Dungeons and Despots by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
May 3, 2008

Like others raised before the age of infotainment, I was taught to scorn the voyeuristic impulse. I wouldn’t dream of watching a building burn, slowing traffic to gawk at a smashup or reading beyond unavoidable headlines about celebrity meltdowns, cult busts and diableries du jour.

However, the Austrian dungeon tales have drawn me in. They’re actual news, in an allegorical way.

Really, could there be a more perfect example of microcosmic/macrocosmic similitude? I was thinking that already, when this line in a business story underscored it: “I have this feeling that there is a wall in front of us.”

Axel Marceau, identified by The New York Times as “a 41-year-old schoolteacher living outside of Frankfurt…(whose) father had a teaching job that afforded the family upward mobility, from owning a home to fancy ski vacations,” went on to say, “We’re just not going to get any further… (W)e’ve been in a slow process of losing to the people up top.”

“A wall.” “The people up top.” See what I mean? Betrayed by our supposed protectors, we’re in the grip of a monstrous evil. Elisabeth Fritzl and her children call it Father; Axel Marceau calls it Fatherland. In all its forms, the tyranny of powerful sociopaths has crafted hell on earth for its captives.

In Madrid, Maria Salgado, a TV director and divorced mother of two, is scraping by on little more than she earned 14 years ago as a novice. “The middle class used to live well. And if you have lived well, it’s hard to live so badly,” she said, adding that her daughter asked if they were poor, because they can no longer shop at health food stores or buy fish more than once a week. “I’m surprised we haven’t started a revolution,” she observed.

“I look at people on the bus and they seem sad and beaten down,” said Francesca Di Pietro, who works in Rome but can’t afford to live in the city. She and her partner, both in their 40s, earn middle class wages, yet have to pack lunch, buy secondhand clothes and get beauty school haircuts. “We should be feeling more combative,” she remarked, “but really all we feel is frustrated.”

A typical couple of the French middle class reported sinking farther into debt every month, despite selling one of their cars due to gasoline prices, giving their son powdered milk and baking their own bread. “In France, when you can’t afford a baguette anymore, you know you’re in trouble,” said Anne-Laure Renard, a teacher. “The French Revolution started with bread riots,” she noted.

Across the Channel, London’s Daily Mail recently completed an analysis that showed “food costs alone are rising at 15.5 per cent a year – more than six times the official rate. And there are double-digit increases in other … essentials such as petrol, gas and electricity. Many families need … more than £1,200 extra a year just to stand still. Once higher mortgage costs are added, millions … (need) at least another £2,000 a year to keep their heads above water.”

Despite sharp drops in buying power due to “free trade” policies imposed through our governments by conscienceless oligarchs, the shrinking middle class of Europe are substantially better off than we are. They have universal healthcare, a stronger currency, a higher wage (both minimum and median), better access to higher education and unions that retain some strength. Even their poor are more secure than we, thanks to social safety nets that keep everyone who seeks help fed and sheltered.

Thus, within this hell of exploitation in which all but the few – our oppressors – reside, distressed Europeans occupy the top circles. Americans who work for a living exist on several levels between them and the world’s most wretched, descending from those struggling to hold it together to those in extremis: the dispossessed, the sick who have no hope of care, the unemployed, the hungry.

Recognizing that all who lack independent wealth are together in the same dungeon now, we must also admit the only difference between workers surviving in some degree of comfort and the Haitians eating dirt is one of degree. Given time enough, those who prey on us will reduce our circumstances equally. They call what they’ve been doing to us for decades Labor Arbitrage. If we have a lick of sense, we’ll start calling it crime and demanding an end to government complicity.

see

The Economic Reality Check Machine by The Other Katherine Harris

Desperate For Health Care

The Global Food Crisis: SlideShare

We work harder but get poorer in the U.S.

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Featured on the Top Stories on news.wordpress.com.
Dungeons and Despots by The Other Katherine Harris

Food Fights: Predation vs Protection by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
April 29, 2008

The most mercantile “Earth Day” yet – one that stretched into an “Earth Week” of consumerist hype – left a foul taste in my mouth this year, amid all the news of famine. However rightfully we fret about polar bears, plastic bags and the Amazon, the real urgency is feeding hungry people.

In true “Shock Doctrine” style, some have taken this crisis as their cue to make matters worse: Robert Zoellick, for one. An original “vulcan” responsible for the Iraq debacle, as well as a former U.S. Trade Representative, Deputy Secretary of State and Goldman Sachs executive, he’s the neocon now running the World Bank. While hustling governments to make up a $500 million shortfall in the UN’s food aid program, caused by suddenly rocketing prices, he’s been screaming, “The solution is to break the Doha Development Agenda impasse,” claiming, “It’s now or never,” inveighing against export controls and declaring himself willing to help Africa by doubling its debt for agricultural spending – with, of course, “increased private-sector initiatives.” And why wouldn’t he be willing? His economy-destroying, resource-grabbing bank and its ally in crime, the International Monetary Fund, have almost no customers left, now that South America wised up. These days, they get to prey only on the poorest of the poor, apart from Turkey.

His is a pitch as brazen as Treasury Secretary, IMF Governor and ex-Goldman CEO Henry Paulson’s proposal to give total control of financial markets to the Federal Reserve – after the Fed let them run mad for years, collecting huge fees and bonuses for wrecking the housing and credit markets, plus bailouts at taxpayer risk – but Zoellick has a subtle side, too. This heartbreaking story about conditions in Mauritania, for instance, is salted with sneaky “free trade” talking points and deceptions. But the people aren’t starving because well-intentioned trade policies failed; they’re starving precisely because they got suckered into a scheme designed strictly to benefit transnational corporations – like the European companies that send fishing fleets to deplete Mauritanian waters.

