with Imperial pretensions to that of a nascent and growing Empire with a Republican history.

    The path is set. It would happen regardless of which Party is in ostensible control of the Government. Both Parties are in essential agreement on the course of our future, and it is an Imperial course without question.

    The wild card in this New Normal is that the financing for this Empire is coming from the Chinese. Their model is highly admired among America's Ruling Class, and we're likely to see more and more of it adopted in this country. But the overseas adventurism that is incrementally expanding the American Imperial Project is happening under the gaze of Our Chinese Financiers and -- could be -- Overlords.

    They can stop it at any time. But for the time being, they seem quite content with American Imperialism as the New Normal.

    I wonder how long that will last.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    It's More Than Just Languid Indifference

    I've been fretting over the languid indifference of Our Rulers to the plight of the masses for years. Since the start of the Endless Recession, millions upon millions of Americans have been forced out of their jobs, out of their homes, and directly into poverty. The attitude of the Ruling Class to this nightmare situation for ever more millions of Americans has been, "Tough luck, suckers, it could be worse, you know." And that's when they're being charitable. Nothing else.

    As the unemployment statistics continue month after month to be horrendous, as ordinary workers' incomes fall -- or cease altogether -- as opportunity vanishes, as cutback after cutback ripples through every level of government (except the Federal, but I'll get to that eventually), as home foreclosures cascade over and over again, and as top level fraud continues to be rewarded, Our Rulers have essentially followed the Hooverite dictum of Larry Summers: "There's nothing to be done about it."

    I have pointed out that Barack Obama is the grandson of a bank vice president, who essentially raised him, and it is clear as crystal to me that he has a Banker's Heart. Like this one in front of the B of A building in San Francisco. It looks more like a liver.

    Bankers and Hooverites believe sincerely -- and idiotically -- that in a recession, the preferred economic policy is to provide a "cushion" for those at the Top and let everyone else sink or swim. Suckers. That's how they are. Americans should know this from bitter (and repeated) experience, but for some reason they've forgotten.

    Their unfocused anxiety and occasional outbursts of rage are being captured and utilized by the TeaBagger masterminds -- the Kochs, the Armeys, the Russos, the Palins, the Becks and the rest -- to foster a New Paradigm in which the Rulership by those at the Top is reinforced, accountability for those at the Top is eliminated (except if they are Democrats; Democrats and Liberals are to be scapegoated), and conditions for the masses are to be made increasingly harsh and untenable.

    A couple of things have come up over the last few days that have helped to illuminate what's been going on. Chris Hedges has put together a talk and some literature that explores his theories of the Death of the Liberal Class, and David Cay Johnston brings out the statistics of income collapse for the masses, contrasted with the enormous increases of income for those at the very top of the pyramid throughout this Endless Recession.

    In Hedges' truly dark view, the "Liberal Class" has failed, utterly, and our future -- such as it may be -- is bleak if not entirely absent. Hedges refers in his recent column that expands on some of the ideas in his talk to the "collapse of liberalism," the "bankruptcy of liberal institutions," and the indifference of the liberal elite to the rage and plight of the masses, and I can't disagree with him. I've been saying many of the same things myself for years. All of our main institutions failed during the Bushevik Regime, and now, many of those same institutions are collapsing. Want to know what our future could look like? It could look like Haiti, and that is only slightly hyperbolic.

    The current cholera epidemic in Haiti is symptomatic of the failure and collapse of what little remained of Haiti's institutional infrastructure after the earthquake, and it demonstrates how plethoras of "helping organizations," the infamous NGOs that infest Haiti like a plague of locusts, are incapable of handling even the most predictable crises. There was no anti-cholera medication in Haiti prior to the outbreak, and the infamous "helping organizations" had to "scramble" to find some once the epidemic took hold and thousands sickened and dozens or hundreds died. And then they had to organize clinics, provide inadequate medications, try to find ways to care for the increasing numbers of patients, collect and dispose of the dead, and on and on, while simultaneously organizing other efforts to provide some clean water for some areas so as to limit and if possible control the outbreak... the mind boggles. Cholera was a predictable consequence of the conditions the earthquake survivors for forced to live under because the NGOs (and the sorry excuse for what passes for a Haitian "government") couldn't and can't deal with the reconstruction, nor with the basic needs of the refugees. There are hundreds of NGOs all with their own territorial imperatives, and the upshot of all this "helping" is failure and paralysis -- and ultimately death.

    That's where we are headed, as our institutional infrastructure collapses and to the extent it is replaced at all, it is replaced by ad hoc "helping organizations," each with a territorial imperative, and each primarily focused on its own survival and the incomes of its leaders -- in order that it may continue to "help."

    Hedges, being the son of a preacher man and having attended seminary himself, prior to his journalist career, sees the collapse of liberal institutions in even starker terms than I do. Their failure is complete. And he has little sympathy for the liberal elites that engineered the collapse of their own institutions. Nor is he particularly sympathetic to the generally passive American People who have let this collapse occur. I have a little more sympathy, but I am just as frustrated as he is.

    David Cay Johnston uses some interesting statistical information from the Social Security Administration to chart part of the collapse, that of the decreasing income of the working and middle classes, while the incomes of those at the very top... skyrockets.

