From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 19, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
In which we walk around the weekly cultural signifiers that indicate that we are, week by week, proudly and confidently approaching the zero point with the same cheery sense of self-assurance with which lemmings are said to approach a cliff. The Week That Was In Doom, might otherwise be known “as things that make you want to guzzle antifreeze,” with apologies and a tip o’ the Surly Crown of Thorns to Charlie Pierce. Pass the Prestone, hold the ice. And see what the rest of the crew will have, will ya barkeep?
”Violence is as American as cherry pie.” –H. “Rap” Brown
We started out the week by celebrating Mother’s Day in traditional American fashion, meaning blowing the shit out of a bunch of people with guns.
Nineteen people have been wounded in a shooting at a Mother’s Day parade in the US city of New Orleans, police say. The victims included two children who were grazed by bullets. Police say most injuries are not life-threatening. It is unclear what sparked the shooting in the city’s 7th Ward on Sunday afternoon. Police say three suspects were seen fleeing the area. The incident happened at about 14:00 (19:00 GMT) at the intersection of Frenchmen and Villere streets. “Shots were fired with different guns,” a police statement said. “Immediately after the shooting our officers saw three suspects running from the scene.” The statement said 10 men, seven women, a 10-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were wounded by gunfire. FBI spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig said they had “no reason to believe it was an act of terror, just street violence”.
For my money, Rising Hegemon’s rising snark sums up the whole proceedings just fine.
What could be more American
It is unclear what sparked the shooting, which happened in the city’s 7th Ward on Sunday afternoon. Police say two or three suspects were seen fleeing the area. Police said that, as well as the 12 people with gunshot wounds, one person was injured in the ensuing panic.
By the end of the week, two brothers with gang ties and a history of drug offenses had been arrested for the deed, the narrative in place, the crime scene tape pulled up, so everything is hunky-dory again, right?
Two brothers with a history of drug arrests and suspected ties to a neighborhood gang each face 20 counts of attempted second-degree murder in a shooting spree that brought a sudden bloody end to a neighborhood Mother’s Day parade.
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
How really depraved are we? Really? (h/t Joe P.) Earlier in the week I found myself arguing that the story could not possibly be true, but I discoved that the only problem here is my own paucity of imagination.
Rich Manhattan moms hire
handicapped tour guides so kids can
cut lines at Disney World
The “black-market Disney guides” run $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an eight-hour day. “My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” crowed one mom, who hired a disabled guide through Dream Tours Florida.“You can’t go to Disney without a tour concierge,’’ she sniffed. “This is how the 1 percent does Disney.”
The woman said she hired a Dream Tours guide to escort her, her husband and their 1-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter through the park in a motorized scooter with a “handicapped” sign on it. The group was sent straight to an auxiliary entrance at the front of each attraction.
Someone on Facebook observed that at least this gave some occasional employment to the handicapped. Sometimes we are left without words. And sometimes the news comes pre-loaded with its own layer of snark.
Those paying attention to continued congressional treason and the incompetence and misfeasance of the Obama administration were treated to The Benghazi Dumb Show and Obama’s IRS shooting itself in the foot. Charlie Pierce’s take:
Obama’s IRS answer probably won’t satisfy Republicans demanding a public apology from the president and insisting the story indicates Obama’s White House is run like Nixon’s. But the president put himself on the same page with elected officials of all political stripes Monday who demanded to know more about what happened at the IRS and the firing of those responsible for any malfeasance. No. It won’t satisfy them. He could have climbed up on a cross and driven nails into his own palms and that wouldn’t have satisfied them. Why is that the point? The media has no affirmative obligation to decide that a “political circus” has broken out and that it has no job left except to write play-by-play on what the monkeys are doing. Obama’s White House is not like Nixon’s any more than it is like the court of Robert The Bruce. Because some Republicans are still carrying old Watergate grudges around like goiters in their consciences is no reason for smart people to play along with it. Nixon’s IRS did not call out its own mistakes. Nixon’s IRS did not apologize. Nixon did not call a press conference and denounce the IRS for what it did, and this was because Nixon ordered the IRS to do what it did, and not even Nixon was a rancid enough bag of old sins to do something like that. So what is the purpose of throwing his name in there at all? Because the Republicans used it? That’s not good enough. In 2004, the NAACP actually got audited in the wake of its having been critical of the then-reigning Avignon Presidency. Remember how that dominated the Sunday Showz for months and led to endless hearings in both houses of Congress?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news. The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
This is what got people sent to jail in the mid-1970s. This is the Plumbers, all over again, except slightly more formal this time, and laundered, disgracefully, even more directly through the Department Of Justice. And of course, this is not nearly good enough. And even if you point out, as you should, that the AP is hyping this story a little — The government “secretly” obtained the records? Doesn’t that imply that nobody knew the records had been seized? Wasn’t there a subpoena? The phone companies knew. — the ignoble clumsiness of this more than obviates those particular quibbles.
No Charlie, no subpoena, thanks to the quick work of our friends at Verizon Wireless.
When the feds came knocking for AP journalists’ call records last year, Verizon apparently turned the data over with no questions asked. The New York Times, citing an AP employee,reported Tuesday that at least two of the reporters’ personal cellphone records “were provided to the government by Verizon Wireless without any attempt to obtain permission to tell them so the reporters could ask a court to quash the subpoena.”
Customers of Verizon Wireless, take comfort in the knowledge that your company passed AP reporters’ phone records to the feds. Remember, muppets, “It’s The Network™.”
In other news, we learn that many of the troglodyte members of the House of Representatives, the mouth-breathing consensus who yearn so dearly for the opportunity to lay a dollop of tar on presumed 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with the Benghazi flap as the tar-laden cudgel, can’t even locate Benghazi on a map. Hilarity ensues.
And in less amusing news, the results of the preliminary investigation into the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas came in. Or not.
Robert Champion, the ATF special agent in charge, said investigators have ruled out the possibility of an earlier fire, spontaneous ignition, smoking, weather or a 480 volt electrical system. He said investigators have not ruled foul play, or a problem with a 120 volt electrical system. The officials would not discuss the arrest of Bryce Reed, a volunteer paramedic and one of the first on the scene, who was arrested last week for possession of bomb making materials. The Insurance Council of Texas estimates the damage to surrounding homes and businesses will exceed $100 million.
Clearly, Texas investigators have also not ruled out attack by the Tsarniev Brothers, an alien energy death ray from a UFO, an attack by Al Qaeda, the Symbionese Liberation Army, or the work of a secret, “self-radicalizing” terrorist cabal led by Jimmy Hoffa and Judge Crater. But never fear, the usual gaggle of self-righteous hypocrites are showing up for the cameras, squatting down and pinching off the expected pieties:
Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement Thursday evening expressing his appreciation to the investigators. ”While the cause of the fire remains undetermined and the investigation continues, this tragedy has shown the world the definition of compassion, from volunteer firefighters across the state rushing to help their colleagues at the scene, to friends, neighbors and Texans stepping in to help those who lost so much in the blast,” he said. Texas U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz issued a joint statement thanking the investigators. ”Our prayers remain with those struggling to recover and mourning the loss of loved ones. While the cause remains undetermined, it is our sincere hope that at the end of the investigation, the residents of West can find closure and begin to heal,” they said.
Thanks, investigolators, for the camera opportunity to flog a continued regime of deregulation. en, the Grey Lady herself took note in the NY Times. Texas don’t need no stinking regulations:
Asked about the disaster, Mr. Perry responded that more government intervention and increased spending on safety inspections would not have prevented what has become one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents in decades.
“Through their elected officials,” he said, Texans “clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight.”
This antipathy toward regulations is shared by many residents here. Politicians and economists credit the stance with helping attract jobs and investment to Texas, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country, and with winning the state a year-after-year ranking as the nation’s most business friendly.
Raymond J. Snokhous, a retired lawyer in West who lost two cousins — brothers who were volunteer firefighters — in the explosion, said, “There has been nobody saying anything about more regulations.”
Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.
But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012.
Have a good look at what deregulation looks like. The explosion in April of a fertilizer plant near West, Tex., was so powerful that it registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake. McLennan, the county that includes West, has no fire code. Res ipsa loquitor. Awaiting the results earlier in the week, Pierce had it thus:
Whatever the investigators announce, the explosion will be linked to four decades of conservative-inspired deregulation, four decades of conservative-inspired corporate triumphalism, the deregulatory enthusiasm of every damn possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and Rick Perry’s entire political career are pretty damn long, I’m guessing. But give up the e-mails, Holder! Ten more people died here than died in Benghazi.
In a development will be very satisfying to many readers of this page, particularly those who find room for cautious optimism in the growth of renewable energy and alternative fuels (thinking of you, AG), the nuclear industry had what by any measure has to be described is a pretty bad week.
Once touted as a successor, or at least a competitor, to carbon-based power, the nuclear sector has taken a beating as the momentum behind new projects stalls and enthusiasm for domestic fossil fuel production grows. Across the country, plans to build nuclear plants have hit roadblocks recently—a sharp turn for a sector that just a few years ago was looking forward to a renaissance. *** In recent weeks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled against a proposed partnership between NRC Energy and Toshiba, citing a law that prohibits control of a U.S. plant by a foreign corporation. Elsewhere, Duke Energy scuttled plans to construct two nuclear reactors in North Carolina, while California officials warned that two damaged reactors could be shut down permanently if the NRC doesn’t take action to get the plants back online. The change in nuclear’s fortunes is staggering, given that the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power …. “Starting about four years ago, the industry felt it was in the middle of a renaissance” with applications for many new plants pending with the NRC, said Peter Bradford, a law professor and a former member of the commission. “They’ve gone from that high-water mark to a point at which … we’re actually seeing the closing of a few operating plants,which was unthinkable even a few years ago.”
Of course none of this may make much difference if the sun has its way with us. We are told that a large solar flare may be a prelude to an entire year of heavy sunspot/solar storm activity.
The Sun erupted with a large solar flare in the direction of Earth early Friday morning, causing potential disruption to radio signals in the coming days and serving as a prelude to a period of heavy solar activity. The mid-level flare, classified as an M6.5 solar flare, “was associated with an Earth-direction coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space and can reach our planet days later,”according to Science World Report. While X-class solar flares are 10 times more powerful than Friday’s eruption, the radiation burst was the largest on record in 2013 and “caused an R2 radio blackout that has since subsided,” the site reported. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies radio blackouts caused by space weather on a scale from R1 to R5, with R5 being the strongest. Scientists expect more such solar flares this year, because the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle is approaching its peak, expected to arrive in the closing months of 2013, Science World Report noted.
And now were told that NASA is warning that solar storms are possible. The implications of such an event are difficult to fathom. Current sunspots are said to be the diameter of 6 Earths, and some sunspot activity can lead to significant eruptions of radiation.
The Sun is currently reaching the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. The Solar Dynamics Observatory was launched by NASA in 2010. The observatory spacecraft is just one of many alerting NASA to signs of solar flares, or coronal mass ejections. One of the biggest concerns surrounding solar flares is the ability the storms have to take down our antiquated power grid. If a massive solar flare is directed at Earth, the fiscal destruction could be legendary. Both NASA and NOAA experts estimate the potential damage of such a direct hit would be in the trillions. The last major solar flare to directly impact Earth was in 1859, the Carrington Event. Telegraph wires reportedly snapped in half and caused multiple blazes. The folks of the 1800s were far less impacted by the solar flare than we would be today. Due to the computerized equipment inside vehicles built after the 1950s, nearly anything on four wheels (or two) would come to a screeching halt.
Just let the implications of that one sink in for a moment. Imagine a Carrington-type of event on top of the current economic and social dislocations we have. The mind reels. We could be facing “a world made by hand” sooner than even Kunstler imagines.
According to Annalee Newitz, We may be in for a disaster or set of disasters so profound they could kick off a series of mass extinctions. Of people this time, in contrast to the mass extinctions that Homo sapiens has already caused for other species. Ms. new it’s has written a book, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, that insists that human evolution has prepared us to survive future disasters.
Are we in the first act of a mass extinction that will end in the death of millions of plant and animal species across the planet, including us?
That’s what proponents of the “sixth extinction” theory believe. As the term suggests, our planet has been through five mass extinctions before. The dinosaur extinction was the most recent but hardly the most deadly: 65 million years ago, dinosaurs were among the 76 percent of all species on Earth that were extinguished after a series of natural disasters. But
185 million years before that, there was a mass extinction so devastating that paleontologists have nicknamed it the Great Dying. At that time, 95 percent of all species on the planet were wiped out over a span of roughly 100,000 years—most likely from megavolcanoes that erupted for centuries in Siberia, slowly turning the atmosphere to poison. And three more mass extinctions, some dating back over 400 million years, were caused by ice ages, invasive species, and radiation bombardment from space.
During the last million years of our evolution as a species, humans narrowly avoided extinction more than once. We lived through harsh conditions while another human group, the Neanderthals, did not. This isn’t just because we are lucky. It’s because as a species, we are extremely cunning when it comes to survival. If we want to survive for another million years, we should look to our history to find strategies that already worked. The title of this book, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember, is a distillation of these strategies. But it’s also a call to implement them in the future, by actively taking on the project of human survival as a social and scientific challenge.
So what promises to be another work of techno-optimism. Perhaps we will be smart enough, unselfish enough, and astute enough to employ strategies that will be necessary to save the bulk of humanity. Indeed, part of the mission statement of the Diner is to “Save as Many as you Can.” However my money is on the illuminati bunkering up and leaving a combination of disease, solar storms, acid rain and widespread dislocation to scour the Muppets from their earth. Or so they think.
And Just so you know, the truth about lemmings has nothing to do with them committing suicide en masse by leaping off cliffs. it turns out that a Disney film, “White Wilderness,” used selectively shot and staged scenes that showed lemmings leaping off a cliff into water, and from there swimming out to the ocean to their Doom. (The film is still available on YouTube, for the curious.) Turns out that the demise of lemmings, a voracious little Arctic vole, has much more to do with stoats, fox, owls and other predators. Far more so than cliffs.
And here, in all the news that doesn’t fit for this week are some other links gathered liking gleanings from the field, and for which I lack the time and attention to comment. You may find it of interest. One thing is reasonably sure: next week will bring even more.
Brandon Smith on terror, circular logic and the debasement of language in the quest for power: http://www.alt-market.com/articles/1501-lions-and-tigers-and-terrorists-oh-my
GO’s article on vectors of human extinction
Personal extinction: Suicide rates in middle aged Americans- Mercola http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/05/16/suicide-rate.aspx?e_cid=20130516_DNL_ProdTest2_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20130516ProdTest2
America’s first climate refugees– with a tip o’ the Surly Crown o’Thorns to JoeP: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2013/may/13/newtok-alaska-climate-change-refugees
From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 12, 2013
Today I offer this in tribute to my own mother, 83 years old and still going strong, having survived uterine cancer, several cardiac episodes, diabetes and raising me to what passed for adulthood.
I have been privileged to know several people in this life who, without the benefit of formal higher education, managed to be self educated and extremely intelligent. My mother is one such.
She was working as a clerk in Mannesmann’s department store in East Liberty, outside of Pittsburgh, when she met my father via introduction from a mutual friend. (Guess that’s how things were done before the advent of Match.com and smart phones.) My earliest memories consist of her reading to me. I remember the books: a soft cotton children’s book, with buttons, zippers that worked, and textures–they make them even yet–it became one of my closest friends because she read it to me every day. The Mother Goose books. The stories–fairly tales, the brothers Grimm, the Three Pigs, Aladdin, Red riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, countless children’s stories. Although neither of my parents was educated beyond high school, our home had plenty of books. I also remember waiting for my father to come home, and climbing up in his laugh, importuning him to read me the funny pages. I am told, although I don’t remember, that I would point to words and asked my parents, “What’s that word?” “What’s that word?” Neither of my parents were long on patience, but both of them always had enough patience to encourage my reading.
And thus I learned to read an early age, which gave me a leg up on being able to learn. And thence never to be able to shut up.
On Mother’s Day I think about the gift she gave me, six decades down the road, and I am deeply appreciative.
My mother is also a pretty tough nut. Born of an Irish Italian family, she had to be to hold her own with my Italian father, who himself was descended from 2000 years worth of hot tempered construction workers. I grew up thinking my mother was the most stubborn human being I had ever met, yet as an adult I came to see that such was the sort of resilience that she required to be able to hold her own, not only with my father’s family, but with the world at large. And I’m not surprised to learn that I had a great big broad streak of that myself.
(Not surprisingly, I find myself in my dotage attracted to a similarly tough minded, opinionated woman with a broad stubborn streak and strong opinions. Hence the sobriquet, “Contrary.”)
With those thoughts in mind, and as a tribute to tough-minded, stubborn, opinionated women everywhere, I offer Diner readers a wonderful recollection of another tough-minded mother written by Frida Berrigan.
My mom is fearless. No, really, I mean it. When my brother and I were little, we got our bikes stolen a lot. We were easy marks — pudgy, white and well-meaning, living in a tall crowded row house full of white, well-meaning people.
“Hey shorty, lemme hold that bike.” We would “share” and the bike would be gone. We were always afraid to go home without our bikes because it meant getting into the car with mom and searching the neighborhood. We begged her to just buy us new bikes, but it never worked.
No matter how big and intimidating the boys who “held” our bikes were to us, they seemed small and looked like kids as they handed our bikes back to our mom after mutely enduring her tongue scouring. They might have mumbled or glared as she stowed the rusty old third hand bikes in the back of the car, but they did it quietly and behind her back.
It was not just neighborhood toughs-in-training who endured our mom’s fearsome mom-ness. Once, demonstrating against war and nuclear weapons at the White House, mom held on to the end of the banner with her teeth as the police put her in handcuffs.
She is tough, but as kids we also watched her joke with the Pentagon workers and the police a lot. Handing out leaflets, she would address anyone in uniform as “General” or “Admiral.” Even the toughest patriot had to smile at this energetic sprite’s cheerful irreverence. It did not mean they took the densely written anti-militarist tract she was handing out, but sometimes just getting them to smile was more important.
Someone once gave her a sweatshirt that said “Because I’m the Mom, that’s why,” which she wore to shreds when we were little. It fit her fierceness to a tee. Yep, the world knows her as Elizabeth McAlister, Harrisburg co-conspirator, member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, wife of Phil Berrigan, Plowshares activist, retreat leader and so much more. We just call her mom and pretty much try to do what we’re told. Why? Because she is the mom.
I still rely on her fierceness. When I sunk $1,000 into a lemon of a car, she took me to the mechanic and convinced him to give me my money back and keep the car. I was floored that he actually agreed to it and shook by her power. And I was a full on grown-up at the time, ready to walk away from $1,000 the same way I had wanted to walk away from my bike all those times.
She doesn’t keep track of her arrests, doesn’t keep score like some movement-heavies, doesn’t worry about herself at all under arrest or in jail or prison. She did two years for a Plowshares action when my brother and I were in our tweens, and our sister was 3 years old. Those were hard years for her, to be away from us and our dad. But she made it seem like a retreat — she quit smoking, did yoga, went for long walks, worked on the grounds crew and built lasting friendships. All the while, she knew more about our daily activities, triumphs and tribulations from the Alderson Federal Prison Camp than most moms while living under the same roof as their kids.
But now that I am older, I have a better sense of how hard it was for her to be away from us by watching her struggle with my sister’s and brother’s arrests and know that she has struggled with mine as well. We can’t tell her, “Oh, no big deal. It’s just a little arrest.” She knows — better than most — what it takes to cross the line. I happened to be in Baltimore with her when my sister rappelled off the side of the TransAmerica building in Los Angeles to hang a banner for the Rainforest Action Network.
Kate had told my mom when it was going to happen and gave her the number for one of the organizers just in case. I think her name was Hillary. I remember it because we called her a lot, and mom thought about calling her more. She was praying so hard for Kate to be safe. Mom has never liked heights — an occupational hazard of a third career as a housepainter with a fearless housepainter husband. So much for the first line of this piece. I guess I should have said, “My mom is fearless… except for heights!” Still, mom invoked our dad’s ladder-climbing, height-defying spirit while Kate was harnessed in — being buffeted about by the Los Angeles winds.
After a long white-knuckle day of prayer, worry and imagining the worst, we heard that Kate was on the ground and under arrest. Mom relaxed a little. Later, she asked Kate if Hillary had to field a lot of phone calls from worried parents while she was doing press work, liaising with the cops and talking to the climbers by walkie-talkie. “No, mom, just from you,” Kate replied. The rest of the young people had not told their parents they were dropping off the side of Los Angeles’ tallest building that day. Mom could not believe that some kids would not share that with their parents. I asked if maybe she’d be more comfortable just knowing it had all gone well after the fact — save her the worry. “No,” she said firmly. “Always tell me, Kate. Always tell me. I want to pray you to the ground safely.”
She is a guide, a shepherd, a midwife, a facilitator. When dad was diagnosed with cancer in fall 2002, she gathered us all in — not just my brother and sister and I, but the whole community, as well as whole other communities. Hundreds of people came to take care of him, of us, of one another — to help him die and help us grieve. And through it all, she made it happen — laughter, tears, meatballs, memories, roses, torches. There was a role for everyone because she shared it.
I have seen her cry only a few times. Once was in complete and total frustration at my brother and me. I remember that like it was yesterday. It was terrifying (and strangely empowering too). She also broke down at my dad’s grave, as he was being lowered into it, with the torches and snow and music evoking some sort of timeless Viking ritual. She broke, and then she began to remake herself. For the last 10 years, she has been continuing — the life of community, of labor, of prayer, of organizing, of resistance, of studying the Bible. And she has been innovating — art has taken up residence as she devotes time and energy to her prodigious gifts. Donkeys and goats and llamas and guinea fowl now quarrel and push one another at feeding time. Five incredible youngsters call her grandma, showering her with sloppy kisses and clumsy drawings and pawing her with sticky hands. She wears her “Grandmothers for Peace” sweatshirt like a banner — fiercely and with great love.
On this Mother’s Day, for mothers here and departed, for young mothers and expectant mothers about to give birth, for those living the grief of a first Mother’s Day without a mother, let us give joy and thanks for the courage that mothers inspire to be better than we really are.
From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 12, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
Plenty of doom and doom-related happenings on the domestic and international front this week, so let’s go right to the videotape:
Across the pond in Greece, where Question Mark and the Austerians are administering the same sort of save-the-rich economic policies that plutocrats like Pete Peterson so dearly wants to bring to the FSA, youth unemployment has reached a staggering 60 per cent.
While the overall unemployment rate rose to 27 percent, according to statistics service data released on Thursday, joblessness among those aged between 15 and 24 jumped to 64.2 percent in February from 59.3 percent in January. Youth unemployment was 54.1 percent in March 2012.
