Saturday, April 02, 2011

Emerson for the Day

   "In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue.  Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles,  at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.  I am glad to the brink of fear."


Open for Business

Earlier this year, when the GOPer government of Wisconsin began what turned out to be a simultaneous national attack on unions, working people generally, as well as women, children, seniors, the sick, the poor, and generally everyone who isn't rich or a corporation,  the GOP launched a TV ad justifying the Wisconsin actions specifically.  Remember that in Wisconsin, as in these other states, the measures that materially take away from the non-rich as well as take away their rights were accompanied by tax breaks and other giveaways from state budgets to large corporations.  The TV ad cast all this as slashing state budgets and creating a better climate for corporations.  It ended with the resounding declaration that thanks to these GOPer efforts, Wisconsin would be "open for business" again.

It is a telling phrase, though not in the way the admakers meant it.  For in regards to government, the expression "open for business" is a euphemism for the agencies of government and all its actions are for sale.  As more and more of these GOPer laws have been proposed and many of them have been passed in many states, it's become clearer and clearer that this is indeed the true meaning of the phrase.

In the old days, and perhaps in some countries or states or cities today, "open for business" meant simply that government officials took bribes.  You wanted a permit, you bribed all the necessary officials.  You wanted a law passed, it cost more but if you could afford it, you could make the deal.

It's maybe a little more sophisticated now.  Money doesn't necessarily change hands immediately, in an acknowledged quid pro quo deal.  But some politicians who owe their office to big contributors know who they are working for.  They will find lucrative "employment" when they leave office.  They will be part of the most influential networks.

These days, when the rich are incredibly, unbelievably rich, and their corporations are richer still, while everybody else is just sliding (slower or faster) down the mudhill, that's a pretty potent motivation.  Everyone who has even gotten a sniff of what this means knows what I'm talking about.  Even writers who these folks like can find themselves getting huge fees to talk to corporate meetings and business roundtables, etc., where their books are piled high for eager sale.  They may even find themselves smiling and chatting on corporate media.

It's also no secret who the most influential corporations are: when government is for sale, it naturally goes to the highest bidder, and that means the big oil companies, the ones whose names you know, and the ones you don't.  Their profits make Google and Facebook look like the income of college students pushing carts of books around the library.   Then come the financial institutions, otherwise known as banks.  And then the telecoms and other big corporations, some of whom own media.  Some of them (and their owners) are buying government at wholesale prices.

They've accumulated the means of government production very quietly, a lot of it through the courts, expanding the power of corporations while making them less accountable to the public. In terms of campaign finance--a small part of their game--they increased visibility a bit with everybody knowing about the Supreme Court decision called Citizens United--but this enabled them to be in position to cripple any countervailing forces before the 2012 elections.  A nice adjunct to their strategy of growing politicians for themselves--while supplying them with lobbyists for hand-held guidance-- has been to have actual rich corporate leaders spend a few years in public service, making sure the trends accelerate in their favor, before they go back to making more billions.

But elected officials are only part of the government that's open for business.  For many years it's been the appointed bureaucrats in key jobs (once again in alliance with lobbyists), especially in federal departments, that have quietly made sure the government does what the corporate powers demand.  It's hardly a secret that the Energy Department in Washington, for example, has largely been controlled by energy companies, and even in the Obama Administration, it may still be.  If people wonder why all of Obama's environmental promises haven't been kept, I wonder how he's been able to keep as many as he has.  He's dealing with government departments that are deeply divided, harboring as they do the agents of corporate hegemony.

At this point, it's not that policies like this and actual corruption are coincidental, or even that they are loosely related.  They are pretty much the same thing.  And the boldness and greed are utterly astounding.  Corporate profits just registered their biggest gains since 1950. Rachel Maddow had a list of some Friday--I'll pass them along when that transcript becomes available.  But they are huge.  The rich are still getting the Bush tax cuts, while huge corporations pay no federal taxes and in fact get rebates the size of some state budgets.  So their relentless remaking of government is not exactly because they are threatened with penury. 

No, their current efforts are to slash the pay of already underpaid grade school teachers, slash the pay and take the jobs of firefighters and police, while taking away the little power they have to protect themselves in collective bargaining.  They are increasing taxes on seniors--not many of whom have their stock portfolios or even those horrifying little pensions--and they're trying to reduce or cripple Social Security and Medicare. They're cutting aid to the sick, the disabled, to poor children and the poor in general.  They've even convinced the Energy department to slash support for the poor to afford home heating oil, at the same time as the price of oil is skyrocketing, so Exxon Mobil can make more billions this year.

There are I'm sure some corporations and probably lots of small businesses trying to do the right thing, to maintain a sense of balance, to keep in mind where their profits come from ultimately.  But there are corporations--unfortunately including the world's largest--that are bloated and ravenous, like some mythological beast that is always hungry, that devours everything until it has only itself to consume.  And they appear to be the ones running the show, the puppet masters of the tea party people--half-mad with confused anger and fear--as well as the narrow-minded and narrow-souled suits they employ to make sure that government is always and everywhere open for business.                    

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Splendid--but Still Isolation

The North Coast and Humboldt County offer many wonders.  Recently a travel writer for the New York Times Magazine exulted:  "The sights of Humboldt County, Calif., can be hard for the rational mind to reconcile. Its hysterical shifts in landscape and weather conspire to make you feel, in the most pleasurable way possible, that you are going out of your head. A day’s drive in Humboldt carried me past what appeared to be: a Hawaiian beach, an Icelandic coastal flat, a swath of rustic Switzerland, an elk-thronged Montana prairie, a street in San Francisco, the Ewok moon of Endor, a prop village from a musical about the Gold Rush, and Allentown, Pa. The dawn brought blue skies, which turned to brilliant sunlit rain, then hail, then sleet, then driving snow, then back to full sun refracting into a huge rainbow that seemed like the meteorological equivalent of a crazy person’s laugh."

Besides the beaches and the ocean itself, we have these wonderful trees.  That's the Avenue of the Giants south of here (both of these photos are from the New York Times story.)  This is a piece of the old Route 101, more or less parallel to the multi-lane part of the "new" 101.

But there is another aspect to living here: our isolation.  In many ways it protects us.  But it has its drawbacks, too.  And when our delicate lifelines to the rest of the world are disrupted, it can cause problems.

Here's one of them...

  This is the result of a "mudslide"--more like a hillside toppling into the highway--on our lifeline to the south, Route 101.  The slide is reputedly 600 feet wide and 12 feet high in places.  It's a bit more than an hour south of Arcata, and it's going to close 101 for days at least.  There are not too many good alternatives for truck traffic, and we aren't served by railroad here anymore.  A few days may be just an inconvenience, especially to the folks down there around Garberville.  But it does suggest another side of living here. 
And while we're on the subject of Humboldt--when this blog got entered into a certain competition (completely unbenownst to me until about an hour ago) for the best Humboldt County blogs, all those experts at ESPN were outraged.  How could this be, when there are so many blogs clearly more qualified, with bigger audiences and local relevance?   Blogs that have been household names for years!  The VCU of HC blogdom! Well, the field has been narrowed, and apparently, Captain Future's Dreaming Up Daily is in the Final Four.  March Madness for sure!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It looks like the moon, but it's actually the first photo ever of the planet Mercury from orbit, taken by the Messenger spacecraft.

That's the cool part of technology.  Around here however, I'm dealing with a new text editor that Blogger has mandated, along with a lot of problems with the photo program I usually use, Picassa, which at the moment is not working at all.  That's a little worse than the text editor, which is--like most new technologies--adding new levels of complication, requiring more steps to do the same thing that the old editor did, with so far no new applications I am likely to use.  So far blogging has been at least fun technically--pretty easy, and it looks pretty good when it's done.  Why else would I do it?  I can talk to myself in other ways.  But the jury is out on these changes.  So far I am definitely not happy.

The GOPer Class War: Casualties and News from the Front

The news from the Front is more of the same: apparently defying a judge's second order, the Rabid Right government of Wisconsin is trying to go ahead with its union-busting law--while even admitting (or bragging) that this is exactly what it is: a union-busting law.