    While many of us have long been aware of the maldistribution of income in this country, and some of us are aware that incomes for many workers have been flat or falling for years, accurate statistics have been hard to come by. Though the data are collected by various government and private interests, little of it is reported in the major mass media, and what is reported tends to be couched in terms that make the situation seem not as bad as it is. David Cay Johnston points out it's actually MUCH worse.

    Only 150.9 million Americans reported any wage income in 2009. That put us below 2005, when 151.6 million Americans reported wages, and only slightly ahead of 2004, when 149.4 million Americans held at least one paying job.

    For those who did find work in 2009, the average wage slipped to $39,269, down $243 or 0.6 percent, compared with the previous year in 2009 dollars.

    The median wage declined by the same ratio, down $159 to $26,261, meaning half of all workers made $505 a week or less. Significantly, the 2009 median wage was $37 less than in 2000.

    To give this some perspective, from 1992 to 2000 the number of people earning any wages grew by 21 million, but nine years later just 2.8 million more people had any work.

    These wage data, based on the Medicare flat tax on all compensation, tell us only about the number of people who earned wages and how much. They tell us nothing about whether these individuals were underemployed, had to work more than one job, earned fringe benefits, or were employed at a level commensurate with their abilities.

    But they do give us a stunning picture of what’s happening at the very top of the compensation ladder in America.

    The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.

    The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!

    You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.

    In other words, at best, workers are barely treading water in today's economy, and a lot of them are drowning without a life preserver.

    On the other hand, a relative handful of multimillionaires/billionaires have seen their incomes increase during the Endless Recession fivefold. Is it any wonder the "recovery" is only at the Top?

    Americans of course understand that things just aren't right with the economy, and they may even have some sense that their Betters are continuing to make out like bandits at the expense of everyone else. But with only 80% or less of the working and middle classes fully employed, there is a strong tendency for workers to keep their heads down and their noses to the grindstone in this economy. Make too much of a fuss (or in some cases any fuss at all) about economic conditions, and you can be the next one out on the street, facing foreclosure, bankruptcy and worse. And if you are of a certain age, you might have no chance of ever being gainfully employed again.

    This is a big reason why people continue to vote against their own interests, and why Our Rulers continue to get away with the crap they do.

    When it comes to stark matters of survival, people do what they have to do. Or what they think they have to do.

    Correcting this situation -- if it can be corrected -- is going to take more than just getting hold of the information, though that helps (but unfortunately, the links to the charts in David Cay Johnston's piece don't work). Doing something about it is the hardest thing, and Americans are not yet ready to do what it takes.

    In the meantime, Our Rulers will do what they do, continue on the path they've been on, implementing the reversionary Program, and we will continue to vote as if we had any say in the matter.

    At some point, though...

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    What To Do

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    Posting as Iraq Vet For Human Rights over at Glenn's Place, writer Helen G. (I'm not sure she would want me to use her full name or maybe any name but her pseudonym) asks the right question of all of us, given her own personal experience as a soldier in Iraq, bolstered by the enormous number of documents from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan now in the public domain thanks to... someone, assumed to be PFC Bradley Manning... who leaked them to WikiLeaks.

    What do we do now? And what needs to be done to change the trajectory? To make amends to those who have been harmed?

    To the extent I have a larger goal than merely observing and opining on the Passing Show, it is to be found in bringing the present day Imperial Project to a... halt. Right now, it is simply running out of control, almost on its own account, with no discernible objective besides finding and crushing resistance to American Imperial Hegemony. It's a Killer Operation for its own sake. It's insane.

    Well, we've been down this road before, actually repeatedly, and it took concerted action by the American People over long years to bring it to a halt. What it took was inducing the Ruling Class to decide to desist.

    The Vietnam/Indochina example could be instructive, and in that regard, this is what I posted at Glenn's Place in response to IVFHR's query:

    Ultimately it was the decision of the High and the Mighty to end the Indochina debacle, but they didn't reach that decision by accident.

    The American People have to position themselves, once again, to convince those in power to STOP IT.

    It's not going to be easy. It may not be possible before tragedy overwhelms us.

    But there were key elements in how it was done vis a vis Vietnam and Indochina that we should keep in mind.

    1) Opposition to and ultimately ending the draft. Without a draft -- or even with one, but with serious resistance to it -- the military could not function as an Imperial Conquering Force.

    There is no draft now, of course, but you've alluded to its equivalent: a crypto-draft due to economic circumstances. And it's broader than just the volunteer military: we have to include the vast numbers of mercenaries the Government is recruiting and paying.

    What would convince young men and women not to join the military -- even under severe economic strains? As important, what would convince those inclined to become mercenaries not to? How can they be convinced, for example, that serving the Empire isn't "patriotic?" That's what has to be done, and it's an uphill struggle. I'm thinking of how difficult it could be to convince Irish youth not to join the British armed forces when time was. Just so in the United States today. Nevertheless, serving the Empire is not patriotic.

    2) Refusing commands. In Vietnam, this phenomenon scared the hell out of the generals and admirals -- and eventually out of the civilian command as well. It was never as widespread as it is sometimes made out to be, but any hint of mutiny or action against authority is terrifying to military commanders, and it is essential that troops and officers refuse to carry out orders -- especially when they are, as they so often have been in our Imperial Escapades, flagrantly illegal. The troops MUST resist and refuse. How do you convince them it is patriotic to refuse orders and resist commands? Got to find ways. Until the troops refuse, commanders will continue as they have been.

