Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ack! Plumbers! Again!


They've come and gone, and they made discoveries.

Those of you who followed the saga of Casa Ché in California know of the seemingly interminable episode of The Plumbers wherein the water heater gave out early one AM leading to replacing all of the supply piping in the house (as well as the water heater) and also part of the drains and sewer piping. There was a break in the drain line out of the bathtub which probably would have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that the wall behind the tub was opened up to put in new copper piping. So all that had to be re-done, even as we thought things were about to get back to normal.

Here in New Mexico our place started out around 1900 as an adobe ranch house more or less in the middle of nowhere; it had no plumbing. Supposedly, this was the house where Toney Anaya grew up, though personally I don't believe it. The story he tells, the house where he grew up had dirt floors and no indoor plumbing until the later 1950s. This house has pretty much always had wood floors (mostly wide pine planks, but the north and south bedrooms have narrow floor boards, not sure what species, probably pine, too, but it actually looks like maple), and there was at least an attempt to put in plumbing in the 1930's as far as I can determine from the old piping and its location. In the 1950's, pretty early I'd say, a bathroom was installed in the older wing of the house, and a kitchen and laundry room were added to the front by enclosing what was the portal. That's basically how the house is now. Though we had a lot of renovations done, it was primarily to rehab the place from a ruin and make it liveable, not to change the footprint.

So yesterday morning, I noticed strange sounds coming from the plumbing in the bathroom. Gurgling, burping, and what sounded like water draining directly onto the ground under the floor. Not good. There wasn't really a back up, either, though the water was draining slowly. I decided I better call the plumbers.

They came, shortly -- within a few hours -- Rich and Chris, local fellows who hadn't had their lunch. They scoped out the situation, heard the sounds, said, "Oh dear," kind of like I did, and they called their boss, Fred, who came to look things over. It sounded like the sewer line had broken, no doubt about it, and Fred gave me two bids to replace the sewer line, one if the break was close to the toilet, the other (much bigger) if it was far and they had to dig extensively. Both were pretty reasonable for what would have to be done, so I said OK, and Rich commenced to open a small hole in the bathroom floor in order to see if he could determine where the break was.

I was in the other room while he and his helper Chris were doing their business in the bathroom. Suddenly everything went quiet. I checked, Chris was here by himself, Rich having left. Chris was peering into the hole.

"What's up?" I queried.

"Ohhhh," says Chris. "It's not broken."

"It isn't?"

"Nope. Gonna go run the snake."

So he does, opening up the cleanout in front of the house. Meanwhile, it seems like the whole world is coming over. Fred had called the utility Emergency Spot number to locate all the utility lines in case they had to dig. So the gas man came, and the electric co-op people came, and the phone man came, and someone from the water and sewer side, the cable guy too, an endless parade of semi-officials, one after the other. It was quite a show.

Chris busied himself with the snake, and sure enough, the drain ran free within a few minutes.

"Is it OK now?" I asked.

"Yup. Shoulda done that first. Rich jumped the gun and Fred just went along. It was only a clog. Rich went to get the bigger equipment, but we don't even need that. Everything's running fine now. I'll put the toilet back as soon as I can get a wax ring."

A few minutes later, Rich shows up looking sheepish. Chris asks if he has a wax ring. He does, so Chris goes to put the toilet back and clean up.

Rich explains what had happened. He said there was a clog pretty far down the sewer line, but the problem seemed to be that the sewer line was broken because no water was backing up into the house, which is usually what happens when the problem is a clog. Instead, he said, they found out when they opened the floor that the water was coming out right below the toilet flange, so it never got into the house, it was just pouring out under it. He said it was really soaked down there and it would be best to leave the hole open for several days to let things dry out. Run a fan.

So the sewer lines are fine? Seem to be. I told him that the supply piping had been replaced just before we bought the house five years ago. It was all that no-break-when-frozen plastic, and it worked well. All the other drains were OK so far as I knew. He said they'd only charge for the clog and a helper, and that was fine.

He asked if he could have the stump at the side of the house. I wondered what for. "Heat" he says. It was the only thing he could afford to keep warm. Oh. I said sure. Take it. It might provide a few days' heat in a good tight stove.

I had to pay for the plumbers at the hardware store in town since they weren't able to take charge cards at the job site. And I learned that there had been very little work for anyone in construction and plumbing and electrics and so on for quite some time. This was a big job, even though it turned out to be only a clog. And the rush to make it bigger, it seems, was in part due to the lack of work for so long before. They weren't trying to over bid or over charge at all -- at least not to my way of looking at it, if what we suspected was wrong had been wrong, they would have had a lot to do, and their charges for it were in line. The problem was, they hadn't tried to clear the clog first, which they really should have done.

And the idea that Rich actually needed the stump to heat his own house -- because he couldn't afford to pay for gas -- made me sad and confused at the same time. Gas (natural and LP) rates are not cheap in this area, but they aren't outrageously high, either. Our house doesn't have central heat. There's a big free-standing gas furnace in the living room and we use electric heaters in the bedrooms when needed. The adobe warms up after a few days and holds the heat. When we're not here, we keep the house at about 50 degrees; when we're here, it's 68-70. We haven't spent a whole winter here, but from the utility bumps in the weeks we have been here during cold weather, we figure winter heating costs at around $250 a month, which is higher than we pay in California -- it's a lot colder here! -- but not shocking.

Well, we say. Compared to what? You'd expect a plumber would make decent money, and heating his house wouldn't be that big an expense comparatively, but it turns out there's so little work in the field, nobody's making much money, and yes, heat is a huge expense comparatively. What I paid at the hardware store went right to paying the bill the plumbers had run up there for supplies and equipment. So... how do the plumbers get paid? I don't know. So yeah, take the stump. Please.

Of course a lot of folks around here heat with wood, either what they can chop or purchase already chopped or pellets, and it is overall, they say, about 30-50% less than gas or electricity. If they can get the wood free, it's gravy. Or at least a warmer few days.

The Endless Recession is partially to blame for this situation, but part of it is just the way things are here and have been for generations. So much of what lucky people like me take for granted is a struggle here -- and it has been for as long as anyone can remember. I realize how lucky we are and how little I really have to complain about.

It was a beautiful day yesterday, the sky an incredible deep blue, the clouds almost too pure in their whiteness. After all the excitement, I went to check for something in the van, and witnessed the most incredible sunset in the west. Well. Compared to what? We've shown pictures of New Mexico sunrises and sunsets to friends in California, and they always remark on how "unusual" it must be. And we say, no. It's practically every day. When I was driving over to the hardware store to pay the plumbers' bill, I caught my breath gazing at the mountains, as I do almost every time I come here. The mountains here are just a stunning sight, like the starry firmament at night, with bright stars all the way down to the horizon, the Milky Way shining bright, like nothing you would ever see in California unless you were in the high mountains on a good night.

Below is an incredible picture taken outside of Flagstaff, AZ, that appeared on APOD in 2008. It's consciously dramatic, showing the San Francisco Peaks enveloped in the clouds they attract (mountains do attract the clouds around these parts) and the Night Sky -- after long exposure. No, your eye doesn't quite see it this way, but the sensation of what you do see, on a clear night in Flagstaff, or from where I am now, is almost as strong.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Here in New Mexico

I bought the painting above some years ago. I don't know anything about the artist, nor do I know the title. I bought it because I liked it and it reminds me of the high desert country of New Mexico and Colorado. There's a place up toward Santa Fe on the local highway that reminds me of the log house in the painting. Of course I wonder what is going on with the man in the picture. Does he live there? Is he a neighbor? A stranger? An angel? A demon? Is he coming back from somewhere? Arriving for a visit? What's the story? Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if this was painted as an illustration for a story.

The picture hangs in the north bedroom along with a number of other "blue"paintings -- not all of which are actually "blue" but which seem to carry out a theme. There's a painting of the cliffs and the Pacific in fog near Carmel that's very moody and chilly, which is sometimes exactly what the Pacific Coast is like. There's a painting of magnolia flowers on a table. It's old, painted on what might have been a cardboard box lid, and it's damaged, like somebody dropped a bowling ball on it. Yet hanging on the wall, it looks like it's always been there, and the damage isn't noticeable unless you peer very carefully.

