Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Boldly Going Nowhere

The Albuquerque Journal never misses an opportunity to put the privately owned space ship that's currently being developed on its front page. Part of the reason they promote this project is that it is supposed to eventually be based at New Mexico's space port, but most of the reason is the conservative fetish with the "private sector" doing something that previously only government had done.

The Neoliberal mantra that "the private sector can do anything better than government" hasn't worked out in practice. The private sector hasn't done anything of that nature well, and what it does always costs more. When public utilities like water are privatized, peoples' bills double. Private prisons have been a disaster. Charter schools, the back door privatization scheme for the public schools, despite cherry picking the best students and leaving special needs students to the state to educate, have never produced test scores that are any better than public schools have. Sometimes they don't do as well as public schools. These findings have been duplicated over and over now, even if the public discussion about education doesn't reflect it. The list of privatization failures goes on and on, but privatization still continues to be pushed by the media, which is essentially a conservative, corporate owned institution.

You heard a lot about privatization during the Republican debates during the last election, but not as much after the large Republican defeat. The recent revelations that a highly influential paper by two US economists, that had provided much of the underpinning for austerity measure economics, was full of mistakes didn't do their cause any good either. Conservatives have not given up on Neoliberalism, nor have Democrats, and it's still official Washington policy, but its days are numbered, and you can expect to see great white hopes of privatization like the space ship project held up and fervently promoted until they crash and burn and turn to dust, one way or the other. 

The railroads that span this country were originally financed by the public in the form of massive grants of free land, and would not survive a day without massive subsidies from tax breaks and tax free right of way land. The nation's government space program has been funded through good times and bad by the public, but that won't be so with the private space ship. It's not even possible.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Flight Delays End, Job Delays Continue

There's not much point in saying anything else, is there?

If you go along with this, you'll go along with anything.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Bush-Obama Axis

The Obama Administration's claims that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons in that country's civil war, which were almost immediately amplified by British Prime Minister David Cameron, should be compared and contrasted with the Bush Administration's claims that Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which were helpfully echoed by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Alex Wong photo-Getty images
President Obama this week heaped lavish, over-the-top praise on Bush at the opening of the Bush presidential library. Obama has refused to make the inquiries into crimes committed during the Bush Administration required of him by law and has continued, seamlessly, Bush's policies, including waging aggressive war, spying on US citizens, catering to Wall Street, banks and big business while going after working class programs like Social Security.

As the Obama Administration takes the initial steps to prepare US citizens for a war on Syria if not an expanded involvement there, it's no coincidence that Obama flew to Texas this week to praise Bush. Bush's popularity rating of 47 percent now equals Obama's, thanks in no small measure to Obama. One way of clearing away the public's resistance to war is to rehabilitate Bush, whose name is associated with the costs of war. Don't be surprised if Bush suddenly comes out of retirement to call for an attack on Syria.

Spain, contd.

Earlier this week I pointed out Spain's 27 percent unemployment rate and the fact that the Neoliberal "austerity" measures forced on Spain and other countries by the European Union and IMF, under the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have all been utter failures. They also have caused the EU to enter a new recession, the third in quick succession; some call it a triple dip recession.

Now the New York Times reports that Merkel and her Neoliberal allies may be reconsidering austerity measures, and at the least are "softening" their rhetoric about it. This is partly a rebranding in reaction to widespread anger over their policies, which has spread to Merkel's Germany where she faces an upcoming election, and partly an acknowledgment that austerity has failed.

The change in tone "comes after an influential academic paper embraced by austerity advocates as evidence that even recessionary economies should cut spending to avoid high debt levels, written by the Harvard scholars Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, has come under attack for errors that opponents of austerity say helped lead European policy makers astray. 

Of course European economists insist that they had decided to change plans before the Reinhart-Rogoff paper was found to be a fraud, the Times report says.

Note: The story of the debunking of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is interesting. Major mistakes in the February, 2011 paper, which had become the austerity advocates' Bible, here and in Europe, were discovered this month by a University of Massachusetts graduate student, Thomas Herndon, who "proved the paper contained multiple errors, provoking widespread international interest and embarrassment for austerity policymakers."

Paul Krugman this week mused in his NYT column about why austerity theory continues to be government policy after it's been thoroughly debunked and proven to be a failure.

Goodbye Heather Not Yet
Academic Freedom And Democracy

The opening of the George W Bush presidential library (or li-bary, as they were saying on the Stephanie Miller show) reminded us of the disaster his presidency was, as in Alternet's 50 Reasons You Despised George W. Bush's Presidency.  

In New Mexico, former Republican congresswoman Heather Wilson's departure to become a college president in another state reminded us why we aren't so sorry to see her go, as in Jim Baca's Only In New Mexico blog.

During those dismal years when Bush started unnecessary and illegal wars, and Heather supported them, that killed and maimed millions, when government started massive programs to spy on its citizens, sold off the natural environment to corporations and helped the rich get massively richer and the poor get increasingly poorer, I was confident that the truth would eventually come out. That "history" would prove those wrong who excused and lied about it all. That, years from now, research and thoughtful books would have left us with a fairly broadly accepted sense of what the Bush era was really like, when it was depoliticized and viewed against the entire arc of American history.

Now I'm not sure. The historic record, and the sense we have of people and events from our past, of the Bush/Wilson years and of everything that has gone before, account for much of who we are, who we think we are, and how we proceed. The historic record goes into every decision we make. We refer to our combined, accumulated body of knowledge, stored in books and now digitally and online, to find out what we didn't know, to confirm our suspicions, to prove falsehoods wrong, to figure out what to do next.

