Friday, June 29, 2012

As For Me

One Kaiser Plaza, Oakland, CA. Headquarters of Kaiser Permanente.

I think I posted a while back that today is the last day I will have comprehensive health care coverage. For a little over a year when I am eligible for Medicare, I'll be on my own. 

I have been covered through Kaiser Permanente for the last 25 years or so, very rarely using their services but comforted by the knowledge that it was there if I needed it. I didn't realize how costly it had become until the COBRA statement came saying that to maintain the coverage we have would cost close to $3,000 per month. Oh really. Isn't that something. At Kaiser??? Eeek.

Well, after considering the risks/benefits, the costs, and the fact that we would soon not be anywhere near a Kaiser facility, the answer was "No thanks." Other COBRA plans were available at $1,500 a month and up, but they didn't seem worthwhile either -- high deductibles, limited coverage, rather pointless, really.

Thankfully, while I've faced some life-threatening illnesses, I don't have a chronic condition that requires continual treatment and care -- at least not yet. The debilities of age do seem to be creeping up on me, but I've been able to manage them on my own well enough up to this point... let's hope it stays that way.

Interestingly, while medical coverage was hyper-expensive (I have no clue how older workers -- or ex-workers as the case may be -- are supposed to manage such huge COBRA bills to maintain coverage), dental and vision coverage were made available at no cost. So there's that.

I don't know that the ACA would actually have any positive effect on this situation. COBRA would still be available, but it would still be out of reach financially -- at least so far as I've been able to puzzle out the limited information I've seen. If there really is a 6% of gross income limit on health care insurance costs to households, then that actually would make a big difference, but nothing is in stone until it is graven there, and nothing will be graven until after Decision 2012 concludes.

The notion that the First Thing President Romney Will Do is "Repeal Obamacare" is patently absurd, of course. Having seen this man's ways for a while, what he will do First is to sell the rubes on the kabuki that he will be conducting from day one. He has no intention of repealing Obamacare -- it's too lucrative to his owners and sponsors. Besides, despite his August Pretensions, even he doesn't have the power to "repeal" it. Not that he would want to. He might be inclined to suggest changes to the program that increase costs and limits coverage to individuals and households, but otherwise he will leave it pretty much alone. The Industry won't let him muck with it very much.

On the other hand, if Obama receives another term -- which is looking more likely, his political instincts are still astonishing -- he would probably be inclined to tweak it in a similar direction, simply because that's what he does. If an R suggests "improvements" he's right there. So. ACA or nothing, that's what the nation is going to be stuck with.

I've dealt with Medicare and Medicaid on behalf of others in the past, and as long as you can get care, they're fine. The problem is getting care prior to a crisis -- or even in a crisis in some cases. I've spent up to 12 hours in an ER waiting room with a Medicare patient before any sort of treatment at all was offered; and of course once she was seen and treatment was begun, she was in dire shape.
Who would have thought.

There was no cost to the patient for Medicaid treatment, though now there are small co-pays for doctor visits and much higher ones for ER visits (of course, when the doctor refers you to the ER, what are you supposed to do?)  Medicare co-pays are still something of a mystery to me. At no time was anything out of pocket demanded, but costs beyond what Medicare reimbursed would be billed to the patient up to certain limits. I still don't quite understand how it worked, though. Nevertheless, I am well aware of all kinds of shady billing practices by providers. Rick Scott is only the tip of the iceberg. It seems like every provider engages in bill-padding at the very least, frequently much worse.

 There are nowhere near enough providers and facilities to accommodate a large influx of new patients, and it has long been my impression that the basic idea of the ACA is to get payment now for future medical care -- that quite likely will not be available. It certainly won't be in the short term. This will mean that people will be "covered" for treatment they can't get. Brilliant!

As I understand it, money for more community care clinics is being fervently stripped out of the ACA. These clinics are an important step in expanding access to care, but if the money is being stripped out as we speak, it's patently obvious that expanding access is not on the agenda, not that it truly ever was. If I recall correctly, Bernie Sanders was the one who demanded the clinics, and he was bought off with promises that have been relatively meaningless ever since. If there is little or no access to care due to lack of personnel and facilities, regardless of coverage and subsidies and all the rest of it, then it's pretty obvious that the whole Rube Goldberg contraption of the ACA was never meant to do much more than keep the insurance cartels and the medical industrial complex in profits forever.

Yes, I'm cynical about these things.

From the beginning the correct solution to America's medical care crisis was expanding and improving something like Medicare for All. This is not rocket science, this is obvious, and it was obvious when the correct solution was never on the table let alone considered that the point of the ACA was profit for the medical cartels. Period. If somebody gets medical treatment they otherwise wouldn't, oh well!

The correct solution was to remove the middle-man cost and inconvenience burden of insurance companies, simplify, streamline, make care available, tax to fund it, aggressively expand professional training, and provide an extensive network of primary care facilities. The correct solution was to put all of this in the public sphere, as a public health matter, rather than expanding private, for profit health care.

This has all been known for decades.

And yet the Health Care Reform panels never even heard let alone considered the correct solution.

Ah, but ACA is better than nothing!

The question is for whom?

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The current imbroglio over the ACA has once again thrust the radical, reactionary, lawless Supreme Court majority into the spotlight it so loves.

I'm fairly certain that the Court majority will let stand most if not all of the ACA legislation simply because it assures so much money to the Court majority's corporate masters. Whatever gives them what they want is what the Court majority approves, viz the Montana decision.

But if they overturn the whole thing -- which they will do if they are told to do so by their corporate masters -- the idea that the re-election of Obama will somehow lead to the overturning of the Court majority and its replacement with a liberal/progressive majority is delusional.

And yet I'm hearing it more and more stridently as the consequences of the current Court's majority decisions on behalf of their neo-liberal/neo-conservative and lawless ideology sink in.

Those consequences are dire. The delusion, however, is that Obama will somehow intervene and transform the Court. His two appointments to date demonstrate he has no intention of doing so, even if he had the power, which he does not.

The Court's lawless, extreme and thoroughly disreputable majority was essentially enshrined for the next 50 years with the appointments to the Court made by George W. Bush -- with the complicity of the Senate Democrats, let it not be forgotten. They knew what they were doing, Harriet Myers notwithstanding. Those appointments ensured that the Court's chief justice and majority would be "stabilized" as is for decades to come. That the was point, after all.

Democrats went along with it. As has been noticed from more than one observational post, many nominal Democrats are on board with the neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda and ideology no matter what they say to get elected.

So even if by some miracle (reliance on which is itself delusional) Obama is re-elected, and all the Court's "conservative" majority resigns or dies, he's still not going to appoint, nor will the Senate confirm, a "liberal/progressive" Court majority.

Nothing short of revolution will achieve that in our lifetimes. In other words, it's not going to happen through presidential and congressional elections. It's delusional to think it will.
UPDATE: Court upholds ACA in its entirety. The Rightists will of course experience exploding heads, but it will all be for show. The real deal is of course that their corporate paymasters love-love-love the mandate and all the money that will now be forthcoming.

Still we need comprehensive, affordable, and universal health care coverage, and as importantly, we need universal access to healthcare. The other factor of the ACA that corporatists love-love-love is that while payment is required, access is not.


A counter argument arises: Roberts sided with the "liberals" to uphold the ACA; the "conservatives" all denounced it, including Kennedy.

Then I ask you: if this ruling represents a "liberal" victory, what does it say about the "liberal" minority on the court that staunch corporatist Roberts sided with them?

Why of course: it says that the "liberals" on the Court are just as corporatist as the "conservatives."

In Mussolini's day, this was the definition of Fascism.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

AgitProp OccuDoc

David Swanson posted a link to this feature length OccuDoc film, "American Autumn," over at FDL, but I thought I'd post the video itself. It's New York-centric, but that's OK as long as folks are clear that "OWS" is New York City and "Occupy" is global. Of course that distinction only makes sense if what's been going on in New York is seen as something other than what's going on in your town...

"American Autumn" is yet another of those outstanding visuals that have come out of the whole Occupy Movement. I don't necessarily agree with everything in it, but that's OK.

Mostly it's communicating. And that's good.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Slavery Time and Other Things in the Land of Enchantment

Some time back, I wrote a post about a talk I attended at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe on the topic of slavery in New Mexico. Most of the people there, like me, had no idea there was institutionalized slavery in New Mexico, though in hearing about it, many seemed to think it wasn't all that outrageous.

But before I (finally) left California for this trip to New Mexico, I was chatting with a neighbor in California who told me that his father was born in New Mexico and his mother was born in southern Colorado. I asked him where in New Mexico his father had been born, and he said it was a little town out in the middle of nowhere that doesn't exist anymore. It's just a collection of adobe ruins melting back into the earth... I told him I was well aware of all the ruins in New Mexico; they're part of the landscape. I asked him again the name of the town, and he said it as if it were an Indian name: "Oh-ka-teh."

