Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Whatever Shall We Do About The Unemployment Problem?

Oh. Have you noticed? The issue du jour is the persistent unemployment abroad in the land, indeed, abroad abroad as well (it is one of the chronic issues driving protests in Europe and North Africa). The Rs have a Solution: cut taxes on business and corporations and the rich and remove regulations that protect air, water, and lives of workers as well as requiring employers to pay a bare minimum wage to their workers. Oh, and require them to actually pay it, too.

Both Robert Reich and Paul Krugman have come out full-bore on the topic and the blogosphere is all atwitter over it, so it must be important somehow.

Now they notice.

You know, I've been banging the drum on this topic for years, since the Endless Recession got underway in earnest with massive job losses. Forcing unemployment and keeping unemployment rates high is what it's all about for the Ruling Class. The current situation for the struggling masses -- now entering its fourth year -- is not accidental. The lovely thing for the High and the Mighty is that high unemployment rates force down wages and benefits for those who can manage to get a job or stay employed. It's a wonderful profit center for those on top of the heap, and they know it.

Commentators, though, either have ignored the problem (because they have other interests) or have been sorely confused about why the Government (let alone Industry) does nothing about the persistently high unemployment rate and squabbles over the high cost of unemployment benefits instead. This is frankly insane, but it is so confusing to the nation's commentariat.

Shouldn't the Government be doing something? Shouldn't they have been doing something all along? Why haven't they?

I attribute it to a deep-seated Hooverite belief system and ideology implanted in the White House and especially in the beliefs of the President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama.

You might want to take a look at this commentary by Jared Bernstein regarding the White House's continuing lack of interest in doing something about unemployment:

There will be no WPA-type programs in our near future. There was no appetite for them in the Obama admin in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and there’s a lot less now. The reasons for that are interesting and I’ll speak to them another day. But it ain’t happening.

And please don’t accuse me of “negotiating with myself” here. I stressed above the importance of making those arguments, and I frequently made them myself as a member of the President’s economics team.

It’s also congenitally hard for politicians to get behind “a serious program of mortgage modification.” Those who advocate for this (the NYT editorial page, e.g.) are right, but they’re also downplaying a very binding constraint. The politics of this idea are deeply wound up in moral hazard. People forget, but it was precisely this action—giving mortgage relief to someone at risk of default and not to someone who was struggling to keep up their payments—that birthed the Tea Party.

This is a straight out statement by Joe Biden's former chief economic advisor about what was going on in the White House and -- apparently -- in the President's mind about these matters.

He simply does not believe that the Government's role should be to interfere in the labor market by directly employing the vast armies of the unemployed. Instead, like Hoover, he believes (I think sincerely) that the issue of lack of employment must be dealt with in the private sector -- with the encouragement and "help" of Government where necessary -- but without direct Government intervention on behalf of labor.

At the same time, I've been hammering the issue of the crushing burden of debt the masses are under for years, debt which is crippling the economic recovery for ordinary people, and I proposed long ago that the answer to it was a debt relief program that was driven from the bottom up -- instead of paying off bankers' and financiers' gambling debts straightaway (which is what the Government has been doing) pay households an amount to lower their debt, and watch the economy recover immediately. The banksters will get their cut anon, for the money would "trickle up" (and BTW multiply on the way up), but no. Couldn't even consider it. "Moral hazard" and all that, you know.

Whereas paying off the banksters' gambling debts straight out of the Treasury has no "moral hazard?" I see. Then there was the Rick Santelli rant on the teevee, and that just made everything hard.

Yes. Well.

It's all such a load of utter horseshit, isn't it?

It's probably not too late to correct this situation, but it will require concerted and persistent action on the part of the People to get it done.

The Krugman and Reich considerations (and in the case of Krugman, the mea culpa) are coming out at a time when Democrats are recognizing that they "should be talking more about" unemployment more than they have been. So they're "talking about it more."

They are not doing anything about it, any more than the Rs are, and any more than they have been since the beginning of the Endless Recession.

"Doing something about unemployment" is contrary to Ruling Class Doctrine as is relieving the debts of the Lesser People. Doctrine requires those Lesser People to endure untold hardship so as to ensure the comfort and convenience of Their Betters.

So. What can We the People do about it, since our rulers refuse to do anything of substance for the masses, but instead insist on chipping away at whatever slim benefits remain to the unwashed?

How do we who have nothing put people back to work and keep them working? And if we can figure out how to do it, how do we prevent the benefits from increased economic activity from being Hoovered up by the Overclass?

The key, certainly, is to start small, start locally, combine skills and resources to accomplish what needs to be done. Basically what you do is form a cooperative alternative to government and its sponsors to provide for the needs of the People. Ultimately, it becomes a kind of parallel government and economy, and if it is successful, it will in time replace them.

Every Utopian project in the nation's history has started this way and some have flourished at least for a while, and the Mormons have become an extremely powerful political and economic player in local, state and national affairs.

There is a reason why. And it is not necessarily because of Divine Favor.

It wouldn't hurt to study how they did it... And Demand Better!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Whatever Shall We Do About the Medicare Problem?

"Oh dear, oh dear, whatever shall we do?"

Sounds just like Miss Katie Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind," doesn't it? "Rhett! Rhett! Where shall I go? What shall I do?"

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!"

Yes. Well. The Medicare issue has dominated Beltway conversation since that nasty little scamp from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, introduced his Bold And Courageous Republican Budget which eliminated Medicare (as we know it) and the House voted to approve it.

Well. Whatever shall we do now?

The House has voted to eliminate Medicare (as we know it.) Thus, Medicare (as we know it) must be eliminated. Eventually.

The public doesn't seem to be much gratified or amused by this change of affairs, but then, the South didn't much like their defeat either. Didn't like any of their defeats.

The public be damned. Especially the old, the halt, and the lame. They take up too much space and demand too many benefits anyway. Be done with them. To the precipice with them! They don't need Medicare, and even if they did, it costs too much. We can't afford it. Too bad if they can't pick up the short fall on their own. They should have saved for their Old Age in the first place! Not our problem if they didn't.

This harsh "reality" has become an article of faith among our Ruling Class, their sycophants, their retainers and their courtiers.

Like most articles of faith, it's based on mythologies, bullshit and lies. But countering it has proved impossible so far. The Ruling Class has adopted it as Unshakable Doctrine, and those who will be taken to the Precipice and thrown off for their failure to prepare properly for a future they could not foresee are voiceless in the matter.

Those who would oppose the Ruling Class Doctrine on this topic -- as on so many others -- start from Ruling Class premise. The premise is that it costs too damn much to provide medical care to the Old, the Halt, and the Lame, and the answer is to make them pay for their own damn medical care -- or to go without.

The "opposition" says, "Well, maybe it does cost too much, but we are a generous people, so we should maintain the status quo, don't you think, and tweak the costs downward bit by bitty bit, or at least not allow them to skyrocket out of control forever. Yes?"

Of course, the response of the Ruling Class, is, "No, you sorry excuse for a twit. If you agree that it costs too much for Government to pay for the medical expenses of the Old, Halt, and Lame -- as you just did -- the correct answer is not to 'tweak' any damn thing. The answer is plain as day: Make the Old, the Halt and the Lame pay their own damn medical costs; tough shit, losers, if they can't afford it."

The "opposition" wrings its hankie, not so much like Miss Scarlett but more like Miss Melly, and responds, "Oh, dear no!"

And around and around it goes.

What is the dénouement?

Of course, the Ruling Class gets its way and that nasty little bugger, Paul Ryan, is hailed the Hero by the Ruling Class for boldly going where no one dared go before and "telling it like it is" for the rest of us poor fools.

That's the cruel direction all this is going.

If we Demand Better, however, we can begin to move things in a different direction. It will not be easy, and it does mean actually sticking to it and not immediately yielding to the pressure and demands of the Ruling Class. Our Political Class is not used to that, so they will resist any calls Demanding Better, and they will typically ignore the People's outcry.

But shifting the parameters of the dialogue on Medicare -- and so much else in our lives -- must occur if we are ever regain our future.

