Monday, July 30, 2012





from Bill Allyn's Facebook page









Occupy FBI's Facebook page





Some things just make me giddy.




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Sunday, July 29, 2012

In this official Chick-Fil-A photo reproduced at the Daily Mail, UK, company president Dan Cathy, who recently made headlines with his anti gay comments, seems to have the words "chicken sandwich" coming out of his head.


He seems to think it's funny.




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Olympic Tribute

I've been hearing non stop Olympic mania all week on the BBC while I drive through the night. (The Brits, God love 'em, do mania in the most annoying way you can imagine.) I've seen a headline or two referring to the overblown pageantry of the opening ceremonies, and ignored those. I've put up with endless chatter about how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went over there to associate himself with the glory of it all and ended up making a fool of himself and embarrassing the United States (a monumental accomplishment, if you think about it.)


Then I saw this headline.


London 2012: Welcome to the Idiot Games

 

Thank you. Finally, one worth reading.

 

(Click on the headline to read the story, by Tanya Gold, of the Guardian, UK.) 

 

Willard Mitt Romney outside 10 Downing St - Getty images

 

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jose, Can You See?

Arizona's anti Latino law is racist. This is widely believed on the Left and denied by anyone who favors the law and wants an excuse to disguise their own racism, but the release of emails by the man who wrote the law, former Republican state senator Russell Pearce, proves pretty conclusively that the law is racist, and provides insights into how Pearce and those who think like him think. 

If we try hard enough
"We are much like the Titanic as we inbreed millions of Mexico's poor, the world's poor and we watch our country sink," Pearce wrote in one email.

The emails contain fuzzy thinking, thinking that is racist in its content and construction, and which is often not based in fact. For example, Pearce makes false assertions about the crime rates ("illegal immigrants" commit 9,000 murders per year and have a crime rate 2.5 times higher than normal) and birth rates ("substantially higher than the population at large") of the undocumented.

Other of Pearce's quotes are revealed in an Arizona Republic story by Alia Beard Rau that's been reposted at Reader Supported News.

Air Conditioning

I've written before that I think racism is widely misunderstood, that it's mistakenly thought of as a problem specific to a person or group that has been identified as being racist.

Racism, like its twin, almost its synonym, nationalism, arises from a universal human condition which is a function of human nature. If you replace the word racism or the word nationalism with tribalism, it's easy to imagine a time in human development when family groups and extended family groups, or tribes, stuck together because of fear for their survival and how, now, a similar dynamic leads to attributing certain negative characteristics on those who cause the fear. This attribution of negative characteristics is often used by political leaders to manufacture support for going to war against others or to demonize those they see as threats such as Socialists Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, and by politicians like Pearce to conger up fears of economic insecurity among the working class.

Racism is most obvious among elements of the working class whose physical survival actually is under threat, but it extends to people like Pearce who fear for the survival of their race based privileges.

Whether it's called racism, tribalism, nationalism, or patriotism, it's much the same thing, and the same kind of bond can exist at any given time between any two people or among any given group. Imagine when two people huddle together and talk ill of a third. Imagine gossip. Imagine sports fans, or the bonds of loyalty that form out of thin air around the desire to partake in winning any given goal or contest or material gain. Just as quickly as these bonds are formed they can dissipate and any given individual can quickly, almost immediately, form new bonds of the same kind with another person or group.

Racism is a manifestation of our fear for survival. It consists of acting upon that fear, against a person or group identified as a threat, through our capacity for violence. Like most urges, it originates in the unconscious and is translated by the conscious into something more amenable to the ego.

Urges like this, with conditioning, can either be brought to the surface, i.e., manifested in the consciousness, and reinforced, or they can be suppressed. An urge can even be replaced by other ways of expressing or dealing with what is at its base, in this case, fear.

Conditioning, of course, means replacing one set of material conditions with another. An example would be to use school busing to allow children to be exposed to children of other races.

Another is the case of rap and hip hop music, in which young Black people are allowed to express themselves in the way they want to express themselves. Although this has been permitted for the purpose of their commercial exploitation, because the music is popular with young people of all races, it has resulted, or at least has greatly contributed to, young people having different attitudes about race than their parents and grandparents. Recent surveys, such as the widely reported Pew Research survey of "Generation Next" and a similar one by the Levitt Center at Hamilton College, show that young people are better on race issues than their predecessors. For example, they are open to interracial relationships (and gay marriage) and they think immigration strengthens America. Recall, too, that the votes of young people swept Barak Obama into office.

The National Sacred Hymn

What is just as troubling to me is Pearce's thinking of The Star Spangled Banner as a "sacred song."


 "Last week, Denver's illegal aliens sang our national anthem and bastardized the words of OUR nation's most sacred song," Pearce wrote in an email.

Sacred can simply mean related to God, but is usually is used to denote something god-related that deserves special veneration. Something to idolize.

Belief in God, and religion, are not universal. Many who do believe in a god don't attend religious services and don't bond with any given sect, and within organized religion, some has elements of the sacred in it, some does not. Some religions fuse nationalism with religion, as Pearce does, some don't. Pearce and others like him are not able to fuse their racism with their religion -- this is no longer socially acceptable in the US -- but they are able to cast their racism in nationalistic terms, and then fuse that nationalism with religion. (There is a permissible exception now, on the political Right, to the social rule against fusing racism with religion, which allows the public expression of racist views of people of Arab descent in  religious terms.)

The problem with fusing anything with religion is that it makes a problem more intractable. We can easily see how sectarianism causes problems in foreign lands, but in the US one of the most intractable issues is abortion, a sectarian issue. The divide over abortion is no closer to being resolved than it ever was.

In the case of racism, while it still lingers and is a formidable problem, it's at least been possible to establish as a given that racism is wrong, and that not being racist is right. Not so in the case of abortion.

The National Question

A joke my older brother brought home when we were kids went like this:

Truck Driver Francisco Pinto
   My friend from work
A guy named Jose went to the baseball game. Jose was very short, so he started looking for a place he could see the playing field from. As he was walking around Jose saw someone from work. His friend was concerned about Jose being able to see and asked him, "Jose, can you see?" Jose eventually found a seat, but as soon as he did, someone sat in the seat in front of him.  He found another seat but the same thing happened.  He ran into another friend from work, who also asked him, "Jose, can you see?" He tried standing, but wherever he stood, someone was standing in front of him. Finally he looked to the outfield and saw the flag pole. He went out and climbed up the flag pole and sat on the ball at the very top. Then, just as the game was about to begin, everyone in the stadium stood up at once and sang, "Jose, can you see?" 