We need to start reading every famine piece closely and critically, with an eye for such ruses. Few articles will tell us outright that there’s only one reason why Mauritania can’t send the pirates packing — namely, World Bank/IMF debt – or that the desperate Haitians are eating dirt because their government is paying $1 million a week in debt service to these creeps.

Finally, Zoellick and his fellow-plunderers at the highest diplomatic level were subject to some strenuous pushback this week. When the heads of 27 development agencies gathered at European UN headquarters in Bern for emergency talks, their meetings were off-limits to media, but we can feel confident they got an earful from Jean Ziegler (Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) and Achim Steiner (UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of the Environment Program). Both want the world to know they’ve had it with agricultural policies that favor large-scale monoculture farming for export, and with the commodities speculators who’re profiting from misery, too – so they’ve been giving interviews and Ziegler even threw a press conference.

“We have enough food on the planet today to feed everyone,” Steiner emphasized, but access to it is being distorted. “Real people and real lives are being affected by a dimension that is essentially speculative,” he said, calling also for a return to sustainable agriculture in order to feed a growing population, while conserving soil fertility and water supplies and compensating for climate change.

Ziegler, a distinguished Swiss author writing on topics of economics and ethics (including the shameful conduct of Swiss banks), has been outspoken since he assumed the post of Special Rapporteur on its creation in 2000. Lately, however, he’s begun exceeding himself. He spoke of a “daily massacre of hunger” and said “a murder is behind every victim.” Blaming globalization for “monopolizing the riches of the earth,” he added, “We have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this.” Ziegler seeks a five-year moratorium on biofuels, plus regulations prohibiting investment in raw materials by hedge funds and other players with no direct connection to agriculture.

Reinforcing the Ziegler/Steiner view is a recently completed three-year study, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which involved nearly 400 scientists. They concluded, “Business as usual is no longer an option,” and recommended “greater emphasis on safeguarding natural resources and on ‘agro-ecological’ practices, including the use of natural fertilizers, traditional seeds and intensified natural practices, and reducing the distance between production and the consumer.” These findings were introduced this month by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at a conference in South Africa — unattended by representatives of the biotech industry, who walked away from the project last year in a huff. Steiner was on hand, though, his Environmental Program being one of its sponsors, and in an related interview on April 9 he made the crucial point that “agriculture has been the domain of professional agriculturalists with a narrow focus on increasing productivity. IAASTD has brought in many other voices to create a broad vision that includes production, social and environmental dimensions.”

A parallel rift is shaping up within the European Union, where a few have dared to balk the uber-globalists who want all subsidies out of their way. Although a conservative (center-right) politician, French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier not only favors ongoing EU subsidies and “the new policy of European preference” to ensure food security and quality, but also thinks it would be smart for other regions to form self-sufficient blocs. “We have to protect ourselves. It’s not protectionism. Food is not televisions or cars,” Barnier has said – and, in a highly dismissive Forbes article that cites an equally dismissive one in The Financial Times – he’s quoted, saying, “What we are witnessing in the world is the consequence of too much free-market liberalism. We can’t leave feeding people to the mercy of the market.”

Given that they represent the unmerciful market from which the rest of us need protection, the ultra-capitalist press is in full cry against Ziegler, Steiner and Barnier, who pointed out that the extreme ideology he questions “is even contested in Washington, as you can see during the presidential campaign.”

Thus the forces are arrayed and the battle is joined. Some powerful people are plainly speaking the truth at last, with a global disaster as object lesson. Horrifying as the times are, they present our best shot at scraping these parasites off us. Our job, as I see it, is to spread the word and make sure the oligarchs can no longer deceive anybody we know.

see

FOOD CRISIS: The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model

Global Famine: The Lords of Capital Decree Mass Death by Starvation

Fueling Food Shortages by Ralph Nader + Harry Chapin: Cats In The Cradle

Food

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Rich vs Right by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
April 13, 2008

It’s become fashionable to rail about how dumb Americans are – and, yes, we do tend to share some collective impairments (notably in world geography and languages) – but I’m struck again and again by the collective wisdom of my compatriots.

I often learn more from comments on a blog than from the original essayist, even if highly credentialed, and some who call talk show hosts on AirAmerica and NovaM reveal similarly transcendent insight. Radio being such an ephemeral medium, I can’t attribute this remark to a particular speaker or even recall precisely what show was airing, but here are perhaps the pithiest words ever spoken about our nation’s partisan disjuncture: “Republicans want to get rich and Democrats want to be right.”

That nails it in one, doesn’t it?

For some, personal gain is quite simply the highest value. We on the other side find this hard to believe – but it’s demonstrably clear that we’ll never win an argument with them, by appealing to their better nature. It isn’t that they don’t possess a better nature, but it’s kept firmly in its place, restricted to benefiting kith, kin and self-aggrandizing philanthropies. The only occasions on which they’ve ceded any advantage on a broad basis have been when they’d weakened the rest us so much that they’d effectively killed the Golden Goose, so had to fatten it up for a while. (Think Great Depression, for instance.)

