Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yes, I'm Voting

For all my bitching over the past year, there is still no way I will "stand on the sidelines" and let the Insane Clown Car Posse stumble into power without a fight, despite Obama's disdain and determination to set up my cohort for blame should the Dems fall out. No, I want to make sure they stay in office, so I can help kick their cowardly DINO asses into doing doing something about keeping all the progressive promises they used to seduce us into voting for them in the first place. If the ICCP successfully taps the stupid that runs so deep in the electorate, it'll be all deficit all the time, ad nauseum. Between the tax cuts for millionaires and multi-nationals, mass destruction of the New Deal/Great Society programs, and the repeal of the nascent health care plan, we are going to see a double-dip depression and economic misery so widespread that we may never recover in my lifetime.

Not So Fast, Facebook

Malcolm Gladwell threw a Molotov cocktail at the social media mavens in this week’s New Yorker, comparing the civil rights activism of the 60s to the “Twitter Revolution” in Moldova, and its role in the recent Iranian election unrest. He finds the claims of digital impact a little too smug:
Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.

...the second crucial distinction between traditional activism and its online variant: social media are not about...hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose...

Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?...

The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change—if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy. The Montgomery bus boycott required the participation of tens of thousands of people who depended on public transit to get to and from work each day. It lasted a year. In order to persuade those people to stay true to the cause, the boycott’s organizers tasked each local black church with maintaining morale, and put together a free alternative private carpool service, with forty-eight dispatchers and forty-two pickup stations. Even the White Citizens Council, King later said, conceded that the carpool system moved with “military precision.” By the time King came to Birmingham, for the climactic showdown with Police Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor, he had a budget of a million dollars, and a hundred full-time staff members on the ground, divided into operational units. The operation itself was divided into steadily escalating phases, mapped out in advance. Support was maintained through consecutive mass meetings rotating from church to church around the city.

Boycotts and sit-ins and nonviolent confrontations—which were the weapons of choice for the civil-rights movement—are high-risk strategies. They leave little room for conflict and error. The moment even one protester deviates from the script and responds to provocation, the moral legitimacy of the entire protest is compromised. Enthusiasts for social media would no doubt have us believe that King’s task in Birmingham would have been made infinitely easier had he been able to communicate with his followers through Facebook, and contented himself with tweets from a Birmingham jail. But networks are messy: think of the ceaseless pattern of correction and revision, amendment and debate, that characterizes Wikipedia. If Martin Luther King, Jr., had tried to do a wiki-boycott in Montgomery, he would have been steamrollered by the white power structure. And of what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church? The things that King needed in Birmingham—discipline and strategy—were things that online social media cannot provide.
And as if to reiterate and illustrate Gladwell’s point, there was this exchange on Morning Edition today, after Borzou Daragahi reported on the recent arrest of Hossein Derakhshan, who was credited with starting the blogging “revolution” in Iran in the 90s, and who, despite his tech svvy with social media, now finds himself sitting in an Iranian prison:
Borzou Daragahi: (I think that it) shows the fallacy that through blogging and the internet and Twitter and so on that you can go up against a powerful state that has so many tools at its disposal, and it suggests that perhaps this idea that using this new media to effect political change is kind of a fallacy, and that you really need a real political organization and not just a bunch of loose-knit activists on the web.

Steve Inskeep: Because the government can come and get you in the end.

Borzou Daragahi: The government can come and get you, can manipulate you, can keep tabs on you.
Using Gladwell's comparison, go on to compare the current (mostly under-the-radar) union organizing being done by and for some of our poorest, most disenfranchised workers to how African-Americans (and whites) were organized during the civil rights movement. Try to imagine doing such organizing via social media instead of by using the sweat and strong-tie commitments needed for bringing such vulnerable populations together in a meaningful way...and then maybe you can understand the problems liberals are having making real change in the political system. We blow off steam on blogs, or Twitter, or Facebook, to others who are no different from us, and think ourselves great citizens for e-mailing a letter or electronically signing a petition. Meanwhile, organized corporate hierarchies continue to call the shots.