There's a painting of a path through the redwood forest in the far north of California. I'm sure it was painted as an allegory, as the light is very focused ahead of the viewer, through the trees. It's probably fifty or more years old, and that's part of its charm. There are two Bob Ross style "mountain stream/mountain valley" paintings, obviously produced in a commercial setting and originally sold as "wall art." They aren't bad, really, now that they've got some age on them, and they have a certain airy imaginative quality that is spirit-lifting, whether that was the painters' intent or not.

There's also a large watercolor of a one room schoolhouse in California's Gold Country, painted by Art Ellis, who is primarily known as an art supply dealer. It's in a kind of primitive style, and it is highly evocative of the Gold Country but not at all an expected view.

Rounding out the collection in that bedroom is a large copy of Picasso's "Le Gourmand." It's obviously a copy, rather determinedly so, and almost cartoonish in its determination to copy Picasso and its brilliant blues and oranges and so forth. And hanging above the closet is a large Peruvian Andean needlework, in natural wool colors. It's quite charming, but doesn't really seem to fit with the other artworks in the room. Most of the other needleworks are in the hallway, but there wasn't enough room for this particular work there, so into the bedroom it went.

The south bedroom has a Picasso as well, an older print of "The Lovers". In this room there is a painting of what could be a Northern New Mexico homestead, with dog, but it's far from certain that's what it is. It could be California as well, except that in California, the old adobes are generally painted white, whereas in New Mexico they are almost invariably brown or tan.

There's a large watercolor of a floral display, an older R C Gorman print, a huge color photograph of Glacier National Park and "Going to the Sun" chalets, several smaller landscapes, and an impressionist "Paris Street Scene", obviously commercially produced some time in the 1950's. You would think. But something tells me these are still being ground out pretty much the same today.

In the living room are more paintings. There are desert landscapes. One is of the Panamints in Death Valley when the wild flowers are in bloom.

Another (it is a print c. 1944, though it looks like a painting) is of yuccas in bloom in a very green Mojave on a cloudy day. Having passed through the Mojave many times I wasn't convinced the green-ness in this picture was authentic until I was passing through the Mojave on one trip after a storm, and by golly, the whole scene was astonishingly green, and the yuccas were blooming vigorously. There's a landscape titled "Jack Tone Road" -- of what could be orchard trees, but it's not certain, painted in a very vigorous style. There's also a landscape of rolling hills dotted with farms, obviously not California or New Mexico, perhaps Wisconsin?, in an almost primitive style. There are a couple of other random landscapes, plus a painting on something like oiled paper of a sailboat in a roiling sea. Change of pace.

And by the fire, there's a painting of a California Valley Quail sitting on a branch; below is a covey of quail and in the distance is a large California barn. Yes, we brought a lot of California art to New Mexico, which is itself innundated with painters and paintings.

My favorite painting in the whole house, however, is an impressionist-pointilist landscape, very bright colors, of a river flowing between heavily treed banks. In the distance a mountain rises. This mountain has a very distinctive shape, its top a flat mesa, tilted at a jaunty angle. This mountain looks very much like the Pedernal Mesa out of Abiquiu that Georgia O'Keefe painted many times. If that's what is in this painting, then the river could be the Chama River. The only problem with this interpretation is that the area is not nearly lush as it appears in the painting, and the Chama is quite shallow, whereas the river in this painting looks quite deep. I'm suspecting therefore, this is a painting of a composite landscape. But I don't know. I just like it.

I make no pretence to being any sort of art critic or afficionado. I buy paintings and prints when they appeal to me, for all kinds of reasons. Although I have some abstract works, and have myself painted in the style, I don't hang any of them in New Mexico, at least not for now. As is obvious, I have an affinity for a particular sort of landscape -- paintings that evoke places or feelings I "know."

Most of my experience as a painter has been painting sets or doing set and costume renderings for the stage. Some of that has been pretty bold. To say the least. But most is really very mundane... kind of like the paintings I collect. Well, how about that!

I'm on dialup while I'm here so posting might be erratic.

I'm looking out the window at a brilliant blue sky, the sun shining on the big gnarled bare trees, the ancient tin-roofed shed and the coyote fence. There's just a little snow on the ground, but they say that weather is coming this weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


It appears the State of Arizona has gone out of business. All but four of the highway rest areas are closed, the highway itself is falling to pieces, I hear they're closing state parks and even trying to sell the state capitol.

That's what happens when nobody wants to pay taxes at all. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thoughts before traveling

    I-40 outside of Grants, NM. Mount Taylor (Diné: Tsoodził) in the distance. March, 2008.

I'll be on the road tomorrow and Thursday, heading out to New Mexico to assess the situation. I got a call from a former neighbor a couple of weeks ago saying she hoped I be coming out to NM soon. She wouldn't say, exactly, but there might be a problem. I couldn't leave at the time because the painters were coming to paint the house in California as soon as there was any clear weather, which there was and they did. The weather turned ugly, however, and two of the three mountain ranges I have to cross were tied up in blizzards. Best to wait.

As far as I can tell, tomorrow will begin an fairly extended period of mostly clear weather from Southern California to mid New Mexico so I'll give it a try. The van is good in snow, but I'm not that fond of driving in a blizzard (which I've done a few times.) I've never been very good at driving in snow in any case, not having grown up with the White Stuff. When I was out in New Mexico in December, there was snow one morning, maybe two-three inches, hardly a blizzard, and most of it melted by noon. I went to get some supplies, and the lady at the store, perhaps after noticing my Californina license plates, went on at some length about the snowy conditions the previous week and how drivers who'd never been in anything worse than a slight dusting of snow come out there to the country and think they know how to drive. The wind up in the ditches or overturned on a patch of ice, and she thought they were just stupid. She said, "I remember when we used to get six to eight feet of snow at a time every winter. Now, we're lucky to get a whole foot of snow the whole season."

I gave her a look.

"When was the snowfall ever six or eight feet?" (That can sometimes happen in the Sierras, though rarely in one storm. It'll accumulate that much pretty quick, though.) She sort of muttered, "Oh, eight-ten years ago. Maybe 20. You know. It used to be bad. A lot worse than it is now. Where's your place?" I told her. She said, "Well, it's not so bad there, they plow and stuff, so you're probably OK. I live farther out, and they never clear the roads out there." Turns out where she lives, they're lucky to have electricity. And what they have goes out plenty often.

Parts of rural New Mexico are still very old-fashioned. To put it mildly. Our place is on a paved road, of all things. Electricity. Natural gas. Running water. Even sewer. Telephone and cable if I want it -- I won't have cable, though, so there's no teevee. Nothing comes in over the air. We can play videos and DVDs if we want. And of course there's radio, from Albuquerque and Santa Fe and parts east and west. It's pretty good in New Mexico, unlike some other parts of the country. Variety of formats, stations, and programming, some of it in Spanish, but New Mexico Spanish, which is distinctive, and I'm still learning some of its idioms. Some of the radio broadcasts are in Native languages, primarily Diné (Navajo), but also some of the Pueblo Keresan, Tiwa and other languages as well. And one of our old radios brings in good, clear shortwave stations from all over the place, including China and Europe. Some of it is in English!

UPDATE (02/24/10)

I like the fact that it's "starting" to dawn on some of the hotter legal shots on the Intertubes that the Department of "Justice" is pretty much irredeemably corrupted and politicized. Hm. Seems to have something to do with Careerist Margolis and his history as a "fixer" to smooth over otherwise inconvenient actions -- or as the case may be, lack thereof. Bmaz over at FDL gets into some of it. The sad thing, of course, as always, is that these revelations are given with only a sigh. As if nothing can be done about it except for Documenting the Atrocities.

For History's Sake. I guess. You know. If anyone ever gets around to probing What The Fuck Happened and all. 

Meanwhile, the Pauliacs have been tramping all over the place. One of the Greater Mysteries to me has been the need so many Libertarians and their fellow travelers have to masquerade as something they're not, for example as "Liberals." Even "Hard Left Liberals" the way Markos does.

They're mostly not Liberals at all, nor are they even remotely "Hard Left," but what happens when they put on this act -- and it is an act -- is that their position gets defined as "Left" or "Liberal" in the media and in the eyes of much of the public, even though they are Libertarians (big or little "L" it doesn't matter) who essentially despise the "Left" and all it stands for. World without end, Amen.