I thought that was interesting. I'd never heard of anyplace in New Mexico called that, and I asked him where in New Mexico it was, and he said he didn't know. All he knew was the name and that the land round about had been owned by "one of those rich guys" who decided to use it for grazing, so everybody left. Nobody lived there anymore and it wasn't even on the maps these days.

Now this neighbor is well up into his seventies, probably getting close to 80, and he's been in California since 1941 he said. He was born in Colorado but came out to California when he was a teenager, joined the military and never looked back. He said he didn't know the location of "Oh-ka-teh" because it was no longer there. Like any number of other places in New Mexico.

But I got to thinking... what if it is "Oh-kah-tay?" That town I thought I had heard of, but I could not for the life of me pin point how or why. So I fired up the Google Machine and what do you know:


Ocate is a populated place located in Mora County at latitude 36.176 and longitude -105.048. Ocate local area photos.

The elevation is 7,208 feet. Ocate appears on the Ocate U.S. Geological Survey Map. Mora County is in the Mountain Time Zone (UTC -7 hours).

And there is a streetview in Google Maps:

Ocate NM looking southwest on Highway 120
Octate, NM looking southwest at the junction with Highway 442

Well. It turns out Ocate isn't entirely uninhabited. I found at least two or possibly three inhabited structures in while cruising the virtual highways via Google Maps, but yes, it is mostly abandoned, and parts of it are falling into ruin -- like so many other places in New Mexico.

I've never been up there, but the land looks very familiar, oh yes, and so do the scattered buildings and the incipient ruins. It is what you find in rural New Mexico. After a while, it stops being a surprise. New Mexico has one of the smallest populations of any state, and efforts to settle here have proved difficult for thousands of years.

When a Hopi woman was asked why the Anasazi (among her ancestors) abandoned Chaco Canyon, she is reputed to have said, "The elders said it was time to leave." And that was that.

So it appears to have been for Ocate.

Still, the name kept rattling around in my brain. Why was it so familar?

And then Teh Google turned up this:

Romero, Rosario

By Any Other Name: A Story of Slavery and Her Legacy

By Estevan Rael-Galvez

In Ocate, New Mexico, sometime between 1910 and the late 1920s, a young girl named Dora Ortiz often visited with an old woman known as Rosario Romero. During those visits, she listened carefully as Rosario’s stories drew Dora in as close as whisper. For Dora, Rosario may have seemed like the oldest woman in the world, with a memory as long as her wisdom was deep. She was, after all, believed then to have been well over a hundred years old. Ma-Ya-Yo was what Dora called the old woman, for she was like a grandmother to her. Although she had held the name Rosario for decades, she still remembered her first name, Ated-bah-Hozhoni, Happy Girl, a prophetic gift perhaps given with quiet ritual and intention. Her Diné name was one of the last vestiges that revealed from where she had come and who she once was. Although that name may have sounded to her like beauty and loss all wrapped together, it was a name that told her that she was once a happy girl.

In a story where indigenous names and origins were almost always irrevocably lost, this exception is significant. Rosario’s life was part of an old story in villages throughout New Mexico, a story whose telling was perhaps not meant to be passed on. It was after all, a history that had been quieted over the years by whispers as much as by silence, hushed aside even by those who have inherited the story—carrying, as it is, if not its geography in their faces and hands, certainly its memory in an aching consciousness—unknown perhaps, but still there. It is the story of American Indian slavery, an institution that while perhaps obscured, certainly existed and through it, thousands of individual lives passed.

[There's much more at the link and a wonderful picture of Ated-bah-Hozhoni (Rosario Romero)]

Of course. That's why it was familiar. This was one of the stories told at the talk I attended in Santa Fe. Rosario Romero was a Navajo slave captured probably during the American military campaigns against the Navajo and sold into slavery with her infant daughter (who was actually sold to a different buyer) in Northern New Mexico. Padre Martínez, Cura de Taos was her buyer, and apparently when he realized her despair at losing her daughter to another buyer, he arranged to purchase the girl and return her to her mother's care.

It is thought that Rosario was captured in the early 1860s, likely 1861, the year of the start of the American Civil War, a war conducted supposedly to end slavery. According to the account linked above, Rosario watched from hiding as her husband, her father, and her two sons were killed before her eyes, and then she was captured with her daughter and placed among the other Navajo captives in what amounted to a slave coffle somewhere in Navajo Country to the west of Taos. She and the others were then brought and sold into the slave trade at Taos.

Her owner in Taos, Padre Martinez, was quite a character, a Catholic priest of the New Mexico tradition, which meant he fathered children and worked many wonders on behalf of the people. It is how things were in this isolated frontier outpost, Nuevo Mexico regardless of which flag flew over the plaza.

Rosario ran away three times but was always recaptured and eventually she resigned herself to her fate as slave to Padre Martinez and then to his son George Romero. At the talk in Santa Fe it was pointed out that Indian slavery in New Mexico was not precisely the same thing as Negro chattel slavery in the American South. For one thing, enslavement of the Indians by the Spanish had been specifically prohibited  by the Spanish crown from very early days. Of course, the crown couldn't do anything to stop it, but still... On the other hand, the Indians of New Mexico had a long tradition of slave raiding particularly of the Plains Tribes, and those tribes likewise raided the Pueblos for slaves. It was not uncommon for slaves held in one tribe to be redeemed by another. After the American conquest, Anglo missionaries also went about redeeming slaves.

It was said that Indian slaves in New Mexico literally became part of the family of their owners, and for all intents and purposes, there was no social or physical distinction between them and anyone else of their social class -- which was, of course, that mysterious and exotic class below peon.

And yet Rosario Romero became an honored elder, regarded as a family grandmother in Ocate.

For someone at the bottom of the social ladder, she certainly was held in great esteem. (Yes, well, so was Mammy in "Gone With the Wind," so let's not get carried away.)

It is rumored that there were slaves held by some of New Mexico's prominent -- and not so prominent -- families until well into the 1940's, and there may still be slaves held today, though if there are, they would be very old, wouldn't you think?

So Ocate was not a simple little farming town out in the middle of nowhere at all. The offspring of Padre Martinez of Taos brought at least one slave, the Navajo captive called Rosario Romero, out to Ocate as early as 1867, there to serve in his household until she died in 1930.

Abe, my neighbor in California mentioned above is the son of a man whose name I don't know who was born in Ocate, NM sometime in the early 1900's or late 1800's (if dates of my father's birth and that of his siblings are any indication. Abe is older than me, but not that much older, and my siblings, if they were still alive, would be in their late seventies or early eighties now...)  Ocate had quite a complex history after the American conquest in any case, not unlike that of the area where I am right now. The area was granted by Governor Armijo to Manuel Alvarez in 1837. Alvarez never actually occupied the Grant, but claims by Alvarez and his descendants continued to be made until the matter was finally settled on behalf of homesteaders in 1893. How Padre Martinez's son George Romero came to Ocate in 1867 is, like so much else in New Mexico, something of a mystery.

Nevertheless and so on and so forth.

In the squabbles over the land, the fate of individuals like Rosario Romero can easily be overlooked, but the struggles over proper ownership of the land in New Mexico have never really ended. The land (and water) struggles are never ending, but the stories of slavery time in New Mexico are still largely unheard and unknown. It is a very uncomfortable story for many New Mexicans.

Then there is the story of the Crypto-Jews. Oh yes, many of New Mexico's prominent Spanish families are of Jewish ancestry, and the stories are told that despite their outward Catholicism, some of them still practice Jewish rituals of faith. It was always known but rarely mentioned. Like so many other things...

And then there is Joanne Bodin's novel "Walking Fish." 

I've only just scratched the surface of New Mexico characters and history.

Here in New Mexico

The Road to Santa Fe
Yes, I finally made it, weeks late, and I can only stay until July 4th when I have to scoot back to California. Then plans are under way for another expedition to NM in August, then back to California, then the Big Move sometime before the end of September. Of course, we've been moving bit by bit for the last several years.

Meanwhile, the effects of the continuing drought in NM are obvious. Drought and not-so-dry periods alternate around here, but droughts can go on for a very long time, and not-so-dry is never wet to any substantial degree. This is really high desert country, and the severity of the desertification waxes and wanes. Our place is technically in the East Mountains, but we're actually about 10 miles from the Manzanos and Sandias in a valley that was once a lake. This is farming and ranching country, and there is a good deal of land under irrigation around here. So the farms are green. Most of the rest isn't. When this area was first settled around 1900, the pioneers set out to dry-farm beans, relying on summer rains to water their crops. It worked OK until the drought that brought on the Dust Bowl. There was no rain, thus no crops, thus no way to survive, thus a rather rapid depopulation -- not that the population was ever very high. There was a sort of recovery in the 1940's, but then there was another drought in the 1950's, which led ultimately to nearly everyone leaving. Now the population hovers around 1,500 more or less (mostly less lately) and it is the metropolis of the county. People have to commute to Albuquerque or Santa Fe for employment, and that's rough when gas prices are as high as they are (the supposed drop in gasoline prices really depends on where you are. Around here they're pretty much as high now as they were in April.)