The government is going to come and get us in the end.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Politics of Despair

So I guess this is what is supposed to get me excited about voting for my party:
Senate Democrats give up push for pre-election tax cut vote
And this:
Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor Side with GOP to Block Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
And this:
Justice Dept. objects to ‘Don’t Ask’ injunction
And this:
White House unloads anger over criticism from 'professional left’
And this:
Obama Down on Prospects for Passage of 'Card Check' Legislation
And this:
No Congressional Action Until After Elections on an Unemployment Extension and Tier V
And of course, all this:
Obama's view of liberal criticisms; Gibbs Stands By His 'Professional Left' Critique, Expects Liberals To Vote In 2010; More taunts to the Democratic base
Once upon a time, before Reagan's warm fuzzy brand of corporate hate liberated people to embrace their lowest impulses and call themselves patriots for it, there was a Democratic party that stood for equality, lifting up the underdog, fighting for the common man and woman, and weighing in on behalf of ordinary citizens when corporate interests and robber barons tried to rig the scales. Once there were people in this party who actually stood up in the face of hatred and opposition and fought back, because what they fought for was right, and they knew it.

I know there must still be people like this, but I haven't seen them in the Senate, and seen damned few of them in the House. I see people who have been so completed co-opted by financial interests and the slavish addiction to political power that they can't even form a coherent platform of progressive justice and then fight for it. I see a party that has been utterly poisoned by the Clintonian "Third Way", which was just another way of giving the Right what they wanted with the bonus of the political cover they needed to keep appealing to their reactionary base and playing the ideological victim.

What made the last election different for me was that I made a deliberate decision to abandon my long-standing cynicism about politics to trust Barack Obama, and to believe what he promised. I understand the difficulties he faced, and the toxic environment into which he stepped when he entered the White House, and I know compromise is necessary in governance. But he has consistently disappointed me by his vehement rejections of the very things he promised he would fight for (public option thrown away before even sitting down to the negotiating table? Expansion of executive power? Torture?), rejections so total that he cannot seem to even rouse himself to use his eloquence to TRY to rally the support these things needed. Rejections so total that it makes me think possible what others have already charged: that Obama's comportment and actions since taking office reveal the real man behind the mask of the campaigner.

And even though we are faced with evidence of the complete takeover of the Republican Party by the extremists of the John Birch and Aryan Nation and Michigan Mitlitia varieties, even though we are treated daily to ever wilder conspiracy theories and accusations that would even give paranoid schizophrenics pause, the Democrats and the White House still can't bring themselves to confront these idiocies and call them by their true names, for fear, I guess, of seeming intemperate or harsh.

Yet Robert Gibbs and Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel have no trouble calling people like ME names, and denigrating our passions and disappointments, because they assume, as have the kept media and the right-wing hatemongers, that we liberals don't count, and couldn't make any difference.

Well, we did, once, in 2008, and we will again if enough of us give up in disgust and despair. They threaten us with a Republican takeover if we stay home, that we won't have a voice in our own governance if we do, but I really haven't felt I've had a voice since November 2008 anyway. I know there are substantive differences between the parties. But if one of them lives in fear of the other and votes accordingly, I'm not sure how much different another 2 years would feel.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Hero

I get a lot of static from my near and dear about my irrepressibly foul temper, stoked daily and hourly by just about everything I read and hear. Ok, I know I've lived a life of cortisol-fueled rage and despair; I got the same complaints from friends when I was seventeen. But there's one person who never tries to make me feel bad about feeling bad, godammit:
Lewis Black - Exclusive - Gulf Oil Spill
Lewis Black VideosLewis Black JokesStark Raving Black Videos

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Harvest Home

To find out what's different about this year's autumn equinox, click here.