By contrast, those of the greed contingent have grasped that the majority of people honestly place principle ahead of wealth. That makes us suckers, in their book, and they’ve managed to play us like suckers by mincing it up – extolling a few token precepts to gain followers. Mind you, these have no bearing on their all-important financial aims. Trumpeting biblical strictures costs them nothing and fools believers into thinking they also buy into the rest of the doctrine (those icky parts about service to others, fairness, peace and the spiritual perils of privilege). Likewise, it costs them nothing to bray about “the right to bear arms” and fools believers into thinking they also buy into the rest of the Constitution (those icky parts about governmental checks and balances, restrictions on war-mongering, even-handed justice and the primacy of individual freedom and conscience).

Thus, our would-be Masters of the Universe have exploited their fellow-citizens ideologically, as well as economically. In high political circles, it’s now considered bad form to point this out, but Barack Obama has been doing it – more gracefully when he spoke of our need to unite against the real enemy than when he spoke specifically of impoverished Americans clinging to God and Guns. In each case, however, he was expressing essentially the same thought. I’d like to see him broaden it to embrace these people as persons of principle, who were deliberately misled by being tossed a scrap of what they value. There’s a great affinity waiting to be tapped into, in that they placed something higher than their own pecuniary best-interest – which you’ll never see a True Republican do.

Foreclosure Prevention Act Rewards Giant Homebuilders Complicit in Subprime Scam

Digg It

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
April 3, 2008

Not to be outdone by our scamming Wall Street bankers, our scamming builders have their hands out, too. If the Foreclosure Prevention Act goes through as written, they’ll profit by as much as $33 billion in tax breaks, according to a new construction industry report: A Multi-Billion Bailout for Those at Fault: Corporate Homebuilders, the Housing Crash and the Mortgage Crisis [pdf], issued by LIUNA (the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents 10 million construction workers).

What the National Association of Home Builders’ lobbyists have slipped into legislation meant to help troubled homeowners is a “carry-back” provision allowing builders to apply their losses from 2006 and 2007 against taxes paid on profits as long ago as 2003. This would give them a powerful incentive to dump unsold properties at prices that will further depress the housing market – in addition to billions in savings, at public expense and at a time when we can ill-afford lost revenue.

The builders also stand to benefit enormously from recent changes at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, permitting more loans and higher limits – another victory for the NAHB’s so-called “Build PAC”, won in concert with lobbyists for the National Association of Realtors. These are the two largest business PACs in the nation and the builders have been pitching a fit lately. In February, the NAHB angrily announced suspension of all political donations, until its demands were met. Since the group doled out $3.5 million for the 2005-2006 election cycle, their sudden tight-fistedness was no doubt noticed.

Significantly, many homebuilders have cashed in on the mortgage trade, not just construction. Their financial subsidiaries leapt onto the predatory lending bandwagon in a massive way and steadily escalated that aspect of the business. In 2006, for instance, giants like KB Home, DH Horton, Lennar, Pulte and Shea generated from 60-400 percent more subprime loans than during the prior year (with little or no increase in prime loans).

And let’s remember that these guys made out like oilmen for ages – indeed, substantially better for a long while. In September of 2005, financial analyst Jon Markman wrote, “Stocks of the country’s two largest home-builders, Pulte Homes and D.R. Horton are up 580% and 460% over the past five years, respectively, while shares of the two best-performing major international oil companies, Total and BP are up 101% and 47%.” By contrast, the broad market had then lost 20 percent of its value since September, 2000.

Yes, home sales are down now, but do you really think we need to worry about these huge corporations that fed so richly on the speculative housing bubble they helped inflate?

The president of LIUNA doesn’t. Terence M. O’Sullivan stated, “This bill will force American taxpayers who are already struggling with foreclosure, job loss and shrinking retirement savings to pay again for homebuilders’ reckless and unethical behavior. Corporate homebuilders are tone deaf to even ask for it and Congress should not acquiesce to it. This bill needs to be fixed so it does not cause further damage by rewarding those who helped cause the crisis and who can well fend for themselves.”

The Joke’s on Us, as Long as We Allow It by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
April 2, 2008

As ever, mischief’s afoot on this April Fools’ Day. Did you get the e-mail from Code Pink saying John Conyers found a place on the table for impeachment, or maybe the one from The Daily Reckoning that features Bubbles Greenspan apologizing for the financial mess we’re in and a bevy of CEOs returning grillions in undeserved gains to their shareholders?

The gravity of those issues makes it far less fun to be fooled than when kids switch the sugar and salt or shriek, “There’s a bug on your head!” About equally serious subjects, tricks are now being played IN DEAD EARNEST. I speak of two in particular: a recent massing of US forces near Iran and The Paulson Plan.

With respect to the former, our media have grown so corrupt that it took news out of MOSCOW via the blogosphere to let Americans know about it. (That the Russian press is now more reliable than ours is a separate story, horrific on its own.)

With respect to the latter, although views of foes are also cited, The New York Times today supplied dutiful quotes of endorsement for a proposal that even Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has admitted was never meant to address our present economic troubles – although he managed with a straight face to claim we didn’t reach these gates of doom from want of regulation. His plan (for distracting us from what honestly needs to be done) is recycled stuff, as Ian Welsh’s blog points out: a compendium of changes the Wall Street titans have long craved. At the heart of it is a pitch to hand all oversight of our financial markets to private entities (the Fed, which is owned by the banks, and industry associations). Quite a timely prank, if one favors heavily ironic humor.

This is like the film Groundhog Day, except it’s April Fools’ Day that keeps replaying. And day after day, as we wake again and again to their foolery, we’re the butt of the joke.

Are we really going to let Shrub and Darth, our self-styled impersonators, compound their foolishness in Iraq by doing exactly the same thing to Iran?