Ground water pumping is available for irrigation which has stabilized the farming and ranching community somewhat, and there is a fairly constant trade along the interstate, so there is a sense of economic stability for those who are adapted to that sort of thing.Those stabilizing factors have to be juxtaposed with the effects of the Endless Recession, however, and those effects have been severe. Many people we became friends with have left; it cost them too much to live here. Some have just walked away from their homes. Others found better places in town. This sort of population churning goes on all the time, of course, but in a small town like this, it's very stark.

There's a somewhat romantic Wild West story that serves as the foundation of current settlement in this area, and I doubt more than a few historical specialists know about it. The better known past is that of the Pueblos round about that were finally abandoned in the 1600's and 1700's due to drought, disease and predation. But there's another more recent story -- a number of them, truth be told -- that I might play around with.

Stories upon stories...

And for history buffs, yesterday was Little Big Horn Day, the 136th anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn. When I'm driving, as I was yesterday, I tend to listen to the Native American broadcasts on the radio when I cross over into New Mexico. And the Native American program I listened to yesterday featured  a recording of the story of Little Big Horn told from the Indians' perspective. It was pretty good!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Anglo-American Fascist Forecast

NATO’s Nazi Beginnings: How the West implemented Hitler’s goals  

Over at Willy Loman's Place, there is a link to an illuminating article by Robert S. Rodvik, of the Voltaire Network. Anyone who's familiar with Operation Paperclip and the origins of the CIA and MK Ultra and the rest of the shadow Anglo-American government (much of which we really know almost nothing about even now) will find the story of the origins and international intentions of NATO and other defense alliances and their relationship to fascist and Nazi programs -- indeed, their continuation of those programs -- to be familiar territory.

But the deep seated fascism of Our Governments and its Shadows is not widely recognized or appreciated. The idea that much of the infrastructure and superstructure of governments and international alliances that we take for granted -- or don't think of at all -- today came out of the adoption of Nazi and fascist policies and programs by Western powers after World War II seems bizarre and creepy at first glance.

And yet, there it is.

Not only were policies and programs adopted, so were personnel in many cases.

The outcome of WWII is still with us of course, but what lies behind the almost instantaneous transformation of the West, particularly the Anglo-American axis, into a Cold War with the Soviet Union and an endless litany of little hot wars everywhere to stem the tide of the International Communist Conspiracy is little understood.

That story is yet to be told in detail. It is another curtain still to be pulled back.

A BBC video from 1992 on just a part of it:

And here is The Stimulator on AntiFa and the Greek Thing: (Note: Foul Language and generally rebellious behavior)

On Getting The Van Back

Not My Van, but One Like It

Since this is a personal blog, I don't have much compunction regarding writing about issues like The Van or The Electric Bill or Failed Projects or Illnesses or what have you. It's all part of life and living, stuff we all go through in one way or another. Every now and then the personal might resonate just a little bit beyond the selfish.

Yesterday was the day for picking up The Van in Atwater. The guy I'd left it with -- Jim -- has a general repair shop and every time I've been there, he's the only one there. He's busy, but very friendly and open, quite unlike the chain store repair folks I'm used to dealing with who are basically sales oriented. (Just a side note: we've been having our vehicles serviced and repaired mostly at a Goodyear place in town for many years, through all kinds of staff turnovers. While they generally do a better job than many other places we've tried, and their prices are usually fair, they've screwed up on occasion, and they never miss a chance to "sell." It's all right that they do so, it's just that it's usually unnecessary.)

The van's transmission had gone out while I was driving on the freeway coming into Atwater on the way to New Mexico. Atwater is about 100 miles south of my starting point in the Central Valley. In fact, it happened just before a freeway exit to Atwater. The transmission didn't fail completely, it just got increasingly noisy. I could still drive the van but I didn't think it was safe to do so for any distance. Since it was Saturday (June 9) when this happened, there were few options for repair open, so I had The Van towed to an open smog-check/tire store. They kept it over the weekend and took it to the repair shop across the street on Monday for diagnosis. They repaired what they could -- a loose catalytic converter -- and waited for me to come back to discuss what else needed doing. I got back there last Friday and did a very short test drive -- no way was I going to drive it any distance. So I took it to the repair shop across the street from the smog check/tire shop, and the proprietor greeted me with the friendly statement: "You've got a transmission problem." After discussing what to do, how long it would take and how much it would cost, I left The Van with him to rebuild the transmission. He said he would also check possible other problems that might have been contributing to the noises. He said he thought he would have it done by Wednesday and would call.

I didn't hear from him, so I called him Wednesday afternoon and left a message. Finally Thursday evening he called back, said the transmission was still on the bench but he was almost done with it, thought he would be able to have it back in The Van by Friday but maybe not in the morning. He would call by 10am or so. Fine.

He called about 2:30pm to say it was done. Yay! Ordinarily it's about a two hour drive to Atwater, and that's what I was calculating to get there by 5:00pm since there were some things we had to take care of before we left. I wasn't counting on traffic. Not at all. I've frequently been on northbound Highway 99 that time of day -- on Fridays too -- but not on southbound 99. Traffic was surprisingly heavy and slow on the way south to Atwater. It took almost three hours to get there.  Even though we called while on the road to say we'd be late (!), it looked like the place was closed when we got there. Nobody appeared to be around  and the door looked locked.

Well, surprise. Jim was there, waiting, and said that he runs into inexplicable traffic jams on 99 too, you just can't anticipate how long it's going to take. He didn't mind waiting. He gave a very thorough rundown of what had happened to the van -- a bearing in the transmission gave way, and that's what caused the problems. He said it was a remanufactured transmission, not the original. (The engine and transmission had been replaced before I bought The Van and I bought it for cost from the shop that had done the work when the previous owner never paid.)

Jim had stripped the transmission down and rebuilt it himself. It was not badly damaged, but he said if I had driven it much farther it wouldn't have been as simple to repair by a long shot. He showed me the bearing that had failed and the damaged gears he had replaced, and said it happened because that particular bearing was weak, but more importantly, the driveshaft connection had not been greased since the transmission had been put in, and over time, that starts causing problems inside the transmission until it fails.

And sure enough. It failed. He found some other issues that were easy fixes. For example, when the radiator was replaced a few years ago (that was a saga in its own right), the repair people didn't replace the clip holding the transmission cooling line, so it was loose and leaking. He fixed that. There were some issues with the differential seals, but he figured it would hold for several more years without too much trouble, so he greased the differential and let it be. Finally, he said the intake manifold was leaking (yes, I know) and he gave me a tube of stop-leak to put in the radiator when it is cold which should hold it for another year or so. Actually, the leak has been manageable so far.

His charge was lower than his low estimate -- he said he didn't have to replace that many parts was why. And he was able to take care of some other issues and still come in under his low estimate. He said the Astro van, which of course is no longer manufactured, is his favorite of the Chevy vans because it is so reliable and relatively easy to repair. That's the first time I've heard anybody say it was easy to repair! Every time I've had to have work done on it, I hear much cursing about how difficult it is to get to various things that need fixing. Which is why the intake manifold hasn't been repaired yet. The guy who diagnosed it a couple of months ago said, "It's a beast to fix." I believe him.

As it is, the transmission repair is the most extensive I've had done in the years I've had The Van, and given how much service this van has given over those years, I figure it's well worth it to keep it running a while longer.

In fact, I've had a number of offers to buy it from various people who've serviced it; every time, such offers surprise me. But then, the instant I spotted The Van with a for sale sign, I really didn't hesitate. It was just what I needed and the price was right.

As I drove The Van back north yesterday, intending to reschedule a drive to New Mexico to start today, I was pleased with how smooth it ran, how much it seemed still to enjoy the road and how comforting it was for me in the driver's seat. I was glad and grateful to have it back.

Maybe I won't start on the trip to New Mexico until tomorrow though. Don't want to push it too much too fast.

Friday, June 22, 2012

On The New "New Media"

I wrote in an earlier post that the media collective that has arisen is perhaps the most pronounced Occupy legacy to date, and I thought I'd try to expand on that a little bit today.

Of course, as we all know, Occupy "began" with a poster, or rather an ad campaign that featured a poster, initiated by AdBusters, a Canadian publication notorious for tweaking the media and public relations in every conceivable way and initiating a whole raft of alternative ad campaigns of its own.

Video production and graphic arts are integral parts of media, advertising, and public relations. They are inseparable. And anyone who's been around the realms of marketing -- and propaganda --  for any length of time is well aware of how important these elements are to shaping public consciousness. They infuse our culture.

I've been struck for many years at how completely so many Americans, even on the internet, or maybe especially on the internet, are captives MSM. Unless they see it over and over again on their cable teevee, it isn't real.

"Alert the media! Get this to Olbermann stat!" became a catchphrase and joke on the internet as various leftish elements were allowed a little bit of freedom of expression through "New Media" during the Bushevik Era, mostly in blogs during those days.

