Monday, June 25, 2012

Finally

The Farm Bill has passed the Senate, without requirements that we be allowed to know what our food is laced with as outlined below, but with provisions explicitly prohibiting lottery winners from receiving food stamps. Maybe now we can balance the budget.

The food stamp program (AFDC - Aid for Families With Dependent Children), which has seen a big increase in users during the worst economy since the Great Depression, was itself cut by $4.5 billion. Most food stamp recipients are White, but as long as Republicans have successfully planted it in peoples' minds that they are Black, no big outcry is warranted.

Besides, we're talking about poor people, and Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was only echoing the general sentiment we adopt when we have to think of things like this when he said, about being poor, during that debate, "Blame yourself."

Why should we buy food for poor children when we can keep taxes low on the rich, and that money instead of being wasted can be earning interest in the foreign bank accounts of rich people like Jaimie Diamond and Mitt Romney?

Anyway, those provisions were only in the bill passed by the Democratic controlled Senate. The Republican controlled House of Representatives takes up the bill next.




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Sunday, June 24, 2012

You Are The Laboratory

While we as a nation suffer from being overweight at record levels, we talk about diet and exercise but are not as willing to make the connection between our health and what farmers put in the foods we eat. Farming, whether it's by huge corporations or the small farmer we insistently romanticize, is a for profit business. The prime goal in farming is to get plants and animals to balloon up as much as possible as quickly as possible, in order to have more to sell, and to sell it sooner -- and thereby  minimize feeding and fertilizing expense. Anything any corporation comes up with that facilitates this goal is quickly adapted by farmers, from pesticides to fertilizers to growth hormones to antibiotics to genetically engineered organisms.

If the things we eat are treated with all kinds of chemicals and Frankenstein processes to make them balloon up as much as possible as quickly as possible, why is there any question about why we are overweight? Americans work more hours, more than 50 per week, than anyone else. Over half of Americans no longer take vacation time. We don't have time to be couch potatoes.

The Senate this week passed a huge corporate farming subsidy bill called the Farm Bill, but defeated 73-26 an amendment to the bill (offered by, who else, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, the Socialist who the media labels as an Independent) that would have allowed states to require clear labeling of any genetically modified crops (GMOs) in food. The amendment was not a federal requirement that GMO foods be labeled. It merely would have let each state require the labeling.

New Mexico Senator Tom Udall voted for the amendment, that is, for our right to know what's in the food we eat. In this he agreed with a bevy of citizens groups and with 90 percent of the US population.

Udall (202) 224-6621
Bingaman (202) 224-552
New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman voted against the amendment, agreeing with corporations like Monsanto that we do not have the right to know what's in our food.

The only argument I've seen put forth against our right to know what we're eating is that it would create a bias in our minds against food containing GMOs. It would cause an unfair burden on corporations' rights to make record profits while our living standards decline and we experience an obesity epidemic. The American Medical Association did come out in the hours before the vote saying that GMO labeling was unnecessary, but what was not as widely reported is that the AMA's statement also said GMO foods should be tested for their health effects, which they are not.

The federal government does not test GMO foods. It merely requires that corporations "certify" (i.e., fill out paperwork stating) that the GMO being used is not "substantially different" than the natural ingredient a GMO replaces.

This again is all about profits and campaign donations. It's about lobbyists and making money after you leave political office. There's been nothing I've heard that would make me think GMOs are safe.

Project Avalon provides a handy summary of a report in which they list 32 reasons why GMO foods are not safe.  The original report is linked there and here.

One disturbing finding is that, despite proponents' claims that GMO foods reduce pesticide use, they increase it. That is because many GMO foods are engineered to withstand heavy doses of pesticides like the infamous Roundup. The report also raises serious questions about toxic effects of GMOs, and about how corporations have covered up their own testing that point to GMOs harmful effects.

Another disturbing finding is that once again Jeff Bingaman has sold us out. It's disturbing that New Mexicans are so ill informed about who they elect. Bingaman is nominally a Democrat, who most New Mexicans believe is on their side, but he's gotten away with voting like this time after time, whether it's allowing corporations to privatize the internet and snatch up for their own profit the one forum we have for the free exchange of information and ideas, or siding with the US Chamber or Commerce in the selling out of unions and our right to organize in the workplace.

One of the last things our former Republican Congresswoman, Heather Wilson, Miss Reaganomics, Miss Supply Side Economics herself, did before leaving office was to vote to make it illegal for California to require more strict food labeling than the anemic federal requirements now in place, which allow foods to be labled as "USDA organic" as long as they're pretty close to being organic, and allow disguising things like monosodium glutamate (MSG) under labels like "natural flavor" and "citric acid." So one of Ms Wilson's final gifts to the people of New Mexico was to raise her middle finger to the people and say 'You lose, corporate profit wins.' It's ironic that one of Senator Bingamam's last votes before he retires is for the same thing. Or maybe it's not.





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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The chart speaks for itself. The share of the American Pie going to the bottom 90 percent -- that's us, the blue segment -- is getting smaller, and the share going to the people who were already doing very well is getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

This chart also clears up some confusion. It's occasionally announced that income during a given period has increased. I said that myself only recently. As the chart shows, the average income, the total, combined income of everyone, has gone up, but none of that increase ever goes to us anymore. Zero.