Are we really going to let Wall Street’s self-styled wizards compound the foolishness of securitizing housing debt – routinely raising the risk of millions into billions, on the chance of making a lucky guess – by doing exactly the same thing with convoluted derivative bets on further forms of debt and a myriad of other intangibles? That’s what crafted the crisis we’re in and they’re gleefully repeating it every day on deals now related to alternate energy, bankruptcy paper and even the weather!

Let’s face it: We’re dealing with addicts, completely unprincipled slaves to greed and power. How long before we make it clear that they can’t fool us anymore?

see

A Third American War Crime in the Making By Paul Craig Roberts

Bush’s Legacy Leads to Iran By Heather Wokusch

Paulson’s Fixit Plan for Wall Street – If It’s Not Dead on Arrival, Someone Should Shoot It Quick

April Fools: The Fox To Guard The Banking Henhouse

U.S. Treasury Regulatory Reform Proposals: Hapless, Helpless, Hopeless

Why the Paulson Plan is DOA + US proposes broad reform of market oversight

Have you fed your prisoners today? by The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad
Mar. 11, 2008

I write this at 2 a.m., jolted awake by the dream of finding prisoners in my home, in a locked room I’d forgotten. Upon chancing to open it, perhaps while putting someone in there, I was stunned to see about half a dozen young men sitting forlornly on a cot. They couldn’t recall when they’d last eaten, although thankfully none appeared to be starving or unwell. I left with the intention of making them omelets, yet aware that I might fail to do it. With each step along the corridor outside, I kept telling myself to remember – and remember also to bring other meals, not only today but tomorrow. The prospect seemed so terribly difficult that I wondered how soon I’d forget them again.

Continue reading

Bill Moyers Journal: Rick Karr on Government Secrecy (Sibel Edmonds) + Viewer Mail

Dandelion Salad

Note: featured writer for Dandelion Salad (The Other) Katherine Harris had her viewer comment aired on the show last night. Way to go, Erin! ~ Lo

Bill Moyers Journal
PBS
Feb 29, 2008

Web Exclusive: Rick Karr on Government Secrecy

Are whistleblowers and muckrakers facing insurmountable odds? Correspondent Rick Karr takes stock of the cases of THE NEW YORK TIMES’ James Risen and former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds.

Take the case of former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds: She blew the whistle on massive incompetence at the Bureau — sloppy translations, missed messages from terror suspects. She even alleged that insiders were leaking secrets to foreign agents. She lost her job for it.

Just after Congress got interested in her story — and a bipartisan group of Senators said they found her claims credible enough to warrant an investigation — the administration retroactively classified everything that she knew, pretty much shutting down any chance of an investigation. U.S. journalists have found it nearly impossible to look into her claims. Over the past year, there’s been only one article on her in a major newspaper, and it simply announced that she’d won a freedom-of-speech award. Meanwhile, the TIMES OF LONDON has published three stories — just this year — digging into her claim that Administration officials sold secrets to foreign governments.

Video link

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Bill Moyers Journal
PBS
Feb 29, 2008

Viewer Mail

BILL MOYERS: It’s time once again to take a look at some of the comments you’ve been sending to us at the JOURNAL. You’ve been writing and we’ve been reading.

When Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul were excluded from participating in their parties’ presidential debates, we brought them on our show to give them a chance to speak their mind.

BILL MOYERS: And in a recent essay, I explored what the investigation of steroid abuse in major league baseball reveals about america as a whole.

BILL MOYERS: Suppose our national past time has become our national pathology? Ours is a society on steroids, and we’re as blind as baseball’s owners were a decade ago.

As someone who’s never given a hoot about baseball — or any team sport — it’s always been immaterial to me whether athletes take drugs or not…By contrast, we’re all embroiled in the larger political/economic/ethical issues you raise and…I’m not sure it’s fair to compare a rigged system that victimizes almost everyone with narrow areas of endeavor that needn’t occupy our attention unless by choice.
(The Other) Katherine Harris

Video link

h/t: (The Other) Katherine Harris

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see

Scott Horton Interviews Daniel Ellsberg

UK Times: Brewster Jennings outed by ‘treasonous’ US govt official in 2001, not 2003 by Luke Ryland

FBI denies file exposing nuclear secrets theft

For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets

Sibel Edmonds (archive of posts)

Edmonds-Sibel

A Valediction for the Prince of Sophists (William F. Buckley, Jr. 1925-2008)

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Feb. 27, 2008

“A mind,” as the saying goes, “is a terrible thing to waste.” Damn shame about Bill Buckley’s. Imagine the good he might have done, given worthier aims than enlarging fortunes like his family’s, reviving social restrictions that even his Catholic church considered shopworn by the 1960s and generally stopping the march of history dead in its tracks.

Even at 16, my age when The Firing Line debuted in 1966, I knew his politics were repugnant. Besides defending the increasingly bloody American misadventure in Vietnam and, of course, anything big business and theocrats wanted, he was a foe of the civil rights movement and similarly held that students were too uppity. By then, the world had seen only a few campus sit-ins and minor disruptions, but even this was too much for Buckley, who thought the root of the problem was simply lack of adult discipline. On one of his earliest shows, the actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel countered, “Do you really think we live in… an age where… a parent can obstinately cling to the belief that the values of today are not substantially different from the values of yesterday?” “But the parents are right,” Buckley retorted, to which Bikel laughed, “I knew that you would say that.”