The past is always in contention -- we hear "The founding fathers intended this" and "No, they intended something else" -- but you can look in books and see what the founding fathers actually said and did. The historic record keeps the arena of what truth is confined to a channel defined by what the verifiable facts are, and therefore allows there to be consensus on some important things, such as that those founding fathers meant us to be self governing, that people get into positions of power by being voted into them, and that things like the ability to vote and the ability to figure out who to vote for are important.

The books where our record resides come from the research of scholars, and are the result of an education system that allowed for people to write what they wanted to write. They are the result of of what's commonly called academic freedom.

Schools, where educators, who are familiar with that body of knowledge, teach it to students, with the help of textbooks, which are all drawn from that body of knowledge, with foot notes at the end, therefore play the central role in forming the body of knowledge, in passing it on, and in maintaining the conditions all this can happen in. 

But schools, actually our system of education, is under attack. Powerful forces want to privatize it. They want to be able to patent research. A lot of research is already being patented, so that other scholars can't see it, can't build on it, can't test it or correct it. Corporations, who heavily fund academia, especially now that government support has been withdrawn from it, have been able to quash research that harms their economic interests or points out what they are doing wrong.

Tenure, which provided the job security that allowed people to do research the powers that be didn't like, is almost a thing of the past. Most teaching positions are now "adjunct," or part time. Many teaching positions, called "endowed professorships," are now paid for by corporations. 

Here in New Mexico there are people trying to turn UNM into an arm of Capitalism. Much of the school's money, and the intellectual efforts of those who run it, are being spent on a business development center called a "partnership" with private industry. It's all about economic development, not academia, not educating the next generation. The profit motive, not the desire to learn, to understand, to know the truth, directs decisions.

Academia is also under attack politically, at the institutional level from things like efforts to control curriculum to extending the model that's been imposed on K-12 schools to universities, where funding is tied to things like graduation rates, and on an individual level, as in the case of William Cronon, a Wisconsin professor who had started a personal blog in which he criticized Republican policies. The Wisconsin Republican Party responded by demanding all emails he'd sent from university accounts that contained words like "Republican", a publicity stunt not intended to get his emails but to intimidate critics and activist educators, who were getting a lot of favorable publicity at the time by occupying the Wisconsin state capital in opposition to the Republican governor and legislators' outlawing public employee collective bargaining.

Republicans are fine with academics not having the freedom to find out and publish the truth. That way it's easier to have the founding fathers say what they want them to say, easier to get decisions through elected bodies that favor Capital and are opposed to the interests of working Americans. 

What's going to happen when someone doing research at the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology comes across evidence that mining practices are putting things in the water or air that are causing fetuses to develop abnormally, with conservative Republican Heather Wilson running the school? If it comes down to a choice between a huge mining corporation's profits and a few deformed babies, will the research ever get published? Will, as has happened in other cases, the academic who uncovered the facts have her or his funding cut? If powerful people in the state, who make big donations to powerful Republicans, have the powerful Republicans let Heather know her job is in jeopardy, will that researcher have a job next year or will Heather?

Or will academics, as is happening already, see what has happened to their colleagues and simply not do research that could harm their careers or affect their ability to make a living?

If your sense of history is that things have gradually improved in America over the course of our democracy, it might be hard to see how the current trend in academia is a danger to democracy. After all, it's easy for me to theorize that if the only knowledge we have is what is bought and paid for by corporations, then our sense of who we are, our decisions about how to do democracy, about whether to be a democracy, will all be decided by corporations and their conservative politicians.

But place the assault on education in the context of what you know about conservative beliefs about privitization, that corporations can do everything better and more efficiently, and of the efforts to limit voting, and of their constant efforts to increase the power of corporations and decrease the power of government, and then consider their efforts to extend corporate control to the place where the facts are kept, to the university, where the way truth is discovered will be passed on to the next Americans. 

For more on the assault on academic freedom and the different ways its being done see the American Association of University Professors, their Journal of Academic Freedom, the American Federation of TeachersPsychology Today, and Google.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Word About Spain

Unemployment now tops 27 percent in Spain, according to figures released today. Spain's unemployment rate now equals that of Greece.

Those two countries are two of four laboratories for the European brand of Neoliberalism. Sometimes you hear it called "Austerity." Those in politics and the media usually use more benign terms like "Reform" or "Restructuring."

Here we just talk about budget deficits and spread alarm about what they will do to us in the future and then proceed with some sequester cuts and go back to celebrity gossip and terrorist threats.

No country has been able to cut their way to an economic expansion, but economic expansion is not what this is about. Otherwise you'd hear the president and those in congress talking about that, and not what they talk about.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Truck Driving, Socialism And Hillbilly Music - Update

A few posts ago I mentioned a large collection of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos music at Archive.org and in making my way through this big collection the last couple of nights as I head out to Holbrook I've come across some splendid surprises I wasn't aware of when I wrote the post.

First, it's a lot more than 100 songs. At least four of the mp3 files are complete albums, which I wasn't aware of. One of these albums is called The Instrumental Hits 1965. Sometimes you hear rock or country groups composed of the basic electric guitar, drums, bass guitar, etc., put an instrumental cut on an album, and usually it's something they've worked hard on. The songs are rarely hits but the band puts them on the album because they like them and are proud of them. This is an entire album of that. They really do some cooking, in a variety of musical styles, giving it their treatment of course.