The chart roughly covers the era of Neoliberalism. Supply side economics. Tax cuts for the rich, weakened unions, declining social services. The era of Reaganomics. The era we are in now. So this has been going on under Republicans and under Democrats. Some on the Left have been saying the crippling austerity being forced on the Greeks and the Spanish is the blueprint they're getting ready for us. Forget that. It's already here. They're doing it. They have been since Ronald Reagan. Both parties.

And if this has happened under both parties, tell me what the difference is between them. Social issues? Is that the difference? Immigrant kids can go to college? And be poor. Women can marry each other, get jobs they didn't used to, and be poor. African Americans can live anywhere they choose, and be poor.

If we want a future, folks, if we want our kids and our grand kids to have a future, it's not going to be found within the existing political order. Our future is in the streets. Our future depends on seizing control of the economy, of the banks, of the factories, of the workplaces, of the schools, of the transportation system, of the resources, of the commonwealth.

Others have done it. Many have risen up and won. They did it in Tunisia. The Egyptians did it. The Libyans, the countries that used to make up Yugoslavia, the South Sudanese, many former African colonies did it. 

It won't be easy. They will send the police after us. The police will obey them. People will die. People will lose their livelihoods. There will be upheaval. They are not going to give up their privileges. We will have to take them, ourselves, and divide them up, amongst ourselves, ourselves. We'll have to figure all of it out as we go along. First, we'll have to figure out that we have more power than they can imagine, and when we figure that out, it will be all over.

Remember one thing. We're Americans. We were born in revolution.




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Sunday, June 17, 2012

America's Founding Cult Members


Right wing Christians are forever pushing the fantasy that the United States began as a "Christian nation," and that it has strayed from its founding Christian principles and must be corrected.

This idea, and the idea that the "founders" were even Christian's themselves, has been refuted in many books and articles, most recently in a very good article by Gettysburg College philosophy professor Kerry Walters writing in Alternet. As articles go it's long and thorough, but it lays out a picture of the "founding fathers" most Americans are not aware of owing to right wing Christian propaganda that has been very effective in defining the United States as a "Christian nation." Walters explains that the "founding fathers," if they were religious at all, were Deists. Deism is a liberal, humanist version of Christianity, which most conservative Christian clergy include among the many sects, such as Catholicism and Mormonism, they label as cults.

As for why right wing Christians want to get it established that America was founded on beliefs that match theirs, you don't see as much analysis.

The most obvious reason is that it would make it easier to impose their will on others. It's about power. For example, activist conservative judges can claim that they are only returning the law to its original intent, meanwhile right wing Christians are making up what this original intent consists of. That reason is often unmentioned, quite possibly because it is so obvious, but I think some people have the notion that right wing Christians are sincere in their beliefs and think that they are obligated to try to spread them because it says so in the Bible.

Two things have to be kept in mind when trying to figure out what motivates right wing Christians. One is that what they believe in is not really Christianity, but Paulsim. The other is that they are right wing, first and foremost and fundamentally, and their Christianity is quite secondary and subservient to their politics.

I'll address the second thing first.

Politics and religion, like music, narratives, and a number of other things, are ways we use to make sense of the world, of our place in it, and of our place in our group, so they encompass both personal psychology and sociology, both of which are about understanding and explaining motivating aspects of human behavior.

But politics comes first in our formation. We start to have a political world view at an early age. We hear our parents talking about politics at the supper table, not just formal politics but in the sense of the polity, the community. We see how they operate in public. We start to understand how our parents see themselves as fitting into the world and the community, how they relate to it, what they think about "others," about authority, about the law, about customs. At school, we hear our peers on the playground talking about similar things from a different perspective. We see the day to day playing out of societal relations on the playground and in the classroom. In the classroom itself we also get schooling on how society operates, on our place in it, on how people relate to one another and how things are worked out or not worked out.

During this time in our formation our parents might be taking us to church and Sunday School, church for kids. We may be being fed Bible stories. But from our local churches we don't get much about theological questions, such as, how might the existence of God figure into human relations, or why does God permit bad things to happen. We don't get into any of the esoteric questions religious scholars are occupied with. Our local preacher probably doesn't have much in the way of theological training except for some basic sectarian indoctrination. We may go on to study more about theology on our own or in college, but this only comes after our political views are well formed, and after our minds have developed to the point at which we can make sense of such questions. 

So because our politics come first, our religion cannot contradict our politics. For personal psychological reasons, and because church itself is a society unto itself and is part of the larger local community, what we hear in church and what we believe as a result must fit into our already existing political worldview. It will be tailored that way for us and we will continue that tailoring process if we continue to be involved in religion.

Paulism

The first point I mentioned, that right wing Christianity is not really Christianity but Paulsim, came about because of the second reason.

