Sunday, February 27, 2011

What the Hell is Going On . . .

. . . in the Middle East? I haven't noticed the hugely significant events that have been going on in that part of the world for the past couple of months. As I type, two long-time, iron-fisted dictators in Tunisia and Egypt have been forced out of office and to flee their countries by masses of people demonstrating in the streets. In neither case did these revolutions--and indeed, that's what they are--last longer than three weeks. The most amazing thing is that these revolts were virtually bloodless, and by that I mean there weren't great masses of dead; in fact, though some unfortunates were killed in both countries, by comparison to the great revolutions in China and Russia in the 20th century (and even in the British colonies of America in the 18th), deaths were negligible.

But the most amazing aspect of this story is that it is ongoing because people are rising up against their rulers or are demanding sweeping reform all over the Muslim Middle East: in YemenBahrain, in Oman and Jordan. And most spectacularly in Qaddafi's Libya where his 40-year grip on that country is apparently about to end. But it hasn't yet, Qaddafi is vowing he will not leave. Not much information is getting out of the country, but there has been brutal repression of demonstrators in several places in the country. The government is reportedly in control of the capital Tripoli and other places in the western part of the country. Qaddafi has hired mercenaries to defend his rule, and many of his ambassadors and some of his military have sided with the demonstrators who are demanding a total change of government.

Just a couple of observations: one wonders what the long view of history will say about the significance of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in spurring these revolts? And be it noted that the vaunted U.S. intelligence "community" for which we all pay dearly, brothers and sisters, again was clueless about these matters until they happened. The secretary of state Hillary Clinton is making some pretty bold statements about Libya, claiming all options "are on the table." Don't know about you, but this kind of talk makes me real nervous. Could we seriously be considering the use of force in yet another Muslim country? Even just slightly. Well, of course. That's always an option for the forces of empire.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Large and Dangerous Union

From an Oklahoma source, believe it or not.

This would be even more amusing if it were not literally true.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beating the Dead Horse

Except this horse isn't dead, and by God he needs beating so more. I'm talking about the nation's outlay for so-called "defense" spending in Obama's budget. We cannot be reminded too many times how much of our national treasure we hemorrhage into the Pentagon's coffers every year, year and after year. Defense spending proposed in the president's budget, the largest since World War II, is for $553 billion--$22 billion more than last FY--a figure that does not include the $118 billion for the Orwellian-named "overseas contingency operations." That would be our wars in the Middle East. And then there is another $55 billion for the National Intelligence Program. Tote all that up and we're talking about nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars. 

We have the usual double talk from the Pentagon. They tell us they've actually cut their budget. $78 billion over the next five years. And everybody thinks that this is a real figure. But what's going on here is double talk. This is money the Pentagon is not going to spend on weapon systems it doesn't want. This doesn't cut any muscle, just flab in a budget that is grossly obese. And don't forget we're going to spend about $44 billion for homeland security, too, including the ever-popular TSA gropers at the airport. (See Amy Goodman piece here.)

Annual "domestic spending," on the other hand is being frozen for the next five years. Want to know how some particulars play out? How about $500 million for military marching bands--protected from cuts and  only $430 billion for public broadcasting, which is due to be cut. Among other things, Obama plans to cut a program to help poor people with heating by 50 percent; 30 percent from the clean drinking water fund; also 25 percent from community development block grants (local needs such as affordable housing, anti-poverty programs, infrastructure). Also chopped are Pell grants for university students and money for teachers. (See here.) Obama claims this will reduce the deficit by $400 billion over the next five years. Actually this is drop in the bucket compared to what's really needed. The utter absurdity of basically exempting the Pentagon from deep cuts is apparently clear to only a few people in the country. Nobody else seems much to care.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Okay. This thing going on in Wisconsin. It's been going on for over a week now, and I'm sure anybody in the U.S. with a pulse has heard about it. It started on February 11, when the Republican governor of the state (he is of the Tea Party persuasion), introduced a bill that stripped the public employee unions of the state of their right to collective bargaining. If the American people knew history, they would know that securing these rights for the working people of America took decades and a lot of spilled blood. people who tried to organize labor after the Civil War and for the rest of the 19th century were routinely set upon by hired thugs, the police, or some other paramilitary force to prevent them from assembly and from organizing. Since the governor of the state, Scott Walker, proposes bill on February 11, public protest is been mounted by thousands of state workers (teachers and others) an additional thousands of supporters. The crowds of protesters have gotten larger every day; the Democrats in the state legislature have left the state thus depriving it of a quorum and furtherance of the proposed legislation. At this point neither side gives the slightest indication of bending. I should mention that Walker was elected governor last November in the tidal wave of Republican victories on a platform promising to cut the cost of government and deal seriously with the deficit in the state budget, but one of the first things he did upon taking office was give $160 million tax cut to businesses in the state.