This led to obsessions with various personalities on the teevee and columnists in the papers. It took quite a while for the early blogger triumphalists to recognize that not only were they media critics, they were themselves "media," and they were quite as capable of generating news if they chose to be as those they were so obsessively criticizing and denouncing in the mainstream media. In other words, they could -- if they would -- be doing what they were criticizing the "media" for not doing. And there were more and more people in the various aspects of the alternative media who were doing what the mainstream media wasn't doing but who were almost totally ignored by blogger triumphalists.

"Blogs" seem almost anachronistic now. There are so many more aspects to alternative and New Media that some corners of the intertubes, cul de sacs if you will, like blogs seem quaint these days. I wasn't able to consistently blog until 2007 though I'd made previous attempts going back to the late 1990's. But by the time I entered the field on a regular basis, it was no longer the next big thing. Not even close. That was actually liberating, but I'll get more into that aspect of New Media in a bit.

When Occupy came around, initiated by AdBusters but not run by them by any means, graphics, print and video media were almost immediate highlights of the nascent movement. Handlettered signs on scraps of cardboard were a feature of the first wave of Occupy demonstrations, and they continue to be an important element in the panoply of Occupy graphics and visuals. Handlettered signs were supplemented by strong original graphic designs printed in bold colors on large posters which were sometimes carried in demonstrations and marches or posted around and near Occupy sites but more often served as internet graphics almost exclusively. That is to say, the often very bold and striking Occupy graphics were available for download from the internet -- still are, for that matter -- and circulated widely on the internet, but they weren't necessarily printed in large quantities for distribution and use among demonstrators on the ground. Other graphics, which might not have a strong internet presence, tended to be used on the ground, often supplied through unions and other supporting groups or were created especially for the specific Occupy or event and produced by artists involved in it. At the rally after the pepper spray incident at UC Davis, for example, a collective of artists produced a series of stunning screen-printed posters that were distributed (still wet) among members of the crowd but which never appeared anywhere else.

One of the chief elements of Occupy media, at the outset and now, is video, both livestream and production. In fact, the Global Revolution livestream, which I believe originated in Spain or perhaps Greece during the pre-Occupy days, became the immediate outlet for real time news and information about OWS in New York, and when it wasn't working -- which was often in the early days -- Twitter became the news resource of choice.

"The livestream is down" became something of a constant complaint about OWS as for a time those who were attempting this new (to most of us) form of live internet video from New York had frequent equipment problems (laptops were used in the beginning), were unable to establish a connection with the internet, and had such frequent outages of coverage at Zuccotti/Liberty Plaza it seemed that the streams were being deliberately sabotaged.

As other Occupys were established around the country and the world, most had a livestreaming video contingent, and few of them had the kinds of service interruptions that seemed to plague OWS. Many livestreamers used the UStream software and service rather than Livestream, and they seemed to have much better and more reliable results. UStream also provided advanced equipment at no cost to some of the more prominent streamers, though ultimately, most streamers settled on using their own iPhones and jerry-rigged stabilizers and mounts for their efforts rather than bulkier equipment.

Tim Pool became the breakthrough streamer in New York, live streaming the police assault on the OWS encampment and its aftermath in November of 2011 -- for a total of 21 hours nonstop.

That singular effort demonstrated the potential of the livestream format for gripping coverage of Occupy events and news. It was a revelation. It also became something of an unfortunate standard. No individual can maintain a round the clock schedule like that for very long, but Tim did it once, and he became an instant celebrity -- both on the internet and in the mainstream media. I shouldn't say it went to his head, but I think it went to his head. There was another problem as well: his celebrity attracted controversy and eventually attracted what appeared to be attacks from persons unknown (but widely assumed to be "black bloc anarchists") and accusations that he was a snitch in cahoots with the police. Something similar happened to some of the other prominent independent streamers such as OakFoSho in Oakland. Both Tim and Spencer (OakFoSho) took it hard and both, for the time being, have shut down their Occupy coverage.

Other livestreamers have emerged in the absence of or as complements to Tim and Spencer and some of the other better known livestreamers, and I follow as many of them as I can.

Of course much of what Occupy is doing these days isn't as constant and dramatic as it was in the early days so the need for extensive livestreaming of actions doesn't seem quite as pressing. Burnout has been a real physical and emotional problem throughout the Occupy firmament, not simply among the media collective -- although burnout seems to be more of a problem in media than in some of the other aspects of the continuing Occupy movement. I witnessed it first hand at my local Occupy. While there is still an independent media presence with the local Occupy (yes, it is still in operation), it is much lower key than previously, and there is only one individual doing most of the video streaming and recording as opposed to the half-dozen or so who once occupied the Media Tent and ultimately burnt out in their efforts (I'm sure they would deny it!)

In addition to the livestreaming, Occupy in New York and elsewhere in the country and around the world has produced some of the most compelling and visually stunning stand alone videos there are these days. Not only is the output remarkable, these videos are some of the most professionally well-crafted media I've seen from any source. Some are feature length while most are much shorter. As film-craft they are among the best in the documentary field.

No matter how Occupy evolves, the new media it has spawned will stand as one of its chief legacies.

It is a Do It Yourself media first and foremost. The insight is that you can do it yourself, you don't need to rely on the Mainstream Media. Though there are distinctive personalities involved, it is not a personality driven media unlike most of what's in the mainstream, and it does not rely on expensive equipment and a huge corporate infrastructure to exist or survive. Much of it, such as the graphics and the printed newspapers, is old fashioned and evocative of previous revolutionary eras. Much of it, like the livestreaming and the videos, is well in advance of the mainstream.

The New New Media that has come out of Occupy to my mind represents a paradigm shift in progress, away from the rigidity and control of the traditional media and their corporate owners and toward a more personal media.

As that concept takes hold, public perceptions will change. My hope is that the ability to propagandize from "above" will diminish and eventually disappear, but hopes are fragile things, and I don't really know how this paradigm shift will evolve.

All I know is that what's been done so far by the Occupy media collective has had a profound effect on public consciousness.

In a future installment, I hope to be able to assemble some of the examples of Occupy media I've written about here, but my schedule is likely to be somewhat chaotic for a while as packing and travel and a whole raft of other issues come to the fore.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adam Curtis Explains It All For You -- Counterinsurgency, That Is

Counterinsurgency -- COIN as it's known -- is the next big thing. In fact, it is being practiced globally by American and mercenary forces and no doubt by others in a kind of cat-and-mouse game constantly churning in the background of more and more people's everyday lives.

Adam Curtis explores the modern and historical versions of COIN in the following film-and-essay for the BBC. It's illuminating and yet strangely antiseptic.

For one thing, Curtis fails to mention the counter insurgency programs including notorious death squads conducted in Central America by various outfits connected with the United States Government during the 1980's. They are generally believed to have been under the direction of John Negroponte (who of course denies everything). Those operations, I would say, were the direct model for the counter insurgency actions undertaken in Iraq under Stanley McCrystal and General St. David Petraeus (who now heads the CIA).

However, Curtis's earlier history of counter insurgency theory and operations as developed by the French and expanded by the United States in Vietnam is fascinating and horrifying. Being aware of the Algerian counter insurgency and Operation Phoenix in Vietnam is one thing, seeing it all laid out the way Curtis does it is something else again.

Another point that Curtis doesn't touch on is that counter insurgency tactics are being employing domestically in the United States and elsewhere in the suppression of political dissent, what's said to be drug crime, and to some extent even in political campaigns.

In other words, doctrines of counter insurgency -- which ironically grow out of Maoist revolutionary concepts -- have become so commonplace as to be taken for granted.

There are lessons to be learned...


At the beginning of this year one of the weirdest characters ever to become involved in the present Afghan war died. He was called Jack Idema and he was a brilliant con-man. For a moment, during the early part of the war, Idema persuaded all the major TV networks and scores of journalists that he was some kind of special forces super-hero who was using all kinds of "black ops" to track down and arrest the terrorists.

In reality, before 2001, Idema had been running a hotel for pets in North Carolina called The Ultimate Pet Resort. He had been in prison for fraud, and had tried to con journalists before about being some kind of super-spy. But September 11th gave him his chance - and he turned up in Kabul dressed like this.

Continues at the link in the title. Well worth some time to explore.

And in conclusion, Curtis points out what many others suspect, that General St. David Petraeus has been groomed to be Our Next President But One. Though Curtis doesn't mention it, there are rumors circulating now that Petraeus will be Romney's #2, which would mean -- if previous patterns hold -- that if Romney gets to the White House, Petraeus would be in effective charge (much as Cheney was) and would be ruling through Romney.

Frau Merkel's German Europe Projekt

They say she's looking tired lately. I wouldn't be surprised, what with all these EuroFinance Disasters to wrangle year in and year out. But for the life of me, it seems the whole roller coaster ride over there is just careening from one crisis to another -- actually always the same crisis, the banks are running dry of capital again -- and Merkel is riding in the lead car screaming. In other words, apart from the thrill of the ride itself, does she have any idea what she's doing? Or trying to do?

According to Anatole Kaletsky who writes for Reuters, Merkel is embarked on the "German Europe" Projekt, the same project that engaged Germany in some unpleasantness during the 20th Century, as some still alive may recall.