Right wing Christianity is not about the teachings of Jesus Christ at all. You never hear the teachings of Jesus Christ from a right wing preacher. All of their doctrine (the "rules," what their sect believes,) and all their teachings (the Bible verses each particular sermon is based on) are from the books attributed to the Apostle Paul. They completely ignore the teaching of Jesus. You'd have to listen to them over a period of time to verify this, which I have. I've even heard right wing Republican Christianity preachers say that the books by Paul are the "doctrinal books."

They'd rather not deal with Jesus at all, and in fact only keep Jesus around because they think he's going to save their sorry asses from eternal damnation. They think that salvation is through Jesus, which in practice merely amounts to standing up in front of other of people and announcing that "I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior," or some words to that effect. To correlate with this there is some teaching, made up by Paul*, about Jesus' death on the cross being a payment for all future sins committed by anyone who utters those words.

It's understandable that a clergy member wouldn't want to stand in front of his congregation and tell everyone to give all their money to the poor, as Jesus said to do. The following week he'd be standing in front of a lot of empty pews. He needs the money people put in the collection plate, and also, because of the way the peer group of the clergy operates, he needs to have full pews, for reasons of his ego and self actualization.

Paul, when you discount all his self promotion, was a sorry son of a bitch. Paul said, "If you don't work, you don't eat." Think about the implications. 'If you don't behave like I think you should, die. I don't care.' Paul said to women, "Sit down, shut up. You have nothing worthwhile to say. And while you're at it, cover your hair." The implications: 'Continue thinking of yourselves as our property, and if we can't control our passions, it's your fault.'

There is nothing in Paul of the generosity and love of Jesus, just like there is nothing of that in Republican politics. Jesus said, "If someone asks you for something, give it to them." Period.  He didn't say, 'Give it to them if they sit down over there and fill out a form.' He didn't say, 'Give it to them if they behave like you want them to, if they get a job, if they don't have men sleeping over, if they don't drive a nice car.' He certainly never said 'Give it to them for five years and then don't give it to them any more,' as our welfare laws are now configured.

The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, where Jesus' teachings are, contain all kinds of Jesus' teachings that just flat out contradict the politics of conservatism, and so they can't even be considered in Republican Christianity, and aren't.

This idea, that there is Christianity, or the teachings of Christ, and Paulism, or the teachings of Paul, is something I haven't heard said by any religious scholars. It may have been said somewhere, but I haven't seen it.  Perhaps it's because of how the Bible is configured, with both Paul and Jesus, not to mention Judaism, all thrown in together, and the idea that it somehow must be considered as a whole, which the Catholic Church, among the Christian denominations, at least tries to do. Perhaps no one wants to acknowledge, or deal with the fact that the Bible we use, the Catholic Bible, was put together by the Roman dictator Constantine for political reasons, a dictator who went through all the books then in circulation and decided which to burn and which to put into a Bible.

Regardless of whether all that gets looked into or not, and I know that at least some of it is, this idea that America's "founding fathers" (and Walter's Alternet article talks about what "founding fathers" means according to conservative Christians) were Christians, with beliefs like today's conservative Christians, has more to do with trying to mold the world to fit the personal politics of right wing Christians.

Which brings up the question; Are the personal politics of right wing Christians, the world view they got around the supper table, reflective of the small, bitter, fearful world view that informs conservative politics?

Not exactly. I've known and knew many such people when I lived for a long time in the US South, in Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina. They are as nice and generous as anyone else, among people they have personal contact with. It's when they generalize things out to the larger society and to the world that the small and fearful inform their thinking.

But now you're into the ways that Capitalism informs our politics. Capitalists, just like Republican Christianity's leaders, and their clergy, can be very generous and self sacrificing, on an individual basis, just as could the Apostle Paul, who could be very self sacrificing when it was all about Paul.




* Paul uses the example of God giving Israel to the Jews to base his contention on that Jesus' death was atonement for all past and future sins committed by believers. He says Israel was a free gift from God that required nothing of the Jews. But Paul misquotes the Bible itself. Maybe he was in prison when he wrote that letter and didn't have access to the Old Testament, where God giving Israel to the Jews is mentioned three times. The first two times God just announces he is giving Israel to the Jews, but the last time he says he is giving Israel to the Jews "because you have obeyed my commands."

"Because" means "the cause of." The cause and effect relationship between our behavior and receiving God's gifts is affirmed, as it is many other places in biblical texts.

The Old Testament also makes clear that God took Israel away from the Jews, several times, because they failed to obey his commands. He tells the Jews he is punishing them because "You are a stiff necked people."

That, incidentally, is where the Bibles leaves things, with the Jews out of Israel. They are not even supposed to be in Israel right now, according to the Bible. But of course Judaism has right wing activist political, power minded rabbis just like Christianity does, and they have made up their own doctrine that permits the Jews to go back to Israel and slaughter all the Palestinians they find there and steal their land and resources.

I'll have to go back and look up the three passages again, where God talks about giving Israel to the Jews, and add them to this, but that's definitely what the Bible says. And what Paul says about it, erroneously, is also what Martin Luther later based his doctrine of transubstantiation on, when, needing protection from the German nobility he said to the German nobility, "I, Martin Luther, can get you into heaven. It don't matter what you done, and you don't need no pope."






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Saturday, June 16, 2012

James Joyce Live!