There's nothing more despicable in politics than this habit of The Masquerade. Everybody seems to do it -- if they want to be taken "seriously." They pretend to be what they are not, to believe what they don't, to support what they despise. This is apparently how politics is supposed to be done in the Big Boy's Club, and your position in the Club is based on how many of the Rubes you can fool and keep fooled by your little act.

Obama's mask is more than a little tattered these days, but he still maintains a solid "favorable" majority. Trouble is the minority is moving in for the coup de grace, and it could well be sooner than we think.

But on the Tubes, more and more are rightly questioning the "Lefty" cred of such luminaries as Jane Hamsher, Glenn Greenwald, Markos Moulitsas, John Aravosis, Arianna and so on. As well they should. Jane has thrown her lot with the Pauliacs and Grover Norquist. Good luck with that. Glenn is becoming more and more strident and shrill in his antipathy toward anyone who doesn't share his rigidity and absolutism, which he calls "principle," no matter how wrong or dangerous it may be. Markos is just a joke. He was never a "Leftist" and his pose as Master of the Hard Left is absurd.  Aravosis has never been anything but a very staid, proper, and basically Old Line Republican who has been severely disappointed by his colleagues who don't support issues of basic fairness and civil rights on matters of Teh Ghey. And as for Arianna, ha ha ha ha.

The only really consistent Liberal/slightly Leftish predominant presence on the Intertubes has been Digby, and she has been moderating her positions for years so as not to raise the ire of the Big Libertarians whose influence on the Lefty Blogosphere is vastly disproportionate to their numbers.

The irony is that there should be no reason for Libertarians to play this little mind-fuck game, especially if they are sincere in their political ideology. Libertarianism may be puerile and impracticable, but it is an American ideology of longstanding, defensible (sort of) on its merits (such as they are), and there is no need to pretend to hold some other political position or to make believe that somehow Libertarianism and Liberal-Leftism are compatible. 

They aren't. In some respects they are mortal enemies. Just as Libertarianism is incompatible with  what is generally thought of as American Conservatism.

Where I'm headed, New Mexico, is full of Leftists -- the real kind -- Libertarians of all stripes, old line Conservatives, real honest-to-god tribes and tribalism, and plenty of pure addled nonsense from all over the political and social spectrum.

There's a reason Aldous Huxley chose it as the site of the Savage Reservation in "Brave New World." Maybe it's time to review.

So... time to pack up and head out. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

So Here's What Has to Happen -- and of course it won't

Protests in Washington DC at the first G W Bush inaugural -- that most Americans still have no idea happened at all -- on January 20, 2001. 

The Department of Justice must be abolished. The Federal Courts must be shut down. The Supreme Court must be reformed and the radical justices must be removed.

Of course it can't happen and it won't happen because no authority will take on the responsibility for doing it. The Congress is a joke, and the Executive has Other Priorities. The People have no direct power -- that they're willing to use -- at all.

Throughout the years since the Supreme Court lawlessly cancelled the 2000 election vote count and awarded the Presidency to George W. Bush, the very concept of the Rule of Law has come undone. It's simply meaningless. And the the fact that the vast majority of the DoJ's legal staff stays on the job no matter what, and the courts continue to follow the lead of a lawless and dangerous Supreme Court, and the Congress tries to come up with even more outrageous lawlessness, and the White House doesn't care and is generally disinterested in the whole mess makes a mockery of "justice" in this country.

Of course the DoJ could be shut down tomorrow if the legal staff walked out. They won't do it, but that would shut it down. If the SCOTUS minority simply refused to participate in any more rulings by that body and requested that, say, the Congress initiate impeachment proceedings -- for the entire Court -- there would be some notice taken.

If the either of those things happened, the Federal Courts could not function. And if all of it happened at once, perhaps the public would notice that the entire federal justice system has become so corrupted and politicized in this country that it shouldn't be allowed to function any longer.

It deserves to be shut down and regenerated/reformed from the ground up.

Which is why it will never happen barring Revolution that overthrows the entire rotten bunch of criminals who rule from behind the gates of their Palace on the Potomac.

Instead of what should be done, we will be treated to more endless arguments over more endless years, arguments over legal minutiae and parsing, we'll see ever more corrupt investigations and prosecutions, more authoritarianism, more autocracy, more torture, more excuses, and more dithering by the representatives of the People in Congress assembled, more outrageous and lawless rulings from the bench, more tired ennui from the legal profession, more careerism, more failure.

This path was laid out when protest against the lawlessness of the Supreme Court's rendering on December 12, 2000, was allowed to fade away and the ruling was widely accepted.

We know what's happened since, in the Name of the Law, and it ain't pretty.

Scott Horton has been chewing this cud for quite a while and his ruminations over the OPR report on the Torture Memos is worth a gander. But like too many others with a JD and a platform in this country, he is resigned to accept this outcome as just another sorry example of Things Gone Awry. Nothing to be done about it now. Pity.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where are the Lawyers?

In Pakistan, when the government goes off the legal/lawful rails and into the ditch of arbitrary authority, the lawyers rise up, take to the streets, and demand redress, resignations, and restitution.

Not here. No way. A lawyer doing more than filing a suit or a brief? Unheard of! The very idea. Pshaw.

On Friday, the Justice (so-called) Department released the long-delayed OPR report on the malfeasance of John Yoo and James Bybee in preparing the notorious Torture Memos for use by the Bush Administration in coercing information and confessions from captives held in various places throughout our Nation's growing constellation of concentration camps and gulags for Taliban and Al Qaeda and miscellaneous resistance suspects.

The American legal profession demonstrated a signal lack of courage and leadership all through the depredations of the Bush years, and it continues to essentially stand aside as the Obama administration expands on the lawlessness of the Busheviks. The failure of the legal profession to raise its collective voice against the lawlessness that has been the widening American practice at home and abroad will be remembered as not just a failure of courage, but perhaps as the leading factor in the transformation of the American state from a faulty and balky self-governing Constitutional Republic into a thoroughgoing Imperial autocracy.

Some individual lawyers have certainly been both rebellious and courageous in opposition to the Bush regime and its factotums intent on establishing and institutionalizing an Imperial state based on domestic and international surveillance, lawless and arbitrary detention of those deemed to be Enemies of the State, and the projection of force -- through terror, random carnage, and torture -- throughout the world. Individual attorneys continue to stand up, some at considerable risk to themselves, but as a collective, the bar and bench, the legal profession as a whole, has been all but silent, when not actively complicit.

And it has been devastating for the Rule of Law and respect for the Rule of Law in this country and around the world.

This silence and complicity is a lasting stain on the American legal profession. And yet, even now, they evince no shame.

We are well and truly fucked.

The OPR Report

Over at Sully's Place at the Atlantic, the following is quoted from page 144 of the Report:

"I just hope that when all of this comes out, the institution doesn't take the hit, but rather the hit is taken by those individuals who occupied positions at OLC and OAG and were too weak to stand up for the principles that undergird the rest of this great institution," - Deputy AG Jim Comey, in an email to Chuck Rosenberg, p. 144 in the OPR Report.

Yes, well, Mister Comey, the institution has taken the hit, continues to take the hit, and will be subject to the contempt it has so richly earned so long as fundamental reform, from the ground up, is avoided. Not only has the institution of the Department of Justice been potentially irreparably harmed by the refusal of its leaders and staff to resist the imposition of this lawless regime, the entire legal profession has been soiled.

A fine mess.

And as if that weren't enough, the "Justice" Department also announces the official closing of the Anthrax Investigation, with the suicided Bruce Ivins as the only suspect.

Ain't we got fun.

Please enjoy Marcy Wheeler's deconstructions:

The OPR:

The Anthrax:

On Stack

Burn baby burn.

The other day, a very disturbed middle aged man flew his private plane into the IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in what appears to have been a fairly spectacular Propertarian protest at his incessant pilferage by the taxing authorities and the professional classes he turned to for help against the depredations.

They were all trying to take his stuff, so what he did was get up off his chair, turn off his teevee and computers, put a match to his big suburban house, get in his airplane and fly it into the IRS offices -- killing one and injuring some dozen others -- and leave a hearty "Fuck you all!" note to anyone who would question his actions.

OK then. Joe Stack is the latest Patriot Hero.

And the Bourgeoisie Arises.

All they needed was permission and a spark. Now it's on.

Save us all from this sort of crap.

While I point out that this man was a Propertarian who was apparently radicalized to violence in Texas, many have run around claiming "Oh no! He was a Marxist! He mentioned Communism and quoted Marx and denounced Capitalism and everything! See?"