If that's the right analysis, then Germany and Europe and the rest of us have a Problem of which the extractions demanded from Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland (so far) are only the beginning.

The German Europe Projekt as been a fundamental problem of Europe for some 1,800 years as the Alemanni tribes and their precursors and successors spread over the European heartland and beyond, replacing -- in a manner of speaking -- the (Celto-Roman) social and political structures they found in place with their own. 

The Project has been going on ever since generally accompanied by a good deal of unpleasantness indeed.

So here we go again. At least to all appearances.

The question Kaletsky raises -- which has been raised over and over again in these seemingly endless struggles -- is whether the rest of Europe will be able to resist the March From Berlin. Kaletsky suggests the following course:

...At next week’s summit, France, Italy and Spain can turn the tables on Merkel by presenting her with an ultimatum: Led by President Hollande, who has abandoned President Sarkozy’s Gaullist pretensions of parity with Germany, the big three Mediterranean countries could agree on a program that really might save the euro: a banking union, followed by jointly issued eurobonds and backed by ECB quantitative easing. If Merkel tried to block these policies, the others could politely invite her to leave the euro, since Germany’s political pressures evidently made membership impossible on terms its partners could accept – essentially the proposition Merkel put last month to Greece. Without Germany, the euro zone would have much smaller internal imbalances and much more political coherence, with a much weaker currency and higher inflation, both of which would make debts easier to resolve.

In other words, Germany is the problem, Germany is the roadblock, and Germany under Merkel is thwarting any effort to resolve the economic and financial problems of the Eurozone, blocking every move toward a solution, and demanding ever greater levels of sacrifice on the Periphery in order to maintain German "integrity."

It's wrong and unfair to blame it all on Frau Merkel; after all, she has her constituents to consider, and though her party is losing seats in the state parliaments and the Reichstag... er  Bundestag... heh heh... she is still Reich Chancellor... er... and must represent the interests of the German Volk, ja? So a struggle between the interests of Germany on the one hand and everyone else in Europe on the other is simply a matter of each asserting their own rights and privileges, right? A family squabble, eh?

Well maybe not. 

If as it seems Merkel is pushing the German Europe Projekt once again, trampling on the rights and privileges of the rest of the family as it were, then there's something else going on. 

This looks to be an effort by Germany to dominate Europe, this time without troops perhaps, but with nearly as much deliberate and imposed suffering on the subject peoples as ever there was.

Ultimately, there will or there won't be a German Europe. Frau Merkel is intent on pushing her advantage to the limit of the rest of Europe's endurance and beyond, and in this, she is backed to the hilt by the global banksters; the German Europe Projekt is as much their creation as it is that of Germany itself. Americans may feel that they are on the sidelines, but I wouldn't be so sanguine about it. What happens in Europe, just as what happens in Latin America, in the Middle East, in Asia and in Africa, affects what happens here in ways we can't always anticipate or prepare for. 

And don't forget, the ice is melting...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Going to Hell In a Handbasket -- Episode Whatever


Just had a rough encounter with our electric company over a past due bill that we had no idea was past due.

They sent a somewhat stern email yesterday about bills unpaid and a balance due of $83.83, and I wondered WTF.  Total balance due: $142.69 including this month's bill. If not paid by suchandsuch a date next week, the Kill Switch will be thrown.

Uhhh. What happened here wondered I. We don't typically avoid paying utility bills. Something went awry at some point. So we go through all the bills received and notice that we haven't received one from the electric utility since March. Ah! That might be why it hasn't been paid, eh?

March, March. Why does that sound familiar? Ah yes, in March, through a miscommunication, we paid the electric bill twice, once by check and once online. And to pay online required setting up an online account. Of course.

So why hadn't we received bills since March?

Curious, I did an email search, and sure enough, there were billing reminder emails in May and June, but no indication in them that one would not receive any other notice or that one would have to pay online.

So I went back to their website, which required re-registering, since the user ID and password I'd used in March were totally forgotten. It was so complicated to register again -- much more complex than registering for online access to a bank account, say, and that takes some doing these days -- I see why I had forgotten the user ID and password.

Once in to the account online, I checked the bills, and sure enough there was March which showed a double credit for February and an $8.41 credit for March. There was April which applied the March credit to a $37.92 bill leaving a balance due of $29.51. There was May which showed a balance due of $54.32 plus the April unpaid balance for a total of $83.83. And there was June which showed an balance due of $58.42 plus a late charge of $.44 plus the previous unpaid balance of $83.83 for a total of $142.69. However, there was a billing summary table that showed completely different totals.

Hm. Well. How about that. We never received these bills, and I couldn't figure out why until I saw a little note under the account name: "Thank you for signing up for paperless billing."

But we never did. There was no intent to do so at all. The only reason for accessing the account online was to be able to pay the bill online when necessary not to forgo paper bills.

Sure enough, when I looked at the "Paperless billing options" on the menu, there was a checkmark for the "Paperless billing only" selection -- which selection I had never made as I had never even been to that section of their website before. It seemed to me that like Wells Fargo, accessing the website at all was sufficient to change billing to paperless.

So I checked around and found another place on the website where one could choose "email and paper bills sent monthly" -- which I did.

And then I attempted to pay the bill online. Which took a surprisingly long time to accomplish because of the difficulty of setting up a one time payment account. I had to do it three times before I was actually successful. The problem was that after the account was set up, there were no instructions regarding what to do from that point, and I kept getting bounced back to the setup sequence. After the third try, I went back a little farther and found a payment button, and sure enough, it got me to another page where I could choose from which account, and thence to an actual pay now screen.

 Since I'm not a total novice at these things -- we pay practically everything online as it is -- the frustrations of this site struck me as being due to extraordinarily poor design combined with an absolute obsession with website hyper-security which struck me a more than a little misplaced. It's a utility company, actually a public utility company, not a corporate one. This is not a national security issue. It's an electric bill.

At any rate, I paid the bill and checked again on the billing options and found the account was STILL set at "paperless." By this time I was becoming enraged, not that it does any good. I went back to the menu and reselected "email and paper bills monthly". Would it take this time? Who knew? I decided to log out and check again today.

Today came, and at about 11am there was a threatening letter in the mail from the utility. "Pay up or else. Immediately. We'll cut your electricity off if you don't pay, we'll charge you an arm and a leg to reconnect your lousy delinquent ass. If you have already paid, call our customer service line and let them know."

So I did.

What a mistake.

First, I checked the credit union, and sure enough, the $142.69 that I'd paid online yesterday had been deducted from our account.

When I called, I listened to the menu of options and chose "check balance"; it showed $83.83 past due and $58.42 due for June. In order to get to a customer service rep, I had to wade through a series of other options.

The person who answered the phone (after a short wait) at first refused to talk to me at all because the account isn't in my name. So? I had paid the bill, and I wanted to be sure that it was accounted for in their records.

No, there was still a past due amount he said. He asked when I paid it and when was it deducted from my account. I told him it was paid yesterday as soon after I found out what had happened as possible and it was deducted today.  "Oh," he said, "it won't show up on our records for another four or five days. We have to make sure the payment clears."

Uh. The payment "cleared" as soon as it was made, I informed him. If it didn't "clear" it would have been rejected by the credit union. They will not pay in the case of overlimit charges or insufficient funds. In other words, I would not have been able to make the payment online at all if it didn't "clear." And the full amount of the payment has been deducted from our credit union account as of today. Ergo, it should be reflected in the utility's records right now.

"No," he said, "our policy is to post online payments four to five days after they are made." I said, "That means that you won't show a payment has been made till after your deadline for disconnection."

"I can make a note that your payment has been made as of June 19th; that will be sufficient to avoid disconnection," he said.

Oh goody, thought I. (How much longer are we going to be at this address anyway? Counting down the days...)

Then I told him that this happened because apparently the account was put on paperless billing simply by accessing the website. And because we weren't getting bills, we didn't even realize that they were going unpaid. There's nothing in the reminder emails that says the bill must now be paid online only.

Yes, he says, he's heard that from a number of customers, and he would make a note of it. I said it was also very difficult to use the website and that even when I selected "email and paper bills" I was still informed that the account was on "paperless."

He would make sure that IT knew that customers were not happy with this situation, but he could not discuss the account with me any more because I was not listed on it.


How sad.

I was just getting started.

But it was tiresome and I had other things to take care of. I wished him "Good day," and hung up.

Ordinarily, we don't have to deal with the utility companies at all, which is nice. The few times I've had to deal with ATT (once to get rid of their wildly overpriced cell phone service, and once recently to see if there was something wrong with the phone line again -- much static and slow broadband)  it was a nightmare. It was a long struggle to get them to cancel the cell phone service, as they kept wanting to sell me on keeping it, and I didn't want to. For one thing, it was too expensive, and the cost kept going up month after month, and their service was crappy. I couldn't use the phone inside the house, and there were all kinds of deadspots and no service areas on the routes I traveled. Yadda, yadda.