If something strikes us as funny, it's because a complex set of elements are at work. Most humor works on a number of levels. In this joke, one of the reasons it works is because of the way the joke treats the first line of our national anthem, which is, "Oh say can you see?" The joke works, in part, because our national anthem is generally seen as sacred or as something like sacred in that it is given a certain kind of veneration. When we suddenly thinks of those lines meaning something somewhat ridiculous, it strikes us as funny. Maybe a Russell Pearce or a Michelle Bachmann wouldn't see it as so funny, but maybe, if they were off their guard, they would. Most of us do, though, enjoy taking an ocasional stab at things that are venerated.

As for the way the joke treats Jose, pregunte a Jose.

The name Jose is used by many Anglos as the stereotypical Mexican male name, and there's a saying we use instead of "no," which is "No way Jose." Out of ignorance, we never pronounce Jose properly, giving the "s" a "z" sound instead of the soft s sound.

There's a man at work whose name is Jose, but no one knows his name is Jose except the managers, and me, because at work, he goes by Joe.




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America The Exceptional



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Monday, July 16, 2012



Exploiting Annihilation

Movie Reviews

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)


Back in the good old days of the Cold War, when "the bomb" was a term everyone understood and we lived under the constant threat of annihilation by nuclear war between the US and the USSR, Russia and the countries that comprised the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were for most Americans a great unknown.


We knew nothing about things like Stalin's mass purges or the gulag, but neither did we know that Soviet citizens enjoyed the benefits of full employment and universal free education, up to and including an excellent university education.

Hugh Marlowe - movieactors.com
We knew what we were told by the Capitalist political establishment and its mouthpiece, the media. We might have heard about people waiting in line for food, but most often we were told about dictatorship and about a police state, where people lived in a complete lack of freedom and in constant fear. We were told that the USSR wanted to take over the world and make us live like they did.

Few were aware then, certainly not we the people, that the reality of the USSR, or the Soviet Union as it was often called, was a complex story that began in 1917 when a small group of highly idealistic revolutionaries suddenly found themselves in charge of a vast territory, the largest country on earth by far, and one the existing Czarist bureaucracy had never more than loosely administered, and that the nation that eventually emerged from their idealistic dreams of a better world was in some ways worse than life in the Capitalist West, but in many ways better.

We also didn't know that there was never very much of a threat of a nuclear war. Some suspected as much, but the threat was technically possible, and was so widely perceived that detractors couldn't really say anything for sure. Many people realized that the threat was being used by politicians to keep public discourse in the West centered on the threat and within a very narrow range on either side of it, but since it was real, or at least perceived to be real, there wasn't much that could be done about that, either.

The threat came to be interchangeable with Socialism, and was part and parcel of the propaganda against Soviet Socialism, or, as it was often called, "Russian Communism," but its use as propaganda by Western leaders was only the latest manifestation of a struggle that began well before the start of the Cold War.

It was always critical to the Capitalist class that Socialism be seen as a mortal threat. Early in the 20th century, Socialism had become a viable political alternative in Europe, and was beginning to be so for many Americans. There began to be many Socialists elected to public office in the US, including city council members and the post of mayor in some major US cities, such as Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

The economic hardships caused by the Great Depression, when Capitalism failed to deliver the goods to millions, caused millions more to consider the more humane alternative Socialism represented.

The fact that Socialism had gained a foothold in Europe and was spreading in the US is credited with the reforms embodied in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs.(1) By adopting Socialist programs like Social Security, Workman's Compensation, Food Stamps and welfare, (and the planned Medicare and Medicade that were finally implemented by Lyndon Johnson), and by removing some of the legal barriers to union organizing, and by using government to create jobs for out-of-work laborers to build the New Deal's big public works projects, Roosevelt removed many of the reasons for Socialism's appeal.

After fighting alongside the USSR in World War II, the post war attack on Socialism, via, on the one hand, the political witch hunts known of as McCartheysim and on the other, by the demonization of the USSR, began in earnest. Holding up the threat of nuclear annihilation and the false notion of a Soviet goal of world domination, the project Roosevelt had begun on behalf of Capitalism was continued. It's purpose was to end, not the threat of the Soviet Union, but the threat it represented to Capitalism, which was, and is, Socialism, or to at least  contain it as far as was possible. One can argue that Socialism never really existed in the Soviet Union, but it doesn't matter if it did or didn't. The USSR symbolized Socialism in a powerful way. It gave an almost omnipresent life to the idea that there was an alternative to Capitalism.

The direction for the manipulation of the Soviet threat came from government, which created generic sounding agencies that used scientists and scientific terminology to disseminate information about things like nuclear fallout and what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. This was when science was king, before the 60s and 70s when the scientific method itself was shown to be subject to bias and political manipulation. Because the voice of science was trusted, government warnings couched in scientific terminology didn't appear to be part of the anti-Socialist political propaganda.


Sterling Hayden - movieactors.com

The indoctrination was aimed at children, too. Many of us remember being made to take part in "civil defense drills." At my elementary school these consisted of having us file out of our classrooms into the hallway and line up along interior walls, where we sat and tucked our heads between our legs (the better to kiss your ass goodbye, as someone remarked) and covered our heads with our arms.

Popular magazines ran pictures of "fallout shelters," self-contained underground survival rooms that people were building or buying and installing that would supposedly keep your family safe from a nuclear attack and afterward provide a place to wait it out until the radiation decreased to safe levels. The threat became embedded in the culture and political discourse, and was the fuel that fed anti Socialist propaganda and incitement.

Fear And Film

Two movies of the post war, Cold War period, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Dr Strangelove, each addressed the threat of global annihilation, but from very different angles. Both movies are excellent in their own right, and for their own reasons, but they have in common the one subject that was never far from anyone's consciousness.

The Day The Earth Stood Still is about an alien from a planet far more advanced than ours who comes to warn Earthlings that their aggressive nature will lead to their end. Landing his spacecraft in the capital, Washington, DC, hoping to talk to the leaders of the world, the alien is seen as a threat, even when, with the help of an earth woman, knowledge of his mission's purpose reaches the president. He becomes the subject of a massive manhunt and, of course, is hunted down and shot.


When the film was made in 1951 it was still widely believed that nuclear power could be used safely and would be a cheap and abundant energy source. But there had been the wartime bombings of Japan and the Cold War was underway, and people were becoming conscious of the threat of global nuclear war. In its subtle way the movie is about how those in power perverted that threat for their own ends.

