Friday, June 30, 2006
fri rdm 10 - pick a fight edition
As we eaze into what will likely be an extended five-day holiday weekend for many of you, make a pledge to get in the face of any winger who seeks to sully Independence Day in your presence with some pseudo patriotic right-wing blather he picked up from talk radio. How better to celebrate freedom than to recommit yourself to stand up for the liberal values upon which this country was founded?
However, there is no reason why you can’t do that and still celebrate the better hopes and dreams upon which this nation was founded. Whether you’re picnicking this weekend, having a cookout with friends or family, or enjoying some celebration near where you live, here’s hoping that you have a fun and safe holiday weekend.
Today’s tunes after the jump.
- “Happy" - Rolling Stones
- “Harvest" - Neil Young
- "Human Cannonball” - Webb Wilder
- "Revolution Calling” - Queensryche
- "Get it On (Bang a Gong)” - Power Station
- "4 Degrees” - Tool
- "Don’t Do It” - Little Charlie & the Nightcats
- “Eye" - Smashing Pumpkins
- "Phone Call” - Los Lobos
- "(I’m a) Ramblin’ Man” - Waylon Jennings
Is there any good music in your plans for the days to come? Summerfest here in Milwaukee is pretty bland this year, but I might stroll down Sunday for Ray Davies followed by Joan Jett. Have to see how lazy Sunday feels.
Providing for the Lords
Like so many of the trumped up “crises”, it turns out that As Workers’ Pensions Wither, Those for Executives Flourish
To help explain its deep slump, General Motors Corp. often cites “legacy costs,” including pensions for its giant U.S. work force. In its latest annual report, GM wrote: “Our extensive pension and [post-employment] obligations to retirees are a competitive disadvantage for us.” Early this year, GM announced it was ending pensions for 42,000 workers.
But there’s a twist to the auto maker’s pension situation: The pension plans for its rank-and-file U.S. workers are overstuffed with cash, containing about $9 billion more than is needed to meet their obligations for years to come.
Another of GM’s pension programs, however, saddles the company with a liability of $1.4 billion. These pensions are for its executives.
This is the pension squeeze companies aren’t talking about: Even as many reduce, freeze or eliminate pensions for workers—complaining of the costs—their executives are building up ever-bigger pensions, causing the companies’ financial obligations for them to balloon.
Yes, it is shocking that corporate management, with eager support from the investor class, are going to screw over the workers again, breaking promises made to them in order to pass more wealth upward to themselves.
Just how far into peonage must the very wealthy push the people who actually work for a living?
The authors of this Wall Street Journal piece, Ellen E. Schultz and Theo Francis, lay out the scam:
Companies disclose little about any of this. But a Wall Street Journal analysis of corporate filings reveals that executive benefits are playing a large and hidden role in the declining health of America’s pensions. Among the findings:
• Boosted by surging pay and rich formulas, executive pension obligations exceed $1 billion at some companies. Besides GM, they include General Electric Co. (a $3.5 billion liability); AT&T Inc. ($1.8 billion); Exxon Mobil Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. (about $1.3 billion each); and Bank of America Corp. and Pfizer Inc. (about $1.1 billion apiece).
• Benefits for executives now account for a significant share of pension obligations in the U.S., an average of 8% at the companies above. Sometimes a company’s obligation for a single executive’s pension approaches $100 million.
• These liabilities are largely hidden, because corporations don’t distinguish them from overall pension obligations in their federal financial filings.
• As a result, the savings that companies make by curtailing pensions for regular retirees—which have totaled billions of dollars in recent years—can mask a rising cost of benefits for executives.
• Executive pensions, even when they won’t be paid till years from now, drag down earnings today. And they do so in a way that’s disproportionate to their size, because they aren’t funded with dedicated assets.
One reason executive pensions have grown so large is that they are linked to ballooning overall executive compensation. Companies often design retirement payouts to replace a percentage of what a person earns while active.
But for executives, the percentage of pay replaced is itself higher. Compensation committees often aim for a pension that replaces 60% to 100% of a top executive’s compensation. It’s 20% to 35% for lower-level employees.
You should read the rest, full of lots of interesting examples of the various deals that these twenty-first century Lords of the Manor have worked out with their compliant boards and compensation specialists. The authors conclude with this:
When General Motors cites retiree costs, the giant auto maker has a point: It owed nearly 700,000 U.S. workers and retirees pensions that totaled $87.8 billion at the end of last year.
But $95.3 billion had already been set aside to pay those benefits when due.
All of these assets are earning investment returns, which offset the pensions’ expense. GM lost $10.6 billion in 2005. But deep as its losses have been, they would have been far worse without the more than $10 billion per year in investment income that the GM pension plan for the rank and file generates.
The pension plan for GM executives is another matter. Unfunded to the tune of $1.4 billion, it detracts from GM’s bottom line each year.
Just how much is a mystery, because GM doesn’t break out the figure. It said executive pensions are “a very small portion of our overall expense” but declined to give the figure.
Earlier this year, GM announced it would freeze the pensions of its 42,000 salaried workers starting next January, as well as of those 5,200 highly paid employees. The freeze of the executive pensions will cut GM’s pension liability by $60 million, while its freeze of salaried workers will yield a far bigger reduction, $1.6 billion.
A spokeswoman for GM said its concerns about its pension plans have eased, though the company remains concerned about retiree health-care costs. With the pension freeze and improved returns on its pension assets, including billions of dollars GM has contributed to the plans in recent years, “I would say pension really is not a problem any more,” the spokeswoman said. She said that GM has no fixed obligation to pay the executive benefits and could renege at any time, although she called such a move unlikely.