As for the static on the line, after calling for service, and setting an appointment for someone to come out, I got a call from a really snotty CS Rep who said no one was going to come out, the problem was my crappy old equipment not their lines, and that was that. Oh. Well. Thanks for helping. What are we paying for again?

Yes, well. These stories of dismal corporate and public sector customer service can be repeated endlessly because that's the way it is these days.

Institutional failure pretty much assures these results.

And What of the Class Struggle?

I was getting caught up on Occupy Caravan events last night on the archived livestreams, pondering some of the history of Occupy and the DIY media collective that has arisen therefrom -- perhaps the most pronounced legacy of Occupy to date -- and as I was watching Nate's video from Okemah, OK (Woody Guthrie's birthplace), I saw the Caravan vehicles for the first time: a BMW, two new Toyota minivans, and a new Chevy Suburban. There was a bus as well, but it broke down in Flagstaff. The transmission went out. Oh. I can imagine. Apparently they were running it without transmission fluid (do tell), and so by the time it got up the hill in Flagstaff (it's a long and steep climb, folks; I've done it many times) the bus couldn't go any farther. They were trying to raise money to fix it.

I got to thinking about class issues vis a vis Occupy, teh Revolution, and Everything. The emblems of the Occupy Caravan, after all -- that is, its vehicles -- couldn't be more starkly upper middle class. These are not the cars of the Struggling Masses. But then, how many Occupiers are Proletarian? Perhaps close to zero.

Not zero, no. But close.

Back when I was quite active in the local Occupy, there was much union involvement and support, but it seemed to rather quickly devolve into animosity. I got into some truly bizarre situations with union members -- as I recall, SEIU members were some of the strangest -- when they actively set out to oppose Occupy's continued presence and sought to prevent the city from relenting on arrests and prosecutions of Occupy participants who disobeyed authority. Support evaporated. In fact, it turned into something of a joke. The problem mostly seemed to be communications, but there was something else underlying it; union and Occupy organization is simply not that poor.

At the very outset, Socialists came to the meetings and pretty much denounced the whole thing because it wasn't organized "right," and it couldn't possibly get anywhere, as has long been known and proved by anyone familiar with Revolutionary theory. Of course when it did get somewhere, the Socialists continued to crab.

Meanwhile, many of those who were -- and continue to be -- involved with Occupy are of a higher social status (or like to think of themselves as of a higher social status) than the Working Class. They are educated, after all, and they work as professionals. They live comfortably, send their kids to private school, etc. They are not struggling financially (or so they think) and are generous with their contributions.

On the other hand, Occupy has long had a social service contingent housing, feeding, and clothing the indigent, the homeless, and the ne'er do wells of society. A goodly number of Occupy's activist are from that social stratum, and to the surprise of some observers, they've proved themselves very capable.

But they're not really working class, either.

To see the Caravan accommodated so luxuriously on the road is somewhat disconcerting, but then I ask why they shouldn't have decent transportation for such a long trip -- from Los Angeles on one route, San Francisco on the other, to Philadelphia. Should they be driving Dust Bowl jalopies? Where would they even get them?

My understanding is that the vehicles -- except for the BMW -- are rented in any case. Which explains why they're new and relatively luxurious.

As for the bus, I know nothing except that it is still apparently broken down in Flagstaff. But again, on a long cross-country trip, one would need a decent vehicle.

The trouble is that these somewhat deluxe vehicles driving across county in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth seems oxymoronic on the one hand, and it could well be a turn off to working people the Caravan encounters. Maybe Dust Bowl jalopies would be too difficult to wrangle and would probably be called melodramatic as well. But there are all kinds of potentially more appropriate vehicles, such as cars from the 1950's and 1960's. One would think. Or maybe they should have a horse and wagon. (I'm not really criticizing the choices made by the caravaners. What I'm considering is the optics of those choices and how those optics may relate to the Class Struggle.)

It seems that more people are innately understanding the class nature of the struggle given the way so many millions of Americans have been forced into poverty during this Endless Recession and the relentlessness of the extractions demanded of everybody else by the tiny class of Masters Who Rule Us.

But the effort seems to be focused on finding something other than "class struggle" to define what's going on.

Whatever that is has yet to be discovered.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Future of Nuclear Power -- Too Cheap To Meter Returns

Boy, this takes me back: Thorium

If you were a boy in the 1950's -- or in some cases a girl -- dreaming of the Future, a Future of Abundance and Peace and Technological Marvels, then nuclear power was where it was at, and according to all the news, nukes would eventually be powerful and small and common enough to power airplanes and refrigerators and maybe even bicycles, who knows.

Thorium in the '50's was marketed as the nuclear fuel of the Future, and the small scale, efficient reactors that would run on thorium were considered The Latest Thing. At the time, the notion that nuclear power would be "too cheap to meter" was still in vogue, and the idea of truly inexpensive and universally available electricity was still considered both exotic and desirable.

We've come a long way since then.

Nuclear power turned out to be neither cheap nor easy to obtain; the reactors themselves are simple enough to be sure. The complexity is in their safe operation which has proved to be elusive no matter what safeguards are installed. (To say that every reactor that has melted down or exploded was designed and built wrong is a tautology. Of course they were. That's not the issue. The issue is that these kinds of design and construction errors are, for some reason, endemic to the field.) And of course there's the storage and disposal of nuclear waste issue, something that wasn't even on the radar 50 or 60 years ago when Our Nuclear Future was being planned for us.

For whatever reason, the nuclear power industry has been plagued with an inability to think through the basics of what it is they are trying to do and what the consequences of doing it on the one hand and failure to do it safely and responsibly on the other are likely to be. This problem is not unique to the nuclear power industry, but the consequences of fault and failure in the nuclear field are much greater for all of us than is the case in most other major industries.

The nuclear industry (both for war and peace) is a product of World War II, and that, I believe, is where the intrinsic problem lies. There was a certain way of doing things during wartime back then that is frankly appalling in a contemporary context. It was not an era where safety was emphasized. It was, after all, war. And there are casualties in war, many casualties, whole peoples and nations turned into casualties, and that's just the way it was. Producing for war was a matter of scale and speed, not worker safety -- or warfighter safety for that matter. "Git 'er done," was not invented in the Bushevik era. It was the way that wartime economies and societies were organized.

Both of my parents were in the military during WWII, and both regarded it as a natural thing. "Git 'er done." They had their jobs to do and they did them rather unthinkingly. I've apparently misplaced it, but I've read a copy of my father's military record, much of which consists of reports he wrote for his superiors, and I'm struck by a number of things: he was apparently fully into his assignments, so much so that he wrote detailed, specific narratives of his findings that are filled with objectivity and extraordinary energy. He was looking into everything he was assigned and more and reporting to the War Reconversion Board his recommendations for proceeding with contract termination and so forth, pretty cut and dried you would think. But it was clearly an adventure for him given what wrote.

That sense of adventure fills practically everything I've come across about WWII that was produced during the war. And adventure as well as stealth was very much a part of the nuclear weapons saga of World War II.

There's an address in Santa Fe just down the street from the Governor's Palace. It's old and has gone from decrepitude to renovation and back again several times. It was the site of J. Robert Oppenheimer's Santa Fe office and served as the staff entrance for the engineers and physicists assembling to take part in the Manhattan Project some distance away in Los Alamos.

It was an adventure which Oppenheimer and others have written about with great eloquence and not a little dread.

I've been by the site and have of course been to the Trinity Site to pay my respects... but those aspects were just the beginning of the Nuclear Future as determined by Victory in World War II.

Transformation of nuclear energy from use as a weapon of war and annihilation to use as a power source for the benefit of mankind was the Futurist marketing plan, but just what happened is still somewhat mystifying.

There was an arms race, for example, between the United States and the Soviet Union to produce an abundance of nuclear weapons so as to be able to assure one another of mutual annihilation. This was the threat Americans and Soviet children lived under practically every day of their lives from the end of WWII until... when? Has that existential threat ever gone away?

At the same time, the nuclear sword was being beaten into plowshares in both the United States and the Soviet Union, with the advent of nuclear power generation in the mid-fifties. There were nuclear reactors popping up everywhere, from nearby riverbanks to submarines and ships at sea. The N. S. Savannah was the first commercial nuclear powered ship, started in 1959, launched in 1961 as a showcase. But there are dozens of nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers plying the seas today. The technology is well understood. It's simply too expensive for civilian use.

It was assumed, however, that nuclear energy generation would be far cheaper than traditional coal or oil or natural gas fired plants, and that it would be 'clean energy' having practically no negative environmental consequences.

Well, that didn't work out so well, either.

Comes now Thorium.

Or Here It Comes Again.

Thorium has always been more abundant and easier to work with than uranium as a nuclear fuel; that's never been the issue. The issue is the same no matter what the nuclear fuel is: what will you do with the waste, and what if something goes wrong?  And if something goes wrong, what are the consequences? Be honest now.