Dr Strangelove is about a general, drunk on power and the access to sex that comes with it, and crazed by suspicions of Communist plots, who orders the 34 nuclear bomb armed B-52s under his control to drop their bombs on their Russian targets. The leaders of the US and USSR become aware of what has happened, but not soon enough to prevent global annihilation.

In 1951, when The Day The Earth Stood Still was made, the United States was full of confidence after emerging victorious from World War II with the realization that it was the number one world power. Its director, Robert Wise, however, saw the reality that lurked behind that bravado. Although aware of the threat of nuclear war, the power elite was not capable of ordering the world in a way that was going to eliminate that threat.

By 1964, when Stanley Kubrik made Dr Strangelove, our era of national self-questioning was beginning, and although the great disillusionment was only just underway, Kubrick realized that despite all the posturing and billions spent on arms in the meantime, we were still not able to solve our biggest problems.

Although in 1964 the threat of nuclear annihilation was still on the minds of many people, it would soon begin to recede from the conscious into the unconscious, just as death itself does. We sometimes think about death, but since we see it as inevitable we learn to let go of our thoughts about it. We came to think of "the bomb" similarly. It meant death, but was beyond our control so we let loose of it. Dr Strangelove, besides being about the insanity of nuclear war, is about letting go of it by making light of it, by, so to speak, laughing in the face of death. It was part of the national process being undertaken of coping with the threat of annihilation.

Unlike the Film Noir earnestness of The Day The Earth Stood Still, Dr Strangelove is steeped in dark humor, the source of which is not far from the source of the dark urges and passions -- unmitigated and actively pursued -- behind the threat of global annihilation and represented by the two generals, played by George Scott and Sterling Hayden, and embodied in the crippled figure of Dr Strangelove himself, who in the closing moments finds he can walk after all, and who, incidentally, bears an eerie resemblance to a real war criminal who was just about to appear on the world stage, Henry Kissinger.

Both films were shot in black and white. The Day The Earth Stood Still with its stunning cinematography is a reminder of what has been accomplished in the black and white form. The way the film lays out its simple moral argument might be considered cranky or naive today, but the argument was intended for the mass, movie going public, which at the time was huge. Even so, director Wise works in some subtle social commentary along the way that fleshes out the film's argument, some of it by way of the acting of Hugh Marlowe, who played the handsome, ultimately slimy suitor of the movie's heroine, played by Patricia Neal. Notably for its time, 1951, before Martin Luther King or the modern feminist movement had appeared on the scene, the team of world renowned scientists assembled by the physicist the alien befriends is multi racial and includes women.


Patricia Neal - aveleyman.com

A high point of the movie for me, besides the excellent cinematography, was Neal's  performance. Although in her last years her acting was overshadowed by the publicity she created by making anti abortion commercials in which she professed regret for an abortion she'd had 40 years earlier, she did win an academy award in 1963 for Hud, was nominated once more and was nominated for three Emmys for work in TV. In The Day The Earth Stood Still she brings surprising depth to the conventional Hollywood role written for the stereotypical, trusting, good hearted woman. If Marlowe's character's lust to profit from some diamonds used as money by the alien and his betrayal of humankind for a few pieces of silver is a metaphor for Capitalism, Neal's character, who gradually moves from trust in her man, and in her government to clear sighted heroism, can be seen as a metaphor for the disillusionment to come, during the two decades of cultural upheaval that followed those 1950s good times.

Dr Stranglove has that kind of excellent writing that successfully combines spoof with some serious shit, and boasts solid, ironic performances by Scott and Hayden and also by the great comic actor Peter Sellers. Sellers portrays an English officer who is attached to the US military command structure in charge of nuclear bomb carrying B-52s. He always seems to be one step behind everyone else, and plays the role in his typically buffoonish style, but in the end he's the only one who shows any moral conviction, and is rewarded for his buffoonery by being given a great polemic speech to deliver.


Continuing Significance

Now that Soviet Socialism has failed, and we're again becoming aware of the inability of Capitalism to deliver the goods to the majority of humankind -- and with a government bailout of the working class being ruled out this time -- the truths behind these films, and the notions that we can allow ourselves to harbor uncontrolled passions for consumption and power forever, are laid bare. Since the films came out we've just added problems that we can't solve, like choking ourselves with greenhouse gasses. Neither the threat of global warming, nor nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and the still ongoing Fukishima disaster, have swayed us from pursuing the twin fantasies of unlimited resources and safe nuclear power.

In fact, as regards nuclear annihilation, a situation exists that is almost the inverse of the one that existed during the Cold War. As evidenced by nuclear disasters like Fukishima and Chernobyl and close calls like Three Mile Island, the threat that all life can be wiped out by nuclear radiation continues, but there's no widespread perception of the threat.


On one level, these two films serve as cultural markers, as waypoints in the development of Western civilization. They tell us where we were then, by their point of view, by the styles in which they were made, and by laying out what we were thinking then, and are fascinating because of that.

On that level they are reminders that we still make the same mistakes, and that because we still suffer from the same hubris, we are still blind to them.

But on another level, they are classic reminders that, as a culture, our intellectual and emotional development is what it is because the reality we live in is created by Capitalism and its drive for power and accumulation.

We were fooled then. The struggle going on during the Cold War wasn't between two superpowers or between good and evil or between the Socialism, real or imagined by propagandists, of "Communist Russia" and the idea of freedom that is an integral part of the American mythology. The struggle going on then, and going on now as austerity and trickle down economics is enforced in America and Europe, is between the idea that the only way we can live is for a fortunate few to sit atop of vast piles of wealth while the rest of us struggle to survive, and the idea that there's enough to go around for everyone.

The question, unspoken, perhaps, and yet still clearly asked by these films, is whether or not we'll get fooled again.




(Note: Credit for my revisiting these two great films goes to New Mexico political analyst and blogger Jim Baca.

I recently wrote a web log entry listing my favorite movies of all time, to which Baca added the comment that his list would include these two films.

I'd not seen either, and have been meaning to order them, then last night, having come across some spare time and some spare change, I went looking for them. To my surprise and delight I came across web sites where each can be seen for free. Yes, free!

Here are the links:

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Dr Strangelove

These sites also have other films available for free viewing. {Note: the link I found to The Day The Earth Stood Still is not in that web site's current directory, which can be found here.})

Footnote:

(1) It has been argued that the support Adolph Hitler and his well known at the time Nazi projects received from many in the US capitalist class, like Prescott Bush, patriarch of the Bush political clan, and from many US politicians, and that at least some of broad political resistance to going to war against Germany that Roosevelt circumvented with his lend-lease scheme and was only overcome after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was because Hitler was clamping down on the group seen as most responsible for the spread of Socialism, Jews. It is true that many of the working class immigrants to the US who brought Socialist ideas with them were Jewish, but that, of course, is reason to celebrate them, not exterminate them.