GM has often said its U.S. pension plans added about $800 to the cost of each car made in the U.S. in 2004. It declines to say how much was due to executive pensions.
The fix is in, of course. Every move that shareholders have tried to make to rein in runaway executive pay and perks seems to get turned back, and it’s painfully clear that the bought-and-paid for political courtiers in Washington are in no hurry to do anything about it. As David Sirota put it in the piece that led me to this expose:
According to Schultz, these deferred compensation schemes are a key factor in “creating huge and typically unfunded corporate liabilities” - liabilities that are then used to justify more cuts to workers’ pensions. Because of this abuse, at many companies the total obligation to a handful of executives approaches the total obligations to tens of thousands of workers. For instance, “General Electric’s total unfunded liabilities for executives—deferred comp plus pensions—equals more than 15% as much as its total retirement liability for more than 500,000 workers and retirees.” At Countrywide Financial Corp, “executive-retirement liability—pensions plus deferred comp—at the end of last year stood at $340 million - not far from its $373 million obligation for 25,915 ordinary workers and retirees. “ And at Comcast, “an executive-retirement liability of $469 million exceeds the pension obligation for other employees, which is $194 million.”
Faced with all of this, Congress has deliberately done nothing. Bought and paid for by the executives who are running off with billions, lawmakers allow these schemes to expand in secret - largely hidden from the investors, stockholders and employees who are getting screwed. Meanwhile, most reporters give the public a he-said-she-said account of the burgeoning retirement security crisis, leading us to believe that massive pension cutbacks are just a force of nature that cannot be stopped, rather than the unsurprising outcome of specific policy choices by greedy executives and the politicians in their back pocket.
That corruption includes both parties, as Russ Baker demonstrates:
Though they profess a need for campaign finance reform and other policies that prioritize the common good, many key figures in the Democratic pantheon personally earn a living helping corporate interests advance the very causes that their party publicly deplores.
A new study by the Real News Project, a nonprofit noncommercial investigative reporting entity I founded, shows the extent of the problem. Examining 25 key Democratic consultants, advertising and public relations execs and lobbyists, we discovered a veritable witches’ brew of odious agendas.
The question remaining is this ... how long will Americans put up with this broken and inequitable system, how low must the greater majority’s prospects go before people demand change? The prospects aren’t good, as the very people cooking the books own both the political system AND the consolidated media that pushes their false narratives. Will we have to be returned completely to peasanthood before we pick up our torches and pitchforks and demand a fair and equitable system?
Thursday, June 29, 2006
An Immodest Proposal
By Pat Robert Fallwell
Floods, floods I tell you are hitting our center of government! And more are on the way.
I propose to you that there is one reason and one reason only why this is happening. The Lord is seeking his revenge on our corrupt and murderous government. Years of lying and duplicity have taken their toll and our dear Lord has had enough. The water is coming and will purify George Bush, Dick Cheney and every other miserable murderous sinner in our government. There is no running and there will be no hiding from His wrath.
Verily I say to you that the houses of our government and K Street lobbyists are being deluged with the cleansing water of our Lord’s retribution. No less than the National Securtity Agency is flooding from the basement up and the employees are running for their lives with their wretched laptops in their hands. Over 200,000 have been evacuated in the environs around our warmongering seat of power!
The Lord is finally speaking to our putrid center of power to punish the citizens of our modern day Soddom. Those who abuse power for profit and murder are to be punished once and for all. Those who go to the Watergate hotel to gamble and fornicate with fallen women and fallen men will meet their judgement early. Those who have stolen elections and legislated against the poor while also destroying our environment for generations to come will feel the full strength of our Lord’s disdain.
Those who tend to the business of a burning flag while rising numbers of children in the United States and beyond go to bed hungry will be punished severely. Those who seek to penalize men for simply loving other men while simultaneously feeding trillions of dollars into an eternal murderous war machine will find no shelter from their misdeeds.
As the Psalms say: “They that go down to the sea in ships: and occupy their business in great waters;” those men should know what they’re doing less they drown in a sea of their own greed, lust for power and take all of us down with them.
Make no mistake about it, our Lord and Savior has sent us a message to tell wayward Americans that their false idolatry of George W. Bush is wrong. This man thinks our Lord, Jesus Christ speaks to him and guides him as he wages his war for oil, profit and power by murdering the men, women and children of Iraq and neglects the poor and suffering of the United States. Verily I say to you he is a false prophet and our Lord does not speak to him or through him for he is more Anti-Christ than prophet and only leads us toward a World War III and nothing else.
Follow him at your eternal peril brothers and sisters. And pay the price if you do!
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
In the Lap of the Gods
It seems churlish to criticize the recent news about the philanthropy of Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. One can applaud their generosity, and especially their support for projects to help with children’s and women’s healthcare, to fight preventable diseases and to help poor, broken schools while still being uneasy about it.
It’s far more interesting to think about what this news says about what is wrong with us as a people. It’s important to remember that while progressive multi-billionaires like Gates and Buffett are funding good works, there are just as many, like Richard Mellon Scaife and other right-wing activists, who bankroll less admirable causes. In fact, those on the right have made it a mission to destroy the government’s ability to do anything for those who most need the help, leaving a huge void that Gates and Buffett seem to wish to fill.
It’s not healthy for a society to be so neglectful of the commonweal, so worshipful of cults of personality and an oppressive and greedy upper caste.
More and more, it is plain that we live in a new Robber Baron era, that we’ve run headlong back to feudalism. Some of us are lucky enough to serve a Lord or Lady who deigns to provide some of the better things in life to their serfs/workers, but as has been true throughout history, far more are left to subsist on the crumbs or cake dropped from the tables of their “betters”.
