Sunday, May 31, 2015

Otis, Alonzo And Theodore, And Eugene.

I think of The Dock of the Bay, written and recorded by Otis Redding and his most famous song, as the least Otis Redding-like song that soulsy bluesy superstar ever recorded. National Public Radio puts forth an explanation for why he recorded it, which is that coming off his success at the Monteray Pop Festival Redding felt the need to branch out, and cross over, and have a more folk music sound.

I'm not sure. That song was released after Otis death in a plane crash and as NPR says, there was a struggle over how it was mixed, and all those silly sea gull and crashing wave sounds were added in. Still, his vocals are very subdued compared any other song of his I've heard. Who knows.

Volt Records / Wikimedia Commons

Incidentally, I've been noticing a lot of wide photographs being posted on the internet like this one, with extraneous area on either wide of the subject, and I suspect it's because they display better on cell phones. Many people, and especially these millennial we keep hearing about and hearing about, get most of their internet over their cell phones now.

No Golpee Augusto

I've been wanting to write about a great old time Rock and Roll blog I came upon, Don't Knock The Rock, run by a guy named Augusto, who assembles collections of music and simply posts the links; there's no going on about it like I do. It's mostly if not all from, where people upload recordings of music and a myriad of other material like movies and manuscripts that are in the public domain, i.e., the copyright has expired. Since I discovered Augusto's blog though he seems to have gone on a kind of Big Band/Dixeland Jazz kick, but on the right hand column you can see all the Rock and Roll he's posted.

The blog contains no information about Augusto, that I can see. The dates are written in what my Google translator recognizes as Spanish:

viernes, 29 de mayo de 2015.

I'm thinking he's from Lithuania.

As a joke I was thinking about announcing that I was running for president on the Bull Moose Party but then remembered I knew nothing about the Bull Moose Party, except that it was the party Theodore Roosevelt ran under when he tried to regain the presidency. An internet search directed me to the Progressive Party, which to my surprise had a very radical platform, encompassing much of what eventually became the New Deal. In some ways it was even more radical. According to Wikipedia:

The platform's main theme was reversing the domination of politics by business interests, which allegedly controlled the Republicans' and Democrats' parties, alike. The platform asserted that: To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.

To that end, the platform called for

  • Strict limits and disclosure requirements on political campaign contributions
  • Registration of lobbyists
  • Recording and publication of Congressional committee proceedings
In the social sphere the platform called for

  • A National Health Service to include all existing government medical agencies.
  • Social insurance, to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled
  • Limited injunctions in strikes
  • A minimum wage law for women
  • An eight hour workday
  • A federal securities commission
  • Farm relief
  • Workers' compensation for work-related injuries
  • An inheritance tax
  • A Constitutional amendment to allow a Federal income tax
The political reforms proposed included

  • Women's suffrage
  • Direct election of Senators
  • Primary elections for state and federal nominations
The platform also urged states to adopt measures for "direct democracy", including:

  • The recall election (citizens may remove an elected official before the end of his term)
  • The referendum (citizens may decide on a law by popular vote)
  • The initiative (citizens may propose a law by petition and enact it by popular vote)
  • Judicial recall (when a court declares a law unconstitutional, the citizens may override that ruling by popular vote)
Besides these measures, the platform called for reductions in the tariff, limitations on naval armaments by international agreement and improvements to inland waterways.

The Socialism Shall Rise Again

That election year was 1912. Roosevelt got 27 percent coming in second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson's 42 percent, but did better than any third party candidate ever and beat the Republican incumbent William Howard Taft's 23 percent. The Progressive Party, which had actually split from the Republican Party, also won nine US House seats, but its main affect was that it helped Democrats win a landslide of statehouse and US Senate seats.

Socialist Eugene V Debs, making one of five runs for the presidency in 1912, got almost a million votes, or 6 percent. The fact that Debs polled that well, and once slightly better, in the presidential elections he ran in, is usually mentioned in accounts about the strength of Socialism here in the US during that era.

Frank Zeidler - Milwaukee County Historical Society
In the first half of the 20th Century it wasn't all that unusual for Socialists to win local council and statehouse seats. In These Times did a rundown of that history and says two House members have been Socialists, and this rather substantial list of Socialist US mayors includes mayors of cities like Minneapolis, Berkeley, CA, Flint, MI, Burlington, VT, and Milwaukee, where Socialist Frank Zeidler was mayor from 1948-1960.

Those days are long gone, despite many dittohead and tea bagger Republicans belief that there are many elected Socialists in the US today, including the president. Bernie Sanders, nominally a Socialist, in practice has been more of a liberal Democrat, in the Senate and House and even back when he was mayor of Burlington. There's Socialist Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Suwant, and people make pretty good runs at office here and there, as did Ty Moore in Minneapolis last year, but besides Suwant I can't name an elected Socialist in the US, where a Cold War legacy remains firmly entrenched.

It's often cited that Pew Research polls have indicated that today's 18-29 year-olds, those millennials again, have a more favorable view of Socialism than Capitalism. In other words, people who didn't grow up being force fed anti-Socialism propaganda actually look into it and see what's good about it.

What's not cited in the news stories is that Blacks, and the larger, and fastest growing demographic, Hispanics, look upon Socialism even more favorably, when favorable and unfavorable views of both are considered (See far right column, the differential in %).

Pew Research 2011

It's more than possible, more than likely, I'd say, we'll see more Socialists holding public office here in the future.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


The queen of England gave a speech before parliament today, some kind of ceremonial opening-day address where she runs down parliament's agenda, so since the Torries have complete control of the government it will be the Conservative Party agenda.