The line of thinking that excused the Holucaust on economic grounds doesn't seem quite as shocking in the context of the existing conditions, in which it was acceptable for Capitalists in the US to hire private militias to murder striking workers and in which they could often call on governors and in one instance a president to send out national guard troops to do the same thing at taxpayer expense.




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Monday, July 9, 2012

(new fiction)


Out Past The Weigh Station


You have to be somewhere at a certain time, that's it. There's not much else to worry about in trucking. Once you're headed for the destination and you know you have plenty of time to get there, you can lean back in the seat and relax, and a semi truck is a pretty comfortable way to travel. Most have cruise control now, and bucket seats with arm rests. The seat moves up and down on an air suspension system that takes the rough edges off the rough roads and kind of rocks you along like you're siting on a porch swing. The trucks have power steering and track well. You point one in a certain direction and that's where it goes. There's not much work involved once you're sailing down the highway.


There are those miles to pass, but that's part of the good part. That's all free time. I can spend it as I please. I have radio, my little iPod, and some good headphones. I can fill the iPod full of music, and I can use it to listen to podcasts, too. Pacifica radio. Intelligent conversation, dissenters, like me, radicals, even some Socialists. All the Leftists have their shows as do Natives and Blacks and Arabs and Pacific Islanders and Gays and Lesbians, everyone who hasn't been given the microphone elsewhere. There's all kinds of interesting programming, people interviewing interesting people and talking about finding a better way than this crazy way we do things now.
 

There's books on tape, too. A great Russian novel can keep you engaged for a week. You inhabit a different world. I've caught up on a lot of the reading I always should have done but never did, the classics and so forth, and the interesting thing is that those classic novels are good stories, too. Of course they're more than good stories. The great novelists were talking about the same things the philosophers and artists and thinkers of their day were talking about and that's why the books are classics but they're also classics because it's great writing and they tell good stories, and when you get caught up in a good book you can't wait to get on the road and get back into it. If you have eight or ten hours driving ahead of you, it's not a chore, it's a pleasant eight or ten hours. Russian novels, Plato's dialogues, one of Maugham's stories. When it's over it's just like when you put down a good book at home. You just keep cruising and enjoying the mood it leaves you in and out there, you don't have anything to worry about anyway except maybe what you're going to listen to next, or maybe which truck stop to stop at and enjoy a nice, hot meal.

Sometimes I'll leave the radio off, take the headphones off, and just think. When you have that kind of free, un-interrupted time you can really think a thing through. You can resolve things, in your mind, take a thing piece by piece and hold up each piece and turn it around and look at every side of it, think each piece of it through. You can figure things out, make decisions, set priorities. Having the ability to make quick decisions is nice, but having the luxury of not having to is nice, too.

So I don't mind the long miles. There's not too much to worry about about there. There's the company you work for, of course. There's always that, wherever you work. In trucking it's dispatchers and various other ones in the company but you end up doing a lot of your driving at night when the company people are home in bed. Even during the day, they're too busy to bother you much. Once they know you're reliable they don't waste their time on you and at night, they're home in bed.

So I enjoy the simplicity, the not having to worry, the long miles, the time spent alone. The only thing you might have to worry about once in awhile is the law, and that's something you do have to worry about. You sure don't want to be in a hurry. It gets you noticed. It also ruins your peace of mind, and you have to worry about getting tickets and losing your commercial driver's license. That's a valuable thing to have, but you have to protect it. You're allowed fewer tickets than with a regular driver's license, one fewer, so you have to worry about the law once in awhile but if you just take it easy, leave yourself plenty of time, you don't have to worry too much about the highway cops, and the only thing you have to worry about is the weigh stations. Those are something you do have to worry about.

The weigh stations are at the state lines, usually. There's a few out in the middle of nowhere but mostly they're at state lines. When you come into every state, the state department of transportation, the cops for truckers, want to weigh your truck. At most of the scales now, you don't even have to stop, you just roll over the scales slowly, and if you're weight is OK you get the green light and you're gone. Sometimes they'll give you the red light because they want to look the truck itself over, inspect it, and look at your paperwork and when they do, they always want to see your log book, and sometimes your registration and fuel permits and your other permits and your bills of lading and so on. If they find anything wrong they'll write you a ticket, too, right there in the office.

The department of transportation cops can write tickets like the police. When you're going to get a ticket they'll have you park in the back and come in and stand there at the counter while they write it. While you're standing there you have time to think about what it will mean as far as keeping your license, keeping the job you're at, and how much the fine will be. Everything costs more for truck drivers -- tolls, parts, mechanics, even parking tickets, almost everything, and when you get a fine in a truck, it's going to cost more than what you'd pay for doing the same thing in a car. Except seat belt tickets. Those cost the same as in a car, but in some states now, New Mexico, for example, they put points on your license for seat belt tickets. It's three points on your license in New Mexico for not wearing your seat belt. That's insane. I look at seat belts like this. If you're planning on getting into an accident, wear a seat belt. If not, don't. If you think there's a remote chance you might have an accident, wear one. If not, don't. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, unless Caesar is a complete goddamn idiot.

But weigh stations are something to worry about. Nothing good can happen at a weigh station, only bad things, so when you're approaching one you're thinking about it. How's the log book look? Is there anything wrong with the truck. What about my weight? You're allowed 80,000 pounds and customers, who are paying by the truck load, like to load you right up to the limit, and some of them, like farmers, if you're hauling hay, will put as much on there as you'll let them.


Sometimes a weigh station will be closed, but you only find out when you get there, after you're already done worrying about it. After you've driven trucks awhile you know where all the weight stations are, so you know when to be ready, when to at least have your log book up to date. If your log book is OK and your weight is OK, that's the worst of it, but you never can be sure about the truck. Something, a light, a tire, might have gone out in the past several hours and you might not be aware of it.

Things do go out, and they have to go out at some time. A headlight, a marker light, a tail light, a flat on an inside tire where you wouldn't see it in the rear view mirror. You have 18 wheels and 18 tires and they'll go flat once in awhile, especially in the summer when they get hot.

Sometimes, you have drive over the legal limit of hours, and when you do and you know a weigh station is coming up, it's high anxiety time. You probably won't get checked, but you might. Usually you just idle over the scales and they don't ever see your log book, but they do sometimes do spot checks. Sometimes they'll give you the red light and call you in so they can look at it, and sometimes they'll walk out and have you hand it to them so you can't hurry up and bring it up to date before you go inside.


I drive a regular route these days and go past two weigh stations every night. It's a pretty easy run, 486 miles a night -- from Albuquerque out to Holbrook, Arizona, where I trade trailers with a driver who is coming from Phoenix, then I head back to Albuquerque.

One of the weigh stations I have to contend with is the one coming into New Mexico, on the way back. That one's always open, always, so when I'm 20 miles from it I start getting ready. I've updated the log book when I left Holbrook, so getting ready means fastening the seat belt and getting the clutter off the dash board, maybe checking the lights and the tires in the rear view mirrors, and remaining calm so I don't grind the gears while I'm pulling onto the scales or do some stupid thing like that. At that weigh station, they don't check paperwork except maybe once a month, and then they usually just want to look at your truck registration, but a few times a year they'll have extra people on duty and will be doing complete truck and paperwork inspections, and your log book will be examined with a fine tooth comb. They can do those day or night, and you always have to be ready, but usually they just wave you through, then it's clear sailing all the way to Albuquerque.

The other weigh station I have to pass is the one coming into Arizona, on my way out to Holbrook. That's one's usually closed when I get there at 1 a.m., but it's occasionally open so you have to be ready. When I'm approaching that one, a mile or so away, I can see the red light, the "closed" light, and I can take off the seat belt and relax, and when I've passed that one it's smooth sailing. I can put on the headphones and just do what I want to do.


The rest of the trip out to Holbrook is pretty much all flat land, just a roadway across the open desert. No hills or sharp curves, no towns, and at that time of night no traffic. Pretty relaxing. You're up on a high plateau, too, and the sky is usually clear and you're surrounded by all the constellations and the millions of stars. Up high, in the desert, the air is thin and dry and the sky looks different. It has depth to it. It's three dimensional. That part of the drive is the best part of my day, the easiest time. There's nothing to worry about. Just put it on cruise control and enjoy the ride. The stars, some music, a good podcast, the BBC maybe, or just nothing at all.

When I got past the Arizona weigh station the other night I started thinking about one of the old jobs I had. It was a small company out of St Louis. They had refrigerated trailers. Refrigerated freight is high dollar freight, so it usually pays well. The trucks were nice, comfortable and fast, and the company booked mostly nice, long runs, like California to Ontario, Canada.

I used to pick up different kinds of fruits or nuts that went in Kellog's cereals, at the big brokers' warehouses in the San Joaquin Valley or sometimes at a farm just south of San Jose, and take it all the way to London, Ontario. It was nice. You did a lot of driving, but that's the only part of truck driving you're paid for. You're not paid for loading or unloading, or waiting for a day or two to get your truck worked on at the terminal. You're paid by the mile, and whether you're on a long run, or a short run, you only have to load and unload at the beginning and at the end.

When I think about that company I inevitably think about Bill Starr, a guy who worked in the office. Bill was head of the Safety Department. He was the safety department. The company was big enough to have a safety department, but he was the only one in it, and he also conducted the orientations.

I'd usually see Bill whenever I made it to terminal, which happened now and then. If he didn't have an orientation going on, he'd just be hanging around. Safety people have to file some reports with the government and insurance companies, and they conduct the periodic safety classes that the company requires, but if he didn't have that or an orientation class going on he was hanging out somewhere in the office, talking to this person or that one.


He always had a friendly hello for me and wanted to know how things had been going. Bill had been a driver. It's not uncommon to see drivers working in the office at trucking companies. The attraction is that you're home every night, and that can be a big attraction. If there's one thing you have time to think about on the road it's all the things you could do if you had a normal life. Setting up that work shop or fixing up that house or growing that garden, or going for a drive with someone in the evening to have an ice cream. I didn't know why Bill got off the road. I never heard him talk about his driving days. Some of those safety guys, the ones who used to drive, talk about their driving days non stop, but Bill didn't. He wanted to talk about you.

St Louis, where headquarters was, isn't New York or Rome or Paris or Los Angeles, but it's the big metropolis in that part of the country, the big city. Bill, though, had come from a small town, and looked like a friendly farm boy. He was tall and had big, warm, friendly brown eyes and wavy brown hair and looked like someone who had played basketball or football in high school. He was a pleasant person to be around, and when I quit that company and had to go in and talk to Bill and he tried to get me to stay, I was sorry to have to say no.
 

I met Bill, though, during the orientation. Those orientation sessions always drag on for days, and Bill covered the things he was supposed to, I suppose, but he was always telling stories, too, about truck drivers, mainly, about some of the things they had pulled, like the driver who tossed his log book out the window as he pulled into the weigh station. His log book was way behind, and the fine for not having a log book was less than the fine for his log book being behind, so out went the log book.

Another story was about a driver who went to Laredo, on the Mexican border. If you're in trucking you're going to end up in Laredo sooner or later, hauling NAFTA stuff coming out of Mexico, delivering raw materials going into Mexico, and sometimes, hauling machines down there from factories that had closed in the US and were headed for a new home in Mexico.
 

In this story, the driver had gotten pissed off at his company. If you've ever worked for a living you know about getting pissed off at the company, for good reason, and in trucking there's two or three times as much reason and it's a common occurrence for drivers to get mad. They get mad and quit, they get mad and abandon a truck somewhere, they get mad and tell off everyone within ear shot. It's the companies, the lack of respect truckers have to put up with on all fronts, and it's the lack of sleep and the stress from the road, but everyone in the class who had driven before knew what Bill was talking about.

"So this driver is so pissed," Bill says, grinning, "that he checks into a motel room, then went and found someone who'd buy his truck. It wouldn't be hard to do in Laredo. The truck will be on its way to Mexico in a few hours, or it'll be stripped for parts and they'll end up in Mexico, but the driver sold his truck for $8,000, a company truck, not his own, the company's, then goes back to the motel room, calls the company and reports the truck stolen."

The drivers who had driven before thought the story was great. A rare case of justice. Some of the reason it got a good laugh was that Bill was a company man. He worked in the office so had to be a company man. He hadn't always been a company man, and he hadn't forgot what it was like. He knew what drivers go through out there. Most of those drivers who go to work in the office aren't like that. They were usually ass kissers anyway, and they soon forget all about what it was like out there. They relish being company men and having their little bit of authority over drivers, even if they do earn less now. Status is an elixir, an addictive substance. Being part of the company and above someone else soon brings out peoples' lesser natures. They quickly adopt the attitudes and language of the other side, become part of the solid front that inside people maintain against those on the outside, in this case, drivers.

The sad thing is, I have to say, that in trucking, there are lot of drivers who are already company men. Many truck drivers come from the South, where truck driving is one of the best paying jobs you can get, and in the South, even if you're a member of the working class, you are born a company man and die a company man. I'm talking about White Southerners, not Black ones. Black people are on the outside even if they're inside. They live in a different world than Whites, always on the outside. I'm talking about Republican working class Whites.


Several times I've heard a driver with a southern drawl, when you ask him why he does this or that, say, "Because the boss man says so."

Which is unfathomable, to me, foreign. I'll never utter those words, even if they happen to be true, but the culture of the US South is such that you can be your own man and be owned by the company, too. It's just all so unfathomable.

Bill, even if he had become a company man, remembered. He still knew what it was like. Maybe he wasn't really a company man, after all.

I enjoyed his orientations classes and even started to speak up once in awhile, which I normally don't do. I don't appreciate those orientation sessions, or the company safety classes, sitting there listening to someone talk who knows less about what they're saying than I do, and I don't normally participate in truck driver banter, either. It's formulaic, self promoting and inane, and dishonest most of the time and just very annoying, but I was enjoying Bill's classes and was speaking up once in awhile.


He had been talking about driving at night and asked if anyone knew what to do when there were deer and livestock in the road, so I spoke up and told a story about hitting a deer in Caspar, Wyoming.

In Caspar, the interstate highway goes right through downtown, and I told them that I was driving through there one night when a deer jumped out in front of me. I don't know why the deer was in downtown Caspar, Wyoming, but it was, and I no sooner saw it than I hit it, broadside, and I was telling the class about what it was like to hit a deer when you're going full speed.

I suppose my story could have been a comment about the fact that sometimes there's nothing you can do in a situation like that, but what I really wanted to do was to tell everybody that when I hit the deer, it exploded, and it surprised the hell out of me. At the moment of impact, red fluid gushed from every opening in the deer's body, from front to rear and from top to bottom. I suppose it was blood mixed with bodily fluids, but whatever it was, it went everywhere, all over the truck, the windshield, up in the air, everywhere, a sudden gush of red fluid exploding from all the deer's bodily openings.


No one said anything. I wondered if some of them had hit a deer and were disappointed they hadn't told their story before I did, but I think most of them thought it was pretty impressive. Just for good measure, I said,

"It was the most gruesome thing I've ever seen."
 

Again, no one spoke.

Bill, as I told the story, had just stared at me. When I was finished he didn't say anything, either. He just looked at his watch and said we might as well take our break now.

I was only with that company about a year. I met someone up in Wisconsin and got a job driving local up there, so I could be home every night. That thing didn't last long either and I ended up back on the road, and some time after that I ran into a driver from the old company, Bills company.

It was at the TA truck stop in Ontario, California. I used to spend a lot of time at that truck stop. I'd deliver Kellogg's cereal to a warehouse just a few miles from there. I'd deliver finished cereal, then go to the truck stop and wait for the horrendous Los Angeles afternoon rush hour to pass, then drive up to the San Joaquin Valley or San Jose, pick up raisins or nuts, and take them to London, Ontario, Canada where they'd go into Kellogg's cereal. The driver from the old company was coming out of the TA as I was going in. He had bought himself a big, fancy, powerful CB radio for his truck. I said I didn't know much about CB radios so he showed it to me.

When he was done I asked about people at the company. There were a couple of dispatchers who were pretty nice. They worked nights and weren't like the office people in general, who were all home in bed at night. Then there was the woman who did the logs, who I had liked, so I asked about her. She was the person you turned your logs in to. She had to check them and keep them on file so that when the department of transportation came and audited them they'd be in order and legal. If I ever turned in an illegal log, she'd call me in and have me sit down next to her at her desk. She'd change the log to make it legal while I sat and watched, then she'd lean over to show it to me and make incidental contact with me with her very large breasts. She had lots of dark, curly hair and wore low cut sweaters and things, and I had thought about her many times since I left the company to run off to Wisconsin.

"So how is old Bill doing?" I asked, finally. Bill, who was in his 30s, hadn't driven very long before he started working in the office but I called him old Bill.

"He's still there."

"I guess he's all done with driving," I said.

"I guess!" the other driver exclaimed.


"What do you mean?"

"You didn't hear about it?"

"About what?"

"Well, when Bill was driving he was involved in a fatality. He hit somebody."

"I never knew that!"

"You never knew that?"

"No!"

"Yea, he was driving through Bloomington one night and they say a woman jumped out from behind a car that was stopped beside the highway, jumped right out in front of him. He couldn't stop or anything." He paused, then said, "They say there were body parts all up and down the expressway." He paused again before adding, "They think she wanted to commit suicide."


Even as I pictured the scene, my mind recalculated everything I knew about Bill, the way he treated people, why he went to work in the office, and how he stared at me while I talked about hitting a deer, his big friendly brown eyes saying nothing, just saying that I'm a big, warm, friendly guy, how are you doing?

And so when I get past the weigh station, it's the best part of the night. I can relax, put it on cruise, and there's not too much to worry about. I can put on the headphones, or turn on the radio, or think about the log woman, with her pretty smile, and her broad nose with the huge pores that I didn't really notice very often because of the low cut sweaters and things, or I can think about whether there's much difference in the frailty of the human body and the body of a deer, whether the bodily openings are more or less protected by bone, one from the other, whether, based on the size of the openings relative to the amount of bodily fluids, and given the same force of impact, fluid exits from the openings in a deer's body faster or slower than it does from the body of a woman.




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Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Unhired And The Vanquished

In the wake of the latest in a series of anemic monthly employment figures, which the government announced yesterday, a Bloomberg story explaining why employers are not hiring says that although businesses are selling things and making profits, business owners are not confident enough in the future to hire people and instead are requiring current employers to work longer hours. The average work week in the US increased last month. Near the end, the story contains this sentence:


The increase in the average workweek would be equivalent to a 325,000 gain in payrolls, according to estimates by economists at Nomura Securities International Inc. headed by Lewis Alexander.


It's tempting to interpret this information in terms of what those unhired workers would mean in political or economic terms. If 325,000 (instead of what was reported, 80,000) people had been hired, the unemployment rate would have dropped dramatically. Instead of falling off as they did, the stock markets would have skyrocketed because the economy would be sure to rapidly improve. Barak Obama's poll numbers would have risen and Mitt Romney's would have fallen. The news media would have been full of talk about all of this for several days. (The effect of those extra hours in creating more profit for owners while our share stays the same or declines would not, of course, be part of the news.)

Mother Jones magazine
But fluctuations in the work week are a routine part of Capitalism. Any time unemployment figures are released, you could calculate the number of "unhired workers" and speculate about what would have happened had those workers been hired. (In the US, although the work week fluctuates, the historical trend is up. See chart.)

One reason people fixate on the actual number of the hired and unemployed is that hiring is actually affected by business confidence. Business people have emotions and those have real effects on our lives.

But remember, too, that before Neoliberalism was adopted as the global economic model, Liberals, Democrats, union leaders and Progressives used to talk about having as a goal "full employment," which would mean that labor was scarce and wages would increase. I haven't heard the phrase "full employment" in a long time. The official unemployment remained at 8.2 percent yesterday. Now, an unemployment rate of five or six percent would be thought of as low, but in better times, those would have been high figures.

A high unemployment rate depresses wages. When many people are applying for each job, the employer can offer a lower wage. Employed workers are more compliant when the unemployment rate is high. They will more readily accept longer hours and cuts to their pay and benefits.

When workers are disempowered, business owners are empowered. Power, or more accurately, the sense of power, is a function of the emotions, which themselves are functions of conscious thought processes and unconscious impulses.

It's the unconscious that most motivates us. Our unconscious impulses derive partly from psychological processes, and some are manifestations of instinctual urges, like the survival instinct, which manifests itself, unconsciously, at various times and in various people, in different ways, and sometimes as either domination or submission.

We may see people starving or hear stories about hardship and suffering. These inputs can eventually filter down into our unconscious and affect our behavior, but they will affect it depending on the means we have at our disposal. Our personalty plays a part, but that too is affected by our material conditions, just as the means we have at our disposal are. In any event our behavior is dictated by a need to resolve emotional conflict, to avoid inner turmoil, to achieve satisfaction. This can be achieved by various means, but it always involves doing something to lessen our fears.

When the unemployment rate is low, workers feel more satisfied, because they know their jobs are more secure and they have more power. When the unemployment rate is high, business owners feel more satisfied.

One doesn't have to attribute any particular values, good or bad, to behavior to understand how unfettered, free market Capitalism works. It's simply human nature playing itself out, in the absence of the kind of controls we gladly put in place to control our behavior in other cases.

Hire more people? Why should I? I feel pretty good right now.



(note: The chart is from Overworked America: 12 charts that will make your blood boil, a Mother Jones article that discusses increases in the American work week. For a fuller discussion about the American work week including the effects of large numbers of women entering the work force see this Wikipedia Organized Labor series article, which contains the interesting factoid that if our work hours had decreased in proportion to how much our productivity has increased, we should be working 12 hours a week right now.)


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Friday, July 6, 2012

Weird News Web Sites And The People Who Edit Them





...and read them.


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Monday, July 2, 2012

And Why?






.....aren't Democrats campaigning on this stuff?


Think about it.




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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Light Reading
Republicans React To Supreme Court Decision On Obamacare


The best thing about Obamacare being upheld was not having to listen to Republicans gloat about it. The next best thing was listening to them go berserk.

Alternet collected some of that berserkness and here it is:

(note: Should you be consumed by Liberal guilt at any point during the reading, Holland provided this link in the story so you can read a sampling of what Republicans said after uber Neoliberal Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived a recall election a few weeks earlier. If you're not consumed by guilt, or if you enjoy this as much as I did, another story like it, about right wing vitriol aimed at Chief Justice John Roberts, is at Salon.)



AlterNet

The 10 Most Hilariously Unhinged Right-Wing Reactions to the Obamacare Ruling

 
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on June 28, 2012
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker beat back a recall effort, we learned that conservatives aren't exactly gracious in victory. On Thursday, when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court's moderate bloc to uphold ObamaCare, we discovered that the Right is nothing less than unhinged in defeat.

The remarkable thing about the heated debates about the law over the last three years is just how modest these reforms really are, especially when one considers how screwed up our healthcare system was to begin with.
The reality is that there is no "government takeover" underway. Some lower-middle-class families are going to get some subsidies to buy insurance, maybe ten million or so more poor people will be eligible for Medicaid. Insurers will get some new regulations that are popular even among Republicans.

And with Thursday's ruling, the government can no longer mandate that you carry insurance, it can only levy a small tax on those who don't. The real-world impact of that? Only an estimated 1 percent of the population will face the tax – a tax that maxes out at 1 percent -- and it may not even be enforceable!

But for the Right, a moderate expansion of health coverage and some new insurance regulations are, simply put, the worst things that ever happened. How bad is it? Well imagine that in the midst of the Holocaust, a meteor crashed to earth, destroying the entire planet. And as planet Earth exploded, it opened up a tear in the space-time continuum that swallowed up the entire galaxy. Thursday's ruling was, apparently, almost that bad.
For your reading pleasure, we've collected some of the most hilariously over-the-top freakouts we've seen. Enjoy!
 
1. Totally Not Exaggerating!
Baby-faced Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro offers a coolly dispassionate analysis of yesterday's ruling...
2. Wait Until They Discover That They Use the Metric System

BuzzFeed found a bunch of conservatives so freaked out by this tyranny that they're throwing in the towel and heading north to that right-wing paradise known as Canada – a place that has both universal healthcare and gay marriage...
3. Health Insurance Is So Much Worse Than the Murder of 3,000 People

It's a good thing Mike Pence is a reasonable conservative.
In a closed door House GOP meeting Thursday, Indiana congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence likened the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Democratic health care law to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to several sources present.
He immediately apologized.
4. Grab Your Musket and Tri-Corner Hat!

Did you know that the Founding Fathers fought a revolution to keep people uninsured. It's true!
Wonkette:
Now that poors can get health insurance because the demon Supreme Court sided with that commie muslin NOBAMA fella, the only way to defend our freedom is armed insurrection! Mount up and ride to the sound of the gun says former Michigan Republican Party spokesman Matthew Davis.
Matthew Davis, an attorney in Lansing, sent the email moments after the Supreme Court ruling to numerous new media outlets and limited government activists with the headline: “Is Armed Rebellion Now Justified?”
Davis added his own personal note saying, “… here’s my response. And yes, I mean it.”
“There are times government has to do things to get what it wants and holds a gun to your head,” Davis said. “I’m saying at some point, we have to ask the question when do we turn that gun around and say no and resist.
5. Revolution Is in the Air

Davis wasn't alone. Here's Matthew Vadum, author of Zombie Acorn Is Coming to Eat Your Face!
6. A Constitutional Scholar He Is Not...