And of course they do Orange Blossom Special (the 2nd song) where you can hear Don Rich rock out on his native instrument, the violin. Throughout this collection there are occasional tunes where Rich does some things on the fiddle I didn't know could be done. Lots of country fiddle players play two strings at once, but Rich has a way of starting or stopping one of the strings within a single stroke of the bow, and often this second string is being fingered, with the other hand, differently than the first string so the two strings are each playing something different. It's quite amazing.

Rich also does some real fancy guitar picking ma'am on the album and whoever was playing Hawaiian steel guitar for them at the time does some right excellent work here, too. There's also some innovative drumming here by Willie Cantu, their drummer then, a Mexican-American kid from down around Corpus Christi.

In this overall collection, there's some selections where it sounds like they weren't trying all that hard. There's a lot of the kind of sentimental country song that was popular during their era. But there are some real gems here, too.

My truck has been running lousy on the way back from Holbrook so I can't really concentrate on anything but that on the way home. I drive out with an almost empty trailer and am loaded coming back, and with that weight on, sometimes it's losing power, then it will take off and run fine. I've taken the truck to several people and so far no one has guessed right on what it might be and I'm learning a lot about truck engines I never knew before. I had just got the business and regulatory aspects of doing this more or less under control when the truck problems began, but when I do have it running right I'll be able to give that ride I promised.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Do We Have Us A Democrat In New Mexico?

I'm sorry, but I had to break the boycott of the internet (called for today by Anonymous to protest the new CISPA government/corporation spying on the internet bill) to bring attention to something remarkable.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, our brand new congressperson, has called out the University of New Mexico publicly, on her Facebook page, for outsourcing public sector jobs to a private corporation. This is what she posted:

At a time when Albuquerque continues to bleed jobs, it is difficult to comprehend why the University of New Mexico is outsourcing the work of 57 dedicated employees.
Before UNM Hospital hands out pink slips, they owe it to these employees to justify this outsourcing of jobs to an East Coast corporation which answers to worldwide investors, not New Mexico taxpayers.

Yea, it's not exactly a call to get us out in the streets, it's not the introduction of legislation to make it illegal to fire a lot of people for no good reason except some selfish jackasses on some board somewhere wants to get a little richer. It doesn't include a critique of the Neoliberal economic model that has changed the culture of this country to the extent that most politicians won't even question things like this any more. But maybe it's a start. Facebook, and Twitter, which seem to be our primary means of communication at the moment, aren't the place for essays, and this message is just about right for this venue. If you were going to start, you'd start with something like this, and we can encourage her to continue on from here.

It's at least a refreshing change from what we are used to in New Mexico. Martin Heinrich, Tom Udall and Ben Lujan, who rarely if ever say or do anything that might be interpreted as being controversial, who are content to let the working class sink into oblivion as long as they keep their fancy jobs, don't have anything like this on their Facebook pages. Not even close. Look for yourself.

Martin Heinrich's Facebook Page

Tom Udall's Facebook page

Ben Lujan's Facebook Page

Michelle Lujan Grisham

Our minders in Washington refuse to stop trying to pass laws that allow unlimited, warrantless spying on our internet activities. CISPA.2, introduced after CISPA.1 and SOPA were turned back, has already passed the House. Under it, there will be no restrictions preventing the companies you interact with online from turning your private information over to the government. Employers can even demand you give them your passwords to sites like Facebook so they can see what you've been doing on your private time. Call your senators today and demand that it not proceed any further. (202) 224-3121.
Innocent Men, Cleared For Release, Rot In Guantanamo Bay
Hunger Strike Threatens Lives Of 130 Prisoners

With Yemen, home to many of the detainees, wanting its citizens back, and with rehabilitation centers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ready for the others, there is no excuse for President Obama to be holding people in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay who have been determined to be innocent and have been cleared for release.

At least 130 of the 166 Guantanamo Bay detainees and possibly as many as 135 are currently on hunger strike (the US government says only half the detainees are) and some are already near death, according to one of their lawyers, Carlos Warner, who was interviewed by the Talking Dog web log. The hunger strike is in protest of harsh new procedures put in place by a new commander at the prison who "decided to law down the law," Warner said in the interview. He said the hunger strike was sparked when guards conducted an aggressive shakedown of detainees' cells during which they took away all personal belongings, such as sleeping mats and pictures of loved ones, and searched detainees' Korans for weapons and contraband such as drugs, which they consider to be a sacrilege.

At least 86 current Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been cleared for release. President Obama blames members of congress for preventing their release, but in fact there is nothing from preventing him from sending them to the rehabilitation centers or to Yemen but his lack of political courage.

Many of the innocent people in Guantanamo Bay ended up there when their countrymen turned them over to US authorities to collect bounties of up to $25,000 offered by the George W Bush administration.

Each Guantanamo Bay prisoner costs taxpayers $800,000 per year, compared to a $25,000 annual cost to house someone in a federal prison, according to Human Rights First, which maintains an impressive fact sheet about the prison.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

The FDA Wants You

My weekly email digest from the Food and Drug Administration had a couple interesting things. One is about chocolate milk labeling. The producers (the large dairies) want the FDA to do away with chocolate milk labeling. They claim that "labels such as “reduced calorie” or “no added sugar” are a turn-off to kids who might otherwise reach for flavored milk with non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners at the school cafeteria or from the grocery store cooler."