There was seldom a scrap of doubt about what he’d say on any subject. The fun part was how cleverly he often said it. In both the elegance of his demeanor and his choice of words – selected with evident gusto from one of the best-furnished toyboxes around – he’d have been at home in a Noel Coward play, with only a few famous lapses (as when he threatened to punch Gore Vidal for calling him a crypto-fascist).

I’d love to know what Vidal is thinking today, having now outlived the last of his three sparring partners, the others being Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. It was a delight to observe their verbal pummelings – all well within bounds of civility, compared to today’s lying, strident body-slams.

Of course the Fairness Doctrine still applied in those days. Nobody got away with outright falsehood, besides which television wasn’t yet a bastion of anti-intellectualism. It actually brought us live theatre throughout my childhood; Burton played Hamlet in our living rooms and the hosts of talk shows were almost uniformly erudite, the likes of Steve Allen and Dick Cavett.

Buckley set out to match or exceed their class, at a time when conservatism had no such spokesman and, in seeking to legitimize the Robber Barons’ perspective, he presented his opposing views gracefully alongside those of people whom we honestly wanted to watch (John Kenneth Galbraith, David Susskind, Dick Gregory, Hugh Hefner, David Merrick, Dore Schary, Pierre Salinger, Daniel Moynihan, anti-Vietnam activist David Dellinger, James Hoffa, the then-young Senator Al Gore and even Black Panther Huey Newton and counterculture stars Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg). Have a look at some of these program summaries. Only occasionally was his guest a fellow-Republican, until the later years, so this was a brilliant means of worming into wider consciousness, without seeming to be a public menace.

Among those who’ve done our country such vast damage, Buckley was certainly one of the most influential, but not one of the absolute worst. The New Republic was higher-toned before his 1990 retirement, and he had sense enough to favor decriminalizing drugs and to admit failure in Iraq and want us out in 2006.

If we get do-overs, I hope next time he’ll be just as smart and amusing, but on the people’s side.

Kafka Incorporated: Of Captives, Casualties, Kosovo-stan & the Global Scam

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Feb. 26, 2008

“It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.”
~ Franz Kafka, The Trial

“My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted.”
~ Franz Kafka, In the Penal Colony

As if conjured from pages almost a century old, the dystopian world of Franz Kafka has actualized around us. Remember Joseph K., whom shadowy Authorities ordered roused from his bed and arrested, then tried and ultimately executed, all without explaining why? The official retort to his declaration of innocence was, “Innocent of what?”

It puts one in mind of Guantanamo, doesn’t it — not to mention some 25,000 prisoners now held in U.S. detention centers in Iraq and untold numbers confined elsewhere?

And then there’s Don Seigelman. But before touching further on that foul matter, let’s recall Georgia Thompson, the Wisconsin state contracting gal who spent the winter of 2006-07 behind bars for purely political reasons. Ms. Thompson also lost her home and life savings, trying to defend herself against a trumped-up case meant to reflect badly on Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. She won handily on appeal, but an earlier Republican judge had denied her freedom in the interim (a period during which two of her most ardent attackers — the former chairman and executive director of Wisconsin’s Republican Party — moved on to greater things, the former becoming our ambassador to Czechoslovakia, while the latter joined Giuliani’s presidential campaign.)

Like former Alabama Governor Seigelman, Ms. Thompson was prosecuted by a “loyal Bushie” U.S. Attorney left in place after the Honest Eight were fired. And the one who targeted Mr. Seigelman (repeatedly, until she found the right set of lies and the right courtroom) chanced to be the wife of a Republican operative closely tied to the campaign of his rival, who most likely won via last-minute election rigging. Mr. Seigelman’s is a long and complex story, fairly well encapsulated by a 60 Minutes segment that aired Sunday evening (except in the cities of northern Alabama, where the station owner — a member of the ultra-wealthy Bass family and Bush “Pioneer” — evidently preferred dead air). That video can be viewed HERE, among other places. For details, see the excellent series of articles at Raw Story: PART I, PART II and PART III..

My point is that all of us could face precisely the same nightmare: being thrown into jail on any pretext, besides the other threats that exist against our livelihoods and liberties.

Let’s face it, “justice” has become another empty word in America, along with “democracy” and “freedom.” Those elected to serve us scorn both our legal heritage and the popular will. Overwhelmingly, we crave peace, but they keep bullying whomever they choose (and making us pay for it). Overwhelmingly, we want our rights back, but they keep spitting on the Constitution and increasing police state powers. Overwhelmingly, we want transparency and accountability, but they keep veiling themselves in secrecy and routinely telling us lies (upwards of a thousand from the White House, alone, and still counting). Overwhelmingly, we want the return of economic equity, but they keep endorsing a tax structure that has steadily widened the gap between plutocrats and the rest of us for 30 years. Overwhelmingly, we want affordable healthcare, but they keep letting insurance companies stand between us and our doctors, thus throwing away billions of dollars every year to reward executives and administrators who add nothing of value. Overwhelmingly, we want media responsive to our need for accurate information, but they keep permitting tycoons to buy ever more outlets and use them to pervert the national discourse, with no regard for objectivity. Overwhelmingly, we want sane energy and environmental policies, but they keep forcing us to subsidize big oil, plus the new agrofuels boondoggle and a fresh wave of nuclear lunacy and other energy developments designed to sustain dependence on the grid, defeating the original purpose of solar and wind power. Overwhelmingly, we want regulatory agencies to regulate, but they keep appointing regulators who do nothing to ensure that even food, toys, bridges and inherently dangerous mines are safe — and have given free reign to a predatory financial system that sucked trillions out of the economy in just the past few years (not even counting the raiders who’ve been allowed to acquire companies by stealing employees’ pension funds). Overwhelmingly, we want jobs at home and only fair trade with others, but they keep kowtowing to transnational corporations that deliberately impoverish us and people around the world. Overwhelmingly, we want our manufacturing capacity restored, both to regenerate decent employment opportunities and also for the sake of national security, but they keep increasing our reliance on distant and often unfriendly sources.