Yes. Well. Apparently the term "Irony" has lost all meaning, and nobody has any idea how you can mention Communism and quote Marx and denounce Capitalism and be a Propertarian.

Is there a public educational system at all in this country any more? If so, what is its function? Can we dispose of it and get another? Please?

I read this man's screed -- hardly the Manifesto it's made out to be -- every single word, and it is plain as day that Joe Stack was a Propertarian pushed to the wall beset by all the demons of hell who were trying to take his stuff. His outrage at what the IRS was doing in trying to assess taxes on his income and property and what he had been through in trying to get help from professionals and at what had happened to his various piles of savings squirreled away for a rainy day and his retirement, and on and on and on was the standard Propertarian litany of woe at trying one's damnedest to be independent of all the fetters of the communal society, only to be subject to the constant theft of one's property the government and the elites. It's never ending. They won't let up.

Well, if you don't want them to get your stuff, what do you do? Of course, you put it in a pile and burn it all to ashes, then you get in your plane and you crash it into the offices of those who have made you so miserable for so long.

Anybody knows that. Arise! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

See how it works?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Auto-bio

Despite the fact that I've been fairly active on the internets since the latter 1990's (at least), I've never really been one to say much about myself, as I prefer to let my posts and comments speak for themselves.

But I realize my reluctance to say much about myself has given rise to all kinds of sometimes silly speculation and assumptions about me, my background, my interests and proclivities, and most especially about my political ideology.

Anyone who goes by the Internet name of Ché Pasa must be a Revolutionary, right?


Well, I'm a rebel, yes. Always been one, no doubt will be one to my dying day.

But Revolution? That's going a bit far. Even for me. And as we know, Real Revolutionaries despise Rebels.

The basics run something like this:

I'm 60-something, more or less "retired", been married (to the same woman) for over 40 years, have been living in Northern California, mostly in the Sacramento area, for more than 50 years. I was born in Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi, part of that great big Post-War Baby Boom. My father was an attorney, from a family of attorneys; Irish-German Catholics. My mother was a rebel, from a family of rebels, a redheaded Irish spitfire, you might say. No religious upbringing or faith for her.

I recently ended a ten year stint as a Federal employee. Before that I was a founder and producing director of a theater company. Over the course of ten years' operation, we produced approximately 140 plays and staged readings of original works. Before that I worked primarily in theater and other show business endeavors like opera and circus and film and so forth for more than twenty years. Before that I was a student, got a degree -- actually a couple of them -- in art and design and theater arts. I've written plays, acted, directed, designed, and produced plays, altogether many hundreds. I've worked coast to coast, and from Alaska to Florida.

We live in California and have a house in New Mexico where I sometimes go on hiatus, and where, when we are completely retired, my wife and I (with the cats) intend to deposit ourselves for the duration. Our house in California has been undergoing periodic and extensive deferred maintenance, like new plumbing and so on. The painters just finished the other day. Now I'm trying to get the windows to work again.

My parents are dead long since and no wonder. My father was born in 1901, my mother in 1911. They lived longer than their parents did. All of my grandparents were dead well before I was born. I had an autistic half-brother who died some years ago in an institution. My half-sister was a therapist at Atascadero State Hospital. She died as consequence of injuries she sustained in a take down of an unruly patient/prisoner with whom she was working.

We have no children of our own, but we have -- sort of -- raised a number of strays, including various nieces. My nephew became another niece a couple of years ago, while s/he was still in the National Guard.

I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat. That means I vote for the Democrat -- if I vote at all. I have been active in the past in party politics in California and in New Mexico, was a very active campaign worker for Howard Dean. I have been involved in numerous social justice campaigns, specifically with the Rainbow Coalition and the NAACP, and a wide range of community groups, going back to my high school days.

As I've written on a number of occasions, I was deeply affected by the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964 and 1965. It showed me that change was not only possible, it was essential if Americans were to salvage the nation and their future from corporate doom. Well, I guess that didn't work out so well.

I participated in the usual protests against the Vietnam War and instigated a few of them. I dropped out in a manner of speaking, and by that I mean I did not follow the staid middle class course laid out for me, but resisted it at practically every turn, resistance which of course made my life somewhat more difficult than it might otherwise have been. And yet my life has been extraordinarily rewarding in other ways. I seem to have a biological intolerance for recreational drugs and alcohol. Damn.

I've organized street theater, marches, protest demonstrations, and various kinds of non-violent actions on behalf of political and social justice.

Your typical. The usual.

While I tried blogging even before Blogger came on the scene, I was never able to sustain the craft; too many other things going on. But Ché (What You Call Your) Pasa -- a name that came from someone who read a comment of mine at Digby's Place (I think) -- has been going pretty well since 2007, so maybe is will continue. I am not in the business of blogging, however, and I have no illusions that my output will ever attract a wide readership. Of some interest to me is the fact that my Tenement Housekeeping series of posts has attracted far more readers than all my political drivel put together.

Go figure.

I spent ten months, from October 2008 to July 2009 as my mother-in-law's primary care giver while she was in Hospice Care At Home. I wrote about that here, too. I am still profoundly moved by the experience and by her example.

And for those who need it, my email address is chewhatyoucallyourpasa at

Any questions?

[Note: the auto in the picture above is the 1942 Packard Clipper that sat in the driveway of the house where we lived in Santa Maria on California's Central Coast; the sneering (or is it squinting?) boy in the picture is my own self, age approximately 3.]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Formalism and Legalism versus Justice and Sir Thomas More

I ended yesterday's post on this note:

[Note: I would ask those who use the "Giving the Devil the Benefit of the Law" scene in "A Man for All Seasons" as justification for putting terrorism suspects in Federal Court whether they believe Justice was done in the trial of Sir Thomas More. If so, how? And if not, why not? It is the fundamental issue here. And it is, perhaps, what the theme of this whole blog has been.]

The point being, of course, that Sir (later Saint) Thomas More had all the advantages of Law and extensive Due Process as it was conceived at the time, and many, many, many opportunities to recant, confess, sign, -- to do his liege lord's bidding, in other words. And he refused. Adamantly. He refused on the basis of Law, he refused on the basis of Custom, he refused on the basis of Honor, he refused on the basis of Process, he refused on the basis of Conscience and Higher Law, he refused on the basis of the Rights and Privileges of an Englishman, a Gentleman, and on and on.

Yet all the forms of the Court were followed, perhaps too exactly, and all the legal niceties were observed, and Sir Thomas was beheaded at the Tower for his trouble, and the trouble he had given the King. The charge was High Treason; the crime was Sir Thomas's failure to obey.

And I asked, "Was Justice done?"

Perhaps the answer is another question: "For whom?"

The King had a desire, and under the circumstances, a necessity to assert his power and authority over his subjects especially with regard to marriage (his own) and the succession to the Crown. In doing so, he broke with the long-held British royal custom of submission to Papal authority in matters spiritual as well as temporal. In doing that, he violated both custom and law; by his command, law was brought into conformity with his desire. Sir Thomas's refusal to submit to this King's law was the source of the charge of High Treason, which ultimately resulted in his trial and execution. This rid the realm of one dissenter from the rule and authority of the King to assert his power over God's Law -- as it was understood at the time -- but there would be more, oh so many more, and in due time, there would come a Civil War in Britain over such matters as the authority of the Crown over the lives and religion of its subjects, among other things.

Was Justice done in Sir Thomas's case?

If you believe that following the forms and the due processes of the Law is the definition of Justice, then Justice was done. Even if the outcome was wrong in some higher sense, Sir Thomas was not subjected to the arbitrary authority of a lawless monarch.

If you believe that Justice is to be found in the actions taken to fulfill the requirements of the Rules of the Game, in other words, then you cannot but agree that Justice was indeed done in the case of Sir Thomas More.

That was certainly King Henry's belief, sorry as he was about the outcome and all that.

But Sir Thomas was arrested, held and tried on trumped up charges and he was convicted on false witness. Surely that cannot be Justice even to a formalist and legalist for whom all things boil down to following correct procedure and applying the law as it is written and received. But if the charges are trumped up and the witness is false, how is the Law to know that? How is a follower of Legalism and Formalism to know that? And if there is no such knowledge, how can there be injustice when the forms of the law and the rules of procedure are followed?