The FDA invites your input on the change the producers are petitioning for.

The digest also talks about a new office in the FDA, the Office of Minority Health (OMH), and says, "The office was established in 2010 by the Affordable Care Act to help the agency address the needs of Americans who may be more vulnerable because of their race, ethnicity or other factors."

In other words, it's part of Obamacare, and it seeks to address some longstanding issues in the American health care system. The digest talks about how different health issues affect different populations disproportionately. African Americans are more prone to heart disease. Hispanics are more prone to diabetes, as are Native women. OMH is doing a number of things to counter this, such as sponsoring university research, and recruiting people from these populations to sit on its advisory boards.

I know from my reading over the years that one of the reasons some people have not been getting proper health care is not just because they are poor, but, because of the way research has been conducted, they have simply been overlooked. This kind of subtle discrimination has sometimes been gender based, and often racially based. It was the reason that for a long time sickle cell anemia was not seen as a public health problem. African Americans, the group almost exclusively affected by it, simply weren't included in public health surveys.

One reason I like these FDA updates is that it's a reminder of the ways in which government is a force for good in our lives. There could be more FDA inspectors and better labeling. It'd be better if the political system wasn't rigged to favor big business, including big agribusiness, but at least when we eat something we have a pretty good idea of what it is, how old it is, what's been added to it and whether it's got crap in it designed to cover up the rotten taste. We don't have to trust some corporation that hates labeling and hates anything except profit.

Jim Baca has a nice essay today on how government inspections and the lack of them affect our safety. He mentions the fertilizer plant in Texas that blew up this week, killing at least 15 people and doing millions in damage, that hadn't been inspected in 28 years.

I was reminded of a paper mill in Louisiana I delivered scrap paper to. You opened your trailer doors and backed your whole rig up a big ramp about two stories high, onto a steel framed platform and backed it up against some big steel poles. An operator in a little room then made the whole platform tilt up so that everything slid out of the trailer and into a big chute that carried the scrap paper into the mill.

You of course had to get out of the truck while it was being dumped. You stepped onto a catwalk and followed it around the truck, down some stairs onto another catwalk that led to the little operator's room, where you waited in a chair behind the operator while he dumped your load. The only problem was that some of the catwalk had side railings and some of it didn't. The railings had just fallen off over the years, and it was night time, and you could easily have walked off the end of one of the catwalks to your ultimate doom. There obviously hadn't been any OSHA inspectors at that mill in a long time.
People who bad mouth government and want government to get off the back of business don't really know what government does to improve our lives, or, as in the case of Republican politicians, they know, but they know they can gain political power by badmouthing government. They know that many people are either too damn stupid to know they're being lied to, or are so bitter and jealous and dissatisfied with their own small lives that they'll join in a attack on just about anyone, even if it hurts themselves.

So what about Democrats? Do they not understand human nature?

If they do, they are still left with making the more difficult case. It's not as easy to appeal to peoples' rational thinking minds and to their "good" sides, the part of them that is naturally communal and social, the part that makes people tend to want to take care of each other.

And of course it doesn't help that they have gone down that other path, with the Republicans, too far and for too long. They have conceded to the notion that government must be reduced and that inspectors and researchers have to be laid off. When they have had a chance to stand up for working people, by, to give one example, fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act, they were too cowardly to do it. They thought about their own futures instead of ours.

Buck and Don

Buck Owens, Don Rich, Willie Cantu, Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly

This unattributed photo of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos circa 1966 is currently on display at the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many Americans are aware of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos as a result of the long running television show Hee Haw, the knock-off of the groundbreaking Laugh In TV show, that mixed corny jokes and country music, as the Buckaroos were the show's house band during its 23 year run. Since the photo is part of the Wilson's Southern Folklife Collection one might ask what Hee Haw has to do with Southern Folklife, but the Buckaroos were an established country and western band before the show appeared in 1969 and most of its successes on the charts had already occurred by then.

I found a large collection of the band's music, spanning all of their time as a band, at Archive.org, which is where all the music featured in my Greatest Rock and Roll Since Moses page, in the right hand column, comes from (and which is all free to download since it's in the public domain, i.e., the copyright has expired). I didn't include this collection on that page but thought it was worth noting.

The recordings range in quality. Some are studio recordings of the quality you'd expect from a CD and some seem to have been recorded live at small venues, but I didn't find any that weren't passable, if you're a Buckaroos fan.

I've always liked the Buckaroos sound, and much of the reason has to do with Don Rich, who is second in line in the photograph behind Buck Owens.

Rich played guitar and fiddle and possibly some other instruments on the band's recordings. He was a gifted musician who, it is said, simply picked up an instrument and learned how to play it, as it was needed in particular songs. On many recordings he provides the melodic violin countermelody, that, along with the "walking bass" and the judicious use of flamboyant steel guitar flourishes, makes up much of the band's sound. More prominent than the fiddle playing is his guitar playing, which tends to feature technical virtuosity, namely an at times incredible speed, over the string bending expressiveness that longtime guitar players exhibit. But what Rich contributed primarily to the band's unique sound was the high pitched harmony he sang behind Buck Owens' lead vocals on many if not most most of the band's songs and certainly on most of its bigger hits. It's what I always thought made the Buckaroos sound what it is.