First, recognize that these Cries of Doom for Medicare have been routine among the rabidly reactionary pretty much since the inauguration of the program all those long years ago. Not only is the Program Doomed, it costs too much.

Digby helpfully linked to the Health Beat Litany of Medicare Doom the other day, and it is worth reviewing:

You may have seen the headline: “DIRE FORECAST SPARKS NEW MEDICARE DEBATE TRUSTEES' REPORT USED AS FODDER FOR POLITICAL SALVOS BY BOTH SIDES,” but the date may come as a surprise: June 6, 1996.

At the time, the Chicago Tribune warned its readers: “Medicare trustees reported Wednesday that the program's financial outlook is getting worse, touching off a new round of debate over the future of the federal health insurance system for the elderly and disabled. According to the trustees, who give the program a fiscal checkup every year, the fund that pays Medicare hospital bills dipped into the red last year and will go broke in early 2001. That's a year earlier than they predicted in 1995.”

Sound familiar? How about these warnings:

Chicago Tribune July 2, 1969: “The Medicare hospital trust fund faces bankruptcy by 1976 and taxes must either be raised or benefits reduced the senate finance committee was told today.”

Washington Post, April 1, 1986: “The Medicare hospital insurance program faces bankruptcy by 1996, two years earlier than projected last year.”

New York Times, January 20, 1985: In the last few years, when it appeared that the Medicare trust fund would run out of money in 1987-89... But the need seemed less urgent after the Congressional Budget Office issued new estimates last September indicating that the Medicare trust fund would not go bankrupt until 1994.

(Hat tip to Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn who culled eighteen stories from the Tribune, the Washington Post and the New York Times over a period of four decades, each predicting that the Medicare Hospital Insurance Fund was teetering on the brink of disaster.)

But of course Medicare didn’t “run out of money” in 1994, and it won’t go belly-up now, in large part thanks to health care reform legislation. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Affordable Care Act (ACA) raises and saves over $950 billion. (Below, I spell out how the legislation generates those dollars). In the process, as the Medicare Trustees’ Report 2011 points out, the ACA reduces Medicare spending “by 25 percent”—without cutting health benefits, or shifting costs to seniors.

More changes will be needed, but Zorn is relatively optimistic. After citing the many times we have been told that Medicare is careening toward bankruptcy, he recalls the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Zorn acknowledges that “just because officials and politicians have been predicting Medicare's imminent bankruptcy for more than 40 years doesn't mean that one day they won't be right, but, more likely,” he suggests, “we will turn the knobs and twiddle the dials in order to keep the overwhelmingly popular program solvent, but not so solvent that, between five and 12 years from now, another set of politicians won't grimly inform us that it's going under in between five and 12 years.”

Exaggerating the Size of the Problem

Wait a minute: in the last week both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have warned that in 2024 the Medicare fund that pays hospital bills will be “exhausted.” I checked my dictionary—just to be sure—and it confirmed that when “exhausted” is used in a financial context, it means “to use up or consume completely; expend the whole of: He exhausted a fortune in stock-market speculation.”
If this is so, how can we possibly fix the problem by “twiddling a few dials”?

We couldn’t. But the truth is that the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and most of the mainstream media have been, well, exaggerating—telling a tale that the Tribune rightly calls “A shaggy wolf story that’s getting a little long in the tooth.”

So in other words, the Medicare Doom Scare is of a very early early date, as is the constant "costs too much" cry.

The irony is that Medicare is the most cost-efficient element of our overall healthcare picture. But then the little punks like Ryan and his devotees within the Beltway know that full well -- and that's what they hate about it.

There are not enough profits for the providers, you see. And rather than having Government -- ie: the People as a whole -- pick up the tab for profit shortfalls (as is the case with Obamacare for the non-elderly multitudes) the Ryan plan is to make the Old and the Halt and the Lame pay for it directly out of their pockets by forcing them to purchase unaffordable (and quite likely unavailable) private insurance coverage, and forcing them to pay any difference between the cost of private insurance and the "premium support" they receive in lieu of Medicare (which, BTW, is not nearly as generous to patients as it is made out to be).

Genius! Once they get that enacted, they then transform Obamacare the same way.

Everybody in the Palace is happy. Never mind if the rabble protests -- or can't pay. That, as we know, is their problem~! Suckers!

Medicare has lots of problems -- as anyone who's dealt with it knows. For patients, it's not -- at all -- comprehensive coverage for their medical needs. Medicare premiums are quite high compared to Social Security benefits from which they are deducted, given the fact that most recipients have been paying for it all their working lives through payroll deductions, and there seems to be a level of fraud in the program that would be mindboggling if it weren't for the fact that providers often feel they have to double bill or keep billing for services and equipment not received or vastly inflate their costs in order to "break even" given Medicare's legendary stinginess.

Still, it's better than nothing. And for the most part, it is far more efficient for everyone involved, and far less costly administratively, than any private health insurance.

So, punks like Ryan, just like his many predecessors listed above, set out to get rid of it. It's what they do.

What we all need and should be demanding is comprehensive health care access and coverage at an affordable cost. For everyone.

We get there by adapting Medicare to the needs of All the People.

In other words, the status quo isn't good enough. We Demand Better!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

And Americans Are OK With This?

The 22 Statistics Proving the Extermination of the Middle Class

(Note: From 2010; it's worse now)

•83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
•61 percent of Americans "always or usually"live paycheck to paycheck,which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
•66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
•36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.
•A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
•24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
•Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009,which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
•Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
•For the first time in U.S. history,banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
•In 1950,the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000,that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
•As of 2007,the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
•The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
•Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
•In the United States,the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
•The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
•In America today,the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
•More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs,which are often very low paying.
•or the first time in U.S. history,more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps,and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
•This is what American workers now must compete against:in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
•Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 –the highest rate in 20 years.
•Despite the financial crisis,the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
•The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.

All hail Brian Rogers making a go of it nevertheless up north in NM.

The Expanding Surveillance State


After the PATRIOT Act is extended for Four More Years, the always obliging New York Times runs a lengthy article on what the surveillance provisions of the Act mean in real life, as opposed to the fictive "meanings" developed through 24 hour cable teevee news fantasies and FOX Entertainment.

Real People get caught up in the domestic surveillance nets, and Scott Crow of Austin, TX is one of them.

AUSTIN, Tex. — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Yes. Well.

Obviously terrorists. And it's not just Austin Anarchists like Crow.

It's like the Grannies for Peace surveilled and reported upon to Military Intelligence when they protested the Various Wars at the California State Capitol. Peace activists of any kind anywhere they congregate and plot and plan their next sign-carrying demonstration calling for an End to This or That Imperialist War of Aggression are always considered "threats" to the State. And sometimes they are met with considerable official violence and repression.

It's like anyone who protests Authority. Protests the ever more institutionalized Autocracy. Protests Corporate Greed, Media Lies, Public/Private Propaganda Partnerships, you name it.

All fall under the "counterterrorism" investigation rubric, as they have done for many a long year now, and the Times bethinks itself, now that the Authority to Surveille has been extended by act of our Representatives in Congress Assembled and the President via Auto-Pen Overseas, to tell its readers some of the story of what this particular Authority has led to.

Of course the Times, as it so often is, is late to the Party. These incidents of excessive zeal to surveille have been documented and discussed in alternative media for a decade or more, and its precursors were, of course, characteristic of the Cold War and the McCarthy Era and many other periods of the US Government's abrogation of personal privacy rights to gain information that can be used against targeted suspects -- and not necessarily in court, either.

From time to time, as a Federal employee, I was involved in aspects of civilian surveillance, and I have some idea of the mindset that goes with it. Put simply, it's wildly out of whack, but those who do the surveillance or those who order it really have no conception of how bedrock batshit their quest tends to be. It truly does not occur to them.

For the starting assumption is that the target(s) MUST have come under scrutiny for "some reason", even though there may be no violation of law or custom. The point is not (always) to find a chargeable offense. Not at all. The point is to gather as much useful intelligence about the target(s) so as to have it available should the need arise.