We know now that the charges were trumped up and the witness was false, and so we can say now that perhaps there was some injustice done in the case of Sir Thomas More, but was it known at the time? And if it was, who knew? Did the Court know? If the Court did not know, then wasn't the judgment of the Court correct according to both Law and Procedure, and wasn't the sentence just under the law at the time?

And yes, Sir Thomas lost his head, but there is nothing to be done about that now, and besides, the Church later canonized him, so he got a kind of comeuppance -- if not exactly Justice -- in the end anyway, didn't he?

Sir Thomas wrote about Justice in his Utopia, and as we consider the differences between formalism and legalism on the one hand, and Justice on the other, we might do well to consider Sir Thomas's own thoughts on the matter.

From Utopia: [A long excerpt]

They have but few laws, and such is their constitution that they need not many. They very much condemn other nations, whose laws, together with the commentaries on them, swell up to so many volumes; for they think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws that are both of such a bulk and so dark as not to be read and understood by every one of the subjects.

They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters and to wrest the laws; and therefore they think it is much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge, as in other places the client trusts it to a counsellor. By this means they both cut off many delays, and find out truth more certainly: for after the parties have laid open the merits of the cause, without those artifices which lawyers are apt to suggest, the judge examines the whole matter, and supports the simplicity of such well-meaning persons, whom otherwise crafty men would be sure to run down: and thus they avoid those evils which appear very remarkably among all those nations that labor under a vast load of laws. Every one of them is skilled in their law, for as it is a very short study, so the plainest meaning of which words are capable is always the sense of their laws. And they argue thus: all laws are promulgated for this end, that every man may know his duty; and therefore the plainest and most obvious sense of the words is that which ought to be put upon them; since a more refined exposition cannot be easily comprehended, and would only serve to make the laws become useless to the greater part of mankind, and especially to those who need most the direction of them: for it is all one, not to make a law at all, or to couch it in such terms that without a quick apprehension, and much study, a man cannot find out the true meaning of it; since the generality of mankind are both so dull and so much employed in their several trades that they have neither the leisure nor the capacity requisite for such an inquiry.

Some of their neighbors, who are masters of their own liberties, having long ago, by the assistance of the Utopians, shaken off the yoke of tyranny, and being much taken with those virtues which they observe among them, have come to desire that they would send magistrates to govern them; some changing them every year, and others every five years. At the end of their government they bring them back to Utopia, with great expressions of honor and esteem, and carry away others to govern in their stead. In this they seem to have fallen upon a very good expedient for their own happiness and safety; for since the good or ill condition of a nation depends so much upon their magistrates, they could not have made a better choice than by pitching on men whom no advantages can bias; for wealth is of no use to them, since they must so soon go back to their own country; and they being strangers among them, are not engaged in any of their heats or animosities; and it is certain that when public judicatories are swayed, either by avarice or partial affections, there must follow a dissolution of justice, the chief sinew of society.

The Utopians call those nations that come and ask magistrates from them, neighbors; but those to whom they have been of more particular service, friends. And as all other nations are perpetually either making leagues or breaking them, they never enter into an alliance with any State. They think leagues are useless things, and believe that if the common ties of humanity do not knit men together, the faith of promises will have no great effect; and they are the more confirmed in this by what they see among the nations round about them, who are no strict observers of leagues and treaties. We know how religiously they are observed in Europe, more particularly where the Christian doctrine is received, among whom they are sacred and inviolable; which is partly owing to the justice and goodness of the princes themselves, and partly to the reverence they pay to the popes; who as they are most religious observers of their own promises, so they exhort all other princes to perform theirs; and when fainter methods do not prevail, they compel them to it by the severity of the pastoral censure, and think that it would be the most indecent thing possible if men who are particularly distinguished by the title of the "faithful" should not religiously keep the faith of their treaties. But in that newfound world, which is not more distant from us in situation than the people are in their manners and course of life, there is no trusting to leagues, even though they were made with all the pomp of the most sacred ceremonies; on the contrary, they are on this account the sooner broken, some slight pretence being found in the words of the treaties, which are purposely couched in such ambiguous terms that they can never be so strictly bound but they will always find some loophole to escape at; and thus they break both their leagues and their faith. And this is done with such impudence, that those very men who value themselves on having suggested these expedients to their princes, would with a haughty scorn declaim against such craft, or, to speak plainer, such fraud and deceit, if they found private men make use of it in their bargains, and would readily say that they deserved to be hanged.

By this means it is, that all sorts of justice passes in the world for a low-spirited and vulgar virtue, far below the dignity of royal greatness. Or at least, there are set up two sorts of justice; the one is mean, and creeps on the ground, and therefore becomes none but the lower part of mankind, and so must be kept in severely by many restraints that it may not break out beyond the bounds that are set to it. The other is the peculiar virtue of princes, which as it is more majestic than that which becomes the rabble, so takes a freer compass; and thus lawful and unlawful are only measured by pleasure and interest. These practices of the princes that lie about Utopia, who make so little account of their faith, seem to be the reasons that determine them to engage in no confederacies; perhaps they would change their mind if they lived among us; but yet though treaties were more religiously observed, they would still dislike the custom of making them; since the world has taken up a false maxim upon it, as if there were no tie of nature uniting one nation to another, only separated perhaps by a mountain or a river, and that all were born in a state of hostility, and so might lawfully do all that mischief to their neighbors against which there is no provision made by treaties; and that when treaties are made, they do not cut off the enmity, or restrain the license of preying upon each other, if by the unskilfulness of wording them there are not effectual provisos made against them. They, on the other hand, judge that no man is to be esteemed our enemy that has never injured us; and that the partnership of the human nature is instead of a league. And that kindness and good-nature unite men more effectually and with greater strength than any agreements whatsoever; since thereby the engagements of men's hearts become stronger than the bond and obligation of words.

One cannot read Sir Thomas's considerations of Justice in his Utopia without recognizing that he is condemning both Legalism and Formalism as means to achieve Justice, and that our own Founders were more than a little influenced by Sir Thomas's vision of what the Law -- and what Justice -- should be in an ideal state and society.

But still the question remains, was Justice done in the trial and execution of Sir Thomas More? If so, how? If not, why not?

Monday, February 15, 2010

On Justice

Recently, I engaged in a fairly extensive discussion with several posters over at Glenn's Place, touching on many subjects, but focusing -- at least in my mind -- on the concept of "Justice" and what it is and what it means -- and how it can be achieved in a corrupt or frankly "unjust" legal system.

A good deal of the discussion revolved around the differences between the Federal Court and Justice system versus the drumhead Military Commissions system attempted -- but not really operating -- at Guantánamo. My argument was that the military system might be more likely to produce justice in terrorism cases than the Federal courts, in part, I thought, because the military legal officers were, to my mind, showing a good deal more integrity and fealty to the concept of justice than were Federal Court officers.

My view was partly shaped by what I knew of my father's service as a JAG officer during and after WWII, and what I was able to learn of the Hayat terrorism case in Federal Court in Sacramento, California, in 2006 and 2007.

What I learned from my father was that he and most of his colleagues in the JAG Corps were devoted to Justice, not simply Law or Process. This notion of Justice above all was extraordinarily important to him, and he would rely on it in the one civilian trial he served as defense counsel for -- the murder trial of his brother, my Uncle Vincent (when my father left the military, he specialized in Real Estate Law, and except for his brother's trial, he never served as a trial counsel again.)

My father won a directed verdict of acquittal for his brother -- who had not committed the crime in any case -- something the DA knew before he went to trial. It was, bluntly, a political trial of a rival, and despite the acquittal, it was effective in destroying the political ambitions of my uncle and was a devastating blow to any ambitions toward politics and public service in that community that anyone in our family might have in the future. It put a shadow on the civilian "justice" system in that a "just" system would not have subjected my uncle to trial for a murder the DA knew he didn't commit in the first place.

But this concept of Justice seems to be a difficult one for many Legalists to approach, and few of them can accept it. Legalists are obsessed with the forms of "Justice", not its realization.

In the Hayat case in Sacramento, the investigation, prosecution, trial and eventual conviction were a farce and a tragedy and were, on their face, an example of the kinds of injustice that has become the rule in terrorism trials in federal court in this country. It was appalling through and through, corrupt, venal, deeply offensive and wrong. I advise anyone with an interest in Justice to read through the material publicly available, starting with the Frontline piece linked above, and decide for yourself whether the Hayats -- and the American People -- were the beneficiaries of Justice or its sham.