Here's what I have to say: Shame on this governor! Would somebody tell me what busting union members rights to collectively bargain has to do with saving money? It has nothing to do with it. There's a political agenda being served here. I agree in this case with Rachel Maddow who argues that what's going on in Wisconsin as part of a larger Republican plan to divest the Democrats of the last institutions of any size that support them. She has shown that in the last election of the 10 organizations that contributed the most money, seven were right wing and the other three were unions. Sure enough, there are similar moves by Republican governors under way in Indiana, New Jersey, Michigan, and possibly other states. Here is to the spunk of all those thousands of people who are braving the cold and putting up with great inconvenience in Madison to let their voices be heard on this. More power to them. It's about time something got people riled up enough for them to take to the streets.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Index IV

From the "Index" in Harper's magazine for March 2011.

War on Terrorism-Related
  • Estimated percentage change since 2000 in the U.S. defense budget, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: +80 
  • Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8
  • Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning: 29
  • Estimated spending by Afghans on bribes last year: $2,500,000,000
  • Portion of the country's GDP to which this figure is equivalent: 1/4
  • Percentage of Americans who say they believe the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting: 34
    Just like the Rest of Us Department
    • Number of companies in which Senate Armed Service Committee staffers are prohibited from owning stock: 48,096
    • The senators themselves: 0
    The Long Grey Line
    • Chance that a female West Point cadet was a victim of "unwanted sexual contact" last year: 1 in 10
    • Percentage of victims who reported such incidents: 14
    • Percentage who said they "took care of it" themselves: 65
    Editorial Observation: What happened with the other 21 percent?
    Cultural Trends
    • Percentage of U.S. high school seniors who have smoked a cigarette in the past month: 19
    • Who have smoked marijuana: 21
    • Date on which student loans first passed credit cards among the largest sources of private debt in the United States: 6/30/10
    • Pounds of antibiotics produced in the U.S. in 2009 that were consumed by humans: 7,275,254
    • Pounds consumed by animals raised for human consumption: 28,808,023
    Editorial Observation: You gotta be shitting me about the third bullet, right?
    • Number of people caned in Malaysia every year: 10,000
    • Minimum number of people living the flood tunnels beneath Las Vegas: 300
    • Estimated percentage of New Hampshire's bat population that died in 2010: 65
    When do we get to the good news?

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    A Trillion a Year

    An anti-war protester in Athens in 2007.
    When's the last time you thought about our
    ongoing, eternal wars and what
    they are costing all of us?
    A trillion bucks a year. That's what our wars are costing us. Every year. And not one dime of it is money we have. We borrow it all. Got that? We borrow $1 trillion every year to finance our wars in the Middle East. In no realm of logic that I know of does this make a shred of sense. And this is before we even begin to talk about the outrageous human costs of these wars. They are numbered in the hundreds of thousands: in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Untold innocent civilians plus thousands of our own men and women, killed, maimed, traumatized as the price we pay for empire. Plus the unspeakable emotional devastation visited upon millions of people by the loss of their loved ones. These ongoing wars are an outrage that beggars the language to describe. By what code of morality can we possibly justify these conflicts?