The Old Gray Nightmare

Used to be, when I needed a good bout of projectile vomiting, my favorite choice among Atlantic writers was Caitlin Flanagan. But the wench has gone soft, and for awhile I was reduced to digging through back issues for old Robert Kaplan articles, until Megan McArdle, blabertarian par nonchalance, sprung up from its pages like the green shoots of a kudzu recovery. Now it seems like every day is Christmas Day:
The latest piece from the New York Times in the growing genre of "Older workers finding it hard to get new jobs after a layoff" has triggered the predictable musings about whether we should raise the Social Security retirement age, and how to combat age discrimination. These are interesting debates, about which I hope to write more later.
Yes, later, like, when you turn 57. 'Cause right now, Wet-Behind-The-Ears, you know less than nothing about age discrimination, (maybe almost as little as you do about economics), and your threat to dip your pen in those waters at some future date feels like foil on fillings to one who does. Your glib prescriptions for handling a devastating life loss (save more! don't spend! plan something! get a job!) run to the typical self-apparent idiocies of a kid who never knew real need, and never cared.

None of her "solutions" reflects the very real problems faced by the older worker or deals with how to handle being rejected out of hand by HR drones when the dates on a resume give away the age of the person who wrote it. Nor does she seem to be aware of the decision of Bush's Supreme Court that overturned the use of a mixed motive prima facie in age discrimination cases. In other words, it is insufficient to show that age was just one factor among others that caused the act of harm, as it is in other types of discrimination. Successful age discrimination cases are rare, because they are held to a higher standard than other kinds, even though They are some of the most common types in existence. Even the most obvious evidence must be laundered through a variety of legal litmus tests, which makes it nigh impossible to prevail. Why? Because business would lose its mind (and some of its profits) if it were otherwise, and since corporations are now recognized as having essentially human and civil rights, the future of such litigation is looking even dimmer.

Good times, plutocrats. Megan will be right there with you, till time converts her working capital into worthless wheelbarrows of aging scrip. But by then, a whole new crop of young smartasses will be around to take her place and dropkick her into history's dumpster. Don't worry, kid. You can always make a plan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buried Alive in the Friendly Skies

As I feared back in 2006, we are slowly morphing into the kind of society that no longer limits torture to those it marginalizes as criminals; now torture is for everyone who fits the appropriate economic profile:
Long rumored and joked about, the so-called stand-up airplane seat has now emerged from the imagination, the drawing board and the factory and into the bright lights. The SkyRider introduction was easily the most talked about event of the trade show...

What is the SkyRider like? Well, it’s a tight fit. You sidle in and perch on a little pitched seat. The “passenger’s body,” as Aviointeriors describes it, assumes “a comfortable, dynamic, upright and healthy position.” Honestly, that is what the promotional material says. My impression was more like being strapped tightly into an amusement park thrill ride.

Even in a semistanding position, belted in against a tall seat back, you have scant room to maneuver your arms, front or side. And because the seats are high, you would have a tough job in a crash vaulting over the SkyRider in front.

Aviointeriors says the SkyRider has undergone extensive testing and will be able to meet all regulatory safety standards. The seat is being promoted as an option for airlines that might want to more profitably use space in any given airplane, say for opening up room in front for more lucrative premium-class seats.
I guess this is what passes for The American Dream these days: trading interment in a open coffin where your only option is to fold up like a fetus, in exchange for "rock-bottom prices".

Well, at least they are trying to pretend these are seats. Maybe the spineboard they originally floated was an affront even to parasthetic American morality.

Monday, September 20, 2010

He had a heart of gold And he wasn't very old Oh why did such a feller have to pay taxes

My thoughts exactly:
And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.
But Ben Stein can be relied on to make the case for the filthy rich anyway:
I worked for almost every dollar I have, except for a small percentage my parents left me by virtue of hard work and Spartan living, and most of that was taken by the federal estate tax. I have a hell of a lot less than I did before the stock market and real estate market crashes. I didn't get a bailout or any part of a stimulus program, except for traffic jams as the roads in Beverly Hills got worked on for the 10th time in the last 10 years (or so it seems).