Whenever any one of the "royal family" raises their head my British Twitter buddies give them due respect.

The royal family costs UK taxpayers several hundred million per year, plus they have a lot of personal wealth of the type old money people have, "holdings" as they say. Stocks, real estate, etc. There are always some in England agitating for doing away with the monarchy and once in awhile it rises to the level of the media but then someone promptly throws cold water on such talk by saying the monarchy brings in more money in tourism than it costs the people.

That's actually not that hard for me to believe, but then the question becomes who gets that money, and who pays the taxes that support the monarchy? Owners of airlines and motel chains profit while stewardesses and people who clean the room pay the taxes.

To me, the problem with having a monarchy and that whole system of dukes and lords and the whole thing is that it helps perpetuate ideas that some people are better than others. We have no formal class system here but we can see how wealth and the celebrity it brings creates a class system in peoples' minds as it creates one in fact.

One of the benefits of the Marxist analysis is that it takes any kind of actually existing class system into account.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Free speech on the run, even in the home of the brave

Which is the title of a column containing some comon sense from Canada.

In the right hand column of this blog I link to Watching America, a web site that translates selected articles from the world press, or if the article is in English they just link to it. I have the blog set up to show one article at a time and earlier today it showed a column by Neil Macdonald, senior Washington correspondent for the CBC (their public broadcasting network) about free speech in America; specifically about many Americans and surprisingly many left of center Americans having what Macdonald suggests is a naive understanding of the importance of free speech when trying to stifle speech they find offensive or simply not in agreement with what their clique believes in.

The US is the only place that has constitutionally protected free speech, he says, but Americans seem intent on mussing it up. He rightly points out that once you give government the power to regulate any speech, it can eventually regulate whatever speech it wants to. He adds that thankfully, our courts have been wise enough to protect free speech in every instance.

Thank you Neil Maconald and of course we do remind ourselves now and then of the importance of free speech, and the well informed elite among us which includes me and everyone who reads this blog know full well we ought to appreciate our free speeechiness and not blow it, but I think Macdonald is correct in pointing out that in bending over backward to respect groups like Muslims or feminists, or women actually, we sometimes fall into the trap of deciding which speech should be protected and which shouldn't. Let it all go, is still the best attitude. Let 'er rip.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Old Trucks

I was paging through my Twitter feed and stopped short at this old dump truck.

I always always stop to look at old cars and trucks but this one really caught my attention because I think it's the same kind of truck I drove once for awhile. Just after I got out of the US Army in 1978 I got a job at a little screw machine shop just south of Bridgman, MI. They had a small flat bed straight truck I'd use to take the parts they made to a chrome plating plant in Michigan City, IN, and then I delivered the parts to their main customer, a little factory in Niles, MI.

The two brothers who owned the screw machine shop wanted to expand it and had to fill in some of their property, and they had an old dump truck sitting out back. Another employee, an actual mechanic, and I got it running and I spent about a month ferrying sand from a place north of Bridgman where they mined Lake Michigan sand dunes and sold it to factories that used it in glass making or to make molds in foundries. Silica sand, they called it, after it was dried out and cleaned of sticks and stones, but I just got the raw sand, which they sold to me for $1 a dump truck load, $2 when the big boss found out.

They had a massive front end loader they used to keep the conveyor into the plant going and I'd sit and wait until the driver had a minute to fill me up, which he could do with one scoop, about four cubic yards, I think. I could take about half a bucket full and once to be funny he gave me a whole bucket full, which almost buried me dump truck and all.

It was about a five mile round trip up there and back and when that dump truck was loaded it took almost until I was back to the screw machine shop to get it up to its full speed of about 50 mph.

This photograph is by a guy named Tony Baca, who lives in Canon City, Colorado, and describes himself as "A self taught photographer that likes to photograph many subjects, My favorite would be old cars and trucks. I am also avid geocacher and jeeper."

Tony Baca is on Twitter and also has a web site where he sells his photos on "archival paper, canvas, metal and acrylic." I didn't know you could do that. He does some beautiful work.

Baca calls the truck an "old Chevrolet 4100 dump truck." Looking around the internet a little it looks they were made between 1948 and 1954. It's a 1 1/2 ton, someone posted on a forum, adding, "Parts are still readily available, sometimes they are even on the shelves at some of your more rural parts stores."

I should get one. You never know when you're going to need a dump truck. I actually looked at an old 1 ton pickup recently I saw on Craigslist that somebody in Los Ranchos was selling. He kind of reminded me of one the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, the dark haired one. When we went around the block in it he screamed at me every time I ground a gear or took a corner too wide for his liking, so I decided to wait on an old pickup truck.

Social Liberalism and Anarchism

New Mexico Democrats Update

Tom Udall has joined Martin Heinrich in opposing the president's drive to ram through his NAFTA-on-steroids trade deals with American Capitalism's Pacific Rim and European Neoliberal race-to-the bottom Capitalist allies -- i.e. the TPP and TPIP, which are designed to further depress wages, allow corporations to copyright practically anything almost forever, and give corporations supra-national powers to extract financial compensation from countries, or localities for that matter, that try to protect their workers or environments with mere laws.

Michelle Grisham has also been "making a difference in New Mexico," as her group email puts it, by courageously filing a bill to protect wild horses.

Ben Lujan smiles a lot.

Grisham by the way hasn't responded to revelations that she was named in a congressional Ethics Committee report for taking expensive gifts and a paid Caspian Sea vacation, aka "conference," secretly funded by big oil and a foreign government, knowing the local media won't press her on it and in hopes it will go away.