In fact, to take a step back, it’s wrong to say “the government’s ability” when discussing public works, public welfare. It’s important to remember that in a Republic like this, government is supposed to be all of us. That we neglect public health, basic healthcare, education and so many other important things speaks poorly of us. That we have VOTED for a political system that bleeds the greater masses dry and funnels the fruits of their labor up to a small, well-heeled minority is a sign of a mass psychosis. We really have, as a people, little or nothing in common besides the things we vote for ... our system of government is the only thing that makes Americans American. We don’t have the ties of long histories or a shared religion or race or even one language to knit us together as a people, and we never have. What we had was a ghostly assertion of “We The People ...”
For centuries, in fits and starts, we’ve made moves to broaden that “We” to more and more of the human beings who live within our borders. For some strange reason, for the last few decades, we’ve changed our mind about that. So many of us are content to pretend that when a small number of people, by stint of birth, wealth, luck, guile, hard work or ruthlessness, gather more and more of life’s blessings to themselves it makes us ALL more free. It’s plain, as you travel through our decaying inner cities, or through our abandoned rural towns, or travel to our neglected national parks, that this isn’t so. We have offered our life’s blood up to a small and voracious group of ticks, and we express gratitude when some of them give some drops of that blood back.
What the hell is wrong with us?
Over and over again we blame the victims when we, through our representatives, fail them. We punish them again and again for our lack of will, our failures of imagination, our insincerity when we mouth the words “We The People”. We don’t believe it, none of it. We run away from each other, locking ourselves away in our tract homes, hurtling past each other in our tank-like SUVs, screaming at our neighbors behind the store counter to vent our frustrations. Gates and Buffett are left to fill that gap because we hate and fear one another, because we have no faith in one another, because we have decided that we’d rather be customers or victims or consumers rather than citizens.
One can admire the generosity revealed in this latest news, of the decision by these very wealthy people to act as citizens in a way that so few of us do, and still be saddened that it is so desperately needed.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Will SCOTUS Take Us For A Ride?
The Supreme Court is taking a case that could actually mean something regarding the environment and climate change. From ABC:
The Supreme Court plunged on Monday into the acrimonious debate over global warming and whether the government should regulate “greenhouse” gases, especially carbon dioxide from cars. The ruling could be one of the court’s most important ever on the environment. Spurred by states in a pollution battle with the Bush administration, the court said it would decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency is required under the federal clean air law to treat carbon dioxide from automobiles as a pollutant harmful to health.
The decision could determine how the nation addresses global warming.
We won’t be hearing the final word for a year but I for one don’t have my hopes up here. THIS is what the new boyz on the block just did for all of us today:
A Monday ruling making it easier for Kansas jurors to impose the death penalty may be the first sign that the Supreme Court’s two new justices will tip the balance away from tighter restrictions on capital punishment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito provided the pivotal votes in the Kansas decision. The decision supported a lower-court ruling that said when jurors believe the reasons for and against execution are equal, they must impose a death sentence.
We’ll all sleep better tonight, no?
Monday, June 26, 2006
Citizen Gore - an Open Letter
Please Vice President, don’t listen to the growing chorus of voices urging you to run again for President.
I’m not writing this because I’m not a fan. I am (though I do have to admit that your response to the quiet coup of 2000 left me VERY angry at you) ... your speeches over the last several years have offered a voice for protest that the corrupted corporate media couldn’t ignore. For that alone, we all owe you a debt of gratitude. And now you’re telling An Inconvenient Truth in theaters across the nation.
You are providing a public service of much greater importance than the mere office of President, an office that has been sullied by several oil men and worshipers of Wall Street, including the man you served with. An office that has come to serve corporate persons over the needs of natural persons. It’s an office that increasingly looks like the word “tyrant” should used to describe it. In this atmosphere, you have been one of a select few who have been able to reawaken Americans to the need for public intellectuals.
At this point, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, nearly all of our institutions have become debased by greed and ignorance and the ascension of PR over policy. Where politics used to be an amalgam of bluster and policy prescriptions, now it is practiced in empty soundbites, phrases carefully chosen to obfuscate, not enlighten. Tacticians are shunted aside in military matters, replaced by ambitious syncophants. Scientists find their reports censored by lobbyists turned regulators. Everything in the public square feels broken, including the Fourth Estate.
You’ve stepped into that breech. With the problems we face now, we need people who challenge us, people who encourage a conversation between the public and experts in various important fields. Hell, after years of treating education as mere job training, this country barely BELIEVES in experts any more. This is your job, a job precious few are doing any more. Bill Moyers can’t do it by himself.
The very things you were derided for when you held public office are the qualities most desperately needed in this dangerous new century. The Senate and Vice Presidency prepared you for this role. How else could you have had access to the people you’ve had access to? How else could you have visited both poles? How else could you have had the experiences and friends and contacts that enabled you to assemble your slide show, and movie, into such a full and effective package?
The polictical system in this country is broken. It’s been broken for a while, twisted and mutated by a relentless right wing assault and corrosive big money. It will take time for populist movements to build, for local activists and newly awakened voters to build change from below. As an elder statesman, as an activist yourself, you can help move that process along. If you let the consultants and party hacks get their hooks into you, you’ll come under enormous pressure to moderate what you’re doing so effectively now.
I know you’ve said repeatedly that you won’t run for President, Citizen Gore, but please accept this plea that you stick to that decision. You’ve emerged from the back end of an ongoing Constitutional crises and found an effective way to continue to serve this country, reminding everyone that a real patriot, a CITIZEN, is active and engaged and asks the hard questions. Keep doing this vital job, and you’ll be leader in a growing movement to save us from ourselves.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
She is one of my few heroes in the media. Always willing to ask the powerful the hard questions, something that sadly so many other “journalists” refuse to do, fearful of losing out on their precious access. Her latest:
When are the Democrats going to get their act together?