“It is by far the highest youth unemployment rate in the euro zone, highlighting the difficulties young people face in entering the labor market despite government incentives to create jobs,” said economist Nikos Magginas at National Bank.
Athens has lowered the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32 percent to about 500 euros to entice hiring.
Note that last succulent little datapoint, and keep it in your pocket when the solons in DC look up from Benghazi! BENGHAZI!! BENGHAZI!!!!!!!!! long enough to recommend a lowering of the minimum wage, or pass a bill to eliminate overtime wage payments.
As our friend Joe P. posted earlier in the week, researchers have once again discovered the glaringly obvious, a link between racism and stupidity. Whouda thunk it?
Findings taken from numerous research projects strongly indicate that prejudice, racism and intolerance are more likely to be present in individuals with greater cognitive rigidity, less cognitive flexibility and lower integrative complexity.Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice.
We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups. In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology.
A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status.
Original here. This is well known by those in power, who have thoughtfully provided these people their own reality-free 24-hour Cable News Network.
“If voting changed anything they would make it illegal”
Although I am a pretty political creature, I tend to eschew politics on the Diner blog. The reasons for that are that there is a time and place for everything, and secondly, I share the apparent presupposition of most Diners that electoral politics is a sham and dumb show conducted every four years to keep we muppets amused. With that in mind as background, I proudly ginned up the following segue, citing as additional evidence of mass stupidity the reelection of Terry Sanford in South Carolina this week. South Carolina has been the crazy uncle living in the attic of American politics ever since, oh, say 1859. But it never trotted out its stuff more aggressively than it did this week, and elevating the serial philanderer, trespasser, liar, adulterer, and misuser of state funds to noble office. Proof positive that debating cardboard cutouts of Nancy Pelosi in. the absence of having anything to say for yourself is really all you need to be elected in South Carolina. This person says it best, the unvarnished, unpolished, wholly unedited letter from a mad-as-shit South Carolinian:
Dear Fellow South Carolinians of the First District,
What the fuck are you people thinking? Mark Sanford, really? Way to keep us in the running, as the shitass craziest state of the nation. One more fuck-up like this and we’ll surpass even Florida — home of child killers, cannibals and roach eaters! The “Palmetto State”, my ass. I think the “Facepalm State” is becoming increasingly more accurate here.
I have to hand it to you though–go big or go home, right? On the same ballot where you elected Mark Sanford, that two-timing turd, you also voted–by a majority of 65%, no less–to protect the sanctity of marriage from scary gay people. Why shart quietly when you can shit the whole bed, am I right? The irony is intoxicating and it makes me puke.
We all know that South Carolina is a conservative bastion–no Democrat has won here in 30 years. Elizabeth Colbert Busch had the qualifications, ran a strong campaign and was leading Sanford in the polls late into the campaign. Realizing that Sanford couldn’t beat Colbert Busch, one-on-one, he had to invoke the name of that Satanist Minx, Nancy Pelosi as the straw man to gain traction. And with all of the cognitive skills of Pavlov’s dogs, you clownfuckers fell for it.
Where is the outrage of 1998, when the Clinton administration was nearly tanked over a blow job? And who was leading the charge in the furor against Clinton’s infidelity back then? None other than fucking white Grimace, himself, Newt Gingrich–you know, that other adulterous goat diddler that you elected as Republican presidential nominee last year.
So what gives, South Carolina? Is this insanity a cry for help or is it, more likely, a stunt for more attention? Were we paying too much attention to Mississippi again? You’re like the pretty blonde with the dazzling smile that boils the pet rabbit at the first hint of rejection.
And don’t pretend like this recent spate of cray-cray is a fluke, either. We also have you to thank for Joe “You lie!” Wilson, and racist hypocrite Strom Thurmond who fathered a child with his parents’ 16 year old black housekeeper. “There’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches” But you’re totally down with porking them ain’t ya, eh, Strom?
There is much to love about South Carolina: the food, the gentility of its people, the mellifluous accent, and we can certainly appreciate colorful characters. We dig eccentricity! But hypocrisy is unbecoming, and so is stupidity in the face of facts.
Too bad Congressman-elect Sanford won’t be able to luxuriate in the after-glow of his win. He’ll be tied up in court defending the charge of trespassing onto his ex-wife’s property. I wonder if he’ll repay the state of South Carolina the money he used for his Argentinian booty call. Surely he will because he’s all about “family values” and responsible government spending.
I just snorted mint julep through my nose! You know what, First District? All y’all can kiss my motherfucking ass– that’s right, all y’all ignorant motherfuckers!!
A Formerly Proud South Carolinian
A truly well done rant. Wish I had said that.
As the journalists would say, “add stupidity.” We offer up this article on the overreach of law enforcement. Free Lilly-May Allen!!!
A girl aged ten was told by police that she could be arrested for causing criminal damage – over a game of hopscotch.
Lilly-May Allen was playing with a friend on a grid she had chalked on the pavement in front of her home when a marked police van pulled up.
An officer warned the girls that using chalk on the pavement was criminal damage and they could be arrested for it, before driving off.
But the girls did not understand what they had done wrong and Lilly-May is now reluctant to play outside, according to her father.
After Lilly-May told her parents about the incident, they called the police to clarify the law, but officers refused to confirm whether drawing a hopscotch grid in chalk on the pavement was an offence – even though it washes away in the rain.
The girl’s father, Bob Allen, 51, who runs his own karaoke business, said: ‘The policeman said to her that what she had done was criminal damage and she could be arrested. He then drove off.
‘She didn’t come into the house for a while and didn’t tell us straight away because she thought I was going to tell her off for being naughty.
‘She couldn’t even remember what the policeman had told her it was – only criminal something.’
He added: ‘She is only ten and didn’t know what she had done wrong.
‘I rang up the police and asked if chalking up a hopscotch grid was an offence and they wouldn’t say yes or no and said it was a grey area.
‘I’m angry and upset and if it was against the law then the policeman should have knocked on our door and said something.’
Mr Allen, who lives in a three-bedroom semi-detached home in Ramsgate, Kent, said the incident on Monday had knocked his daughter’s confidence about playing outside.
As as long as we’re piling on the gobshites in what is rapidly becoming the “stupidity” edition of The Week That Was in Doom, let us turn to that gift which keeps on giving, Sen. James Imhofe (R-Saturn):
“The Obama Administration’s cover up of Benghazi is the greatest conspiracy of all time, even greater than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which happens to be totally true by the way.”
All this in a week where the Heritage Foundation managed to put out a factually laughable report attributing trillions of dollars to the future costs of immigration. The fact that the report was a tissue of bad assumptions lashed together by a proven bigot seemed to be no impediment.
James DeMint resigned from the Senate (as a representative of South Carolina) some months ago — so he could get a big pay raise to be the head of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
What better place to be rewarded with seven-figures at a think tank, when this is your big thought:
DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn’t be in the classroom.
Naturally as head of the Heritage Foundation, DeMint used his first big project — critiquing immigration reform to keep those big “ideas” flowing.
One of the co-authors of the Heritage Study claming immigration reform would add $6.3 trillion to the deficit, Jason Richwine, advocated barring immigrants from entering the United States based on their IQ in 2009.
Really getting their Confederate Dollars’ worth the Heritage Foundation.
Yesterday I posted about how former Senator, freak, and current Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint managed to put out a factually laughable immigrant bashing report put together in large part by a bigot.
But the bigot, Jason Redwine, is so much, so very much more:
The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine, who co-authored the think tank’s study claiming immigration reform will cost trillions of dollars, contributed two articles to a “nationalist” website about Hispanic incarceration rates, Yahoo News reported Thursday. Richwine came under fire after the Washington Post reported Wednesday that his Harvard dissertation argued Hispanics have lower IQs than Caucasians and that the United States should screen immigrants based on their IQ scores.
Meanwhile in reality, which is NOT a whiter shade of pale:
A record seven-in-ten (69%) Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, two percentage points higher than the rate (67%) among their white counterparts, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Looks like it is time for resign again Jim DeMint.
South Carolina again. Caveat emptor.
In other doom-related news this week, the Center for Food Safety has caught the FDA admitting that chicken meat contains arsenic. Skip the chicken when taking mom to Sunday afternoon dinner for Mother’s Day today.
Attorneys at Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit on behalf of CFS, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and seven other U.S. food safety, agriculture, public health and environmental groups to compel the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to respond to the groups’ three year-old petition which calls for immediate withdrawal of FDA’s approval of arsenic-containing compounds as feed additives for food animals. Filed the same day Consumer Reports released an alarming study on antibiotic resistance in turkey, the lawsuit highlights yet another gaping hole in FDA oversight of animal feed additives.
Arsenic is commonly added to poultry feed for the FDA-approved purposes of inducing faster weight gain on less feed, and creating the perceived appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys and hogs. Yet new studies increasingly link these practices to serious human health problems.
. . .
“FDA leadership is asleep at the switch, if not turning a blind eye to public health,” said David Wallinga, MD, a physician with the IATP. “Seven years ago, IATP blew the whistle on FDA’s indifference to arsenic being needlessly fed to chickens and turkeys. More than a decade ago, we sounded the alarm on how FDA let the routine feeding of drugs to chickens and turkeys help ensure that Americans would eat meat often contaminated with bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. We are filing suit because nothing much has changed.”
Some years ago I read a biography of Rasputin, who reportedly dosed himself with arsenic every day as a preventative against assassination. Rasputin was astute enough to realize that his proximity to the Czarina placed him in mortal danger from opportunists in the Czar’s court. In the fullness of time, they did indeed assassinate Rasputin, but he shrugged off the initial doses of poison like after dinner brandy. Disposing of Rasputin required the assassins to shoot him multiple times, wrap him in chains and throw his body into the river. I offer this anecdote in the hopes that regular dosings of arsenic will have a similar salutary effect for those of us who dine regularly at the Doomsday Diner. Bon appetit!
Elsewhere, in a thoughtful and detailed look at the excesses of the FSA Security State, Peter Van Buren writing for Tom dispatch describes appalling detail just how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes with respect to whistleblowers. A truly Kafkaesque tale.
Robert MacLean is a former air marshal fired for an act of whistle-blowing. He has continued to fight over seven long years for what once would have passed as simple justice: getting his job back. His is an all-too-twenty-first-century story of the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government is willing to go to thwart whistle-blowers.
First, the government retroactively classified a previously unclassified text message to justify firing MacLean. Then it invoked arcane civil service procedures, including an “interlocutory appeal” to thwart him and, in the process, enjoyed the approval of various courts and bureaucratic boards apparently willing to stamp as “legal” anything the government could make up in its own interest.
And yet here’s the miracle at the heart of this tale: MacLean refused to quit, when ordinary mortals would have thrown in the towel. Now, with a recent semi-victory, he may not only have given himself a shot at getting his old job back, but also create a precedent for future federal whistle-blowers. In the post-9/11 world, people like Robert MacLean show us how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes.
The Whistle Is Blown
MacLean joined the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) in 2001 after stints with the Air Force and the Border Patrol. In July 2003, all marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which oversees FAMS, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to the cell phones of the marshals cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. MacLean became concerned that cancelling missions during a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public. He complained to his supervisor and to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, but each responded that nothing could be done.
It was then that he decided to blow the whistle, hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to reinstate the marshals’ flights. So MacLean talked to a reporter, who broadcast a story criticizing the TSA’s decision and, after 11 members of Congress joined in the criticism, it reversed itself. At this point, MacLean had not been identified as the source of the leak and so carried on with his job.
A year later, he appeared on TV in disguise, criticizing the TSA dress code and its special boarding policies, which he believed allowed marshals to be easily identified by other passengers. This time, the TSA recognized his voice and began an investigation that revealed he had also released the 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006. Although the agency had not labeled that message as “sensitive security information” (SSI) when it was sent in 2003, in August 2006, months after MacLean’s firing, it issued a retroactive order stating that the text’s content was indeed SSI.
A Whistleblower’s Catch-22
That disclosing the contents of an unclassified message could get someone fired for disclosing classified information is the sort of topsy-turvy situation which could only exist in the post-9/11 world of the American national security state.
The full story will reward the reader. Suffice it to say that at the same time Guantanamo now holds “86 prisoners who have been carefully vetted by the U.S. military, the FBI, the CIA, and so on, and found to have done nothing for which they could be charged or should be imprisoned and who have been cleared for release– there is no place to release them to, especially since the majority of them are Yemenis and President Obama has imposed a moratorium on transferring any prisoner to Yemen.”
Thus indefinite detention, which is constitutionally prohibited, and which should properly be anathema to the American justice system, is the legal legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren. That relatively few Americans are aware of or care about this should be startling. “No charges, no trials, but never getting out of prison: that would once have been associated with the practices of a totalitarian state.”
“At the same time no one, not George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, or other top officials involved in setting up such a global system of injustice, sweeping up the innocent with the guilty, and subjecting them to horrors without end (including now force-feeding) will ever be brought to justice in an American court, nor will anyone involved in the system of rendition, torture, or abuse.” The Obama legacy will be that of having institutionalized the worst anti-constitutional excesses of the Bush years, and having sold them with a charming, intelligent brown face. Had John McCain as President tried to do the same thing, liberals and fellow travelers would have stopped this country in its tracks. In 2008 people went to the ballot box to elect Obama as a repudiation of the Cheney-Bush regime. Upon leaving offoce Obama will not only have institutionalized the incursions of the Bill of Rights to which we most objected, but also having insured that no accountability will ever be visited upon the neocons who let us into a pointless, illegal, and immoral war.
And then Carl Herman, or whoever posts things up over at the estimable Washington’s Blog, wraps it all up in a ball for us in a post sure to appeal to doomers of all stripes with Why America Fell So Far … So Fast.
All Empires Crash Soon After They Reach Their Peak
Thomas Jefferson said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” And because I love my country, I frequently criticize America’s shortcomings in the hopes of making her better.
But the truth is that the United States is not unusual … it is just like all other empires which have hit their peak and then quickly crashed.
. . .
The indications are always the same:
- The financialization of the economy, moving from manufacturing to speculation;
- Very high levels of debt;
- Extreme economic inequality;
– And costly military overreaching.
. . .
PhD economist MarcFaber states:
How [am I] so sure about this final collapse?
Of all the questions I have about the future, this is the easiest one to answer. Once a society becomes successful it becomes arrogant, righteous, overconfident, corrupt, and decadent … overspends … costly wars … wealth inequity and social tensions increase; and society enters a secular decline.
[Quoting 18th century Scottish historian Alexander Fraser Tytler:] The average life span of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years progressing from “bondage to spiritual faith … to great courage … to liberty … to abundance … to selfishness … to complacency … to apathy … to dependence and … back into bondage”
[Where is America in the cycle?] It is most unlikely that Western societies, and especially the U.S., will be an exception to this typical “society cycle.” … The U.S. is somewhere between the phase where it moves “from complacency to apathy” and “from apathy to dependence.”
In other words, America’s rapid fall is not really that novel after all.
This article also cites Jared Diamond’s excellent book “Collapse”, whose conclusions I will not discuss here, is that will be the subject of another post that I had been planning for quite some time. The article over on Washington’s blog is quite good. Don’t miss it.
Closer to home, Tamerlan Tsarniev has reportedly been interred at a burial site in a Muslim cemetery outside of Richmond Virginia. You might well think the dead are dead, let them rest in peace, whatever their transgressions in this life.
The Virginia woman whose actions led to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev being buried about 30 miles north of her Richmond home said the angry backlash from local officials, some cemetery neighbors and online critics has been unpleasant, but she has no regrets.
“I can’t pretend it’s not difficult to be reviled and maligned,” Martha Mullen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. “But any time you can reach across the divide and work with people that are not like you, that’s what God calls us to do.”
Some of my neighbors think otherwise. A so-called “friend” opened up a thread on his Facebook page in criticism that allowed the butt-picking-finger-sniffing contingent to reveal its howling id. Stunning. As HL Mencken once observed, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” The reflexive hysteria even manifests itself on the local Craigslist site. I found myself yesterday shopping for an old beater truck, which I could use to haul mulch for Contrary. Under the “rants and raves” section I found these offerings from my esteemed fellow citizens:
- That piece of shit deserves to be dug up and tossed in a trash pile like every other man, woman, and child that worships islam
- Now that we know he’s buried so close to here (a 2 hour drive), I know what I will do. I’m gonna eat me a big slab of pork baby back ribs and a laxative. Then I’m gonna drive up there, drop my pants and shit my bowels on his grave.
- people they brought that pig shit that bombed Boston to Virginia and secretly buried him on OUR SOIL!!!!!!!!
I say we start a petition to have him and every other muslim UNBURIED and thrown in the trash dump of any state EXCEPT Virginia
Muslims are pissed cause he wasn’t buried in the place he died in? fuck islam, fuck muslims, I’m pissed cause that pig shit is buried here in Va.
- its our new slogan Welcome to Virginia where we will handle other states garbage
All above (sic).
In closing, I offer you this piece of wisdom: never think it can’t get worse. It can, and will. Your neighbors will insist.
From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 5, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
Given the various vectors of Doom for which we at the diner keep track, and the relative noise made in each one of those vectors, it occured to me to stand up a semi-regular summary called “This Week In Doom,” in which we survey the big breaking issues in the Wide World of Doom. Think of it as “The Wide World of Sports” for doom; certainly not all inclusive, and invested with a particularly Surly point of view.
First on the docket is Fukushima, the gift that keeps on giving. Even Charlie Pierce, Esquire’s redoubtable political blogger, felt obliged to weigh in on the subject.
Remember Fukushima? That was our Environmental Tipping Point two years ago, when a tsunami caused a catastrophic event at a Japanese nuclear power plant, a triple meltdown that resulted in, among other things, all kinds of noxious debris continuing to wash up in Alaska, in Hawaii and, just the other day, in California, Perhaps to celebrate the arrival of this dubious flotsam to the continental 48, we discover that the Fukushima disaster is not yet done poisoning things.
Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools. But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant – a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.
Surely in the wake of such an accident, people the world over would clamor for a time out and a fundamental rethink of nuclear 60 year old reactor designs at the very least, let alone the viability of nuclear as a fuel source, yes? That Big Think that we were supposed to have either hasn’t occurred, or has been sotto voce:
WASHINGTON — All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.
The position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. But it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.
Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”
Perhaps that was after the checks quit clearing. Charlie Pierce brings the point home:
How anyone, even the most profit-hungry plutocrat on the planet, can look at what is still happening at Fukushima two years later and determine that financial concerns remain in any way relevant to the discussion of what has to be done about a steadily spiraling catastrophe — I mean, chopping down a forest to build more storage tanks is Plan A? Really? Where do they build the next hundred tanks? Downtown Osaka?
Deeply reassuring to know we have our best investigative minds on the subject.
Speaking of our best minds, and closer to home, those in charge of ferreting out answer to the Boston Bombing have extended their investigation to corral three more seriously judgment-impaired college students. Pierce again:
Three college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are under arrest, suspected of removing items from his dorm room after the April 15 attack, sources said Wednesday. Two of the pals were detained April 20 on immigration charges and a third has now been taken into custody, sources said. They are expected to face obstruction of justice charges, the sources said.
Even by the standards of college buddies, this is remarkably stupid behavior, and my opinion of it will remain that until I see some evidence as to why we should now not expand our list of shorthand references to the people involved in this awful crime from Murderous Dipshits 1 and 2, to Murderous Dipshits 1 and 2 Plus Accessorial Dipshit 3 through 5.
NPR did a pretty spirited report read by Corey Flintoff that purports to investigate the Boston Bombing… in Southern Russia.
The search for the motivations of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers stretches from New England to Central Asia, but a lot of attention has been focused on Dagestan.
The mostly Muslim republic is located in the southernmost part of Russia, and it’s been the battleground in a low-level insurgency that takes lives nearly every day.
One of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, traveled to Dagestan twice in recent years, and investigators want to know whether that experience led him toward a radical and violent form of Islam.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s parents and other relatives lived in the republic’s capital, Makhachkala, a city of nearly 600,000 that sprawls along the Caspian Sea. The city backs up against the North Caucasus, the blue-green mountains that have made places like Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya havens for bandits and rebels for centuries…
Which you are free to read at your leisure. My response when listening was that, like CNN, Howard Kurtz, et al, NPR will dutifully keep “catapulting the propaganda” that there is an Islamic connection, the better to help fuel the next neocon cry for the next useless neocon war, as always fought with the blood of the children of the working class. They are working overtime to affix an Islamist motivation to this crime; wherein you probably have Dylan Klebold in a ballcap and without the long coat.
Also rapidly disappearing down the Tsarniev memory hole is the allegation that Tamerlan became sour on the US after the Golden Gloves Changed elegibility rules on him.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, right, lost at the Golden Gloves championships in 2009. A year later, a new citizenship rule blocked him from competing again for a title.
The cocksure fighter, a flamboyant dresser partial to white fur and snakeskin, had been looking forward to redeeming the loss he suffered the previous year in the first round, when the judges awarded his opponent the decision, drawing boos from spectators who considered Mr. Tsarnaev dominant.
From one year to the next, though, the tournament rules had changed, disqualifying legal permanent residents — not only Mr. Tsarnaev, who was Soviet-born of Chechen and Dagestani heritage, but several other New England contenders, too. His aspirations frustrated, he dropped out of boxing competition entirely, and his life veered in a completely different direction.
Mr. Tsarnaev portrayed his quitting as a reflection of the sport’s incompatibility with his growing devotion to Islam. But as dozens of interviews with friends, acquaintances and relatives from Cambridge, Mass., to Dagestan showed, that devotion, and the suspected radicalization that accompanied it, was a path he followed most avidly only after his more secular dreams were dashed in 2010 and he was left adrift.
As it happened, Golden Gloves of America was just then changing its policy. It used to permit legal immigrants to compete in its national tournament three out of every four years, barring them only during Olympic qualifying years, James Beasley, the executive director, said. But it decided in 2010 that the policy was confusing and moved to end all participation by noncitizens in the Tournament of Champions.
So Mr. Tsarnaev, New England heavyweight champion for the second year in a row, was stymied. The immigrant champions in three other weight classes in New England were blocked from advancing, too, Mr. Russo said.
Mr. Tsarnaev was devastated. He was not getting any younger. And he was more than a year away from being even eligible to apply for American citizenship.
Neighbors and some close to the brothers doubt that they were “radicalized” in Dagestan. It could be that Tamerlan, at least, was radicalized by that most American of institutions: a change in the rules of the game.
And closer to home—much closer, for me, we have some archaeological “proof” that Jamestown settlers turned to cannibalism during the difficult “Starving Time” endured by the first wave of Jamestown colonists.
Newly discovered human bones prove the first permanent English settlers in North America turned to cannibalism over the cruel winter of 1609-10, US researchers have said.
Scientists found unusual cuts consistent with butchering for meat on human bones dumped in a rubbish pit.