The Albuquerque Journal covered this after a fashion, but didn't question Grisham about it and if you read the Washington Post article the Journal's article was based on, it's worse than the Journal makes it out to be and will be attack ad fodder for anyone who wants to run against Grisham, which is why she hopes it goes away. It won't go away from this web log, where it will be repeated regularly for the sake anyone who types Michele Lujan Grisham into a search engine.

Religious Center

A new Gallup survey reveals that as many Americans now consider themselves social liberals -- 31 percent -- as think of themselves as social conservatives, which Gallup says marks a high for social liberalism. The rest, around 40 percent, are social "moderates" or didn't understand the question, I guess.

As in historically socially conservative Ireland, where, for the first time in history, actual voters have made gay marriage a constitutional right, a big majority here accepts gay marriage, 61 percent, and, also a new high, 64 percent, say it's morally OK be gay. On the "homosexual agenda" the religious right has been thoroughly routed.

You'd think the religious right would be moaning and wailing, but I don't see it. Because (a), as the chart shows, they know the people who send them money are changing and (b) it was all hypocrisy in the first place; red meat tossed out there to raise money. Most of the top people in that industry aren't that socially conservative themselves and for example knowingly hire gay people to work for them.

I remember once maybe 10 or 15 years ago listening to the Marlin Maddoux radio program Point of View, one of two or three top religious right radio shows, while I was driving along somewhere. He's been dead for a long time but they keep his show going because it's a big money bag. It's how those people make their living. Anyway they were in fund drive mode, and they were using the "homosexual agenda" to get people to send in money.They just kept repeating the phrase "homosexual agenda" in various contexts and giving out the phone number.

Fiscal Conservative and Anarchists

Unfortunately all this social liberalism, while it's great for the oppressed and scorned among us, doesn't really do them or the rest of us much good. Gallup talks about social liberalism but I see no polls about fiscal liberalism. That subject is verboten.

It's as I've been saying, Democrats have become Republicans who are socially liberal on a couple of issues -- i.e. abortion and gay rights. When it comes to fiscal matters and the budget, Democrats have adopted Reaganomics, i.e. Neoliberalism, and there just aren't any "fiscal liberals" to vote for. There's only Bernie Sanders, and maybe a few others, who still believe workers have a right to the wealth their labor creates. If you look at how the political system is set up it's designed to vet out candidates who aren't approved of by the ruling class, and the two pro Capitalist parties keep a pretty close monopoly on ballet access.

As Lucy Parson said;

"Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth."

Lucy was a famous Anarchist. Anarchists are interesting and you've seen their influence more and more in my posts. They have a Marxist economic analysis but differ with Socialists in what to do about Capitalism. Socialists favor gaining control of the state. Anarchists favor doing away with the state and having that power be exercised in smaller more local forums. Anarcho-Syndicalists would make workplaces, or unions, the centers of power. If you've ever read up on the Spanish Revolution you know they had a pretty significant Anarcho-Syndacalist economy going in Spain at that time.

The IWW is an anarchist union. They eschew signing contracts, favoring to hold and use their power more directly. If the paycheck isn't what it should be you just don't come in the next day, or you stay there and occupy the place and maybe break up a few machines while you're at it to let the boss know you mean business. Many Anarchists even eschew voting. Why hand your power over to someone else on a silver platter?

I think the Anarchist point of view is kind of hard to express (besides the fact that the word "anarchy" has taken on a different meaning in modern times.) This is why I've been pushing the idea over several posts now that nothing of any consequence is ever accomplished through government. Government might end up enacting and enforcing certain laws, but they passed and enforce them only in reaction to some kind of popular pressure. The Civil Rights Movement. The Labor Movement. The Anti-War Movement. The Women's Movement. Or what are often called "riots."

Those movements -- uprisings, organizing efforts, whatever form they took -- came first and were necessary preconditions. They were the source of the power that led to the changes. Their power was expressed through government. It's sometimes repeated that government derives its power from the consent of the governed, or something to that effect, but people for the most part have lost conscious awareness of that fact, and just the losing awareness of it gives government itself most of the  power.

We hold elections, but as I noted above the choices there are limited by a vetting process controlled by elites, and then you just hand over your power to one of those who have been pre selected for you, who have gone thorough that screening process, and right now it's all Neoliberal Democrats and Republicans who are that or worse.

An understanding of power, though, is critical to an Anarchist. Their understanding of the effect power has on the people who hold it is why they don't favor taking control of the state but rather would do away with the state.

Most of the original organizers of Occupy Wall Street were Anarchists, and you could see that in how they tried to set up their little governing bodies that operated by pure democracy, everyone had a vote and had a say. There are various worker collective movements that are Anarchist in nature. Mondragon, in Spain, for instance. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Evaluate Thyself

Albuquerque kindergarten teacher Linnea Montoya burns her state issued "evaluation." (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal photo)

Albuquerque public school teachers were out in front of the uptown administration building Thursday burning their official “evaluations” issued by New Mexico as part of Republican governor Susana Martinez’ education reforms.

Although the young woman pictured setting alight her evaluation form, and many with her, hadn’t been born when Americans were burning their draft cards in the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War and the Anti War Movement was bringing about an almost 180 degree shift in public opinion about that war, I don't believe the similarity is exactly coincidental, but for sure, though, a massive turnaround in thinking is also what’s needed now, as most all of us have bought the idea that somebody should be evaluating teachers.

The idea of teacher evaluation, and the education reform movement it’s a part of, came about, if you'll recall, when Americans suddenly realized their education system was severely lacking. Remember that moment?