The question is who determines "need." More and more clearly, "need" is determined by political considerations -- and agency statistical goals. Political considerations include the whole "anti-terrorist" thrust and obsessive purpose of the Government, much as, during the Cold War, the Government was obsessively anti-Communist and targeted and surveilled all kinds of people who were suspected of Communist ties or sympathies or... something.

It goes beyond that because agencies and individual personnel are expected and required to meet certain statistical goals based on previous performance and/or newly minted objectives. Political considerations combined with statistical requirements inevitably produce the kinds of off kilter surveillance activities documented in today's NYT and long a feature of alternative media.

And it is justified, always justified, by those involved, who typically do not and cannot see anything wrong (at all) with what they are doing.

Of course, it can lead to tragic consequences for those who are targeted, even when that is not -- at all -- the intention of those who have ordered or are doing the surveillance.

Once these episodes get started, they continue by inertia as much as anything else, which is one reason why representatives and the public (let alone the Sponsors) should be very careful about what they task Government to do.

A really stark and bloody consequence of not thinking through the consequences of tasking Government to do this or that is the ongoing, seemingly endless, series of Imperial Wars of Aggression that arise as a function of the AUMF of 2001 and subsequently. No, you say? The endless wars of aggression against peoples and nations of the Muslim persuasion was NOT what the AUMF was intended to instigate?

Buzzzzt. Wrong.

Just so, the PATRIOT Act sets up a whole system of -- and virtually a requirement for -- the ongoing targeting and surveilling of potential threats. Not just dirty, filthy, stinky Ragheads. Oh no. Anyone who could represent a threat -- of any kind -- to the State (and its Sponsors.)

Thus, of course, Anarchists and Peace Activists are caught up in it, just like Civil Rights Workers and Peace Activists were caught up in the surveillance nets of the past.

Because these targets want to change the dynamic of rule in this country, they are by definition potential "threats," and by the lights of the agencies involved and the directives they are operating under, they must be surveilled.

"But they are doing nothing wrong."

So? It doesn't matter. Well, it does in the sense that the surveillance will rarely lead to charges or any other legal consequence for those targeted. That's not the point of the surveillance in most cases. The point of the surveillance is to have "intelligence" available should the "need" (remember, the "need" is determined by political considerations and internal statistical requirements) arise.

If there comes a political "need" for sacrificial lambs, you bet, into the maw some of these targets go. Too bad, so sad, bye bye now. It is that coldblooded and that rude. Watch how your military behaves in the field when identifying and targeting -- and from time to time liquidating -- "insurgents." It ain't pretty. Well, that's how your Federal Government and its agents regard you. And, with some adjustments, that's how they will treat you if the "need" arises.

They are just as coldblooded, rude and -- very often -- wrong.

But by and large, that is a consequence of how they are tasked and expected -- and required -- to perform, just like the military. If We the People don't like it, we are the ones who have to do something about it, and it is never easy.

As I said, once these things get under way, they continue by inertia as much as anything else, and if the brakes aren't working, as they aren't in our hollowed out Republic, they snowball.

And what are we supposed to do when the brakes aren't working?

Telling the story after the fact, like the Times is doing, does not provide any means to prevent what's already occurred and is occurring. Any effort to stop the excesses of the Surveillance State has to come from elsewhere than stories like this. As I say, these sorts of things have been reported in alternative media for years and years and years. They never cease to OUTRAGE!!!™ a certain ilk, but their OUTRAGE!!!™ quickly enough becomes "poutrage" -- because it is completely impotent against the Authority of the State to do these sorts of things.

There is no brake on this juggernaut. At least the Busheviks would say, "Trust us; we'll drive responsibly." If you believe that, you'll believe anything.

So what do you do?

You can try the meatgrinder of process, ie: going through the endless routines of elections and Congress and the Courts that really don't get you anywhere -- at least not for decades. And even if you do win -- eventually -- the process always leads to reversion, we're back where we started, and like Sisyphus, we have to start all over again.

Some people have been trying something else, though, and it seems to be at least partially effective:

You... to put it delicately... fuck with your surveillance operators. You surveille them for example, if you can find them. You produce bogus trails for them to follow. You create outrageous scenes that bollox their supposed lines of investigations. Yes, it's work, and it doesn't always work, but that's ultimately how you defeat them. What they're doing, of course, is time serving and time wasting. But they don't have any idea of that. They're just doing what they are ordered to do. Generally speaking, they're doing it mindlessly. So, fill up their journals and reports with bullshit. It's work, but it's easy enough, and it may even be pleasurable in the end.

You see it more and more, people in Guy Fawkes masks turning up at protests all over the country, all over the world. It's... a statement. There are times when everyone should wear their Guy Fawkes mask, no?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

More on the tumult in Spain

Un mosso: "Ven aquí si tienes cojones"

These protests have been going on for weeks. And the official crack down -- as is so often the case abroad -- has only strengthened resolve.


A cop: "Come here if you have any balls."

Many more interesting videos in the righthand column at the link above. The Spanish/Catalan can be a bit... challenging.

But it's worth it.

Discovery: It's Actually Kind of Hard to Prevent What's Already Taken Place

One of the more intriguing conceits of the Modern Progressive Movement ("We're Not Libertarians, So Stop Saying That!") is the consistency of effort aimed at preventing what has already occurred, whether it be economic catastrophe, global warming, cuts in Medicare and Medicaid or reductions in Social Security benefits, Imperial wars of aggression, the End of Civil Liberties -- or what have you.

After a while, it begins to feel like Modern Progressives are always fighting losing battles.

It's not just losing battles, though. It's more insidious than that. It's perfectly reactionary because it lets the Barbarians (as it were) set the agenda for everything. The Modern Progressive merely responds, and the response is almost always the same: preserve and/or extend the status quo.

Which is not...actually... "progressive". But that's another issue.

I was looking at some of the pictures of the tumult in Europe, particularly the police action against protestors in Barcelona. Of course, it reminded me of the Old Days when Americans used to do things like this, actually take risks -- physical risks at that -- to Make a Point about this or that issue of importance to the People.

They'd get their heads knocked in, they'd be gassed and bludgeoned and they'd be dragged off to "detention" for greater or shorter lengths of time while the Authorities "struggled" to restore or maintain "order." It was the way things were done. Not necessarily routinely -- because most sane people don't like to confront a more powerful Authority if they can avoid it -- but it happened often enough and was bothersome enough to The Powers That Be to make the point of popular displeasure with actions of the High and the Mighty.

These protests have been going on in Europe for a good long time now; they actually pre-date the Arab Spring, and I think they were in truth the direct inspiration for the protests in North Africa that brought down the corrupt regimes of Tunisia and Egypt. (No, it really wasn't because of WikiLeaks' Leaks. Really. It wasn't.) The Spanish protests have taken a leaf from the Egyptian ones -- ah, synergy! -- in that the protestors have been camping out in the squares of the major cities to make their presence known and their voices heard above the clattering din of their rulers who are scrambling to comply with the dictates of the various Euro-banksters who have determined that the living standards of your average European sod is way too high and must be reduced sharply in order to ensure the comfort and convenience (and continued financial lubrication) of the regimes and their sponsors.

So. The August Authorities assert themselves against the People, and we have scenes like the one above. Or this one:

But as I say, we used to have protests like this in this country fairly often but we don't have this sort of thing -- much -- any more.

It is said that Americans pretty much stopped protesting in this manner (except for the Anarchists and their Black Bloc associates, of course -- the Black Bloc being widely understood to be provocateurs) when it was realized that the High and the Mighty here pay no attention to tumult among the rabble, and besides -- even worse -- the media won't cover it.

I mean, after all, the whole point of having a Protest is to get on the TeeVee. Ask Medea Benjamin (who I happen to have enormous admiration for, so don't take this as a slam. She will put herself at risk to make whatever point she feels is necessary. And she'll often enough get on the TeeVee when she does it. Yay, Medea!)

It's not that no one in the United States will do these sorts of things. It's more a question of who does it, when, what they are protesting, and to what object. Americans can sometimes be persuaded to participate in very polite weekend protests, for example, that are arranged primarily for their convenience. Yet strangely, protest by convenience isn't very effective.