Owens and Rich paired up in 1960 and collaborated on 21 number one country and western hits and were central figures in what was known as the Bakersfield Sound. Bakersfield, near the south end of the Central, or San Joaquin Valley, California's vast agricultural heartland, is, or was anyway, sometimes called Nashville West, owing to the country and western, folk tradition brought there by Okies and continued by their descendants, Okie being the common name for people who migrated to California during the years around the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl when drought and bad farming practices had devastated much of the nation's agriculture land.

Rich died in a motorcycle accident in 1974, which put an end to not only to his but to Owens' musical career. Owens, reportedly devastated by Rich's death, would continue to perform and record occasional celebrity duets with other known musicians but, as he said when he finally spoke out about Rich's death years later, "I think my music life ended when he died. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder, is gone forever."

(Note: There are 100 individual items, or mp3 files, in this collection and two of them are complete albums. It shows 5.8 megabytes on my computer. )

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Symbols And Images

We store a lot of what we know in the form of symbols and images, and we transfer a lot of the information we transfer to others in the form of symbols and images. Think of the phrase "Go up Menaul and turn left on Carlisle."

Doing that involves a lot of things that aren't communicated, such as, going outside, getting into a car, starting a car and driving it, just for starters.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in the office of a woman at the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for several hours. I heard her take several phone calls about a 15 page application you have to fill out to get your authority to operate a commercial vehicle in the state of New Mexico. She quickly transferred information to the callers, basically in the reverse order in which it was stored in her brain. She'd transferred it to me, over the phone, in the same way, which was why I made a trip to Santa Fe to talk to her in person.

What she said to the callers made a lot of sense sense if you knew what a car was, knew how to drive one, and knew where outside was.

This is not to say she is not a very hard working, very helpful person, which she is.

The various ways we transfer information, and all the things that are involved in it, by the way, is one of the things that makes teaching a profession and one that should be highly valued.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From The Latest Report Saying The US Engaged In Torture

"News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not."

They "wrestled with"?

Wrestled with what, I ask of you journalists and "news organizations" who have continued to take "some government officials" word that our government  never tortured anyone or who have continued to refer to torture by the government invented euphemism of "enhanced interrogation"? Wrestled with whether to go by the facts, or by what "government officials" say are the facts? Wrestled with whether or not to go out and dig up the facts or to do something better with your time?

Wrestled with whether you'd have access to those government officials any more, so that when the next big story broke you'd be able to call the government official and get inside information about it? Get information about it so the people could be informed, which is a lofty principal. Yea, be informed, of more bullshit, because you let government officials get away with it this time, and the last time, and the time before that and the time before that?

Or maybe you "wrestled" with whether to go outside the confines of what other establishment journalists were putting in their stories. Wrestled with whether your standing and your career were more important than the truth, with what it means for our country to be a country that tortures people it has in its custody, to be known around the world as a country that tortures people it has in its custody?

Or maybe you wrestled with your conscience.

Ha, that's a good one, isn't it, you pathetic, pretend journalists?

So wrestled with what then?



Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nicolas Maduro Elected Venezuelan President - The Revolution Lives!
The Vice-President, a Socialist, Succeeds Chavez in Narrow Victory

Nicolas Maduro - Reuters
When it became apparent it would be a close election you all began checking your favorite internet feeds every few minutes, I imagine, as I did. Initial results are that Chavez' longtime ally and chosen successor won by 1.6 prcent, 50.6 to 49 over second time hopeful Enrique Cariles, the candidate of the oligarchy. Cariles was actually the choice of a coalition of opposition parties but in fact represents the various business interests, and upper class students of private universities.

Maduro, the former bus driver, who was with Chavez from the beginning, has big shoes to fill. There was one Hugo Chavez, with his remarkable abilities to keep the people overwhelmingly on his side and keep a fractious Venezuelan Left together. But Maduro's heart will be in the right place.

It remains to be told why the election turned out to be so close when a week before the election Maduro was comfortably ahead, 10 or 12 points at least, but it will have to be taken into account as the Socialist movement Chavez led for the last 14 years moves ahead.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Live From Venezuela, National Public Radio?

So why has the host of national public radio's flagship morning show been in Venezuela all week trashing Hugo Chavez?

Final Maduro rally, Caracas, Thursday - Alex Guzman/AVN
That's right. Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR's Morning Edition, is suddenly in Venezuela. According to the NPR web site, Inskeep, and "a team," are there to cover this week's presidential election, except that there's been very little about the election in the stories Inskeep filed all week. They were all about diminishing the legacy of Hugo Chavez. 

 It's not unusual for Inskeep to provide a non critical platform to conservative viewpoints on Morning Edition; I've been getting regular doses of it myself for the six months I've been doing this Holbrook run, and internet discussion boards are full of examples and complaints about Inskeep being a lap dog for conservatism, but I've never known NPR to take a particular interest in Venezuela.

Inskeep and this "team" are supposedly down there to cover the election to replace Hugo Chavez, which takes place this Sunday, but Inskeep hasn't talked much about the election, and hardly at all about Chavez' successor, interim president Nicolas Maduro, who is running to replace Chavez or even the US-backed, Venezuelan oligarch-backed candidate Henrique Capriles. He's done a lot of trash talking about Hugo Chavez, who, as some of you know, is dead.

Final Capriles rally, Barquisimeto - Ultimas Noticias/agencies
I've been listening to these stories all week while I drive back from Holbrook. They usually come on about the time I'm passing Sky City, the big Indian casino/motel/restaurant/truck stop 50 miles out of Albuquerque.