We’re talking about the education system, of course, that I and millions of other Americans came up under, that despite its dire need of reform was somehow sufficient to propel the United States into being the number one country in the world, whose well educated and highly skilled working class had achieved the highest standard of living in history. An education system that produced the technology, the research, the math and physics, the educated citizenry that put men on the moon, put a color TV in every house, raised life expectancy to unheard of levels, ushered in the computer age. And was suddenly in need of reform?

No one was complaining about teachers or passing laws to have state governments evaluate them, or require students to take standardized tests, while the US was rising to its supreme position in the world, so how did the education system that was one of the keys to the US achieving its envied number one position in the world come to be in dire need of reform?

The answer is that it didn’t. You've been bamboozled, folks. You’ve bought into pure bs. There was nothing wrong with our teachers or our education system, which was already fully set up to train teachers and correct any deficiencies in them, and it’s ridiculous to think that it could have produced the results it did otherwise.

Remember that “education reform” is a conservative project, that many Democrats have simply bought into, and is part of the conservative thrust in this nation that’s been ongoing since Ronald Reagan.

Before it set in, before our education system was suddenly and mysteriously found in need of reform, and our teachers found to be greatly lacking in skills, the ruling class was paying about 35 percent of the bill for government, which includes education, the safety net, infrastructure, military and so on. That share is now down to 10 percent.

What happened was that a great political transformation occurred. It didn't originate with Reagan but he was its salesman and he began to fully implement it, and its essence is that rich people, and the corporate CEOs and political class who represent their interests, came up with a way to change the political discourse, a package of ways actually that’s a story in and of itself. Academics usually refer to the process as Neoliberalism, and if you use the search box to the right you’ll come up with some posts in which I’ve explained more fully what it is.

Under it, what was wrong with education, and what needed to be changed, was that teachers were unionized, had good benefits and job security, and this was cutting into profits, and what was wrong was that access to a good education — which was essentially available to anyone who desired one — was one of the great economic levelers any working class had ever managed to have implemented. The problem was that the ruling class was having to send a tidy share of its profits off to the government to help pay for all of it. 

This is where politicians like Susana Martinez come in, whose centerpiece has been her “education reform” and who has been criticized for not having an economic plan during a time when New Mexico was sinking to the bottom in the western region by almost all measures. She has an economic plan alright, but it simply calls for lowering taxes on corporations even further, and nothing else. Taken together those two things make her a perfect practitioner of Neoliberalism. Likewise with Albuquerque's Republican mayor Marion Berry who dwaddles and flits about congratulating himself over insignificant cosmetic changes while quality of life measures in the city erode. The idea is to do nothing to impede corporate profit and obstruct anyone or anything that might.

The ruling class, of course, is probably the greatest beneficiary of all the thinking skills and professional training the American workforce acquires in primary schools and colleges, as it is of the publicly funded research conducted at colleges and the technologies developed there. But the profits they were making by the late 1970s just weren’t enough for them and they made the decision that it would be better for them if the US had a less well educated, and more importantly lower paid, workforce, and so coinciding with the attacks on public education were the attacks on unions, the existence of which had had the effect of raising wages and benefits across the entire workforce. That attack was initiated by Ronald Reagan with his attack on, and eventual destruction of, PATCO, the air traffic controllers union.

By way of the attacks on public education the ruling class and their representatives in business and politics have made great inroads into ending public education as we once knew it — by attacking teachers, by getting us to believe they are somehow deficient, and that we need all these mostly under-performing charter schools run mostly by for profit companies that undermine the public school system, most of which don't hire unionized teachers, coincidentally. And not least by shifting most of the burden for college onto the students themselves.

If you noticed the placards some of those Albuquerque teachers were holding, some of them get this larger picture, but in their public statements they don't emphasize the broader economic, i.e. class based, dimensions of their problem, and don’t talk about the context in which their evaluations have been imposed, and it's easy to see why. The public won’t make any sense of it. They have no idea. We’ve been bamboozled, folks.

The public, we, have all bought into most of the central tenets of Neoliberal propaganda, that schools needed reform, that corporations will go someplace else if we don't give them another tax break, that giving free money to rich people somehow creates jobs, and that "there's just no money" to fund government, health care, schools, scholarships, grants, affordable tuition and all the rest of it.

Democrats have become like the teachers. If, like Bernie Sanders, they do talk about it, they’re written off in the media as some kind of cooks or outliers. The rest have all made a devil's bargain with the ruling class — they accept the basic arguments of Reaganomics and won’t refute them— and have taken the quick and easy way to public office, and this includes all of New Mexico's elected officials. None use the podium they've been given to inform and educate the public about the political transformation that's taken place in the US, if they're even aware of it themselves. True, within the constraints they find themselves in now, which are of their own making, some occasionally do some outstanding things, but they’re all just wasting their time, and our money, as our education system becomes eroded, and we continue down this path we’re on of permanent economic stagnation, this near zero growth that results when a people can no longer afford to be the kind of consumers who were once the engines of the 4 and 5 percent per year growth rates we saw between World War II and the 1970s when Reaganomics began.

Meanwhile we argue about teacher evaluations. Are they good evaluations? Are they bad ones? How do we get those bad teachers out of there, because that's surely what's holding up the economy, right? Wrong. We have for a long time had a tremendous public education system in this country but we’re letting it be torn apart by letting teachers be blamed for problems that never existed, but which of course do exist now.

It’s a problem the political class is no position to do anything about, and you can’t point to a single sign that shows they are. As I say, they're just wasting their time and our money, even those with good intentions, until there's a more aware, more engaged public that's become consciously aware of the propaganda it's being fed by politicians, corporations and the media.