    3) Congressional de-funding. We the People have to insist that the Congress cease funding the Empire. It's not so much about defunding the wars -- though that has to be done, too -- it is more about defunding the whole panoply of Empire that is like a virulent infection on the Potomac. Our Rulers are in love with their notions of Power bound up with their Imperial Project. In order to convince them to desist, We the People have to be prepared to stop paying for it. And that's the toughest nut to crack. It means real risk and sacrifice by many Americans. There have been calls for a General Strike, for example, with at best a handful of participants nationwide. Yet no other action on the part of the People is going to make much of a difference on the Powers That Be. They have to see that the People are determined. At this point, they are only seeing that from the TeaBaggers -- and that just gladdens the hearts of the High and the Mighty.

    So those are essential actions that have to be taken or the Imperial Juggernaut will roll on.

    Of course at any moment, China might pull the plug on financing the Empire and the whole thing will fall apart anyway...

    And that, I think, is what it will eventually come down to: When China no longer needs or desires the American Imperial Project, they will pull the financial plug, and there will be nothing, short of self-immolation, that the United States will be able to do about it.

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Ethan McCord with Laura Flanders

    More GRITtv

    Given the recent WikiLeaks doc dump, Laura Flanders' interview with Ethan McCord the other day has a certain poignancy that's impossible to ignore. McCord was the soldier who tried to rescue the wounded children from the van that was shot up by the "Crazyhorse 18" helicopter crew in the WikiLeaks "Collateral Murder" video released last April. His testimony of what went on in Iraq -- and what still goes on there -- is important and timely, as is his testimony about the state and condition of American soldiers deployed and re-deployed to Iraq.

    The documents tell part of the story of the horror of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they imply more horrors in all the other Imperial Campaigns Overseas. As I've said, if you didn't know this was going on, then you weren't really paying attention at all.

    McCord brings it home.

    Another WikiLeaks Doc Dump (Finally) -- and Asleep At The Wheel (Finally)

    This might be an unworkable juxtaposition, but we'll give it a try and see what can be squoze out of it.

    Julian has now dumped close to 400,000 mostly field reports about the Iraq Occupation on the eagerly awaiting public. Well. Except that from the yawning news reports it looks like the Gatekeepers don't much care anymore what WikiLeaks does or doesn't do. They haven't ignored the dump altogether, although in fact, it has been a non-story pretty much throughout the "Progressive" Blogosphere. The Major Mass Media has pretty much confined themselves to noting in passing that "there is this."

    Once again, Julian "partnered" with Der Spiegel, Guardian UK, and the New York Times, apparently along with al Jazeera and BBC this time, and they've had the docs for months, analyzing the heck out of them to "find the lies" that have been told all these years.

    This is always a puzzling perspective to me. The "lies." Well, if you want to deal with The Lies, then go back to the propaganda from the leading governments involved in the attack on and occupation of Iraq, and then go through the coverage of their propaganda, and then look at just about any initial report of "action" in the Iraq Theater. It's almost all lies, and it has been lies from the get go.

    If you don't recognize that, then you really, honestly have not been paying attention at all. If you don't start with the premise that whatever they say about what is happening and what happened is a lie -- and neither the MSM nor the blogosphere starts there -- then you've got events all balled up in your mind, and you're probably never going to be able to come to grips with the enormity of the Lies Upon Lies that have been at the foundation of Our Middle East Imperial Adventure and especially of the Conquest of Iraq.

    I remember years ago that I mentioned in a comment, probably at Glenn's Place, that if the Pentagon was saying it, or if field commanders and Public Information Offices in Iraq were saying it, it was probably -- in fact almost certainly -- a Lie. A fabrication. A falsehood. A deception. A fraud. One of the commenters -- Retired Military Patriot, who had been a PIO during his time in service -- took offense. He could not believe that the military people involved today would actually fabricate "information," and deliberately disseminate lies. It just wasn't done that way in his day, ie: Post Vietnam. But over and over again, as incidents in Iraq were reported, it was clear they did lie, first and foremost, and often to the bitter end.

    So. Here's WikiLeaks dumping docs through their media Partners, and whaddaya know. Lies were routine. Gee. Anyone who was paying attention could see that back in the day, without WikiLeaks "revealing" it. It was obvious.

    Well. It was obvious to me. It was obvious to a lot of other observers. The Pentagon and its people are incapable of telling the truth about pretty much anything. They lie to the Public and apparently to one another as a matter of course. They must be trained to lie. They must live in lies so profound and so deep seated they no longer have any conception of "Lying".

    And this is an infection that has spread through much of the government and the media/corporate complex ("Our Rulers" as it were) it serves. We ought to blame Bernays and the success of the Public Relations game back in the 20th Century. The methods were adopted and perfected, and now apparently, the Powers That Be have no inkling of the simple fact that they are lying to the public -- and to one another -- all. the. time.

    The latest WikiLeaks doc dump is being met pretty much with yawns all over the media-plex. First, it's too large to handle rationally and methodically. Second, what it apparently shows is... lies. The field reports themselves are -- apparently -- often lies. In other words, there is little truth anywhere. You can't find it from the docs. What you can find is that media reporting from the field was often inadequate or wrong. That's about it.