Surely, they are not going to let President Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, snooker them in the mid-term November election campaign as he did in the past two presidential elections.
What is he going to pull out of the hat? Soft on terrorism? Gay marriage? Flag burning? 9/11?
Are the Democrats going to be such easy prey again, neutralized by phony wedge issues and neglectful of the real issue, which is the administration’s flagrant use of falsehoods to justify a war of choice?
It could happen again. The leaderless Democrats, speaking in a cacophony, are being outgunned by the conservatives and members of their own party representing the Democratic Leadership Council who are at heart “Republican lite."
There IS no Democratic Party. It is not a functioning political party. It is, at best, a brand name used to scoop up money from people who remember when it USED to be a functioning party. It’s as though Coke stopped making drinks and just sold t-shirts with their old logo on them. Yes, there are a few politicians actually trying to do their job while wearing the label “Democrat”, but they are outnumbered by the hacks, sellouts and cowards.
After she gives Murtha some praise for standing up to Rove and the Republicans (with little or no help from his “fellow” Democrats), Thomas continues:
[...] Rove attacked Democrats for what he called “that party’s old pattern of cutting and running.”
Rove—who prides himself on being a history buff—obviously did not remember when President Ford ordered U.S. troops out of Vietnam in April 1975. They departed—some clinging by their fingertips to helicopters—as North Vietnamese forces advanced on Saigon.
At that time Ford said at Tulane University: “We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina.
“But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America’s leadership in the world.”
Summing up, he added: “The fate of responsible men and women everywhere, (meaning the South Vietnamese) rests in their own hands, not in ours.”
Wow, history, imagine that ... too bad the Vichy Dems are too busy lunching with their clueless consultants and worrying about how much Chris Matthews might make fun of them.
Thomas continues with a long, and pretty obvious, list of things the Democrats could attack on, a list that will likely go unheeded. She concludes with:
As Bush prepared to visit Europe this week, Die Zeit, a German weekly, declared that Americans have “lost their moral credibility in Iraq.”
The newspaper also said “America’s entire Iraq policy is out of control.”
That’s what the Democrats should be saying.
Helen Thomas is a national treasure.
Friday, June 23, 2006
fri rdm 10 - battle for the "center" edition
There is a funny pissing match going on between two factions of the center-right “progressives” **cough** who currently have a death grip on the
Democratic Dempublican Party. This is all kind of “inside baseball” stuff, but it does affect the political conversation that will happen over the course of the next two election cycles, perhaps longer.
On the one side is Kos and his merry band of bullies, and the other former Republican technocrats so beloved by certain dot-bubble babies of a certain age. They support guys like Lamont, Testor and Webb, sorta suits cum “politicians” who promise to manage the country back to some semblance of health, at least for techie sorts and the investor class. Hippies, chicks, homos and humanists need not apply, as these filthy troublemakers aren’t “pragmatic” and aren’t willing to gather under the “big tent” that bundles us all together in unequal bliss.
On the other side are the folks at The New Republic and that psuedo blog-on-blogs behind the NY Times subscription wall, the Opinionator or some such (not gonna bother to link to it ... since they hide it behind some digital gated community anyway). These are folks who love Senator Lieberman and the rest of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Basically, it’s a fight over which bunch of consultants will drive the conversation online, and which bunch of managers will get the support needed to help the Republicans and Wall Street continue to suck this country dry like a pack of jackyls sucking the flesh off of the slowest antelope. Marisacat has been following the whole drama/farce with her usual wit and insight over at her new home if you want more detail. She has numerous links leading to the charges and countercharges.
Either way, support will continue for the likes of Reid, Schumer, Clinton, Emmanuel and terrible connected candidates like Casey. REAL change will continue to be derailed, blocked and marginalized.
Here’s the deal.
This is a fight between two generations of people who BOTH serve some version of the status quo. You know, the current system where corporations have as many rights as people, but almost NONE of the obligations actual living, breathing human beings have. Whether they worship under the pomp and circumstance of big, established business models, or they dance to the tune of newer businessmen who insist that fancy new tech and twenty-first century “pragmatism” will solve our problems, both factions will continue to support a system that is serving the vast majority of Americans, not to mention the world, increasingly poorly.
Whoever “wins” won’t really matter, because both factions suck at actually opposing the rightward slide of this country (mainly because they AGREE with many parts of it ... they voted for it before they pretended to vote against in in an empty resolution). The hopes for women to have their rights protected, for voters to have their ballots counted, for workers to have living wages and a fair shake in the global marketplace, for GBLT citizens to have equal protection under the law, for an end to imperial wars in search of oil and profit ... NONE of these causes will receive a hearing, let alone vigorous and righteous representation. Both groups in the center-right of the Democratic Party, as well as the thugs running the Republican Party, are perfectly willing to wrestle for the votes of that narrow segment of frightened, church-going, stressed out and angry suburban, ex-urban and rural white electorate who have demonstrated how easily they are manipulated by some mixture of fear, greed, hatred and envy.
Those who hope for a genuine leftward voice re-entering the political conversation have NO stake in this battle. They DON’T WANT YOU, other than as silently offered votes and maybe a contribution or two. Please, say no. Stop supporting center-right corporatists and warmongers who refuse to recognize that this country could be better than it is, and no, “better” doesn’t mean a higher Dow and NASDAQ.