Of course earlier this year, enduring protests erupted in Wisconsin over the Governor's plan to take away collective bargaining rights from public employees and to restrict the ability of their unions to collect dues and function.

This was actually one of the most inspiring protest movements we've seen in this country in a generation, and it led to more and more protests around the Midwest and eventually all around the country. Solidarity!

And then it petered out. The energy behind it hasn't been entirely extinguished, but the message has been thoroughly muddled as the protests led to a) political reaction, ie: the recall elections in Wisconsin which may or may not be successful, but whether they are or not won't be known until later this summer; b) court action, ie: delay in implementation of some aspects of the Governor's plan until the courts have resolved the issue (with the prediction that the state supreme court will carry out the orders of its billionaire sponsors... sigh).

In other words, most of what the Governor of Wisconsin set out to do has been accomplished in spite of the protests, just as most of what the Governors set out to do in other states that have experienced these kinds of protests has been accomplished. The protests have been effective in raising awareness and consciousness among those who have been paying attention, but they have not been successful in preventing the actions that are being protested.

It's kind of hard to prevent what's already taken place, eh?

And in essence, that's how the Barbarians (as it were) consistently get their way. How they are able to make consistent progress on their plots and plans while "progressives" stand still or beat a retreat.

This has been the constant... error... of "progressive" action. It is not -- for the most part -- action at all. It is reaction to the outrages of Our Rulers. This dates back at least to the advent of the Bushevik Regime, when tens of thousands of protestors gathered in Washington to protest his inauguration (ignored by the media of course), when in fact the deed was already a done deal. The protest needed to occur previously, and it needed to put forward Something Better.

What happened instead was that those who were convinced that Bush Rule was the shiznits were assembling, often armed, all over the country, and they were DEMANDING their way or the highway. It was either Bush on the Throne or Teh Revolution. And by golly, they got their way.

"Progressives" retreated to the metaphorical shadows where they have been ever since, trying mightily from the shadows to revive something -- through the political process and the courts -- that really doesn't function anymore.

We have been witness to, and in some cases unwitting participants in, the extinguishing of the American Experiment in Constitutional Self-Government.

For all intents and purposes, the Republic is... over.

There is a piquant irony in that Obama has tried rather strenuously to restore the Constitutional Authority of the Congress (and to restrict some of the overreach of the activist courts), and it's not worked out well. The function of the Congress was so corrupted prior to Obama's advent on the Throne that his efforts to restore it to a more traditional -- and Constitutional -- role have led to some truly appalling results (which I won't get into here) that have had the effect of further alienating the People from their Government, especially the Congress and the Courts.

In other words, Representative Government no longer works.

It's a bad joke.

Under the circumstances, the People have the Power to essentially dismiss the Government and come up with something different (which may or may not require active Revolution). But the American People aren't doing that. Instead, they are largely passive, much as the Roman public was as the Republic was extinguished in all but name and the preservation of institutional formalities for centuries after the establishment of the Imperium.

So if we're actually going to make progress under these circumstances, we have to come to grips with the way things really are, and what is really necessary to change things for the Better.

Starting with, oh I don't know, demanding better.

Why not?

The status quo isn't good enough.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Vang Pao Thing -- "The General, His Sisters, and Me"

This morning Doualy Xaykaothao presented a remarkable family history on NPR's Morning Edition that I cannot recommend too highly. One of her grandmothers was a sister of General Vang Pao, a Hmong general in the Royal Lao Army who was recruited by the CIA during the Vietnam Era to organize an anti-Communist resistance in Laos to complement the ongoing tragedy of American and South Vietnamese forces battling the NVA and Viet Cong.

The results weren't pretty. As we know, the Americans and their allies abandoned Indochina and the Indochinese peoples to their fate when the NVA and Viet Cong took over Vietnam and the Pathet Lao and the Khmer Rouge declared their own victories in Laos and Cambodia.

The Hmong people were squeezed out of Laos, many of them becoming refugees in Thailand, but many others coming to the United States as welcome and in many cases honored refugees.

The Hmong sacrificed everything to fight with the Americans. When the cause was lost, though, their peril was stark. Those Hmong who remain in Laos are not is very happy circumstances.

General Vang Pao, who had done so much to organize resistance in Laos became far and away the strongest organizer and personality among the Hmong refugees in the United States. Many of them had settled in California's Central Valley, but there were Hmong communities in many other areas of the country as well.

It was with considerable shock and outrage therefore when the General was arrested in 2007 and indicted in Federal Court, with nine others, for plotting to overthrow the government of Laos, a violation of the Neutrality Act.

It was almost immediately clear to anyone who was following the case that this was yet another instance of Federal justice officials setting up potential violations/violators in order to create a criminal situation and have arrests and a trial. The stories that came out of the investigation and the court were simply outrageous examples of misconduct. Ultimately, the case against the General would be dismissed, after intense protest by thousands of the General's supporters outside the courthouse and in many Hmong, Laotian and Vietnamese communities throughout the country.

Vang Pao died early this year, and his funeral was an extraordinary event.

Doualy Xaykaothao brings the story of her family and the General into sharp and very human focus, something rare in radio.

There are so many stories like this that don't get told in the media, and they need to be. Unless they are, Americans will continue to be ignorant of just how amazing the lives of people outside our own narrow sphere really are.

The California Prison Ruling


Shock and surprise. The United States Supreme Court in Its Majesty has ruled that California's Department of Corrections must reduce its inmate population by some 30,000 within 2 years or else.

Isn't that something.

California holds more prisoners than any other state (though Texas isn't that far behind) and keeps wanting to throw more of them into the "corrections" maw. Of course there are counter-pressures which have been trying to force a reduction in California prison populations for decades, but the numbers just keep going up and the conditions under which prisoners serve continue to deteriorate. The costs escalate.

California is in effect a Prison State, has been for lo these many years. The Solid South ain't got nothin' on the Good Folks of California when it comes to Lock 'em Up and Throw Away the Key.

It's practically a religion.

So when the SCOTUS gets up on its high horse and says "You can't do that," it causes something of a stir.

The abominable conditions in California prisons began to be noted many years ago, during Deukmejian's governorship, if not before, but as stories started coming out of the prison system of abuse and neglect and routine acts of brutality and official murder, and worse, much worse, the System -- and its State proprietors -- shut down media and public access to the prisons and prisoners except under carefully controlled and supervised conditions, and the stories stopped. Practically overnight, there were no more stories out of the prisons of cruelty and brutality and murder and abuse of inmates. For years, there were no stories at all.

Unless something truly awful happened, like the practice of setting up fights between rival gangs in the prisons -- and then shooting down the fighters -- there was practically no news out of the prisons at all, except periodic notes that the prison budget was growing and growing and growing, right along with prison populations, and oh, wasn't it awful what those poor guards had to go through.

The Public had no idea what was going on, and they had no reasonable way to find out.

The prisoners, their families, the DAs, the Trial Judges, the administrators and sometimes the Legislature had a good idea what was going on, but the Public was kept in the dark.

Prisoners sued over their treatment -- or in the case of mental health and medical care, lack of it -- and occasionally they won "victories." The state was violating basic constitutional and human rights, routinely and with malice. The Courts ordered reform. It didn't happen. It got worse. The prison health care system, a cruel joke, was put in Federal receivership. Where it still is. There is nowhere near enough funding, of course, to even minimally deal with prisoner health care issues, so...

To its credit, the Brown Administration has vowed to fix this situation or at least begin to, but of course the Legislative Republican Caucus refuses to allow funding the necessary reforms (one of which is to transfer low level prisoners to local jurisdiction).

So the US Supreme Court weighs in.