WBAI, the New York Pacifica station, is having their annual marathon of readings from James Joyce's Ulysses. These are good readings and very entertaining. Same are by well known actors like Wallace Shawn and Alec Baldwin.


You can stream it from their web site or through your media player.


WBAI web site



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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Private Sector Doing Fine


When we talk about the state of the economy in America, what we really mean is the state of private, corporate profits. We mean Wall Street, the stock market.

There's been some commentary trying to explain that when President Obama said the private sector is doing fine he was talking about the fact that jobs are being created in the private sector but being lost in the public sector, which is true. If not for all the layoffs of teachers, firefighters and janitors by state and local governments, the unemployment rate would be 7 percent or less, not 8.2 percent.

But what kind of jobs are being created? Low wage and part time hobs. With union membership at an all time low, there's no place to work but at low wage jobs. There's no reason employers have to pay decent wages. There's a bill, dead in congress, called the Employee Free Choice Act. Unions and Progressives wanted this bill very badly. It would have removed some of the legal barriers to union organizing and helped offset the tremendous advantage corporations have in fighting an organizing drive. Although elected along with majorities in both houses of congress, President Obama did nothing to support this bill. He just let it die, and Democratic co-sponsors of the bill, like New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, backed away from the bill, too.

The attack on unions is centered right now in Wisconsin, where Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat last week in failing to recall a union busting governor. While rich Republicans spent more than $100 million helping the governor survive, President Obama never set foot in Wisconsin. He didn't make an appearance, didn't make a speech, didn't stand on a stage next to a Democratic challenger. His contribution to the effort to save the union movement was a tweet on his Twitter site on the last day.

$100 million versus a tweet. Which side do you think Obama is on?




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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pacifica...  Radio (and podcasting) For The People


KPFK, Los Angeles
KPFA, Berkeley
KPFW, Washincton, DC
KPFT, Houston
WBAI, New York


Pacifica is a little network of five radio stations, with some community radio affiliates thrown in for good measure, where you'll hear points of view you might not know exist, because you never hear them in the so-called mainstream media. It was started in the 1940s by pacifists. You'll hear programs hosted by Progressives, Leftists, Socialists, Anarchists, African Americans, Muslims, Arabs, Gays, Lesbians, Native Americans, Latinos, Union Members, Atheists, Computer Geeks, people who believe in the supernatural, and in conspiracies, and lots of programs hosted by people who love music, and I mean all kinds of music, from all kinds of places, that you never hear anywhere else. There is some programming and news in Spanish. (For example, tonight, KPFK in Los Angeles is broadcasting the Mexican presidential debate.)

You'll hear things they don't want you to hear. Things that might lead people to believe they don't need rich people, or politicians who are beholden to rich people, running their country for them. 



With the internet, you don't have to be in range of one of the stations to listen to it. You can listen on your computer or cell phone it if has an internet connection.

When I'm on the road I listen to the podcasts, unless I'm in one of the Pacifica cities. When I'm at home I listen to the live stream, which is what I'm doing now: the screen shot above is my iTunes player set to the Los Angeles station, KPFK.


There are several ways to get the stations into whatever music player you have, but not being particularly patient I just found a way that works. I go to the station's web site, go to the live stream, and then drag that web page into my iTunes player. I just created a "playlist" called Pacifica and dragged them into that.

They'll ask for money every few months. There is no advertising, none, so it's all listener supported. I just give a basic membership donation, $25, once a year to all five stations. If it's been a good year I give $35. It's money well spent, because I get hours and hours of listening pleasure from Pacifica. During the fund drives they offer some nice gifts, too. I have several nice T-shirts and bumper stickers.

My favorite Pacifica shows:

Against The Grain - from KPFA, hour-long interviews with radical academics, writers and thinkers. CS Soong and Sasha Lilly, who take turns hosting, both are excellent interviewers, who have done their homework before the interview, which makes listening to this show a real pleasure.

Flashpoints - from KPFA, has been around awhile. Dennis Bernstein keeps up on issues affecting Latinos, Central and Latin America, Palestine, the American Indian Movement, and current issues. Lately he's been focusing on foreclosures, the fraud that's going on by banks in this regard, what you can do, etc.

Arab Voices - from KPFT, is one reason I love the Houston station. Right there in the heart of red-state America, in very seat the of the Bush family dynasty, is KPFT. In the hour long Arab Voices, Said Patush interviews people knowledgeable on what's going in in the Middle East and takes particular interest in Palestine. He also keeps up on what, as it happens, is a large, vibrant and active community, right there in Houston, Texas, of people of Middle Eastern descent and of the the Muslim faith.

Voices of the Middle East and North Africa, from KPFA, also has interviews with scholars, activists and other experts on the Middle East but also brings out what is a rich artistic vein in the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, so you get interviews with artists who are performing in the Bay Area, with writers and poets, or with, say, curators of showings of art by people from the Middle East or of Arab descent. A very well put together program, a work of art in itself.