    But we knew that. Didn't we?

    At one point during the flap over the Afghanistan Doc Dump, Julian said something like "the problem isn't WikiLeaks, the problem is the secrecy."

    That's good as far as it goes. There is no earthy reason to classify all these documents; there is no point in the Government as a whole classifying so much information so often. Except that by doing so, the Government can -- and sometimes does -- selectively release "secret information" when and how it chooses. Given the fact that WikiLeaks routinely partners with major media outlets, outlets that are routinely denounced as propaganda outlets, one is justified in suspecting that WikiLeaks partially serves that selective release function.

    As much of a problem as all that secrecy is, there is a deeper problem that Julian, the major mass media and much of the blogosphere don't deal with, though: the perpetual Lies. It just isn't discussed.

    Maybe everybody is so caught up in it they can't figure it out. I don't know. But clearly Bernays still rules.


    As for Asleep At the Wheel, well...

    They're a retro-Western-Swing band out of Austin, been around -- they say -- for 40 years now, and for more than thirty of those years, I've been wanting to see them. Missing them by "just this much." Truly. They were once based in Northern California and would perform from time to time in the Bay Area and Central Valley -- this back in the early '70's -- and that's how I got to know them. They were played on local radio in Northern California long before they were elsewhere. And their gigs were often close by. But back then, actually getting to one of their shows was difficult for me, sometimes impossible. Then they moved to Austin, and while they were producing lots of music, one didn't see them around here much at all.

    Time passes, the years go by. In the '80's I was producing/directing occasional musical shows, and some of the people this got me involved with were associated with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in one way or another. In the 1950's Bob Wills had a resort off of what was then known as Highway 40 out of Sacramento called Wills Point. When I was a kid, I used to go swimming out there in their huge blue-bottomed pool. Well before I was born, my mother used to go out dancing at the Aragon Ballroom, which became the Wills Point ballroom after Bob Wills bought the place. Wills Point was run by Billy Jack Wills, Bob's brother. He had his own band that played there and regionally, while Bob Wills continued touring nationally, and they (Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys) sometimes would wind up playing at Wills Point. Then, thousands would show up to his shows. I think Bob Wills also had a ranch in Fresno. So there were deep connections between the Wills family and their operations and the Central Valley of California, much as there are still between Bakersfield and the Central Valley and Merle Haggard and Buck Owens (and Dwight Yoakam and so on and so forth, but I digress.)

    Asleep At the Wheel is sometimes thought of as a "Bob Wills Tribute Band," in part because they have always done a lot of Bob Wills music, and a few years ago, they put together a play called "A Ride With Bob" that included plenty of Bob Wills music along with a fictionalized story line based partly on what might have happened if Bob Wills and Ray Benson (AATW's head man) had met. (An aside, they did meet, but it was a sad meeting as Bob Wills was incapacitated by stroke).

    Back in the day, I started but never completed work on a play I called "Red" that was based in part on the legacy of Bob Wills -- in the Valley especially -- told through the eyes (and song stylings) of the daughter of one of his band members. I'm thinking I may have to go back to it.

    At any rate, when I've been in New Mexico over the last few years, I've missed Asleep At the Wheel repeatedly because my own schedule required me to arrive just after they left, or required me to leave just as they were arriving. This happened over and over, at least five or six times. It became something of a running joke.

    So a few months ago, I saw that they would be performing a "tribute to Bob Wills" show at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Wednesday of this week, so I boldly got tickets since so far as I knew my schedule would keep me in California this week. Sure enough. Though San Francisco is "my city" in that I once lived there, and it's been my closest destination city for fifty years or more, and I've been to many many SF venues over the years, I'd never been to the Herbst. So that would be a bonus treat. It was the site of the signing of the UN Charter back in the day, after all.

    Spent the day in San Francisco Wednesday -- and I realized I hadn't been there for... years. I have to say, it was really nice being back. And the show was well worth the wait, though I crabbed it was falsely advertised by the SF Jazz Festival, as it was not really all that much of a tribute to Bob Wills. But that didn't matter in the end. I got to see Asleep At the Wheel for the first time, and it was grand.

    Thursday I was idly noodling around on the InterWebs and saw that AATW was scheduled to perform in Sacramento at a club I hadn't been to for many years. Oh. Dear. Somehow I had missed this gig listing previously. Not that I check their tour dates all that often. So I ordered up some tickets, and went to see them again on Thursday, and had a great time in a very intimate setting. They did a somewhat different show to boot, which made it all that much more entertaining.

    During the show, Ray Benson mentioned the band's early career in Northern California and mentioned being played on KRAK radio in Sacramento, one of the first stations to play AAtW anywhere, and gigs at what was then called Crabshaw Corner, and I (along with many other old coots in the audience) had to laugh. Just the mention of Crabshaw Corner.... ha! This was the first time they'd been back to Sacramento since then, almost 40 years, and those who remember Crabshaw Corner (later the Oasis Ballroom, now a beauty salon) are ... well, dying out.