    Well, Chris Hedges suggests one in this recent piece appearing in Truthout. The corporate moral code. It's actually a lot less complicated than religionists and philosophers attempts to craft a code of moral behavior for humans. Those tend to get complicated with all sorts of twists and turns and conditional situations. There is a certain amount of relativity connected with moral judgments in these traditional spheres, conditions which alter and distort a clear path to decision. It's not really a code. It's an imperative, an insistence that the only measurement, the only value is monetary, and consequently it's a black and white universe. Profitable = good. Limits on profit = evil. And war is highly profitable, whether the U.S. wins them or not. So war continues so corporations can make profit, and since they own Washington, including the White House, the people of this country are just about assured that the wars we're currently engaged in will be perpetual. At ferocious cost to all of us.

    Because a myriad of human needs are sacrificed to Mars and his corporate acolytes. It's insane. But how often have I made that observation?
    We drive up the deficits to wage war while we have more than 30 million people unemployed, some 40 million people living in poverty and tens of millions more in a category euphemistically called “near poverty.” The profits of weapons manufacturers and private contractors have quadrupled since the invasion of Afghanistan. But the cost for corporate greed has been chronic and long-term unemployment and underemployment and the slashing of federal and state services. The corporations, no matter how badly the wars are going, make huge profits from the conflicts. They have no interest in turning off their money-making machine. Let Iraqis die. Let Afghans die. Let Pakistanis die. Let our own die. And the mandarins in Congress and the White House, along with their court jesters on the television news shows, cynically “feel our pain” and sell us out for bundles of corporate cash.

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    The Death Deal

    This wonderful poem will not make the slightest bit of sense to anybody who has not lived at least half a century, with the exception of a tiny and laudable little group of verbally proficient and sentient young beings. The vast majority of their fellows will find it morbid, and in their smug, healthy way will dismiss this as just more nonsense from one of those old people who by definition has trouble knowing what's really going on. They of course are utterly ignorant of the fact that poetry is about what's going on.

    So the following will make no sense to anybody with no poetry in their soul no matter how long they have lived. And this, I'm very sad to say, includes just about everybody.

    The Death Deal

    by Ron Padgett 

    Ever since that moment
    when it first occurred
    to me that I would die
    (like everyone on earth!)
    I struggled against
    this eventuality, but
    never thought of
    how I'd die, exactly,
    until around thirty
    I made a mental list:
    hit by car, shot
    in head by random ricochet,
    crushed beneath boulder,
    victim of gas explosion,
    head banged hard
    in fall from ladder,
    vaporized in plane crash,
    dwindling away with cancer,
    and so on. I tried to think
    of which I'd take
    if given the choice,
    and came up time
    and again with He died
    in his sleep.
    Now that I'm officially old,
    though deep inside not
    old officially or otherwise,
    I'm oddly almost cheered
    by the thought
    that I might find out
    in the not too distant future.
    Now for lunch.

    No Caption Required

    Don't kid yourself, this is the Republican game plan.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    A Huge and Wonderful Surprise

    . . . arrived today in the mail. About 45 CDs of "new" music--new because I don't have it in my collection--plus over 20 DVDs--all music. We're talking rock, alternative, and blues. And a couple of country. My friend Bill is another Ph.D. in history, heads the history/political science department at University of Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, who was a few years behind me at LSU, and he's a little bit younger (but who isn't?). He's an English history guy. And he plays guitar, has made his own CD, likes baseball. And he loves music as much as I do. And he's from Baton Rouge and loves the Tigers and the Saints. What's not to like about this guy?

    Anyway, I've got all the new stuff copied over to my iTunes and will soon have it transferred to the iPod. There were lots of people I had never heard of. Bands like Zechs Marquise, Omar and the Howlers, Blue October, and Gary Moore. (a guitar virtuoso, who apparently just died. Young.) Looking forward to getting to know all of 'em. I honestly cannot imagine life without music. I like it all. Opera to gut bucket blues. I listen to music every day. In my next life I want to be able to play music . . . and I don't mean a harp. Bass guitar in a reggae band would be fine or in a rock band . . . that would be fine, too.