Support candidates and causes working locally to fight for equal rights, who fight for fair and open balloting. Support people who aren’t afraid to say that people should be able to build a secure future for their families, no matter who they find love with. Buoy candidates who know that if women aren’t free to make choices about their bodies and their futures, then NONE of us are free.
Support change, independent of a political infrastructure that is badly broken, broken like so many of our institutions. Daily Kos, the DLC, NDN or whatever ... they’re not on your side. It’s not enough to wear the right color uniform ... you’ve got to fight for the right things. Women and gays will still be screwed if Misogynist Casey beats Homophobe Santorum. A broad rainbow of political perspectives and policy proposals never get a hearing under the current established order, so we can’t correct mistakes we make over and over again. If the Democrats refuse to do their jobs, refuse to help them continue to fail. Your only choice left is to withhold your vote, even if a Republican wins again. They’ll bitch and moan, screaming “Nader” or something over and over, but why support someone who’s willing to heave you overboard? You can still demonstrate your participation by voting for Third Parties, or on other ballot lines, leaving a given ballot line blank. This is how every change that has ever happened in this country has happened ... don’t let the kossian blogheelers tell you otherwise. Don’t let Lieberman’s threats to leave the party dissuade you. Ask Lamont the hard questions before you cast your ballot. Be active and demand change.
This was going to be the usual light-hearted Friday post, but these things have a way of taking on a life of their own. Here’s the ten tunes randomly offered up today:
- “Winona" - Matthew Sweet
- "Poor Man’s Relief” - Kinsey Report
- "Everyday (I Kick Myself)” - Webb Wilder
- "Life During Wartime” - Talking Heads
- "You Don’t Love Me” - Matthew Sweet
- "Broken Arrow” - Neil Young
- “Jambi" - Tool
- "Buck’s Nouvelle Jole Blon” - Buckwheat Zydeco
- "Take Your Mama” - Scissor Sisters
- “Bertie" - Kate Bush
Thursday, June 22, 2006
World's Greatest Deliberative Body?
Though it’s been going on for decades now, the schoolboy-taunt style of political “debate” that the Republicans have perfected makes me sick. What makes me sicker is that so many of my fellow Americans fall for it, over and over again.
Now, however, ``cut and run,” has sailed back into the national lexicon—particularly on Capitol Hill.
As Congress debated the Iraq war yesterday, Republicans bombarded Democrats at every turn with the phrase, the GOP’s latest way of branding their opponents on the congressional record—and in headlines—as weak on defense.
``Cutting and running is bad policy that threatens our national security and poses unacceptable risks to Americans,” declared Bill Frist, Senate majority leader.
Why don’t you just pull down your tailored pants and moon your opponents while you’re at it Senators? Maybe spit a few raspberries from the lecturn while you’re at it. I know, you could run up behind Joe Biden and give him a fucking wedgie! Or maybe you could bum rush Harry Reid and give him a swirly ... NOTHING says class like giving a frail, doddering old man a good dunking in a toilet!
Good thing that the Democrat’s former candidate for President has finally joined them on the schoolyard. Maybe he and some of his fellow Senators could just meet by the fucking jungle gym and have a good playground brawl.
THIS is what passes for discourse in this country as we slaughter women and children in foreign lands.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Funniest (and Truest) Description of Bill Clinton I've Ever Read
Oh, that wonderful Charles Pierce, writing about the latest spew vomited forth by Al From, idiot consultant to the most worthless political leadership in recent political history:
The equally inevitable Bruce Reed is accessorial to the argument in which the Democrats (again) are urged to knuckle poor people sufficiently so as to build a shining new Clintonism on their spavined bones. This is an old tune played badly, but even my cynical eyes popped at the following sentence: "Clintonism has never been about mushy compromise and electoral expedience."
Holy Jesus H. Christ on a suck-egg mule.
This is funnier than whistling fish. For all his obvious advantages, including his invaluable gift for making all the right enemies, Bill Clinton would have sold his white-haired granny to the Malay Pirates for four points in a Gallup Poll.
Ain’t that the damned truth. Go read the rest.
I, like so many others, was seduced by the Big Dog, if only because ANYTHING seemed like an improvement over Ronnie Raygun and Bush the Elder. Hell, after suffering through the Bush Economy volume 1 in the late 80s, Clinton felt like a godsend. However, looking back at the wreckage left by the Defense of Marriage Act, welfare “reform”, NAFTA et cetera and so on, one can only marvel at the shredded protections for workers, women, defendents and gays he left in his wake. Perhaps the worst lingering odor of Clintonism is this entrenched cadre of hack “experts” who’s advice consists entirely of: Democrats can win be being just like Republicans, only more competent, as though anybody is inspired by a slightly more efficient MANAGER.
A better managed banana republic is STILL a banana republic after all. Thanks, but no thanks.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Mental Break (a meandering tribute)
I neglected my blogging over the last couple of days. Not that I’m required to do it or anything, but since I started doing this, it’s been a wonderful pressure valve to release the disgust and despair that life in America inspires in these times of unfettered imperialism and rampaging greed. I’m not much of an investigator, more of a critic and observer, sometimes a scold or agitator. I look and watch and read and talk to people and try to find connections and make conclusions, and sometimes I spew them out.
To do that, I’ve always been a bit of a news and culture junkie. I’ve often got the computer and television on at the same time. I skim numerous sources, probably not as deeply as I should ... I’ve always thought of it as grazing on news and culture.
This weekend, I had to give my soul a break, and with no new outrages going into the hopper, there wasn’t anything to spew out.
I couldn’t turn on the news over the weekend, let alone the chat shows on Sunday. No more fake terror threats, no more agitprop about Korea and Iran, no more newsmodels fellating Republicans while tossing out softball questions mumbled out of their full mouths. I only read a couple of blogs, dropped a couple of comments, but that’s it. I needed a break.