Glenn and many others have taken the position that maintaining terrorism trials in Federal Court, except under extraordinary conditions of military and battlefield necessity, is essential for the preservation of the Rule of Law and of Justice in this country. I can certainly see their point of view. I would be more inclined to accept it if the evidence showed that Justice -- as opposed to Rule -- was the focus of Federal Court terrorism trials, but that's not what we see. We see the opposite.

And under those circumstances, I argue that military justice in terrorism cases might actually be more likely to produce a just outcome than civilian trials.

And I pointed to the truly ironic outcome of the Hamdan military commission, in which the officers trying him convicted him of the charges against him -- because he had actually been Osama's driver, had actually provided "support" (by driving) to Osama (Terrorist in Chief, so they say), and there was no dispute about it, though the charges of any sort of crime involved in what he had done were and are disputable) -- and then the commission essentially ordered him released, because, at least in my view, they saw that justice would be served by releasing him, not by holding him for 30 more years or whatever, for doing something that essentially shouldn't be categorized as a "crime of war" in any case. This is how, even in a patently unjust system, such as that of the military commissions, a just result can occur.

Unfortunately, in civilian terrorism trials, the concept of Justice is too often sacrificed on the altar of Rule.

Although the discussion at Glenn's was extensive, we weren't able to get in to all the ramifications of what we were discussing, and one of the points we didn't touch on is that Justice does not necessarily mean that the accused are released or that they are encaged (as Glenn is wont to term it) indefinitely.

Glenn pointed out accurately that some 33 of the men held at Guantánamo whose habeas petitions have been heard in Federal Court have been ordered released primarily due to lack of evidence or lack of support for the evidence that they had done anything wrong, or in some cases on the basis of the outright fraudulence of the claims against them. Is this a just result? It may or may not be just, but more to the point, it is primarily rule-bound. Glenn and others it seems to me are primarily concerned with following Rules and not with Justice, and some will go so far as to equate Rule Following with Justice, something I would dispute vigorously.

The point was made repeatedly that Military Commissions are unjust from the get, something I don't really dispute. How they are set up is one aspect of them that needs correction, to say the least, and I pointed out that military officers in the JAG Corps have been the ones objecting most loudly about the purpose-built injustice of the Military Commissions, and they have gone so far as to resign and go public with their objections rather than participate in them, and in the case of Hamdan, they have used their authority -- even as limited as it may be under the Military Commissions Act -- to free someone accused and convicted who they believe was being unjustly held. In other words, even though the system was unjust on its face, they set out to achieve a Just result, and looks like they did achieve it to the extent they could.

We don't see such devotion to Justice in Federal Court. I'm sorry, we just don't. Nor do we see officers of the Federal Courts resigning in disgust or going public with their objections to the lack of Justice -- in terrorism cases especially, but not exclusively -- in Federal trials. In the Hayat case, for example, misconduct was rampant throughout the Government's conduct of the case, from investigation through prosecution, judicial misconduct was almost as bad, with the intent of securing a patently unjust outcome, not just a conviction, but an unjust outcome. That's what they wanted. That's what they got.

I say they deliberately violated Rules of Due Process to ensure the injustice they were aiming for, but an argument could be made that they were actually following the Rules, and that those Rules made the unjust result mandatory. I don't agree, but I can understand the argument.

Over and over again, Glenn and others have argued that Federal Courts are "perfectly capable" of handling terrorism cases, and they love to cite the conviction rates in terrorism cases, and the long sentences that are obtained as proof. Well, isn't that just special?

Yes, indeed, the civilian courts are capable of "handling" these matters (and many others) but are they capable of producing justice? And this is a question I raise again and again. If the outcome is unjust, why are you supporting the process that leads to such injustice?

One of the many ironies of discussions like this is that the "Giving the Devil the Benefit of the Law" scene in Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons" is often invoked to defend the Federal Court process.

Let's review the scene and then consider:

Of course, Sir Thomas is defending respect for Law as opposed to the arbitrary imposition of Authority, at the time something of a difficult needle to thread, despite the thicket of Law with which the Sceptered Isle was planted. There was, after all, still the King to consider, and his distemper.

Respect for Law is not the same as a respect for Justice -- and this scene does not touch on Justice, for that's not what this scene is about.

The following scene from the same movie touches on Justice, and I think we should consider it well:

The quote is as follows:

Sir Thomas More: You threaten like a dockside bully.
Cromwell: How should I threaten?
Sir Thomas More: Like a minister of state. With justice.
Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you're threatened with.
Sir Thomas More: Then I am not threatened.

Very brief, to be sure, but the whole scene could be said to be about Justice and its fragility, and in the case of Sir Thomas and his controversy with King Henry and his Ministers, the absence of Justice. That's in fact what the movie pivots on. It's topic -- as it were.

Consider well what is going on here.

On that note, I'd like to point out that at the same time that we were getting into it at Glenn's (who, I'm sorry, did not really participate except with his usual snark) Scott Horton was dealing with some of the same issues over at his place at Harper's.

While I've no doubt that he is generally in agreement with Glenn, vis a vis, Federal Court versus Military Commissions (as I am in the abstract, but not necessarily in practice), his approach was quite different. Rather than lash out, he provided a series of posts, starting with an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech, continuing with Ali Soufan's defense of Federal Court versus Military Commissions in the New York Times, and culminating with an interview with Michael Sandel whose recent book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? explores the topic in depth and goes well beyond the issues of this or that venue for achieving Justice.

It is a moral question, isn't it? Perhaps the ultimate moral question.

Watch Professor Sandel discuss it at Harvard on the WGBH series:

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

[Note: I would ask those who use the "Giving the Devil the Benefit of the Law" scene in "A Man for All Seasons" as justification for putting terrorism suspects in Federal Court whether they believe Justice was done in the trial of Sir Thomas More. If so, how? And if not, why not? It is the fundamental issue here. And it is, perhaps, what the theme of this whole blog has been.]

The Lesson Learned to Be Learned?

Is it deliberate?

The continuing mess being made of the Haitian Earthquake Relief effort does give rise to the question of whether the aid agencies are deliberately slowing and refusing adequate levels of aid to the people. My post yesterday about the decision by the Big Aid Agencies that the Haitians will not receive tents as temporary shelter but that at best households in Port-Au-Prince will receive one 12X18 tarp -- if they are lucky, before the rainy season arrives -- just adds to the overall despair at the continuing nightmare there. Of course many of the decisions the Bigs have been making during the catastrophe and the aftermath, from the restrictions on food and water aid to the precipitous removal of rescue teams, to the overweening interest in "security" above all, point to policy decisions that should give us all pause.

As I said in an earlier post, "We are all Haitians now." If these things are not deliberate policy decisions but are merely accidents attributable to the scale and scope of the disaster, then we have another realization staring us in the face:

No government or agency or coalition or consortium of them anywhere in the world is even remotely prepared for or capable of handling emergency response and continuing aid on behalf of survivors of a serious mass-casualty disaster of any kind. They simply can't do it.

It's not, apparently, for lack of will on the part of individuals, either. It seems to be a massive and global institutional failure -- or collective decision to fail -- that cannot be addressed solely by individuals attempting to do their best under the circumstances.

In the case of Haiti, for example, there is an abundance of aid supplies but there has been a deliberate withholding of distribution, with every imaginable excuse offered, from the lack of cleared roads (though the Native survivors were able to get around pretty well, despite conditions) to the supposed lack of security. The Haitians organized themselves into survivor communities, chose their own community leaders and spokespeople, and the aid agencies refused to speak with them, refused to coordinate with them, and refused to deliver aid supplies to these communities. That had to have been a policy decision at the top of the aid agency hierarchy, and one can see why it might occur, even in the face of such grotesque suffering, because of the overriding desire to legitimate and prop up the nearly non-existent and non-functional Preval government through which the World Community (such as it is) has decided to work, a government installed by force on the Haitian people by that same World Community when the popular leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown -- again -- by the Bush White House. Thus, even if thousands or hundreds of thousands, or ultimately millions of Haitians suffer needlessly, at least the tottering (and imposed) "government" has been propped up, and that's the important thing.

Apparently it's the most important thing, the only truly important thing.

And the question is, how much longer will the People endure this radicalism at the top?