From the opening of the ruling, you get the impression things are dire and have been dire for decades. Indeed:

California’s prisons are designed to house a population just under 80,000, but at the time of the decision under review the population was almost double that. The resulting conditions are the subject of two federal class actions. In Coleman v. Brown, filed in 1990, the District Court found that prisoners with serious mental illness do not receive minimal, adequate care. A Special Master appointed to over-see remedial efforts reported 12 years later that the state of mental health care in California’s prisons was deteriorating due to increased overcrowding. In Plata v. Brown, filed in 2001, the State conceded that deficiencies in prison medical care violated prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights and stipulated to a remedial injunction. But when the State had not complied with the injunction by 2005, the court appointed a Receiver to oversee remedial efforts. Three years later, the Receiver described continuing deficiencies caused by over-crowding. Believing that a remedy for unconstitutional medical and mental health care could not be achieved without reducing over-crowding, the Coleman and Plata plaintiffs moved their respective District Courts to convene a three-judge court empowered by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) to order reductions in the prison population. The judges in both actions granted the re-quest, and the cases were consolidated before a single three-judge court. After hearing testimony and making extensive findings of fact,the court ordered California to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years.

This is just the beginning.

Illustrations from the Ruling:

Cages for holding mentally ill prisoners while they await "treatment."

Mule Creek Crowding Conditions.

California Institute for Men Crowding Conditions.

This ruling may start waking the Public up to what is being done in their names right here at home. Of course there are many who maintain that convicts "deserve" what they get -- and worse -- but I'm convinced many will more than agree with the ruling and they will Demand Better for the least among us, those in prison under State Authority.

It has been a long a torturous struggle to change things for the better, and it will continue.

But as the State runs out of money, the status quo cannot be maintained, and the Prison Guard's Union cannot be allowed to continue to run roughshod.

This is where my sister was injured in a prisoner take down. She subsequently died from a blood clot following surgery to repair her knees shattered in the incident.

She had previously worked at Susanville State Prison.

Hating On Teh Government

As readers may know, I was a Federal employee for about 11 years and left to retire early because I was sick of what was going on, much of which I have mercifully blocked from my memory. It... wasn't pretty.

And this was well into the Obama Reign.

Strangely enough, during the Bush Regime, while matters were becoming more and more politicized and less professionalized, there was far less maneuvering and infighting in the agency, far more common interest in and devotion to duty.

Now why would that be?

There were of course plenty of signs of internal deterioration, but that dated back to the Clinton Era, when the Government was actually shut down several times. That, I'm convinced, did more to undermine government employee loyalty than just about anything else in recent memory, but the advent of -- and disappointment in -- the Obama Reign really did seem to change attitudes and actions to complete Survival Mode.

Leaving one to doubt there was any point in Public Service any more.

In discussing the situation with others, though, people who have much longer service than I do, it's clear enough that this situation -- especially the doubt in the value of Public Service -- is routine, comes and goes, and you work through it or you don't. Politicization of service comes and goes, "survivalism" is the usual state of bureaucratic institutions -- and therefore of their employees -- but not everyone is adapted to this frame of mind. Non-Survivalists, if that's an appropriate term, would probably be better off elsewhere.

In other words, I made the right decision. It's always gratifying to know you've done the right thing, isn't it?


Having had experience "within the belly of the beast" as it were (and my experience with Government dates to long before I joined the Federal service, as I'd been contracting with and serving on local Government boards and agencies for many years) I sometimes find it amusing that so many people, particularly of a Libertarian bent, are shocked!, shocked I tell you! when they "discover" -- whether for the first time or over and over again -- the way Government operates.

Particularly are they astonished and outraged at the Hypocrisy of Electeds.

Good heavens! How can they be so unprincipled!? How can they not mean what they say!? I don't know. It is quite a trick, isn't it? So many of them get away with it, too, as they have since the origin of the Republic. Yet to discover that they still do, with bells on, continues to be a shock and surprise! Oh! My! Goodness!

I loved Senator DeMint's letter to Geithner and his determination that The Government would be Brought to Heel by his Manly Insistence that the Debt Ceiling not be raised unless all the cuts he and his cohorts demanded were enacted, in full, with interest, yadda yadda, and The Government could just pay interest on the Debt and not Default, what scare tactics the Other Side (ie: The Government) was employing, DeMint was not amused.

He prates on and on, waxing quite wroth, about The Government and what it has done and must do, and who is to blame and whatnot, never once acknowledging that he and his cohorts in Congress Assembled are part of this very Government he's waxing so wroth about, and so are the Courts and the President, and so on and so forth. And you can't separate them into The Government and Me-Not The Government.

But that's what clowns like him do, all the time, and those tactics appeal to a certain segment of the populi and so it goes.

Hilarity ensues.

Well, sometimes.

All I'm getting at is that Electeds behave the way they do because of the way Government and the Political System is arranged. The Government -- and the Political System that feeds it and is in fact part of it -- was set up for the protection of Privileged White Southern Gentlemen (many of whom got the notion that they "deserved to rule" therefore) and that is actually what it does and what it will continue to do. It has nothing at all to do with Principle.

Rand Paul, about as Privileged a White Southern Gentleman (well, White Male, at any rate) as there is discovered to his delight the other day that he could bring operations of the Senate to a screeching halt unless and until his Demands regarding the renewal of the PATRIOT Act were met. Those Demands were simple enough: a vote on his amendments, primarily one restricting The Government's ability to inquire about and investigate -- or even, gasp, refuse -- "terrorist" access to firearms. He dug in his heels, held the Senate hostage for three days, and he got his vote. His amendments were defeated. He was pleased.

Like many of his colleagues, he pretended that The Government he was holding hostage -- and whose actions he hated and despised -- did not include himself. It was instead some Alien Imposition on the Rights and Privileges of Citizens like Himself.

No, The Government, as flawed and faulty as it is, IS himself and all of his colleagues AND those who serve it, civilian and military alike. There is no "them/us." It is all of a piece, and he and his ilk are part of it.

But the pretense is as it has always been: The Government is by definition "alien" and an improper "imposition" on the Freedom of Citizens to... impose their personal and private authority on others.

In other words, Citizens banding together to Form a More Perfect Union is simply Usurpation of the Rights and Privileges of Individuals, particularly those of White Southern (Gentle)men such as the Pauls.

Therefore, ironically, the entire history of Constitutional Self-Government in this country is as Rand Paul's father -- and many of the Libertarian ilk -- have long claimed: deep in error, wrong from the get-go, and an intolerable usurpation of Individual Freedom.

The sole Principle involved is the individual (not Governmental, in other words) assertion of Authority over others -- and their lands, goods, and chattel.

That's it. Period.

Hating on the Government for interfering in this individual assertion of Authority is an ongoing theme in American Life.

There once was a time when American expansionism allowed plenty of physical space for individuals to assert their personal Authorities as they chose. But those days are long gone; now it is much more difficult for those with the urge to lord it over someone else or to form and rule some petty kingdom of his own -- without the regulation or imposition of The Government -- to do so.

So those who make their purpose in life the Individual Assertion of Authority can find themselves in a very difficult position. There is no unclaimed territory left for them to migrate to and assert themselves. The Frontier has long been closed.

What I'm seeing in response -- both from the inside and outside The Government -- is a concerted effort by a coalition of Libertarians and billionaires to literally dismantle The Government so as to ensure that it cannot interfere with their desire to impose their Authority without the interference of The Government. They are seeking to confine The Government entirely to the protection of their personal/private/corporate and individual interests, and to forbid The Government from serving the Public Interest -- which they don't believe in in any case.

They are winning, and they are using the deeply rooted flaws in our Constitution and the Political System to do so. And they are winning because they have almost no active opposition.

As I've said many times, we are witness to the End of the Republic, much as the Romans in times of yore witnessed the end of their Republic -- and Americans, like the Romans, are greeting it with a shrug.

Too bad that the replacement in both cases is... The Empire.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Tornadoes. Yikes.

The tornadoes throughout the Midwest and South have left incredible passages of death and destruction in their wake. It's almost unimaginable, and I don't doubt that The Man In The Chair, The Very Reverend Brother Harold Camping, is saying, "See, see, Itoldyouso, oh Ye of Little Faith, Burn! Burn! Et Cetera! Shall we take our next call, please; WELcome to Open Forum."

Triumphalism is such a pain in the ass.