I cleaned my apartment. I watched Domino on pay-per-view Friday night (great stylish and trashy fun, by the way). I went out and picked up Allison Moorer’s new disc “Getting Somewhere” and loaded it into my MP3 player (the most bubbly and upbeat thing she’s recorded yet). I treated myself to steak and eggs at a greek diner, and on Sunday I went out and sipped coffee while reading the latest Shepherd-Express (just the frothy culture stuff) at a little coffee joint.
I spent the weekend being an oblivious American. I closed off the din of bad news, neglected my sometimes obsessive attention to the expanding neo-feudal state being built willy nilly about us.
It was nice. Really, really nice ... a seductive little reduced world. Nothing but immediate sensation and comfort. Watch “Batman Begins” again on HBO, fire up “Deadwood” on Sunday night. I laughed guiltily at the trashy humor of “Lucky Louie”, and indulged my softspot for cheesy science fiction with the “4400”. Sat on a stone wall sipping a bottle of water while the sun beat down on my head, cooled just enough by the breeze blowing across my shoulders off of Lake Michigan. I called a couple of my dear friends on the phone.
This morning, I found myself jumping right back into my usual habits. Skimming the “NY Times” and local rag online. Reading some blogs, mumbling “fuckers” under my breath as I read about fake cyanide terror threats and trumped up warnings about ICBMs being launched by a country that can’t feed itself. Absorbing reports about missing soldiers and a feckless Democratic Party Governor putting armed troops into the streets of New Orleans.
Can it be Sunday morning again?
I realized this morning, as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, that I needed that vacation. I thought, as I showered and dressed, that I’d shut out the world partly out of fatigue, but also partly because it was Father’s Day. My father has been gone nearly two decades now. He taught me to learn and question and speak my mind, though he always worried that I focused too much on what was wrong with America, and not enough on what was right. My dad was one of those guys who would talk to anybody. He would take a step away from his workaday world on the weekends and have fun. Though he was far to my right politically, he followed his beliefs because he thought it would make life better. I like to think that he would look at the Bush Administration and see that the Republicanism he loved Reagan for was really not a good idea. I’ll never know, but it’s nice to think so.
I woke up this morning thinking that maybe it was him, or the parts of him that are now parts of me, that whispered in my ear that I needed a break. I wish I could have shared some steak and eggs with him, maybe sat outside and drank some beer with him in the hazy early summer afternoon heat. I guess, maybe, that I did.
Thanks dad. I miss you.
NOTE: assorted sundry Calvin and Hobbes images thanks to Google image search and all of the other fans out there. Calvin, too, is a celebration of questioning, and of spending a weekend escaping from everyday reality.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
LSF Review: A/K/A Tommy Chong
The new documentary film A/K/A Tommy Chong opened today in NYC. It chronicles the arrest and subsequent tale of the actor/comedian’s travails with post 9/11 justice in America. This shows what happens when an over-empowered Attorney General, in this case John Ashcroft, decides to spend 12 million plus to make an example of a man involved with marijuana in a world where we worry about being attacked by terrorists.
This is a jaw-dropper of a case and there are numerous talking heads interviewed to talk about the legal and social significance of this case. Alan Dershowitz, Bill Maher, Jay Leno and Cheech Marin among others are interviewed about the case and offer much outrage and perspective on Chong’s case, especially when combined with newsreel footage of Ashcroft and his puritanical-appearing minion.
From the films website:
a/k/a Tommy Chong chronicles the entrapment and incarceration of comedic legend Tommy Chong. Josh Gilberts film offers a sometimes frightening, often hilarious account of Operation Pipe Dreams, a nationwide drug paraphernalia sting operation spearheaded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
After a fully armed SWAT team raided the 65 year-old comedian’s home in February of 2003, Tommy Chong was sentenced to 9 months in federal prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute drug paraphernalia through Chong Glass, a family business specializing in handmade glass water pipes, or “bongs.” Of the 55 defendants prosecuted, Tommy Chong was the only one with no prior convicitons to receive jail time. Justifying the 9 month sentance, the prosecutor cited the clasic 1978 movie Cheech & Chong film Up In Smoke as evidence that he had become wealthy “trivializing law enforcement efforts to combat marijuana trafficking and use.” As Roger Ebert said, “You do not have to approve of drugs to be offended.”
Chong is interviewed extensively and couldn’t be more endearing, truly a sweet and loving individual. In the coming attractions I saw a new documentary about the US vs. John Lennon when the Nixon Administration tried to expel Lennon from the country because he was critical of the Administration. It’s funny how free speech is something to be punished under right-wingers like Bush and Nixon. We won’t be rid of these folks for at least 2 and a half more years. After living through both the Nixon and Reagan years, it is so depressing to be reliving all this again under Bush. It’s way past time for change. I won’t sleep better knowing Tommy Chong did prison time after a massive sting operation for merely selling bongs yet Bin Laden roams free releasing tape after tape to laugh at us because of our Administrations indifference and incompetence.
Friday, June 16, 2006
fri rdm 10 - dixie chicked edition
I’ve been listening to the new Dixie Chicks disc lately on my MP3 player. Good, sometimes great, album ... and I’m in no way sure that it’s really right to describe it, as many reviews have, as some kind of popified big change from their previous efforts. It feels like a natural progression to my ears, but I’ve always hated the fake genres that the music industry insists upon. Cross-pollination is one of the most powerful things about music, and it always has been. Hank Williams learned the guitar at the feet of Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne, and combined what he’d learned with the “hillbilly” music of his youth to create what we call Country. All American music is a polyglot born of the various traditions of the myriad cultures that came to this country.