Even that lengthy rant doesn’t fully cover the bases. No doubt you can think of at least half a dozen more disconnects, without really trying. While mulling additions, you might sing along — in paraphrase of Zip-a-dee-doo-dah — “It’s a fact; it’s actual! EVERYTHING is out-of-whactual.”

Clearly, we’re ruled now by The Castle — another Kafka novel, in which unseen and unassailable figures hide, issuing diktats from On High, meant to keep villagers guessing and anxious. Unsurprisingly, the road to the Castle never leads to the Castle. We simply can’t get through to them, any more than his character K. could. And K. died trying.

Which brings me to my next point: death, more specifically suicide. Here I don’t refer to the widely publicized self-destruction of young Iraq vets who, often after multiple sojourns into that chaos, can’t cope, but rather to the prodigious number of recent suicides among Americans who should have been at the top of their game: men and women of middle age. Between 1999 and 2004, the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds rose nearly 20 percent (actually 31 percent among women), and an extremely silly story about this appeared this week in The New York Times. “We’re kind of in the dark,” said Dr. Eric C. Caine, co-director at the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center, without a “psychological autopsy.” Theories concerning the cause include a drop in hormone-replacement therapy after 2002 health warnings, purported higher general rates of depression among baby boomers and a statistical fluke, but they’re calling “the prime suspect… skyrocketing use — and abuse — of prescription drugs.”

Of course they shouldn’t be flogging meds night and day on TV (thus driving the price up for people who actually need them), but this is abject bullshit. I submit — from the rather authoritative vantage of one who could easily have been among the suicides and considered it frequently — that a review of victims’ financial records would clear up the issue straightaway. In fact, the story skimmed smooth over one of the biggest problems: A woman who’d sought treatment for depression soon before she died was released in bad shape because her insurance ran out! Few insurance policies will keep anybody in a hospital for more than a week — and how about those who have none to cover mental probs, or none at all? And how about the fact that the scant jobs remaining on our shores have gone reliably to the young and cheap since the mid-90s? We who are old enough to remember that today’s $25,000 was worth $48,000 in 1985 are a positive peril to the corporations-uber-alles system. Sure, some folks are just emotionally messed up, but I for one am not a bit mystified by the larger statistics. What else is reasonable to expect from people who took pride in their work for decades, but have now lost hope of ever earning enough to live decently again and are probably also in deep debt?

For exactly the same reasons, suicide is rampant among Indian farmers. Since the late 1990s, 166,000 of them have offed themselves (in addition to which 8 million left the land) –mainly thanks to Monsanto. They were hyped on buying genetically engineered seeds and their crops failed, because they couldn’t survive without irrigation plus Monsanto’s costly fertilizers and pesticides. Then, after the first failure, the farmers couldn’t even collect seeds from their fields to try again, the damn plants being patented and often programmed to sprout only once.

The GM industry is doing the same to growers everywhere — for instance in Iraq, the ancient cradle of agriculture that made permanent settlements and civilization as we’ve known it possible. And wherever these Frankenseeds get planted, they’ll soon be cross-pollinated to corrupt other fields.

This is all, all, ALL about greed. There’s no other way to understand what’s happening to everyone, everywhere, as far as I can see. Corporations — entities initially chartered by governments strictly to serve the public good and dissolved when they didn’t — have taken control of our governments, and even of supra-national organizations like the EU and UN.

Which brings us to the week’s biggest story: the alleged independence of “Kosova”: the Kosovo province of Serbia, itself a scrap left from the destruction of Yugoslavia. We were all duped about that, as about so much else. The nation was doing very well, thank you, and didn’t care to relinquish its resources to corporate pirates, under the heel of the World Bank/IMF jackboot. Hence, the genocide libel, the bombs, the region’s resultant poverty and dependency. It’s all pure “Shock Doctrine” stuff. Over the past 9 years of NATO rule, unemployment has risen to 60 percent and now, under EU regency, citizens of the “independent” state will work for peanuts, while its puppet rulers fatten. Kosovar drug lords and prostitution profiteers, who got their start as KLA terrorists we funded to help break up Yugoslavia, will be well looked after under their lately installed Eurobremer (Pieter Feith) and a 2,000-member porta-police state, augmented by Britain’s Welsh Guards. The Dutchman Feith will complete privatization of what remains, in complicity with our largely privatized military running Camp Bondsteel — the largest U.S. base since Danang. Built and serviced by Halliburton’s KBR, of course, it’s complete with extensive detention facilities and sited to watch over the Caspian pipeline.

No need to guess who’s paying the steep tab for Camp Bondsteel and the chain of other new pipeline-nanny bases stretching eastward from Iraq into all the “stans”, is there? It doesn’t matter a lick to our “democratic” government what we think about that — unless, of course, we get too vocal in opposition, in which case they’ve got federal prosecutors to sic on us. If even state governors aren’t safe from them, who is?

Two brief notes will complete this review of the week past:

Have you noticed — in, say, a raft of editorials and a shocking e-mail from Wes Clark — how this Kosovan “independence” thingy is being extolled, alongside widespread condemnatory use of the word “nationalism”? They’re out to break down our last conceivable barriers against total depredation, or so it seems to me.