But anyway, I was watching the coverage in Oklahoma the other day, watching these tornadoes form and do their nasty business one after the other for hours; it was mesmerizing and horrifying at the same time. We have connections to and friends in Oklahoma, as we do in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas and elsewhere subject to "tornadic storms" as they are calling this super-abundance of super-cells, so every time the reports start coming in of tornadoes touching down we check locations and send off emails and IMs to see whether everyone is OK. So far, so good for the people we know, but what a horrible thing for all those hundreds dead and thousands injured so far this year.

The tornado coverage in Oklahoma on channel 9 was remarkable. They were locating and tracking the storms and warning people in their paths to take shelter, and I have no doubt that the fact they were keeping on top of the situation and reporting constantly and consistently saved many lives. The problem was, as was painfully obvious, many people don't have tornado shelters any more, they don't have storm cellars, and too many people still aren't able to get out of the way.

While the tornadoes keep plowing through the Midwest and South, the video above shot last evening is from about 70 miles north of where I'm typing; it was one of three to five tornadoes that touched down in the area yesterday, all in rural areas where there were no people or structures, but it was a reminder that "nowhere is safe." Not really.

Tornadoes used to be considered "impossible" in California, and reports of them were non-existent. The nature of the landscape was supposed to be a preventative to tornado formation: there wasn't enough room between the mountain ranges, so they said, for tornadic vortexes to assemble. So even if there were occasional "tornado-like winds", there couldn't be tornadoes as such. Not in California. Oh no.

Except... well, there were tornadoes, and every now and then, one would blow off someone's roof or down some trees, or even cause an injury or death. For years, the weather service denied it was even possible for there to be tornadoes in California, no matter what witnesses were reporting and/or photographs showed. They were rare, to be sure, for the weather conditions and landscape in California are no match for those of the Midwest and South, but still they happened, and Californians who saw and reported them were getting angrier and angrier at the continuing official denials.

And then one season there were perhaps a dozen or more in the space of a few hours, amply documented with pictures and extensive damage reports, and very slowly, officialdom took notice and allowed as how something "like a tornado" might have happened.


And then finally, climate scientists redid their calculations and determined that, yes, under highly unusual circumstances, it was possible for minor tornadoes to form over parts of California, particularly the Central Valley, and it was possible, though rare, that tornadoes in California could actually cause property damage, injury, or even death.

What was bizarre was the persistence of denial.

UPDATE: Then I heard a weather service expert on the news today say that, actually, tornadoes are quite common in California, particularly in the Central Valley, and people shouldn't be surprised about it.

Plus ça change?

And Another Thing.

Is that Frontline may have revived a story that had sunk from view, even for many of the WikiLeaks/Julian/Manning partisans.

When Manning was transferred to Ft. Leavenworth and his attorney said that his treatment would be far better than it had been at Quantico, almost all the steam went out of the "Free Bradley Manning" movement, much as running Julian to ground in Britain and putting him up at his supporter's country estate for the duration slowed the pace of and changed the focus of WikiLeaks leaks, and it had the effect of quieting the WikiLeaks/Julian partisans.

As many have noted, Julian's threats to leak the contents of a bank executive's hard drive, threats that seemed to have precipitated the all-out hunt for him and his subsequent surrender in London, never materialized.

Were deals made? Who knows?

The Frontline piece and its supporting materials online serves as an introduction to the story for those who haven't been following it closely, but it is far from complete -- something I think its producers will readily acknowledge -- and the followup, if there is any, could be quite extended. But the question is, why, when the story was on the verge of disappearing altogether, would Frontline choose to bring it up again and get the partisans all riled up over their "hatchet job?"

Are we witnessing those wheels within wheels again? Another false flag episode?

Designed to do what?

Can we put this into some kind of overall context?

Manning's father made an interesting comment in the post-show chat (in which both David House and Julian Assange claimed to participate.)


Here's a question from Reddit user Clansky:
Do you think there is any hope Bradley will be released? Or do you think he'll be there forever? And to Brian, do you agree with what your son did?

Marcela Gaviria/Martin Smith:
Anything’s possible, but the prosecution’s case appears quite strong. Investigators say that that they have matched Manning’s computer to Lamo’s, verifying the authenticity of the chats. To be acquitted Manning’s lawyer would somehow have to prove that Manning had been framed and his computer had been tampered with.

Brian Manning:
I hope so as I do not think he was the leak.

Brian Manning:
I would not agree with anyone doing such acts.

"I do not think he was the leak."

Huh. The assumption is that Bradley Manning must be the leaker; he confessed in an online chat (via AOL!) with Adrian Lamo that he did the deed and was proud of it, and almost all his partisans (including the iconic Daniel Ellsberg) hail him a Hero for doing so. War crimes were revealed! Wars were brought to a screeching halt. HILLARY was embarrassed!!!!


Actually no.

Not at all. If anything, there are more wars and more plans for more Imperial wars of aggression than before the releases from WikiLeaks. There have been no war crimes trials -- for Americans and their allies and mercenaries in the field -- and the extermination of the innocent continues apace, with or without bin Laden to justify it.

As for Hillary, so?

As I said at the time of its release, the "Collateral Murder" video that got the ball rolling on high-profiling the WikiLeaks/Manning matter was put into constant rotation on all the teevee news, to the point of saturation (much as the Mavi Marara video from the Israelis would be later), and the actions of the Death From Above helicopter squad that were shown over and over again were praised, not condemned, by the American people who saw the tapes -- actually they couldn't avoid them. Which I assumed was the point of showing the video in the first place: first, that they couldn't avoid it, and second that they would be filled with pride at the actions of their brave soldiers.

When I pointed out that the Pentagon had long been proudly releasing videos showing other similar exterminations so their "outrage" at the release of this one rang very hollow indeed, I was greeted with confusion to say the least. The Narrative was set by that time: WikiLeaks and Julian and whoever leaked the video were heroes documenting war crimes. Americans never would have known this was happening if it hadn't been for such heroes!

Well, except for the dozens of similar gun camera videos that the Pentagon had already released showing similar -- and in some cases even more gruesome -- slaughters of people on the ground -- I guess that's right. Except for that, the American People couldn't possibly have known this was going on.

For cripes sake, they knew -- and they loved it.

The "Collateral Murder" video had the same effect. But arguing that's the case when the Narrative says just the opposite -- that it revealed War Crimes most foul and the American People didn't know this was going on, and when they found out, they Turned Against the War(s)™ -- even though the empirical evidence says otherwise-- was generally met with either blank stares or active hostility and denunciation.

Because the implication was that the Pentagon was playing a game with the public here, and WikiLeaks wasn't what it purported to be. It might even be a false-flag/black op itself.

As more and more of the supposed Manning material was released -- the War Logs and then the State Department Cables -- it seemed more and more clear to me and some other observers that this whole thing was a highly engineered operation, by and for whom being the question.

In the aggregate, the War Logs didn't reveal much at all. They were too cryptic to be comprehended by civilians. They had to be selected and interpreted by The Media (which is a whole other issue) in order to be understood, and most of what they documented was routine, while many of the sensational events in the Logs had already been extensively reported, mostly in the same manner (though not in the same cryptic style) as they were reported to superiors in the Logs. The Logs made the Ragheads out to be far worse than had been previously reported. But are the Logs truthful? The problem with this kind of raw intelligence -- for that's what it is -- is that you don't know what's true and what's not, and it takes a very knowledgeable hand to sort through all the crap. There were and are very few such hands around.

The State Department Cables caused an international flap, to be sure, but it seems to have blown over nicely and Hillary is out there doing her job as if little or nothing had happened.

And they touched off the Arab Spring, and they got bin Laden, so what's the problem?

Actually, there isn't one -- at least not for our rulers. Is there?

This whole thing is very much Emmanuel Goldstein-esque -- which is why skeptics of many stripes refuse to take it at face value.

What is really going on is not something we can easily suss out.

The question, nevertheless, is what motivated Frontline to reopen the matter now? And who, ultimately, was behind it?