Only mass movement from below can change things, a mass uprising brought about by a thorough shift in the thinking and public discourse of the people, as happened during Vietnam. This has always been the case. No significant transformation is ever achieved without it. The politicians might be the ones in the signing ceremony photos, but mass movements, like the Civil Rights and Women’s movements of the 1960s and the Labor Movement of the early 20th century, had risen and done their agitating and their transformative work long before those pictures were snapped.

There are always things bubbling, people meeting and talking, organizing, most of it outside the narrow focus of the corporate media, and there are always some promising developments. Right now they are among young Black people in the US and the ones who were in on Occupy, and among people involved in some collective economic endeavors in places like Spain and Brazil, where news ways of organizing are being worked out in which the organizations themselves reflect the kind of change that has to be brought about structurally in the larger culture. Something, or a combination of some things, will eventually take hold, grab peoples’ imaginations on a large scale, and take off.

Meanwhile, though, we’re in for a rough ride, a lot more disappointment, and a lot more disillusionment with our so called leaders. But it was nice to see the teachers out there setting something on fire.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Oil Etc.

University of California-Stanislaus professor Asad AbuKhalil, author of the widely read Angry Arab blog, now and then remarks about the Arab sense of humor. When Egyptians were filling the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Giza and other cities, one of the primary chants was "The people want a new regime." AbuKhalil said there was a joke going around Cairo that in the halls of government the chant was "The regime wants a new people."

He posted this today. Apparently yesterday President Obama opened a Twitter account.

Speaking of oil, a bill was introduced in the US congress yesterday to protect wilderness areas in neighboring Utah, and only one New Mexico federal legislator signed on to co-sponsor the bill. Martin Heinrich. This baffles me.

I learned about this in an email from The Southwest Utah Wilderness Alliance (on the board of which sits Jim Baca, incidentally) that explained that it's members had been asked to ask their representatives to co-sponsor the bill, so if Heinrich heard about it so did Ben Lujan, Michelle Grisham and Tom Udall, who are all Democrats and Steve Pearce, our one Republican would have heard about it, too.

It's surprising to me because if the Democrats won't sponsor such a bill they must have the same reasons as Pearce does.

Also, Utah is probably the central state for a movement by conservatives in western states to wrest control of federally owned lands from the federal government and get it under the states' control so it can be sold off and developed and leased out for oil and gas drilling, and this is really something our Democratic legislators should be engaged in.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post explains gerrymandering with one simple chart. Note how on the right the minority Republicans can win more house seats, i.e. win the House, and theoretically even the presidency.

Ingraham goes on to explain with examples that both parties are doing this, and that there is computer software that would take district drawing out of human hands.

He doesn't address the matter of minority representation. Courts have in some cases ordered some gerrymandering to create some districts that will result in giving minority populations some say in government.

In theory this is important, but as we have seen recently in places like Baltimore or New Orleans, when so called minorities get in control of government they adopt the values and policies of the ruling class and help them oppress the minority population they came out of -- i.e. practices like redlining, disproportionate policing, police violence and gentrification continue apace.

New Orleans is a classic case. Under Black city governments all public housing has been demolished, much of the Black population has been forced out of the city and the public schools have all been closed or converted to charter schools.

In other words, gerrymandering should probably be looked at through the lens of class, not race/ethnicity. Economic class. In the end its always the defining factor.




Saturday, May 16, 2015

Good News

High school graduations rates nationwide are increasing, according to a report discussed in The Atlantic, and New Mexico is is one of the states leading the trend.

The report itself, compiled by a non-profit called GradNation, lists New Mexico as one of six states that collectively educate more than 70 percent of the nation's Latinos. "Students of color are making the biggest gains, with Latinos, the fastest-growing student population, in the forefront of that trend," writes Alia Wong, associate editor at The Atlantic.

"The percentage of high-schoolers in the U.S. who are getting their diplomas has reached record levels, and the student populations that have traditionally lagged behind—particularly poor children of color—account for much of that progress," Wong writes.

A map with the article shows New Mexico at the top -- one of the few states that has increased its graduation rate more than 4 percentage points since 2011.

New Mexico's graduation rate increased 4+ percentage points 2011-2013 - chart by GradNation

Our national graduation rate is at 81.4 percent, according to the GradNation web site, and reading their actual report reveals a picture that's a bit complex, with poorer states like New Mexico having trouble in some sub categories of students, particularly poor students. And a quick search of the web for graduation rates in Albuquerque reveals that some of its public schools graduate students at rates well below state and national averages. See APS graduation rates. Highland High and Rio Grande High are at around 50 percent.

But this study has to be seen as good news. As recently as 2001, graduation rates were at least 10 percentage points lower, nationwide, on average, and much lower among Latinos; in some states in the 30 percent range.

Note: GradNation is a project of an organization called America's Promise. A quick look through their sponsors list reveals some of the usual suspects pushing charter schools, a backdoor privatization scheme, at the expense of public education, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but to be fair, America's Promise also has among its sponsors groups like the American Federation of Teachers, which certainly opposes charter schools.

Looking around the internet and digging into the web sites maintined by America's Promise reveals a mixture of ways they try to increase graduation rates. It's funded by corporations and NGOS, who provide grants, that would be of course based on their philosophies, that are aimed at things like increasing literacy, getting kids interested in sports and building up school libraries, to name a few of the many. They also get corporations to sponsor community forums at which a few to a few hundred students are exposed to corporate types who try to get them focused on graduating by showing them the connection between a good job and an education.