    Here's video by a band I really like, an English alternative outfit called Porcupine Tree. I have ton of music by these guys. Got a bunch more today. Believe it or not, their music can be quite ethereal sometimes. Not here, but that's OK too.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011


    This is Matt Taibbi on the financial monsters of Wall Street.
     If I go online today to and bet fifty dollars on the Bucks against the Celtics tonight, I'm a criminal. But some gazillionaire firm in New York can legally bet against the United States of America in unlimited amounts in a trade that has nothing to do with anything, but a guess about how many other people will make the same bet. Jesus, are we a weird country.
     l was moved to quote this guy because my mind is on Wall Street at the moment since I'm about two-thirds through William Cohan's House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, and I'm disgusted. It is about Bear Sterns, but it could have been about any of them up there. Does anyone in America ever reflect on how we've been so utterly screwed by these guys? Do you think they care about who prevails in the battle going on right now in Wisconsin between the working/middle class people and the looney tunes Tea Party governor? Do you think these guys care what happens in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, et al.? Do you think these guys give a shit what the unemployment rate is or who doesn't get health care in America? Do you think they lose a single moment's sleep about our wars in the Middle East? They could give a rosy rat's ass. These people care about money. They live, eat, and sleep money. That's all that interests them.

    And these are guys we saved to the tune of $700 billion . . . and they are doing the same things, committing all the same crimes against the people of this country all over again. The so-called financial reform legislation is a tissue of weak constraints that basically allows business as usual on Wall Street, i.e., more millions for millionaires and screw the rest of us.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Why Should I Be Surprised?

    I don't know why I'd expect any nation with its spending priorities and tax system so egregiously screwed up as ours to come to any other conclusion, but I have to confess I was astonished to read that only 41 percent of Americans think defense spending needs to be cut. My God! What is the matter with these people? Here's the story where I read this and other equally baffling findings. Here's where a majority of Americans would cut the budget. In order, if you please: foreign aid, foreign military aid, spending by regulatory agencies, space programs, subsidies to business, and federal welfare spending. Okay. I can go along with a couple of these. Can you guess which ones? By the way, an educated electorate will know that what this country spends on foreign aid is a speck compared to other categories such as defense, corporate welfare and sweetheart deal tax breaks, agricultural subsidies, and more. But we'll be seeing unicorns in zoos before the electorate is even barely educated.

    Here's what people don't want cut: social security, health care, fed aid to education, highway spending, and federal jobs programs. This seems sensible . . . except maybe I would not be crazy about spending for highways, if they are going slash money for high speed rail (which of course they want to.)

    In the meantime I am just totally nauseated with every frigging Republican shill for corporate welfare and fat cat enhancements--and that would be just about every last one of them--posturing about how Obama's proposed cuts in his just-submitted budget are woefully inadequate. In point of fact, they are woefully inadequate--he didn't use a single suggestion by his own debt reduction committee--but this sort of crap out of the mouths of people who have no problem with a $700 billion tax plum for the wealthiest 2 percent of the people in the country and bazillions for the Pentagon. Well, it makes me ill. And I'm really having to restrain myself from truly unseemly language here.

    We've just got business as usual, folks, in Washington. It's pathetic.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Well, Welcome Back!

    No, brothers and sisters, I haven't given up blogging. Nor have I just been remiss about posting. No . . . I, or should I say my computer, has fallen victim to a pretty vicious virus. This sucker--I forget the name of the damn thing--shut down everything. Not a single program would run--Internet? Forget it. MS Office? Nope. First gone: the anti-virus program. Nothing, but nothing would run. Big ole banner on the screen telling me I had infected files. Previously a program "scanned" the computer and reported I had 38 infected files, but . . . and here's a surprise . . . for only $59.95 I could buy a program to make my computer all well again. Well, shit! no way. Truth is, it cost me more than that to have this miserable thing scrubbed from my computer. Geeks at the repair place said the whole purpose of this virus is to steal your money, i.e., get your credit card number. Guy also told me that 1 out of 1,000 will actually give these people a credit card number. Proof positive that you cannot go broke betting on the idiocy of some people.