"I have QUESTIONS to ask!!!" Jiang Qing in "Madame Mao" by Thérèse Radic, 1986

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Frontline Gets Around to the Manning/WikiLeaks Story

Actually, it was quite a good program to introduce the topic to those who probably haven't been following it closely. Which I would assume includes pretty much all Americans.

I was more interested in the reaction to it in the comments to the program and to some of the additional material online.

Many people were appreciative that the story was being told at all, but a significant contingent put on their High Dudgeon Drag and stormed around denouncing PBS and Frontline for their "hatchet job" and "hit piece," going on and on and on about how disreputable this kind of coverage is, etc., etc.

We've. Seen. It. All. Before.

It is routine whenever the topic of WikiLeaks arises for partisans, "team-members," and mindless loyalists to throw hissy-fits and temper tantrums if the story isn't sufficiently laudatory toward Julian Assange. Julian himself has done it many times.

In this psycho-drama, Bradley Manning is little more than a prop. It's always all about Julian and how earthshakingly selfless and heroic he is in the face of concerted State Power. Any hint that Julian may be human and not a superhero, may even have feet of clay, is met with relentless denunciations.

As for Manning, he is a support-player in Julian's psycho-drama at best. Julian refuses (no doubt on the advice of an attorney) to acknowledge any connection between himself/WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, though there is some evidence he's wanted the story changed to suit his particular interests and needs. The Game is Julian playing cat-and-mouse with The Government (whichever Government); in that Game, people like Manning are collateral damage. Oh well, too bad, so sad.

One of the people who appeared in the documentary goes by the name of Emmanuel Goldstein. How cute. This person is actually one Eric Gordon Corley, hacker extraordinaire, but strangely, Frontline did not identify him as such. Emmanuel Goldstein, as we know, is the turncoat subject of the Two Minute Hate in 1984. In fact, for a time, at least until he was run to very plush ground in Britain, Julian Assange was the chosen Emmanuel Goldstein for our time. Once he was bagged, though...

...it was time for Bin Laden to get liquidated. And now they are going after Gaddafi, having already terminated one of his sons. I'm sure that Other Devils will arise as one-by-one, the old ones are eliminated.

This Frontline episode is being ritually denounced by what I assume are the usual crew of WikiLeaks supporters simply for not being laudatory enough of Julian on the one hand and for "smearing" Manning on the other by delving somewhat gingerly into his private life -- including his somewhat turbulent personality and his gayness.

An example of the commentary:

Greg K. 1 month ago
Kill the messenger much?

Very disheartening to see Frontline do such an irrelevant piece on such a hugely important story. Manning's personality and motives -- as well as his status as a hero or villain-- don't matter in the slightest. What does matter is the shifting of power dynamics brought about by communications technology, the leveling of the playing field between governments and individuals. Passive-aggressive hit pieces like this one only serve to obscure the issue.

Read more: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/wikileaks/bradley-manning/#disqus_thread#ixzz1NO04YR7p

There it is in a nutshell.

I'm pondering why it is so important for the mindless loyalists of Julian/WikiLeaks to repeat these charges again and again, no matter who publishes insufficiently laudatory pieces about Julian/WikiLeaks (and/or collateral damage like Manning) and no matter what those pieces say, and further, I'm wondering why it is so important for them (and Julian) to try to control the narrative so completely.

To me, this is just one of several signs that things are not -- at all -- what they seem to be with Julian and WikiLeaks, and that one should treat anything that comes out of their workshop with extreme skepticism.

Just as one should be skeptical of anything in the Major Mass Media.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Living With the Old Stuff

The picture above is from a 1954 home decoration volume. The room is similar in size and layout to our Library in New Mexico, the desk and the desk lamp are very similar too, as is the upholstered armchair. The far wall has two doors in our Library, though, one of which gives access to the closet. And there are no book shelves on the far wall; they are on the long walls as well as the outside wall. There is, of course, no sofa. We have many more books in our Library than are shown in this picture. We also have many more pictures on the walls, mostly prints and posters.

During the last few weeks, I've been continuing with the long term project of clearing out the house in California for the eventual permanent move to New Mexico.

The most recent project in New Mexico was getting a horse fence put up, and I don't know even now if it was ever completed (though it has been paid for.) Our property in New Mexico has never been fenced, at least not near the house according to all the signs and the neighbors, so it was kind of exciting to them when I said we were going to put up a horse fence to enclose our little patch of ground. Not that we're getting a horse any time soon. Maybe a goat?

Of course, getting the fence done -- at all -- was the issue. It always is in New Mexico. I would refer readers to the Journal of a Mud House by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant for pointers on how... complicated... it can be to have something done in New Mexico.

At any rate, the last I heard, the fence was almost done, and it looked great from the pictures I saw, so I'm not about to fuss too much over the length of time it took and the difficulty it was to get it done.

Some have asked what kind of place we have in NM, since I've said it is adobe but I've been at some pains to explain that it does not partake of the wide spread "Santa Fe Style." After all, our place was built in about 1900, well before the flat-roofed and mud-plastered Pueblo Revival Style was officially adopted in Santa Fe. It's "style", such as it is, is late Victorian, actually almost neo-Colonial in some respects, but very, very simple.

It was one of the first houses in the area, and it is supposed to be the house where Toney Anaya grew up (though I don't believe it myself). When he was a boy, he said, the house where he grew up had dirt floors, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. I've combed over this house many times, and it's simply impossible that there was no plumbing and no electricity fifty or sixty years ago when Toney Anaya was a boy. There are remnants of old plumbing fixtures and piping in one of the closets -- in what I'm sure was formerly the kitchen -- and there is knob and tube wiring in much of the house that had to have been put in during the early part of the 20th Century. There were porcelain light fixtures in two of the bedrooms that looked to be from the '20's or maybe '30's, there was fancy patterned linoleum from the '30's at the latest on one of the floors, and much of the original woodwork clearly dates from the early 1900's. Old fashioned baseboards are at the current floor level, and the floors are wood, some of it fine, some of it kind of sketchy. It appears the wood floors, too, date from very early in the house's history. Toney Anaya was born in 1941, well after our house was built and the basics of plumbing and electricity and such were installed.

Nevertheless, it is quite possible -- indeed, likely -- that at first, there were no raised wooden floors, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity in this house. The current bathroom, for example, was clearly carved out of another room (now the South Bedroom), and the fixtures indicate it may have happened as late as the 1940's or 1950's. I've tried to get a sense of the sequence in which the house was built, but there have been a number of remodelings and expansions over the years, and it's hard now to be sure of what came first and what it looked like when time was. I've decided that what I call the West Wing was build first, though: essentially two 16' squares sections put together, with a flat roof, a mostly southern exposure, and a wide front porch or portal.

It was probably just two rooms, too: a kitchen/living room and a bedroom. Then -- and not long after, probably around 1910 or 1915, two more rooms were added in a wing on the east 16' wide and 40' long, fancier than the original house, and having a peaked roof. Quite a bit later, I'd say in the 1930's, the West Wing also got a peaked roof, the original kitchen was turned into two bedrooms, and part of the portal was enclosed to make a new kitchen. Then in the fifties, the whole portal was enclosed, new fixtures were put in the kitchen and bathroom, the house got a complete tin roof, and the whole was clad in white aluminum siding.

This picture is from the Google Street View. It was taken about 3 years ago, and there have been some changes since then...

The walls in most of the house are what they call "double adobe", which is to say they are about 24" thick. On the north side, they are actually thicker, about 30". Most of the windows are relatively small compared to the thickness of the walls, so you would think it might be dark inside much of the time, but not so. The light in the house is simply astonishing, takes my breath away. But then that's one of the benefits of living in the mountains (we're at about 6300 feet) and in New Mexico. "You're closer to the sun."

I made a little video last October of part of the interior, to get a feel for what it is like in there.

There are nominally 4 bedrooms and one bath, but we only use two of the bedrooms. The others -- in what was once the kitchen -- are used as a library and a storage/workroom which we call "The Jesus Room." The current entrance hall/ kitchen/dining area/laundry room were at one time outdoors. They were enclosed from the portal that went across the south side of the house. From the interior, it looks pretty good, but the construction was rough to say the least. The remodel was done in the Fifties some time, and it is pretty wonky now. Of course, that adds character!