Music and food, I sincerely believe, are major ways that people find common ground. When you break bread or dance with someone, sharing your culture with them, or they with you, you build bridges. When you share a tear over a sad song, even if it’s in another language, you see that we all suffer the same heartbreaks and losses. When you listen to a lullaby, you can feel the love that any parent has for their child, no matter what language the sleepy tune is sung in. When I took multi-cultural education years back (when I thought about becoming a teacher), our professor sung us the most beautiful lullaby sung in Xhosa, when one of the class expressed doubt that a language with so many click consonants could comfort a child. It was achingly beautiful, and to hear this man share it with us was one of the highlights of the many classes I’ve taken in my life. To hear the songs of others is to be offered doorways into their world.
This is one reason why genres are insisted upon: to keep people apart. Can’t have white kids listening to race records, after all. They might question the lies they’ve been raised with. The same goes with the attacks on artists like the Chicks and others who defy the easy stereotyping that politicians and marketers play upon.
This sort of crap was on full display yesterday on Joe Scarborough Country on Thursday night:
SCARBOROUGH: And, Rick, you know, that‘s what always sort of bothered me about Americans—about actors and actresses. I don‘t mind them attacking the president, people like me, the war, but what always bothered me was you‘d have actors that would go on a promo tour for the movie in America and say, “Oh, I support the troops, whatever.” The second they get to Germany, or Great Britain, or France, all of a sudden they‘d start attacking us.
In fact, I mean, they‘re—the actors that I really respect are—you know, you‘ve got some actors that will actually dare to take on American policy here in America. But I think the Dixie Chicks know exactly what they‘re doing. They go over to Great Britain. They attack American patriotism, and they know it‘s going to win them a lot of fans over there.
He sat and ranted about this with two morning show deejays who’s schtick is the whole redneck regular guy thing, (and I feel perfectly comfortable heaping some scorn on this kind of act, but I’ll get back to that). They went on and on about how rich the Chicks were (I’m sure none of them were hurting, and I’m sure they’re fine with Godsmack helping their music be used to lure teenagers to recruiters and getting rich off of it). How they had “betrayed” their fans. What did Natalie Maines say this time that was so terrible?
The Chicks can’t hide their disgust at the lack of support they received from other country performers. “A lot of artists cashed in on being against what we said or what we stood for because that was promoting their career, which was a horrible thing to do,” says Robison.
“A lot of pandering started going on, and you’d see soldiers and the American flag in every video. It became a sickening display of ultra-patriotism.”
“The entire country may disagree with me, but I don’t understand the necessity for patriotism,” Maines resumes, through gritted teeth. “Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don’t see why people care about patriotism."
Of course, you know that lying faux “populist” Scarborough lifted the third paragraph in the excerpt out on its own, hammering at it over and over. It’s the usual slimey trick pulled by rightwing assholes. We all know that giving the full context on anything, or having a real open and honest debate about things will never be allowed as long as they can prevent it on their sleazy and pandering little hatefests.
So lets look at the context of Maines’ thoughts on patriotism:
"A lot of pandering started going on, and you’d see soldiers and the American flag in every video. It became a sickening display of ultra-patriotism."
She’s PLAINLY talking about the country music industry, not all of those poor red state Americans that are so reviled and mistreated by big money liberals. PANDERING, sort of the exact thing that Scarborough and those grinning idiots Rick and Bubba trade in. The use of people’s love for the country they live in to make a buck and to convince their children to die for oil and permanent bases in the Middle East.
This is nothing new, of course.
Music builds connections, but you can only connect if you listen honestly. If you actually act like you respect other people enough to not take words out of context, not play games with what people say to make yourself a buck, not take advantage of people’s prejudices or lack of access to what you’re really talking about. How many Americans who listen to Rick and Bubba are going to bother googling the actual profile that the quote was lifted from? It took me a little time to find it. Scarborough doesn’t even link to it in the transcript, let alone read the whole thing.
I hate that for decades now that working class, especially white, Americans have been spoon fed and pandered to with this sort of “aw shucks” regular guy crap. My grandfather worked hard at a company farm. My dad and uncles served their country, then went and got training and schooling on the GI bill. My dad worked hard and built on that schooling so that I could go to good schools, have the kind of education that would enable me to be the first male in my family to complete a four-year college degree. I remember lively arguments about politics and religion and books growing up, until most of my family followed the rest of the country right, seduced by Wallace, then Reagan and talk radio. I remember that these good, decent, hardworking people used to talk about judging a person by what they did, not what they looked like, not by what party they voted for, to not dismiss them for believing something different. Over the years, though, I’ve watched that light be snuffed out by the relentless agitprop from the right and the narrow and nasty strain of evangelicalism that is destroying this country. I hate that I can’t really talk like we did when I was a boy, and they think it’s MY fault because communist professors ruined me.
I hate this, and I hate crap like Larry the Cable Guy, Rick and Bubba and Joe Scarborough ... and the many others who trade on people’s hopes and fears. Joe Bagaent writes about it better than I do, so I’ll leave it there.
So, in solidarity with some smart and talented women who STILL insist on speaking their minds despite several different elements of our media relentlessly hammering at them, there isn’t anything random today, just a really good recording full of love and hope and sadness and wishes for a better world. One of those hacks on Scarborough made a crack about how sad and angry the Chicks always look now. Maybe they’re sad because they fear for their country, for their children, friends and families. Maybe they fear for the other mothers and children and fathers being destroyed by our belligerance and arrogance and bombs and ruinous dog-eat-dog economic system. Maybe they fucking CARE, instead of just being pandering hacks.