    He also mentioned that Bob Wills' niece (Billy Jack's daughter) was in the audience, and that Tiny Moore, Bob Wills' mandolin player, had been based in Sacramento (he and Billy Jack married the McKinney Sisters; they had come out from Oklahoma Alabama, I believe, to sing with the band in the late '40's.) Plenty of connections, and I could list a whole string of others, as could, I suspect, nearly everyone else in the audience.

    There is a history.

    The show was even better than San Francisco, although the clarinet/saxophone player (Jonathan Doyle) was missing at the club show. I'm sure there's a story there... but we'll have to let it pass for now.

    WikiLeaks and the secrets and lies they are involved with doesn't really relate to Asleep At the Wheel in any logical way, but I think at this point, many of us are beyond logic when it comes to the operations of systems we don't really understand and can't control.

    Decades passed before I was able to see Asleep At the Wheel, and then I saw them twice in one week. Desire long delayed, in other words, but nevertheless realized with surprise, joy and satisfaction. There was no real "control" on my part involved. It was a form of Kismet.

    WikiLeaks gives the world secrets and lies, through its partners in the major mass media. For those who were paying attention, the secrets weren't really secrets and the lies were obvious at the time. But apparently "paying attention" is a rarity. Or maybe a near impossibility for many people, who apparently no longer know what to pay attention to. And our ability to "control" the actions of a distant and unresponsive rulership gets less every day.

    Is there a form of Kismet that can correct it?

    I don't know... but it's interesting to speculate.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    The Future -- As It Used To Be

    This is a brief article from Gustav Stickley's "The Craftsman" Magazine, March 1911, reporting on a futurist conference in London:


    ONE of the possibilities of the city of
    the future, as it will be remodeled
    from existing cities or built from
    the start in accordance with mod-
    ern needs were outlined by the town
    planning experts who met at the Town
    Planning Conference recently held in Lon-
    don. The most eminent men in this line,
    both in Europe and America, discussed the
    subject thoroughly, their deliberations be-
    ing aided by maps, drawings and photo-
    graphs of the most notable work already
    done in this country and abroad, and it is
    expected that a fresh impetus will be given
    to the remodeling of towns as a result of
    this broadening of viewpoint and exchange
    of experiences. A prominent part was
    taken by Mr. D. H. Burnham, President of
    the American National Commission on Fine
    Arts, and Mr. Burnham's own feeling is
    that the conference will make an imme-
    diate and deep impression on the laying out
    of cities and towns all over the world.

    The most striking prophecy regarding
    future cities was made by M. Eugene Hénard,
    Municipal Architect of Paris. M.
    Hénard confidently predicts that in the near
    future light and energy will be conveyed
    universally by electricity, while petrol and
    oxygen will be depended on to supply heat,
    -a comforting thought in view of our di-
    minishing wood and coal supply. Also,
    every well-equipped house will be supplied
    with a private cold-storage plant, refriger-
    ated by means of liquid air, a device that
    will probably have a good effect on the
    price of perishable provisions by putting
    within the reach of the people one of the
    jobber's chief sources of profit. Another
    suggestion that might well be applied dur-
    ing the dog days in New York is the recom-
    mendation that cold radiators, as well as
    heat radiators, be used to keep dwellings at
    a comfortable temperature in summer as
    well as winter. M. Hénard holds that by
    this means each house might be provided
    with one or more health chambers, closed
    by double windows and doors, in which the
    family would be enabled to reap all the
    benefits of cool air, full of oxygen, during
    the most sultry summer weather.

    Another prediction reminds one of Ed-
    ward Bellamy's "Looking Backward." It
    is that glass verandas of various shapes,
    joined together so as to afford protection
    to the sidewalks, will ultimately be a fea-
    ture of all cities and towns. By such a de-
    vice the elusive umbrella would at last re-
    ceive its just deserts, for the streets would
    be just as dry and comfortable in rainy
    weather as they are now on sunny days.
    Also, the city of the future, according to
    M. Hénard, will have buildings exactly as
    high as the street is wide, in which case
    New York may achieve within the century
    the status of an interesting relic of the past.
    The roofs of these houses would be plat-
    forms ornamented with shrubbery and
    flower-beds, to be used as roof gardens.

    The town of the future, as regards its
    topography, will offer a marked contrast to
    the favorite checkerboard arrangement of
    the average American city in that it will be
    traversed by large radiating thoroughfares,
    partly occupied by moving platforms,
    raised above the level of the sidewalk
    proper, which will afford a means of quick
    communication between the different zones.
    The idea is to terminate these platforms by
    large revolving crossways, placed at the
    intersection of the main streets, so that the
    crowds in the most congested districts will
    be unable to block the streets.

    Dr. Hénard of Paris was surprisingly prescient in his general outlines of the City of the Future, much more so than many other futurists of the era, though his details largely didn't pan out.

    This and many other conferences and future planning sessions were generated near the outset of the Progressive Era, that first time through for Progressives that modern-day Progressives seem to have forgotten about. It was a very forward looking period, during which almost anything seemed possible, soon, and it ultimately produced most of the infrastructure we take for granted today.

    But the futurist imagination and energy is essentially absent from today's So-Called Progressives. The "Progressive" program seems to consist entirely of delaying and mitigating the slide backward being implemented by rightists, theocrats, and reactionaries at home and world wide. There is no conception of a Future under the circumstances. Only a slightly slower and less brutal return to the past.