However, on the brightest note struck in a very long while, it appears from one editorial that Obama may have fallen under the salubrious influence of Ralph Gomory, which would be definitively what he needs to break the death-grip of the DLC corporatists. For news of what could conceivably morph into a genuine turnaround, please read HERE and HERE.

see

60 Minutes: Don Siegelman (vids) + Parts of Broadcast Blocked in Alabama…

Can He Deliver? Obama and Global Trade By Paul Craig Roberts

Alabama station drops broadcast of 60 Minutes expose on political prosecution scandal by Larisa Alexandrovna

Alabama Democratic Party Calls for Special Prosecutor

The Economic Reality Check Machine by The Other Katherine Harris

Feb 25 Program: Seeds of Destruction, US Military Bases Around the World, Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Potential Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods by Stephen Lendman

Corporations

GMO

Kosovo

NATO

Obama-Barack

.

.

Yo-Yo Econ or Written your business plan yet? by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris
Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Feb. 17, 2008

Written your business plan yet?

“Self” will soon be our nation’s top employer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) admits. It’s the ultimate triumph of YOYO economics, allowing corporate elites and government to shift the last vestiges of risk and responsibility onto the individuals who do the nation’s work and pay most of its taxes.

“You’re On Your Own” applies already to almost a third of the American workforce, like it or not, and the proportion is steadily rising. Around 650,000 new businesses roll out yearly — most launched not by eager let’s-build-a-biz types, but by permatemps, contract staff and “consultants” trying to survive on short-term projects. By and large, the self-employed are an educated legion with professional skills, often working in creative or high-tech fields, but there are also a scandalous number whose primary income derives from selling on eBay (nearly 430,000 in 2005, almost as many as were in servitude at Wal-Mart). It’s a fair bet that even the most menial service gigs will fully transmogrify before long into freelance forms, in order to be stripped of benefits.

This is literally the definition of what the BLS calls “non-standard work arrangements”: jobs “not expected” to offer traditional benefits. They’re quite blatant about the abuse. Another bit of jargon they enjoy is the phrase “worker-entrepreneurs”. (See SCARY RAND DOCUMENT.)

The phrase flatters but, with that title and a buck, you can buy a cup of coffee (unless you go to Starbuck’s). Within this pathetic framework of options, “entrepreneur” does sound far more appealing than the others — never mind that more than half of all independent ventures fail. One can always try again. And again. Until all will and resources run out. Or until you get lucky. Some do. In fact, Little Firms That Could have accounted for 80 percent of our net job growth in the past decade (lame as it’s been, with everybody else — including government — outsourcing jobs by the tens of millions). Much more frequently, however, these enterprises are supplementary means of raising crucial cash. Of every 10 secondary jobs held, the busy self-employed hold 9!

A particularly dirty little secret, confessed in another paper (pdf) is that self-employment rises steeply with age. In 2002, those 45 and older accounted for 38 percent of the workforce, but 54 percent of the unincorporated, non-farm self-employed. No doubt the number is higher by now. This is no accident, but the result of social engineering. As long ago as the Reagan era, our oligarchs began fretting about contraction of the labor force when Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) retired. It wasn’t enough for the government to start charging double for Social Security — meant to cover our own retirement, as well as benefits for the generation retired then — and proceeding to steal the money for other purposes; they also suppressed wages and benefits through offshoring and union-bashing, made sure people had to keep working to get health care and lately enacted a poisonous bankruptcy law while allowing the financial industry full reign to make predatory loans and jigger real estate and securities scams. Now, when the last thing today’s companies want are employees experienced enough to deserve and expect fair rewards (and especially those nearing eligibility for pensions, where such still exist), people can no longer afford to relocate for suitable employment opportunities, or even scale down their living arrangements, since the loss on their homes would be too great. The timing is absolutely perfect — for the corporations, who can exploit them as temps, part-timers and contractors. The BLS of course makes it sound like self-employed seniors are just keen to launch new careers, and also tap-dances around the fact that their health isn’t as good as that of the conventionally employed. However, the tiniest whiff of common sense suggests most are scraping by however they can after layoffs and job buyouts, likely without access to medical services through the decade or more until they qualify for Medicare (when, as other statistics widely available show, the health status of recipients improves). And naturally the government is now aching to cut Medicare, too.

Regarding the other end of the age spectrum, the Scary Rand Document informs us: “To the extent that educational levels are projected to increase in the future at all…the rate of increase in the next several decades will be slower than …was experienced in the past several decades” — which is lunacy: For kids to be decently educated, all we have to do is decide to make primary and secondary schools really teach again and dump the greedy college loan industry that was invited into the scheme. The truth is, our corporate rulers want a proper education denied to most Americans, so they can continue degrading compensation here by importing workers from countries that do invest in education — and so we’ll be grateful for any jobs at all (and distracted and dumb enough not to identify and combat the real problem).

Moreover, suppressing education, social mobility and pay obviously leads ultimately to lower Social Security outlays — and, in the shorter-term, cuts the cost of unemployment benefits. Those aren’t available to the self-employed, you know. And, even if their self-employment income is marginal, they don’t have to be counted as unemployed, which bolsters the lie of American economic strength.

