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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Quitting Comcast Photo Essay

Comcast's service just sucks too much. I've had it.

Comcast majority owner and CEO Brian Roberts (L) at Martha's Vineyard this summer
The media megalith that already owns almost everything on TV or at the movies and now wants to buy Time-Warner, Comcast, the anti-union, $78.9 billion and counting monstrocity, the "largest broadcasting and cable company in the world by revenue" and "the largest cable company and home internet service provider in the United States," that owns Entertainment Television, the Golf Channel, NBC, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Universal Parks and Resorts, has the seventh largest lobbying budget of any corporation or individual and employs multiple former US congress people as lobbyists and through ownership shares has its fingers in branches of media and communications way too numerous to mention here, has received it's last payment from moi.

A month or so ago my internet service just stopped working for most of the day. It would work at night, but after people got up and turned on their TVs and computers, I got the blinking lights.

The Box - taken through the blinds so the neighbor lady wouldn't think I was taking pictures through her window.

The internet never was all that good here. At times it would download at dial up speeds, and there was an outage every few months. Every "service technician" who came out here -- after I went through that whole song and dance by telephone -- would check my equipment and then leave for awhile and come back and say it should be OK. On questioning they would tell about finding multiple splices in "the box" or splices upon splices upon splices, or that someone had moved my hookup to the back of the row. They would tell me that they had "cleaned up" "the box" and that I should be OK for awhile.

When I'd ask if they meant there were too many apartments running off of one line, some would say yes while others would look around the apartment and start edging toward the door.

It occurs to me now that the old cable coming in here was probably put in when internet service didn't use up so many giga-bytes of data. That's no problem for Comcast, though, which responds to a situation like that by raising your bill.

Networks my laptop picks up - "HOME" are Comcast. There were no Century Links until recently

So I am now with Centurylink. Only internet, no TV. They supposedly can stream Disc TV though your internet cable, but I told them I'll see how this works, and how their service is.

Supposedly Century Link is fiber optic up to the last junction box, but I think what I might actually have is a dedicated phone line. It comes into my apartment on the old telephone land line, apparently, and connects to the router with a regular old phone line. I had dedicated phone line, or DSL, internet service once and it was probably the best internet I ever had. I didn't order the fastest internet Century Link has, as I recall. When I click on something, there's a little hesitation, then bam, the whole page loads all at once. That's better than Comcast was.

Comcast stuff ready to go back. The board is because apartment complex people knock once and then just walk in on you.

Now the challenge is to get my Comcast service discontinued, the hardest part. As many people have learned, they make it very, very difficult to stop being a paying customer. I've struck out twice already. There's no place on the web site to cancel, that I found, and the regular customer service people say they can't do it. They give you a number to call Monday after 8:00. I tried the chat line, too, and a guy there gave me the service center number, which had already said they couldn't do it and gave me the other number. I saw on discussion boards that you can cancel at a service center and I'll try that today. I also saw an email address where you can supposedly cancel and I sent them an email.

I might miss looking at this to see what time it is. I won't miss the cable system repair tools on top of the box.
I also, however, discontinued my auto pay. I will not pay them again. I'm done with paying corporations that don't deserve it, who did nothing for the money, who either through incompetence or neglect or outright fraud keep sending you a bill.

Ask Target. You can do anything you want, threaten anything you want to, hold anything over my head you want to, even prison. You can badger me and even hunt down my 87-year-old Mom in Michigan and badger her. I will not pay. Comcast has got the last penny from me they will ever get.

Now pardon me while I do a little victory dance around the living room.

Brian Roberts, Comcast majority owner and CEO: "No one just decides not to pay me. How am I going to get Conway?"

Sunday, September 14, 2014

War And The Capitalist Class

The legislature in Ecuador is debating a new "work law" that would legally limit the gap between executive and worker pay and give mothers who decide to stay at home access to social security.

I don't know what it's chances of passage are but I do know that here, nothing remotely like that is being debated, and hasn't been for a long time. The Democratic Party, once the party of working people, is pushing a feeble minimum wage increase that would restore its value to about half of what it was in 1968, and doing nothing about the decline in wages and wealth for most people while the very, very rich see their wealth and income increase by leaps and bounds.

I came across a chart this morning in an economic blog, a Marxist economic blog.

It's for the UK but the same basic scenario applies to the United States and to all the Capitalist West. It shows the rate of profit, or the rate of return on investment, since the 1850s.