    Progress? I think not.

    A blog to wile away the hours wondering What Happened?:

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    The Biggest Fraud in Human History

    According to L. Randall Wray, the blossoming mortgage and foreclosure crisis represents the Biggest Fraud in Human History.

    That's saying something. But given the nature of the beast, it's probably quite true. Much of the real estate bubble was based on fraud, perpetrated by almost all the players, deliberately engineered to produce enormous profits at the top of the pyramid, not so much as you slid down toward the bottom, but still, even there, an illusion of profit could be manufactured or maintained for as long as housing prices kept going UP.

    Drill deeper, though, and we find that the whole structure of capitalist economies is built on fraud, complicity, conquest, exploitation, theft, and sleight of hand. That's what it is and has always been. Don't like it? Move to Russia! As they used to say. Only you won't escape there any more. If anything, it's worse there than it is here.

    The deregulation of the banks and the financial "industry", combined with the pretense of an "Ownership Society" caused this situation. Unraveling it is going to take some heavy lifting, but I think it can be done. The outlines of a solution have been clear enough for years now. The avoidance of a solution has characterized the entire Recessionary Period. We can assume the avoidance is due to the fact that the predators are still making out like the bandits they are, and they have no intention of setting their ravening aside for the Greater Good. They won't do it. Don't ask them.

    What should be done is simple: 1) Nationalize the banks; 2) Prosecute criminal fraud; 3) Provide substantial and sustained debt relief to households until the recessionary pressure is relieved.

    None of that, of course, is being done. Consequently the Endless Recession continues; the banksters and fraudsters continue to prosper; the People suffer and pay for it.

    And of course the TeaBagging segment of the People like it that way.

    James K. Galbraith has suggested approximately the same solution I've been yelling about for years. He doesn't do it quite as straightforwardly since he's an economist, but he gets to approximately the same place nonetheless.

    • Nationalize the banks
    • Prosecute criminal fraud
    • Provide substantial debt relief to households.

    As long as there's a banker's grandson in the White House, unfortunately, and as long as the banksters rule the roost in Congress, regardless of which major party is nominally in power, none of that will be done.

    But it is interesting to see all the hankie wringing over the little problem of "documents not in order" that is causing the supposed freeze on foreclosures which apparently is as fraudulent as any other aspect of this whole miserable mess. But then, that's been true every time a "foreclosure freeze" has been announced. It's true of all the myriad work-out programs, too. The whole system is fraudulent, top to bottom, inside out.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Back in California: The eMeg Disaster

    I've actually tried my best to keep this walking-talking miserable excuse for a CEO out of my mind for all the many months she's been spending up a storm (now $125 million or more) to buy the Corner Office in Sacramento. She's faltering in the polls against the surprisingly spry Jerry Brown (what is he, seventy-something? And he sounds and acts a good deal younger than Whitman -- in her 50's.)

    But she's got more money than God. Now let's examine where this money comes from and what it is she plans to "do" for California once she's secured possession of the Corner Office.

    She is former eBay CEO, one of the many miracles from times gone by, that opened up a whole new entrepreneurial realm for millions of (mostly) small-time buyers and sellers around the world. eBay is the embodiment of "free" Markets. Except it isn't "free".

    Its services are offered for a fee, a tiny one, seemingly, at least back in the old days: a few cents for listing your few paltry, shoddy items, a few more cents for pictures of your sorry stuff, a few more cents (or percent) as eBay's cut if you sold your crap. Maybe 10%, total. Unless you used Pay Pal, which wasn't initially owned by eBay but is now, which was another 3% or so.

    All these tiny percentages on millions upon millions of sales added up to a tidy profit, much of which went into eMeg's bulging purse, which was all well and good so long as she herself was out of the picture, and we didn't have to listen to her prate about turning California into eBay-Nation.

    She goes on about how eBay provided individuals with "millions of good jobs." Well, that's a matter of opinion. Actually relatively few users make any kind of living from eBay, nor do most users have any intention of doing so. Its primary function is still what it was at the outset: a National, and later International garage/yard/tag sale.

    A means to get rid of your excess stuff. There's nothing wrong with the concept. In fact, it's an outstanding notion, one that has been adapted or copied by dozens if not hundreds of other specialized internet marketing operations, though none are as successful as eBay.

    But it's not a way to "make a living" for most people -- who have neither the skill nor the inclination to constantly fill and monitor listings and sales online. It's a specialization that some people can handle, but most can't and wouldn't want to.

    And yet, it's the model eMeg wants to use to "get Californians working again."

    Unemployment is a severe issue in California, to be sure, and the unemployment situation in the Central Valley is dire in many counties. As I was traveling up and down the Valley, to and from New Mexico this most recent trip, I noticed how often the political theme of "getting Californians working again" was bruited about by essentially only Republican candidates for office.

    The fact that Republicans use it all the time while Democrats are essentially silent on the topic of unemployment is instructive. I've been pretty shrill myself about the lack of interest Democrats in office have shown over persistent unemployment throughout the nation and particularly in California. It is their albatross, and their continuing languid indifference over unemployment is likely to be their undoing (at least the undoing of their Congressional majority) in the fall.

    eMeg is "smart" in that she is keying in to the public's anxiety and outrage over continuing unemployment (Jerry Brown is not oblivious, but he's on another -- Green -- level about it) and offering her version of a solution: "Y'all can sell your stuff on eBay! Yay! Beaucoup bucks! Yay!"