Democracy Now, originally from WBAI, but now independent of them. It is its own entity, affiliated with Pacifica. This is the most widely distributed Pacifica program and has the most influence, and so has more access to important players for interviews. Besides being good for keeping up with current news, host Amy Goodman is particularly interested in woman's issues, African American issues, and issues affecting the media and a free press. The show is weak on Palestine. Goodman is in that category of people, like Noam Chomsky (a recurring guest) who ascribe to what I call Zionism Lite. They point out some of the more flagrant atrocities committed by Israel, thereby absorbing much of the righteous anger Israel provokes, but never address the core issue of Israel's inherent illegitimacy. I have heard Amy Goodman change the subject when a guest starts to approach that issue. Despite that flaw, Democracy Now is almost essential listening.

Bay Native Circle, from KPFA, keeps up with issues affecting Native Americans and highlights Native American artists.

Stone's Throw, from KPFA, hosted by Jennifer Stone, an old 60s radical and writer who holds forth on writing, feminism, film, angst and The New Yorker magazine.

Free Speech Radio News, from Pacifica, is based all over. They begin with their own news summary, then volunteer correspondents from all different countries report from those countries, and also sometimes make more in-depth reports on movements and activism around the world. Other Pacifica news programs sometimes play these FSRN correspondents' reports in their own programs because they are from right there, on the ground, as they say. This is a very interesting show.

Background Briefing, from KPFK. Ian Masters has been around while, too, and gets pretty good access to insiders in Washington, people who are not necessarily Leftists but who have in-depth knowledge of domestic or foreign policy issues that are in the news.

Law and Disorder, from WBAI, is produced by members of the National Lawyers Guild, which is like the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, only better. It's the more radical, activist lawyers. The hosts have the legal knowledge to lay out the actual law and what's at stake in important court cases, and hosts like Michael Ratner have been involved in some of the monumental legal battles and civil rights struggles of our time. This is the real deal.

Caldwell Chronicle, from WBAI, is Earl Caldwell holding forth, and sometimes interviewing people, about what's on his mind. This is often civil rights and issues affecting African Americans. Caldwell is an old New York City newspaper reporter, who knows where all the skeletons are hidden, but he really does radio well. His opening monologues, or diatribes, which often end with him bellowing into the microphone, are works of art. The show is three hours. The city is winding down from the work week. Many New Yorkers are winding it down with Earl.

This is just a small sampling of Pacifica shows. At each web site you can see their schedule or browse their "archives" page from where you can subscribe to the podcast of that show.

I haven't even touched on the music programming, which is vast and as I say, varied. Unfortunately, because of the push by greedy corporations, and a few big name recording artists like Metallica and Dolly Parton, to go after and prosecute to the fullest extent possible anyone who might infringe on their ability to make a dollar, music programs can no longer be downloaded as podcasts -- they must be live streamed -- unless you know how to download a live stream. There are instructions for how to do this on the internet, but it seems to be beyond my ability.


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Friday, June 8, 2012

Keeping A Roof Over Your Head At Minimum Wage






The above chart is based on a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which report can be downloaded from their web site. Note that is says, "In no state can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent working a standard 40 hour week."

Meanwhile, Business Week happily reports that average household wealth, or net worth, increased 4.7 percent last quarter.

How so?

"Most of the gain came from a 12 percent jump in the Standard & Poor's 500 index in the January-March quarter," Business Week says. In other words, the rich are getting richer. The trend in which record profits go to the rich, while wages and living standards for the 99 percent are in decline, continues.

I have been reporting that the gap between the 1 percent and the rest of us is back where it was in the 1920s, during the so-called "Gilded Age." That was when, as now, a few at the top controlled the economy and government. That was before unions gained a foothold in the United States, a foothold they have lost thanks to thirty years of Reaganomics.

I've also reported that Reaganomics, or supply side economics, has been adopted by Democrats as well as Republicans, and by the European and Asian economies, and by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. If you doubt that, read what's going on in places like Greece or Spain, or anyplace else, where any money the IMF or World Bank loans a country is now conditioned on its government adopting harsh "austerity" measures -- cuts to social programs, wages and pensions -- and tax cuts for the rich, and then see this attack yesterday by World Bank chief Robert Zellnick on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez' crime, and the reason he is vilified, is that he has brought health care, housing and education to millions of poor Venezuelans, and uses Venezuela's oil wealth to assist other countries, like Cuba, Bolivia, and many others, that are trying to do the same. Since first being elected in 1998, Chavez has been repeatedly re-elected by wide margins in elections that all independent observers including the Carter Center have called free and fair, but Zellnick, like the mainstream media and the US government, paints him as a dictator.

Chavez' crime, and why he can never be forgiven by Capitalism and its news outlets, is that he has led efforts by Socialists in Venezuela to transform that country's historically oligarchic economy into one that is more fair and where those whose labor creates wealth get more of it.

Meanwhile, the ongoing transformation in the opposite direction, in Europe and Asia and in the US, under Democrats and Republicans alike, continues. If you vote for somebody who hasn't explicitly pointed all this out, who hasn't been alerting people and mobilizing them to fight against it, who hasn't been doing something concrete to stop it, you're helping the process along yourself. You're hastening the return to a time in American history you probably don't even know about. You're ensuring that more Americans fall into the category of those whose plight is highlighted by the chart above. You're helping realize the original goal of Reaganomics, which was to see we all end up where a worker was in the 1920s, who often worked so many hours he had to sleep next to his machine at the factory and still didn't make enough to feed his family, and forget about providing them with a decent place to live.