    But think for a moment about the scabrous lowlifes who produce these viruses. What kind of creep deliberately breaks the stuff of millions of people he doesn't even know? It is a great evil that these people do. Utterly despicable when you think about it. But nobody does. These evil people doing these evil things on the Internet are just part of the deal. Like lies from politicians, hypocrisy from the clergy, self-righteousness from the right and left. Gives me a frigging headache.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    This Ain't Gonna Happen . . .

    . . . but it sure would be nice. Representative Dennis Kucinich--my choice for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, my longtime readers will know--has suggested that Barack Obama should have a challenger for the nomination for president in the primaries. A challenger from the left, the true left. Not the bogus Republican-butt-kissing "left" that Obama represents. Kucinich says that Obama still should be the nominee of the party, but that a liberal challenger will make him stronger. Apparently, last fall Kucinich said that somebody running against Obama in the primaries would weaken the Democrats and give the election to the Republicans. He's changed his tune. And I'm glad.

    There's a goodly number of progressive Democrats who have pledged not to support Obama in 2012 unless he reverses his policy on Afghanistan and begins to fight for cuts in military spending. Something else I've been beating a drum about for months. (See story here.) This ain't gonna happen either. The Pentagon could not have fared better under a Republican than they have under Obama. What kind of Kool Aid do these guys drink when they become president? No matter what party they come from, presidents seemingly have a spell cast upon them by the military. So no matter what else is happening, no matter how desperate the needs of American society in all other areas, the Pentagon beast will continue to be fed. It's insane. But nobody cares.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos

    It's entries like this that make Boing Boing an essential blog for me. I challenge anybody to characterize this website in five words or less. Accurately characterize it. Because it's charm is it's utter inability to fit into some kind of box.

    You will find the list with the arguments for why the book is on it right here; you should not miss the explantations. How many have you read? How many do you what to read? Hell, I'll just list them for you. The one's in bold--7 out of 50 or .140 (which is a crappy batting average, period. Plus everything I've read on this list seem rather staid compared to some of the other titles.)--are the ones I've read. But, there are a lotta books on this list I would like to read . . . does that count? There are a number of them I will read. I wonder if that counts. For those of you paying attention: you will note a plenitude of books about music and pop culture. Which, I suppose, if you're a weirdo is up your alley.

    Update I: I cannot figure out how the obliteration of the titles happened, and I cannot fix it. But the link in the above paragraph will get you to the book list, and the links to the individual books actually work even behind all that clutter. Sorry.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    At the Berkeley Free Speech Cafe

    Neat poem with nice kicker. 

           At the Berkeley Free Speech Cafe

                        by Thomas R. Moore
    The students are seated,
    one to a table,
    at tables for two,
    ears wired,
    laptops humming,
    cell phones buzzing,
    fingers texting,
    iPods thumping,
    toes drumming,
    email flashing,
    latt├ęs cooling,
    textbooks open,
    reading for an exam
    in Issues in Contemporary Culture 102.

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Perfectly Incoherent

    The story calls it a "Freudian slip." Well, I'm not so sure about that. Is it Freudian to simply state the crazy idea you've got in you mind? Here's what happened. In an interview with a Mexican newspaper, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that the US cannot legalize drugs as a means of fighting the black market (and all the killing that goes with it--it's estimated that the drug war in Mexico has killed 34,000 people, including more than a thousand kids) because "there is just too much money in it." She continued: ""You can legalize small amounts for possession, but those who are making so much money selling, they have to be stopped. They can’t be given an even easier road to take, because they will then find it in their interest to addict even more young people."

    The legalization advocates immediately objected. It is pretty obvious from this statement that Clinton doesn't have a clue about what she's talking about. The reason there's so much money in selling drugs is because they are illegal. This is obvious to anybody who's had a week of Eco 101.