Which is all well and good, as far as it goes. I can see a lot of benefit coming from some of the grants, and I can see a kid talking to someone who works in Big Data getting enthused and going on to graduate.

But I don't see anything that addresses the root causes of low graduation rates and alienation among young people, i.e. poverty and the attack on public education that's been going on for years under the greater umbrella of Reaganomics and the privatization of the public sector.

Not that higher graduation rates are a bad thing. A diploma is something. It's something that can never be taken away. At the least, to someone who is hiring and who has a diploma, it means something. It means the applicant has what it takes to get a diploma, and did what it takes to get a diploma.

But a couple things must be kept in mind. One, is the importance of public education, which provides several important benefits to a society. It's something a community accomplishes together. It goes a long way toward leveling out educational opportunity. It keeps the best and brightest, after they graduate and go on to their carers, engaged in their community and its educational system and, especially if their kids attend public schools, too, makes sure they still have a stake in the school system and will more likely support it with their time and their willingness to pay the taxes that fund it.

Two, the surest, most equitable and most humane way to improve education is to improve the economic lot of poor people, by having a more equitable and humane economic system. Parents who aren't working two and three jobs, or who don't have to rely on public assistance, are more engaged in their children's lives and education, and don't have and won't pass on to their children the negative effects poverty has on a person's soul and personality, to be blunt about it. We must never forget and never blame the less fortunate. They are part of our country, and part of us.

Controlling The Police

Police supervisor Jon Burge oversaw the torture and forced confessions of Black men on Chicago's south side for almost 20 years, 1972-1991. The torture was eventually found out, some convictions were overturned, and in 2011 Burge finally went to a federal prison, for a little while. Perhaps you saw the news last month that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel finally established a paltry fund to compensate the victims who are still living. The Burge torture and its coverup had occurred under Emanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley Jr.

Jon Burge-Kim/AP
Amazingly, while the revelations and criminal case against Burge were playing out in Chicago media, Chicago police, under both Daley and Emanuel, were torturing people at another place, the Homan Square site. The Guardian of London exposed that torture and has been interviewing men the police tortured there. An embarrassed US media has ignored, and in some cases tried to refute the story.

The point being, getting themselves found out didn't change the behavior of Chicago police or those who oversee them, or the media for that mater. Being exposed didn't change the "bad cops," and what's supposed to be the majority of the cops, the so called "good cops" elected officials are always lauding, kept looking the other way, kept delivering people to the torture sites, never reported the criminal behavior many of them had to have known was going on, and elected officials did nothing until it got into the newspapers.

North Carleston cop Michale Slager plants evidence on Walter Scott's body-capture from video by Feidin Santana,

Now consider the police killings of civilians across the country that have come to light because civilians started recording them with their cell phones or, in some cases, because police had been forced to wear body cameras. In the past, these killings went under the radar, just like the torture in Chicago, because everyone believed police accounts of what happened. There night have been witnesses who said otherwise, but the police shut them up and the media ignored them or even aided the police coverup, and elected officials kept propping up the public's perception of the police.

 The Carnage Continues

Cell phone video hasn't slowed down the killing, despite police being charged for killing unarmed civilians in a few cases, beginning here in Albuquerque when District Attorney Keri Brandenberg charged two cops with killing James Boyd, a homeless man guilty of camping out. Charges have also been brought against cops in North Charleston, SC and Balitmore, MD.

The web site Killed By Police, which tracks corporate (mainstream) media accounts of police killings in the US, has for 2015 counted 423 killed by police as of May 14.

The site recorded 768 police killings in 2013 and 1,100 in 2014. Based on those figures, here's the number of people being killed by the police in the United States in the past three years, per day:

2013 = 2.10

2014 = 3.01

2015 = 3.15

So far nothing, based on those figures, and based on Chicago, has slowed down police violence. In New York, where the police under former mayor Bloomberg were guilty of the massive profiling of minorities, and where new, liberal Democratic mayor De Blasio ordered the practice to stop, it's recently come to light that the profiling largely continues unabated.

Is there cause for alarm? If the police truly were to become out of control, could they be brought back under control?

Immediately over the police are elected officials who often are in on coverups of police misconduct and who, despite some mild rhetoric designed to quell public outrage, show little proclivity for controlling the police. Here in Albuquerque, the mayor refuses to "play the blame game," and the president often repeats the claim that the "vast majority" of cops are good cops; he means the ones who look the other way, who maintain the "solid blue line," i.e., never report other cops, and the ones who drop off the suspects at the torture sites, and take them to the hospital afterward.

What about massive protests? Can they force the represenatives of the power structure to bring the police to heel?

This same president, remember, despite rhetoric questioning the militarization of the police, has refused to halt the practice of arming the police with military weaponry such as assault rifles, tanks and armored personnel carriers, which continues. We've seen such weaponry on display here in Albuquerque, and there's probably no place in the country where within an hour or so enough military firepower can't be assembled to put down a demonstration with massive violence.

Albuquerque Journal
Under Obama, surveillance of the populace has increased. The "Fusion Centers" created for such purposes are still there. There's one in Santa Fe. Fusion Centers, created in the wake of 9/11, are manned by police from all the local, state and federal agencies and are designed to facilitate information sharing and rapid response. They've been used primarily for spying on American citizens with no connection whatsoever to terrorism, activists, mostly, Leftists and environmentalists in particular but even motorcycle gangs and anti abortion protesters. A senate report found that despite billions being spent the 72 Fusion Centers around the country had "failed to uncover a single terrorist threat." The Boston Fushion Center, recall, was keeping close tabs on activists while the Boston Marathon bombers slipped past them.