    As I traveled north through the Central Valley this past weekend, I passed two huge flea markets where people have been selling their stuff and other people's stuff for years. The flea markets -- which haven't actually proliferated as much as I thought they would given the Endlessness of the Recession and all -- are both places to unload surplus material items and places to socialize on the weekend. That's part of what makes them so popular in good times and bad. The clientèle is largely Hispanic, no suprise. And what they sell is whatever you can think of. Some people "make a living" from it, but comparatively few. That's just how these things work.

    I think Californians understand that, though I can't be sure. You never know whether the People will fall for the gambits of the millionaires and billionaires or not. Cf: The Multi-Mega Millionaire Orange Waxy Man who currently occupies the Corner Office. (Actually, they've stopped spraying him down with orange makeup these days, and when he makes personal appearances he looks pallid and almost frail. The steroids did a bang-up job on him, that's for sure.) You'd like to think they won't get fooled again, but...

    Anyway, at least eMeg is holding out some hope, wan as it may be, that somehow Californians can go back to work. Of course she wants to get rid of regulations that "stand in the way" of putting people back to work -- like wage and hour laws, health and safety protections for workers, environmental regulations, that sort of thing -- and, like most neo-liberals, wants to create a "level playing field" for workers and their employers. What this means in practice is that she, like most Republicans and many Democrats (apparently including the White House) wants to reduce wages, eliminate worker protections, and limit regulations to "global standards." She wants to compete with China by being like China, in other words.

    That's what a "level playing field" means to these people. They don't want to bring China up to American standards (as faulty as they may be), they want to reduce American standards to those of China (which are improving, somewhat erratically.)

    So that they can continue to make the Big Bucks while the People, if they're lucky, can barely get by.

    And then there was The Maid.

    Jeebus, these people and their servants.

    An Illegale it would seem, who eMeg had on her household staff for nine years, and when it was revealed that the woman lacked papers, eMeg fired her brown ass. And so she and Gloria Allred are making a stink.

    Sigh. Well... In New Mexico, this situation is looked on with bemusement at best. Neighboring Arizona is trying once again to empty itself of Messicans, as it has done over and over again since it was acquired from Mexico as a consequence of that Dirty Little War of 1846. I understand that large swaths of Phoenix and Tucson have been vacated by the Filthy Beaners, many of whom have actually moved to New Mexico where at least they won't be harrassed by the authorities. I've long called for a Day of Absence style resistance in Arizona, for all the Hispanics to simply go on strike for a day or a month or whatever it takes to knock some sense into the addled pates of the Anglos who think they are so damned superior.

    Then we'd see a solution to the "servant problem" for damn sure.

    But the eMeg Servant Problem is on quite another level. Though she would fortify the Border and deport all the Illegales -- as all Republicans say they would do (but they won't, not really) -- the fact that she would casually hire and keep one of Those People in her own household for many years, and fire her ass when the Truth Be Known, is simply the way things are among that class of Predators. It's how they behave, all the time, about everything. Skirt the law when it suits you, enforce it against the Little People when it is convenient. She doesn't want to get rid of Mexicans -- except when they are inconvenient to her ambitions.

    Thinking this through, one realizes that Jerry Brown probably has servants, too, to take care of that mansion up in the Oakland hills where I understand he and his wife (yes, wife!) live. Or used to before he became AG. Or maybe still do. Does anyone know?

    At any rate, he married money, and people with money have People to clean up after them. It's just the way it is. And in the West and Southwest, the people who clean up are generally -- though not always -- Hispanics. Many of them are undocumented. Which is convenient, historical, and a political minefield. So I'm sure someone is checking the papers of Jerry Brown's household servants as we speak, and I would assume that some of them over time have lacked the proper papers.

    A big to-do will be made of it, and Brown will argue that the issue is bigger than just this or that maid, and we ought to have a conversation, yadda-yadda. And eMeg will flounce around saying, "See! See! He's just as bad! No, he's so much worse! I hate him, I hate him!" Such is the decline of political discourse our fair land.

    If eMeg and her evil twin Carly Fiorina are elected in the fall, all bets for a brighter future in California will be off. Putting CEOs in charge of Government may be a plutocrat's wet dream, but it will be a complete disaster for the state and the nation. At this point, the polls don't look promising for the CEOs, but things change. On the other hand, the essentially rear-guard action of people like Brown and Boxer -- to hold on to some shreds of Progressivism in the midst of the plutocratic tidal wave -- is sad to witness.

    Sic transit...

    Sunday, October 3, 2010


    Abandoned and ruined motel in Mountainair, New Mexico 2007, photo by the author


    One thing you get used to seeing in New Mexico is ruins. You encounter them all the time here. There are the spectacular ruins such as at Chaco Canyon, an abandoned Native American trading and religious center turned into national park, and there are the more ordinary ruins of abandoned adobe buildings in practically every town and in the vintage neighborhoods of the one big city, Albuquerque.

    Ruins. It’s a fact of being here.