This declining rate of profit is something Marx predicted. Capitalism isn't as efficient as they'd have you believe, and as the initial cheap acquisition of property through enclosing the commons, capturing colonies, exploiting cheap resources and so on is used up it becomes harder to profit. The decline in profitability in the 1970s was what led to the rise of what academics call Neoliberalism -- Reaganomics, Thatcherism, supply side economics. In Europe they're now calling it Economic Reform, or simply reform. Sometimes it's called Austerity, or imposing austerity budgets. It's all the same -- slash social spending, cut taxes on the rich, attack unions. Both Republicans and Democrats have bought into it here, World Bank and IMF funding are now contingent on adopting austerity budgets, and so, too, in Europe have the traditional parties of the Left -- Labour in Britain, the Social Democrats in Germany, and the Socialist and even the Communist parties in France.

Note that the author labels our time "New depression." He's not the only Marxist economist who thinks we're in a depression. I know that Richard Wolff from the University of Massachusets-Amherst does, too.

There are two interesting things about this chart, which the author talks about in the post. One is that Neoliberalism produced a relatively small rebound in profitability and for a relatively short time. The other is that the only thing that causes profits to rebound in any significant way is depression followed by world war.

Which means the Capitalist class, if it's not already, is going to be demanding, sooner or later, a war. A big one.

Think of how the US has the whole Middle East in turmoil. Think of the new command called Africom. Think of the US provocations against Russia. The Soviet Union dissolved, remember? Russia adopted Capitalism.  Russia hasn't been expanding its military since then or taking over countries, but the US,  instead of looking at the end of the Cold War as a way to wind down NATO, has expanded NATO, expanded it into former Soviet territory and up to Russia's borders. And then they provoked Ukraine into breaking with Russia and moving toward the European Union, with ultimate NATO membership, which would have eliminated Russia's only warm water port in Crimea and switched it to the other side.

Think about Obama's "Pivot to Asia," the repositioning of US strategic forces so as to surround China. China hasn't taken anyone over, either. It's had little skirmishes or arguments with Japan over a couple of rocky little islands. Like Russia, it has no huge military. Their armies combined are dwarfed by that of the US.

It would be useless at this point in time to point out that this "Islamic State" we're going to war against is nowhere near the threat it's purported to be. The US public is already afraid of them, and although they have long been weary of war are unable to mount any kind of opposition to it.

What this is all about, of course, is a class of people protecting its interests. The Capitalist class. Neoliberalism is class war. Warmongering, where the working class fights each other and dies for the benefit of the Capitalist class, is just a part of that. The Capitalist class has all the power now. The working class has none. What it has, it turns over to the Democratic Party, the Labour party, the Social Democrats. So it has none.

The only thing that will ever turn it around -- the wars and what they are about, the redistribution of wealth upward -- is when the working class organizes itself in a way that it has power, more power than the other class.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Venezuela - All News Is Good News

I have a little section on my Google news aggregator page that collects Venezuela news. The three or four articles that appear there at any given time are almost exclusively from what you'd call "mainstream," major, US or European, English-language news sources, and all the articles, with rare exceptions, are negative in content and tone. Coverage of Venezuela in mainstream Western media has been negative since Venezuela's immediate past president, Hugo Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and died in office in 2013, began taking Venezuela down a Socialist path in 2005, and especially after Chavez began openly denouncing US imperialism and aggression.

Cuban doctors in front of a free Venezuelan neighborhood clinic
Western, especially US media news coverage of countries that are trying a Socialist path, and which therefore the US government is actively trying to undermine and cause to be unsuccessful, is traditionally overwhelmingly negative. There are, I think, a number of reasons for this, some having to do with the fact that some of these countries are indeed struggling to get by, and some having to do with the way news is gathered.

Mainstream news organizations in the US are generally pretty ethical, but they are also free to publish whatever they want to, and the personal biases and inherent nationalism of editors and reporters, and their reliance on official US government sources for information, all play a role in slanting news of Socialist countries toward the negative.

One of the most egregious cases was that of Rory Carroll, who during much of the Chavez era was The Guardian's Latin American correspondent. Carroll's articles seethed with his hatred of Chavez, and of Socialism. He was notorious among Venezuela followers for his wildly inaccurate reporting, but was in some ways laughable, reporting on the Venezuelan presidential elections one year from a Caracas country club. During the US-backed, US-funded street protests by well off Venezuelans earlier this year, Carroll, who has long since moved on from the Latin America beat, returned to write a breathless and as it turned out very inaccurate account of the protests from afar, attributing to the police, for example, deaths caused by protesters, in which Carroll excitedly predicted, as he has many times now, that Venezuelan Socialism was in the process of collapsing.

Venezuelan public school classroom - Radionoticias Venezuela
Carroll though has had a lot to do with setting the tone for current mainstream Venezuelan reporting. When you see the way the same sets of information appear in different mainstream outlets, often presented in almost the same way, it's obvious that reporters not only use the same sources -- the US embassy for example -- but read each other's work. Having been a reporter I can say that reporters don't like to "go off the reservation" very far except in certain specific ways, such as to break new news. Reporters see each other all the time at events like press conferences, and often socialize at the same bars and parties and clubs, and are in important ways a social group. No one wants to be the outlier or to get caught being the only one who is wrong. When you hear the term "conventional wisdom" used to describe coverage of Washington politics, it's this aspect of journalism, not only the narrow ideological range of US politics, that accounts for much of that.