The four-century-old skull and tibia of a teenage girl in James Fort, Virginia, were excavated from the dump last year.
James Fort, founded in 1607, was the earliest part of the Jamestown colony.
The Starving Time was one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The James Fort settlers were under siege from the indigenous Indian population and had insufficient food to last the winter.
First they ate their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some, to satisfy their cruel hunger, ate the leather of their shoes.
Which goes to show nothing so much as what human beings will resort to do when sheer survival is at stake. It is reasonable to assume that the cultural prohibition against consuming human flesh was as strong among 17th century British colonist as it is among us today. Another cautionary tale for those of us who have watched and read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and/or seen the film, when considering the near-term implications of what Full Doom might look like for those of us not ensconced in some Federally constructed and provisioned underground bunker.
In an article posted by JoeP in the forum and reposted on my news channel, biologist Paul Ehrlich
Believe(s) that we are on a straightforward course to a collapse of our civilization.” He cited signs, such as diminishing returns from natural resources, that he said were recognizable from studying the collapse of other civilizations throughout history.
Reasons for that are baked into our DNA, says Ehrlich:
“We’re a small-group animal, both genetically and culturally. We have evolved to relate to groups of somewhere between 50 and 150 people,” he said. “And now suddenly we’re trying to live in a group not of 150 or 100 people, but of seven billion people, somewhat over seven billion people at the moment, and that is presenting us with a whole array of problems.”
Those problems include an inability to recognize gradual, large-scale changes in our environment as dangerous.
“Another thing that’s related to that, that’s presenting us with a whole array of problems, is that most of our evolution going on now is cultural evolution,” Ehrlich went on. “And the problem is cultural evolution has not gone on at the same rate in every area of human endeavor. Where has it gone on most rapidly? It’s gone on most rapidly in the area of technology.”
He cited signs, such as diminishing returns from natural resources, that he said were recognizable from studying the collapse of other civilizations throughout history.
It will come as no surprise to readers of the Diner Blog and forum that technology has outstripped our capacity for judgment and our moral dimension. As discussed elsewhere in the Forum, the nominal group size of a viable community is about 150. Something to consider as we track the various vectors of doom.
Off the Keyboard of Surly1 and Contrary
Originally published in the Doomstead Diner February 27, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
From what I see and read on the national or internet level, plus what I find on a local level, much is made about “the death of Occupy” and a vigorous search for who killed it. Given that so much of my writing during the past year has been about Occupy and Occupy-related issues, I thought it might be useful to look back with the perspective of time and distance.
Occupy is an idea. Inspired by Zuccotti Park, Occupy groups sprang up all over the country like dandelion seedlings, sprouting in fertile ground from Maine to California. People often gathered under American flags in revulsion at political and economic outrages:
- Inversion of our national priorities, from preserving the welfare of the populace to one of Imperial War– an eternal war against the idea of a war on terrorism;
- Radically repressive legislation siphoning away the traditional rights of the American people;
- Disproportionate and immoral spending on a rapacious war machine that enriches a Nuclear Mafia at the expense of working people and ordinary taxpayers;
- Outrage at bailouts for “too big to fail” banks, while working people had their wealth siphoned away though upside down, non-negotiable mortgages, and subsequent illegal foreclosures, often abetted by a criminally complicit judiciary;
- Failure to prosecute financial crimes;
- Fury at a non-responsive legislature, wholly captive to multinational corporations and their armies of paid lobbyists, and utterly unresponsive to the will of the people who elected them.
Critics of Occupy like to say that Occupy had “no agenda.” If the above bullet points fail to represent an agenda, then I don’t know what an agenda is.
Contrary to popular belief, and as revealed by subsequent journalism, the majority of Occupiers were ordinary working people exercising their right to freedom of assembly. The movement encompassed the full range of opinion on the political spectrum, but most who came were employed at least one job, and many held college degrees. The prevailing press coverage attempted to portray Occupy as a gaggle of wild-eyed black-bloc anarchists or unemployed hippies, but that was simply untrue.
There were early successes: the “Move Your Money” campaign to get individuals to move accounts from TBTF banks to local banks or credit unions, gained the notice of financiers. The movement to repeal the “Citizens United” decision via a law or an amendment also gained traction.
Outrage came easy; doing something concrete about it was harder. The initial press treatment of the Occupy movement was to ignore it. While thousands of people gathered in Zuccotti Park, the mainstream media remained silent as a tomb. Eventually alternative media got the word out, and the MSM were obliged to cover the Occupy phenomenon, although the slant of the coverage was often predetermined. In our local case, a wholly negative spin was already affixed to the news peg before reporters were assigned. The usual spin occurred: reporters would duly interview Occupy spokespersons, snip a few seconds out of context, and tell a story to belittle the participants and minimize the importance of the fact that citizens had actually left the comfort of their homes to gather in protest. Alt media continued to tell a more objective story, albeit to little effect (and later, with the net result of a series pernicious legislative efforts designed to lock down and cripple the Internet, the better to control it.)
At the beginning, Occupy was studiously non-partisan. At the local level, in southeastern Virginia, we coalesced around issues, not faction. Nevertheless, fault lines soon appeared. Many shared a paranoia about being co-opted by political parties—by the Ron Paul presidential campaign, by Move On, by trade unions. This fear proved to be a practical impediment to those who desired to form coalitions with other groups who shared some of our same goals. Collaboration with these groups could have swollen our numbers and made us more effective, but it was not to be.
On the ground at Occupy camps, the very nature of governance (or non-governance) for a leaderless movement was also a challenge, The business of Occupy was transacted at a General Assembly, which employed specific rules to insure that everybody had the opportunity to participate, with particular care to include members of traditionally underrepresented groups. Meetings were led by a member of the “facilitation team,” which prepared an agenda, as well. The actual work of Occupy was to be carried out through workgroups, who were supposed to report as part of the General Assembly proceedings.
Work groups were where the rubber hit the road. The Community Outreach work group led a food and voter registration drives, the Technology workgroup stood up live streaming, wi-fi, solar panels for power, the Sanitation group for keeping the camp clean, the Kitchen work group solicited food donations from area businesses and individuals, the Security group kept watch at night and provided wake up calls, Direct Action planned events and carried out specific actions, an Arts Workgroup made signs, T shirts, music drum circles and the like.
Proposals for action could be entertained either from the floor or via a workgroup. Admittedly imperfect, the system, was easily susceptible to being hijacked by people with strong or difficult personalities. People unfairly accused members of the facilitation team of being a “secret oligarchy.” Others were frustrated by the consensus process and the amount of time it took to get to a decision. And then there were marginal personalities. In hindsight, it stands to reason that any movement opposed to the status quo would attract those with an odd and singular take on reality. The fates blessed our local group with a few folks whose grasp on reality was tenuous at best.
Nevertheless, during the period of time that Occupy Norfolk had its camp in Commercial Park, good work was done day and night. General Assemblies occurred nightly. Direct actions were planned and executed. One occupier’s father rented and had installed porta-potties for the camp. A Facebook page for Occupy Norfolk quickly grew to over 4400 supporters. Many young people, and older people, stayed in tents on-site. The Occupiers took in—and fed– homeless people as well. (I never stayed in the camp, but attended as many general assemblies as my schedule would allow, often with my daughter in tow.) Almost hourly people would show up with donations of food or needed supplies. And the camp grew and thrived, the occupants exhilarated with a sense of purpose.
What we didn’t know in those heady days was that the FBI and other domestic law enforcement agencies considered the Occupy movement “domestic terrorists”, and had sent agents out as infiltrators. In December of 2012, Naomi Wolf provided U.S. Government documents which revealed that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had monitored Occupy Wall Street through its joint terrorism task force despite labeling it ‘a peaceful movement.’ And as Jeff Madrick has written in a recent article in Harper’s, “. . . it has become increasingly clear that OWS didn’t fizzle because its objectives were to muddled or its talk too abstract or its organization too chaotic. In fact, the movement was undone by a concerted government effort to undo it.”
Who could forget the OWS action on the Brooklyn Bridge, and the mass arrests that were employed as a strategy by the NYPD? Marchers were arrested, then offered conditional dismissals, which certainly had a chilling effect on their future activities. Police dragged out in 1845 law criminalizing the wearing of masks in public gatherings to justify the arrest of occupiers in bandannas. And who could forget the specter of the aptly named Anthony Bologna who pepper sprayed a group of young women without apparent provocation. You’ll recall the images of police officers in white shirts committing serial brutalities. The use of batons, pepper spray, and disproportionate force became commonplace in dealing with protesters. And the media blackout imposed by the NYPD and observed by the media prevented these outrages from being consumed by a sleeping public.
We had our own issues with agitators and infiltrators. In the early days, there were those exhorting others to acts of violence or anarchy during direct actions. The original organizers of Occupy Norfolk were levelheaded, peaceable young people who saw good relationships with the authorities as being essential to the viability of the movement. So agitators got no traction, and fell away. We knew infiltrators by their actions. In our local movement, one young man showed up virtually overnight, and insinuated himself into our live stream and technical operations, which subsequently failed at critical times. This was a man who, on Facebook and other social media, picked fights with many people (including me) and proved to be a disruptive pain in the ass. It remains an open question for me as to whose payroll he was on. Other people were disruptors of almost professional skill and training.
And they called me paranoid.
Protesters were forced out of Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011. After several unsuccessful attempts to re-occupy the original location, protesters turned their focus to occupying banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, college and university campuses. In November of 2011, a series of raids rousted many other Occupy camps, apparently at the direction of DHS. We read about conference calls involving mayors of large cities to deploy their forces accordingly. It was thus in Norfolk. Previously cordial relations with the local police and city authorities evaporated overnight, as our camp was to be raided, pre-dawn on November 6. Notice was provided to news stations, but none to the Occupiers. SWAT attired cops and city trash trucks descended upon the peaceful camp. A handful of occupiers were arrested on the sidewalk for “obstructing justice”, my daughter among them. All charged were subsequently cleared, but the fact remained that the accused had to actually be processed through the legal system like ground meat, to no real purpose, but significant aggravation and trouble to the accused, as well as legal expense on the part of the City.
One of the most disappointing aspects of being an occupier was the lack of serious outcry against police brutality and disproportionate use of force against peaceful demonstrators. As Jeff Madrick observed in the Harper’s article, “this reflects how little most Americans appreciate the place of protest as a catalyst of social and economic reform in our own history and throughout the world.” We forget our own history.
I don’t know how it went for other groups, but in the aftermath of the breakup of the camp, the local movement coalesced around different efforts. Several people tried to reboot Occupy Norfolk, and reconstitute it in some way, but those efforts eventually dissipated. Too many personalities, too many people with no respect for the processes of General Assembly and consensus. At the end of the day, it turns out that we all drink from the same poisoned cup of toxic individualism that inhabits the institutions we oppose.
Personality differences also played a huge part in assuring that the center could not hold. I remember one local thought and opinion leader, who openly campaigned to be the regional representative to something called the “99% Declaration,” which was to have a convention of delegates in Philadelphia on July 4th, 2012. She actively sought votes, received them, and was duly elected. When the time came to represent us, rather than discharge the obligation she sought, she decided to go to the annual gathering of Rainbow People in Tennessee, along with a few other souls. Now, I have no quarrel with Rainbow people, but that’s not Occupy as I understood it. But then, I am well known as a hypercritical crank whose watchword is, “Be who you say you are. Do what you say you are going to do.” And I have little patience with those who fail to do so.
While some of us were trying to organize and execute direct actions, there were others who announced, in a voice charged with self-righteousness, that they were going to “take it to the next level.” A subset of people then withdrew from the main group, dropped their work group activities, and took it to the next level with chanting, prayer circles, Mayan horoscopes, crystal worship, and other New Age pursuits in what they called a “Peace Garden.” Let me be clear: gardening is a wonderful thing; establishing and maintaining some sort of food independence from the Matrix remains a remarkable form of nonviolent protest. I admire it. I also respect and honor the amount of labor that it took to take the grounds of a largely abandoned house and turn it into a place of beauty and respite. What I decry is the hypocrisy resident in those loose style themselves peace workers while hastening to talk about others behind their backs. The immaturity was breathtaking.
And then there are the Facebook slackivists. As noted above, the local Occupy page had over 4400 followers. Within the last 2 weeks, I have been accused of being a “liberal–conservative–fascist–communist–statist” by an angry and confused young man whose sole contributions to Occupy included noisily announcing his bisexuality, calling attention to himself, proposing ideas for direct actions that failed consensus, and then loudly quitting in a huff when he failed to get his way. We learn that we are the ones responsible for the “failure” of Occupy, for the crime of being “aging liberal hippies.” (I have little defense against the charge, except to say that in the 60s and 70s I’m not sure I was cool enough to have been a hippie.) Facebook is a pernicious time sink, which allows people to engage in the very worst aspects of human nature in the guise of a quasi-anonymity Or at the very least with some emotional distance. (This is one of the reasons that I had given the gun-control controversy a wide berth on the Diner Facebook page. We no longer have any reasonable way to discuss these issues in our society.)
Locally, Occupy may be recalibrating, but nationally there have been successes. a number of us are in regular communication, and attended the Forward on Climate Change rally on February 17, along with 40,000 of our closest friends.
Many of us aligned with the movement to “Keep The Ban” on Uranium mining in Virginia, and were successful in getting the sponsor to pull his bill when it became apparent it would fail. The above mentioned campaign to “Move your Money” resulted in the movement of four billion dollars from TBTF banks. A $4B number will make even the most sated oligarch sit up and take notice. The “Move To Amend” effort to repeal the hated “Citizens United” decision has led to the introduction of legislation to change the direct purchase of elections by dark money groups. Even though Karl Rove was not successful in purchasing the Presidency for Mitt Romney, the threat remains. Occupy groups have helped via different tactics to delay or stop the illegal foreclosure of homes.
And perhaps the movement’s greatest success was Occupy Sandy, where Occupiers became the true first responders, bringing water, food, blankets, medicines and other supplies. One of Contrary’s favorite photos is of Occupiers feeding FEMA workers.
The grievances remain. The legal noose becomes tighter and the consequences for speaking out become more dear. As Judge Louis D Brandeis wrote in 1927, “those who won our independence believed that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty…” Wouldn’t it have been a wonderful thing if the passion and energy currently devoted to defense of “Second Amendment freedoms” (also known as the movement to keep gun manufacturers harmless from any interruption in their profits) could likewise been devoted to defense of, say the First and Fourth as they left the building?
As the means of redress of grievances becomes more narrow, the idea of Occupy remains ever more dangerous to the powers that be. Expect us.
From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published in Doomstead Diner
February 20, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner forum.
Contrary and I were proud to part of a large contingent of people form our area of Virginia to travel to the National Mall in DC for the Forward on Climate rally on Sunday. It was a long and extraordinary day.
The Forward on Climate rally, as it was billed by environmental groups Sierra Club and 350.org, called for President Obama to take immediate action on climate change, including blocking further construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Dozens of buses discharged rallyers from all across the country. The assembly massed on the National Mall, where speakers and musicians addressed the crowd. As they gathered for the march, participants listed to a variety of talks from luminaries, including 350.org President Bill McKibben, who tweeted, “Today was one of the best days of my life, because I saw the movement come together finally, big and diverse and gorgeous.”
“I waited a quarter century since I wrote the first book about all this stuff to see if we were going to fight,” McKibben told the crowd. “And today, I know we are going to fight. The most fateful battle in human history is finally joined, and we will fight it together.”
Van Jones was also on the dais. He urged the crowd to put pressure on the President: “This President has the power to achieve the single biggest carbon reduction ever, by holding our biggest carbon polluters – dirty power plants – accountable for what they dump into the air, Cleaning up this pollution and using more clean energy will provide jobs to thousands of Americans, save families real money when it comes to electricity bills and, most important, will make a real difference in our health and the health of our children.”
Other speakers included:
- The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO
- Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director
- Van Jones, NRDC Trustee and President Rebuild the Dream
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic Senator from Rhode Island
- Rosario Dawson
- Chief Jacqueline Thomas, native peoples chief and co-founder Yinka Dene Alliance
A chill and biting win gusted on the participants, who stood in the frozen mud of the Mall to brave the elements. Even huddling together like penguins didn’t make it any more bearable. Those in attendance later marched through the streets bearing placards, signs and musical instruments.
In an interesting turn, earlier that week Michael Bruce, President of the Sierra Club, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and others handcuffed themselves to the White House gates in an act of civil disobedience to bring attention to these interrelated issues. This marks the first time in the Sierra Club’s history that it has engaged in acts of civil disobedience.
During his turn at the microphone, Brune addressed the crowd: “Twenty years from now on President’s Day, people will want to know what the president did in the face of rising sea levels, record droughts and furious storms brought on by climate disruption . . .” “President Obama holds in his hand a pen and the power to deliver on his promise of hope for our children. Today, we are asking him to use that pen to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and ensure that this dirty, dangerous, export pipeline will never be built.”
Many in the crowd expressed by voice and sign that the pipeline would be stopped “by any means necessary.”
There was also much opposition to fracking, and much support for clean, alternative fuels. Neither Charles nor David Koch was spotted in the crowd. It was also a pleasure to meet Captain Ray Lewis, a true Occupy hero. I was able to thank him for his work.
It remains to be seen what will come of this effort. Stay tuned.
All images Surlyfoto.
Published originally on Doomstead Diner February 11, 2013
Off the keyboard of Surly1
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He sat on the steps, unattended. Dressed in the uniform of the homeless, blue work pants spattered with paint, heavy tan, much worn overshoes. Several layers of sweaters and sweatshirts. Winter coat. Watch cap. Dressed for the elements, yet unable to choose whether he wanted to go to the Salvation Army or the Union Mission, or for that matter to make any statement in his own behalf. Barely able to utter his own name.
On this night, this man would spend a Sunday evening February somewhere on the streets, along with many hundreds like him.
Each year I volunteer to work with the Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team (NEST), a program whose function is to get the homeless off the streets in the dead of winter and into participating area churches, where they can have a hot meal and a warm place to sleep for a night. There are many programs like this, springing up from city to city, each with its own rules. Such programs do help to mitigate the pain of homelessness. It also gives well-intentioned do-gooders the opportunity to do something concrete within the structure of an organized program. Speaking only for my church, NEST engages the direct support of many dozens of volunteers spanning both our congregation and others, who show up, cook meals, do bus duty, check ID, serve meals, clean up, pick up mats and blankets. and spend overnights with our guests.
My chosen function is to participate in bus duty, joined this year by Contrary, whose activist nature enjoys the work. There is a certain amount of paperwork involved. Each guest presents an ID, and gets a colored slip that indicates that they are assigned to our church. We have to check names against a “banned list,” representing those whose past “indiscretions” keep them from participating in the program. There are always more homeless than there are slots. Thus, we conduct a lottery among the men to see who boards the bus (women are always accepted first.). Winners board, others are referred either to the Salvation Army or to the Union mission, where they can at least get out of the weather.
The irony is not lost that, even among these benighted souls, we conduct a lottery to separate winners from losers, a pallid echo from the bottom of an economy whose winners are high-stakes gamblers at the Great American Casino.
You cannot talk with these men and women, lined up against the wall outside the social services building, and fail to be moved by their stories. A sizable minority work. They need to receive a wake-up call, so they can navigate the bus system to get to their workplace on time. Many of them have tumbled out of the middle class, and are trying desperately to claw their way back in. Easier said than done. That said, some of the stereotypes about the homeless are also true. Some are drunk. They won’t be accepted by the Salvation Army or the Mission. Some are minor-league con artists. Every one of them has a story.
A recent article in AlterNet illustrates the depth of the problem. There are over one million homeless in America, and 138 million more who live paycheck to paycheck. And many more NOT living paycheck to paycheck are one major financial catastrophe away from bankruptcy. In a society shaped by 30 years of relentless class warfare first against the least fortunate, and then the middle classes, in a casino intent in a drawing hard, non-crossable line between winners and losers, we should not be surprised that the losers turn up in our streets in such desperate numbers. Conservatives have done a great job of demonizing the poor, and rich people have done a superb job of convincing middle-class people that they should blame the poor and public employees as the undeserving recipients of government largesse, the better to redirect attention away from their own systematic plunder and theft from the commons. But that’s another rant for another time.
Once you fall out of the middle class, it is incredibly difficult to climb back in. Here are a few statistics offered by AlterNet:
• 43.9 percent of Americans — that is roughly 137 million people — are living on the edge of collapse: a job loss, health crisis or income-crushing emergency, and they would not have enough money to cover expenses “at the federal poverty level” for three months.
• Nearly 40 percent of American households — which translates to more than 100 million people — live paycheck to paycheck.
• More than 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty level, which is $23,201 for a family of four. That’s $5,800 per person.
• 6 million people have no income other than food stamps, which means they are living on $6,000 a year.
Consider this last realize that in southeastern Virginia, the average age of the homeless person is 9, according to our local United Way. Think about trying to survive on the streets, raise a family, simply keep your children alive… $6000 a year.
Let that sink in. We are a nation of freshly minted billionaires, fat with bonus checks paid out of the big Casino, and our response is to cut-cut-cut anti-poverty programs and the safety net. It’s not as if we don’t know what to do to address these problems. We do: raise taxes on the wealthy, tax capital gains, quit being the world’s policeman, publicly finance elections to reduce the vigorous commerce in legislators, raise the cap on Social Security to ensure its continued viability, provide universal healthcare. But we lack the political will.
St. Reagan did much to create the homeless problem in the United States when, in the early 80s, mental health funding was severely curtailed and the mentally ill moved from back wards to our back streets. People with untreated psychiatric illnesses comprise roughly one-third, or 250,000, of the estimated 744,000 homeless population. The quality of life for these individuals is abysmal. Many are victimized regularly. One study found that 28 percent of homeless people with previous psychiatric hospitalizations obtained some food from garbage cans and 8 percent used garbage cans as a primary food source. And from all indications this trend is increasing. It is always thus when those without an army of highly paid lobbyists deal with policies created by rabid ideologues or other sociopaths.
And then there are the working poor, who Guy Standing deemed “the Precariat,” who work in a series of short-term or part-time jobs generally without much social protection or benefits. The Precariat represents another generation of people without a voice, without the benefits or even a reasonable expectation of a middle class lifestyle. And this is the new normal, according to our neoliberal elites. Ten years of the Patriot Act has institutionalized it such that our reduction in civil liberties has become normalized. So will “the Precariat” become normalized, an entire generation of barely trained serfs will drag their non-dischargeable student debt along through their adult lives. (Imagine the appeal to this generation for a Man on Horseback, offering the siren song of an extreme political agenda, that will redress all ills and find worthy scapegoats. We’ve seen this movie before.)
Guy Standing offered his notion of “the Precariat” as a cautionary term; others think this is a desirable state, the better to lower the price of labor. And should such social instability fail, there’s always prison labor to keep the proles in line.