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Monday, June 4, 2012

Why I Like New Mexico
 Where a man can breath through his nose




I like to say that New Mexico is the last remnant of the wild, wild West. The Wild, Wild West is the title of a television series that ran for a few seasons in the 1960s, when I was in high school, when Westerns were a staple of US television, and near the end of the era when they were a staple of Hollywood movies. I don't remember having watched The Wild, Wild West, being more likely to be out riding motorcycles and old cars and learning to drink and smoke and playing basketball and football and wondering why the girls I liked didn't like me, but I liked the title, The Wild, Wild West, and the hint of irony it contained. It was the 1960s. Everything was being questioned; who we were, our history, our mythology.

The mythology of an American West makes up a significant part of the American Mythology, which always included the notion of endless opportunity, and that there was this uninhabited, vast wilderness out there, to the west of the Appalachian Mountain chain that runs parallel to the East Coast and to the original 13 colonies, just waiting for whoever wanted to go out there and claim it. The idea that this area was uninhabited has always existed in peoples' minds alongside the knowledge that it was, in fact, inhabited, and that its inhabitants were dispossessed of their land by force and slaughter.

With the advent of Hollywood movies, and later television, the myth of the American West took on the face of the White cowboy, and to some extent the face of the "outlaws" who roamed the West, all of whom the studio wardrobe people in Hollywood dressed in a cowboy costume. This cowboy costume consisted of neat, clean dungarees, shirts with collars, vests and stylish leather boots, and of course the "cowboy hat," which is based on a hat made on the east coast by the Stetson Hat Company, a version of which was briefly adopted by the US Calvary that protected White colonizers in the West. It is this Hollywood cowboy costume that today's ranchers, and those who consider themselves cowboys, wear, and it is nothing like the clothing worn by the original settlers, who dressed more practically, and in keeping with their occupations as farmers, clerks and merchants.



Marshall Dillon, Miss Kitty, TV series "Gunsmoke"






"Billy the Kid" and associate











Death picture, "Dalton Gang" - caught wearing striped pants and shoes from Sears

Labeled Las Vegas (NM) jail









  



It's difficult to find authentic photographs of the old west on the internet. What you find, and find reproduced page after page, are images of what people want the old west to look like. To get original photographs you almost have to go to museums and books.


It's a pity that a less idealized history of ranching and farming in the US isn't more readily accessible through a more accurate portrayal in popular culture, because those are rough ways of making a living, and the struggles people go through and have gone through to make a living that way are worthy of examining and holding up. My mother comes from farming people and I spent some memorable childhood summers on my uncles' farms. It's interesting to think of how that life left it marks on those people. They could be gentle and generous and also be ornry cusses. As a truck driver I sometimes pick up hay at the farm to deliver to dairies. Since the farmer is paying for the tuck, not by weight, as often as not he will try to overload you. If he can get an extra 2,000 pound bale on the truck it means another $200 or so for him. If it costs me $250 or $350 for an overweight ticket it doesn't concern him, but it's also easy to see how the uncertainty of  being at the mercy of the weather and constantly fluctuating prices and disease in crops and animals and all the other things that can make a year an unprofitable disaster would make a farmer pursue every possible advantage.

 But we never see much of that in popular culture, outside what is even an idealized version of what farmers went through during the Great Depression. What we have instead is the embodiment of American Mythology in the Hollywood version of the cowboy. You have that in New Mexico, but you also have that in other parts of the US West. What you have in New Mexico besides that is a legacy of the actual West.

El Viejo Oeste - Turtle Island

The first cowboys wore sombreros. This part of the continent used to be part of the Spanish Empire. When the part of that which is now Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, New Mexico was simply the northern reaches of Mexico, and the people of Spanish descent here called themselves Mexicanos. (They began referring to themselves as Hispanic after the 1917 Socialist revolution in Mexico, and after the US power elite and its media spread virulent anti Mexican racism throughout the United States.)

The Natives here were partially dispossessed by the Spanish. The Whites finished that job to the extent that they were able, and attempted to dispossess the Spanish settlers, too. They were only partly successful, and eventually a truce was settled on by leaders of the White and Hispanic communities, made necessary by the fact that neither group could maintain a political majority. Also, tourism became an important industry in the state with the advent of the US highway system from the 1920s and 1930s onward and the two groups cooperated to exploit it by emphasizing somewhat idealized versions of their respective pasts. This led to the rise of Mission Revival architecture and the restoration of mission churches.

When the Southwest became part of the US in 1848, the large landholdings originally granted here by the Spanish king to the families who had come to colonize the region were still held by them, and there was a kind of feudal or sharecropping economy based around those family estates. The culture that resulted from this way of living is a variant of Spanish and Mexican cultures but one that is unique to New Mexico.

The Hispanic population in New Mexico celebrates their past and present in a variety of ways and takes great pride in it. The White population celebrates the more general American Mythology, of which the story of the American West is a part, less consciously and as a matter of course since it's the dominant culture. They celebrate it every time they turn on the TV or go to a movie. Both of them pretty much ignore what was here before they took turns colonizing the region, which is the history and culture of the Natives, the American Indian, the indigenous people, who also survive.

The Natives retain control of many reservations, by virtue of treaties and federal laws, or rather, of those lands that have not been usurped by Capitalists seeking the wealth contained in Indian lands. The reservations range in size from the vast Navajo Reservation that straddles New Mexico and Arizona to many small "pueblos" roughly the size of a township. Many Natives also live off the reservation and as part of the larger society, at least to the extent that racism visited on them by both the more dominant groups allows them to.

Many of the Natives still speak their native languages, and retain many of their customs. They have their own newspapers, radio stations, churches, organizations, dancing and singing groups. They are many artists among them; excellent musicians, painters and sculptors, and, significantly, potters, whose techniques are unique to them and whose pottery is highly valued.

Conceived In Isolation

So in New Mexico you have these three histories and cultures, with their arts and their foods and musics and their cultural practices, and they have evolved and existed, alongside each other and in an overall mix, in relative physical isolation from the rest of  the country. This is why I call New Mexico the last remnant of the wild, wild west.

From Albuquerque, for example, it's almost 500 miles to the closest metropolitan areas -- 450 miles to Denver, 468 to Phoenix, and 648 to Dallas. For most of New Mexico's history that distance meant a journey of weeks, by horse or horse drawn wagon or by walking.

Things don't go away in the desert, they just stay there, and one can still see long stretches of the old roads off to the side of the newer paved roads, and imagine the difficulties of travel. They were just pathways through the desert, worn down over time, and graded in more recent times by mule drawn graders, so that they are below the surface of the surrounding terrain by several inches or more.
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New Mexico 371, from Thoreau up to Farmington, through the Navajo Nation, is paved two-lane, built on a grading of gravel and dirt above the surrounding terrain. In the top two pictures, taken from one spot, looking north and then south, the old and new roadways are parallel. The third picture is a few miles north, where the two roadways come down from the high plateau. The old road, on the left, goes down by a more direct route, while the paved road veers to the right to go down the side of the slope, in a more gradual decline, so that trucks can more easily make the climb coming up. Click any picture for more detail. (As a point of interest, note that from the plateau, one is looking across at the mountains behind Durango, Colorado, and not up at them.) 
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Only in the relatively recent past has the area been accessible by paved highways, with the advent of the US highway system from the 1920s and interstate highways after the 1960s, so the means of communication, of interaction, and transferal of culture, accessible to and most used by the majority of the population, that is, personal interaction, did not exist. Even now, the distances are such that weekend trips to see the relatives in those distant cities are infrequent. There is television, which transmits certain aspects of culture, but not others. Most attitudes and conventions are transmitted via peer groups -- family members and other close, familiar associates -- including attitudes about the group itself, and its relationship to other groups.

Views On Authority

As for the wild, wild part of the West, part of the Mythology of the West is that it was beyond the reach of the law, and indeed, when the West was administered by the US federal government as vast territories, law enforcement officials were few and far between. New Mexico only became a state in 1912, meaning that the more formal things that extend the reach of law enforcement, such as state police and other institutions, and arrangements between law enforcement bodies and between them and the federal government, were only established relatively recently. Because of that and because of the vast areas involved, the control of law enforcement was and is more tenuous.

Also, there is less of the kind of societal agreements on attitudes toward the law as exist in homogeneous cultures. Each group has its own attitude toward the law, based on its history, and influenced by the fact that law enforcement is part of the apparatus of dispossession and oppression.

But on top of all that, American culture has an ambivalent attitude toward the law, since it is often an impediment to the fulfillment of personal ambition. Much of that is just human nature and can be seen everywhere, and as elsewhere, part of American culture is that if you have the power to make up the law as you go along, you will, as US Presidents do routinely. As an example of how it plays out here, moreso than in other parts of the US, traffic laws are treated more like suggestions than as laws. To some they are seen as requests, to be agreed to depending on how close your driver's license is to being suspended.

Equally Human

Before I came here, I knew nothing of New Mexico. It was a blank slate. I had not been to the West before I started driving trucks, but when I did come here it was easy to fall in love with the physical environment, the vast distances, the colorful rock of the canyons and mountains, and the weather.

One of the niceest things about New Mexico is the weather. It's cold and it's hot, but it's always dry. I'd always lived in humid places, the Midwest near Lake Michigan and the US South. I'd always had sinus infections and never knew you could breath through your nostrils until I lived here.

I've found out there are problems here, problems other places have, and that among them is racism. White against Hispanic, and Hispanic against White. Both are racist against the Natives, who are racist against both.

My views about racism have changed since I've lived here. Until I was here, I always saw racism through the lens of White, Imperial racism against groups Whites have dominated. I saw it from the point of view of those who experience it. But having been the subject of racist attitudes here, for the first time, it's forced me to look at it differently.

There's racism everywhere, even within groups. In Israel there is racism by Ashkenazi, or European Jews, against the indigenous Jews who have always lived in the Middle East. There is the slaughter of tribes by other tribes in the Balkans and in Africa. In Asia, the Chinese and Japanese look down on Koreans the way Whites look down on African Americans.