I follow other news sources for Venezuela, which are mostly written from an advocacy standpoint; they want to point to the successes. By comparing and assimilating all the news I read it's possible to get a sense of what's going on in Venezuela, but short of going there myself, and first learning Spanish, it's kind of difficult to say with much precision what's going on in Venezuela, or Cuba, or anywhere for that matter. The United Nations does gather some information about member countries, and I posted a chart a few weeks ago comparing what are commonly called "quality of life" measurements in Cuba and the US that show that in many ways people living in Cuba are better off than people living in the US. (To be fair, some of this has to do with the relative decline of the quality of life in the US under the ongoing Neoliberal, or Reaganomics, economic model that Democrats  and Republicans both ascribe to now.)

Below I've copied a weekly email I get from some people in Tuscon who are advocates for Venezuela, and other countries, mostly in Latin America, that are trying alternative paths and don't receive accurate mainstream news coverage, the Alliance For Global Justice. The email gives some stats on Venezuelan health and education that come primarily from the Venezuelan government. (Where it says "Bolivarian" government that's the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Venezuela's official  name.)

This information is probably comparable to press releases from US politicians or the White House, meaning it's fairly accurate but only talks about the good stuff -- the bad stuff will be in mainstream media reports. It's safe to say, however, that Venezuela spends a lot of money on social programs, because when a Venezuela-hating reporter tries to explain the Socialist government's popularity, they say it buys it by spending a lot of money on social programs.

In other words, that crazy Venezuelan government is doing what the people want it to do, unlike ours.

Venezuela Weekly 9.12.14

This weekly email contains a few useful articles on Venezuela that contain bite-sized dose of the truth so that you can fight the disinformation in your own community, that so much of the media, including alternative media are putting out. 
It is AfGJ's conviction that we in the US defend Venezuela's sovereignty and recognize that the Bolivarian Revolution has improved the lives of its citizens, led the movement toward Latin America integration, and is building participatory democracy structures that are an example for us in the US as well. -AfGJ staff



Improving the provision of health services to a majority of the Venezuelan people has become a key priority of the Bolivarian government.
Despite Venezuela’s great natural resource wealth, the poor and rural citizens historically lacked access to basic health services. The new Constitution of 1999 states that healthcare is a fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to all. To make this mandate a reality, the Bolivarian government has increased spending on healthcare – it currently stands at 4.2% of GDP – and created free clinics in poor urban and rural neighborhoods, as part of the program “Barrio Adentro” (“Inside the Neighborhood”).
As of January 2009, Mission Barrio Adentro has made the following accomplishments:
  • 24,884,567 Venezuelans have benefited, about 88.9% of our population.
  • 630,491 lives have been saved.
  • 6,531 People’s Medical Clinics, 479 Integral Medical Diagnostic Centers (CDIs), 543 Integral Rehabilitation Centers (SRI), 26 High Technology Medical Centers (CAT) have been opened.
  • 13 People’s Clinics, 459 People’s Opticians and 3,019 Consultation Centers and Dental Clinics have been opened.
Due to these ambitious measures, nearly 90% of the population currently benefits from some type of government-funded healthcare.
Another impressive achievement is the significant reduction in infant mortality, which fell by 50% in the period between 1995 and 2005 [i]. Venezuela currently has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in Latin America and is well on its way to reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015 [ii].



One of the main achievements of the Bolivarian government of Venezuela has been the expansion of educational opportunities and resources for the majority of the Venezuelan people. Beyond increasing access to existing basic and higher education, Venezuela has instituted programs aimed at sectors of the population who have been left out of the formal education system. These programs, known as “missions,” have served millions of Venezuelans, allowing them to gain basic literacy, complete basic or higher education, and enter the workforce.
The education missions have benefited millions of Venezuelans through alphabetization, basic, middle and higher education programs, which has set the stage for including citizens in the country’s labor force.
Today, the Venezuelan state allocates 7 percent of its GDP to education, while in 1998 the contribution was barely 3.9 percent. Without including the socialist missions that target those left outside of the formal education system, enrollment in 1998 stood at 6.2 million and has now increased to 7.5 million in both public and private institutions.
According to a report by UNESCO, Venezuela has Latin America’s second-highest rate of enrollment in higher education: 83 percent. This figure rivals that of developed countries like Finland (92 percent). The average rate of enrollment for the region stands at 29.6 percent.
Investment in higher education: Funding for university has increased by 814 percent, up from less than $300 million in 1999 to $2.6 billion in 2011.
2010 marked the year when the most universities were created in the history of Venezuela- a total of nine universities.
Student admissions: the policy of inclusion was consolidated in 2010, when 128,382 people were admitted to universities through the National Enrollment System (RUSNIEU).
The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela increased higher education enrollment by 170 percent, up from 785,285 students in 1998 to over 2.12 million in 2009.
Public and free access to higher education has been boosted under the Bolivarian Revolution. Enrollment in public universities was at 61 percent in 1998, while in private universities it stood at 39 percent, but by 2009, the enrollment in public universities reached 75 percent, and 25 percent in private universities.[1]
Special Education: In 2012, Venezuela’s National Assembly authorized the executive to approve about $40 million for the Ministry of Education to build 1,200 special classrooms in Bolivarian public schools for children with disabilities.[2]
The education missions, created to assist the population excluded from the formal education system, showed the following figures by late 2011:
Mission Robinson II (basic elementary education): 437,171 graduates, among them 81,000 indigenous people.
  • From 2003 to March 2011, Mission Robinson, a social program eradicate illiteracy, has taught 710,196 people how to read and write.
  • Mission Robinson is also aimed at providing primary education among sectors excluded from the traditional education system, and it has allowed 577,483 Venezuelans to complete sixth grade (the last year of elementary school).[3]
Mission Ribas (high school education):
  • By 1998, about 5 million Venezuelans had not finished high school due to the privatization of the education system developed in the last decades of the 20th century. As of November 2011, 630,000 people had graduated through this mission.
  • Additionally, as part of the free and universal education policies at all levels, beneficiaries of this mission have been able to continue their education through the 24 training programs of Mission Sucre and different academic options available nationwide through universities under the Association of Bolivarian Rectors (ARBOL).[4]

Mission Sucre (college and graduate-level education):
  • As of September 2011, Mission Sucre has benefited 560,000 people, graduating 140,000 new professionals and has helping Venezuela achieve the world’s highest rate of university enrollment (about 3 million), according to UNESCO. 
Access to Education For All
By March 2012, 2,600 Bolivarian computing and information technology centers (CEBITs) have been established throughout Venezuela to boost access to education technologies. Other achievements include providing technical support for the more than 1.5 million laptops of the Canaima Plan – a program through which the Ministry of Education distributes laptops with educational material to schoolchildren – as well as a new project on technologies for children with disabilities.[5]
To learn more about the efforts of the government in education, please see “The Bolivarian Revolution in Higher Education” (Spanish).
For more information on education policies implemented by the government, please visit the website of the Ministry of People’s Power for Education (Spanish).
[1] Ministry of People’s Power for University Education “Achievements of the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution,” June 2011. Accessed on May 17, 2012.
[2] Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S “National Assembly Approves Almost 40 Million to Build Especial Education Classrooms”. March 7, 2012. Accessed on May 17, 2012
[3]Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S “Mission Robinson Teaches Close to Two Million People to Read and Write,” March 3, 2011. Accessed on May 17,  2012.
[4] Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. “Over 800,000 Venezuelans Have Benefitted from Social Missions “Ribas” and “Madres del Barrio,” March 3, 2011. Accessed on May 17, 2012.
[5] Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. “2,600 Bolivarian Computing Centers Bring Technology to Communities,” March 20, 2012.  Accessed on May 17, 2012.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Have Youself a Nice Tall Glass of Recovery

Robert Reich, who as you'll recall was Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton who got quite a bit done for the people, is one of the few remaining Liberal Democrats, let alone who has anything close to a national standing and access to a microphone. He posted this today on his Facebook page, where he has 459,135 followers.

Robert Reich
The Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the most comprehensive source of data on the finances of American families, was released Thursday. Its findings are sobering. The so-called recovery has bypassed 90 percent of American families, who have gained nothing in terms of income or wealth; and the bottom 20 percent are worse off than when the recovery started. Only the rich have done better. Between 2010 and 2013, the most affluent 10 percent of families saw their incomes rise 10 percent, and their wealth increase 2 percent to an average of $3.3 million. (Those in the top 1 percent and top one-tenth of one percent did far better than this.)
Before you say “duh,” you should note that this is the first “recovery” on record that has shown this pattern. Although inequality has been widening for thirty years, the business cycle usually hid it when the economy was expanding, as in the late 1990s. The range of remedies many of us have been pushing for – a higher minimum wage, for example – are necessary but hardly sufficient. The entire economy must be reorganized in more fundamental ways. (I'll be suggesting some larger reforms in coming posts.) You agree, and, if so, what do you think are the biggest changes that are necessary?

News like this usually angers me. I'd be ranting to the 4.59 people who happen to read this post about how Democrats, especially New Mexico's Democrats, aren't even mentioning this stuff, are in fact aiding and abetting it.

But in a way it's kind of fascinating to see the America you grew up in disappear before your eyes. To see the political party you grew up in do nothing about it. To assist in its destruction.

It's a social phenomena as much as anything. We see what happens when people grow up like we did. Americans are too weak to stand up and fight for themselves, and there are good and logical reasons for that. We, who grew up when one person working in a family could support the family, buy a house and a car, maybe two cars, retire with dignity, with Social Security and maybe even a pension, when all the kids who wanted to could attend college and graduate debt free or at worst with a paltry loan you could pay off in a couple years, we who grew up when Americans' economic security was practically assured, I mean, all you had to do, really, was spend a day filling out applications, we, who grew up believing America was the best country and could do anything it wanted to, we don't know how to fix this. And we're afraid if we say anything it might be worse for us. And besides, we have our shopping and our TVs and our back yards, our opiates of mindless entertainment, and we've got our scapegoats, and we've got payments to make.

And the politicians, who do know what's wrong but are afraid to even admit that it's wrong, they're simply pathetic figures, to me, today. I read an account today in The Guardian written by a Douglas Hunter, a McDonald's employee in Chicago, a Black guy who's raising a little girl. Hunter, who skipped work Thursday to participate in a nationwide strike of fast food workers, with one straightforward glance could stop any one of our haughty politicians in their tracks.

He knows how to fix this. What you do is, you fix it. You do what everybody knows we have to do. You don't run around having your picture taken in front of pretty scenery or pretending to be moving around cases of food at a food bank. You don't take the money and the responsibility to represent the peoples' interests and them leave the people to rot. You sacrifice, like Douglas Hunter did. You forgo a day's pay, which is a lot to do without for someone like him. You don't go to work one day and you risk it all. You sacrifice. You risk not having your name on the door of your fancy capital hill office.

So it won't be us who fixes it. It will be the young people like Douglas Hunter, a Black guy in Chicago who doesn't have the encumbrances of fear we do and is driven to do what we cannot. It will be fixed by immigrants who didn't grow up in the country we did and don't know how to keep their mouths shut, and by the Occupy people who will figure out how to harness the power that they already know can be unleashed with a single breath. In a single moment that has the rich and the powerful and the politicians running to hide behind their security guards and cops.

It won't be us, but it will be someone. It always has been and always will be There has always been revolt and revolution and people rising up. It's our nature. They may be able to frighten us, especially we who have the reigns at the moment, with their around the clock surveillance and their cameras and their ability to scoop up every piece information there is, but there have always been new technologies. The rich and powerful had them first, the people had them soon afterward. The people figured out how  to get around them. It wasn't the rich and powerful, after all, who invented them. They just bought the first ones. We invented them. We invented what defeated them. It's pretty simple, really. There are more of us. They know that. They know, too, that they need us. And every time, we figure out that we don't need them.

Israel Demolishes A Dairy

Israel on Thursday demolished a Palestinian dairy in Hebron in the West Bank that had supported two orphanages. The dairy had been in operation for 24 years and was demolished for no apparent reason.

Palestinian orphans - ISM photo
This story isn't just depressing but demonstrates something many US supporters of Israel don't seem to be aware of.

This isn't Gaza, this is the West Bank. The West Bank basically is the part of Palestine Israel didn't take (they took more than half) when Israel was founded in 1948.

At least it's the small part of the West Bank the Palestinians still have, that Israel hasn't confiscated for settlements. Palestinians have less than 10 percent of historic Palestine. What people don't seem to realize is that this remaining small part of Palestine is militarily occupied by Israel. Israel determines what Palestinians can and can't do there, where they can and can't go. There are Israeli military checkpoints everywhere. It takes hours to get from one village to the next, or from your house to your olive orchard or grazing land or job, hours standing in line, waiting to be searched and often being humiliated by Israelis.

Former dairy - Youth Against Settlements photo
If you're a Palestinian and want to build something you need a permit from Israel, but Israel doesn't issue permits to Palestinians. If you build anyway, as Palestinians do, Israel will eventually demolish your house, barn or factory.

So there was a dairy in the West Bank that supported two orphanages and Israel just demolished it. They didn't like it. The same as they didn't like the 27,000 Palestinian homes and businesses they've demolished since the occupation began in 1967.

Things like this happen every day, every week. Just a few days before the dairy demolition, Monday, Israel confiscated 400 hectares (1.5 square miles) of Palestinian land for more settlement building. A link on the right hand side of this page leads to weekly reports that list the dozens of home demonlishions, arrests, killings of Palestinians, and home incursions, where a whole family is ordered out of their house in the middle of the night and stands outdoors in their night clothes while Israelis ransack the house, that Israel carries out in occupied Palestine every week, every month, every year.

The US has been Israel's chief enabler. The US arms the Israelis and runs interference at the UN for them and supplies a lot of the propaganda for Israel, such as the narrative that there is a "peace process".

Israel has confiscated most of the Palestinian land it has stolen when "peace process" negotiations were underway. Israel, which for publicity reasons has engaged in talks with the Palestinians for 30 years, always demands that the Palestinians ensure Israel's security. This is the only case in history where the occupying force demands that an occupied people assure its security.

But of course Israel doesn't want peace with the Palestinians. They want the rest of that land. They want the Palestinians gone. That's where the periodic slaughters in Gaza come in.

What US citizens hear on US television, of course, is that the Palestinians have set off another bomb or fired off another rocket. You can argue about whether that's the best way to try to get your land back or to resist the continuing theft of your land, but you can't call just call it terrorism and not tell the rest of the story, what Israel has done to the Palestinians.

Just Peace Mideast graphic

(Note: Another account of the dairy demolition is in the online magazine +972, which is run by young Israelis. +972 is an interesting publication. It provides credible and honest accounts of Israeli atrocities but its viewpoint is that of Liberal Zionism, which has dwindled to represent a small fraction of the Israeli population. Israel as a whole has become radically conservative and wants the Palestinians erased. Liberal Zionism holds out hope that Israel can be saved from itself, and for a "two state solution.")

(And here's a piece in the Economist about the 400 hectare/1,000 acre land theft. It goes into how Israel has become more conservative and how this plays into its treatment of Palestinians. And one by Robert Fisk in The Independent.)

(Yet another note: The demolition stories don't stop coming. An article in Ma'an about various demolitions Wednesday in Gaza - the coastal strip of land Israel just demolished.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Quality Of Life In A Socialist And A Capitalist Country

United Nations statistics on child welfare and longevity in Cuba and the USA, for the last year available, 2012, show what many people have known for a long time, that by many measures Capitalism isn't really delivering the goods to most of the population any more. Despite the crippling commercial, economic and financial embargo the US has imposed on Cuba since Oct. 19, 1960, which it has strong-armed many of its allies into honoring, Cuba beats the US on quite a few quality of life measures.

The position of the US on many quality of life issues has declined steadily since Reaganomics took hold in the 1980s. We now don't use the term Reaganomics and instead talk of austerity budgets, budget crises, government shutdowns, debt, but it's all the same thing. It's the notion that government social programs must be reduced in size, taxes must be all but eliminated for corporations and the rich, and the wonderful free market will lift all boats.

Our news media used to trumpet statistics showing that the US ranked at the top of many statistical charts. You no longer hear those statistics mentioned. Because the rich and corporations don't pay but a fraction of what they used to in taxes, government, government services, and education at all levels, are always being talked about as if they are having a funding crises.

Meanwhile, as corporate profits and the US stock markets keep setting record highs, and the embargo of Cuba continues, more American children are dying than Cuban children are, and US citizens are living shorter lives than the citizens of Cuba.

I've cut and pasted charts from the UN's Cuban and United States statistical summary web pages so you can see them side by side. You can also go to the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) home page and get this set of stats for any country.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inspections And How To Avoid Them

New Mexico should be one of the safest states states to drive in as far as accidents involving semi trucks, since it's the sixth highest state in number of inspections of commercial vehicles and drivers.

Rigdig, a company something like Carfax for trucks, assembled some US Department of Transportation data and says New Mexico conducts  eight inspections per lane mile (lane mile = they count up the miles in all the lanes, so I-25, I-40, US 550, etc., which have two lanes on each side, account for double the lane miles, as if there are two highways going side by side. I don't know why they'd give inspection data in this form. In searching the web for the explanation for lane miles it seems they are used mainly by highway engineers.)

The following chart gives some indication of what they are actually looking for when they inspect a truck and its driver in New Mexico. It's based on what tickets are actually written. (Number 2, "Hours," is drivers hours of service = log book.)

"Speeding" must be when they decide to inspect you when they stop you for speeding. I've seen state DOT officers inspecting trucks on the sides of interstates and service roads in Albuquerque, and I was inspected once at the foot of Tijeras Canyon. The officer didn't give me any tickets but told me to clean out my truck. There was a lot of stuff piled up on the passenger's side floor that he said restricted my sight out the little window in the passenger's side door, which many trucks have and are supposed to help eliminate your passenger-side blind spot, although I don't think they really do, at least I've never thought to take my eyes off the road or off my mirrors and look through that little window.

Incidentally, I've noticed something dangerous about street lights and blind spots. On many expressways throughout the country now, which I-40 and I-25 in the metro Albuquerque qualify as and are designed like, in some stretches there's one big row of very bright street lights going down the median, but none on the sides. It's getting darker in the morning now when I come back from Holbrook and I've noticed that those lights create a big dark shadow on the passenger's side of a semi.

If a car is in that shadow, and also in your blind spot - i.e., it's beside you and too far forward to pick up in your passenger side rear view mirror, but not far enough ahead to be seen over the side of your hood - the car is invisible. After I come down Nine Mile hill and pass the Coors exit, as I'm approaching the Rio Grande, I move two lanes to my right to be in the lane for I-25 north, and those lane changes bother me more and more every morning. There is often traffic speeding off Coors onto I-40 going into town and it doesn't take one long for someone to get into that blind spot.

There's a way of changing lanes that helps, that I learned from a safety director at a big company who was a retired state cop. He taught you to put on your signal, move a little into the lane, just your tires, wait a bit, then gradually move the rest of the way, which gives car drivers a chance to get out of the way. That's fine in most cases, except there are some very aggressive drivers, and late for work in the morning drivers, who will take any open space that's there, no matter if your turn signal is on, no matter if you're already partly occupying the space, no matter if your vehicle outweighs theirs 10 to 1.


If you look at New Mexico on that map above, the little car on New Mexico means 60 percent or more of the inspections are "roadside," meaning a team has gone out and set up an inspection site somewhere.

Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe you may have noticed a semi permanent site for doing this after you come up the big hill from San Felipe.

Some states have separate department of transportation police. In many states, as in New Mexico, a division of the state police is in charge of commercial motor vehicle enforcement. They run the weigh stations, where inspections are usually done, and for roadside inspections, they have a little trailer they pull around, with portable scales that they can haul out have you drive on one axle at a time.

Usually they just cordon off a part of a rest area parking lot and put a sign out on the freeway directing trucks to pull into the rest area, where an officer is waiting and either sends you back out to the expressway or directs you to "pull over there" and get an inspection.

I've been inspected at the rest area on the west bound side of I-40 just east of Moriarty, as you come down into the beautiful Estancia Valley from the hills. I was the last inspection of the day, one of the officers said. He chock-blocked my wheels and had me sit in the cab and work the lights and horn and brakes while another officer went through my log book and permit book and another one rolled under the truck on a creeper. This is all pretty standard and takes only 15 or 20 minutes, less if it's the last inspection of the day.

The officer on the creeper, a young woman, rolled out from under the truck and with a smile on her face announced that she had found a "cracked brake shoe." The officer in charge wrote me what they call a "fixit ticket," which means I wasn't put "out of service" but could proceed to the nearest truck stop and get the defect fixed. There's even a place on the ticket for the diesel mechanic to sign off on the repair. (If you are put out of service you have to call someone to come out there and fix whatever it is. A measurable portion of my life has been spent waiting for whoever it was to get there.)

I'd never heard of a cracked brake shoe. I proceeded to the Rip Griffins in Moriarty (now a TA) and since I was driving for a big company out of Tulsa had to call them and get the repairs authorized. The old mechanic working the road repair desk hadn't heard of a cracked brake shoe, either, nor had the mechanic at Rip Griffins, but he looked over my truck and finding no brake shoes with any cracks in them shook his head and signed off on the ticket that he couldn't find nothing to fix.

I've looked at many brake shoes since then and sometimes wondered if the young inspector hadn't been looking at that gap where the two brake shoes on each wheel almost meet and thought it was big crack. It doesn't sound all that plausible but it's the only explanation I've come up with.


New Mexico is one of a few states where the weigh stations never close; the big ones, that is, at the states lines on I-10, I-40 and I-25. Smaller ones, like at Shiprock, close at night but the big ones are even open Christmas Day. Most trucking companies, and more and more owner operators, have some variation of a system whereby, as you approach a weigh station, about a mile before you get there, a transponder in your truck communicates with a transponder hanging over the interstate on a big arm, and if your company has a pretty good safety rating -- which is based on your past inspections, tickets and accidents -- you're signaled to bypass the weigh station. They do it with computers.

A company called PrePass instigated this and has most of the country covered. They have agreements with the various states, including New Mexico's, to install the highway transponders and hook into their computer systems. PrePass is a wonderful thing. Most PrePass sites are in conjunction with weigh-in-motion scales embedded in the roadway, and when your weight is OK and it decides you're safe enough and you get that green light, a heavy load is lifted from your shoulders. Mine anyway. Most truck drivers I'm sure.
PrePass was the only bypass system for the first 20 years of it but now competitors are getting in on it by using your cell phone as the transponder. Somehow cellularly they communicate with the state or the federal computers and can give you the bypass signal in a few seconds. Here's what's on the iPhone "app" page for one of them, Drivewyze.

Apparently the image on the right hand side is the "ready" state and on the left is what you get when you get the bypas. Not shown is the screen that has the red light and says 'Pull into the weigh station and hope for the best.'

Since I went into business for myself I haven't had PrePass. I tried to call them a week or so ago while I was getting loaded over on Chappell Street (or Chappel Street depending on which street sign you're looking at) but they were already closed. I don't start work until 6 p.m.

I just now downloaded the Drivewyze app and am ready to try the trial version, which simply alerts you that you're approaching a weigh station. I'll see if that works out at the Gallup weigh station, which I have to pull through every night on my way back from Holbrook. To get the full bypass feature I'll have to buy a Drivewyze subscription at $15.75 per vehicle per month, according an article about it in Overdrive.

I don't know if I'd even get a bypass signal. Being a new company, around 18 months now, I just this summer had my "new entrant" safety audit, and haven't yet been issued an official safety rating.

I have to go through the weigh station at Gallup every night as I come back from Holbrook, and it would be nice to bypass it. It's costs me about five minutes, and I do a time sensitive run (have to be back before 6 a.m.,) so the five minutes is five minutes I have to make up, i.e., it wastes fuel, and it's nerve wracking to pull into any weigh station. I can't think of any good thing that has ever happened at one.

The last time I was inspected at Gallup in April the officer told me their computer flags me for an inspection every six months, so at least I know that. Still, as you approach the booth, where the officer sits staring at his multiple weight and nuclear materials and who knows what readouts and at his two computer screens, you just don't know if he's going to wave you on by or turn and slide open his window and tell you to pull around in back and take all your paperwork inside. Somewhere between Holbrook and Gallup a light could have burned out, an inside trailer tire could have gone flat, a mud slap fallen off, an air line might have started leaking and making that little hissing sound you can't hear but only when you slow down, you just never know.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gaza - The Elders Speak

A Concise and coherent explanation for the Gaza Massacre and for Israel's earlier rampage in the West Bank was published today in The Guardian. It's been stated before. I wrote about it July 23. Now Jimmy Carter, former US president, and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, explain what really happened to precipitate these two horrendous events.

Namely, the two main Palestinians factions, Hamas and Fatah (the PLO), had reconciled. Israel could not accept that - they need Palestinians to be divided - so they slaughtered almost 2,000 Gazans and went on the earlier rampage of murder, mass destruction and mass incarceration in the West Bank, which, by the way, was the reason Hamas began firing rockets into Israel. That, and the fact that Israel had been firing rockets into Gaza, which I also wrote about July 23.

Carter and Robinson also lay out the solution. The UN needs to investigate, the US and other powerful Western countries have to back the UN, the blockade of Gaza has to be lifted, and Hamas has to be recognized as a legitimate political force that expresses the legitimate political will of a large number of Palestinians.

Carter and Robinson also correct the endlessly repeated factual error that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Note: Carter and Robinson belong to a group of elder statesmen who call themselves The Elders.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Including America

There have been massacres like this in Gaza in 2003, 2009, and 2012, and after each of these a ceasefire was declared and terms agreed to. In each case Israel violated the terms of the ceasefire by assassinating Palestinians with rockets fired into Gaza. Also in each case, the blockade of Gaza by Israel continued in violation of the terms. Food and medicine and building suppplies with which to rebuild the damage were kept out and produce and manufactured goods were not allowed to be exported. Israel controls Gaza's borders.

In each case, American media says nothing about Israeli rockets being fired into Gaza. It's likely most people you see on TV don't know, but the Israelis know, and the US government knows.

Both houses of the US congress, including all of New Mexico's delegation - Martin Heinrich, Tom Udall, Michelle Grisham, Ben Lujan and Steve Pearce - have voted in approval of the ongoing slaughter in Gaza, and to send Israel more weapons and ammunition, which Israel is now using to step up the rate of slaughter and to bomb hospitals in Gaza (four) UN shelters where displaced Palestinian families are hiding (five) and schools.

Are our congress members ignorant? Or are they just telling us that their fancy titles are more important to them than Palestinian lives?

Please take a look at the following chart, which records Israeli and Palestinian deaths per day since January 1, 2014 - Israelis are blue figures, Palestinians red - recalling that the ongoing genocide in Gaza that Israel and the media like to refer to as Operation Protective Edge only started on July 8, and then tell me who started it.


Monday, July 28, 2014

China In Latin America

In the previous post, in the context of the declining influence of the United States in Latin America as more countries there break free of the traditional US dominance and experiment with Leftist economic models, I mentioned China's growing role in Latin America.

In 2010, China loaned more money to Latin American countries than the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the US Export-Import Bank combined, and it's loans there have totaled US$100 billion since 2005. It is fast approaching the US as the region's largest trading partner and its trade with Chile, Peru, and Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, exceeds that of the US, while it has become the second largest trading partner with Mexico after the US(1).

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro last week signed new deals for "development projects in energy, mining, industry, technology, communications, transport, housing and culture" worth US $18 billion.(2)

1 China in Latin America

2 Venezuela Receives US$18 Billion of Chinese Financing, Signs 38 Accords


Where Xi leads, Abe follows? China, Japan compete in Latin America

Latin America has power to reshape relations with China - but will it use it?