I pay my income taxes, and after them and the commissions I pay my agent, I am left with about 35 cents for every dollar I earn.

I own some real estate in California and Idaho and the District of Columbia. Naturally, I pay property tax, supposedly mostly to educate local children. Not far from me, the city of Los Angeles just spent about $600 million to build the most lavish school in America for about 4,000 children. That's my money. Naturally, I had no say in it. My wife and I have no children in public schools and only did for about eighteen months long ago. I still pay my school tax ever year.

I am not asking for any tears. I live a great life, have a fabulous wife, a great son and daughter-in-law, four wonderful, furry dogs and six cats, all adopted. I have more than enough to eat.

But what I don't get is this: There is no known economic theory under which raising my taxes in the midst of a severe recession will help the economy recover. It isn't part of any well known monetarist or Keynesian theory. So if it does no good to raise our taxes, I assume we are being punished.

But for what? I don't own slaves. I employ a lot of people full- and part-time and they are all happy with their pay. When charity calls, I almost always write out a check. I don't have a yacht or ponies or a plane. My wife doesn't wear a tiara. I don't gamble.

What did I do wrong?
Can someone start a collection for poor Ben Stein, so we can get him a hankie? And maybe a few extra million for the local soup kitchen, where Stein's evil rivals will be lining up later today? 'Cause Pore Ben is daid-set against paying taxes.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

No Carcass Is Ever Too Clean

Is there anything these vultures won't place a bet on?
So it goes in the rough-and-tumble new world of bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy process was created decades ago as a way to give ailing businesses a chance to heal and creditors a shot at repayment. Hedge funds and other big investors have transformed it into something else: a money-making venue where, after buying up distressed companies' debt at a deep discount, they can ply their sophisticated trading techniques in quest of profits. The "bankruptcy exchange," some call it.

This is perfectly legal, but is raising questions of transparency and fairness as the "distressed debt" investors joust with bankruptcy judges and others over what they must disclose as they trade in and out of a company's debt, even while trying to influence its reorganization.

To some in the bankruptcy bar, the investors' tactics are an affront to a tradition meant to nurse companies back to health and save jobs. At worst, say critics, the involvement of distressed-debt investors can turn a bankruptcy case into an insiders' game, putting at a disadvantage other creditors and even the judge who is trying to guide an outcome that best serves the company and the wide array of those it owes.

"Now what happens is you have very sophisticated people whose primary objective is material gain," says Harvey Miller, a veteran bankruptcy lawyer at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. "You've changed [bankruptcy] from at least the semblance of a rehabilitative approach to a casino approach of 'how do I make more money?'
Here's an example in action:
ION Media Networks was on the cusp of emerging from bankruptcy last November when hedge fund Cyrus Capital Partners, which had proposed a different plan favoring itself, objected at a hearing in federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan.

Judge James Peck complained that this creditor had bought debt for "cents on the dollar" and then "decided to hijack the bankruptcy case." He wrote that the fund was "using aggressive bankruptcy litigation tactics as a means to gain negotiating leverage or obtain judicial rulings that will enable it to earn outsize returns on its bargain-basement debt purchases at the expense of" senior lenders.

After the reorganization plan was approved, Cyrus asked Judge Peck to delay ION's exit from bankruptcy while the fund appealed. This prompted another rebuke from the judge. "So you're looking at a free shot to continue your terrorism in this case at different levels of the federal system?" he asked, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Cyrus's lawyer responded: "Not at all, your honor, and from my client's perspective we object to the use of terrorism here."
The judge had it right in the first place. How long before these scum start hedging on whether Hospital A loses more patients than Hospital B? Or buying up shares of dead-peasant policies?