So as I look at the faces of the homeless one week in February, I am reminded that even though I am near the end of my working life, I am still only one or two financial catastrophes away from standing in-line with them. It is a way in which a handful of my fellow s can, at least for a week, Save As Many As We Can.
Hard Times, USA: Would You Consider Thinking Differently About Poverty and Poor and Homeless People?
Published originally on Doomstead Diner February 1, 2013
Off the keyboard of Surly1
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Discuss this post here in the forum.
In a previous post I explored the difficulty in knowing anything with certainty in our era, and some of the irony surrounding that lack of information in a sea of data. The comparison of those of us living in these misinformed, disinformed times with those denizens of Plato’s cave, whose reality was described only by the flickering of the shadows on the wall, seemed particularly apt.
A recent spate of misfortune afflicting significant other s around me—the sudden illness and cardiac catheterization of my beloved Contrary, the diagnosis of her mother with stage 4 cancer, that fine woman’s convalescence and subsequent transition, funeral and wake, plus my own mother’s sudden heart attack and treatment—has served to refocus my attention on the brevity and fragility of life on this small sawdusty stage… And how much we bullshit one another along the way.
Nothing like a little brush or two with mortality to sharpen the senses, particularly the sense of smell, when challenged by a characteristic acrid smell.
Out here it’s bullshit. Inside the beltway, and in the public prints, we call it “framing.”
To the framers belong the spoils. We often watch how Frank Luntz and other conservative operatives get out in front of issues and frame them. The side that initially frames a political issue gives itself an inherent advantage over the opposition by making its opponents speak in terms it has chosen, much like a general officer will choose the ground for battle in order to have the advantage. (Or as they did before drone warfare and “death from above,” anyhow.) In such a way did the “estate tax” become the “death tax,” the better to elicit more sympathy for an unsympathetic position, and to get J6P to consistently vote against his own economic self-interest.
And thus have Medicare and SS been generically labeled as “entitlements” in public discussion. For decades, these earned benefits have been mischaracterized. Since I have spent many hours of quality time with a couple of recipients of same, I have a dog in this fight. The next person who called social security an “entitlement” is going to get punched in the throat.
In 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund. This is funded through the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax, FICA, paid by every working taxpayer. This insurance is based on the income of the taxpayer, which may be different in every case. This insurance payment was mandated because personal investments are subject to failure as in stock market crashes, and many would not save unless they had no choice. This fund guaranteed each payer into the insurance fund income when they retired. It would not fail, as it is an ongoing insurance policy headed by the U.S. government.
This is not an entitlement! Each payer who has monies held in this insurance fund has a right to both the money and growth of such over the years paid into the fund. Many who contributed to this fund died before receiving any of the monies paid into their insurance. Unlike other insurance policies, this money is not inherited by their heirs, although spouses have survivors’ benefits.
Again, Social Security is not an entitlement; it has been earned by every taxpayer.
Most of us have been paying into the fund for our entire working lives, and so have employers on our behalf, to the tune of the current 7 ½ per cent per year for each. Also out of our Social Security, we pay $100 a month into Medicare.
Welfare, by contrast, is an entitlement. A poor single woman with dependent children, for example, is entitled to a payment from the government. She mightn’t ever have paid taxes – but she’s going to receive a payment. Medicaid, in most states, is an entitlement as well.
Social Security has two problems. The $2.5 trillion trust fund, Social Security’s financial backstop, doesn’t contain cash or other economic assets – it’s full of Treasury bonds, which are more or less promissory notes put there because the government borrowed the fund’s money to pay other bills.
The second problem is that, starting last year, Social Security began paying out more in benefits than money collected, to the tune of $37 billion. This year the deficit is estimated to be $45 billion. I recall once, on The Burning Platform, getting into it with Quinn, who said, “It doesn’t matter what the government owes you. You’ll never see the money—the government’s broke,” he said.
My reply is that the government had to go get the money to honor its promises. We certainly know where the money is. It’s in the pockets of the one per cent, and safely deposited offshore in the Cayman Islands, by one account to the tune of 32 Trillion dollars. Who’s with me to try to gin up reports of an Al Qaeda cell in the Caymans?
So one of the impediments for those of us looking forward to retirement is the framing issue. As long as Faux “News”product and other MSM outlets get away with calling Social Security and Medicare “entitlements,” they will continue to occupy the high ground in the public debate.
Much better to refer to a “mandatory government –guaranteed annuity” or equivalent phrase, which will remind people that the program has been and is funded by contributions.
As noted above, not only did you and I contribute to Social Security but your employer did, too, with contributions totaling 15% of your income before taxes. If you averaged only $30K over your working life, that’s close to $220,500. That’s without interest. And no “entitlement.” I have drawn the following calculations from another discussion on this topic. I am neither an accountant nor an actuary, so if someone wants to vet these figures, it’s fine by me, but the point of the discussion is the regularity of the contributions and the time value of money.
If you averaged $30K per year over your working life, that’s close to $180,000 invested in Social Security. If you calculate the future value of your monthly investment in social security, $375/month, including both you and your employer contributions at a meager 1% rate compounded monthly , after 40 years of working you’d have more than $1.3+ million dollars saved. This is your personal investment.
Upon retirement, if you took out only 3% per year you’d receive $39, 318 per year, or $3,277 per month. That’s almost three times more than today’s average social security benefit of $1,230 per month according to the social security administration (Google it – it’s a fact). And your retirement fund would last more than 33 years(until you’re 98 if you retire at age 65)! I can only imagine how much better most average income people could live in retirement if our government had just invested our money in low risk interest-earning earning accounts. Instead the folks in Washington pulled off a bigger Ponzi scheme than Bernie Madoff ever did. They took our money and used it elsewhere. They didn’t have a referendum to ask us if we wanted to lend the money to them. And they didn’t pay interest on the debt they assumed and recently they’ve told us that the money won’t support us for very much longer. But is it our fault they misused our investments? And now to add insult to injury, they’re calling it a benefit.
Little wonder the Cheneynauts wanted to privatize that boodle, the better to vaporize it a la Lehman Brothers in 2007.
They call Social Security and Medicare an entitlement even though most of us have been paying for it all our working lives, and now, when it’s time for us to collect, the government is running out of money. I am told that the Social Security check is now referred to as a “Federal Benefit Payment”? Why not a “Federal Retirement Benefit?” More reframing, the better to shape the debate.
I wish this thought would be followed by an examination of the Social Security Tax, which has the same effect of falling hardest on low and middle income people, because the income that the Social Security Tax is applied to is currently capped at $113,700.
I would welcome a discussion of the justice of the Social Security Tax cap, which President Obama explored in his 2008 campaign. In particular, any discussion of securing the future of Social Security should include how much money would be raised by eliminating the cap on earned income, as well as how much money would be raised if the Social Security Tax was applied to unearned income as well. But that’s not what the plutocrats want.
Let’s raise the cap. Period. And schedule a false flag in the Caymans, the better to repatriate our stolen wealth.
And yes, I realize that even if I live to collect the first check, the government is working overtime both to inflate away the value of this widow’s mite as well to cap COLA adjustments. The Gnomes of Zurich will not be satisfied until the last crust is pulled from a hungry child’s mouth, and granny dies in the gutter for lack of cat food. But I don’t care. Social Security and Medicare are the last vestiges of a safety net in this country, and if we let the plutocrats win this round, and do not defend Roosevelt’s legacy for another generation, we will well and truly deserve their scorn.
“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” –H. Rap Brown
A personal reflection on yesterday’s events by Surly1. Discuss this article here.
This past summer, my daughter came over for dinner one summer night and brought a friend to meet. She made it clear her guest was not “that” sort of friend, but a person of value nonetheless. “Nathan” (not his real name) was a slight young man, with shoulder length hair and a bespectacled, quiet manner.
Nathan and I spent much of the evening in pleasant conversation, albeit I strained to hear much of his part of it. When he spoke, which wasn’t often, you had to listen intently: his words barely reverberated in a quiet room. He was a young man of unfinished dreams. He was interested in ideas. He was intensely curious. He spoke of going to St. John’s College in Annapolis, to pursue a curriculum based on the great books. He was the best man at a wedding that I photographed, for two other friends of my daughters’. Yet whether it was his own struggle with sexual ambiguity, or his relationship with his father, or a lack of the ability to dance to the music of the spheres, we will never know.
Before Thanksgiving of this year, Nathan took his own life.
Last weekend, the neighbor told me about the daughter of neighbors up the street (not known to me) who had likewise committed suicide.
Stories of the suicide of young people are all too frequent, and always deeply troubling. Every community, every news cycle, every day brings us a news about premature death stalks young people. And then, the news of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut. We’re told that the shooter was intelligent, nerdy, a Goth, remote, autistic. We’re told he had Asberger’s. We’re told he might’ve suffered from a personality disorder. We’re told investigators seek the motives of this young man, who took his own life after shooting 28 people. We sit mesmerized by the blue light of evening talk programs and watch mental health professionals infer motives from the shooter’s reported actions, this in the absence of any other evidence. Sock puppet politicians gravely intone they are “shocked and saddened” by the days events, (a trope which should earn the next utterer a blow to the head with a seven-pound hammer.) We are told by that God did not protect the Connecticut shooting victims because prayer has been banned in schools. (This mouth breathing opportunist apparently went to the “never let a good crisis go to waste” school of public relations.) We are told that we have to have a big, principled discussion about gun control, as if that might actually be permitted to happen by Wayne LaPierre.
We are told repeatedly what to think. Never are we invited to ask questions. We never ask about the quality of life in the schools or in this rapidly declining country. We never discuss the future prospects of a generation. We never challenge our spending priorities. We never debate why we can spend billions overseas, most of it routed to the pockets of transnational corporations, but we can’t afford to build bridges or schools at home. And, most of all, we never discuss the irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner dealing death from above via drones and a private kill list.
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” — D.H. Lawrence
The unwelcome convergence of suicides close to home with yesterday’s news has led some of us who still retain a capacity for outrage to wonder aloud, “what the hell is going on here?”
And then you realize that none of this matters.
Screams over the intercom, 28 dead. Another violent rampage. Dozens of shattered families. This on the heels of another shooting earlier in the week in Oregon, and right before police in Bartlesville, Oklahoma arrested an 18-year-old high school student who was planning a school-shooting massacre plot.
A road man for the Lords of Karma might observe the bitter harvest of a culture steeped and marinated in violence. Others might cite our moral vacuity. Had we any sense of history, or capacity to consider more than the next quarter’s earnings, we would behold a culture which, in the space of a generation, has embraced both torture and drone bombing of civilians as “business as usual.” (All justifiable in the name of the “war on terror”, citizen. Get used to it.) Others will, like clockwork, cite the absence the absence of God and the Bible. Others will cite the need for new gun laws. All will have a point.
None will examine the bloody, beating Heart of Darkness that is this rapacious, flesh eating capitalist monster that devours all in its path. Having taken homeowners’ houses, dreams and lives (Google the story of Norman Rousseau), we have now begun to devour our children. What better symbol for the end game of the financialization of all aspects of human endeavor, in which human beings are turned into “head count” and “human resources,” and hopes and dreams into profits and losses.
Can there be a more to-the-point indictment of the utter soullessness and moral bankruptcy of the American enterprise?
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2
So much search for motive. We will not soon know the motives of this, or any shooter. What far shore of mind must a human being inhabit to take the life of another? And these incidences are happening more frequently. How many data plots do we need on our collective cognitive map to understand that there is something very wrong here, that goes beyond one or two disturbed teens? The rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world. In the last 30 years since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders. There have been 27 such events–27– since Columbine.
In Virginia, we survived the slaughter at Virginia Tech several years ago. The good citizens of the Commonwealth were left to try to puzzle out that latest act of wanton violence that led to 33 deaths and many more injuries. The ensuing conversations led to a conclusion of mental disturbance on the part of the shooter, a period of solemn mourning, and a good week a discussion of the proper role of guns in the society, after which the issue was shelved, per usual. There was some discussion about the shooter being a “collector of injustices,” an assessment which may have come closer to the truth then the FBI might have realized.
If mass murder and suicide is the symptom, perhaps the disease needs a name. Authors such as Paul Levy and Jack D. Forbes have explored a psychological disease observed by indigenous peoples informing self-destructive behavior on the part of European-based peoples. Some call it wetiko, others “malignant egophrenia.”
Indigenous people have been tracking the same “psychic”virus that I call malignant egophrenia for many centuries and calling it “wetiko,” a Cree term which refers to a diabolically wicked person or spirit who terrorizes others. Professor Forbes, who was one of the founders of the Native American movement during the early sixties, says, “Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease.” Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a “psychosis” in the true sense of the word as being a “sickness of the soul or spirit.” Though calling it by different names, Forbes and I are both pointing at the same illness of the psyche, soul and spirit that has been at the root of humanity’s inhumanity to itself.
Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a disease of civilization, or lack thereof. To quote Forbes, “To a considerable degree, the development of the wetiko disease corresponds to the rise of what Europeans choose to call civilization. This is no mere coincidence.”[vi] The unsustainable nature of industrial civilization is based on, and increasingly requires violence to maintain itself. Genuine “civilization,” in essence, means not killing people. Referring to the lack of “civility” in modern society, Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization and responded by saying, “I think it would be a good idea.” It makes sense that native people would know about malignant egophrenia, as they were both oppressed by, but weren’t, at least initially, under the “curse” of modern civilization. Being under the sway of modern civilization can feel like something foreign to our nature is being imposed upon us, as if we are living in an occupied land. Modern civilization suffers from the overly one-sided dominance of the rational, intellectual mind, a one-sidedness that seemingly dis-connects us from nature, from empathy, and from ourselves. Due to its disassociation from the whole, wetiko is a disturber of the peace of humanity and the natural world, a sickness which spawns aggression and is capable of inciting violence amongst living beings. The wetiko virus is the root cause of the inhumanity in human nature, or shall we say, our seemingly inhuman nature. This “psychic virus,” a “bug” in “the system,” in-forms and animates the madness of so-called civilization, which, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop feeds the madness within ourselves.
Whether new age or old, literature informs us of the danger within. As we wage slaves scrape a living from the gears of the machine, in order to earn the privilege of additional consumption of things we don’t need, we often rub up against that within us that stops us from expressing our full potential and whatever creative genius might lie within. Is that “herd think,” that groupthink that enlists us in endless cooperation, and co-optation, and that leads us to a slaughter? It may be that these shooters are merely a physical manifestation of the psychic horrors that are embedded in our morally bankrupt culture.
“We have a companion for life…We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners. The predator is our lord and master.” Don Juan, in Carlos Castaneda
There are echoes of this in the Bible as well. The Gospel of John refers to the devil as “the ruler of this world” (14:30; 16:11), and Paul speaks of Satan as “the god of this world” (Cor. 4:4). The Gnostic Gospel of Phillip, talking about the root of evil that lies within all of us, makes the similar point that unless this evil is recognized, “It masters us. We are its slaves. It takes us captive.” (II, 3, 83.5-30)
Many chafe at the lessons of biblical Christianity. Yes only the blind and deaf could possibly fail to see the existence and the works of capital E Evil in the world. If evil exists, good must logically exist as well. If the devil exists, and his existence can be inferred from his works, then God must exist.
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
— Revelation 6:1-2˄ NIV
So we continue to search for answers. But that search will be in vain as long as we fail to acknowledge the reality and the consequences of this way of life, a dreamscape of horror inseparable from our ego and our own inner being. The wetiko “cannibal” culture is destroying us; as we militarize and financial lives, extract the last drop of oil, poison the aquifers and eat food manufactured by pesticide companies, the wave of suicides and shootings remind us of the culture of death that invests all of us. Our young people are being sacrificed to Mammon at an escalating rate: several dozen this week alone. Mammon is hungry. What we fail to realize is that we are offering our own children up for sacrifice. There is no difference between “theirs” and “mine.”
In Revelation, we are told that the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are released after the Lamb of God opens the first four of the seven seals on the scroll in God’s right hand. This action summons forth four beings on white, red, black, and pale horses symbolizing Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, which visit a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment. Perhaps the shooters in these serial killings constitute a Fifth Horseman, a herald of sorts, announcing the coming of the promised Four, and the End of Days.
If wetiko is baked into our beings as a legacy, stemming from the “original sin” of agriculture and “dominion over all things,” then our challenge, and our work, will be to determine what it is that we do about it. Which is hte work of this website. It is quite clear that we are almost out of time.
We often place things here at the Doomstead Diner into discussion based on fact, experience or belief. How do we know what we know? Why do we gather here in the shimmering blue light of this digital campfire?
“When you observe the world you see people, you see houses, you see the sky, you see tangible objects; but when you observe yourself within, you see moving images–a world of images, generally known as fantasies. Yet these fantasies are facts. You see, it is a fact that the man has such and such a fantasy, and it is such a tangible fact, for instance, that when a man has a certain fantasy, another man may lose his life, or a bridge is built–these houses were all fantasies. Everything you do here, all of the houses, everything, was fantasy to begin with, and fantasy has a proper reality. That is not to be forgotten; fantasy is not nothing. It is, of course, not a tangible object, but it is a fact, nevertheless. It is, you see, a form of energy, despite the fact that we can’t measure it. It is a manifestation of something, and that is a reality. That is just a reality. As for instance, the peace treaty of Versailles, or something like that. It is no more–you can’t show it, but it has been a fact. And so psychical events are facts, are realities; and when you observe the stream of images within, you observe an aspect of the world, of the world within.” – Carl Jung.
How do we know what we know? Why do we think we know what we know? These are the questions I have been wrestling with, on and off, for the last month. Regular Diners will recall RE’s “Orkin Man” wherein he advances the premise that predatory capitalism is so far gone and the organs of justice so utterly corrupt, that the only thing we can do to ensure justice is to employ the good works of the Orkin man to exterminate the Illuminati like so many bugs. My response, running to many thousands of words, was to assert that there is a reason that the good book says, ”Vengeance is Mine,” is that for any individual to assert the godlike power of life and death over others was to invoke a kind of madness, well documented in both fact and fiction.
I used Pol Pot as an example, citing his well-publicized attempts to remake Cambodian society according to his own vision, and in the process, causing the deaths of many thousands of Cambodians. Or so I thought. Later on, Re: posted an article by one Israel Shamir (http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-history-of-cambodia-pol-pot-revisited/5308998), which asserted that, on a recent visit to Cambodia, Shamir had the opportunity to speak with many ordinary Cambodians who remembered Pol Pot with fondness.
A much quoted American professor, RJ Rummel, wrote that “out of a 1970 population of probably near 7,100,000 …almost 3,300,000 men, women, and children were murdered …most of these… were murdered by the communist Khmer Rouge”. Every second person was killed, according to his estimate.
However, Cambodia’s population was not halved but more than doubled since 1970, despite alleged multiple genocides. Apparently, the genocidaires were inept, or their achievements have been greatly exaggerated.
The Pol Pot the Cambodians remember was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist, a lover of native culture and native way of life. . . He felt compassion for the ordinary village people who were ripped off on a daily basis by the city folk, the comprador parasites. He built an army to defend the countryside from these power-wielding robbers. Pol Pot, a monkish man of simple needs, did not seek wealth, fame or power for himself. He had one great ambition: to terminate the failing colonial capitalism in Cambodia, return to village tradition, and from there, to build a new country from scratch.
His vision was very different from the Soviet one. The Soviets built their industry by bleeding the peasantry; Pol Pot wanted to rebuild the village first, and only afterwards build industry to meet the villagers’ needs. . . But what he hated most was acquisitiveness, greed, the desire to own things. St Francis and Leo Tolstoy would have understood him.
The Cambodians I spoke to pooh-poohed the dreadful stories of Communist Holocaust as a western invention. They reminded me of what went on: their brief history of troubles began in 1970, when the Americans chased away their legitimate ruler, Prince Sihanouk, and replaced him with their proxy military dictator Lon Nol. Lon Nol’s middle name was Corruption, and his followers stole everything they could, transferred their ill-gotten gains abroad then moved to the US. On top of this came US bombing raids. The peasants ran to the forest guerrillas of Khmer Rouge, which was led by a few Sorbonne graduates, and eventually succeeded in kicking out Lon Nol and his American supporters.
In 1975, Pol Pot took over the country, devastated by a US bombing campaign of Dresden ferocity, and saved it, they say. Indeed, the US planes dropped more bombs on this poor country than they had on the Nazi Germany, and spread their mines all over the rest of it. If the Cambodians are pressed to name their great destroyer (and they are not keen about burrowing back into the past), it is Professor Henry Kissinger they name, not Comrade Pol Pot.
This is, of course, the story very different from that retailed in our public prints and official histories. My immediate reaction was, that it would not be the first time that the agencies of government employed various media propaganda points of view at odds with facts. So then I attempted to look up what I could find about Israel Shamir. That too was a murky journey with no determinate conclusion. Apparently he is also known by the names Jöran Jermas, and Adam Ermash, is a Swedish writer and journalist by way of Siberia and Israel, looks very middle-eastern, and travels between Moscow and Stockholm.
One Norman Finkelstein is quoted by Tablet magazine as saying of Shamir, “He has invented his entire personal history. Nothing he says about himself is true.” So how do we know what we know? History is indeed written by the winners. Or by those scribbling on their behalf. Hell, how do we know anything?
A Diner Epistemology
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge, “How do we acquire it?”, “What do we know?”, “How do we know it?”.
Now to blow decades of accumulated dust from old memories. I recall being greatly struck by studying Plato’s dialogues as a freshman and sophomore in college. Of particular note was the study of Plato’s Forms. (http://www.niu.edu/~jdye/forms.html ) Main takeaways seemed to be that Opinions are not a good source of truth, or beauty. There must be some a priori standard with which we are acquainted– Knowledge of ‘the beautiful itself’ is a prerequisite for knowing whether ‘A is beautiful’ or ‘B is beautiful’ are true statements. Nor can we know whether that or any other statement is true unless we understood what such a statement means. What then is the status of the vast majority of our assertions which we make before we have established a clear understanding of the terms they contain? Plato would say that they must only be opinions, since they clearly cannot be instances of knowledge.
Because they are the patterns or ideal models to which we compare individual things or actions in order to determine how beautiful, just, or whatever, they are, he also refers to them as ‘Forms’ or ‘Ideas.’ For this reason, Plato’s view has been called idealism. Evidence of the senses, in Plato’s view, is not entirely to be trusted. But if that which is sensible is not most real, but only the forms are “real,” then what is? Plato asserts that sensible objects could not possibly be real; they could at best be “copies” or “images” of underlying realities which can be thought about but which cannot be perceived. In short, what we usually call “the real world” is not that at all, but is rather just a world of appearance or seeming. This of course summons what we know today about quantum mechanics and particle physics (in my case is a thimbleful). Yet the echoes of Plato remain in today’s science reporting: the presence of the observer affects the outcome of the experiment; that all of what we experience as “matter” is actually energy fields separated by a vast space; that out thoughts, being energy, create a version of reality.
As I write these lines, millions of neurons fire in my brain; thoughts emerge and are expressed as words, typed herein. Something is in charge, an entity we loosely call “mind.” Cognitive neuroscience teaches us that our perception of the world is organized within different regions of the brain. What we call reality results from the integrated sum of countless stimuli collected through five senses. Cognition, the awareness of being here now, is a fabrication of countless chemical reactions flowing through myriad synaptic connections between my neurons.
So by one definition, we are a self-sustaining electrochemical network enacted across a web of biological cells.
“The theater of the self happens in the brain and the brain is an assembly of interacting neurons firing nonstop like a Christmas tree.” However our perception of reality, that upon which we base our sense of self, is severely incomplete.
Only the Forms really exist, according to Plato. Forms are the “causes”or archetypes of whatever we discern by our senses. This was brought to light for me in one of the most durable images from my education, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Plato’s allegory of the cave is concerned with different stages of knowledge. I could recount my limited understanding of this, but in sniffing around, I found this guy, who does it better, and with more irreverence, than I could possibly summon:
Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave”: A Summary
Socrates: “Why do people think philosophy is bullshit? Let me put it this way – imagine you’re in a cave, all chained up so you can’t turn your body at all, and all you get to look at is this one wall. Some assholes behind you are making shadow puppets using the light from a fire and making echo noises and that’s all you or anyone else chained up has seen or heard all your life. Sounds terrible, right? Except it’s all you’ve ever known, shadows and echoes, and that’s your whole world – there’s no way you could know that, really, you’re watching a slightly-improved M. Night Shyamalan film.
“In fact, you get pretty good at understanding how the patterns in the show work, and everyone else chained up is like, ‘Holy shit bro, how did you know that that tree was going to fall on that guy?’ and you’re like, ‘It’s because I fucking pay attention and I’m smart as shit.’ You’re the smartest of the chained, and they all revere you.”
Glaucon: “But Socrates, a tree didn’t really hit a guy. It’s all shadows.”
Socrates: “No shit, Glaucon, but you don’t know that. You think the shadows are real things. Everyone does. Now shut up and let me finish.
“So eventually, someone comes and unchains you and drags you out of the cave. At first you’d say, ‘Seriously, what the fuck is going on?!’ Well, actually, at first you’d say, ‘HOLY SHIT MY EYES’ and you’d want to go back to the safe, familiar shadows. But even once your eyes worked you wouldn’t believe them, because everything you ever thought was real is gone. You’d look at a tree, and say ‘That’s not a tree. I know trees. And you, sir, are no tree. THAT DOWN THERE is a tree.’ But you’re wrong. Down there is a shadow of a tree.
“Slowly, as your eyes got better, you’d see more and more shit. Eventually, you’d see the sun, and realize that it’s the source of all light. You can’t see shit without the sun. And eventually, you’d figure it out. Something would click in your brain: ‘oh, shit, that IS a tree. Fuck me. So… nothing in the cave was real? I feel like such an asshole.’ But it’s not your fault, so don’t be so hard on yourself.
“Finally you’d want to go down and tell everyone about everything you’ve discovered. Except, and here’s the hilarious part, they think you’ve gone fucking crazy. You’d say, ‘Guys, real trees are green!’ and they’d say, ‘What the fuck is green? THAT is a tree over there.’ And you’d squint and look at the wall, but you know you’re fucked because now you’re used to having sunlight, and now you can’t see shit. So they’d laugh at you, and agree that wherever it was that you went, no one should go there because it turns people into dickheads.
“Philosophy, same thing. The soul ascends and apprehends the forms, the nature of everything, and eventually the very Idea of Good that gives light to everything else. And then the philosopher has to go back to the cave and try to explain it to people who don’t even know what Green is, to say nothing of the Good. But the philosopher didn’t make up the Good, it was always there, and the only way to really make sense of it is to uncover it for yourself. You can’t force knowledge into a dumbass any more than you can force sight into a blind man.
“So if you want to learn, be prepared for a difficult journey, and be prepared to make some mistakes. That’s okay, it’s all part of the process. True knowledge must be obtained the hard way, and some people just don’t want to see the light.”
Had someone taught philosophy in this manner when I was an undergrad, I might have pursued a different career.
All of us deal with others who do not want to see the light. To confront the reality of the evidence of our lives. It does not take great leaps of inference to imagine what happens when cheap oil runs out. When the conduits stop flowing. When the grid goes dark. Those of us who like to have faith in our fellow citizens need look only to the spectacle of Black Friday near–riots to see what others will do in the pursuit of low low prices and black Friday deals. What, indeed, will people do when the shelves at their beloved Walmart are empty?
Last month I went walkabout from the Diner for a bit. Some of the disagreements here weighed on me heavily. Found myself also dealing with family illnesses and frailties of one sort or another. It is a matter of personal choice about how we handle disagreements here, or anywhere. It is often governed by how we feel, as as Plato might have observed, that ain’t good enough. At the end of the day, we all have to address the question of “Why are we here?” I like to think that, as we confront the very existential issues of collapse, we are as the many blind men, gathered around an elephant.
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.” They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.”
All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
”Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
”Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.
“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
”It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?”
They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”
“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.
The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what another says, even when we find it disagreeable, even when we do not agree with their premises.
All of us have different perspectives about what “collapse”, or “doom” will look like. By which vector it will ensue. Whether it will be “lite” or “full” or “uber” in character and completeness.
What brings me here each day, and makes me a willing participant, if not as indefatigable as I once was, is RE’s motto, “Save as many as you can.” Not every post leverages that. But I have to think that this site, as a body of work, ranging from spirituality to survivalism to economics to psychopathology, edges us to a better sense of well being as a result of our work as a group. If you show up every day and read, and participate, you end up knowing things you may not have known before. And of all the tools that protect us against the Great Uncertainty looming, knowledge shared is probably the best vector to enable us to “Save as many as you can.”
Perhaps what we do here is like pointillism. A Seurat painting, or one of those photos made up of thousands of images.
We all contribute, according to our lights, experiences, expertise, even outrageous opinions.
We’re told that Solomon sought wisdom above all else. So perhaps we seek wisdom here, discounting the immediate, distrusting all mainstream media accounts, and trying to win for some version of reality from the different points of light that accumulate here. After all, what is the “wisdom” conferred from experience aside from the aggregated lessons of life for which we have already paid retail?
Off the Surly keyboard
Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner
A Year of Occupy
The following article is a look back at a Year of Occupy from someone who has been an active participant. While noting the history of the movement in a rough way, it draws primarily upon the writer’s firsthand experience with the local manifestations of Occupy. The local movement started in a series of meetings last September in Norfolk, VA, and burst into full bloom on October 6 of last year. What remains of the local group is planning an anniversary event for October 6 of this year. Any omissions, mischaracterizations, mis-statement of facts, bowdlerizations, calumnies, disinformation or misdemeanors are the responsibility of the author alone, who is striving mightily herein to NOT live up to his nom-de-plume.
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories…” – ~Arundhati Roy
Arab Spring, American Fall
It will be a year ago this weekend that a group called Occupy Wall Street made an encampment at Zuccotti Park and captured the imagination of the world. The largest collective national protest in 40 years inspired other Occupy camps to spring up like mushrooms after a summer rain across the FSA in imitation and tribute. Many were inspired by visitors to Zuccotti, who came like pilgrims to look, march, participate, and understand. In the space of just a few weeks the repressed and frustrated found their voice, and expressed it in “mad as hell” Howard Beale moments across the country.
Also inspired in part by Egyptian mass protests in Tahrir Square, Occupy protesters put forward the main issues of social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector. The OWS slogan, “We are the 99%,” addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. Lack of justice on the part of Justice Departments was also an issue, as the Feds failed to prosecute those who had brought about a global crisis of monetary insolvency. (Far better, it would seem, for the attorney general to focus on free speech demonstrators and whistleblowers.)
Protesters were forced out of Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011, with a coordinated raid on other Occupy camps following on shortly thereafter. While there have been unsuccessful attempts to re-occupy the original location, protesters have turned their focus on occupying banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, college and university campuses, along with Wall Street itself.
So what has Occupy achieved?
Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out
It’s fair to say that occupy has changed the conversation. Within the space of a year, we tend to forget how in a country deeply resistant to notions of class, where everyone is” middle class”, the development of any sort of class consciousness is quite remarkable. Most Americans find it difficult to stomach the sight of the 1% being bailed out and then earning obscene profits while they, or their family, friends, and neighbors, are looking for work without success.
The escalating income inequality evident from the 30 year class war begun under the Reagan Administration against the working people of the US reached its apex at the presence of Occupy. Phrases like “The 99%,” “the 1%,” changed the national conversation and the prevailing narrative forever. Occupy’s mission was to expose how the 1% are controlling our fates through the financialization of all aspects of economic and political life. The evidence is abundant: the middle class is drowning in loans, student debt, fraudulent mortgages, and a democracy being sold to the highest bidder, all while our environment is turned into yet another toxic asset, and those assets which we hold in common are sold off to the highest bidder as well.
November saw a coordinated attack on camps all across the country. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was one who admitted to being on the phone with the Department of Homeland Security. It seems clear that Homeland Security orchestrated a coordinated set of attacks led locally by increasingly militarized local police departments. Armed with budgets swollen by several years of homeland security grants coupled with outright gifts of military and paramilitary gear, local police decided to move on Occupy encampments such as the one in Norfolk, clad in full riot gear and tearing down tents with paramilitary zeal. What had been cordial relations between occupiers and the police quickly became hostile in an astonishing fashion.
Occupiers were arrested; trumped up charges brought, later dismissed in court.. As with the attack on Zuccotti, the assaults on the camps were often staged at hours where they would attract the least attention. And where the local press ran a story, the thrust of the story was predictably on the side of “take a bath and get a job.”
What is interesting is the timing of these attacks on the camps. During the month of October, as camps were beginning across the country, much of the effort concentrated on a quotation mark move your money” effort, asking people to move their accounts from the large banks to smaller, community banks or credit unions. The move your money day was November 6. By some estimates Bank of America lost $4 billion of deposits in the month of October as a result of this effort. More people moved gtheir bank accounts in the month of October than had moved in all of 2010. Shortly afterwards that the coordinated assault on the camps began.
These attacks created new memes. New York Mayor Bloomberg got to claim that he controlled his” own private army”, the 7th largest in the world.
And in another show of disproportionate force on the West coast, Lieut. John Pike became famous as “pepper spray man” as he was photographed employing blinding pepper spray on sitting, peaceful protesters at the University of California Davis. (In one small scrap of justice, it should be noted that Lieut. Pike and UC Davis have parted company as of this past summer.)
Much as been made about Occupy being non-political. The easy peg on which to hang Occupy is as the lefty counterpart to the Tea Party. Yet Occupy has never been embraced by the Democrats, and with good reason. Most Occupiers distrust Democrats as fully as they do Republicans.
Given the Democratic party’s reliance on campaign contributions from the very sources the Occupy movement opposed, along with its support of bailouts for the financial sector, the Dems were never going to give their full backing to the Occupy movement unless the movement became a viable force politically. Any astute political observer knew the Democratic establishment would not work to achieve the goals of the Occupy movement, particularly at the national level. Hillary Rodham Clinton raised nearly $20 million from Wall Street when she was a senator. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has received more than $5 million from the same sources since 2007, and Barack Obama received more than $15 million from the investment industry during the 2008 election cycle. This year, the Democratic National Committee has raised more than $10 million from the securities and investment community, the same people against which Occupy takes to the streets.
Some wanted the Occupy movement needed to put forth its own slate of candidates in primaries and local races — as the tea party began doing in 2008 when it became disillusioned with Republicans — to either replace the Democrats who wouldn’t support their positions or to force incumbent Democrats to adopt the views of the movement. Of course the teahadis were subsidized by the Koch Brothers and other reactionaries as useful minions able to advance their far-right agenda.
Of course, the Occupy movement could not offer its own candidates or alternatives because it never offered a clear, coherent vision or plan of action. Those who wished to turn Occupy into a co-optable political movement asserted that abstract ideas and clever slogans had to give way to concrete proposals and electoral agendas.
Like the people at the heart of the Egyptian revolution, those spearheading the Occupy movement were the youth, the intellectuals and academics, people with lofty ideals but with little practical experience in governing. Without a mechanism to turn ideals into policy, many would say Occupy is simply spinning its wheels.
A Winter of Discontent
The violent crackdown on peaceful dissent, and the relative brutality of police tactics, especially when confronted with peaceful protesters, became an issue of concern for Occupiers as much as it was ignored in the mainstream media. The mainstream media had hung Occupy on the news peg of the “black bloc anarchists,” whose presence among occupiers is almost always synonymous with infiltrators, either of the Homeland Security or the local police variety. (It became an article of faith among our local Occupy groups that anybody exhorting other people to violence head de facto identified himself as an infiltrator, pink hair or not. And, although I can’t prove this, I believe to this day that our local Occupies were rotten with them.)
The escalating criminalization of dissent has gone hand-in-hand with an increasingly ubiquitous surveillance society. In the wake of the PATRIOT act, we have become complacent, and have watched silently as cameras become ubiquitous at the same time that our rights to privacy are diminished. Even the recent case in which a New York judge has ruled that Twitter must give the court three months worth of tweets from a user in a pending case involving an Occupy Wall Street protester is yet another chilling trend. The freedom for corporations to act as persons increases, while the freedom for private individuals to act likewise diminishes. And the power of government to abet the aims of corporations, while inhibiting the aims of individuals continues unchecked.
As Aaron Cynic has said,
Plenty of people might dismiss connecting these requests and other instances that highlight targeted suppression of dissent as mere paranoia. Such tactics have a chilling effect on legitimate dissent, and the efforts by multiple law enforcement agencies to question, detain and arrest activists of varying stripes points to a much more dangerous world. More than a decade ago, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that when it came to dissent in troubled times, Americans should “watch what they say and what they do.” Rhetoric like Fleischer’s and quick quips today from politicians like “if you’re not doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t be worried” shows an increasing acceptance of the criminalization of dissent, and points towards a disturbing future.
Such rhetoric is now become the norm.
It in spite of the increased emphasis on security Occupy groups remained active in supporting a variety of demonstrations and movements. Throughout the winter and early spring, our local groups supported actions protesting NDAA, the prospect of war with Iran, staged a very successful Mayday action in coordination with many other Occupy groups throughout the country, and had a very successful statewide General Assembly in Roanoke. A dedicated and committed core of volunteers kept the flame alive over months.
Circular firing squad
Occupy polity is messy. Decisions in this leaderless organization are made by the Gen. assembly which consists of all those people who identify with the local occupy organization, who gather together to share announcements, to deliberate on proposals initiated by workgroups, and to otherwise mount the virtual soapbox and share what is on their hearts. A general assembly is not a Rotary breakfast. The advantages of the leaderless group are obvious: it is far less easy to co-opt or decapitate. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to get things done. One or a few individuals with agendas can derail the work of the group.
There is also a great deal of concern about co-optation. During this past summer we saw the schism between OWS and the 99% Declaration, which was another group that sprung up from OWS but split with them along fault lines of concern. The Adbusters people, for example, attacked the 99% Declaration as the product of “the same cabal of old world thinkers who blunted the possibility of revolution for decades.” Not surprisingly, the 99% Declaration was led by a former lawyer for Goldman Sachs. It’s ironic that having given birth to the notion of “the 99%,” Occupy finds subsequent movements eager to use the 99% moniker and elbow the originators out of the way, often to achieve political objectives. The truth is that many occupiers are disgusted with both political parties, including this writer. I hold with Gore Vidal who, in 1970, observed that “the Democrats and Republicans are the left and right wings of the Property Party.”
What has happened locally, especially in Norfolk, is that many of the original founders of the local Occupy movement, many of whom were Ron Paul libertarians, fell away from the movement, either from disaffection with what seemed to them to be a progressive left agenda, or for Occupy’s refusal to endorse any party or candidate. In any event, those people are gone and their energy is missed.
Without camps around which to coalesce, the survival of local Occupies becomes challenging. It is made even more so by the impact of marginal personalities, group dysfunction, selfishness, jealousies, and gossip, and all of the other many human frailties to which most of us are all too prone. Locally, one person who is a garden-variety bully, has disrupted the proceedings of two Occupy groups (and is now working on a third) with lurid tales of intrigue, lost love, and defamation of character. Moreover, in an organization that resists being an organization, and which behaves far more like an affinity group, affinities get strained by gossip, whispering campaigns, he-said-she-said, and the sort of thing one might have thought best left behind in high school.
On a personal note, I can be depended upon to utter one phrase in most situations: “Be who you say you are; do what you say you’re going to do.” It is both galling and frustrating to have the work of a group be hijacked by somebody’s failure to execute. But what do we do, dock their pay?
The future of Occupy depends solely upon the ability of local groups to generate and maintain enthusiasm for the cause. As noted above, it is very difficult to sustain enthusiasm in the absence of a campsite. Many municipalities have gone out of their way to make it difficult for occupied groups to camp by passing ordinances restricting camping within city limits, etc.
Our colleagues in Occupy Roanoke have a different and productive example. They enjoy good relations with the local police and are in good odor with the local press. They are well funded, fully fuctional, and smart.
One of the ongoing conundrums of Occupy is that in order to realize “a better world is possible,” we have to behave in different ways, and we are ill trained to do so. Few have the vision and discipline necessary to set aside personal agenda and ego. Raised in a culture of craven materialism, where every transaction and relationship is financialized, in a culture that elevates the Cult of the Individual, “competition” is normal. We are marinated in the values we wish to change. It is cooperation, and self-sacrifice, and putting the other first, that is essential. Some might call it servant leadership. A communitarian spirit is a concept so alien and foreign to most of us that it might as well be Martian.
As Thom Hartmann has said in The Last Days of Ancient Sunlight, and in a different context, “We need new stories.”
It may be that the Occupy moment has come and gone. The changes in the prevailing economic narrative remain. What we do about them is anybody’s guess, but in an era where the PATRIOT act has been amplified by the National Defense Authorization Act, enhanced crackdowns on whistleblowers and troublemakers, greatly enhanced surveillance, the use of drones, a militarized police, and at this writing, a Middle East in flames, it remains to be seen what happens next.
For my part, I can say that as a result of Occupy, I have met some of the finest and most remarkable people who it has ever been my pleasure to meet. I have built associations with other activists working on causes which for which we share a commitment. And in a quite unforeseen development, I even met the woman with whom I now share a home and a life, which came as an unbidden blessing.
So much good has come from Occupy, and whatever good that may yet come will be a result of the collective effort of all of us. Herein lies the challenge:
“The obvious point is that most social activists look constantly to the state for solutions to social problems. This point bears labouring, because the orientation of most social action groups tends to reinforce state power. This applies to most antiwar action too. Many of the goals and methods of peace movements have been oriented around action by the state, such as appealing to state elites and advocating neutralism and unilateralism. Indeed, peace movements spend a lot of effort debating which demand to make on the state: nuclear freeze, unilateral or multilateral disarmament, nuclear-free zones, or removal of military bases. By appealing to the state, activists indirectly strengthen the roots of many social problems, the problem of war in particular…” ~ Brian Martin, ‘Uprooting War’
Dedicated to Melvin and Joelle
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Like many people, I grew up reading Reader’s Digest. It was a fixture in my childhood home. It was inexpensive, readily available, and often featured heavily edited excerpts and simplified versions of articles which appeared in other periodicals of the time. At that, it was a perfect reading companion for a young and curious child eager to soak up knowledge about the world.
Many shared my early experience. The Reader’s Digest could certainly be counted upon to offer family-safe fare well within the bounds of good taste. Its editorial position was certainly on the conservative side of middle-of-the-road. Not for nothing was it published in Pleasantville, New York.
The magazine was started by DeWitt Wallace, while recovering from shrapnel wounds received in World War I. Wallace had the idea to gather a sampling of favorite articles on many subjects from various monthly magazines, sometimes condensing and rewriting them, and to combine them into one magazine. Since its inception, Reader’s Digest has maintained a predictably conservative and anti-communist perspective on political and social issues.
According to Wikipedia, For many years, Reader’s Digest has been the best-selling consumer magazine in the United States, losing the distinction in 2009 to Better Homes and Gardens.
Reader’s Digest has a global circulation of 10.5 million, making it the largest paid circulation magazine in the world. The magazine is compact, with its pages roughly half the size of most American magazines.
For all that this circulation, it had been years since I had actually held a copy of the Digest in my hand. So it was with great delight that my friend Melvin, another committed and hard-working Occupier, brought over a copy of the Reader’s Digest from 1983. Melvin was working on one of his continuous home renovation projects, building bookshelves to accommodate many of the boxes of books he has stored. Among this to treasure trove was a large number of Reader’s Digests from days long gone, which provide insight into what we read, what we thought, how we bought, and what was top of mind.
In July of 1983, we were fully two years into the Reagan era, and had yet to begin the orgy of privatization and demonization of government that has become the norm 30 years hence.
One of the articles featured a look at what really happened at the EPA. It recounts how fully 2 years into the Reagan Administration, the foxes were hired to guard the chicken coop. A supporter of the so-called ”Sagebrush Rebellion,” in which ranchers were pitted against the federal Bureau of Land Management, who wished to restrict or limit their God-given right to use public lands to graze their cattle. Reagan would place industry types in charge of the agencies charged with regulating the environment.
Vile names from the past pop up as villains in the set piece: Joseph Coors, a rabid anti-environmentalist, supported the goals of the Sagebrush rebellion and brought many of his followers and acolytes along for the ride. James Watt was named interior secretary. Robert Burford, a leader of the Sagebrush rebellion, was appointed director of the Bureau of land management, the agency that the rebellion was engaged with in many pitched battles. The notorious Anne Gorsuch, whose legacy of abuse was such that she became the first agency head to be cited for contempt of Congress, was made head of EPA. These Reaganauts eviscerated the regulatory oversight that their respective agencies were to have provided, with predictable results. As we look back over the span of 30 years, and wonder how did we become so cynical, if it is easy to trace how the popular vision of government as a champion for the aims and desires of ordinary people was transformed into that of an oppressor of those aims, and a waste of money besides.
What is remarkable about this article is, from a remove of 30 years, how naïve it seems. The author traces how budgets were cut, how regulations were upended, and the very mission of regulatory agencies themselves tainted. In Reagan’s wanton destruction, we see the beginnings of the “oppressive government regulations” meme so prevalent today.
Speaking of naïveté, there’s a wonderful article in this edition called “Why PACs Spell Trouble”. This article traces the remarkable growth of the new method of funding political campaigns called political action committees. At this time PACs were described as having being sponsored by trade associations, labor unions, corporations, and various other groups. This article traces many of the potential problems at PACs present, how they would undermine electoral reform, subvert the public funding mechanism for elections, and otherwise sow pernicious mischief. For all that, it is worth noting that placed directly in the middle of the article is a sidebar box making the case for PACs, and arguing that they do more good than harm. Not surprising for a center-right publication to suborn its own article with the sidebar arguing against the premise of the article it commissioned.
As we are now in the middle of a fevered electoral campaign, with money sloshing in the battleground states like Virginia at a record pace, the sluice gates having opened as a result of the Citizens United ruling, the cautionary tone of this innocent Reader’s Digest article from 1983 seems poignant indeed. Karl Rove must be laughing in his crypt. Not for nothing have groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity become household names.
This from the local newspaper’s online site:
Jaw-dropping sums of money are being spent to sway Virginia voters this campaign season, and not just by the candidates.
In many cases, there’s no way to know the actual source of the cash. Spending on TV ads by outside political groups – negligible in past presidential campaigns – has exploded this year, and Virginia is one of their prime targets.
Two months before the Nov. 6 election, they’ve bought $37 million worth of airtime in the state’s four major TV markets. Half of that money has been spent by groups that keep their donors a secret.
Republican-leaning groups are outspending Democrat-leaning groups by a 3-1 ratio.
Half of all the money spent in Virginia so far by outside groups, $18.7 million, is from American Crossroads, the group founded by longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove, and its spinoff, Crossroads GPS.
The numbers were compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit tracker of money in politics, from public files kept by TV stations.
1983 was clearly far more innocent time. Rove’s group, Crossroads GPS, has already spent 12.6 million in Virginia alone.
When even the ads and the graphics use speak to a different people, living in a different time, with less media-honed expectations. Ads for painkillers, Libby’s corn, for Kool-Aid, for insurance. The ads even featured actual copy; even a double truck from KitchenAid would feature a full page of copy, as if, imagine this, people had the patience to read. Astonishing.
The old familiars are in there to: Points to Ponder, Picturesque Speech, Laughter, the Best Medicine, Life in these United States, and my youthful favorite, Word power.
It is remarkable to pick up a document like this after a mere 30 years has elapsed. It is also remarkable to realize how far in the wrong direction we as a people have allowed ourselves to go. Our children will not believe the stories of the country that we grew up in, so far to the righthave we raced in 30 years. At least my daughter will, in the fullness of time, be able to go to Melvin’s house, and asked Melvin to unshelve some of those Reader’s Digest from the Pleistocene so that she may hold them in her hands, read for herself, and understand more fully what has been lost.
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My weekend plans to check out a potential doomstead having blown up, I found myself on Saturday night at a birthday party for a young Occupier who just turned 30. This is a young man from a neighboring Occupy group who had proven himself to be very intelligent: whenever he opened his mouth, he generally had something to say which was Right. On. Point. So I was happy to be able to attend, and looked forward to spending some time with him and his friends.
His apartment and the area outside was filled with young people, all of them 20- or 30- somethings. (My lady friend and I were the oldest people in attendance, by several decades.) After a long, protracted and frustrating search, the birthday celebrant finds himself working at a restaurant, learning a trade, and diligent in his cooperation with the owner to try to make that business profitable. He is also wise enough to see the self-interest of learning everything he can right now, the better to gain knowledge to apply to his own career, and perhaps a restaurant of his own someday. So he is doing all right, and on his 30th, finds that he has some lift under his wings.
Everywhere within were the faces of earnest, fresh-faced people, full of life and exuberance and party spirits, friendly and willing to engage in conversation. The crazy kid who had recently passed a kidney stone (!), who became the resident paparazzi, taking pictures of everybody with great good humor; the intense redhead in the kitchen, engaged in thoughtful conversation, even with an old guy; the sincere young politico, whose lefty rant made my ears perk up; charming young women in attractive dress and better good humor . . . The sorts of faces that two generations ago I might have encountered at any college party. Some of these young people had completed or attended college, including the local community college. Many others had not.
Many of these young people in attendance were employed sketchily, if at all, in one of a variety of service level jobs. This was not a gaggle of young professionals, secure in their future prospects, educations paid for and themselves well on their way to professions laden with status and benefits. Rather, this was a group of young people who the captains of our economy forgot—working class people. People who grew up in circumstances much like my own.
When I saw last night was a gaggle of thirty-odd young people in various stages of coping with an economy in which all of the money had been sucked away.
Were both of us thirty years younger, what has occurred to these folks would have occurred to us as well. What became clear to us is that we had a ringside seat for the formation of an entire generation denied the expectation of a functional middle-class lifestyle, the first generation in the history of this country without a reasonable expectation of doing better than their parents.
IN 1992, many of us chortled at H. Ross Perot in the TV debates, and wondered what he meant when he mentioned the “giant sucking sound” that NAFTA would create as North American jobs would be whisked to the maquilidoras. Now, twenty years later, we know what he meant. And our children are paying the price for our inattention and selfishness.
Many of us are old enough to remember when it was possible for working-class kids, particular those without a higher education, to go to work, get a job, and make a life for themselves. Own a house, own a car, to maybe own a vacation home or a boat—none of that was beyond the reach of a factory worker making a decent wage. For the young people in attendance at this party last night, the new normal looks like this: part-time work, topping out at 35 hours per week, so as to not incur the obligation of paying for benefits, no health insurance, living either at home, or in an apartment with several other people to share expenses, no car, and an uncertain future.
Yet these exuberant partygoers were vibrant, attractive full of life, and intent on having a good time in the face of all. There is nothing wrong with their work ethic or attitudes. Here’s one example:
One young woman told her story of working two jobs to be able to go to aesthetician school, so that she could work in a shop, and potentially have her own shop someday. She successfully completed the course of study, and began work at what she called her “dream job.” Then she ran afoul of The Law. I did not get the entire story, and did not push for it, but she apparently incurred a fine for a motor vehicle infraction that she could not pay, and lost her license. The next day, driving without a license (yes, I know), at a red light, a cop ran her plates and discovered that fact. The local magistrate who heard her case was not amused, and with little empathy and less humor remanded her to a week in jail. Which spelled the end of that “dream job.” Thus her employment and opportunity at a job she really loved came to grief, and now she works as a waitress at an IHOP, ostensibly to find another way to climb the career ladder.
Barbara Ehrenreich covered some of this ground in her book, “Nickel and Dimed- On (Not) Getting By in America” in which she went undercover as a low wage worker to find out how non-skilled workers make ends meet. The experiment took place in Florida, Maine, and Minnesota, with Ehrenreich finding a job and lodgings in each location. In each location, Ehrenreich worked full time and lived only off the amount of money earned in those low-wage jobs. Her goal was to determine whether or not she could both live off the money earned and have enough money at the end of the month to pay the next month’s rent. One of the things Ehrenreich learned is how easy it is to get in serious trouble with the law because you don’t have a whole lot of money.
In a subsequent interview, Ehrenreich said, “It is now easy to get into serious trouble with the law because you don’t have much money – and then to get poorer and poorer because you get in serious trouble with the law. The classic example would be if you have a broken headlight on your car, but you can’t fix it because that would cost over $100. So you get stopped by the police, and you get a fine of maybe $100 or $200. If you could have paid that, you could have fixed the damn light! Now you have this debt to the government. If you don’t pay that, you begin to be in really big trouble that just builds and builds. More fines and fees are added, and they will all accumulate interest too. At some point, if you haven’t paid, you are very likely to have a warrant out for your arrest.”
While some of us might look down the nose of a young person who continues to drive without a license, I find that our very system of laws tends to concentrate on further disadvantaging the last and the least among us. Not for nothing are our private for profit prisons guaranteed a 90 per cent occupancy by the states that contract with them, and are they filled with people guilty of victimless crimes.
Several partygoers had either attended college without completion, accumulating student loans with little prospect of paying them off in the near term, or have graduated from college, with even more loans trailing along behind, and were unable to find a job by which to launch a career. An astonishing number of these thirtysomethings were living back at home, and for their trouble were hearing from their parents, “Why don’t you show some initiative and go out and get a job?” I assume these parents have apparently have not opened a newspaper in the last 20 years.
After the party, I discussed some of these issues with my friend. She recalled her own experience at the age of 19 wondering, “What should do with my life? How might I make my way? What career should I choose?” And at least she perceived herself as having the opportunity to choose from among a range of options, as did I with the benefit of a university education, and a notion of my chosen field.
So what do we have to show for the forty year class war and dismantling of American manufacturing? We have created a generation without recourse to higher education as a practical matter, because children of the working class have as their only option to finance said education the assumption of massive debt. And assuming you have the risk tolerance to assume said debt, that is a huge bet placed against the prospect of an uncertain future of finding employment in their chosen field. Whether you do or not, the debt, the ruinous debt, remains, and cannot be discharged, apparently even by bankruptcy. What a system.
So what do the facts say? This from May 2010:
In 2007, 5.4 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed; the official rate is now 9.0 percent. The number of unemployed high school graduates jumped from 12 percent in 2007 to 22.5 percent. Over this three-year period, the youth labor force (workers age 16 to 24) has contracted by 1.1 million workers, the report found, and an additional 1.2 million more “have become disconnected from both formal schooling and work.”
This 5 percent drop represents the largest contraction for any age group in the population. “For the class of 2010,” the report states, “it will be one of the worst years to graduate high school or college since at least 1983 and possibly the worst since the end of World War II.”
Indeed, the entire US workforce faces one of the toughest job markets in the post-World War II era. Official unemployment currently stands at 9.5 percent, and most economists predict that these high levels will persist for years to come. As in countless countries in Europe and around the world, the ruling class of the US has attempted to avert financial crisis from the stock markets and the banks onto the backs of the working class, both through government debt and through the imposition of social austerity measures.
Such measures, however, put deflationary pressures on economies throughout the globe, increasing the likelihood of a further turn in the downwardly spiraling global economy. This scenario presents the very real possibility that current US unemployment levels, far from improving, are situated to increase, perhaps drastically, in the near future.
Amid this grim economic atmosphere, young workers are compelled to take on gargantuan levels of student debt, and are confronted by the complete absence of even the threadbare social safety net available to other demographics.
Students graduating with a bachelor’s degree from public four-year institutions owe on average $19,535. Undergraduates completing degrees at private four-year institutions now owe, on average, $25,350. In comparison, these same figures in the 2000-2001 academic year were $14,916 and $16,906 respectively.
Most students now finish their degrees in six years, or not at all, due in large part to the burden of carrying a full workload while pursuing their education.
Not surprisingly, a surprisingly large number of these young people are completely disaffected with the consumerist, happy motoring lifestyle, which offers them little aside from low-level service jobs, and are pursuing ways of living that are more sustainable and less contributive to the giant capitalist bloodsucking wealth machine.
As I spoke with these folks and collected their stories, it also occurred to me that a generation without little hope and fewer prospects could be easily swayed to vote for somebody who offers both. Were I in their shoes, it would be easy to listen to blandishments of a Man on Horseback. Recently Endisnigh published some comments in the Forum from Craig Dilworth, among which these stood out:
“As regards free trade, Douthwaite points out that international free trade inescapably leads to a levelling down. It means that salaries and wages will tend to converge at Third World levels, and social security provisions in industrial countries will continue to be cut, since these are an overhead that economies cannot bear if they are to compete successfully with countries without them. Only the owners of the surviving transnational companies and of natural resources will escape the general impoverishment. Already the islands of prosperity are growing steadily smaller in an otherwise sick, dilapidated and hungry world. “
In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, would fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss. The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modern world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification; all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainment renders to the attainment of the highest. This is the philosophy of [ social ] materialism, and it is this philosophy – or metaphysic – which is now being challenged by events.
Dilworth (2010-03-12). Too Smart for our Own Good (p. 400 – 405). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
So this coming generation may be primed and ready for a man on horseback, offering to lead them to a promised land, the paving stones of which ostensibly come from the clawback of health benefits, pensions, Social Security, and other attributes of the “nanny state” that we use to characterize as the American dream, and which, under the influence of far too much Tea, we now call “socialism.”
Because of Wall Street bailouts, the Bush tax cuts, various scams and other welfare for the rich, the money that used to employ people has been sucked out of the economy. Money is now scant for education, for job creation, training or for social services for unemployed young Americans. Any funding for basic social spending is predicated on austerity, on gutting the living standards of American workers and opening such areas as education, health services and infrastructure to further privatization and profit-taking at the expense of the public.
And we call this policy. It is a crime against the next generation. And this, among other reasons, is why I Occupy.
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You may be wondering what Occupy is up to lately. Depending upon who you ask, you will get a different story. Realizing that the movement needed some cohesion, some folks took it upon themselves to plan a national gathering/meeting/groupthink to figure out what to do.
Like most things Occupy, that effort splintered into a couple of factions, neither of which obtained the desired outcome.
This post is assembled form such reports as I have been able to cadge from the web and so is chock full of second and third-hand information. Those who had originally planned to go from our groups, decided, much like Dick Cheney re Vietnam, that they had “other priorities.” As the tender of the Occupy desk for DD, I determined I should assemble this report, and try to strip as much “inside baseball” from it as possible. If you REALLY want to know, say, how the Occupy “Nat-Gat” reached consensus for its priorities, please plunder their website, where the process is explicated in full, mind-numbing glory.
Two competing groups met in Philadelphia over the fourth of July. One, the Occupy National Gathering, purported to be the “official” Occupy gathering and created some visioning as well as a report. A list of priorities was created through a collective visioning process developed by members of the National Gathering Working Group and its facilitation/visioning subgroup.
Over 200 people participated. It is important to remember that participants were asked about “vision,” not strategy or tactics. A vision points to the “what,” not the “how.” In this movement – like many others through history – we often declare: “another world is possible.” In the document below, ONG began to provide answers to the obvious follow-up question, “but what will this new world look like?”
-The Priorities of the National Gathering Working Group, as determined by those who participated in the National Gathering Visioning Process on July 4th, 2012. The number in front indicates the number of votes that each priority received:
203 clean water, air, and food
186 free education for all
158 no war
116 sustainable human society
110 a culture of direct democracy
108 free universal healthcare
106 local food production, community gardens, & permaculture agriculture
104 economic equality
95 localized economies
93 a world where basic needs are met
92 military-industrial complex destroyed; military spending slashed
According to the organizers, this list is only a beginning– a survey reflecting the attitudes and beliefs of those who participated, yet nevertheless incomplete and unscientific. It may be used as the basis for future visioning, perhaps on a movement-wide scale, or set aside as an historical document. Or, for nothing at all, in true Occupy fashion.
The other gathering competing for bodies, and attention, was billed as the 99% Declaration (http://www.the99declaration.org/), and claimed to be nothing less than a New Continental Congress, assembled for a “redress of grievances” as embodied in the First Amendment.
From their web site:
WHEREAS THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION PROVIDES THAT:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT WE, THE PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in order to form a more perfect Union, by, for and of the People, shall elect citizen Delegates between June 1-7, 2012 to attend and convene a NEW CONTINENTAL CONGRESS the week of July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia. The Delegates shall then deliberate, draft and ratify a PETITION FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES to be served upon the United States Congress, Supreme Court and President, prior to November 6, 2012.
And it goes on from there to enumerate a list of grievances.
The 99% Declaration group was founded by three lawyers who originally billed themselves as an Occupy group, but who failed to gain favor or endorsement from Occupy groups, including OWS, which disavowed them, and vice versa. The name heard mentioned most prominently in association with this group is Michael Pollack.
Many of the delegates never showed up to Philadephia, as a result of disagreements about the over-representation of white males. According to local sources, a message board complaining about the under-representation of women was reputedly shut down by Pollack himself—and amidst swirling rumors that the 99 per cent declaration is operated by a shadow right wing Tea Party group. What seems to be clear is that the organization, communication and governance of this group were well outside the Occupy culture.
Head spinning yet?
Both groups attracted far fewer attendees than were originally projected. Part of this was attributed to the killing heat wave that hit the eastern US during that time. Another reason was serious infighting between the groups, laden with accusations, counter-accusations, accusations of misappropriation of funds, the entire spectrum of toxic relationships and equally poisoned human relations follies. It is this sort of mutual mistrust that has seems to afflict many Occupy groups, and which drives older participants, such as yours truly, utterly and completely batshit crazy.
Let me hasten to say that I did not go to Philadelphia for either meeting. Our elected representative, a member of a local Occupy, was so disaffected by the politics and the rancor that she went, with a few friends, to the Rainbow Gathering out in the hills to Get Her Peace On.
The rest of us stayed behind and picketed Wells Fargo in memory of Norman Rousseau. Although it was a brutally hot day, about 20 of us braved the sidewalks in Hampton in support of the initial efforts of Occupy the Virginia Peninsula.
Here’s what one self-described ”watchdog” group had to say about the 99% group group:
“Recent information has been uncovered by Operation Clean House, a group dedicated to outing fraud groups attempting to profit from and/or coopt the Occupy Movement, that the group ‘The 99% Declaration’ run by attorney Michael Pollack, is actually the same group that attempted to co-opt and defraud members of the tea party movement. The group has long claimed to be aligned with OWS groups, such as Occupy Philly, and yet recently Occupy Philly formally denounced them. The group has been collecting donations, yet has no physical occupation to fund, no expenses other than self promotion, and no connection to the OWS movement. Repeated attempts to address these issues with the leadership have been rebuffed, and the only statements they have given are on the lines of “Many Occupiers at large are ready for the next step. Those are the people we need. Not the support of whoever decided they were coming to GA that night. We need people who can think for themselves. The GA’s DO NOT represent all occupier and their needs.” according to members on their facebook page.
Operation Clean House representatives have stated “The 99% declaration is NOT a part of OWS, and has been denounced by all occupations that have voted on it, while not a single occupation has endorsed it. But they are not the only group under investigation, and we pledge to root out ALL groups that attempt to profit or subvert the occupy movement. We believe in total transparency, and any group that collects donations or claims to represent our movement will be scrutinized so that the truth will out.”
Here is an inside look at what happened at the Natgat, from the keyboard of Jake Blumgart writing for Alternet. I have excepted this heavily. for the full box score, go to the Alternet site: http://www.alternet.org/occupywallst/156181
The five-day Occupy National Gathering, which drew to a close on July 4, gave participants a venue to network, prioritize issues and vent their grievances with the movement. The event gave those who felt marginalized the chance to make themselves heard, with many expressing frustration at the preponderance of white males in positions of influence.
The movement’s anarchist roots were readily apparent throughout the five days, with horizontalism and a rejection of mainstream political engagement remaining at the heart of Occupy. Issues of student debt, endangered public education, foreclosure, and big bank power were clearly the dominant concerns, although the national security state, environmental issues and police brutality were also discussed. As with any political function there were a certain number of outlier ideologies, but the 9-11 Truthers and the End the Fed contingents were vanishingly small and exerted little influence. (The latter was reduced from the Ron Paul tents that sprang up at many encampments to a lone crier in a Bob Marley T-shirt.)
The final day also featured a spirited assembly by the Radical Convergence, a group that sprang up in reaction to the perceived de-radicalization of the movement, for those who felt relegated to the periphery of Occupy. As one speaker from New York said, he feared “Occupy no longer being a revolutionary movement, but a movement that happened to contain revolutionaries.”
The Radical Convergence assembly also provided a safe, structured space for people of color and women to express their frustration and anger with the movement. Many said they felt that the “process and organizing is controlled by white males,” as was written in one anonymous concern read during the visioning process, and that too little was being done by Occupy to address issues besetting communities of color and women.
“Where is our solidarity? I see solidarity for many great things—Bradley Manning, student debt, Trayvon Martin,” said Lorena Ambrosio, a New Jersey resident and an Occupy Wall Street participant. “But right now women’s rights are under attack by Republicans all over the country. We need clinic dense, feminist education, the state representative in Michigan who was shut down for just saying ‘vagina’—there should have been immediate action.”
The daily encampment at Franklin Square buzzed with discussion of how best to expand Occupy to cover the issues raised on the 4th at the Radical Convergence assembly. But the direct actions and pageantry held during the National Gathering were largely focused on issues of debt and unjust banking practices. Many of the participants sported red felt squares inspired by the massive student protests in Quebec. All in the Red, a new student group from New York, led a march on Sunday to protest the de-funding of public education and the ever-escalating student debt crisis.
While the activists would occasionally slip into well-worn protest nostrums (“Whose streets?” etc.), their education-centered chants clearly got the crowd revved up: “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” The march prompted some bystanders to cheer and honk their horns, a relatively rare event as most of the week’s events did not noticeably attract much outsider attention or support.
“Our main goal coming to NatGat was to do actions with Occupy, to show people we exist, that was our main goal,” says Janna Powell, a New York-based All in the Red organizer who “stepped back from Occupy because it’s a little unproductive right now.”
Ain’t that the fact.
I have personally found that this sort of rancor has riven every single Occupy group with which I have been a part, often disguised behind passive aggressive behavior masquerading as something else. Ego, ambition, personal agenda, romance drama, borderline personality disorder, an almost uncontrollable need for “control.” It is inevitable that in a leaderless organization, attempting to reach consensus could occasion a certain amount of wheel-spinning. Yet much of the above-mentioned drama has driven away many fine people, whose energy, presencce and commitment I miss even yet. Ironies abound.
What is remarkable is that opposition to the entire idea of the unlimited growth based upon “wetiko”, or cannibal culture, is what drew most of us together in protest last fall. This unlimited growth paradigm, coupled with the endless propaganda of “American exceptionalism,” makes a god of the individual, and exalts individual drive and accomplishment, devil take the hindmost. It is precisely this habit of mind, the elevation of self and exaltation of the ego inculcated from the cradle, and in which we are all marinated, that members of the Occupy movement so dearly need to shed. And which, incidentally, is so damned difficult, requiring a consciousness and vigilance that most of us lack.
Yet we fall down, we get back up.
The problems which afflict us, from the corporatization of all spheres of life, to the plunder of the commons, to the restoration of the rule of law, can only be dealt with collectively. It may be difficult to see how we get there from here; it is also quite clear that we have little option but to try. If not us, who? If not now, when?
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The Orkin man is one of RE’s favorite memes, often invoked as a symbol of retribution by the meek against the great. When we watch gangsters confiscate houses with impunity and murder by proxy and a pen (see the story of Norman Rousseau), run the economy into a ditch, commandeered great bonuses and be subject to none of the usual proceedings of justice, it is easy to despair and to look for revenge. This overwritten screed is a meditation upon what has become a thought-provoking thread rife with implications, a thought experiment which, if followed through the course of its own ineluctable logic, obliges each of us to measure where we would fall, and what we would do, in the event TSHTF.
What has actually happened here in this country on these rare occasions when people have stood up en masse to Fight the Power? In a previous lifetime, I investigated and created a documentary about the Battle at Blair Mountain. You will likely not have heard of this, the teaching of labor history having apparently been classified as a Class I misdemeanor here in the FSA. In the largest uprising in the United States outside of the Civil War, in 1921, thousands of miners waged armed warfare in Logan County, West Virginia against mine owners, sheriff Don Chafin, and federal troops, in an effort to unionize the mines.
In Mingo, Logan and McDowell counties, miners worked under incredibly bad conditions, were paid next to nothing, had no freedom of speech or assembly, and were dispatched with impunity by mine guards and local politicos in an atmosphere reminiscent of a third-world dictatorship, or contemporary South Carolina. In 1921, thousands of miners and families were evicted from their tents after having the temerity to join a union. The Miners’ March, as it was called, was set to change all that. The military was engaged, as always, to Protect Property Rights, those most sacred and revered of all rights extended by the Hand of God to the white, male property owners who created the FSA. The miners’ intention was to march to the southwestern coalfields and free fellow miners from abominable treatment at the hands or mine owners.
The miners were opposed by a well-armed contingent of mine guards and State Police with rifles and machine guns. These would eventually be joined by 2,000 regular Army troops armed with airplanes, bombs, and poison gas. The two forces met at Blair Mountain, in Logan County, along the ridge line.
This was the Battle of Blair Mountain.
The battle marked the first time U.S. troops were ordered to bomb civilians. Federal troops squared off against citizen miners, many themselves veterans hardened from recent service in WW I.
The union leader Bill Blizzard eventually surrendered his army in order to avoid further civilian casualties. Blizzard was acquitted in court of insurrection. Future UMW & CIO leader John L. Lewis fought alongside Blizzard at the Battle of Blair Mountain and succeeded in getting recognition for the union 14 years later in southern West Virginia.
One of the songs that sprung up in the wake of these labor troubles with the song “Which side are you on?” It was written by Florence Reece, the wife a union organizer for the UMW in Harlan County, Kentucky, when the miners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle with the mine owners called the Harlan County War. In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, the local sheriff illegally entered their family home in search of Sam Reece. Sam had been warned in advance and escaped, but Florence and their children were terrorized in his place. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to “Which Side Are You On?” on a calendar that hung in the kitchen of her home. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, “Lay the Lily Low.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Which_Side_Are_You_On%3F)
A Song by Florence Patton Reece
Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
My daddy was a miner
And I’m a miner’s son
And I’ll stick with the union
Till every battle’s won
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair
Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?
Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize
So the miners organized together to Fight the Power, to take the law into their own hands because the law was an ass. What they got for their trouble was the full response of the state in all of its Majesty and force of arms. Eventually the legal system would catch up. In the fullness of time, union rights would be recognized, at least until after World War II, when the elites mounted their counterrevolution under the banner of “right to work” laws.
In my loathing for the Banksters and their apologists, I take a back seat to nobody. The bailout of 2008, otherwise known as the “banksters coup,” was just the cherry on top of the same toxic milkshake served up as economic and social policy over the last 30 years. The insane clown posse that passes for the modern Republican Party has eyeballed the demographic trends, and pasted together an assemblage of what Drfitglass called “the scattered,raving remnants of the Confederacy for one, last glorious bonfire of democracy.” Combine the wholesale assault of the remnant of the New Deal in an atmosphere of “industrialized political hatespeech,” Fox News, Hate Radio and the Tea Party with its Billionaire backers, and it’s easy to succumb to the desire to want to kill something.
Intellectually I hold with Kunstler’s “lamppost and 40 feet of sturdy nylon rope” as the due for the “masters of the universe “who have ground down our economy and wrecked the ship of state. But personal morality makes looping the first skein of rope over the lamppost morally fraught. On the other hand, one is left with the spectacle of the pigmen rooting among the remains of the economy and the country, like Wu’s pigs disposing of a fresh corpse in HBO’s “Deadwood.”
It is this episode that springs to mind as I consider the “Orkin Man Master Plan” (OMMP) as discussed on the forum of the Doomstead Diner. http://www.doomsteaddiner.org/forum/index.php?topic=477.0
The Orkin man is a favorite device of RE, the invoking of which I have enjoyed since the same since his days on The Burning Platform blog. The Orkin man is an exterminator who cleanses the dwelling of lice, vermin, termites and all manner of infestations. The analogy is clear. The remedy less so.
One poster on Doomsday Diner posed the question, “Who gets to be the Orkin man?” Indeed. Who gets to be the decider? Being the decider has great costs, which turned on a fundamental moral issue, at a time when our moral and spiritual institutions are in decline, church attendance down, and many people utterly and completely unequipped to weigh moral and ethical questions. And as much as I like to give voice to my inner hunchback, there is that “judge not lest ye be judged” morality imbued by a Catholic education and nun-beatings that inflects one’s thoughts, processes and decisions, even decades later.
As I reflected on the more recent exemplars of individuals taking on such a strategy in this country, and after Blair Mountain, my mind skittered to thoughts of Kosovo, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Pinochet’s Argentina, and then settled on the best recent example: Pol Pot whose efforts to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25 percent of the country’s population from starvation, overwork and executions. Those Khmer Rouge wanted to return to the land as well, and also wanted to cleanse the parasites, userers and useless eaters from the face of Cambodia. A cautionary tale about the work of idealists who want to remake a society by means of “cleansing” the “parasites…”
It took a while for ol’ Pol to consolidate power– he needed to throw in with Sihanouk to fight the right wing junta the US had installed, then the US had to leave the ‘Nam and Cambodia. But once in power, he began a radical experiment to create an agrarian utopia that would warm the heart of the most doomy doomster. Pol Pot had seen Mao’s Cultural Revolution first-hand during a visit to Communist China, so he figured to go The Great Yellow River Swimmer one better.
Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” included forced evacuations of Chinese cities and the purging of “class enemies, ” a move that would apparently gain favor among participants in this thread. Pol Pot now stood up his own “Super Duper New and Improved Great Leap Forward” in Cambodia, which in itself was new and improved, hence renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea.
Remember Pol Pot’s ringing declaration, “This is Year Zero?” Ah, search your memories. Society was to be “purified.” Capitalism, Western culture, city life, religion, and all foreign influences to be extinguished. Intellectuals, bureaucrats and other glasses-wearers were to push wheelbarrows, the better to repent of their pointy-headedness, and to learn the glories of peasant Communism. Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, foreign economic or medical assistance refused. No use of foreign languages. Newspapers and television stations were shut down, radios and bicycles confiscated, and mail and telephone usage curtailed. Money was forbidden. (That will kick those usurers in the ass.) Businesses were shuttered, religion banned, education halted, health care eliminated, and parental authority revoked. Thus Cambodia was sealed off from the outside world, almost as effectively as if information were controlled by a small handful of media companies.
Something about that live-or-die thingy tends to bring out the excesses in our revolutionary heroes. I’ll put that in my “Robespierre was overworked and misunderstood” file.
Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. All of Cambodia’s cities were forcibly evacuated. At Phnom Penh, two million inhabitants were evacuated on foot into the countryside at gunpoint. As many as 20,000 died along the way. Can’t let that stop a man with a purpose.
Millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were now forced into slave labor in Pol Pot’s “killing fields” where they soon began dying from overwork, malnutrition and disease, on a diet of one tin of rice (180 grams) per person every two days, the better to become compost and improve the yields.
Workdays ran to the 18 hour day, Pol having taken the American South’s “right to work” euphemism to heart. The starving were forbidden to eat the fruits and rice they were harvesting, as that was confiscated by the Khmer rouge and loaded onto their own trucks.
And you can’t have a party without the purges… a veritable binge of purges. Up against the wall went the remnants of the “old society” – the educated, the wealthy, Buddhist monks, police, doctors, lawyers, teachers, glasses-wearers all, no doubt. Ex-soldiers were killed along with their wives and children. Eventually the taste for human blood leads to a paranoia of sorts, and why not? Anyone suspected of disloyalty to Pol Pot, including eventually many Khmer Rouge leaders, was shot or bludgeoned with an ax. “What is rotten must be removed,” a Khmer Rouge slogan proclaimed.
The casualty count rose until Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia seeking to end Khmer Rouge border attacks. On January 7, 1979, Phnom Penh fell and Pol Pot was deposed, and a Vietnamese puppet government put in.
Pol Pot disappeared into the jungles of Thailand with his Khmer Rouge remnant and waged guerrilla war against a succession of Cambodian governments for decades, eventually sputtering out and dying of an apparent heart attack before he could be dragged to trial before an international tribunal.
So it matters little who you pick as the Orkin Man, or how good your motives are, or how thorough your efforts at re-education or eradication may be. The role seems to carry some occupational hazards, as if the appetite for blood, human death and destruction carries with it the seeds of insanity.
Although the image of banksters and stockbrokers mucking out pigpens and pushing wheelbarrows through knee-deep mud remains compelling.
But point was that any kind of social engineering, social cleansing, ethnic cleansing executed by a political agenda will inevitably collapse, most often due to its own corruption and increasingly escalating paranoia on the part of the strongman or the secret oligarchy of “deciders.” There is a reason that we are taught from a very early age, “vengeance is mine saith the Lord, ” ”Thou shalt not kill,” and other Biblical admonishments against the taking of life. It could be that this ancient wisdom recalls that wielding the tools of vengeance is simply above the pay grade of us mere mortals. On the other hand, psychopaths recognize no such compunction. But the question remains: what do we do, what action should we take at a time when psychopaths have commandeered the engines of government and commerce, economic or rate with complete impunity and beyond the reach of such justice as still remains?
In response to such musings, RE posted the following:
Here of course is the EXCESS which occurs in many an Inqusition/Reign of Terror type scenario. There is going to be a lot of BLOWBACK resultant from many people who have lost their comfortable life and who want to see PPII DEAD because of that. He gets blamed for the problems they have; he gets blamed for their loss of economic status in the society. So PPII gets PARANOID, for good reason. People really ARE out to get him. So he starts Killing Them before they Kill Him. //
So all of them go down in History as the most vicious and Genocidal Dictators in all of Recorded History, at least in gross numbers if not in Percentages . . .
Moving into the FUTURE here, the issue is you cannot even Save As Many as you Can by PLAYING BALL with the Illuminati. Why? Because said Illuminati are Fresh OUT of Cheap Oil to sell you with Loans they hand out to you. So unfortunately here in this Morton’s Fork situation, the social dynamic is likely to produce numerous PPIIs and Great Uncle Joes. Because unless somebody does SOMETHING to try to keep the society organized up, the Dieing will be WORSE than it would be if you have some Dictator FORCING people to evacuate the Big Shities. They aren’t going to do that on their own until it is too late and they all are starving and Cannibalizing each other.
We are thus faced with an untenable situation: if any one of us were to put on the Pol Pot T shirt, we would find ouselves in a similar situation, fraught with awful decisions and tinged by paranoia, regions of the mind visited by Joseph Conrad. Far preferable to remember the biblical injunctions that direct our conduct, as Ashvin observed:
It’s not about what we you and I can justify to ourselves with our personal beliefs. It is what you can get OTHER PEOPLE to accept based on their beliefs. Anyone who truly believes in Judeo-Christian theology cannot accept OMMP any more than they can accept Infanticide, even when they are committed with “good intentions” for some Utilitarian goal. According to them, God is perfect and they are imperfect. God has commanded them to avoid certain Sins, and they must have faith in God’s wisdom no matter what. It is not up to them to decide what sins are acceptable via good intentions or utilitarian calculations.
Quote from: Matthew 7:14-27
14“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
15“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20“So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27“The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
I’m just using them as an example of people whose beliefs are fundamentally in opposition to OMMP. They will become your enemies… but them and who else? I think you can easily make the argument that most true Hindus and Buddhists will as well. Now we are easily talking about a lot of people. How many people who claim to believe in these Immortal Truths will have the nerve to follow through when your so-called Herd is stampeding against them? I don’t know, probably only a small fraction.
But my point here is that some of them will, and people like me will admire them for doing so. It’s an amazing thing, really, to have that kind of total devotion to some higher power even in the face of what appears to be the likely threat of species-wide extinction. Talk about a small gate and narrow way!
Yet as we abjure violence, the fact is that evil remains. RE remains adamant about proactively taking the fight to the Pigmen:
Regardless of the means here, whether it is Sepukku or Capital Punishment, the situation is going to create the BLOWBACK from people who once had power, now removed. They will attempt Counter Revolutions and so forth. So you get forced into a battle here no matter what, and people DIE no matter what.
Practical sort of fellow that I am, I work my way through this dynamic to try to find the pathway with the least pain and the greatest survivability for the typical Slave in our society. The means I see working best is to take the battle to the Illuminati before they get the Death Camps rolling in earnest here. You do have to wait for the Failure of the Conduits though, because as long as the Iluminati have the Big Ass Military and Gestapo organized up and functioning, you stand no chance here. Once those Conduits fracture though, the playing field is LEVELLED.
Then you don’t just get MAD, you get EVEN.
In other words, when you observe that the Illuminati are engineering a significant die-off of the “excess” workforce, to bring the earth’s carrying capacity in line with that proscribed by the Georgia Guidestones, what should the meek do? Stand obediently in line at the abattoir, or take the fight to the oppressors? As we all observe every day, there IS such a thing as evil. [There is an entire website (http://www.sott.net/) devoted to the subject of "ponerology" (the study of evil), for those who need a deeper dive into that sort of thing. I confess a somewhat light stomach for learning much more about the rarefied appetites of our elites, the Franklin affair and multiple pedophilia rings being enough to induce projectile vomiting . . .]
The question each of us has to address is, Which side are you on? If you knew that those in control were working to box you into a freight car headed to an unknown future, but which would likely involve Fresh Towels and Hot Showers, would you get on the train or would you take the fight to them? And would you take the fight to them knowing that they controlled all of the vectors and tools of violence with force overwhelming to individual scale? Indeed, our elites have changed the laws to enable the military to operate with impunity here in the “North American battleground” (yes, friends, if you are paying the least bit of attention, we are indeed the enemy), as they have likewise militarized our local police forces, complete with spiffy looking SWAT team suits, armored vehicles. and drones, as the latest invention. We have as our president the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a personal kill list. So it may be well to say that we’re living in a time where the lessons of history no longer inform what we may be able to infer about the future. All bets are off.
Ultimately, I hold with RE when he says, “save as many as you can,” although we may differ about what that means. As an occupier, I believe that our presence in the streets and withholding our consent is everything that we can do. The community gardening movement is a step toward self-reliance, and teaching others to be self reliant. A self-reliant independent populace is anathema to the powers that be. But even the most psychopathic will find it difficult to dial-up a drone strike against a community garden, unless I miss my bet. Our resistance will be nonviolent, as the state has an utter and complete monopoly of the tools of violence, and a demonstrated increasing bloodthirstiness in applying them. I do not wish to make it easy for them, and have little desire to become a martyr, in a time when even bankster loan officers can murder with a pen and a computer.
Hunter S. Thompson once described himself as a “Road Man for the Lords of Karma.” Since nature, or God bats last, my own view is that through education, self-reliance, and nonviolent resistance we can change a culture. The history of this society guarantees a rain of vengeance and disproportionate response on the part of the minions of the elites, in a road that runs from the Cherokee “Trail of Tears,” though the gulag, through Logan Country through the paddies of Kampuchea to Zuccotti Park. And even if successful, the victors turn into monsters. Changing a society will take generations; generations which we may not have. Our opponents have been at this for many decades; we should not expect the quick fix.
In the coming days, each of us will need to stand up and be counted. At least I know which side I’m on.
Memorial day is a fitting day to reflect upon the exploits and heroism of a long gone and all-but-forgetten American her0, Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940). Butler was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, an outspoken critic of U.S. military adventurism, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
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After his retirement from the Marine Corps, Gen. Butler made a nationwide tour in the early 1930s speaking on the theme, “War is a Racket”. The speech was so well received that he wrote a longer version as a small book with the same title that was published in 1935. In it, he described the workings of the military-industrial complex and, after retiring from service, became a popular speaker at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists and church groups in the 1930s.
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
Then as now. The forces of fascism approached Butler when they were plotting a coup against FDR and American democracy in in 1934. They had the wrong man. Butler reported the controversy known as the Business Plot to a congressional committee when he told that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt. The purported plot would have had Butler leading a mass of armed veterans in a march on Washington. The individuals identified denied the existence of a plot, and the media ridiculed the allegations. The final report of the committee stated that there was evidence that such a plot existed, but no charges were ever filed. The opinion of most historians is that while planning for a coup was not very advanced, wild schemes were discussed. Clearly, “deniability” has had a long and ignoble history, was not hatched by the operatives of Richard M. Nixon in the Watergate days.
At the end of his book, Butler makes three recommendations, which fell on deaf ears then as now, and the disregardment of which have led us to the economic and moral bankruptcy that is now our inheritance:
1. Making war unprofitable. Butler suggests that the owners of capital should be “conscripted” before other citizens are: “It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labour before the nation’s manhood can be conscripted. … Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our ship-builders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get”
2. Acts of war to be decided by those who fight it. He also suggests a limited plebiscite to determine if the war is to be fought. Eligible to vote would be those who risk death on the front lines.
3. Limitation of militaries to self-defence. For the United States, Butler recommends that the navy be limited, by law, to within 200 miles of the coastline, and the army restricted to the territorial limits of the country, ensuring that war, if fought, can never be one of aggression.
On this Memorial Day, I can think of no greater tribute to the men and women in uniform than to recall the memory of Smedley Darlington Butler. Support the troops: bring them home.
Comment on this article here.
A recent quote from Diner Karpatok get me thinking the other day about the nature of our post- industrial society, and several thoughts and issues began to intersect. And then I came across the story of Norman Rousseau, below.
Deep within the bowels of the diner, the original exchange, part of a longer thread:
“To really feel the pain of the prisoners, the pain of the raped children, the pain of the animals. Martin Buber wrote of the recognition of the reality of the Other. He called it I and Thou. I and Thou together is the full reality of consciousness. To the extent that one cannot embrace the reality of the Thou, one is not fully human... To the extent that one does not let oneself feel that pain, one also cannot experience joy. We are not solipsists living in isolation and doubting the reality of the forest, we are not autistic unable to respond to others; if we are we are very sick.”
To lapse serious for a moment, this is indeed the nut of the matter. And it is the illness at the heart of who we are, our addiction to the paradigm of unlimited growth, and in our “devil take the hindmost” politics. We used to believe, or at least proclaim, “E Pluribus Unum;” there was a time when we even taught it. There was a time where our institutions weren’t corrupt with moral rot. There was a time when people believed that a “rising tide would life all boats.” Indeed, there was a time when we cared about our neighbor, when we would not pull a crust of bread out of a hungry child’s mouth to give it to a war profiteer or a Wall Street bankster. There was a time, or so we believed, when our churches were not full of pederasts and thieves, when we actually held with what was taught from the pulpit and lived accordingly, or semi-accordingly, according to our lights.
If, as is written in Matthew, “By their fruits shall ye know them,” then we are well and truly fucked. Because by our actions we invert every single thing that Jesus is reported to have said, and which every great teacher and moral leader teaches. By our actions, we clearly worship Mammon. When a vulture capitalist destroys a workforce, dumps pension obligations off on taxpayers, and pockets handsome sums for his trouble; when a company lays off thousands in the name of “efficiency,” leaving the remaining workforce stressed and gasping– and fearful of the next wave; when we balance the budgets on the backs of the poor; when we steal people’s houses through corrupt application of refinancing rules (thinking Wells Fargo here): we do the work of Mammon.
Several years ago I read an article in The Atlantic about the Muslim Brotherhood, and why the originator came to hate the United States. One of the reasons was that he came to hate the manicured, watered lawns in Kansas as an obscenity, when there is so much hunger, privation and suffering across the globe. There is a good reason the rest of the world hates us, and at the root is our wasteful, cannibal culture, that chews up everything in sight, as well as our utterly debased materialism with no organizing set of beliefs aside from profit.
I feel like Jeremiah today, but from here it is crystal clear that we are doomed. Which is, of course, part of what led me to this collective, to RE’s notion of “save as many as you can, ” and to thoughts of “what do we do next?”
It may not matter, but it is incumbent upon us to live and work as if it does.
Karpatok also added:
“Why did I shudder and flinch when my foreman lover said about construction hires at the 7Eleven, “Tu est Patrona, tu dau lucru si ei manunc.” That is ,” You are their patron, you give them work and they can eat.” Who the hell was I to have that power over them to grant life and life to the children on the dirt floor far away? But to do it without acknowledging them, without asking their names,how did they get here,[they walked a thousand miles under the burning sun el norte,el norte] how many children did they have, where were they from exactly? So in a tiny way we touched each other while they carried with their small bodies the huge stones to build the patios, the same stones with which they had built their pyramids before the Conquistadores had arrived. And now the huge houses for which the patios were built in Prince Georges county are all foreclosed and abandoned. Who are we all, passing in this conflagration?”
Who indeed? How we exercise the power that we have over one another, as we pull the levers and grease the gears of the virtual machines that increasingly govern our life says much about who we are– and who we have become.
Mammon remains hungry, and the story of his (our) endless lust for human flesh is best illustrated by the following story, well told by Mandelman on the blog “Mandelman Matters” (http://mandelman.ml-implode.com/2012/05/husbands-suicide-yesterday-wells-fargo-to-evict-wife-tomorrow-anyway/#.T7HDX8Iw28Y.twitter). This story goes on at some length, but the length is necessary to place this tragedy in its appropriate context:
Wells Fargo claimed that Norman and Oriane Rousseau had missed a mortgage payment. But the payment HAD been made in person at a Wells Fargo branch by Cashier’s Check, and Mrs. Rousseau has the receipt for the transaction.
The Rousseaus file a dispute with Wells Fargo over the supposed missing payment. Wells Fargo “investigates” and comes back saying that the Rousseaus had stopped payment on the check. They stopped payment on a Cashier’s Check? Seriously?
The teller’s receipt establishes that the cashier’s check was in the custody and control of Wachovia on April 1, 2009, and the research by the Cashiering Department should have concluded that Wachovia screwed up by not applying the cash-equivalent funds to the Rousseau’s account. After delivery and acceptance to the branch office, it was Wachovia’s responsibility to safeguard the instrument; Wachovia itself effectively stopped payment on the cashier’s check
Concerned that they could not resolve the payment dispute but told they should apply for a loan modification, the Rousseaus hired a law firm and submitted a loan modification application. After that it was standard operating procedure at Wells Fargo… we lost this, and we lost that, resend this, and resend that… for almost a year.
Wells Fargo then of course told the Rousseau family not to make their payments, that they were being considered for a loan modification and that making their payments would immediately disqualify them.
So, they saved their payments just in case Wells decided to deny them a modification. Saved every single one just in case the bank decided to act like… well, Wells Fargo Bank.
Then Wells sent them a Notice of Default, but when they called to say they wanted to reinstate their loan, Wells said what they always say… IGNORE IT… don’t worry about it, everything’s fine, it’s just an automated sort of thing… why, you’re being considered for a loan modification.
Then Wells filed a Notice of Sale on October 28, 2010. Their home would be sold on November 22, 2010. And still Wells said… IGNORE IT… it’s just another automated sort of thing… your loan modification is still pending… and please re-submit some documents.
It was November 10, 2010… just 12 days before their home was to be sold… when the Wells Fargo representative told the Rousseau’s that their loan modification had been denied. The reason: Insufficient income.
Yeah, but you know the funny thing about that is that their income hadn’t changed a nickel since they applied for the loan modification. So, what’s the deal? Did it take Wells Fargo a year to figure out the Rousseau’s income was insufficient? That same day the Rousseaus found a lawyer and discovered they had a RIGHT TO REINSTATE their loan. (Nice of Wells not to tell them that, by the way.) They contacted Wells and requested a reinstatement quote… TWO DAYS LATER Wells finally gave them the phone number for RCS, the trustee.
But, RSC said that reinstatement would take two weeks and trustee sale was going off as planned in 8 days. Wells got them their reinstatement quote too… it was dated November 15, but received via email on November 17, 2010.
And it expired in two days and had to be received in Texas by November 19, 2010.
The Rousseaus had more than enough in savings to reinstate their loan, they told Wells Fargo that… but now they couldn’t get the money from their IRA in time for the 2-day deadline and Wells refused to postpone the sale.
So, the Rousseau’s home sold at the trustee sale on November 22, 2010.
Next the Rousseaus go through a series of lawyers. Finally, they get a good one and in July of 2011, the court grants an injunction contingent on them making a monthly payment of $1800.
But, by December of 2011, Wells finally wore the Rousseaus down and they just couldn’t make December’s payment. They used up all their money fighting Wells Fargo, and Norm had been unemployed since the foreclosure. He was taking odd jobs as a handy man to make ends meet.
Wells Fargo immediately goes to court… gets the injunction dissolved… then proceeds with the Unlawful Detainer… the lockout is set for May 15th, 2012… at 6:00 AM.
THAT’S TOMORROW MORNING… AT 6:00 AM.
Over this past weekend, Norm Rousseau talked with their attorney who is working pro bono by the way. Basically, his lawyer tells him…
“Look… let’s face the facts here. We’ll proceed with the lawsuit. We’ll fight like hell to get you back in the home, but you have to be ready with some sort of plan so you’re not left homeless and on the streets.”
Norm found someone who has a 27-foot motorhome he can use, but after he gets it home on Saturday… it stops running… it won’t start. But, Norm Rousseau is a man in his 50s with mad skills. He goes to work around the clock taking apart the engine, doing everything he can to get it running so that on Tuesday morning he will have somewhere to house his family. He’s up all night Saturday night, but still can’t get it running. It’s too big to tow with a car.
His mind must have been wandering late on Saturday night. What must a man, a father, a provider be thinking when he knows that everything in life has somehow gone terribly wrong and there’s nothing left to do? He must have been imagining the sheriff pulling up to evict his family on Tuesday morning… just two days away, as the motorhome’s engine lay in pieces in his driveway.
I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as he worked tirelessly, without sleep, on that engine and electrical system… as the clock ticked away the hours, I’m sure going faster and faster as time was running out. Damn, it’s already 11:00 PM… then it’s 3:00 AM… and then 5:00 AM… and then before he knew it… a most unwelcome sun was shining… 9:00 AM…
I can almost hear him thinking: “Damn it, what am I going to do? How could this have happened?” I can hear him swearing under his breath as he fights with the old parts trying to get them to work together again… I can see him staring at the engine as the will to go on was leaving his soul…
Norman and Oriane Rousseau had bought their home in Ventura, California in 2000, putting nearly 30 percent down, which was their life savings. In 2006, every time they went into the World Savings branch they’d get pitched on refinancing into one of World’s infamous Option ARM loans… that are now illegal, I believe. After a couple of years of being pitched, they finally bought into World Saving’s lies.
They had told World Saving’s loan officer, ERIC COOPER, that they were only interested in obtaining a conventional 30-year, fixed-rate loan. They wanted consistent payments over the life of the loan.
But COOPER assured them that they could significantly reduce their monthly payments… by more than $600 per month, with a lower interest refinanced loan. COOPER said that the new Pick-A-Payment loan product was better suited to their situation.
He described the Payment Option ARM as the new industry standard. He pointed out that the lower interest rate and payment flexibility were valuable advantages that were not available with other loan products. And he said that even more importantly, unlike the previous WORLD loans, the interest rate was tied to an index with historically low rates that were continuing to decrease.
According to COOPER, industry experts projected the interest rates to continue to fall, and so their monthly payments would be EVEN LOWER than their initial payments.
Even under the worst case scenario, COOPER assured them, the historical data for the index indicated that changes in the interest rate would only be slight, and if an increase should occur it would have a negligible effect on their monthly payments… no more than a few dollars.
And besides, COOPER explained, the loan would only be around for a couple years, as they should expect to refinance within the next two years to take advantage of even more favorable interest rates and as the steadily rising housing values would surely increase the amount of their equity in the property.
Then COOPER went for the close…
On the condition that the Rousseaus apply for the new loan that very day, he would agree to waive their pre-payment penalty, stating that there would be virtually no costs to refinance beyond a $35.00 application fee.
COOPER also convinced the Rousseaus that it was in their best financial interests to consolidate approximately $25,000 in unsecured debt in the refinance transaction, citing the benefits of the lower interest rate and the convenience of having only one payment.
The Rousseaus provided COOPER with accurate and truthful information regarding their income and assets, and COOPER was such a nice guy that he offered to complete the Quick Qualifying Loan Application on their behalf.
It was right around November 1, 2007, that WACHOVIA arranged for a notary to complete the closing at the Rousseau’s home. The notary discouraged their review of the documents and directed them straight to the signature lines, but the Rousseaus noticed that a pre-payment penalty in excess of $4000.00 was included in the closing costs… the fee that COOPER had promised to waive if they applied that same day. They called COOPER and he apologized for the oversight, but tried to get them to sign anyway, because it would only add a couple of bucks to their payment.
They said… no… they’d reschedule the appointment and wait for the four grand to be taken off their bill, thank you very much.
Two weeks later, the notary returned and they signed the paperwork for their new $368,000 state of the art loan.
Now, the Rousseaus didn’t know it at the time, but COOPER was a lying sack of garbage that had misrepresented just about everything having to do with their new loan.
The 7.2% interest rate of the new loan was actually higher than their old loan and higher than the 6.8% quoted by COOPER. The “significant reduction in monthly payments” was an illusion accomplished by comparing the fully amortized payment of the 2006 loan with the negative amortizing minimum payment due under the new loan.
The new loan, at annual change dates, added deferred interest to principal and the loan amortized, with payment increases capped at 7.5% for ten years. Then, the new loan recast when negative amortization reached 125%.
The Rousseaus were never told about the new loan’s fully amortizing payment of $2,497.94 per month, in fact their payment amount was intentionally misrepresented by COOPER. And the new monthly payment could never decrease because it represented the minimum payment possible… the negatively amortizing option that meant payments would increase at each change date.
But that wasn’t enough for our boy COOPER. The Rousseaus were charged $2,640.00 in origination fees for the “low cost” refinance, which made a tidy profit for World/Wachovia/Wells/Whatever bank.
And best of all, an undisclosed Yield Spread Premium (“YSP”) of $4,195 was charged for placing them in a loan with an interest rate .50% higher than they qualified for, and that YSP increased their monthly payments by $123.32, or $44,395.20 over the life of the loan.
The truth is that the Rousseaus were a heck of a long way from being considered well qualified for their new loan. Their fully amortized payment represented a total debt-to-income ratio of 27.91%, but that percentage was based on income figures that were grossly overstated by guess who? That’s right… COOPER.
The Rousseaus told COOPER their total gross annual income was, $76,000, but somehow it got listed as $136,800 on the application. You know… the application that good old COOPER was nice enough to fill out for the Rousseaus.
So, it was Sunday… yesterday… around 10:00 AM… and Norm couldn’t get the motorhome running. He must have realized that he couldn’t handle the shame of seeing his wife and stepson evicted with nowhere to go… living on the street. I don’t know how anyone could face that reality. I don’t think I could.
How could it be that just 12 years before they had put their life savings down on their first and likely last home? They had done everything right, but nothing was right anymore, and I’m sure to Norm Rousseau, nothing would ever be right again.
Their church had offered to help them, maybe find them somewhere to stay temporarily, and that would be fine for his wife and her son… but not for him. I’m sure he wept as he looked at the engine parts laying there, realizing that it was over.
Norm Rousseau called me a couple of months ago. He wasn’t asking me to help him, in fact, he never even told me about what he was going through with Wells Fargo. No, Norm was concerned about someone else who was losing a home. A really good person who’s done so much for so many others, was how he described her. It wasn’t right what the banks were doing he said. He was hoping that I could do something to help someone he knew, because she was someone who had helped others… but he didn’t say a word about himself.
Norman Rousseau gave up over that engine that sits in pieces in his driveway today, the sun shining down making the metal parts hot to the touch. Maybe it was the frustration of having nowhere to turn for justice, maybe it was the shame he felt that somehow he had let his family down… even though that was not the case at all.
Sometime mid-morning on Sunday Norm Rousseau ended his own life. He went into his bedroom, covered his head with a blanket so as to contain the mess… and shot himself. At one point he could have reinstated his loan, that’s what he had planned to do, but Wells Fargo had made that impossible… they stripped him of everything he had.
And now, his wife and stepson are to be evicted at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. They have nowhere to go, they have no money, they are still in shock over the loss of Norm.
And I don’t know what to do really. I’m going to call the sheriff’s office in Ventura… see if I can persuade them to drag their feet for a week before locking them out. Their lawyer is trying to file something with the courts, but maybe you can think of something too.
Maybe you can forward this article to people in the media. Tell them what’s going on… maybe someone will care enough to do something. It’s 11:21 AM and I’ve been up all night again, I can’t really keep this up much longer… but somehow I felt like telling Norm’s story was the very least I could do.
Since Wells Fargo had already done the very least they could do.
Rest in peace, Norm Rousseau.
The psychopaths in charge of Wells Fargo have already killed another American. Wells Fargo, Mammon’s agent on earth, now has Norman Roussseau’s blood on its hands. And these are people who never missed a house payment. Given that Wells’ only responsibility is to generate profits for shareholders, and devil take the hindmost, perhaps Cooper’s behavior, described above, is to be expected. And thus the wages of “corporate personhood:” if we knew a person willing to do whatever it takes to generate a profit, lie, cheat, steal, kill, wouldn’t we call that person a psychopath? Instead, executives get fat bonuses, banks build giant buildings as monuments to themselves, or as temples of Mammon, and we whistle down the street knowing that the business of America is business. And this is why Occupy has sprung from the streets and alleys, and resistance is beginning to form. And why the state maintains such an overweening interest in squelching nonviolent protest.
How we the sheeple can sleep through this slow-motion Kafkaesque nightmare without getting our ample butts off the couch and into the streets is simply beyond me.
In the blog, “The New Inquiry (http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/how-bad-is-it/),” George Scialabbla answers the question, “How Bad Is It?” with precision, and by invoking the writer whose work whose works are highly instructive in these times, the man I call the arch-prophet of Doom, Morris Berman:
“Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.
Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.”
This all sounds very much like Kunstler territory, as that stylist regularly decries the burgeoning illiteracy of the neck tattoo crowd, the NASCAR crazies, and the vulture capitalists. Citing Robert Putnam in bowling alone, he notes that “all forms of social capital fell off precipitously.” We stick our noses and computers and on social networking sites, and leave behind having friends to dinner, card parties, making new friends face-to-face, trusting one another, joining volunteer organizations, and otherwise being vitally involved in our respective communities.
And while we members of the “precariat” toil for our bread, the quality of life in the world’s richest nation continues to spiral down to Third World levels. Recently summarized by James Speth and Orion magazine, you’ve heard it all before. The US has the highest poverty rate for both adults and children, lowest rated social mid-ability, lowest score on you and indexes of child welfare and gender inequality and of course, remarkable levels of economic inequality. Thus the legacy of trickle-down economics.
Scialabba goes on to invoke Morris Berman. For those not familiar with his work, Berman is a cultural and intellectual historian, so his portrait of American civilization is anecdotal and atmospheric as well as statistical. Scialabba puts it well:
“He (Berman) is eloquent about harder-to-quantify trends: the transformation of higher (even primary/secondary) education into marketing arenas for predatory corporations; the new form of educational merchandising known as “distance learning”; the colonization of civic and cultural spaces by corporate logos; the centrality of malls and shopping to our social life; the “systematic suppression of silence” and the fact that “there is barely an empty space in our culture not already carrying commercial messages.” Idiot deans, rancid rappers, endlessly chattering sports commentators, an avalanche of half-inch-deep self-help manuals; a plague of gadgets, a deluge of stimuli, an epidemic of rudeness, a desert of mutual indifference: the upshot is our daily immersion in a suffocating stream of kitsch, blather, stress, and sentimental banality. Berman colorfully and convincingly renders the relentless coarsening and dumbing down of everyday life in late (dare we hope?) American capitalism.
In Spenglerian fashion, Berman seeks the source of our civilization’s decline in its innermost principle, its animating Geist. What he finds at the bottom of our culture’s soul is … hustling; or, to use its respectable academic sobriquet, possessive individualism. Expansion, accumulation, economic growth: this is the ground bass of American history, like the hum of a dynamo in the basement beneath the polite twitterings on the upper stories about “liberty” and “a light unto the nations.” Berman scarcely mentions Marx or historical materialism; instead he offers a nonspecialist and accessible but deeply informed and amply documented review of American history, period by period, war by war, arguing persuasively that whatever the ideological superstructure, the driving energy behind policy and popular aspiration has been a ceaseless, soulless acquisitiveness.” Not surprisingly, Berman finds parallels to the fall of Rome in our current state. By the end of that empire, Berman noted that economic inequality steeply rising, the legitimacy of the state was waiting, popular culture utterly the based, and civic virtue among the elites had disappeared. This made the effectiveness of the state and the projection of military power unsustainable. Scialabba points out this is 21st century America in a nutshell. Our foreign policy for the past 50 years has brought us to the turn where, in the period of time after 9/11 we have flailed about looking outside ourselves for the solutions to vague and undefined threats, ramping up internal Stasi-style security apparatus to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate the citizenry. “Our response to 9/11 is been utterly hysterical, and our inability to make an effort to understand the long festering consequences of our Imperial predations portended is clearly as anything could the demise of American bloat global supremacy.”
Scialabba adds, “What will become of us? After Rome’s fall, wolves wandered through the cities and Europe largely went to sleep for six centuries. That will not happen again; too many transitions — demographic, ecological, technological, cybernetic — have intervened. The planet’s metabolism has altered. The new Dark Ages will be socially, politically, and spiritually dark, but the economic Moloch — mass production and consumption, destructive growth, instrumental rationality — will not disappear. Few Americans want it to. We are hollow, Berman concludes. It is a devastatingly plausible conclusion.”
Jesus is quoted in Matthew as having said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” By our fruits, or deeds, we clearly worship Mammon, and Norman Rousseau was a blood sacrifice. For all of that and more, as Berman notes, we are doomed, if for no other reason than the Lords of Karma will see to it. After all, Nature bats last. And, as to how we treat one another, Karpatok reminds us of Martin Buber’s I and Thou: “To the extent that one cannot embrace the reality of the Thou, one is not fully human..”
What are we? What have we become? Ray Kurzweil whispers of the Singularity, as we dispense with one another with all the empathy of machines.
It is thus on my heart on a Sunday morning, with the soft breezes of her Virginia spring whispering through the trees. . . a holiday weekend, where the sun is bright, the birds chirping in trees bursting with bright green, my neighbors bustling about readying themselves for church. Yet Mammon lurks, hungrily.
So I will join my friend, as he “prays for a pony” (for complete healing). My pastor friend goes on to encourage us to pray for ponies in your own lives.
So why not a pony?
We also have a guerilla garden action planned to help beautify a neglected area nearby that ODU students walk through everyday & will also be beneficial for the wildlife. We’ll also be shooting a video that will be seen by many in our effort to inspire them to help us in this struggle for positive change. I hope you will come and lend your energy & friendship in the work for Peace, Beauty and renewal in Highland Park.”
The following is an account written by Michelle, a woman who organizes a regional Occupy group, who was part of a protest action yesterday against an appearance of Virginia’s Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound with the cardboard figure the Repukes have selected as the one percent’s nominee for POTUS. Having already taken one day off from work this week, I could not play, but some other local Occupiers did.
Of significant interest is how the setting for this meeting was selected with maximum difficulty for public access. Also, “official” word about this event did not make the rounds until 48 hours before the event, whereas the event was pretty well attended, meaning that the people who needed to know knew well before the rest of the unwashed.
Anyhow, this first person report from my colleague:
“So a group of us, how should you say, infiltrated the Romney/Bachmann/McDonnell Rally today in Portsmouth. I will state from the get go I am nonpartisan…100%. In fact I will take it one more step and state I am not a sold out fan for ANY of the current people running for President. I have conservative and liberal leanings when it comes to politics with a lot of progressive thought in my own life. This is why I embrace Occupy so fully because it is a diverse populist group made of many different views working together for a common goal. And I think it is the only way we as a people are going to make it. End of disclaimer…
So some of us from Occupy joined forces with members from Tidewater Against Unfair Tolls Group. First, there was getting the correct information. There were several articles published with incorrect details when it came to time and places. I am guessing this was done intentional for ‘security’. However finally got the accurate information to, what I have dubbed, the “Virginia’s a Great Place to Campaign if You Love America and All That Other Good Stuff Rally”. So after we gather and finalize the plan we head over to the venue….
First, this is the type of place that night, the the mafia goes to dump the bodies. It is in the middle of nowhere. One access road with the Ports Marine Terminal, DHS, and Norfolk Rail to help lend security. There are fences with barb wire. Perfect for an open-to-the-public kind of thing….
Next, there was the standing in line for the event. It was a sea of white…literally. I listened to a lot of people talk about how the Romney campaign had called and invited them out. Many had driven there from Emporia, Isle of Wight, and several other states. There was also atleast two Christian schools that had bussed students in. My guess that the median age would be 65 (not being age-ist just showing the demographic).
Then I got to make a ‘friend’ with a woman in front of me. She was from VA Beach and very wealthy because she made it a point to say where she lived and the kind of car she drove several times. Happy for her and don’t begrudge her for it but no need to be so OCD. I was able to listen in on such little gems as “It’s a shame Portsmouth can’t get rid of the low income housing. It would be such a nice place and cute town.” And when she saw there were protesters near the front of the gate, “Why would they protest Romney? What are they protesting against…a better America?” When she realized it was the No Tolls group, she and the guy next to her discussed how the tolls were steep and would affect some people. Her advice was just to not use the tunnel…oh, brilliant! Such good stuff!
Also, there was a group there supporting/lobbying for the uranium mining. It was being touted as a means of energy and bringing jobs to Virginia…again more good stuff. Then almost in the same breath, one of the guys with a clipboard, said,” But of course everyone wants clean air and clean water. This won’t cause any problems with that.” And the little group in front of us just nodded their heads in unison…
[Surlynote: the proposed mining of the "largest known uranium deposit in the US" sits atop a vast watershed supplying many millions of people. Given the deep care and concern we saw from BP in the Gulf, and the utter destruction of the Gulf fishery, nothing bad could possibly happen in Virginia from corporate malfeasance, right?]
Then there were some lobbyists for oil drilling/fracking. People ahead also thought this was great. It will make us (whoever the ‘us’ is I don’t know because I really get a feeling their ‘us’ does not include people like me) less dependent on Arab oil. And we need not to be involved with any of those countries over ‘there’ (where ever ‘there’ is it is symbolized by making tiny circles away from you). Um, does anyone remember that ‘clean air and clean water’ chat from like 3 minutes ago?
A vendor came by with buttons and other good stuff. My personal favorite was one that had the Trix Rabbit on it and said,” Silly Democrats! Checks are for those who work!” Love the smell of propaganda in the morning.
Again I overheard some other gems from my ‘friend’ in front. She was absolutely dumbfounded how anyone in their right mind could vote for Obama….or anyone else for that matter. We were almost to the body scanners at this point. Security was confiscating people’s foldable chairs (the kind that come in their own carrying case). I get they were concerned with someone sneaking something in (like a critical thought) but it was hot and there was NOWHERE for many of these people to sit. The final quote from my friend was. “See, a liberal would sue over something as dumb as security taking their chair.” I told Angela I would have to wash my mouth out with soap for talking with her. Good stuff!
So the four of us made it in and found some others who were part of our covert operation. Then Secret Security(SS) began barricading and closing the exit off. People were made to stand behind the new barricade. We made it in just in time! Yay..there was a very muscular guy in a hard hat posing, I mean, sitting on a crane they just happened to have there. One lone reporter wondered out of the ‘press bloc’ to try and talk to him. Think she was trying to figure out if he was a paid shill *cough*yes*cough*. Well, the good boys of the SS quickly swooped in to stop that. We however had to do some regrouping and quick decision making as our original plan was not going to work. It was decided that I would leave with Angela. ALL the security and some rapid fans with a closed escape route were too much! The others in the group would stay and carry out a modified silent protest. I hope that Ron will do a write-up of that soon.( Also hope that Angela can share her thoughts on the day!) So I went up first to a policeman and stated I was not feeling well from the sun ( not a lie because I was red like a lobster) and if we would be allowed to leave. He sent us over to the barricade (just like the ones from Zucotti) and the SS guy let me out. As we said excuse me and the crowd parted, I reached into my purse, pulled out my ‘No Tolls’ Sticker, and slapped it across my mouth….symbolizing how we are being told to be silent and we will not comply. Also, people could not miss it! Got a lot of shocked expressions…especially from the lobbyist and merchandise guys who had been trying to talk to me earlier. Surprise fellas…good stuff!”
[Surlynote: In our region, a number of Occupy and other community groups are highly energized to battle the comprehensive transportation agreement for Hampton Roads recently signed by Governor Transvaginal Ultrasound, which will impose crushing tolls on our region for almost 60 years, draining local economies to enrich foreign corporations. The deal even featured automatic rate hikes for the term, plus the citizens paying an indemnity-- an indemnity! --to Skanska should the Commonwealth, in some benighted future state, build another crossing and thus impair the computed profit stream!(Ultimately the cost of the behind-closed-doors-cooked-in-hell deal redounds to all Virginians as financial resources are diverted from the Commonwealth to the private corporate partners in the agreement.) Local groups are vigorously challenging the legality of the transportation agreement and seek financial support for the upcoming legal battle, which has already begun. Several local Occupiers have joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs.]