For his first story Inspkeep dug up Rory Carroll.

Rory Carroll is known to anyone who follows Latin America anything more than halfheartedly, although he is probably unknown to Inskeep's audience. Carroll for years was the Guardian's Latin America correspondent, and although he spent most of that time criticizing Hugo Chavez he was always ready to hop on a jet off to another country and trash any Left leaning populist government that was trying to help poor people get out of poverty.

For years Carroll wrote stories pointing out what was wrong in Venezuela, that were sometimes based loosely in fact but more often in Carroll's imagination, without ever mentioning what Chavez was accomplishing. He did however present the views of the oligarchy, which until Chavez came on the scene ran Venezuela like a plantation. I remember, distinctly, one election day, two or three elections ago, when Rory went out to get the feel of things on the street. He went to a country club overlooking Caracas. I swear to God.

When Inskeep interviewed him in his first instalment from Venezuela this week Carroll repeated the lies and distortions about Venezuela under Chavez that he's known for. Venezuela is being crushed by inflation. Venezuela is being crushed by crime. Chavez crushed the opposition media.

All untrue or misleading. Inflation and crime, for example, are higher in Venezuela than they are in Iowa, but a good reporter might have asked Carroll whether they haven't always been high in Venezuela and whether they aren't lower than they were when Chavez took office. He might have asked whether inflation isn't about one third of what it used to be, before Chavez.

Inskeep didn't question a thing Carroll said. At first it was hard to tell if he was just ignorant, which may well be true, or whether he was intentionally giving Carroll a platform to do a slash and burn on Hugo Chavez.

Inskeep's agenda started to become clear up in a second installment when he interviewed an American NPR reporter about Venezuela, with similar results to the Carroll interview, but it became blatant when he went out, or when he and his "team" did, to one of the big, poor Caracas neighborhoods where, Inskeep said, Chavez' support is based.

All anti Chavez media eventually go down this path. It's like when US reporters say Obama's support, or Democrats' support, is "urban based," which is code for being based in the votes of dark skinned people.

In the case of Chavez they like to stipulate that Chavez' support didn't come from people like you and me, but from the poorer, darker skinned South Americans; not the thinking, rational, light skinned descendants of the European colonizers, not "people," but ignorant, unclean, easily duped masses.

It's class based slander, it's race based slander, but mainly it's just flat wrong. Chavez always enjoyed broad support, among youth, among the educated, among what is generally thought of as the middle class and yes, overwhelmingly among the poor. That broad based support is why he won open and fair elections by wide margins every time he ran for president, from 1998 through last year. In the Inskeep/Carroll/New York Times world view, his support came from the poor masses, and they only supported Chavez because he bribed them with free medical care or housing or education, things poor people don't really deserve and shouldn't really have.

In the installment, in the poor part of town, Inskeep is in this woman's house, in this poor neighborhood, where she has a little store, and he starts making light of what she sells. Doritos. Two flavors of Doritos! Then he just starts making stuff up. He says the selection of goods in the woman's store is limited because of Chavez' policies, but gives no evidence of it. The woman didn't say that.

He says there are rumblings of discontent in the neighborhood, but he never interviews anyone who complains about Chavez or his policies. Instead, he makes the claim that opposition to Chavez in the neighborhood is "whispered" but that no one will voice it out loud. With an ominous tone in his voice, he says bumper stickers and posters in support of Maduro, Chavez' successor, instill fear in the people. But when he reads a couple of them they are nothing but typical campaign ads.

This is crap reporting. This is making stuff up. Finally he talks to a guy on a motorbike who's putting up Maduro flyers. He literally puts words in the guy's mouth, and then, inexplicably, he claims the guy is a member of a Chavez-backed "militia." This is insane. I've followed Venezuela for years. I've heard many, many outlandish assertions about Chavez and his regime but I've never heard anything about any militias. This beats anything Rory Carroll ever did. This is Inskeep initiating a new phase of anti Chavez propaganda, and it's clear that the whole week, the whole trip down there, was nothing but pure crap, pure propaganda, pure Rory Carroll, pure smelling of US State Department, USAID funded crap that seeks to spell out what Hugo Chavez' legacy will be.

USAID is a division of the US State Department, US Aid For International Development, and it has a long history of meddling in Venezuela on behalf of US power and Capital. USAID, aside from perhaps the CIA, is the primary tool the US uses to undermine and destabilize governments, like those of Venezuela, that aren't towing the American, Capitalism line. Through USAID the state department funds political and social movements that oppose governments like Chavez'. It trains those people in things like the media and organizing, and if there isn't an opposition, it starts one. It's a one sided, meddling, imperialist endeavor from start to finish. There's no funding for the side that's trying to find an alternative to Capitalism or that's trying to improve the lives of the working class. There's no pretense of "democracy" or "development." It's all in the aim of thwarting any alternative to Capitalism, and the people of the given country and their well being be dammed.

A leaked Wikileaks cable, to then US ambassador to Venezuela under George W Bush William Brownfield, who's been promoted to assistant secretary of state in the Obama Administration, spelled out in vivid detail the US plan to destabilize Venezuela through USAID.

And I wouldn't be surprised if USAID didn't fund and organize the trip to Venezuela by Inskeep and the "team," and I wouldn't be surprised if Rory Carroll was part of the "team". Carroll isn't the Guardian's Latin America correspondent anymore, and Inskeep never did say how he happened to meet up with Carroll or why he happened to be in Venezuela at this particular time.