In every instance when police do something illegal they lie about it. Recall the articles in the Journal after every police killing in which the criminal records of the victims, volunteered to the media by the police, were prominently published. It was the person who got killed who was on trial and not who did the killing. Likewise, the Journal's special section on problems at the police department, where an epidemic of police shootings prompted a Justice Department investigation and subsequent consent decree, has quietly disappeared from the paper's web site.

If you've followed the news about police killings in the past year or so with more than passing interests you should consider suspect anything that follows the words "according to police..."

The thing is, most people don't. They don't want to believe there's a problem with the police, or the elected officials who cover for them, or the media's reluctance to turn on the police. For the same reason people don't want to acknowledge or think about the fact that living standards are in decline, that the new jobs being created are mostly temporary, low paying, part time, and have no long term security.

It's frightening to think about fundamental change. Life in the United States for most of us is based on a certain set of assumptions, that we hold without thinking about, deeply held beliefs that you can be secure in your home, that you can walk outside and walk around, that you can find a job, pay your bills, that everything is going to keep on keeping on as it always has, that the idea that is the "United States" will continue forever. But if you can't trust the police, one of the pillars that underlie all those assumptions is absent.

The United States is, however, fundamentally changing and it's been noticed, if not by us then by the UN, which is looking into police brutality here and the inequality of our legal system and torture by our government, which we've been assured has stopped but which hasn't.
The image of what the United States is is a powerful one. It's a natural human reaction to keep thinking that the vast majority of the police are good cops, and to not question the institution or what it's there for, but there are more Jon Burges out there that we don't know about yet, and more Homan Squares. People keep getting blown away by the police, several every day, and it's happening more often all the time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Michelle Grisham and Azerbaijan

Michelle Lujan Grisham, NM's 1st District US congresswoman, was exposed today in a House ethics report for accepting thousands of dollars worth of expensive gifts and travel from the government of Azerbaijan.

Michelle Lujan Grisham D-NM - Facebook
Azerbaijan is of strategic importance because of its location as a former Soviet satellite and its large oil and gas reserves, particularly in terms of its importance to the US in its ongoing project of aggression toward and encirclement of Russia through US-controlled NATO and with the ongoing US project of undercutting the dominant position Russia has in supplying natural gas  to Europe. (As does US involvement in Afghanistan and Ukraine.)

The lavish gifts, including a free trip to Azerbaijan for Grisham and some of her staff, plus silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, were paid to Michelle Lujan Grisham and nine other congress members through the state-owned Azerbaijan oil company. It hasn't been disclosed so far why Azerbaijan would be interested in Michelle Lujan Grisham specifically. Her committee assignments don't appear to have much to do with Azerbaijan or its oil and gas industry. Perhaps it's that they tried to bribe everyone and Michelle Lujan Grisham, knowing the New Mexico media expends very little effort in holding politicians accountable and that its citizens are largely disengaged from such things, was just on of the ones who thought they could get away with it.

Note: Oil and gas, and just as critical, pipeline routes, have much to do with US involvement in the region

South Caspian basin. "AZER" = Azerbaijan

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Update: TPP Juggernaught Put On Pause

It's the top story right now of course that Democrats stood (nearly) united to prevent the advancement of legislation that will allow the president to "fast track" the onerous TPP trade deal. The TPP isn't dead, of course, but Democrats, bowing to pressure from their constituents, might be looking over the president's shoulder now while he rams the TPP down our throats.

The Hillary Factor

It's noteworthy that Hillary Clinton has waffled and otherwise stayed out of the debate. In other words, she didn't exactly join Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in opposing the draconian NAFTA on steroids trade treaty, but didn't come to the president's rescue, either.

There's hope. Not that the president or Hillary or congressional Democrats will turn their backs on their corporate masters, but that we the people will stay angry and get more angry about what's being done to us, and will force them to.

Why Elizabeth Warren And I Hate The TPP

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, was on NPR this morning making a good case against the TPP and I'm copying the transcript here so I can get some sleep.

To what she says I'd add that these panels of lawyers she's talking about are "tribunals" provided for in the treaty to settle disputes, and the decisions of these panels of corporate lawyers will take precedence over US law, because as you know, treaties, once approved by the senate, become part of the constitution, so if it says in the treaty that these panels take precedence over our laws, they will.

I'd also add that corporations will be able to sue governments not only to recover lost profits but to recover "expected future profits." So if a local government passes a law to protect their local environment, a corporation can claim that this denied them profits they would have received had the law not been there. Little Costa Rica is now involved in such a suit over a provision like this in another treaty brought by a huge Canadian mining company because Costa Rica decided they didn't want a big gold mine dug there after all. The company has backed off after getting bad publicity, and probably after learning how much money Costa Rica has, and is only suing now to recover their expenses, but at first they were suing for lost expected future profits.

Also, President Obama claims the TPP protects worker's rights. AFLCIO President Richard Trumka took issue with that in a Washington Post op-ed the other day.

Finally I'd point out that more than 500 corporate officials and lobbyists had security clearance to look over the drafts of the TPP and were able to submit suggestions along the way. We, and our elected officials, weren't allowed to do do the same. Who is the treaty going to be good for, and who not? And remember they are keeping the details a big secret. Why is that? They want to sneak it through before people find out what's in it, is why.

 Oh, one more thing. It's Obama and Republicans who are trying to ram this thing through. If today's Republicans like it it can have no benefit whatsoever for us. Obama should be horse whipped. Keeping me up like this.