There has been the case made, in some of those instances at least, that they have some kind of colonial basis, but what is the basis for colonialism? Racism is, I think, an Us versus Them paradigm, and originates in the same place in the psyche as tribalism, or nationalism, or patriotism. It's a function of human nature that Liberals and multi culturalists have not wanted to confront, because it's in them, too. Racism has deleterious effects besides just physical domination and exploitation and their effects. Race becomes part of identity at a very early age, and because of that, racism affects self image. It is these aspects of racism that academics and activists focus on, and not on its basis in human nature.

In New Mexico, among the higher ups in the socioeconomic order, there is practicality and agreement, and there is intermingling, intermarriage, and cooperation in business and politics, but down here on the almost entirely segregated street, where the majority live and where your existence and prospects for well being are less certain, it's more out in the open. Down here, racism is simply a function of fear and of how the mind categorizes things, according to an inductive logic, such as things that are the source of fear.

Racism, and its underlying impulse, and more to the point, what triggers that impulse, are things that New Mexico's Whites, Hispanics and Natives, and Blacks, and everyone, will eventually have to deal with if there is ever to exist a society in which people are not dominated by their lesser natures.

So there are the same kinds of problems and things to worry about here in New Mexico as there are everywhere. But there are burritos, bolillo rolls, green chili stew and barbecue, and vast colorful landscapes and mountains and deserts, and old roads through them that you can still see, and roads where you can drive for a long time before you pass someone else, and there's New Mexican music with Spanish lyrics that no one understands, and Native chants and dances, and all kinds of wonderful art, and the Rio Grande, and sand, and the wind, from Mexico, that is slowly changing it all and sometimes blows all the sand around, and the humidity yesterday evening was only 4 percent.




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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hispanics, Greeks, and a German

You want might want to get used to saying "President Romney," after yesterday's monthly Labor Department jobs reports showed unemployment increasing from 8.1 to 8.2 percent, and other economic reports show that the economy is slowing down. With less than six months until the election -- five more jobs reports -- there's not enough time left for the economy to recover.

Karl Rove's Electoral Map - click to enlarge
 The economy, of course, the one you hear about in the news, means the profits of the 1 percent, profits we don't share in any more, not since Neoliberalism, or Reaganomics, if you will, was adopted in the US, Europe and Asia. Out there in The World, and at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, it's known of as The Washington Consensus; austerity, i.e., cutting government budgets and slashing worker pay, benefits and retirement. Here, it's the Ryan Budget, a severe austerity program that would privatize Social Security and Medicare, which is backed by Mitt Romney, and Democratic acquiescence to Republican policies.

Vote Obama - Lose Less

Economic Growth -- the Economy -- is not about making and selling things any more. It's about extracting wealth from the 99 percent. The monthly jobs report showed that wages (up 2 percent) are not keeping up with inflation (up 3 percent.) Over the past year wages increased 1.3 percent, a percentage point below inflation. In other words, real wages are in decline. Profits are way up, to record levels, but we don't get any part of them. Money and wealth is being transferred from us to the rich. It's being redistributed, upward.

Remember that declining wages are not the only way wealth is extracted. We can still be getting paid, but they just take it back after we get home. Higher rents, foreclosures,  higher gas prices, fees charged by banks, higher prices for all kinds of things, like water, where we pay more to subsidize the rich and their industry, who get cheaper rates, and tax breaks. They no longer pay any significant taxes, so we are subsidizing the roads, bridges, ports, airports, development projects, all the things they need to do business.

President Obama has done nothing  to reverse or even slow this trend. Instead of spending his political capital getting the Employee Free Choice Act passed to remove some of the legal barriers to union organizing, he used it to pass Obamacare, which makes everyone buy private insurance. He invited health care industry CEOs to the White House to ask them what they wanted, and refused to consider any kind of single payer or public option program, which is what the public wanted.

Europe recently entered into double dip recession, and China is also slowing down. The effect of those haven't even shown up in the US economy, except in the plummeting stock markets, the gambling houses of the rich where they are backing out of bets on growth like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Mitt Romney himself lately has liquidated millions in stocks to cash.

Electoral map watchers like Larry Sabato and Karl Rove say Obama is in a good position (The Sabato link has a detailed and interesting analysis and his first map of the election cycle. After clicking the Rove link, click on his name to see his electoral map.) Obama has a chance in states that really shouldn't be in contention, like Arizona and South Carolina. Those states have lots of Latino voters. New Mexico is said to be in Obama's column, and it's because of Latino voters. Latinos make up an always increasing share of the electorate, and if Latinos in swing states can be convinced to actually come out and vote for Obama, he has a good chance.

Greeks will soon decide whether or not to abandon the European Union. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the de facto Commandant of Europe, drops her insistence on making the poorer countries of Europe, like Greece and Spain, pay for the bad bets of German banks, and thereby holds the European Union together, world stock markets will stop falling and start to rise again. The 1 percent will get back to the business of extracting wealth from the rest of us, and Obama will win in November.




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