Oh, hell, they already are.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

There Ain't But Two Kindsa People in This World...

...them that work, and them that don't:

That's what a union is fellas. And you better get used to it.

Happy Labor Day

direct action

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Officer Friendly

Thinking about Digby's tireless chronicles of the Taser wars (and my own post about it), and the police body scanner vans, and the arresting of citizens for recording police in the public performance of their duties, all put me in the mood to pull a lengthy quote from Gore Vidal's reaction last summer to the fallout of the Henry Louis Gates affair:
But the true meaning of the mess in Cambridge has been carefully avoided by a media incapable of getting the point to anything if they can excitingly change the subject to something else. So here we now have a cast of characters that includes the president himself, a distinguished scholar and a feckless young policeman who on the radio said, when asked why he had behaved so rudely to the “old” scholar, he said because the old guy had been rude about his mother. I haven’t heard this excuse since the playground of St. Alban’s in 1935.

One interesting fallout from the tragic business in Cambridge – and it is tragic, let me tell you – was that the president was forced to speak suddenly in his own voice, and at his very best, and not swathed in the authority of his great rank, but simply as a citizen making a sensible comment about a nobody policeman. Yes, I mean “nobody” literally – I know all human beings, if they are Americans, are highly valued and worshiped, indeed, for their wonderfulness and their helpfulness to fellow citizens. I state this ironically, as you might suspect. After all, why would the young man be armed unless he was a superior citizen, elected, as it were, by his fellows to ride herd on an unruly mob unless he was demonstrably special by virtue of being legally armed, which is how we are supposed to tell them from us?

But there the president was, saying, this is stupid. But he did not say, “How dare you go after a 58-year-old man who is one of the great scholars of the country and think you can get away with it?” Unfortunately, it never seemed to have crossed the president’s mind in this crisis that he is expected to do something about it. I know there is a great deal, as they say, on his plate, but after displays of this sort, he should call together a commission involving every section of the country. Every municipality is complaining about local police forces run wild. And no one does anything about it. And our masters are armed to the teeth and would seem more likely to fire at us instead of at the troublemakers. I can’t think of any civilized country that would allow this, from the look of these bulky guardians of the peace, to whom no right-minded person would allow even a slingshot to be given.

So, we are a weirdly militarized citizenry governed by the worst elements in the United States, and something is bound to blow up, as I have felt for some time now. In my wanderings around the U.S., I talk to people without money, without power, ordinary voters, as well as nowadays, people maimed by war, or time, or life or whatever, and I am convinced more and more that this is a vicious country in which the police are allowed to run amok, absolutely independent of anyone, and that is why from time to time they are allowed to get away with murder. One surprisingly knew that a wrinkle has been discovered in the seamless surface of our troubled state. Policemen are seldom tried for their crimes, or indeed, held responsible for what they do, which disturbs the peace and causes distress among the orderly.

I would suggest that the president, if he wants to be useful—and not many presidents do in my experience—he might as well call together a commission in response to citizens of every major municipality in the United States who are complaining to central authority about police forces out of control. And no one dares do anything because the police will say, “Well, you know they are acting like this because they are bad people who hate us because we are good people, rescuing cats from trees and otherwise loved by every decent person in the land.”

What the police in their ignorance have not figured out is that they have lost all credibility since World War II. They are sort of parasites on the fringe of society and do no particular good for anyone except possibly themselves. Certainly to hear them complain—you’ve never heard such whines as from a policeman who feels he’s been wronged! Apparently, all Earth owes him a living, and he’s the bravest man on any block.
But the Baggers, busy with their precious concerns about the tyrant in the White House, are curiously silent. You can probably guess why.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The "D'uh!" Moment

Why a Tea Party? Why a movement that decided to get off its fat collective ass and moan about tyranny and debt only now, after 8 years of civil liberty destruction, Constitutional obstruction, and unprecedented deficit balloons?  Here's why: