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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Che Lays Rubber: Cuba's Symbolic Importance

Wednesday's announcement that Cuba and the US will re-establish diplomatic relations has sparked many articles, Left and Right, by people who are interested in Cuba, many of them invoking victory or pronouncing defeat for Cuba or the US, with both opinions coming from both sides.

The confusion comes from no one knowing yet what the extent of US-Cuba interatction will be, or whether Cuba will follow the route of China or the former USSR Republics in embracing Capitalism: i.e. whether Wednesday's astounding news means the end of Cuban Socialism or guarantees its future, and by extension whether it somehow leads to the ultimate the death or continued existence of Socialism itself.

The volume of articles, however, is an indication of the great symbolic importance of Cuba and it's revolutionary leaders Fidel and Raul Castro and Che Guevara.

For the Left, of course, Cuba has long been a symbol of hope that a way would be found to make the world a more fair and equal place. The fact that Cuba has survived is a symbol of resistance and endurance and perseverance against the might of Capitalism, and a symbol that despite Capitalism's power it cannot always control either reality or the way it's pictured in the popular imagination.

The Right has also long used Cuba, and reports of suffering by Cubans and the trickle of Cuban refugees, as symbols of Capitalism's rightness and of "American exceptionalism." In the strange world conservative Americans inhabit where they are exceptional god sanctioned but constantly persecuted israelites, Cuba and its leaders have been used symbolically as foils by an endless stream of bellicose predictors of the Cuban Revolution's always-eminent demise, such as Jesse Helms, or Cuban Republicans in Florida, whose occasional ecstatic celebrations of the believed death of Fidel and whose hope for revenge against him and the people of Cuba for kicking their whore mongering plantation owning ancestors out of Cuba might now never be realized, at least not in the symbolic way they had imagined, as symbols of the defeat of a hated enemy.

One thing President Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba might do is to remove much of Cuba's symbolic importance for both sides. But I'd add that new symbols will always be found -- see Hugo Chavez -- and as in the case of Russia, old foils, even if they adopt Capitalism, can be recycled.

Che

Lebanese journalist Sami Kleib has an interesting article in Al Akhbar in which he explains through a visit he made to the Che Guevara memorial in Santa Clara, Cuba why the Cuban people have won. It's titled Che Guervara is laughing for Cuba has triumphed.

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the transformation of the Russia and the Soviet Republics into outposts of Capitalism under Western lapdog Boris Yeltsin removed or at least greatly altered the symbolism of the USSR as an alternative and a  counterweight to US Capitalist Imperialism, and China's adoption of the capitalist economic model has done the same thing in the case of Chairman Mao.

But the popularity of "Che" as a he is often called, and as he is known to Cubans, has always remained steady and even increased in recent years, with several movies about him being produced in the last decade and with his picture forever being used in posters and Facebook memes.

I could never quite understand what I consider the romanticization of Che and have not posted pictures of him or written about him, but Cuba and especially Fidel Castro hold great symbolic importance for me and I've often written about Cuba and posted pictures of Fidel.

Cuba under Raul Castro has been moving away from the Stalinist model, and by that I mean simply state control of the economy, to something more resembling a mixed economy on the model of Sweden and other Social Democratic countries. In his announcement to the Cuban people about the new relationship with the US, Raul Castro emphasizes in each of his first five sentences that Cuba will not veer from its principles or its path and that Socialism and the ideals of the Revolution will continue.

But Fidel and Raul will be gone someday and interaction with US Capitalism might take on a life of its own.

It's up to the Cuban people, to whom the odious US blockade has been an important symbol of what's wrong with Capitalism and that helped them remain united and accept their material deprivations.

Will fantasies of material abundance be enough to get Cubans to put up with Capitalism's demands that all the gains of the Revolution go by the wayside; the free universal education through college that makes almost all Cubans scholars, the free universal health care, the best medical system in the world that has eradicated disease in much of the developing world and is leading the battle against Ebola while the US sends troops to Africa?

Unfortunately, the arc of experiments in Socialism like Cuba's usually follow the arc of the leader who pushed them through and made them work. Chavez in Venezuela,  Allende in Chile, Lenin in Russia. Not enough of the working class ever incorporates the leader's vision into their psyches. When the charismatic leader is gone and words of his speeches fade away they are more interested in the daily struggle for existence and consumed by the social forces around them.

If you drive through certain old neighborhoods in Albuquerque such as are spread up and down the South Valley you'll see big tracts of small, modest stucco frame houses, and then here and there in the middle of them you'll see a big ostentatious estate with a multiple car garage. Someone has built their dream house with tall fancy gates and curving driveways among the little places where people park in their front yard.

I'm not a native New Mexican but it seems to me that part of the reason at least must be that what matters most to most people is how they see themselves in relation to those they are most familiar with, their peers, their neighbors, the people they grew up with and go to church with.

We live in the immediate world of the ego, which doesn't have a memory or a vision of the future. It's like when someone one ups you by telling a lie that they know will be found out later. What matters to the ego is winning the conversation. It's that which satisfies the ego that drives us, and the ego is amoral, doesn't consider right and wrong, or the future.

The struggle is over human nature. So far, Capitalism works because it's a system that reflects who we are and reproduces us as we are.

Che may be laughing, but not, I fear, for long.

Go Che!


Che Guevara in 1958. AFP/Getty Images/Antonio Nunez Jimenez copied rom Al-Akhbar



Note: Al Akhbar is a "Progressive," Left leaning news magazine published in Beruit that has a strong anti Zionism stance and has come to be an important publication in the Middle East. Prominent Lebanese professors Sharmine Narwani of Oxford and As'ad AbuKhalil (the Angry Arab blog) of UC-Stanislaus write columns for it. It now has an English language web site.



Note: I came across a video of a US Senate session from Oct 12, 1995 in which New Mexico's former Democratic senator Jeff Bingamon is arguing for a new policy on Cuba, using logic that's reflected in President Obama's rationale for normalizing relations with Cuba. There's also a transcript of the session, entirely in capital letters:






03:16:42
Jeff Bingaman
TIME THAT WILL BE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT WE EXPERIENCED DURING THE COLD WAR. CHILDREN STUDYING HISTORY WILL LOOK IN THEIR TAX -- TEXTBOOKS AND SEE CLEARLY THE DEMARCATION BETWEEN THAT PERIOD OF THE COLD WAR AND WHAT WE ARE NOW BEGINNING TO EXPERIENCE. THEY' LL SEE THE BREAKING POINT WHEN THE BERLIN WALL FELL, THE SOVIET UNION COLLAPSED, WHEN THE ECONOMIC -- WHEN ECONOMIC STRENGTH RATHER THAN MILITARY MIGHT BEGAN TO DEFINE A COUNTRY' S REAL POSITION IN THE WORLD. IT SEEMS THAT JUST ABOUT EVERYONE KNOWS THAT HISTORY IS DRAGGING OUR COUNTRY FORWARD THAT WE NEED TO ADJUST TO NEW CIRCUMSTANCES, AND EVERYONE SEEMS TO KNOW THIS, BUT THOSE WHO ARE IN FACT MAKING DECISIONS IN THIS AREA THAT THIS BILL DEALS WITH. THE CUBAN LIBERTY AND DEMOCRACY DEMOCRATIC SOLIDARITY ACT -- OR THE HELMS- BURTON BILL, SENDS US NOT FORWARD INTO THIS NEW ERA BUT, RATHER, BACK ABOUT 30 YEARS. OUR NATION' S FOREIGN POLICY IS RIFE WITH AKNACK CRONISMS AND I CANNOT PERSONALLY BE SUPPORTIVE OF HELPING TO REINFORCE AND TO ENTRENCH OUR FOREIGN POLICY IN THESE OUTMODED AND OUTDATED POLICIES. THE ISSUE WE ARE DISCUSSING TODAY IS NOT WHETHER THE UNITED STATES SUPPORTS PEACEFUL TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY IN CUBA. EVERYBODY HERE WANTS TO SEE THAT OCCUR. THAT GOAL IS NOT IN QUESTION. THE MEANS OF GETING THERE IS WHAT IS IN QUESTION. I FEEL THAT THE PROVISIONS OF THE HELMS- BURTON BILL WILL STALL, RATHER THAN HELP, OUR EFFORTS TO GET TO A DEMOCRATIC REGIME IN CUBA. ABOUT A WEEK AGO, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES ANNOUNCED A PLAN THAT RECEIVED MUCH BIPARTISAN PRAISE. THE PRESIDENT PROMISED TO MORE VIGOROUSLY ENFORCE UNLICENSED TRAVEL TO CUBA, TO BROADEN SUPPORT FOR CULTURAL, INTELLECTUAL, AND EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE IN A WAY THAT THE PEOPLE OF CUBA COULD ENCOUNTER MORE FREQUENTLY AND BROADLY THE BENEFITS OF DEMOCRACY THAT ARE AT WORK HERE IN THE UNITED STATES. THE PRESIDENT STATED THAT HE WOULD LICENSE NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS TO OPERATE IN CUBA, TO PROVIDE INFORMATION, TO PROVIDE ON A RELIEF BASIS, WHEN NEEDED, TO PROVIDE THE NECESSARY INFRASTRUCTURE TO HELP GUIDE CUBA AND ITS PEOPLE TOWARD DEMOCRACY IN THE FUTURE. THE PRESIDENT ALSO NOTED THAT CUBAN- AMERICANS WITH RELATIVES STILL IN AMERICA WILL BE PERMITTED TO VISIT CUBA TO TEND TO FAMILY CRISES, AND THAT THESE AUTOMATIC, ONE- TIME- PER- YEAR LICENSES TO VISIT WOULD NOT BE STYMIED BY THE CURRENT DELAYS AND MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS THAT FRUSTRATE AMERICAN CITIZENS FROM GETTING TO CUBA WHEN FAMILY EMERGENCIES EXIST. THE PRESIDENT HAS ALSO -- THE PRESIDENT IS ALSO INSTRUCTING THAT WESTERN UNION BE LICENSEED TO HANDLE WIRE TRANSFERS OF FUNDS TO FAMILIES IN NEED ON THAT ISLAND. BUT DO ANY OF THESE ACTIONS BY THE PRESIDENT -- OR PROPOSED ACTIONS -- STRENGTHEN CASTRO' S HAND? IN MY VIEW, THEY DOFMBITS WHAT THESE PROVISIONS DO IS TO HELP BOND THE PEOPLE OF CUBA TO THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. FOR 354 YEARS WE' VE TRIED TO BRING IF I -- FOR 35 YEARS WE' VE TRIED TO BRING FIDEL CASTRO DOWN WITH HEAVYHANDED TACTICS. ONE MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT THAT DURING SUCH A LONG PERIOD OF TIME, WE MIGHT HAVE FIGURED OUT THAT OUR POLICY HAS NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL. WE NEED A NEW DIRECTION. IT MUST INVOLVE BUILDING BRIDGES WITH THE CUBAN PEOPLE. THEY HAVE, IN THEM, THE BEGINNING OF A POLICY THAT WILL BRING DEMOCRACY TO CUBA. AND THIS BILL DOES NOT HELP IN THAT PROCESS. I DO THINK THAT THE PRESIDENT' S PLAN IS AN IMPORTANT STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. THE HELMS- BUFMT RTON LEGISLATION, WHICH WE' RE NOW DEALING WITH ON THE SENATE FLOOR, WOULD INJURE AND ALIENATE ORDINARY CUBANS IT WOULD WEAKEN CUBA' S CIVIL SOCIETY IT WOULD RETARD THE FLEDGLING EFFORTS TO MOVE TOWARD DEMOCRATIZATION IN THAT COUNTRY, AND THE UNPRECEDENTED EFFORT TO IMPOSE U. S. POLICIES ON OTHER COUNTRIES WOULD MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR THE U. S. GOVERNMENT TO COOPERATE WITH ITS ALLIES IN FASHIONING A JOINT APPROACH TOWARD CUBA. WE CAN NOT ENDLESSLY BULLY OUR ALLIES AROUND THE WORLD ON ISSUES RELATEED TO TRADE, EXCEPT WHEN THE MOST SEVERE NATIONAL INTERESTS OF OUR NATION ARE AT STAKE. WE' VE HAD 34 YEARS OF STALEMATE WITH REGARD TO CUBA. AND FINALLY THINGS SEEM TO BE INDICATING SOME TRANSITION IS OCCURRING. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO DO BATTLE WITH EUROPE AND WITH ASIA OVER OUR RELATIONS WITH CUBA. NOW IS THE TIME TO DEVELOP STRATEGIES TO HELP THIS NATION AS IT DOES MOVE INTO A NEW ORDER. MR. PRESIDENT, I MUST ALSO MENTION THE SERIOUS CONCERN I HAVE WITH TITLE 3 OF THE BILL, WHICH CREATES THE RIGHT FOR U. S. PERSONS WHO ARE NOT -- WHO WERE NOT U. S. CITIZENS AT THE TIME OF PROPERTY EXPROPRIATION TO SUE IN U. S. FEDERAL COURTS PERSONS WHO TRAFFIC IN U. S. PROPERTIES IN CUBA. THIS PROVISION WILL PROVIDE AN UNFUNDED MANDATE ON OUR FEDERAL COURTS. IT WILL LEAD TO A FLOOD OF NEW LAWSUITS, COSTING U. S. TAXPAYERS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN COURT EXPENSES. FURTHERMORE, THE $ 50, 000 THRESHOLD THAT THIS BILL CONTEMPLATES IN SUCH CASES MEANS THAT WE ARE PRIMARILY ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF RELATIVELY WEALTHY CUBANS AND NEGLECTING THOSE WHO WERE VICTIMIZED BUT IN FACT WERE LESS WEALTHY. IF WE ARE TO MAKE DECISIONS OF THIS SORT, WE SHOULD RESPOND TO THE CRIMES COMMITTED AND NOT TO THE PARTICULAR WEALTH OF THE INDIVIDUALS WHO WERE HARMED. NEVERTHELESS, TO HANDLE THIS MATTER IN AMERICAN COURTS WOULD CERTAINLY IMPEDE CURRENT' S EFFORTS TO RESOLVE OUTSTANDING PROPERTY CLAIMS DISPUTES. IT WOULD IMPEDE ECONOMIC REFORMESTS BY A TRANSITION GOVERNMENT IN CUBA, AND IT WOULD OVERBURDEN OUR ALREADY- OVERBURDENED FEDERAL COURTS. IN THE INTERAMERICAN DIALOGUE, IT WAS RECENTLY REPORTED THAT -- USED ONLY AS AN INSTRUMENT OF PRERX THE EMBARGO THAT WE CREANTSLY HAVE -- OF PRESSURE, THE EMBARGO THAT WE CURRENTLY HAVE AGAINST CUBA MAY HAVE THE OPPOSITE RESULT OF STIFFENING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE, CONSTRUCTIVE USE OF THE EMBARGO REQUIRES THAT THE UNITED STATES OPEN AN ACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT TO FOSTER CUBA' S DEMOCRATIZATION AND ENCOURAGE A RANGE OF POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REFORMS. IN CLOSING, MR. PRESIDENT, I' D LIKE TO ADD ONE LAST CAUTION, AS OTHERS HAVE STATED HERE ON THE FLOOR WITH REGARD TO THIS LEGISLATION: THIS BILL WAS NOT REPORTED OUT OF THE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE. IT DID NOT GO THROUGH A MARKUP. THIS BILL IS HANDLING MATTERS THAT ARE VERY CONSEQUENCE CONVENTION FOR OUR RELATIONS WITH THAT NATION, AND IN SUCH CONSEQUENCE CONVENTION MATTERS WE CLEARLY NEED TO SCRUTINIZE WHAT WE' RE DOING, ACT WITH CAUTION, AND I BELIEVE WE NEED TO FOLLOW THE NORMAL PRACTICE WHICH EXISTS HERE IN THE SENATE AND HAS FOR MANY YEARS, AND THAT IS TO ALLOW COMMITTEES TO WORK ON LEGISLATION, ALLOW COMMITTEES TO REVISE LEGISLATION BEFORE THAT LEGISLATION IS BROUGHT TO THE FULL SENATE FOR PASSAGE OR DEFEAT. I URGE MY COLLEAGUES NOT TO SUPPORT THIS BILL AS IT NOW STANDS. I THANK THE CHAIR, AND I YIELD THE FLOOR. THE PRESIDING OFFICER: THE CHAIR RECOGNIZES THE SENATOR FROM CONNECTICUT. MR. DODD: MR. PRESIDENT, BEFORE HE DEPARTS THE FLOOR, LET ME COMMEND OUR COLLEAGUE FROM NEW MEXICO FOR A VERY







Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuba Policy Change "A Momentous Occasion"

"It shows respect for the Cuban people by acting on the premise that Cubans themselves know what is in their best interest."

Louis A Perez Jr,  J. Carlyle Sitterson professor of history and the director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has a nice take on the Cuba-US diplomatic opening published at the CNN web site. Not only is it an admission that US policy toward Cuba since 1960 of trying to starve the people of Cuba into overthrowing their leaders is a failure, Perez writes, not only is it an admission that Cubans have the right to try Socialism if they want to, it might signal a reversal of the long held US belief that it has a right to dictate to Latin America.

"To speak to Cuba is to speak to Latin America," Perez writes.

Hopefully. The US is still actively trying to overthrow the Socialist government of Venezuela, having spent more than $100 million over the past 12 years in USAID funding alone on building opposition groups representing Venezuela's old oligarchy who desperately want a return to the old US plantation Capitalism days, as well as CIA and other covert funding.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Breaking: La Nueva América Latina - Last of Cuban Five Released. US-Cuba Normalization To Follow?

Updated

Defenders of Cuban Socialism and Latin Americaphiles this morning are anxiously scanning news reports for solid details on the stunning news that Cuba's release of US spy Alan Gross today was part of a deal between the US and Cuba that includes talks on full diplomatic relations and the release of the final three of the "Cuban Five" held in US prisons.

The "Cuban Five" are five Cubans who were arrested as spies in the US. The Cuban government denies they were spies and says they were in the US gathering information on Miami anti-Castro groups. The Cuban Five's release has been called for worldwide. Two had already served their sentences and been released. 

The news is sure to infuriate rabidly anti-Castro Cuban Americans in Miami, often referred to as the Miami mafia, who are descended of the plantation owners and whore mongers who were exiled from Cuba after the 1959 revolution. They have been involved in everything from the Bay of Pigs fiasco to spying on Cuba in their private airplanes to originating a host of economic sabotage plots against Cuba, but their political strength, which was once critical in Florida electoral calculations, is seen as waning as younger generations of Cuban Americans favor closer ties with Cuba.
 
Venezuelan-American attorney and Socialist activist Eva Golinger has tweeted that "Latin American unity" is behind the developments because it has caused the US to change course. In this she is referring to things like the Latin American trade bloc MERCOSUR, which just opened its annual conference and is admitting more members all the time, and UNASEUR, a Latin-America-only organization that has made the US-dominated Organization of American States irrelevant. Both are projects initiated by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose election in 1999 was the first in a wave of Leftists being elected in Latin America.

With mention being made in AP cables of full diplomatic relations being established and a US Embassy opening in Havana, it's hard to imagine the 60-year old illegal US blockade of Cuba surviving much longer.

TeleSur has said it will televise a speech by Cuban President Raul Castro later this morning.


Note on USAID: In media accounts it is said Gross was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has nothing to do with development but is an arm of the State Department that works closely with the CIA and is used to funnel money to opposition groups in countries where the US is trying to overthrow the government, such as Venezuela, where the US has spent more than $100 in USAID money in the past 12 years in trying to overthrow that country's openly and fairly elected Socialist government and re-install a US-friendly oligarchy.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Fox News: Torture Could Have Stopped Australia Hostage Taker

Media matters has posted a clip where a Fox news host Elisabeth Hasselback keeps asserting that torture could have prevented the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia last night.

I wonder if torture could have stopped Fox News?

I wonder if torture could have prevented that guy from cutting me off this morning?

I wonder if torture can prevent Hillary Clinton from running for president?

I wonder if torture could have  stopped my ex wife from making that annoying giggling sound?

I wonder if torture could have stopped me from being annoyed by it?

I wonder if torture could have prevented my apartment from getting in a mess?

Dick Cheney.

Mayor Barry.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How They Voted

For what it's worth, here's how New Mexicans voted (House and Senate) on the CRomnibus spending bill that repeals the meager Dodd-Frank bill protections against Wall Street's massive thievery passed in the wake of the financial meltdown and lets Wall Street go at it again, betting on junk derivitaves and when the bets go bad we have to make up the losses. Look for this to embolden the low life gangs of dishonest CEOs Americans hold up as heroes.

Voting against: Michelle Grisham
                         Ben Lujan
                         Steve Pearce

Voting for: Martin Heinrich
                  Tom Udall


There will be no political cost either way to any New Mexico Democrat since New Mexicans don't pay much attention to what a candidate does but vote on the basis of how nice their smile is.





Saturday, December 13, 2014

Updates From Caracas And Tulsa

Many US ruling elites still consider Latin America to be "our back yard," the private plantation of US Capitalism, and try to crush any sign of independence in the region, even if the people simply want to be free from heavy handed US meddling (see Ecuador for a current example) and aren't trying to find a Socialist alternative to Capitalism, which isn't working out so well for most American any more and never did for any Latin Americans, save a few plantation owners, whore mongers and military dictators willing to sell out their countrymen for a few gringo greenbacks.

Venezuelan barrio (Posted on Flickr by "Smoky"
So it is that the US senate and house this week passed without objection, and President Obama is expected to sign, a sanctions bill against Venezuela, the stated rationale for which is purported violence committed by Venezuelan police and military forces against anti-government protestors earlier this year.

The bill's sponsors, Democrat Robert Menedez of NJ in the senate and Republican Ileana Ros-Leihtinen of FL in the house, in pushing the bill through in the last few days of the session, adopted the narrative of reports on the protests by mainstream media, which continually repeated that 43 people had died, but never reported that most died at the hands of protestors, and that any Venezuelan police or military personnel who committed abuses were arrested.

Neither did the media report nor did language in the bill reflect that the protestors represented the Venezuelan oligarchy, who for years have been trying to destabilize Venezuela's Socialist government, or that the protestors were receiving US government financing and coordination assistance, or that in the last 12 years the US government has spent more than $100 million on anti-government activity in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government has been under continual attack by the US and compliant Western media since Venezuela decided to try the route of Socialism under Hugo Chavez in 1999, including a coup attempt and various attempts to destroy the oil-dependent country's oil industry. The attack has spread now to global finance markets as panic is being spread about Venezuela's ability to make foreign debt payments and the Western media is piling on with articles predicting Venezuela's demise any day now because of falling oil prices.

For its part, Venezuela is only trying to find a way to do things that benefit the majority of its people and not just the one percent. It's attacked no one, it's invaded no one, it doesn't have drones flying around assassinating people without benefit of a trial, it's not blocking meaningful action on climate change, it's not backing murderous regimes all over the world and it's trying to lift peoples' living standards and not drive them into the basement, all of which the US is doing. It's only "crime" is that it threatens to provide an example that other countries might follow and it's doing it in the US Capitalism's "back yard." The Western media has been lustfully predicting Venezuela's collapse for years now, but from what I can gather it's not doing all that badly. There's universal health care there and the masses of its citizens, who now participate in government and decide how money gets spent in their communities through local councils,  are OK with the government, which seems to have enough in reserves to pay all of its bills.

So I condemn New Mexico's representatives and senators for allowing this bill to pass without their objection, and for once more failing to stand up for what is right simply because they can see no political benefit from it, as they do year after year with their support for Israel after it decides to slaughter a few thousand more Gazans or steal a few thousand more acres of Palestinian land, and to hell with the Palestinians and to hell with the people of Venezuela.

The people of Venezuela have the right to any governmental or economic model they choose, and they have chosen Socialism year after year in open and free elections as judged by international observer groups like the Carter Center. In not opposing and in supporting the US government's repeated efforts to overthrow Venezuela's government, senators Heinrich and Udall and representatives Grisham, Pearce and Lujan are committing immoral and deplorable acts of bald and disgusting self interest.


Tulsa Times

I left a comment at the Only In New Mexico blog yesterday in which I mentioned Arrow Trucking of Tulsa, a company I drove for for seven years that was driven into bankruptcy by its owner. It happened after I'd left the company and was remarkable partly because Arrow had come to an end a few days before Christmas, 2009, when the company's 2,500 or so drivers received messages telling them to leave their trucks and loads at the nearest Freightliner dealer. Daimler Benz, which owns Freightliner, having decided to call in its collateral of Freightliner tractors.

James D "Doug" Pielsticker (Tulsa World)
Lo and behold I opened up an email update this morning from a trucking industry publication that had the news that Arrow's former "owner", James D. Pielsticker, Doug, as we knew him, was indicted this week on 23 counts of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion relating to the bankruptcy of Arrow and containing some new details about how he'd committed it -- inflating invoices, keeping money deducted from employees' payrolls for Social Security and IRS, and so on.

When Arrow went under in 2009 the trucking industry media had reported about Doug Pielsticker's outlandish lifestyle -- a condo in Vale, driving to work in Bentleys and Porches, and that his wife had just bought him a Christmas present of an antique European racing motorcycle.

What's often forgotten, including by me, is that although Doug controlled Arrow, it was actually owned by his mother. It had been built into a mid-to-large sized trucking company by Doug's father before he died in a small plane crash. I've often wondered about her well being, but the Tulsa World makes it seem like Carol Piehlsticker Bump might have been in on the fraud; at the least she also was living way beyond the means of the income earned by the labor of people like me.

Apparently, according to the Tulsa World, the company's former CFO was also in on the fraud, but under Doug's orders, and as part of a plea bargain has been singing to the FBI, leading to Doug's indictment this week.

Walk Arounds and Antennas

I actually enjoyed my time at Arrow, as much as one can enjoy working for a large trucking company, where drivers are always treated like dogs. With Arrow I really saw the country for the first time, being in each of the lower 48 multiple times before I left. Until the last year or so that I was there, when the latest in a string of CEOs came in and tried to rescue the company by changing things, Arrow more often than not booked the nice, long runs, which are nice because you spend your time driving and not doing all the unpaid labor associated with loading and unloading and tying down and tarping. And you weren't driving into cities and looking for customers as often. It's just a lot better. If I got a load assignment of less than 1,000 miles I was mad, and I had many runs that were coast to coast, and that's truck driving, the coast to coast loads. One pickup, one delivery, around week of straight driving. You have to do 700 miles a day but in those days you could log those miles. It takes some getting used to but once you do it's just siting there and cruising, listening to the radio or podcasts or just thinking. Drive, fall asleep, wake up and drive.

It was still a big company of course and run like all of them are, with a forced dispatch system and with a hard divide between drivers and all those who worked at the terminals. At Arrow I was able to manage that aspect to a degree by learning how to avoid contact with the company. At the big companies your load assignments arrive in your truck via satellite communications and if you just keep delivering loads without any problems, and reply to any messages you get from the company in a way that satisfies them, you very seldom have to talk to anyone, including your dispatcher. I would sometimes forget his extension number.

Above all it was critical to avoid the Tulsa home terminal. Once you drove onto the Tulsa yard, an antenna on top of the office building picked up your truck's Qualcomm unit, your communication and GPS device. The computer knew you were there.

The only reason for being there, unless you wanted to be there, was if you were supposed to drop your load there, i.e., a loaded trailer. After you had dropped the trailer, in order to get your next load, you had to send in a form on your Qualcomm known of as an "empty call", saying you were empty and ready for your next load. The computer then put you on the "load board," the waiting list. Except that at the Tulsa terminal, as soon as you sent in your "empty call," instead of putting you on the load board, that little antenna would immediately send you a message telling you to go to the inspection bay, where a host of grease monkeys would swarm over your truck, find something wrong with it and tell you to go sign in at the shop.

At the shop there was always wait of one and often two days before they even looked at your truck, and then they would often tell you to take the truck to Freightliner or Kenworth or the Detroit or Cummins engine shops in Tulsa or whatever the case may be because you had to have any warranty work done first before Arrow's mechanics did their work. So after a couple days engaged in that process you returned to Arrow's shop and waited in line again; another day or two just waiting.

At that terminal there was no place to sleep and no place to eat. The nearest fast food places were a walk of two miles. The driver's lounge was a dark, dirty little room with a few dirty, ratty old recliner chairs that didn't recline and had stuffing falling out of them, and the TV was always blaring cop shows. There were showers in another building, that looked like they were never cleaned. There was mold growing on the floors.

To avoid all of this, and the rude treatment I received from almost everyone at the terminal, I developed a technique. I'd drop my load at the terminal, and without sending in my empty call leave the terminal, drive to the outskirts of Tulsa, and send in my empty call from there, thereby avoiding the reach of the little antenna. Often I'd then get sent a load assignment by the regular means.

Once I somehow didn't make it onto the load board and sat at the Flying J truck stop on the outskirts of Tulsa for two days before anyone realized what had happened, which was fine with me. Flying J had a nice restaurant and wifi in the parking lot. Then I received a frantic message from my dispatcher saying to come to the terminal, where I was given a load on the yard.

But usually, when I sent my empty call from the outskirts of Tulsa, they'd send me a load asignment for a load I had to pick up somewhere in Tulsa or in some other town in Oklahoma, and I was home free. The computer just thought I had delivered the load someplace other than the terminal and the people overseeing loads, like my dispatcher, didn't catch it.

But if they gave you a load that was on the Tulsa yard, you still had to go there and go through the humiliating "walk around" before they'd give you the load. The walk around consisted of visiting all the different departments -- logs, permits, safety, and one or two more that I can't remember -- to see if they had anything they wanted to see you about. Apparently because this was easier for them than sending you a message saying they wanted to see you. You were given a little form that you had to get initialed at each department. I remember repeated times of standing in front of desks while young women ignored me and buried their heads in their computer screens or looked around for someone to talk to and then chatted with their co-workers about what they'd seen on TV last night, before finally, silently, taking my little form and initialing it.

Such was the treatment a driver received at Arrow Trucking, and receives in one form or another at all those big companies, and I got pretty good at avoiding Tulsa. I learned how to make it so they'd let me get my truck worked on out on the road, at a truck stop; basically you just had planned breakdown.

I started there driving an old Feightliner and the starter on it went bad, but I stayed out there. I just left it  running, for a year. When I took time off in Moriarty every couple months I'd park it at the little truck stop on the east end and idle it up and leave it sit there running.

I'd stop on a slope once in awhile to shut it off to check the oil, then bump start it, i.e., roll down the hill with it in gear and let the clutch out. Once a fork truck driver in Colorado, at a place where you unloaded inside of a big building, made me shut it off, which I did after assurances that he'd push me with the fork truck to get it started, and once I was going into Canada and pulled up to the booth and the officer inside told me to shut my engine off. I said I couldn't. He gave me a sour look and a hard time with my customs paperwork, but finally let me go.

Those Arrow office workers, by the way, and the dispatchers, executives, mechanics, all of them who worked in the terminals, and who with rare exceptions thought of drivers as second class human beings, before Arrow went under had gone the last five weeks without being paid, and never said a word to any of the drivers, who they depended on, of course, to earn the company's revenue. When I start thinking about Arrow and the way I was treated there, I think of that, of them coming to work every day for weeks while their bills mounted up. I think of them being out of work after that and I don't feel sorry for them. I feel like justice was done.

On a certain level one can empathize with them. They all knew the company was in big trouble and probably saw their best option as hanging in there and hoping things turned around, so like loyal troopers, albeit with a self interest, they kept trudging to work every day. But they knew there'd be no turn around if drivers got wind of what was happening and started turning in their trucks and quitting, which many would have done, as it's very easy to get another of those kind of trucking jobs as long as you have a fairly decent driving record and work history.

The drivers, wherever they were in the country, were just stranded there. Word of it immediately began going out in the trucking industry, and offers came in from companies that said they'd hire any of the drivers, and companies told their drivers to give any Arrow driver who needed one a ride. It was kind of nice.

When I heard about Arrow I was standing in line at the Burger King inside the Amarillo TA truck stop. A husband and wife team from Arrow was in line behind me and told me what had happened. They had dropped off their truck, trailer and load at the Amarillo Freightliner and had rented a little rental truck. When you live in your semi you have with you quite a lot of clothes, gadgets like refrigerators, microwaves, laptops, tools, etc. They said they had called the company their load was destined for, which was not far away, and told them what happened, and they said the people were grateful to know and would come down and pick their stuff up themselves.

I was working by then for Swift Transportation, the biggest of the big trucking companies. I'd be with them two years before I got fed up with the dehumanizing treatment  there and quit, which was always how I left those big companies.

Swift occupies a special place among the big companies in terms of driver treatment, and a good example is how, when word got around about what had happened to the Arrow drivers, and all the other companies were offering them rides and jobs, Swift said nothing to us. Not until two days later, when all the Arrow drivers were likely already home, did we receive a group message that said it was OK to help out Arrow drivers "as appropriate," and it came in the middle of the night.

I remember it well. I was driving down I-35 in Kansas, headed for Kansas City. Swift has their Qualcomms set up so that you can't read a message until you stop the truck and put on the parking brake, so I had pulled into a rest area to read the message. It was night, as I say, and snowing heavily. I'd made fresh tire tracks coming into the rest area, where a few trucks were parked, their drivers staying out over the holiday as I usually did. It's peaceful out there over the holidays. The roads are pretty empty, and it's the only time it's easy to find a parking place at a truck stop.

It had been two days since I talked to the couple at the Burger King in Amarillo. They were probably home long ago. They'd seemed lighthearted about the whole thing. They were getting a lot of attention of course, something truckers don't get much of except in the negative sense. It was a big deal in the trucking world and they were celebrities. They said it had been expensive to rent the little rental truck, but they were on their way home for Christmas.

But as I sat there reading the message, I thought, What sick bastards would wait so long to tell us it was OK to pick up Arrow drivers, and then word the message like they did, so that the liability, if anything happened, was all on us? Probably Jerry Moyes, Swift's owner. His legal department might have advised him to do it like that, but he would have had the final say.

It was a pretty night though, with no tire tracks in the deepening snow, with the light refracted all through it while it fell, but I had to keep going and the roads were terrible, and before I put it in gear again I sat there a few more minutes, thinking about that message and what a sorry, fucked up world this is.





Further reading: I came across a discussion thread about Arrow someone had started a year before its demise. Threads like these often draw comments by drivers who have left companies and who list their complaints about them and this one's no exception. This thread didn't draw many comments however until the day before Arrow went under, December 21, 2009, as the story was starting to break.

The thread is still active and people have come across it since and left various comments, such as this one:


And this reply to a comment asking about Arrow's idle policy. Some companies, like Swift, have automatic shutoffs on their truck engines so that after five minutes you have no heat or air conditioning. Try getting some rest when it's zero degrees or 120 degrees in the sleeper berth.





I quickly found some pictures from the Arrow days. I took many in seven years but these were in the first folder that came up when I searched my backup hard drive for "Arrow". These were taken Sept, 2004.



That's the Freightliner that I left running for a year. That's a load of frame rails, long pieces of channel steel that would be welded into frames for Freightliners, either semis or "straight trucks" which used longer ones, and it looks like this load has both. When you ended up in Laredo you often got frame rails coming out of Mexico. They either went to a factory in North Carolina or one in Portland, which has since closed, I just read recently. This picture was taken near Shiprock, NM, on what was then US 666, now US 491, which is the way you'd get from Laredo to Portland. Lots of "back roads," but a pretty drive, especially up around Moab, Utah, and the last couple hundred miles down the Columbia River Gorge, as they call that river valley.

Shiprock, New Mexico




"tarping.Laredo yard"

Flat bed loads have to first be fastened down, with heavy straps or chains, depending on the load, and then some loads have to be covered with tarps. "Tarping" can be a dirty job. Here I'm holding the breaker bar you use to tighten down the straps or chains. It looks like I haven't started yet. This would have taken some three inch straps, so as not to scratch the channel iron, and then tarps held down with heavy rubber bungee cords. I'd bought that hat at the K-Mart in Albuquerque on Central by the river that's now closed. I needed a hat because I was shaving my head for a couple of years, which I did at first because I got tired of getting bad haircuts on the road, but it made it easier to clean up in the truck after tarping or running. I was running a lot in those times. You had to do it on the road. I'd just pull off where it looked like a good running place, ideally a dirt or gravel road that went up a slope. After running or tarping I'd bathe with wash cloths and a big bread bowl using water heated up in my coffee pot.





When Median Income Peaked

The Washington Post has a map of the US showing when the median income in each county began to decline. If you move the cursor over a county, the statistics about that county appear on the right. The small maps across the top are the key to the color coding for when the median income began to drop in each county.

This is a screen shot taken with the cursor over Bernalillo County, New Mexico, where I live, where the median income peaked in 1999. That's when median income began to decline in the biggest number of counties in the US -- 1,623.


"Median" means half the population's incomes are above that amount, half are below.

The map is accompanied by an article that tells the story of how the median income peaked in Downy, CA, when it lost all of its aerospace industry jobs, but doesn't say why median incomes have dropped across the entire United States and gives no indication of the systemic changes to our economy that have caused it. That kind of information is promised in a next installment, but like a New York Times article about the increasing numbers of traditional "breadwinners" who have simply left the workforce it will probably blame the Great Recession and ignore the fact that the dramatic decline of the American worker's prospects date back to the late 1960s.

Below is the same map as above but showing statistics for Berrien County, Michigan, where I grew up. It's the dark spot in the extreme southwest of the state. The median income peaked there back in 1969, when what would come to be known of as Reaganomics was just getting started, when American Capitalism began to desert America and the attacks on unions began and the auto industry, centered around Detroit and Flint (see dark spots in the central and eastern parts of the state) began to decline, taking with it the steel making and auto parts industries (see dark spots along the southern edge of Lake Michigan and across northern Indiana, the state below Michigan, where many people in my town, New Buffalo, worked, as did I at one time, as did my father and my two brothers.)






 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture





It's easy to say our government is sick, but what does that say about us?

Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake. The list is long of people Obama has locked up for whistleblowing. He's prosecuted twice as many people under the Espionage Act for it as all other administrations in history combined. Where are the Democrats. NPR this morning could not bring themselves to say "torture" instead referring to it as enhanced interrogation. Same with the Washington Post yesterday. Where is the media?

A comment on my previous post alluded to the fact that fundamentalist Christians vote, implying that people who should vote don't.

It reminded me of when the South was solidly an apartheid region. Today Republicans have the South locked up with gerrymandering. Before, the solid South was defeated, at the federal level. But first there were people in the streets, then the media showing people being attacked by dogs and with water hoses, then the public reacting and finally government, politicians, Democrat and Republican, and the courts, reacting to the public sentiment.

Tonight there are people in the streets again, even, in Berkeley, California, high school students.



The End Of The World Christian Right
.

I just came across an article published in Salon in October by a guy named Edwyn Lyngar that absolutely destroys the Christian Right. Ostensibly a review of a new Christian Right movie about the end of the world, the so-called "end times" that some people think the Bible predicts, Lyngar takes the opportunity to say exactly what's wrong with right wing Christianity. He apparently has been at this awhile because he's good at it. He just tees off on them -- paragraph after paragraph. There's not a sentence in this article that isn't a devastatingly accurate criticism of fundamentalist Christianity.

There was a time when I would have said Lyngar is going a bit too far in his article, that you can't condemn a people to the extent that they become wholly written off and irredeemable, but I've become entirely fed up myself with what I call Republican Christianity. A lot of it has to do with a brother of mine, a dittohead Republican fundamentalist Christian who I spent quite a bit of time and effort trying to reconcile with earlier this year, who has become so narrow minded and intractable that's it's almost impossible to have any kind of conversation with him at all. The poor guy has been stuffing his head so full of bullshit for so many years now that it's hard to imagine him ever recovering.

It also has to do with the fact that the Christian Right, the Fox News Rush Limbaugh tea bagger right, has just so completely veered off the plane of reality into a swamp of bitterness and self delusion. As Lyngar points out, they are becoming a smaller percentage of the populace all the time and are especially unpopular among young people. As they become a smaller minority and are left further behind by the rest of the world, the fear that drives them to reject everything but the narrow set of beliefs they cling to will only get worse.  I hope that instead of turning into a panic that makes them violent they will adapt to their circumstance in some other way, maybe by gathering into highly segregated little colonies off by themselves where they make colorful clothing for themselves and eat home grown corn on the cob.




Monday, December 8, 2014

Ад и высокие резиновые

I found out that my International has high rubber.

Ten for fifteen years ago, I think it was, but I don't know for sure, the big trucking companies began putting "low profile" drive tires on their trucks -- the eight tires on the rear of the tractor. Low profile tires are shorter and make the truck sit a few inches lower and for a few years caused some problems with trailers not being the right height for some loading docks.

I never cared for low profile tires because it seemed to me they would have to make the engine turn over faster, so unless the gearing is adjusted somewhere along the drive train they'll make your speedometer off and cause more wear on everything and you'll get less mileage.

I'd put new front tires on the International last Christmas but it still has the original drive tires it had when I bought it in February 2013 and they're getting down there. One is illegal already. Not enough tread. I took it down to the TA this weekend to get new drives, as they say, and found out the only ones they had in my size -- 11R 24.5 -- cost twice what tires usually cost. For a minute I thought I was going to have to go low profile or something, but the guy said he could order some that are the regular price.

"Thirty-three hundred out the door," he said.

Before he said that and while I was gasping for breath a truck driver who was behind me in line at the service desk asked me where I was from.

"Here," I said, turning to look at him.

"Oh," he said, turning away. "If you was goin' through West Virginia I know a place that'll give you a discount on high rubber."

I'd never heard the phrase "high rubber" before.

The service desk guy told me the tires he was ordering were Chinese. I didn't go down there to buy Chinese tires. The clerk guessed that I hadn't either. He assured me I'd get the free three axle alignment. He pointed to an advertisement on the wall. A $200 value.

"We can't do it here but I'll give you a certificate and you can get it done in Santa Rosa or Gallup."

The other driver frowned.

"And they're virgin rubber."

The other driver nodded.

I knew what virgin rubber meant. They're not recaps. I found that out last week.

Meanwhile some hackers have posted 1.7 gigabytes of documents from the Russian Interior Ministry online. This is one of them.



You can read the rest of them here.



The headline of this post is Russian for Hell or High Tires, according to Google Translate.