There's a central living room and a couple of hallways, and that's pretty much it.

Even so, the house is close to twice the size of our place in California. Yet it is "too small."

Well, we have a lot of stuff, as you can see from the video, and that's only part of it. Though we are busily emptying out the house in California, it's still "full," and I haven't even started on the garage yet! We just don't like to throw things away (you never know when you might need them, as they say) and we are inveterate collectors of... things.

I think I did a post once on The Toasters. There are also The Waffle Irons. The Clothes Irons. Mixers. Record Players. Radios. Clocks. Jeebus the Clocks! The hundreds of Paintings. Books! Tens of thousands of them. Cameras. Quilts. Stuffed Animals. Globes. Vacuum cleaners (an extensive collection of Electrolux and Kirby vacs, want one?). Santos.

Most of what we have is old. We don't really buy much new, never have. What we do buy, we keep. And much of what we need and use (let alone collect) comes from thrift stores. I just got a dryer, for example, to replace the 30 year old model that died on us. Well, the one I got is probably close to that age, and it came from a used appliance store that's been a resource for us for a long time.

It seemed bizarre to me to pay $400 or $500 (or much more) for a new dryer when a perfectly good used one could be found for a fraction of the cost and with a guarantee and no-hassle delivery to boot.

The toaster we use in California every day is 75 years old (a 1934 two slice pop up toaster by Toastmaster, quite deluxe for its time) and it works wonderfully. It's beautiful, too. It looks like this one:

The one we use most in New Mexico is only about 60 years old, and it's not nearly as good looking. The Sunbeam Radiant, model T-35. It looks like this one:

The waffle iron we use on weekends in California is said to be the first automatic thermostatically controlled waffle iron introduced in 1931 by Hotpoint. It is identical to this one:

I had to repair it as the internal asbestos covered wiring had deteriorated, but it was a fairly easy task when I cannibalized wiring from a much newer model that was otherwise useless.

The waffle iron we use in New Mexico most often is an early model Universal dometop, just like this one:

Love that nickel plating. And it actually makes better waffles than the fancy chromium 1931 Hotpoint in California. And both of them make better waffles than the new model Belgian Waffle Makers.

Our coffee is brewed in several brands of percolators or in Silex vaccuum coffee makers like the ones in this ad:

We have lots of different mixers. This model is perhaps the earliest Sunbeam in the house (identical to the picture, except we don't have the jade green smaller bowl, but we do have other accessories including the meat chopper.)

We don't actually use it. A couple of other later model Sunbeam Mixmasters are set up to use, and a mid-sixties Hamilton Beach hand mixer gets the hardest work out because it is so convenient.

I could go on. We have several dial phones in New Mexico, one or two of which I think are hooked up (or were -- I may have undone them to set up the wireless internet. One forgets!) There are 6 chrome frame dining chairs, but no table yet, that are intended for the patio that we haven't had time to build in New Mexico.

You get the picture.

I've thought about all this Old Stuff we've got -- some of which I bought intending to sell during the Boom Times when all sorts of "collectibles" were salable in a twinkling for a good deal of money -- and recognized more than a simple pattern. Much of it, obviously, is evocative of my childhood, stuff we might not have actually had back then. We didn't have a stand mixer, for example. Instead, my mother used a hand-cranked egg beater -- much as her mother had used. There was no coffee maker until I was an adult (coffee didn't agree with my parental units), and I think the first ones I bought were the early "Mr. Coffee" drip models, so I had no idea how much better a percolator makes coffee, let alone the subtleties of vaccuum coffee, until I tried them for myself.

Some of the furniture in both the house in California and in New Mexico are antiques that I bought almost 40 years ago to furnish an apartment in Santa Maria that we were renting unfurnished for the summer. The pieces were late 19th/early 20th Century, imported from England or France, and they were at the time very cheap. We've hauled them from place to place ever since, and some of them are in desperate need of repair (one day, I keep saying, one day!)

In the interim, we've picked up some Mission Oak pieces, mostly tables, along with a few pieces of mahogany (a desk, bookshelves, dining furniture.) When I was a child, there were some Mission pieces in our home, a library table, a chest of drawers), and so I tend to be attracted to similar pieces when I see them. There was no mahogany (my mother preferred maple) but mahogany was very stylish among the Better Off when I was young whereas maple was considered "common." (Which, BTW, was no shame.)

I know I bought a 1942 Philco radio because it reminded me of the one in our house when I was little. Evoking childhood is a constant among collectors. I may or may not have said on this blog that the first car I had was a 1950 Packard Convertible like this one:

And the first car I bought was a 1951 Buick Roadmaster just like this:

(As an explanation, the first car I remember we had was a Packard, and my mother's best friend when I was little was the widow of the town's Buick dealer. Talk about evocations of childhood! Well!)

The question is, when does "collecting" become "hoarding?" You would think it's not a fine line, but I think it is. You "know" what hoarding is because there are shows on the teevee that demonstrate it and provides "treatment" for the victims (and plenty of judgmental blame, too) and we all know people like that. Extensive "collecting" such as we do becomes "hoarding" when it becomes overwhelming, chaotically taking over every square inch of living space. Well, maybe it's not that simple.

We have lots more collections than the ones I've described here; coins, music industry stuff from various eras (mostly the '60's), lamps, sewing machines...

While I can cheerfully dispose of things and do -- give them away, donate them, or sell them -- more stuff always seems to "show up" to take the place of what's been disposed of. So there's a constant level of stuff round about. And it is always more than is necessary, more than can be enjoyed or displayed simultaneously, too. We have no more wall space for all the paintings, for example, so more than half is in storage at any given time.

Of course while the stuff is being sorted or when we don't take the time to find places to put the various items, it can -- and does -- pile up. THAT can easily be interpreted as a "hoarding" scenario. The "pile" can grow, to the point where, at least temporarily, it is overwhelming.

And what do you do then? When the stuff is overwhelming, the answer is to leave it, at least for a while, and get on with something else. And that's where people who sit in judgement of "hoarders" may have no idea what's going on with them and don't bother to trouble themselves to find out. Judgement of them (and their possessions) is the far more important matter. A chaotic pile of unsorted stuff must be condemned simply because it's there and the owners of it aren't doing anything with it (except perhaps making the pile higher.)

I disagree, obviously.

You get to it when you can. And that may take quite a while given all the other matters one is expected to attend to right now.

Though we don't have cable teevee at either house, I have seen a couple of the "hoarding" shows online, and they tend to trouble me. The people who have been profiled in the shows I've seen seem to be buried in "stuff," and yet listening to them, it's clear enough that even if they recognize that the "stuff" has taken over their lives and sometimes burdens them so much they cannot even move from room to room in their houses, they are just trying to get by the best they can, burdened as they are. For whatever reason, their process of getting by is never recognized in the programs I've seen; instead, they are treated as if they were some kind of monsters. And they are not. In the shows I've seen, the people profiled are some of the kindest, sweetest people I think I've ever seen on teevee. They are harmless and are harming no one.

They are overwhelmed, to be sure. But oddly, the therapists sent in by the programs to "help" never think to help lighten the burden these people carry. Instead, they make it worse, deliberately and in some cases with malice. It's no wonder that "hoarders" wind up even more deeply depressed and suicidal when they are faced with such... "help."

Lightening the burden is not necessarily getting rid of the stuff, for that process can be horrifying and painful in the extreme for some of these people. Their "stuff" is symptomatic of the burden; it is not the literal burden itself. In many cases, the "stuff" is comforting.

Some of the therapists seem to understand that intellectually, but they cannot for the life of them act on their intellectual understanding to help these people emotionally. They don't even try. The only thing they are interested in is forcing the victims of hoarding disorder to get rid of the stuff that is overwhelming their homes.

Which can lead to panic, deeper depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, or simply rejection of assistance/treatment.

What is the point of that? Of course: entertainment for those who are convinced they are better than the people depicted on these shows.


We have come so far, it seems, but have so far yet to go...