Judging by the stories I heard this week, Inskeep talked to three Venezuelans, a banker and two poor people, and he misrepresented what both of the poor people said. He talked to as many reporters, two from NPR and of course Rory Caroll, and he repeated the misinformation Carroll and people like him have been spreading for years, such as that Chavez controlled the media in Venezuela, which is simply a lie. Except for one public TV channel, and a few small community radio stations with tiny signals, the media in Venezuela -- all the newspapers and all of television -- is privately owned, and owned by the oligarchy, and that media did nothing but savagely attack Chavez for every day of his 14 year tenure. Anti Chavez media in the US and around the world always say that Chavez shut down TV stations that opposed him. Here's what happened: one TV station, that hadn't paid its licensing fees in years, that hadn't applied for a new license in years, that for years was given chances to pay, was finally closed by the Chavez government.

Maduro supporter, Chavista red - Reuters
I referred earlier in the week to complaints in conservative US media outlets that Maggie Thatcher's death wasn't covered with the same reverence as the death of Hugo Chavez was, and I've wondered if someone didn't put the word out to NPR, and if something like that didn't prompt Inskeep's bizarre little Chavez trashing safari down to Venezuela. I've also talked about how mealy mouthed NPR is because it fears having its funding cut even further by Republicans, so it might help to keep in mind, too, that it's currently budget time in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, another few hundred thousand or few million or whatever American listeners to NPR have an even more distorted, more inaccurate picture of Venezuela and what was accomplished there by Hugo Chavez and the millions of Chavistas who've participated in the remaking of their economy and society. They won't know that those poor Venezuelans can go to a neighborhood clinic, or that illiteracy in Venezuela has been eliminated. Eliminated. Or that those poor Venezuelans have a sense of dignity they never had before because they've been part of what Hugo Chavez accomplished. Those NPR listeners won't know what's possible under Socialism, and the frame of the debate in America will be a little narrower, squeezed even further into the narrow space between two major, almost identical political parties, and they are that, compared to what else is out there in terms of how we conceive of our lives and of the ways we can live together, and we'll have fewer options, and because we have fewer options we'll have less freedom to choose, here in the land where we glorify freedom and think we're in the freest country on earth, and the possibilities for the future will be a little more limited than they were before.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fekko And Sue

Fekko Ebel Hajo Ebels, a member of the Dutch parliament in the 1920s, above, and below, Susana Martinez, the governor of the state of New Mexico in the US.

I've spent a lot of time in state government offices lately, and Susana Martinez was always staring at me. This picture of her is posted in most New Mexico state offices, and after seeing it for a couple days I began to wonder where she got the idea for bugging out her eyes like that. Then today I happened upon the picture of Fekko Ebel Hajo Ebels, and now I think I might know.

Seriously. I just came across the picture of Mr Ebels and was fascinated by it. As for the governor, besides my distaste for her policies, which are a kind of half thought through mixture of tea bagger and Reaganomics, and besides being put off by her public demeanor, which hasn't changed since her first press conference after being elected when she was openly disrespectful of her predecessor, Bill Richardson, this picture of her puts me ill at ease. There's something unnatural about it. I converted it to black and white for comparison to the Dutch parliamentarian, but the effect of her picture in color is even more striking, and eerie.

At first take it's a very attractive picture of a very attractive woman, but after looking at it awhile, well, decide for yourself. Imagine having her stare at you for hour after hour, day after day while you sit in government offices trying to get what you need from people who'd rather do anything in the world besides give you what you need, all the while realizing that it's all perfectly understandable and that I wouldn't want to give me what I need either.

For more enlightened thoughts about the governor see Jim Baca's Only In New Mexico blog today.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Free Speech Radio News

FSRN, as they often call themselves, is one of my favorite radio programs. It's time to put in another plug for them because they exist on donations and need some cash.

When you drive all the time the radio becomes your window to the world. If your vehicle has a radio and you know how to turn it on you know that radio has pretty much become a vast wasteland whose purpose it is to increase corporate profits. You can drive coast to coast and hear the same few songs, playlists selected by some people in a corporate office somewhere, over and over , unless you want to listen to right wing talk radio, which dominates talk radio to the extent that liberal talk radio is statistically insignificant.

There's public radio, which over the years has become a mush mouthed, feel good endeavor afraid to take a controversial stand on anything lest Republicans further slash their funding, and the BBC, which is only marginally better.

Then there's Pacifica, a small network of community run stations that operate on donations from listeners and can say what they want and play whatever music they want. Begun in the 1940s by Leftist pacifists with one station in Berkely, CA, a San Francisco suburb, it now has stations in Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Washington, DC, with a goodly handful of affiliated community stations in places like Kansas City, Fresno, Portland and elsewhere here and there. When I'm not in range of one of their transmitters, which is most of the time, I listen via podcasts, which you can download any time from the internet and listen to any time.

Out of Pacifica have come such programs as Democracy Now, which is broadcast on hundreds of community and national public radio stations now, and Free Speech Radio News, which is distributed pretty widely in the network. FSRN is interesting in that the reporters are just regular people, and they are all over the world. It operates out of the Berkelety Pacifica station, KFCA, with a few staff. They recruit the reporters, who do the fact gathering and interviewing. A staff member helps them come up with the way to approach the story, with questions to ask and so forth, then they help them write the script, and then edit and put together the report. The result is some pretty good journalism, by regular people, who are learning journalism and might be part of the answer to the decline of traditional media.