So no random ten today, just a hearty recommendation for fourteen tracks, for some good art for your ears.
So, you say you want change, you voters in Connecticut? You think that you live in a DEMOCRACY, and that you should be able to influence the way you are represented in Washington? If your elected official works against your interests, do you Democrats actually believe you have a right to vote for a primary challenge without the national party working backroom deals to subvert your wishes?
Silly, silly voters! Boss Schumer is going to set you straight:
Schumer said the Dem primary voters want winners and are focused one electability. He couldn’t resist adding even “in 2008,” which pricked the ears of reporters who thought he was sending a message about the relative electability of Hillary Clinton. (He wasn’t, apparently.)
Schumer said that the DSCC “fully supports” Sen. Joe Lieberman in his primary bid, and he refused to rule out continuing that support if Lieberman were to run as an independent.
There were degrees of independence, Schumer said. “You can run as an independent, you can run as an independent Democrat who pledges to vote for Harry Reid as Majority Leader.”
Schumer said he had neither sought nor recieved assurances from Lieberman that an independent bid would not ensue if Ned Lamont tightened the noose.
Is it sinking in yet?
As Senator “Holy Joe” Lieberman continues to threaten to run as an independent, one has to wonder when leftists will get it. For years the center-right Vichy Dempublicans have bullied and threatened leftists who try to mount primary challenges, or vote third parties, yet here we are, with one of them whispering that he’ll do just that unless you re-annoit him to his apparent seat-for-life in the US Senate. “Look at what happened to McGovern,” they sneer, glossing over the fact that the right wing of the party refused to support the winner of the primaries and thus the party’s chosen nominee. “Nader is to blame for Bush in 2000,” they whine, refusing to accept any responsibility for a party unwilling to take chances, unwilling to protect the suffrage of the African American citizens in Florida, unwilling to actually work for the voters and not for the corporations leaning on them through an entrenched cadre of hack consultants. They will do EVERYTHING, including throwing races to the Republicans, to maintain the grip of the center-right pro-corporate cadre that has been destroying everything that this party claimed to stand for.
Do you GET it yet?
As J.S. Paine over on “Stop Me Before I Vote Again" puts it:
But at any rate, since the cutting edge of pressure is threat threat threat, the more credible the threat, the better. And consequently, the higher the chance respect will turn into substantive accommodation.
Now as for influence, which comes from money and volunteer time—nobody reading this, I’m sure, has enough money to make much of an impact—not even all of us put together. So it comes down to our time and energy.
Just as the withheld vote is ambiguous, the withheld effort is ambiguous. If you really want ‘em to miss you, you have to let ‘em know what they’re missing, by putting it elsewhere—referenda, independent runs, activism outside the electoral arena… lots of possibilities.
Do you GET it liberals, progressives, lefties? Back Lamont, don’t give into their threats, and repay them on other ballot lines. Work for third parties. If, as has happened in Virginia and Pennsylvania, you get stuck with some troglodyte “former” Republican who shares NONE of your values but just loves him some corporate cash and an increasingly militarized culture, DON’T work for him. DON’T support him. Find a third party candidate who does share your values. Find a local school board race to work for ... something. This will take time, and it could very well lead to another win or two for the Republicans. So what? “Bi-partisan” hacks like Lieberman and Clinton and Schumer help to lock in the increasingly feral nature of our current social climate. In fact, in many ways they are worse than the Republicans, as their seat of the table requires them to pretend to give a shit about liberal values, at least when it comes to writing up fundraising emails. You can thank them for passing NAFTA, for confirming Clarence Thomas, for crossing the aisle to vote for CAFTA and Bankruptcy “reform” and so many other betrayals of the average working American. You can thank them for the Defense of Marriage Act, for the sad, banana-republic-like state of our elections, for our ridiculously huge prison/industrial system and our obscenely bloated military/industrial complex.
Both parties have helped create an America that is a modern mirror of warlike Sparta, a state where the police have powers akin to those of avowed dictatorships. Both parties have worked hard for years, through the “wars” on drugs and terrorism, to utterly shred the Bill of Rights. Do you REALLY think the Democrats are going to help reverse this nightmare as they increasingly recruit the likes of Webb and Casey, and continue to protect and promote the likes of Lieberman?
Do you GET it yet?
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Russ Hammers It
Russ Feingold delivered a helluva speech at the Take Back America conference. Here are a few quotes:
Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, received a raucous, enthusiastic greeting Wednesday from a liberal group as he criticized President Bush for the Iraq war and a secretive domestic wiretapping program. The same crowd had booed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the presumed 2008 front-runner, a day earlier for opposing a set date for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Feingold was the first senator to call for a timetable to bring back troops, a popular position at the Take Back America conference. “Run, Russ, run,” some chanted as the Wisconsin senator stepped to the podium. Others wore buttons and stickers with the same sentiment. “They got it wrong in Iraq,” Feingold said to applause. “Iraq was a mistake.” And he reiterated a theme he’s made in recent speeches, exhorting Democrats to show some backbone. Everywhere he goes, Feingold said, people ask him the same question: “When are you guys going to stand up?” Many in the crowd responded by doing just that, greeting the challenge with a standing ovation.
Feingold said that Democrats are wrong to play it safe this year, in the hopes that they can pick up seats in Congress simply because of sinking Republican popularity. “There will not be progressive change in this country this year or any other year if we think we can win by default, or by running out the clock,” he said.
This is the only voice on the national stage telling the bold truth, one based on clarity and conviction instead of hate and racism. Just listening to his words is a tonic in this summer of Neocon sleazes.
If you would like to see a video of the whole speech, CLICK HERE.