From appearances, it's gonna be a lot longer.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

OUTRAGE DU JOUR® -- No Tents for Haiti

Good God in Heaven, what is the matter with these people?

Today it is being widely reported that Haitian Relief Agencies have decided that the hundreds of thousands of homeless households in Haiti following the earthquake shall not receive tents as temporary shelter. No, instead, if they are lucky, each displaced household will receive one, count it, one tarp. If they are lucky.

Many of the aid agencies, especially the big ones, have made a mockery of the very idea of disaster assistance with their near total failure to provide any such thing to survivors of the Haitian earthquake that took place over a month ago now. They may have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for relief, but they are so terribly frightened of the Negroes and all of their VooDoo and whatnot, and they are so incapable of even speaking with the Natives to coordinate aid deliveries, and they are so fretful of "security", that hundreds of thousands of Haitians have received nothing at all from the stores and stockpiles of relief supplies piled up (and probably rotting) at the Port-Au-Prince airport, and many never will receive anything at the rate things are going.

Now, word goes out that the survivors are not to receive tents as a matter of policy.

Why, you may ask?

Well, of course, "they're too big, too costly, and too inefficient, aid groups say." Isn't that special. Silly me. I should have known. "Besides, they are bulky and don't last long enough to justify their cost, the aid community has decided." Thank goodness they are thinking these things through.

Food is perishable. Water gets spilled. Health care is expensive.

Why do anything? It's inconvenient anyway. Why not just let the Haitians take care of their own selves?

But never fear:

"-By May 1, one plastic tarp will be given to each of about 250,000 displaced families." So there's that.

And then?

"-Transitional shelters of 18 square meters (194 square feet), with corrugated iron roofs, will then be built. They will have earthquake-and storm-resistant frames of timber or steel and are supposed to last for three years."


How bout a fucking tent in the meantime? And maybe some food. How about some water? Hay, maybe even some medical care? Ya think?

Jeebus Cripes on a Ritz this makes me mad.

What the hell is wrong with these people?

On Political Dialogue, the Primacy of Media Criticism, and Blogospheric Indifference to Alternative Media; an Essay

Is political dialogue and political thinking in this country hamstrung by a mass media that is completely owned and beholden to a narrow-interest corporate class?

Is the American public education system likewise hamstrung and beholden?

Are the People simply set on a path they cannot recognize, cannot control, and cannot change?

That certainly seems to be the case.

Part of the frustration with the Blogosphere, of course, is that the O'Sphere is as reliant on the drivel out of the mass media (and the educational establishment) as any red-blooded 'Murken. The Lefty Blogosphere relies on a slightly different set of media personalities and outlets to provide its fodder than the Righty Blogosphere ususally does, but it all comes from the same Puke Funnel, the Narrative Host, and it all leads back to the same place: The Corporate Front (or Back, as the case may be) Office.

For years, I've been saying, "You know there is an alternative. There really is. It really exists. It's out there. Available. More accessible than ever. Try it." So as not to scare the animals and the children, I point to such (usually) inoffensive fare as "Democracy Now!" as an example of the alternative -- they do some content on their own, and rely on the Corporate Media for some -- but it's often like banging on a brick wall of indifference.

No, the O'Sphere -- which can sometimes be alternative investigative media itself, and not just a critique and complaint desk -- has developed a very rigid business model, if you will, that relies heavily on the traffic generated by Media Criticism. On the Lefter side of the Sphere, certain Corporate Media personalities are subjected to a relentless rain of Blogospheric rotten apples, certain other personalities are routinely "loved," but they are all within the framework of Corporate Media, with little or no recognition that anything outside it exists, and typically with a very firm refusal to look outside the narrow-cast of the Corporate realm.

That's how the Business of the Blogosphere works, you see. There is no alternative model.

And it's interesting because it has been this way for almost as long as there has been a Blogosphere, and nothing at all has been able to shake the model, though the individual outlets might come and go. As do the targets of Lefty Blogospheric ire.

Well, except for Chris Matthews and Richard Cohen, two who have remained the mainstays of lefty media criticism since God was a Boy.

It's hard to imagine the Lefty Blogosphere having anything to say about much of anything once Matthews and Cohen shuffle off this mortal coil. It almost all came a cropper when Tim Russert died. He had come to rival Matthews for the Personality Most Worthy of Blogospheric Contempt Award, but he could never quite match the sheer lunacy of the Matthews love/hate relationship with the Left O'Sphere. You couldn't really have a relationship with Russert, whereas Matthews was and is the punk you love to slap around, a cartoon character right out of Warner Brothers.

The response on the so-called Left to Russert's passing was remarkable, too. Paeans of praise and hosannas for his work. General keening and rending of garments. Many claiming that they "Loved That Man!" What? When only the week before, he'd been denounced and eviscerated yet again for another of his worshipful interviews with someone rich and powerful? Well, yes. He was a meal ticket.

For years, the only readers Richard Cohen, a certified crank, had at the Washington Post were those who followed the links from Duncan Black's latest denunciation of him. Denouncing Cohen was an Atrios specialty, since no one else on earth had read him or would read his column. He was a non-entity in MediaLand, but Duncan practically revived his career singlehandedly.

For a time, Joe Klein was subjected to the same sort of denunciation/reverence Blogospheric Treatment, and his career seemed to get a boost as well. So did the blog-hits.

And yet whenever the symbiosis (or is it mutual parasitism?) involved here is pointed to, the denials and further denunciations fly thick and fast on all sides.

And through it all, the alternative media is almost completely ignored. Paying attention to it is not a money-maker, whereas the latest chapter of the Endless Tweety Take Down is always good for dinner and drinks at least and may, if done right and continued long enough, get baby a new car.

It is that craven.

But then, when you've got to pay the freight, and blogging is what you do, you do what will make money. You're usually an individual and an entrepreneur, albeit with low start-up and overhead costs, yay -- but maintenance can be crippling, and getting that townhouse or bungalow you've had your eye on is gonna take practically pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The Market wants -- and will buy -- a certain narrow range of product. It's best, always, to offer what the Market will buy, if you want to make money. Simple. And if you're a clever dick, you'll figure out a way to expand the market -- but not too fast, and not too much -- so as to create a unique niche and comfortable nest for yourself, and hope that no one bigger than you tries to move in. Except for scale, this is different than the Corporate Model how? No wonder there's a symbiosis.

Media criticism is perhaps the surest way to blogospheric notice and eventual (well, potential) sustenance, though it generally won't lead to riches. Media criticism is a foundational mainstay of the O'Sphere. It's impossible to imagine the Blogosphere without a heavy and continuous dose of Corporate Media Criticism. It's impossible to imagine the Lefty Blogosphere without continuous brickbats (and occasional hugs) for Tweety Matthews, either.

And yet the irony is that the Corporate Media is in steep decline (partly but not solely because of the Blogospheric competition for viewers and readers). What will the Blogosphere do when the Corporate Media is reduced so much that, say, there's only FOX "News" and a couple of Murdoch papers left on the national scene?

And whole thing had devolved to continuous insanity?

Is that when the Alternative Media will come into its own?

Let us pray.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Leave Social Security Aloooonnne!!!

Digby goes into one of her periodic rants about the looting of Social Security in the name of Deficit Reduction, actually praising Larry Summers (Larry Summers??!! God Damn, Digs) for "defending" the program against the sadists who would destroy it.

Will this ridiculousness never end? Larry Summers will be right there in the vanguard dismantling Social Security with Pete Peterson and His Serenity Barack Obama when the moment is right. Make no mistake. Of course. It's become one of the administration's goals as plain as day.

Medicare and Social Security are on the chopping block. Even more so than they were when the Busheviks went after them.

That's not the strange thing. What's strange is that there is not a peep of countervailing pressure from any quarter at all, certainly not from the so-called "left."

No, the best that anyone can come up with -- and Digby has been one of the most outspoken, while Josh Marshall (who was so determined to prevent the Busheviks from privatizing Social Security back in the day) has been completely silent -- is "Leave Social Security alone. Please. If you would. Thanks."

Not gonna work. No, it concedes the field before the game is played. It's very much like the general Democratic Party response to any initiative from the raving wingnuts. Grouse, then go along.

Keep things as they are, preserve the status quo, and if they can't do that, then mitigate some of the worst aspects of the wingnut plan around the edges. That's it.