Last night I listened to a story about the prison system in India, where they had held a contest something like American Idol. The winners have just come out with a Rock CD, recorded in a makeshift prison studio, and the FSRN reporter described the whole thing, interviewed some of the prisoners and played samples of some of the songs. It was fantastic.The musicians talked about struggling through their sentences, how their music was helping, about the deplorable conditions in Indian prisons and how they hoped the CD would bring attention to them.

From the FSRN web site
You get stuff like this all the time, and from the strangest places -- the Ukraine, Hong Kong, Latin America, the United States, which as you well know is stranger by the day. But what's going on in Nepal these days, where the Maoists rebels took over last year by winning the elections? What are the Palestinian people themselves thinking and saying? There's been an uprising in Canada in the past couple years, begun by students and now joined by the unions and other activists, that's pretty much ignored by the American media. Last night I heard an update on the conservative Canadian government's efforts to outlaw public protest. (Yes, you heard me) and an update on the condition of Lynn Stewart, an old, dying radical lawyer the Obama Administration has imprisoned for representing people they don't like, and an update over the battle to prevent the FDA from approving genetically engineered salmon.

At the FSRN home page you can read more about it, subscribe to the podcast (the shows run daily and are a half hour long) and donate. You can also subscribe to the FSRN podcast in iTunes.

Trucking Update Coming Soon 

I wrote a few weeks ago about having to buy a truck. My hourly driving job had been outsourced. Contracted out. Neoliberalism commeth. I've spent the past month pretty much overwhelmed by the task of navigating the regulatory framework around interstate trucking, and all the rest that comes with starting and registering a small business. Despite not having a lot of spare time, part of the reason I haven't written about it yet is I didn't know exactly what to say about it. I still don't, so I'll try to say why. Hopefully this weekend. You know, after I get about eight quarterly reports filed that are coming due already.



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

There's been a lot of talk in Leftist media about the death of Margaret Thatcher and a good deal of internal debate over whether Leftists should be so celebratory about it. I argued on Facebook that she's a symbolic figure and responsible for so much change for the worse that her death is subject to a different standard. The respect she might be due is far outweighed by the need to remember and record and remind people about the global hardship she has caused for millions upon millions of working people. She is literally the face of Neoliberalism. This case has been well made by others, and her many other nefarious actions and policies have been pointed out also.

There's also been some discussion about the difference in the way the media treated the deaths of Thatcher and Hugo Chavez. I know that national public radio this morning spent a lot of time maximizing her virtues and minimizing her faults. But the complaints are not just from the Left. Fox News and its ilk are complaining that Thatcher is being trashed in the media whereas Chavez was praised too much. 

The picture above was posted on the Facebook page of Social Justice Network and has been reposted by many others. There was widespread grief over the death of Hugo Chavez by the millions of people who, notwithstanding the biased accounts of him in the media,  knew what he had done. You haven't seen anything corresponding to that for Thatcher, and won't.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Gone At Last

Margaret Thatcher, the main salesman and enforcer of Neoliberalism, Ronald Reagan's daddy, is really most sincerely dead. She joins her favorite student where they both belong, which is gone.

The arrogant old battleaxe did more to harm the lives of more people than anyone else you can name. The decline of living standards for the working class in the West, after they had gained the highest standard of living in the history of the world in the years before she came on the scene, the amazing disparities of wealth and income we have today, the austerity budgets for we the people while the rich enjoy record profits, can all be traced to the ungodly rise of this one woman. Good riddance.

Update: It goes on and on. A few remarks about her by her fellow are recorded in this video and story in the Sydney Herald. Thatcher started the process of privatization of government services and selling off government assets. She called Nelson Mandella a "terrorist." Many people are still suffering the effects of Thatcherism. Neoliberalism began with her.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Summing Up Socialism - Summing Up Capitalism

A guy named Barry from a Facebook page called Being a Socialist wrote this in response to what he called "a libertarian troll who said socialists are 'utopians.'" (A troll is someone who leaves inflammatory comments at a web site where they are not a member and where they disagree with the viewpoint of the group whose web site it is.)

Barry wrote:

"It's not 'utopian' to expect, in the 21st century, that everyone in the human family should have adequate food, shelter, clothing, modern medical care, employment, a living wage, education, clean water, and sanitation. These are not difficult or ridiculous things to ask for -- the money is there, the resources are there. And yet capitalism, in spite of being the dominant global economic system for literally centuries (and completely unchallenged by any rival system until the 20th century), has failed to deliver on these extremely basic things.

I'd add that I don't know where Barry is from, but Capitalism has been the only economic system the United States has ever had, and a big part of America has always been left out. In fact, Capitalism is delivering fewer of those things to fewer Americans than it was in the past.

Poverty was never close to being wiped out and is rising now. The poverty rate is nearly 20 percent and more Americans live in poverty than at any time since the government began keeping figures on it. Fewer people can get good educations now. Even if Obama care is fully implemented, millions will still be without health care.

And the only reason as many people get educations and health care as get them, and that there are not more people in poverty, is because of Socialist programs like Social Security, Medicare and public funding for education. Since Reagan and Thatcher kicked off Neoliberalism 33 years ago we have been moving toward a more pure form of Capitalism, where more and more is privatized and fewer and fewer have the basic things, and where ultimately, only the rich will have them.