Rand Paul really needs to peruse Article 3...
Politico:
Sen. Rand Paul doesn’t think the Supreme Court gets the last word on what’s constitutional.
The Kentucky Republican belittled the high court’s health care decision as the flawed opinion of just a “couple people.”
“Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional,” the freshman lawmaker said in a statement.
7. Health Insurance Is Exactly Like Slavery

It's not just Ben Shapiro – Richard Viguerie, a stalwart of the conservative movement since the Goldwater days, also reminisced about Dred Scott.
Today, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court of the United States – the body the Framers of the Constitution created to protect the citizenry from tyranny – has chosen to join infamous courts of the past, such as the Taney Court that made the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision finding that slaves had no rights and the Fuller Court that ruled to institutionalize Jim Crow discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson in stripping Americans of their freedom.
8. You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry

An unspoken virtue of Obamacare is that it might just make Glenn Beck's head explode. From his site, The Blaze:
Needless to say, the news [of the ruling] went over like a lead balloon with Glenn Beck and his radio co-hosts Pat and Stu — so much so that they nearly violated FCC language requirements.
When Beck and his team found out that it was in fact Roberts’ decision that pushed the bill through, they were visibly and audibly stunned. Beck surmised that the reason for Roberts’ decision likely hinges on the pervasive nature of progressivism.
“Progressivism is a disease and it is in both parties” Beck said.
“Progressives are fascists.”
Beck, looking on the one positive he feels to have come from this decision, said that the “Lord works in mysterious ways.”
OK, Glenn Beck.
 
9. John Roberts: Traitor!
Every fundamentalist religion abhors apostates, and American conservatism is no exception. As Alex Seitz-Wald detailed in Salon, the Chief Justice was treated to an abundance of bile.
“It’s patently absurd,” seethed Seton Motley, a conservative activist with LessGovernment.org. “This is the umpire calling the game for the first five innings, and then putting on a cap and glove and play first base...
“I have a message for Chief Justice Roberts,” Dean Clancy of the Tea Party group Freedomworks declared over the loudspeaker after the ruling came down. “The power to tax is the power to destroy”...
Bryan Fischer, the prominent Christian-right activist, toldBuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that Roberts “is going down in history as the justice that shredded the Constitution and turned it into a worthless piece of parchment”
10. Or Is He?

Unlike most constitutional experts, some conservative bloggers thought that the law was so obviously unconstitutional that something fishy must be going on...
Someone got to Roberts. I bet they got to him and told him he has to vote this way or members of his family – kids, wife, parents, whoever – were going to be killed.
Later this afternoon, it’s going to come out that Roberts was coerced. ... the whole story will come out, Roberts will issue his REAL opinion, and Obama and Axelrod will be taken away in handcuffs.
Hey, one can always hope!

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.
© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/156090/



.
Obama: Right Wing Coup OK By Me

Another Latin American Leftist president has been ousted by a coup, this time in Paraguay, and again, this is fine with President Obama.

As he did when Manual Zayala of Honduras was ousted in a coup, Obama, in letting stand the removal of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, continues US foreign policy in Latin America in the long established form of supporting right wing dictators and politicians over democracy and the interests of Latin American people.

Fernando Lugo - "The Bishop of the Poor" - Reuters
 Latin American leaders, meanwhile, universally condemned the coup last week against Lugo, and in another sign of waning US influence in the region swiftly ousted Paraguay from the Mercosur regional trading bloc and installed in its place Venezuela, the Socialist country led by the Latin American US leaders and media most love to hate at the moment, Hugo Chavez.

Lugo, a former Catholic priest and adherent of Liberation Theology, that is, a Leftist, was elected president of Paraguay in 2008, the first person elected to that office in 60 years who was not a member of the right wing Colorado Party. Lugo had been governing in a weak coalition with the Liberal Party, but the Colorado Party still holds almost all the seats in the legislature, and as a leaked Wikileaks cable shows, had been plotting Lugo's ouster since he took office. The US was aware of the plot. The leaked cable came from the US government.

The plot was finally implemented June 21 when, using as a pretense violence during a peasant occupation of illegally confiscated land, the Paraguayan senate -- which has been called the "instrument of US foreign policy in the subregion" -- "impeached" Lugo for not doing his job well enough.

Paraguy is the poorest Latin American nation and also has the most unequal distribution of wealth and land, and until 1989 was ruled for 35 years by US-backed dictator Alredo Stroessner, of the Colorado Party, which continues as a political party and has effectively blocked Lugo's efforts at land reform and income redistribution. The party had been blocking Venezuela's membership in Mercosur, but as a rebuke to the Colorado Party and perhaps the US, after the coup the other Mercosur members suspended Paraguay and quickly admitted Venezuela. Although some Mercosur members favored it, they have not imposed any economic sanctions on Paraguay because of their feared effect on Paraguay's poor. Suspension of Paraguay from the Organization of American States is also being discussed and the OAS has sent an investigatory mission to Paraguay. 

Lugo's impeachment on spurious grounds was reminiscent of US Republicans' abuse of constitutional remedies, like the impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton or the holding in contempt this week of Democratic Attorney General Eric Holder, and was probably inspired by them.

The usual course of events after Latin American coups is for, eventually, the involvement by the US in its execution or planning to come to light, as happened after the two most recent Latin American coups, that of Hugo Chavez in 2002 and Manual Zalaya in 2009.  

When Manual Zayala was ousted as Honduran president, President Obama initially issued statements expressing concern, but then quickly recognized the coup government when it was established. (The Honduran coup government continues to murder activists and union members by the hundreds, the US military base in Honduras, which Zayala had talked about closing, is still there, and the US militarization of Latin America under the guise of the "drug war" continues unabated.)

Argentine President Christine Fernandez de Kirchner called Lugo's removal "a parody" and a "coup d'etat." It's been condemned by close US allies Mexico and Columbia, which have conservative governments. The reaction of the Obama administration was to express "concern" over the speed with which the impeachment process took place.

No condemnation, no withdrawing of the ambassador, no talk of cutting off aid or trade. In other words, once more, according to President Obama, 'This is fine with me.' 


Details about the coup and the US response from:

Inter Press Service

Daily Kos 

MercoPress (internal maneuverings in the Mercosur Trade bloc)

The Economist


.