There is no vision from the "left" of anything better than we have now, let alone better than the wingnuts are offering. No vision at all.

Where is the countering Vision?

Look at the situation right now. Tens of millions of Americans are out of work, and many of them are never going back to a job again. Many young people will never be employed at all if something isn't done, and not only is nothing being done, nothing is planned on to ensure something close to full employment in this country ever again.

An era has ended, and nothing at all except making it worse, "sadistically" as is suggested in the Digby piece linked above, is even under discussion.

Why is that?

Let's allow as how the economy is being structurally reorganized, fundamentally changed, and then let's think about how Social Security and a number of other programs -- that either exist or should exist -- should be integrated into that changed economic reality.

If we accept the notion that many of those who are unemployed now will never return to work, or in the case of the young, may never be employed at all, how might Social Security enter the picture? For one thing, imagine this:

    Retirement age lowered to 55 and lowest tier SS payments raised -- at least doubled and potentially tripled.

    The benefit is that older workers are enabled to leave the labor market -- if they choose -- potentially opening jobs for younger workers.

    Medicare eligibility lowered to 55 for retirees, Medicare buy in available to everyone who wants it at any age, pegged to the lowest private health care insurance premium.

    The benefit is that potentially everyone is covered for health care expenses, and essentially everyone is contributing to the system, and neither health care nor contributions would be tied to employment (which, as we know, is not coming back for many).

The Pete Petersons of the world have told us, in essence, that they refuse to allow their taxes to be raised even a penny to make good on the Treasury Bonds that stand in for the Social Security Trust Fund. In other words, they will let those bonds go into default before they will allow their taxes to be raised, and the only solution to the dilemma they will countenance is the reduction in benefits for Social Security recipients, together with the reduction in Medicare benefits, together with increasing (rather than lowering) the retirement age, all in preparation for the eventual complete privatization of both programs.

That's it. That's all they will discuss.

And the whole Palace Establishment (including the White House) is right there with them.

And there is no widely recognized alternative, anywhere. No, the "alternative" is to leave things alone.

Well, I say it is time for confiscatory taxation of the Petersons and their ilk, and for lowering the retirement age and for raising SS benefits, and for extending Medicare for All, and not backing down on any of it.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"What He Shoulda Did Was..."

So. As far as we know, His Serenity has devoted the remainder of his regime to dealing with obstructionist Republicans, bringing them along as it were, and to making his owners happy. The rest of us figure not so much in national affairs. No, to be more accurate, the rest of us figure not at all.

At best we are annoyances. At worst, our man Rahm comes up with outbursts like, "Fucking retards." Well. The feeling, I'm sure, is mutual, as the White House's plunging polls indicate.

It didn't have to be this way. There was so much Hope for Change.

If there had been an honest effort to deal with the household debt problem in the United States, for example, instead of devoting almost all the economic efforts to serving the interests of those at the top of the economic pyramid, then some of the animosity that's built up over the Health Care issue might have dissipated or not emerged at all.

The Obama economic policies have been eerie mirrors of Hoover's at the beginning of the Great Depression, with -- not surprisingly -- similar results. Gee, how does that work? Household debt problem is enormously greater for many Americans because the costs for all the top-loaded bailouts and whatnot are falling on the middle classes and the poor, and they're breaking under the strain with record numbers of bankruptcies and foreclosures, none of which does a damned thing to raise the country out of the recession but simply digs the hole deeper.

And no matter what, the Economic Brain Trust around Obama will not even consider doing anything about it. It goes against their ideology, and they can't conceive of doing anything to directly help the lower orders beyond what is being done: extending unemployment insurance somewhat. If you can qualify to begin with and continue to qualify for extensions. Good luck.

These same people will not do anything substantive to reduce unemployment. They will not put into place any kind of public sector jobs program that addresses the absence of employment in the private sector; they will not do anything to prop up wages or benefits.

Well, Hoover wouldn't either. It was against his ideology, and he couldn't do it.

I'm reminded of the contrast between the current administration's point of view and that of the Roosevelt administration in the midst of World War II, when during Roosevelt's last election campaign -- when he was physically ill, and when he surely didn't need any more accolades on his legacy -- he offered a startling proposal, almost inconceivable to the modern Ruling Class:

He called it The Second Bill of Rights and it grew out of his famous Four Freedoms framework enunciated on January 6, 1941.

To review the Four Freedoms:

The Second Bill of Rights built on the notion that the political rights guaranteed in the Constitution "proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness," particularly with regard to economic freedom, and freedom from want.

What he proposed was a means toward a political solution to the question of want.

The Economic Bill of Rights would guarantee to Americans:

  • A job at a living wage

  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies for farmers and businessmen

  • A home

  • Medical Care and good health

  • Social Security and protection from economic uncertainty

  • Education

    Obviously, the man was a Damned Dirty Communist.

    In fact, the proposition he was making in 1944 was relatively mainstream, growing out of ideals that had been developing in the United States since the latter 19th Century. At the time, what he was proposing was not radical at all, especially given the fact that the nation was at -- or actually exceeding -- "full employment" with most of the men off at war and the women hard at work in industry or services; most everybody was housed -- however inadequately, and there was a severe housing shortage that caused a lot of households to double up; free public education through up to high school was universal, and in some areas, college education was also tuition free.

    Yet looking at these propositions today, they seem almost impossible to imagine, even as the nation's people spiral ever farther into destitution while the handful of UberWealthy dance their jigs and have their hirelings count their bags of money.

    Joblessness in this country is at levels we haven't seen in this country since the Great Depression, so the first "right" of Roosevelt's five Economic Rights, if implemented today, would have an immediate impact on the public's perception of well-being. Remember, Roosevelt was making his proposal at a time of full employment. Imagine if he had made it in 1933 instead of 1944.

    Strict regulation on business, monopolies, and war profiteering were in place in 1944, something almost unheard of now, and these regulations were enforced, a strange concept to us moderns. So the exploitation of farmers and small business people for the benefit of a few was far more difficult then than now, and Roosevelt's proposal to protect farmers and small business people was merely common sense.

    Absence of adequate housing in America had long been a crisis, solutions explored every conceivable way from the end of the 19th Century until well after World War II. During the War, the housing crisis became acute. Having a decent home -- or just the promise of a home -- was seen as a major advance for Americans. The post-World War II building boom would start to deal with the pent up demand, but there would continue to be terrible rural housing conditions (as there still are for many farm workers) and many urban dwellers as well. The massive numbers of foreclosures experienced for the last several years have forced millions of Americans out of their own homes, and there has been no adequate follow up to determine what has happened to them. Americans need a decent housing policy once again.

    We're still wrestling with the notion that Americans have a right to medical care and good health, a cage match which seems to be unresolvable, but which is swiftly draining the United States of whatever public wealth that hasn't already been stolen by the Oligarchs and Plutocrats.

    Social Security is under direct threat by every one of the Powers That Be. We may well see it extinguished in our lifetimes.

    Access to public education in the United States was still not fully available in 1944, though in most regions it was theoretically guaranteed/required through 9th or 10th grade. The major problem, of course, was segregation, which was practiced almost as widely outside the South as it was in the South. It would be another decade before segregated schools were outlawed, and more than another decade after that before public schools were actually desegregated -- which was countered by an expansion of private (and essentially segregated) schools for whites, and the defunding and deterioration of public education in general.

    Higher education is becoming more and more difficult for average Americans to obtain, and K-12 public education has been deteriorating for years, so much so that the United States has one of the lowest functional literacy rates in the developed world. How did this reversal come about? It was, in my estimation, deliberate policy implemented during and after the Reagan administration to ensure that Americans would never again be educated sufficiently in public schools to attempt the kind of student revolts that characterized the 1960's, and to ensure that those educated in private schools were conditioned to acceed to the needs and interest of the Ruling Class. It is astonishing to review the issues that drove so much of the student revolts of the '60's and realize that at root, it was anti-corporate, rejecting and resisting the notion that university students were being "manufactured" as "products" to be "sold" to corporate interests. Today, university students more or less celebrate their future as corporate tools.

    We need a new public education policy.

    Finally, Roosevelt's proposal of an Economic Bill of Rights was a matter of security -- something that today is limited to "Homeland" Security, ie: the perception of being "secure" from attack by terrorists.

    How far we have fallen.

    And how very much farther we still have to go.

    FDR Fireside Chat, January 11, 1944: