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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Truck Driving In Bolivia

A woman Bolivian truck driver navigates the road to La Paz.





That truck stop at the beginning is an independent, not a national chain, I'm guessing.

It's definitely not in America. There are ash trays on the tables, like there are in Texas, which is also not in America.

Bolivia, of course, where current president Evo Morales, coca grower and trade union leader, made history in 2005 by being elected the nation's first indigenous president and in October was re-elected to a third term with 60 percent of the vote, is on the Bolivian Road To Socialism.


Evo Morales - AFP photo




New Mexico's Consevative Legislators

No New Mexico federal legislator belongs to the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Zero.

It's not that they don't know about it. There are 76 congress members in it and it's been around since 1991, when it was created by Bernie Sanders, the Social Democrat from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, when he was a House member. He's now the only senator in the caucus.

So why isn't anyone from New Mexico's delegation in the Progressive Caucus?

"Progressive," to clarify that term, became popular as a term for a liberal Democrat after Ronald Reagan successfully demonized the word "liberal." Progressive Democrats aren't radical, aren't socialists, aren't communists. They're simply what Democrats used to be, except for white Southern Democrats who were always conservative.

I can think of two possible reasons New Mexico's delegation aren't in the Progressive Caucus. One, they're conservative. That is, they think it's OK that the rich are getting richer and they think the rest of us should be happy with two part time jobs at minimum wage, and that our kids should forget about college and having a happy life. Two would be that for strategic purposes, i.e., for the sake of holding on to their status and fancy titles, they don't want anybody to know they're liberals.

Taken together those two things account for most of why the American people are in the shit hole they're in, with declining living standards, declining wages, and no prospects for their children to live a better life than they did.

Recall how Democrats responded to Ronald Reagan's two landslide victories. You had people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore arguing that the party should become more conservative -- remember their Democratic Leadership Council and recruiting conservative Democratic candidates? -- and you had Liberals running away form the word Liberal. Remember how Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 presidential campaign to decide who would replace Reagan, wouldn't admit to being a Liberal? He kept repeating, "It's about competence, not ideology."

With those two things -- with some liberal Democrats being cast aside the rest ashamed of being liberal -- Democrats conceded the war of ideas to the Republicans. It left Democrats in a position from which it was, and still is, impossible to argue the Liberal cause. Democrats simply abandoned the American people for their own self interest.

Democrats today, those not in the Progressive Caucus, which is the vast majority of them, are essentially Republicans who are slightly liberal on social issues. They always vote with Republicans on economic issues in the end, after some posturing for the TV cameras, they vote to continue Reaganomic policies that transfer wealth upward, they have walked hand in hand with Republicans in returning the US to a level of economic inequality not seen since the days of railroad tycoons and oil barons in the 1920s when workers slept next to their machines. Democrats are essentially running a scam on voters in order to capture the liberal vote.

You can make up your own mind whether New Mexico's two Democratic senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and it's two Democratic representatives, Ben Lujan and Michelle Grisham, are so cynically self interested that they run as Democrats because they see that as their ticket to being big shots, or whether they are so weak and pathetic that they're afraid of being called liberals. Either way, you'd be justified in thinking of them as pretty damn pathetic. You'd be justified in wondering why some good Democrats don't take them all out and give them a good beating. And you'd be right if you said the reason is that there aren't any Democrats in New Mexico any more.



The Congressional Progressive Caucus

Monday, January 26, 2015

The One Percent

"In 17 states the 1% has captured all of the income gains from the economic recovery. In 22 more they got at least 1/2."

 The mainstream media when reporting on the economy tell us that it's recovering and give all the stats, and occasionally mutter something at the end about lagging wages or an uneven recovery.

What's happening is that rich people are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer. The Nation covers that part in an article by Zoe Carpenter, who reports on a study that finds a trend of "uneven recoveries" that goes back to 1979, at the advent of guess what, Neoliberalism, i.e. Reaganomics.

Venezuela

The mainstream media is daily predicting Venezuela's collapse, as they have been ever since a Socialist was first elected president there in 1998. Venezuela's budget is highly dependent on oil and as prices continue to decline the hyperventilating rhetoric has reached fever pitch. Joe Emersberger balances some of it out in TeleSur.


Only In New Mexico

I was talking to my 87-year-old Mother in Michigan yesterday on the telephone and she said she'd been coughing a lot and "coughing things up." I called tonight and she had been to the doctor, who told her she had bronchitis and prescribed some antibiotics. So it wasn't pneumonia and she'll be OK.

Michigan is a terrible place to be in the winter time. They get socked with one big snowstorm after another. You see people trundling around, braced against the wind, wrapped in heavy clothing and sniffling. Always the sniffling.

I always had sinus problems when I lived there and they got worse when I moved to Northeast Texas and then to coastal South Carolina with their stifling summer heat and 110 percent humidity. Since I came to New Mexico I've been breathing out of both nostrils for the first time I can remember. My little cheapo thermometer/humidity gauge sometimes reads as low as 14 percent humidity inside my apartment. I love it here.

A blogger I know occasionally posts a link to an article in a national publication about our police department in Albuquerque and comments about the bad publicity, but in thinking about that, I think New Mexico has a long way to go before it starts getting a bad reputation. My family sees it as an almost exotic, amazingly beautiful place, with all kinds of interesting things about it and a fascinating history, a unique place, like no other, and I still do, too.

The way the police department acts, although embarrassing and unwarranted, is actually an outgrowth of the culture here. New Mexico in many ways is a last remnant of the wild wild west. There's a way of thinking, an attitude, the way people see themselves in relation to authority is different. People think and act more independently here. Some of us would like things to calm down a little, including me, but in some ways the police come with the territory and in some ways actually may enhance our image. They help make New Mexico what it is.





Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Congress Beholden To Israel

Everyone should contact their representative and senators and urge them to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to a joint session of congress. Feel free to copy this message I emailed to Rep Michele Grisham and senators Martin Heiinrich and Tom Udall:

Dear xxxxx,

I'm urging you to boycott the upcoming speech before the joint session by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His appearance is intended to undermine the president's Iran strategy so by attending you will be participating in that project.

Your absence would also send a signal that our political system can't be held hostage to the so-called Israeli Lobby forever, and send another signal that you have the ability to demonstrate some political courage.

Regards,

Frank Conway
Albuquerque



Links to online email forms:

Grisham

Heinrich

Udall

The message is that our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity.

The words of Alexis Tsipras, chairman of the anti-austerity Syriza Party, winner of Greek elections Sunday, adding, "Democracy will return to Greece."

Alexis Tsipras of Syriza after voting today - Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg


"Austerity" is how Neoliberalism -- Reaganomics -- is referred to in Europe. The policy of cutting social services, lowering taxes on the wealthy and attacking unions, in order to redistribute wealth upward, has been forced on one European nation after another by politicians like Tony Blair and Angela Merkel and has been accepted by left leaning and liberal parties from the British Labour Party to the French Socialists, just as its been accepted by Democrats in the US. As the official policy of the ruling elite it's forced on countries who accept bailout funds from institutions like the IMF or World Bank, as it has been in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece.

Don't be surprised if markets in the US and Europe act with alarm to Syriza's victory. It's not known yet how far Syriza will actually go in rolling back austerity, or how far it can go, but it will at least go partway, and any alteration from the uninterrupted progress of Reaganomics tends to disappoint investors, who have seen a steadily increasing stream of working peoples' money go into their accounts for three decades now and want that to go on forever.

Two years ago, Syriza, then newly formed, came close to winning while Greece was in the depths of budgetary problems caused by corruption and widespread tax evasion primarily by the country's wealthy and bourgeoise. That time, even as the "Troika" - the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank -- that was providing bailout funds to the Greek government demanded that creditors be paid off with the bailout money first, even as pensions were being halved and unemployment was soaring and "middle class" Greeks were eating out of dumpsters, the Greek people were alarmed by doomsday forecasts from their own politicians and Troika officials if austerity wasn't adopted, and were afraid to elect Syriza.

This time around, as Greeks came to see that they were not meant to ever benefit from austerity, and Syriza pulled ahead in pre-election polls, the Troika put on a full court press, threatening all kinds of dire consequences if Syriza won, but Greeks have given them one seat short of an absolute majority in parliament, effectively putting Syriza in the driver's seat. Under the parliamentary system, where coalitions can be formed to come up with ruling majorities, there had been talk before the election that Syriza would have to ally with a far right party that also opposes "austerity" but Syriza's stunning win likely makes that unnecessary as a much smaller party can be brought in and given a ministry in exchange for its support.


Note: As a point in interest, Alexis Tsipras' reference to democracy returning to Greece will remind many that Eurocentric historians say, and most Westerners believe, that democracy originated in Greece. As if the rest of the world was too stupid to ever think of it. Western and US histories generally trace "our" civilization in a straight line from Greece, to Rome, to Europe and ignore any outside influences and omit most of the history of the rest of the world. Remember that democracy wasn't practiced in Rome and hasn't been the form of government in Europe for most of its history, although it was practiced by the germanic tribes populating Europe that were conquered by Rome.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Good Bye, Ernie


Ernie Banks 1931-2015

Ernie Banks, star player for the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team while I was growing up across the lake in New Buffalo, Michigan, where our TV was Chicago TV, our radio was Chicago radio and Josenhans drug store sold the Sun Times and the Tribune, has died at 83.

Ernie hit more than 500 home runs, was MVP twice, was a perpetual All Star, and was voted Mr Cub by the fans. He's in the Hall of Fame. He was loved by generations of Cubs fans, including by me. I stood at the plate like Ernie did, held the bat like Ernie did.

Ernie and another player, as a duo, were the first African Americans to play for the Cubs, breaking the color barrier in 1953, six years after Jackie Robinson had done it for the Dodgers and the national pastime. Ernie seemed eternally grateful just to be in the big leagues. He played while Phil Wrigley, of Wrigley's chewing gum, owned the Cubs and ran them like a dictator. Ernie pretty much kept quiet during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Another great Cubs player of that era, Ron Santo, said he only ever heard Ernie swear once, after an opposing pitcher knocked him down multiple times. He said Ernie came back to the dugout and said he'd give $100 to whoever knocked that so and so down.

Ernie was known to us for always having a smile on his face. He used expressions like "Let's play three today." Each year he made a prediction about the upcoming season in the form of a rhyme. The Cubs will shine in 69. The Cubs will be heavenly in 1970. Ernie made us feel good about ourselves. He made us forget -- forget that he was Black, what we as a nation had done to Blacks, were still doing. He calmed that little wave of fear than ran up and down the stairway to our soul when we saw a Black person. His kind were thought of as Uncle Toms by some young Blacks, and by young radicals like me, but I always excused Ernie. Ernie grew up in Dallas, Texas, a pretty mean town, and as had all African Americans of his and earlier generation come by his adaptive skills when there were still regular lynchings across the United States.

For me, he's a reminder of my youth, of limitless possibilities, of my favorite bat. I don't miss those times. There were plenty of problems, uncertainty about what I'd do in life. I don't want to relive those days. I don't yearn for them. I don't feel melancholy about lost innocence, my country's, or mine. Only when Ernie dies.










American Sniping

In reviewing the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper -- which I haven't seen and won't see, not necessarily because I never get around to seeing any movie before it disappears from theaters -- Eamon Murphy talks about various changes Eastwood made to the original story the movie is based on, a book by a US military sniper who from what I can gather from media accounts is a deranged, psychotic, highly delusional individual. A sicko.

The changes Eastwood made to the nutbag's story aren't the focus of Eamon's review, which is more about how the film excuses our war crimes in Iraq. (American Sniper also reviewed here.)

The Film Industry

By Eamon's account, some changes were made to broaden the movie's appeal, some seemed intended to make it more controversial, some were made so as to keep Americans from having to look at themselves and their role in perpetuating their country's policies: policies of, I'll clarify, aggressive Capitalist imperialism.

Note how all the changes have as their intention, consciously or not, to get more people to watch the film and therefore to make more money off it. This is Capitalism, but it demonstrates a particular aspect of it; how the few Capitalist elites who control the means of production -- a critical Marxist concept -- use that control to accumulate bigger piles of money for themselves.

Means of production is usually thought of as factories, machines, railroads, trucks, and all the other things necessary for industrial production, but as we see here it includes access to Hollywood, i.e. the mainstream film industry. It also includes the control of other media like newspapers and TV, which are then used to promote and propagandize certain views and facts and keep others out of the public discourse, and not just to hawk Capitalism's output, its production.

Lasting Effect

American sniper will soon fade from the headlines. Remember all the controversial movies from the past? Eamon refers to The Passion of Christ, which you never hear about any more. This list of the "50 most controversial movies" includes others.

In an article about an upsurge in death threats against Arabs following the release of Eastwood's new film, Rania Kahlek writes, "American Sniper is brilliant propaganda that valorizes American military aggression while delivering Hollywood’s most racist depiction of Arabs in recent memory, effectively legitimizing America’s ongoing bombing campaigns across the Middle East."

Controversial movies may quickly disappear from public discussion, but they are continually produced and while they are here keep certain things about ourselves near the surface. They keep the waters stirred so that things like our proclivity for and our admiration for violence don't sink to the bottom and disappear entirely into the unconscious where they live and originate from, invisible to our conscious gaze.

Movies like American Sniper, that justify and excuse our lesser natures, exhibit how the control of the means of production -- not just the ownership of factories but control of the media -- can't be left in the hands of a few.




By the way, I ask you, will American Sniper be offered in multiple formats and 70th anniversary Blu Ray editions 70 years from now? I think not.





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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ukraine - US Adventurism Gone Bad

The Obama-Kerry Ukraine scheme has turned into a disaster, which is why you don't see US media reports about Ukraine these days. The crises caused by last year's US-instigated coup, carried out by neo fascists in Ukraine and cheered on by the US media, has left the Ukrainian economy near collapse. Neoliberal IMF bailout terms will mean already hurting Ukrainians have much more suffering ahead. US and Europe's US-ordered sanctions against Russia threaten to spread its economic problems to the Eurozone, and once compliant European allies one by one have called for the US to back off. None of which is being reported in the US mainstream media, of course, but Patrick L Smith has an update in Salon.




Venezuela Looks To The East

Every day, headlines in the US media, as they have for years, pronounce Socialist Venezuela on its last legs.

I have a segment on my Google news page set up to capture stories about Venezuela and the scorn and ridicule heaped on that country by the mainstream media is relentless. Like the stories the infamous Rory Carroll, longtime Latin America correspondent for the Guardian used to write, the stories are devoid of content and most are sourced from the Venezuelan oligarchy that would love to turn the country back into a feudal Gringo colony for a handful of silver, or the US interest section in Caracas, the defacto embassy. In other words, the mainstream media acts as the propaganda wing of the US State Department, which is actively trying to destabilize Venezuela and bring about regime change and collapse of the Socialist economy. With supporting votes by New Mexico's legislators. The mind set is, 'Don't you dare try to find another way besides US dominated Capitalism, even if the people of the country want it and repeatedly vote for it election after election. We, the US State Department, We, senators from New Mexico, will decide what's best for you.'

Inflation is high in Venezuela, just like it always has been, not as bad as it was when the oligarchy ran things, and the price of oil is down, which hurts Venezuela's oil dependent economy. But as WT Whitney Jr writes in Counterpunch, Venezuela isn't alone any more in fighting back against the US imperial agenda that would destroy any alternative to US dominated Capital in what the US considers its back yard. As has been reported here, a host of Latin American alliances have been brought into existence to do what the US dominated OAS, World Bank and IMF had done. And now there's China.





Sunday, January 18, 2015

UNM Bosses: Why Ain't No Students Coming?

"UNM seeks answer to declining enrollment" reads the headline in the campus paper the Daily Lobo.

Here's a clue for the UNM regents and president:


While most Americans' living standards declined in the past 30 years, Democrats and Republicans were lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations so many times they no longer pay a significant amount into our collective coffers. We the people pay it all, out of our shrinking paychecks.

That's why colleges, public schools, and governments at all levels are always in crises mode. And in response they keep cutting social spending, including many types of college tuition funding such as Pell Grants and outright payments to educational institutions.

The federal and state governments caused these problems by adopting Reaganomics, and to solve them, local governments have also adopted Reaganomics.

By the way, UNM's solution to increase enrollment is to spend some of their limited funds on gussying up some buildings. They don't even mention charging less for tuition.


Note: That the yellow line in the above chart keeps rising, because it shows the "median" income, the one in the middle, which rises even as working class income decline because incomes for the top 10 percent have skyrocketed and incomes for the top 1 percent have gone galactic.