U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





OBAMONSANTO

8 01 2011

People who like to consider themselves “liberals” and “progressives” and who are still clinging to the idea that Obama is somehow “our man in the White House” are willing to go to great lengths to retain their belief.  And even this hardened Obama skeptic has to admit that he is “kinder and gentler” than his ham-fisted predecessors, whom I was fond of referring to as a ‘junta.”  (After all, Cheney and Bush only got themselves “elected” by jiggering the system, to put it mildly.)  You may have noticed that I don’t refer to “the Biden-Obama junta.”

Whatever their faults, Obama and Biden didn’t mess with the electoral process to get into office.  The Republicans knew it was time to bow out and let the Democrats take the fall–which is what Obama has done.  A Republican health care plan has become “Obamacare.”  The deficit run up by the junta has become “the Obama deficit,” and the Republicans are happily tarring him for it.  The bank bailout engineered by the junta has become “the Obama bailout,” and they are tarring him for that, too.  In return, he has graciously declined to prosecute anyone for malfeasance in the collapse of the Great American Financial Bubble, which was blown by the Cheney-Bush junta but which the former juntoids are cheerfully pinning on Obama.  He’s such a nice guy.

Between 1990 and 1995, nearly 4,000 people, mostly rich white guys, went to jail for their malfeasance in “the Savings and Loan Crisis.”  That little imbroglio burned up about $124 Billion; the 2008 crash has cost at least $2.8 Trillion, 23 times as much.  (23!  That number again! hmmm….).   So…proportionately speaking, if 4,000 people went to jail for defrauding the public of $128B, then there should be about 92,000 people criminally liable for something 23 times as big–wow, that might just about clear out Wall Street–which is probably why it hasn’t happened.

There have been a few showcase trials of fringe Ponzi scheme operators like Bernie Madoff, but, instead of prosecuting the firms behind this shakedown of the world’s economy, “our” President Obama has invited them into the government.  Not only is Goldman-Sachs “too big to fail,” it’s apparently also too big to prosecute.  I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re caught with a hand in the cookie jar, as long as you’ve got the government by the balls with your other hand.

Or consider Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo.  He made a half-hearted effort to follow through, but it’s still there, the US military guarding a handful of often innocent people who got caught up in a dragnet and have now been mistreated so badly for so long that 1) we don’t dare release them because they’ll tell on us and 2) even if they didn’t hate America before, we’ve now given them good reason to, and they’ll join the anti-American jihad if the US lets them loose. It’s already happened.

And that leads to the wider issue of our ongoing financial pyromania in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where our tax dollars feed the bonfire we are ostensibly there to extinguish. You tea partiers wanna cut the budget?  Forget about diddling around with Social Security, Medicare, and education–that’s all small potatoes compared to military spending–800 billion dollars, about $7K per household, nearly half of world military spending.  “Our” President Obama ain’t shrinking that, folks.  The empire must be defended, not defunded!

Don’t get me wrong on this.  I’m not in favor of cutting pay for the military rank-and-file. Sure, they’re hired killers, but there’s a lot of worthwhile projects that are crying out for an organized workforce, which could easily be our redirected,  unarmed forces.  Besides, our military, with its health care system, network of PX stores, and subsidized housing, is one of the outstanding examples of socialism in the world today.

I’m talking about discontinuing expensive, high-tech weapons programs that amount to a form of corporate welfare.(Not that I really think our corporate-run state is about to discontinue any form of corporate welfare, but I might as well say it anyway!). Killing Pakistanis with drone aircraft controlled by people in Nevada is, in my admittedly biased opinion, morally abhorrent.  Besides, at a practical level, it opens the door to other countries doing the same thing to us, should the tables turn, as eventually they will.  Do unto others, y’know?  Drones over America!  Think of the possibilities!

OK, so Obama pushed through the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Wonderful.  The military doesn’t care who you want to schtup, as long as you’re willing to pull the trigger for them.  Sonny, I’m old enough to remember when the gay rights movement and the women’s movement’s vision was more about ending the military and the drive to violent conflict than about asserting their right to be hired killers just like the guys, or the straight guys.  “Don’t ask?  Don’t tell?”  Don’t bother!  Whaddaya want in that club for, anyway!? Wake the bleep up!

I digress…

We can also see the continuity between the Cheney and Obama administrations in the realm of agricultural policy, where both have been unstinting in their promotion of Monsanto and its stable of genetically modified crops, despite a great deal of evidence that calls GMO crops into question on a wide variety of grounds.

Monsanto supporters like to bloviate about how Monsanto’s GMO crops are necessary to feed the world, how they are able to increase yields and confer pest resistance, but the fact of the matter is that the primary trait of GMO crops so far is resistance to the effects of …Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide, “Roundup.”  Gee, isn’t that a coincidence?  Monsanto advocates like to claim that the no-till farming enabled by dependence on Roundup for weed control keeps fields from eroding and thus saves the soil.  Well, OK, it may keep it from washing away, but it also alters soil chemistry–it’s a plant poison, after all–and, like a person who takes antibiotics all the time, extensive use of Roundup negatively affects soil fertility and health, encouraging outbreaks of plant disease that are normally kept in check by the micro-organisms Roundup kills.  Not to mention, regular Roundup use has enabled the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds, just as GMO crops created with insect resistance have both prompted the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects, and opened the plants up to attacks from insects that were not problematic before.

And then there’s a little legal nicety:  these seeds are patented, and so farmers cannot legally save seed, as they have done for thousands of years, but must buy seed–expensive seed–every year, along with expensive chemicals…like Roundup.  In India, mounting debt from these practices has contributed to the suicides of hundreds of thousands of small farmers, flooding the country’s cities with even more rural refugees and emptying out the countryside.

Consider this:the pollen from GMO seeds doesn’t keep to itself.  It blows on the wind or gets picked up by bees, and ends up in non-GMO flowers, producing GMO  characteristics in non-GMO seeds.  This is very bad news for anybody who is attempting to grow organic crops anywhere near a GMO field.  The good news is, the courts have decided that Monsanto can’t sue people whose fields their GMO pollen contaminates. The bad news is, it took the Canadian Supreme Court to get Monsanto to back down on this.  If it had come to the US Supreme Court, my guess is they would have backed Monsanto.  Corporations are more equal than people in this country, dontcha know?

Monsanto has won many cases against farmers who attempted to save their own GMO seed, and has hired the company formerly known as Blackwater to spy on anti-GMO activists and  enforce their monopoly–er, patent rights, excuse me.  The Justice Department is looking into whether Monsanto’s tactics are illegal, but, considering Obama’s track record, I doubt that anything will come of this investigation.

There are also major questions about the edibility of GMO crops.  Analysis of Monsanto’s “safety studies” by independent scientists revealed that Monsanto manipulated the data to get the results it wanted, and that GMO crops present a double threat:  “Roundup ready” GMOs incorporate the herbicide into every part of the plant, and thus, when we eat GMO corn, we are eating Roundup.  Yummy!  Even when Roundup is not part of the plant’s makeup, GMO crops produce effects like digestive problems, liver damage, and reproductive difficulties.  Here in the US, where, in 1992, thanks to Dan Quayle, Monsanto easily persuaded the USDA that GMO crops were not substantially different from non-GMO crops and thus did not need to be vetted for health effects, we are now a nation of lab rats for a massive, long-term experiment with eating GMO crops, and our government, as Wikileaks has  revealed, is firmly behind Monsanto’s push to spread GMOs.

OK, back to the Obama administration, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” department: Nina Federoff is Hillary Clinton’s science advisor.  Before that, she was…Condoleeza Rice’s science advisor.  Before that, she worked for an Israeli….biotech firm!  Isn’t that amazing!  She has publicly expressed her disdain for organic farming.  I got news, Ms. Federoff:  organic farming is the only kind of farming that will be possible in the mid- to long-term future, so we’d better start getting good at it.  Dig this, all you folks who think Hillary would be an improvement on Barack!?

Back to Barack:  he put Tom Vilsack, who was the biotech industry’s (like, Monsanto’s) “governor of the year,” in as Secretary of Agriculture.  Vilsack also championed the spread of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in Iowa,  and pushed through a law that prevents Iowa counties from banning GMO agriculture.

Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto executive, who, as Bill Clinton’s guy at the FDA, pushed rGBH down America’s throat, is now in charge of food safety.  Doesn’t that make you feel safer?

Roger Beachy, formerly head of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, will serve as the first director of a new federal agriculture agency, the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, which will direct agricultural research grants.  The Danforth Center is heavily funded by… Monsanto.

Islam A. Siddiqui, recently Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (the organization that sent the First Lady a letter admonishing her for not using pesticides on the White House garden) is now America’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator, who works through the Office of the United States Trade Representative to promote US crops and ag products abroad.  “Croplife America” is a lobbying group that represents…Monsanto.

So there they are, “the rogues’ gallery,” “the usual suspects,” call them what you will. It boils down to another example of how Obama is not a change in direction from the Cheney-Bush junta, just a rebranding of the same basic agenda.  “Too rough?  OK, we’ll ease up a little–but we’re still in control.”

The good news is that Monsanto, like the US government, appears to be a little past the peak of its power.  The patent on Roundup has expired, and Roundup knockoffs are available for a fraction of Monsanto’s price. Farmers are rebelling against the high price of GMO seed.  Despite the US government’s attempts to go on the offensive for Monsanto, worldwide suspicion of GMO crops is growing, especially as more and more science and practical experience calls the wisdom of genetic meddling into question. A recent court ruling halted cultivation of GMO sugar beets, finding that the USDA had paid only “cursory” attention to numerous environmental concerns about the crop.  The court had to do it, because Obamonsanto’s USDA was staying the Bush junta’s course  and  allowing the GMO beets to go ahead.  A similar controversy still rages over whether to allow “Roundup-Ready” alfalfa.

Monsanto will not give up easily.  The company will try, and try, and try again, doing its best to wear down the mere humans who are wary of its profit drive–which is, after all, the central organizing principle in a for-profit corporation.   It is unlikely that Western civilization will come unglued fast enough to prevent a great deal of harm coming from Monsanto’s actions.  This is what happens when profit-driven corporations run amok.

music:  Laurie Anderson, “The Monkey’s Paw





SMALLER BANKS GETTING SUCKED INTO THE VORTEX

28 02 2008

from the New York Times:

Federal regulators are particularly concerned about the exposure of smaller banks to the commercial real estate market, which has begun to soften in some parts of the country.

“There were people in denial six to nine months ago,” said Keith D. Maio, the president of the National Bank of Arizona in Phoenix, a small bank owned by the Zions Bancorporation based in Salt Lake City. “I don’t know if anybody is in denial anymore.”

Well, it looks to me like the Times is in denial, for one…the article keeps insisting that things are not near as bad as the S&L crisis, and won’t get that way….I bet they turn out to be wrong about that.








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