    On that note, I’ll mention that twice a year, on the first Saturday of April and October, White Sands opens the Trinity Site to public access and inspection. So I went yesterday, as I have never been, and the weather was glorious, and I needed to do it. Nothing has more strongly affected the lives of my generation than the atom bomb, certainly nothing in the outer world was more elemental to our childhoods than the Bomb and what it would do to us and all those pesky foreigners, mostly Russians, who wanted our stuff.

    So I drove out to the Stallion Range Gate, out of San Antonio, and I thought at first it wouldn’t be too crowded because the balloons were mass ascentioning in 'Burque to kick off the Balloon Fiesta, and surely everyone wanted to attend that, yes? Driving the back roads of New Mexico, you’re often the only vehicle in sight, and even on the Interstate, you might be in a nearly traffic free area. So traffic seemed heavy heading out of San Antonio, what with five or six cars visible going my way, and a handful coming back.

    When I got to the gate, I was surprised at the back up, and how very, very slowly cars were being let onto the base. One was given some “Don’t You Dare!” literature along with a brochure about the Bomb and the test on July 16, 1945, that took place at Trinity Site, and then one proceeded to the Security Checkpoint where one showed one’s picture ID to the private security guard and declared that one had no weapons or alcohol. Then one was waved in for the 17 mile, not altogether unscenic, drive to the parking lot.

    Once there, I was kind of taken aback by the number of people who’d come out to see the sights at Trinity. There were thousands, and it was set up very much like a fair, though without the rides and the exhibit halls.

    It was a hike of about a quarter mile from the parking lot to the Site of the nuclear test itself. On the way, I noticed that the test took place nearly up against the mountains, with a broad open plain to the west, which was surprising. I’ve seen films of the Trinity test and many other nuclear tests, most of which took place in Nevada, where the test site is surrounded by mountains. I just assumed the Trinity test was surrounded by mountains as well. But it isn’t. It’s not even that far out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, there were a couple of commandeered ranches within a couple of miles of the test site, at one of which the Bomb was assembled.

    I noticed, too, that the streams of people headed to the Site on foot were eager (I think that’s the right word) if not exactly festive, and nearly everyone streaming back to the parking lot had downcast eyes and looked very… contemplative.

    A secular pilgrimage that had a powerful spiritual effect on the crowds.

    Which was surprising and not at the same time. You hike the quarter mile to the Trinity Site, and you enter a large relatively flat fenced off space, a bowl as it were, where, to your right, you see the lava rock obelisk that marks Ground Zero (here, the term is used properly) with the mountains forming a backdrop, and to the left, some distance away, you see a flatbed truck with a model of the Fatman bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, and further left is a low metal building (that is not accessible) that covers a portion of the original ground surface left after the test explosion. There are some pictures on the fence to the north. And that, exactly, is it. There is nothing else there.

    There were many children there yesterday, and none of them were acting up. Think about that for a moment. Some were on their haunches, picking through the dust for specks of “Trinitite” -- the green glassy stuff the heat of the Bomb turned the ground into. They found some but not much. Most of it, says one of the signs, was scraped up and saved by the military after the test. In fact, the site has been extensively altered since the test, and much of what was there or what you might expect to see there is long since gone. It has been graded and scraped, and is kept mowed. It looks barren, in contrast to the landscape outside the fence, which is in a fairly natural desert condition, dry but not at all barren, with considerable plant and (one assumes) animal life. (The landscape all around is highly evocative of parts of the Mojave -- lots of yucca and low bushes, no Joshua trees, though -- which I found interesting…)

    As the children picked through the dust to find “Trinitite”, they now and then came across rabbit droppings, which they mistook for the glassy substance, and had to be corrected.

    There were many young adults, some of them couples. What a place for a honeymoon. Or what you will. There was a fair sprinkling of coots and geezers, for whom, of course, this place is a kind of sacred ground, but its sanctity is emotionally complicated. I know I felt that way. There were surprisingly few middle-aged people, and those that were there seemed not to know how to connect with the place and what happened there. Which was… interesting.

    But the fact is that people leave the barren bowl where the test took place, and they are almost all head-down and silent. Whatever they thought about what they were going to see is changed by what they do see, and moreso by what they feel. The world was changed forever by what happened here, in ways that reverberate and echo to this day, and yet what there is to mark it is little more than dust and rocks and rabbit droppings, and twice a year, you can go see for yourself. And ponder.

    You pass the ruins of a bunker on the way out of the base, and near the Stallion Range Gate itself, there is a very odd ruin, what was once an elaborate tent, a fabric covered accessory building, the fabric partially torn away, the metal ribs of the structure stark against the brilliant desert sky. Inside you can see desks and file cabinets, a chair or two, what could be a chart on what’s left of a wall. The whole thing looks very organic, like a huge beached sea creature of some sort. And like so many other ruins in New Mexico, it just sits there. Abandoned. Ignored. Eventually becoming part of the landscape. Not entirely natural, but not entirely not. Obviously human created, and now human forgotten.

    Eventually, that will be the fate of the Trinity Site as well.

    (10/10/10: Adding a video of the site that I took when I was at Trinity. Camera batteries were failing however, and the sun was so bright I could not see what I was video-ing. Oh well. Some of the feeling of the place is evident just the same...)