More salvos in the war on working people in Michigan, where a new law cuts unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, with similar bills in Florida and elsewhere.  All this is happening as income inequality continues to rise, and the consequences of it become clearer--not just on the poor, or the unemployed, but on the working middle class, and most dangerously on the possibilities of upward mobility through education and other efforts.  Without that, the American Dream is bullshit.

This is one of the conclusions of a PBS series on the subject.  A couple of interviews tell the practicalities.  One woman says she's been trying to go to college for 20 years, so she can get a better job, but she's always been stopped by the cost.  These days she has to skip meals to feed her family.  But the next interview was with a black woman who has graduate degrees.  So does her brother. Neither can find a job. Both are unemployed. 

The PBS series builds on a series published in Slate last fall.  It was the subject that the great Bob Herbert chose for his last New York Times column.  To the all-too familiar statistics, he adds this: "As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion."

But as he adds: "Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable."  That's been true since the 1980s and you have to wonder if people are in fact waking up now--thanks to the likes of the Wisconsin GOPers--or if this is the time that the nails go into the coffin of the American Dream. 

Defend Yourself, Then Ask for Help

National Public Radio is one of the Rabider- than- ever- Right's targets. The House GOPers are trying to x them out of the budget, even though they don't get much federal money anymore anyway. There's the usual liberal bias wasting taxpayer's money arguments but fueled this time by a gotcha video earlier this month that got a lot of publicity, and led to NPR firing some of its execs. You may remember reading or hearing about this. What you didn't read or hear--especially not on NPR--is that the gotcha tape was the usual Lying Right distortion-by-editing bullshit.

Which prompted Bill McKibben to write in a NYRB blogpost: "What’s almost as disturbing as the persistent right-wing attacks on an institution respected and relied upon by the broad public is NPR’s seeming unwillingness to stand up for itself."

McKibben notes that NPR is not the radical liberal counterpart to FOX that even the rest of the media calls it. But he nails its true sin: " (along with a few non-NPR programs that also run on public radio stations) pretty much the only radio operation actually drawing large numbers of listeners that’s not controlled by the right wing." Which the Rabid Right can't tolerate. So they made this lying video--and they got away with it.

This wasn't supposed to happen anymore--and McKibben correctly brings up the example of Shirley Sherrod, who was libeled for racism by a video like this, until the whole video was seen and the lie was exposed. But guess what? Nobody bothered to look at the entire video this time, not even when the liar himself boldly posted it on his website. Nobody except...a producer for Glenn Beck. And the video was exposed for taking the damaging quotes out of context, etc.

NPR didn't do this. NPR didn't fight back, except to use this as a fundraising tool. Well, that's not good enough. McKibben is right--it calls NPR's commitment to reporting into question more than anything the Rabid Right has done. Of course I still support NPR. But I'd be a lot more enthusiastic if NPR defended itself with the truth.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thugs in Power

Update on Libya: Rebels advance, NATO taking over.

With the help of brothers who share his power, the head of government moves on his enemies in defiance of the law.

And then there's that whole Gadafhi thing in Libya.

No, I'm talking about Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker, with the support of the Fitzgerald brothers who run the legislature (and their father who runs the state patrol), is defying a court order and trying to implement his union-busting law.

Meanwhile in Libya the rebels seem to be gaining ground, but Old Man K/Q/Gadafhi is (according to state media to urge his supporters to hunt the opposition “alley by alley, house by house, room by room.” It's been reported that state programming is used to send coded instructions to loyalists and hired mercenaries. He's also given out machine guns to every family in Tripoli to make that easier. Apart from sparking a human rights petition campaign, this seems like evidence that might push NATO towards making Gadawful's removal a goal, in order to protect civilian lives.

President Obama will speak to the nation about U.S. action in Libya on Monday, presumably to repeat in more dramatic circumstances what he's said before, including in Saturday's radio/YouTube message. But the logic of it may come down to this: if you are in position to prevent a child from walking into traffic, can you refuse on the grounds that there are many other children walking into traffic where you can't get to them? This may seem like only a moral argument, but think about it.