    At the Drug War Chronicle, Scott Morgan called Clinton's argument "perfectly incoherent" and argued it flew in the face of economic theory.
    I can't help but wonder what everyone on the left would say if this preposterous analysis came from Sarah Palin, rather than Hillary Clinton. It's the sort of profound nonsense that ought to get you skewered by Jon Stewart, yet our Secretary of State will almost certainly get a free pass on misunderstanding literally everything about the escalating violence below our border.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Who We Are

    One should, I suppose, take note that today is so-called "Super Bowl Sunday." And we've pretentiously arrived at Super Bowl XLV. (And probably at last sixty percent of Americans do not know what that means because they cannot read Roman numerals.) No matter, because that is going to fit in with my observations today. I will contend that there is nothing more American, indeed, quintessentially American than the Super Bowl. It's a meaningless sports contest, exhibited at the cost of hundreds of millions (who knows? might be billions) of dollars, hyped into transcendent significance by an ever-salivating media, always anxious to fall at the feet of sports heroes and bloviate endlessly about something that means nothing. And this year, the game is being held in a cathedral of American consumerism: the "Jerry Dome"* in Arlington, Texas. It's where the Cowboys play football, and it cost $1.2 billion to build. It's appropriate for this bacchanalia for the rich. Who, as you might have guessed, are fawn-fodder for the TV cameras when they're not showing commercials that cost sponsors about a zillion dollars a minute.

    So Super Bowl is perfect. An artificially hyped event which is beyond the reach of ordinary Americans to even think about attending. A showcase for glitter, glamor, and money . . . lots and lots of money. Tons of money. That, after all, is what it's all about. The Super Bowl is exactly who we are.

    *After Jerry Jones the owner of the Dallas Cowboys NFL franchise and builder of the stadium.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Taking the Fourth (Off the Shelf)

    My son alerted me to this story. Said I would be interested in it. Your kids know about you . . . they know probably more than you think they do. Anyway, he was right of course. Why? Because the piece he recommended was about yet another appalling example of the vanishing characteristic of American society once known as "civil liberty." 

    The tale I tell is a familiar one to those who might have read one of my previous posts on the subject of the TSA and the outrageous "security" procedures American citizens are subjected to at airports. Seems a young hero, a college student named Aaron Tobey took off his shirt before undergoing TSA security procedures at the Richmond VA airport. Thereon he had written the essence of the words of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution: "the right of the people . . . to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures." Wanna guess what happened to Citizen Tobey? He was arrested immediately, handcuffed, and then interrogated for 90 minutes by security forces, including the FBI's counterterrorism unit. Mr Tobey never for a second resisted what as happening to him but at the end of his ordeal he was charged with disorderly conduct, and "a class one misdemeanor that brings with it up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine."

    This charge was later dropped, but just think for a moment what an incident like this accomplishes for the forces of repression of civil liberties in this country. It has a chilling effect on further protests against this kind of gross violation of civil liberties. It happens in full view of probably hundreds of people, who will tell the story to hundreds more. How many people are going to exhibit the courage of this young college kid? Answer: not many. Not many at all.

    Another benefit of reading the article was I discovered The Rutherford Institute, an organization dedicated to the protection of civil liberties and human rights. More on them in another post.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    But We Knew That

    According to census figures just released, New Orleans, my hometown, has lost a third of its population during the past decade. But actually, it's not over the past decade that the city has taken such a hit. It's since Hurricane Katrina, which occurred on August 29, 2005. Before the storm, the city was about 455,000 people. Now, after it, we're talking 344,000. That missing third of the populace has been scattered to the four winds. Shortly after Susan and I moved back here we met a lady driven out of New Orleans all the way up here to Oklahoma City; she said she's not going back. Baton Rouge LA has added about 40,000 people to its population since the storm. Places all over south Louisiana have experienced similar jumps in population. But overall the state has shed enough population to lose one congressional representative as a result of the storm. One has to wonder what New Orleans would have looked like and what its population would have been had the national government reacted to the disaster the way we have a right to expect a merely competent national government would have. Damn George Bush, I say . . . the evils this man visited upon this country we're still living with and will be for a long time. Our kids will live with them, too, long after we're gone.

    Update I: Actually, the state of Louisiana gained 1.4 percent in population from 2000-2010. See interactive map here. But compared to the rate of growth of other states, this was not enough to allow it to keep its present congressional delegation at the same size. Next-door Mississippi, for example, gained 4.3 percent population during the same period. Of the six Gulf Coast counties ravaged by Katrina, five gained in population during the decade.