Things go wrong; the problems of nuclear power have never been thought through, and no matter how much we hear "we can figure it out," the inherent problems haven't been figured out in more than 60 years of trying. Oh, maybe it's not quite as bad as it once was, but that's not saying much.

Nuclear energy has become almost a cargo cult, a realm of dreamers and enthusiasts. Maybe it was always like that, I don't know. But I know I was happy as could be when the local nuclear power plant, which was draining the public utility of resources and money, was finally decommissioned. Of course the fuel rods and waste are still stored at the site in pools; and they say that it will have to stay there until a permanent waste disposal site is found. Which is not likely to happen. Ever. Because there is no place to store this shit that is actually, permanently, safe. That's just the way it is.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How We Got From There To Here

Catastroika -- in Greek with English subtitles.


The key factor was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The key failure has been the inability of the People to find a working alternative to the counterweight the Soviets provided to capitalism run amok.

So Why Do People Vote Against Their Own Best Interests?

I would argue that from their perspective they've done no such thing.

Their perspective may be wrong to be sure. But they don't know that at the time. Most often, they can't know it.

It's a matter of social and cultural conditioning, of propaganda, of deep seated fears, of threats and imprecations, of promised rewards and of an inner need to do what is right for oneself and one's posterity. All normal stimuli and responses under the circumstances.

And yet responding normally is somehow wrong? Since the result of the action can't be known in advance, it's hard to see where it is wrong for a People to vote in the way they think is appropriate under their circumstances at the time -- and hope for the best.

As we see in Greece, the issues are not clear cut in the eyes of the People; they continue to evince tepid support for a standard model rightist solution to their existential crisis, but they are trending more and more to the Left, with strong showings by the Left coalition and the even-further Left, ie: the Communists.

The odd-man-out is the Socialist Party (ΠΑΣΟΚ) which can't seem to win for losing. But then, selling out tends to have that effect.

Meanwhile in France the Socialists gained a clear majority in the National Assembly and so Hollande has a mandate going forward. Into what is the question. France and Germany appear to be on a collision course with regard to the proper treatment of the Periphery. But then, are they? Really? Frau Merkel seems quite capable of steamrolling and stonewalling to get her way until the very last minute -- or as they say the last dog dies. She seems to be modeling herself after Baroness Thatcher in her dealings with the fringes of Europe, and she's getting away with it. On the other hand, Hollande is a blank slate; the Socialist platform may be one thing and his perspective something else. Since Socialists and Social Democrats all over Europe have been more than willing to sell their People out for the promise of reward under the New World Order or what have you, I wouldn't put much faith in the Elysee Palace's ability to sway Berlin from its current path of domination, exploitation and ruin for all who don't pay appropriate tribute.

The economic policies out of Berlin and Brussels are insane on their merits, but they're typical of the predominate neo-liberal economics out of all the highest institutions in the world these days. Banksters rule with an iron fist, and they will fuck up whole nations that don't go along with them pronto and fully.

Frau Merkel, Mme Legarde and Signore Draghi all pull the wagon for the Banksters. Legarde and Draghi ARE Banksters; Merkel's service unto them and unto the Berlin Banksters in defiance of common sense and decency (let alone basic macro economics) is -- or would be -- inexplicable, but for the fact that she says the German Volk are behind her (as her party loses election after election in the German States.)

And we may at some point to ask how exactly it came to be that the Banksters were allowed to overwhelm common sense and a decent regard for mankind in their pursuit of obscene profits based on... nothing. What happened to enable this triumph of greed, parsimony and stupidity?

And what, exactly, are the People to do under the circumstances?

In Europe, it appears that the People have recognized that they are essentially unable to affect the policy decisions of their governments, no matter who they elect. So, if I'm reading the situation correctly, when they seem to be "voting against their own interests" by voting unenthusiastically for a more rightist government, they may not actually be voting against their own interests at all. They may instead be acknowledging that they aren't going to get anywhere with any of the parties or their alternatives: the situation will stay the same or worsen no matter what party is in charge of the government because the government itself is a captured entity which the People cannot affect significantly from the inside.

The only real effect will come from the outside.

I may be projecting a great deal here, following my own twisted insights about these things, but maybe not. It may well be that people who seem to be voting against their own interests are dupes and fools; but it is quite as possible that they are making a strategic decision.

Watch what happens in Egypt as their Revolution is systematically undermined through legal and electoral shenanigans. Somehow, two weeks of agitation and occupation hasn't quite turned into the New Day the Revolutionaries thought it would. And after what the Egyptians have been going thorough since their "success" in overthrowing the Regime (oh yeah?) ,  the Arab Spring may not have been all it was cracked up to be.  A year later, it's looking to get even grimmer. And in Egypt, please note, the electoral process and candidate selection is as hamstrung as that of Iraq.

There is no way for the public interest and popular will to be appropriately acknowledged and expressed through these convoluted and highly managed electoral systems. While it is obvious in the case of the New Arab electoral situation -- elections are actually freer and produce a more representative outcome in Iran -- the shock of it is stronger because of the innocence and naivete of the electorate.

In sophisticated Europe, there is much less expectation that government will actually reflect the People's Will.

And here? Quien sabe? I think people are realizing -- if they hadn't already recognized it --  that elections are not the way toward significant policy changes. It simply won't happen -- because it can't.

How it will fall out, I don't know. We are in a Revolutionary Era, one unlike any I can point to in history because of its nearly universal aspect at the popular level, the nearly complete divorce between Peoples and their governments, and the extraordinarily widespread efforts of individuals and groups to engineer change from the ground up, without deference or reference to the ruling elites.

This is something different than Revolutions of the past.

There is a long way yet to go, but I suspect when the final act plays out, it will be quick. We'll see.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing Greece Off

I think it was Ian Welsh who proposed to write off any people who failed to vote correctly and wound up with a Rightist government that made economic matters worse rather than improving things. Ah yes, here it is:

May 31 -- My Sympathy Is About Out

If the Irish vote in a referendum for austerity, then they deserve what they get.  Current polls are showing Greeks will probably vote for pro-austerity parties as well, if so, again, my sympathy will be out.  Democracy is about getting what you vote for, if countries vote for austerity, then they deserve it.

Well, that's putting it succinctly, isn't it?

The Irish did so vote. So did the Portuguese long ago. So did the Spanish. And now, so have the Greeks.

The Italians might have balked, but the Eurozone headed off that calamity by installing one of their own as PM, without a vote of the people. They tried the same trick in Greece, but it didn't quite work the first time around; now, apparently, there's little doubt.

Of course, we could go on about election fraud if we wanted to, and to the fact that SYRIZA came in a very creditable second. The Socialists, on the other hand, have been thoroughly discredited and look to become a rump or fringe party no matter.

The reason why? Of course, it's simple: the Socialists sold the People out. This has been happening all over Europe, and so rightist parties are surging. Think of what Tony Blair did to the Labour Party. Much the same has been happening everywhere.

The United States has never had a viable Socialist Party at the polls, and neither of our major political parties are even remotely Socialist. As I've said many times, Barack Obama's policies -- especially his economic policies -- are as if he is channeling Herbert Hoover, and I'm not the only one who says so. Yet he is accused of raging Marxism. It's absurd. But in the context of our own political firmament, understanding that the Democrats are what passes for a political "left" -- although there is nothing remotely leftist about them -- the Democrats are in the position of the sell-out Socialists of Europe, and the problem is that there is no... reasonable... political alternative there or here. The only alternative party capable of governing is the more rightist party.

The Greek "New Democracy" Party is not the fascists, at least not outwardly. Nor is SYRIZA the communists outwardly. So the Greek election results are not a huge break from the past or even a particularly portentous one. Instead, the Greeks have voted to continue with the current austerity policies but under somewhat harsher conditions for the People, much as the Spanish and Portuguese and Irish did.

That is if these election results are actually unfudged. We don't know. Also in Europe there are a number of competing parties and elections can be "won" on far less than a majority of the vote -- as was the case here. I was watching the official announcement of New Democracy's victory live this afternoon, and it was clear from the graphics, even though I neither read nor understand Greek worth mentioning, that ND "won" with less than 30% of the vote. SYRIZA was at 27.1%. PASOK (the Socialists) was 12.3%. The Nazis and the Communists each got around 7%. What's called the Independents weren't much more than that.

Even from an aggregate/coalition standpoint, there is no majority for a particular way forward, and to me, that's natural in a severe crisis situation. That's why so often nations in crisis turn to Leaders or leave themselves open to the blandishments of Leaders. The People on their own don't know what to do or more to the point, they don't see a way to proceed without a Leader in the vanguard.

One of the things about SYRIZA's candidate, Alexis Tsipris, was that he said that he wasn't ready to govern in any case. The honesty that he displayed all through the campaign apparently appealed greatly to the Greek People, but they weren't convinced -- as I wasn't -- that if he were to become the Prime Minister that he would... survive either politically or physically.