From NPR (article here):

Sen. Warren On The 'Tilted Process' Of Asia Trade Bill

 The Senate could begin debate Tuesday on a bill that would give President Obama fast-track authority to complete a Pacific Rim trade agreement.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has become the president's signature trade initiative, but it is also very unpopular with Democrats.

TPP protestor in Malaysia, a signatory country
Leading the charge from the left against the deal in Congress is Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts. She says the TPP could result in the watering down of Wall Street regulations put in place by the Dodd-Frank Act, after the 2008 financial crisis.

The president has called Warren's interpretation "absolutely wrong." He told Yahoo News recently it was "pure speculation. She and I taught law school, and one of the things you do as a law professor is spin out hypotheticals and this is all hypothetical. Speculative."

Sen. Warren spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep about her objection to the deal, the secrecy she says it has been held in and why she said it's a "tilted process" that has yielded a "tilted result."

Interview Highlights

On her main objections to the bill

I don't think they are hypothetical, I think I've been out there just talking about the facts.
Look, I have three objections. The first is that the president is asking us to vote to grease the skids on a trade deal that has largely been negotiated, but that is still held in secret.

The second is that we know that corporations under this deal are going to get to sue countries for regulations they don't like and that the decisions are not going to be made by courts, they're going to be made by private lawyers.

And the third problem is that he wants us to vote on a six-year, grease-the-skids deal.

On the investor-state dispute mechanism that would help resolve disputes between countries

Keep in mind, if there's a labor violation, if somebody doesn't stick with the human rights promises they made, the consequence of that is not that they get to go to a private group, and get special enforcement. Nope, they gotta go to their own government and try to get it enforced.
So, what's happening with ISDS is that the world has changed. Those things were in place, gosh, for a long time dating back to the 1950s. But back in the beginning they were used very rarely, fewer than 100 times in more than 50 years, but the corporate lawyers figured out how to make these things very valuable for big corporations. ... What really happens here is that big, multi-national corporations can look around and say "I don't like those regulations. I could make more money if I could beat down new regulations."

On concerns about the secrecy of the deal

I have been able to go to a special, secured room. I can't take any electronic devices, no computer, no iPhone. I can't even walk out with paper notes. I can go and read about the agreement but I cannot come out in public and talk about any of the specifics. The press can't see it; the public can't see it.

But I will tell you this, there are some folks who have seen it. There are 28 working groups that have helped shape the trade deal and in those 28 working groups there are more than 500 people. It turns out that 85 percent of them are either corporate executives — senior corporate executives — or lobbyists for the industries that are being affected. The way I see this, that's a tilted process, and a tilted process yields a tilted result.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

US Dumps VE Day

It was interesting to see Chinese President Xi Jinping photographed prominently next to Russian President Vladmir Putin in yesterday's VE Day (Victory in Europe) ceremonies marking the end of World War II's European theater, ceremonies that were snubbed by President Obama and leaders of US client states in Europe.

China and Russia have the same problem. The US, in its relentless, ongoing effort to bring the entire planet under submission to low wage US based Neoliberal plantation Capitalism, US workers included, has expanded NATO up to Russia's borders and surrounded it with missile batteries placed in former Soviet satellite countries, a project furthered by last year's US organized coup of Ukraine's elected president by US-organized Ukrainian fascist parties by which the US hopes to bring Ukraine into NATO's orbit, and subsequent economic sanctions by the US and its European clients.

The US with its "Pivot to Asia" is also now surrounding China in the same way, by expanding its military alliances with Pacific Rim countries like Australia to include positioning US troops there, and via trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and is fostering a never ending series of border disputes between China and US military allies South Korea and Japan over insignificant little islands in the high seas.

Say what you will about Vladmir Putin, about Russian homophobia laws, about Russia's particular version of crony Capitalism that has made Putin and his allies rich at the expense of Russia's masses -- a system by the way that was put into place by slavish US mascot Boris Yeltsin under the direction of Neoliberal US advisers whose "shock therapy" put the Russian economy into the deep recession that brought about Putin's rise to power. Say what you will about all of it, Russia hasn't attacked anyone outside its borders, nor has China.

The reckless belligerence of the US toward them, and it's reckless, endless and ongoing Middle Eastern Wars that have left that region in ruins and left the US despised by millions of people, fueling violent religious extremism all over the world, could well lead to some kind of celebration in the future in which their survivors commemorate victory over ours.

Meanwhile we'll have to live with the consequences of US policy: an already bloated military budget that continues to swell, an education system starved of resources, a decaying infrastructure, and declining living standards as the rich have their taxes lowered ever more and working class families are made to shoulder the financial burden of US attempts to expand the hegemony of its brand of Capitalism to the ends of the earth through military might.

Pictures From VE Day

Although the consequences of US economic and military imperialism are devastating, the US snubbing of VE Day can also be seen as a cheap political stunt by the Obama Administration and its kowtowed allies intended to try to keep the media spotlight off Russia as part of its ongoing efforts to demonize Russia and Putin and prepare the US public for its aggression versus Russia. Part of which decision no doubt has to do with the recognition in recent years by scholars and historians that the US actually didn't have much to do with ending World War II in Europe compared to the role the Russian army, and the Russian people, played in defeating Hitler's vast military machine.

Below are some pictures from the many celebrations in cities across Russia for VE Day, some from the media and some screen shots I took. But for a couple of token aknowledgements the US government ignored VE Day and seems to be pretty much done honoring the sacrifices our "greatest generation" made to stop Hitler.

Vladivostok. I've always enjoyed saying the word Vladivostok




Many Russians carried photos of relatives who died in the war


Putin holding a picture of his father, who was in the navy