I predicted, for example, that if SYRIZA won a majority that a German-led coup would intervene to protect the bankers and their interests no matter what. No doubt the Greek People were more than a little aware of the potentials given the heavy propaganda from Berlin and Brussels and the open threats being made against the Greek People if they didn't vote the right way to please the banks and bankers. I expected that if SYRIZA won, Tsipris would be first against the wall, and that he would go willingly and would make quite a dramatic spectacle of it. But that would not have done a damn thing to make things better for the Greek People -- at least in the short term. Oh, but the Drama!

So. It's going to get worse. And I imagine Frau Merkel did a little dance to celebrate.

It isn't so much a matter of breaking the stranglehold of the Rightists and their sponsors and owners. As we've seen, in Europe, the Socialists are owned by the same banking interests. Going from one to the other keeps the People on the same dismal trajectory. Alternative political parties don't necessarily have the answer either.

The problem, as I see it, is that the "answer" -- such as there is one -- to government capture by the bankers and their cohorts is that it doesn't lie in elections and political parties. The answer lies outside a corrupt and potentially irredeemable system, which is one of the reasons why I find David Graeber's anarchist arguments so persuasive. He doesn't necessarily say pull down the system and install your own version; he says work around and sidestep it. Make it irrelevant.

I don't know that it can be done successfully on a large scale, though religious communities suggest it very much can. In fact, in some of the evangelicals/fundamentalists of today we have models for how to create parallel institutions and societies that are long lasting and serve parallel functions to those of government. It can be done, and American history is rife with examples.

So I don't agree with Ian's notion of writing off Peoples who vote the wrong way when they're given the opportunity -- as the Greek People were -- to vote something else again, something arguably better. They may or may not regret today's vote, but they are balancing enormous psychological pressures as well as economic catastrophe no matter what they do. Mitigating it to the extent possible seems to have been on their minds just as much as the need to find another way.

"Not as bad as those who have betrayed you" seems to be the universal declaration of the rightist parties like New Democracy.

"Not as bad as those who have betrayed you."

What a world.

What a world.


New Democracy wins Greek elections. Let the looting, pillage, plunder and destruction continue.


The Obama Problem (Repost)

[I wrote this during the Debt Crisis Crisis. While I usually don't repost things from the past, it seems to me that Mr. Obama is struggling in the political arena once again, largely because people are dissatisfied with his performance on economic matters. The problem is his continued devotion to Hooverite economic principles. That's not to say that FDR and the New Deal were necessarily all that much better in an academic sense. They were far better in a political and popular sense. FDR understood the necessity of politically popular programs and policies, regardless of whether they were scientifically or academically sound; Hoover not so much, and not because he was such a bad man, or because he believed in "doing nothing" with regard to the economy -- neither was true about him.

No, the difference between Hoover and FDR, I think, was largely due to the fact FDR spent his entire adult life in politics and he came from a politically well connected and highly astute family. Hoover, not so much. Hoover was more of a bloodless technocrat, and the difference showed.

In the present case, of course, Romney has got Obama beat in the bloodless category. But Obama is obviously flailing as he goes around the country promoting economic policies that have actually resulted in an astronomical increase in unemployment and poverty. The People's answer is going to be, "NO!" There's no way around it.

The following essay written last July speaks of Obama as man of Principle whose primary Principle is that of Transcendence. And he will stick with it no matter what.]

The Obama Problem

I have from time to time offered both criticisms and defenses of His Serenity, Barack "Hoover" Obama -- mostly critical observation of what he is doing and why I think he's doing it. I don't think he is particularly evil or smart for that matter, but I do see him as increasingly self-possessed, self-actuated, and increasingly rigid in his core principles and beliefs.

President Carter with better looks and no Southern accent.

Well, yes. The Carter comparison has been raised since forever, on the presumption that Obama would be a one term president -- which he might well be, and I don't think he really much cares about that.

But lately, the fashion mavens in the Blogosphere have decided to push the notion that Obama is somehow The. Worst. President. Ever. (Excuse me, no.) Aware observers are more than willing to point out that the premise itself is stupid and unworthy, but it's hard not to succumb to the silliness because it is based in a human need to be on a "team" and support or defy the conventional wisdom.

Someone who supports his team feels validated, especially if his captain wins the game. And one thing I can say about Obama -- which I have in other fora -- is that he is a true believer in his own principles and his abilities to institute them through his agency as President.

His primary principle is that of Transcendence. He believes, truly, that it is his role to transcend the partisan divide, to bring the parties together, if not in harmony at least in agreement that something must be done and can be done, and to help hammer out whatever deal is necessary to Make It Happen.

That's what this Debt Crisis Crisis is all about. And it is -- sort of -- looking like he might pull it off.

Meanwhile, I came across a couple of considerations of The Obama Problem today that I think help clarify the picture. The first, via Digby, is by Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, and it is very good. The upshot is that Obama is doing what he is doing -- which often seems incomprehensible to observers -- because he really believes in the principle of transcendence and he is determined to stick with his principles no matter what.

He apparently really believes—still!—in civic-republican notions of government as an arena for reasoned deliberation. That he could still think this is akin to a child believing in Santa Claus until he’s 15—but apparently he does. The journalist Alec MacGillis captured this conviction well in a profile he did of Obama for the British New Statesman back in 2008. Barack Obama, he wrote, “was running not on a record of past achievement or on a concrete program for the future, but instead on the simple promise of thoughtfulness.” From this perspective a unilateral action would be almost impious—or at least, if you’d rather aim a little lower than God, anti-Madisonian. Obama would be giving up on his ideal. Of course he should have long since given up on it. I was with him at the beginning—his conviction that politics could be better and more deliberative was one of the things I found appealing about the man. But that ship sailed long ago, and Obama’s position has declined from admirable principle to indefensible fetish. Politics simply isn’t going to get better and more deliberative any time soon.
The third reason the president probably won’t do it is related to the second, but it’s more personal. Unilateral action would be at odds with Obama’s image of himself. In his article, MacGillis defined thoughtfulness Obama style as “the notion that the leadership of the country should be entrusted not on the basis of résumé and platform, but on the prospect of applying to the nation's problems one man's singularly well-tempered intelligence.” This is pretty obviously a dead-on description of Obama’s view of himself and his potential as president.

I think it is really a good description of what is going on. Of course Tomasky, like many others, is OUTRAGED!!!!™ and wants Obama to Stop This Nonsense Right Now!!! Yes, well. Good luck with that. At no point during his reign on the Throne has Obama shown even a hint of giving up his principles -- though he will cheerfully give up just about everything else.

The other Worst. President. Essay I read today was by Sterling Newberry via Ian Welsh. Sterling, gosh, goes back a long way, into the mists of Internet times, and he's always been an acute observer and analyst of what's happening. In today's essay at The Sorcerer's Apprentice he examines what is wrong, desperately wrong, with the Obama Reign, and I think he gets it mostly right.

I especially like his historical notes and this part:

The President who Obama most resembles is Herbert Hoover, another one of those chief magistrates of government who became inflexible and iron willed. His idea of compromise is that he cuts out what he thinks is a compromise, and then relentlessly grind on it. He's dealing with people whose idea of compromise is a woman having an orgasm while she is raped. Neither of these two sides have actually compromised very much, other than compromising on extending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy.

Hoover was a malfortunate president. Unfortunate is not a sufficient adjective to describe it. He inherited an economy that was about to explode. He takes office in March of 1929, the move to January would, to no small extent be because the long gap between election and inauguration paralyzed the country when later he would lose the Presidency, and in October of 1929, the stock market plunges in what is know as "The Crash." In reality such a crash was essentially inevitable after the Olmstead Break in August. In effect he had 5 months of Presidency. The rest was a long grind and heavy flail. His response was not without compassion and, within his understanding, he worked hard to do what was right. He simply was a mammoth in a lake that had been swamped by a breaking glacier dam, to be found, frozen, as an oddity. His failure was that as his policies failed, he doubled and tripled down on them. In essence, he turned a single large downturn, into three back to back downturns, and left the very faith in capitalism and democracy bruised behind him.

FDR and Hoover had once been political friends, but his rants and threats, the most famous being his offer to let FDR be President early, if FDR would scrap the "so-called New Deal." FDR replied tartly that he was still a private citizen until inauguration, his term as Governor of New York having ended.

Like me and a number of others, Newberry is relating Obama to Hoover's presidency, and he explains why very well.

On the other hand, when it comes to the Debt Crisis Crisis, I think he is somewhat off the mark in that he doesn't seem to be able to relate it (or actually much of anything Obama has done) to Obama's principle of transcendence.

That's why I highlight both articles today: the one by Tomasky which gets into the underlying reasons why Obama is doing what he is doing -- though Tomasky is calling it wrong in all kinds of ways -- and Newberry's, take which relates Obama's actions with those of other Worst Presidents and takes him to task for missing so many opportunities to please The People (and his more leftward critics) by taking bold(er) and more authoritative/authoritarian action.

I honestly don't think Obama is doing what he is doing for political gain. He is doing it both because he can, and because he must. He is a believer, in other words, and a man of Principle. Unshakable Principle.

This is what Principled Governance looks like. It isn't pretty. And I don't think it is what we really want.