It’s an incredibly huge and convoluted lie. For instance, real unemployment — if you count the long-term discouraged, who know there are no jobs around and gave up looking (first dropped off the report by Bill Clinton) is about 12.5 percent and, when the government issues stats on new job creation by U.S. businesses, those jobs don’t have to be located in this country. Too, our GDP figure is inflated by including “imputed income” — such as crediting all homeowners with having “earned” the amount they’d have to pay to rent their own homes — and inflation figures are held down by substituting the cost of a cheaper item, whenever the price of a certain product rises, on the assumption that people will automatically trade down. For proof of these claims, check out Shadow Government Statistics and this news release by our very own BLS.

This is a piece I’ve planned to write for a month or thereabouts, while amassing notes and thoughts, but last night’s “Now” show nudged me into immediate action. If you missed it, have a look HERE. Usually I’m an admirer of David Brancaccio, but in this case — let’s say he barely scratched the surface. And then smacked a smiley-faced bandaid over the wound.

Setting the tone was Sara Horowitz, founder of the so-called Freelancers Union. Her organization offers insurance plans (mainly in New York, due to barriers in other states) and raises issues of concern to members, also mainly in New York, where it helped to spark a modest crackdown against employers in clear violation of the regs. Mind you, it takes a stunning level of managerial idiocy to be in clear violation of Social Security’s distinctions between contractors and employees. You practically have to seat them next to one another and require identical work on the same schedule to get nailed for deceit and back payroll taxes. To follow guidelines, all it takes is letting the alleged independent produce in his or her own space, without constant oversight, which costs the company less than providing a desk.

Far be it from me to damn Sara’s group for scant successes; every little helps. What rankled was the servile attitude: an absence of not only anger, but even judgment. That we can expect no better is simply, as she said with a tight smile, Reality. (Cue serfs to doff hats.) Corporations have made plain what they need, she observed, and so workers must band together in response to create their own security. Her role, then, is marshalling a sort of cleaning crew to follow in the widening wake of the wrecking crew.

By my lights, there’s a heckuva lot wrong with that picture. Human beings and the societies in which they live don’t exist to accommodate corporations. Quite the reverse was held as true, when the first corporate charters were issued — and for a while the right to operate with limited liability was duly withdrawn from entities that failed to serve the public good.

How they arrived at running the world is an extremely ugly story, the first segment of which is brilliantly told by Nick Robins in a recent essay for the “New Statesman” on the British East India Company. In their soulless greed, they not only maltreated and robbed all in their path, but even managed to starve around 10 million, as collateral damage from making a killing in the rice market. Their example also inspired the modern educational system: a rote of drills calculated to turn the outcast class into a chirpy assembly line. (See John Gatto’s deeply researched “The Underground History of American Education” – please. It’s generously available in full online, free of charge.)

Our modern multinationals, their heirs, are fueled by the products of their imperialist educational system and beatified by the media they own, which catechize that “free trade” equals freedom and that paying incessant tribute in the form of corporate welfare is the very lifeblood of democracy.

Bullshit, sez I — in defiance of our many elected leaders who’ve bought into those wrongheaded concepts, either because they’re bought or because they never gave a serious thought to economics.

Until a few years ago, I didn’t, either. It’s easier to play nod-and-smile-Louise than delve into a subject so abstruse. If you haven’t gotten into it much yet, it’s no shame. Here are a few very accessible places to start. Some were among my wake-up calls and others are more recent:

Bill Moyers’ speech at the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform

Bill Moyers’ speech at Occidental College

Marc Faber’s “Irreparable Cracks in the Financial System”

Larry Beinhart’s “The Fraud of Busheconomics”

Joel Hirschhorn’s “Delusional Democracy Breeds Delusional Prosperity”

Lucy Komisar’s “Corporate Profits Take an Offshore Vacation”

Joshua Holland’s The American Dream Is Alive and Well … in Finland!

David Korten’s “Assault of the Corporate Libertarians” at http://www.pcdf.org/corprule/assault.htm

William Greider’s “The Establishment Rethinks Globalization” at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070430/greider

If those hook you, start following Russ Winter at the Wall Street Examiner, Hale Stewart’s blogs on Huffington Post and Bill Bonner at The Daily Reckoning.

Sadly, our oppressors still have plenty of victims waving the all-power-to-corporations banner, although CEO compensation has mushroomed by 300 percent in the past 15 years, while wages have inched up by only 5 percent (far less than the rate of inflation). Had worker pay kept up with CEO pay, the average production worker would earn $110,136 today, instead of $27,460!

Significantly, as I pointed out in my last blog, average families used to have that kind of spending power. If you remember what your parents earned back in the 1960s and early 1970s, you can calculate what that represented in today’s spendable dollars at Measuring Worth. Prepare to be amazed by how much worse you’re probably doing.

Maybe writing a business plan isn’t a bad idea at all. As more of us wake up to how severely we, our communities and even our national security have been harmed by the long rule of the transnationals, we’re going to favor local, independent companies. In droves. How long can those who operate according to “survival of the meanest” principles last if, besides denying our purchase dollars to chain stores and service providers, we also deny them our talent?

see

The Economic Reality Check Machine by The Other Katherine Harris

Bill Moyers Keynote at Media Reform Conference (videos)

Congress’s Betrayal of the American Worker By Richard Backus

Bush Administration Hides More Data, Shuts Down Website Tracking U.S. Economic Indicators

Senator Bernie Sanders: No More Bad Trade Deals + SECRET TRADE DEAL: Moyers Special Airs…

Delusion Destroys Democracy by Joel S. Hirschhorn

Bill Moyers (posts prior to end of June 2007)

Moyers-Bill

Labor

The Economic Reality Check Machine by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris

Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Feb. 14, 2008

The Economic Reality Check Machine

Remember what you paid for your first car, your first house, a year’s college tuition or whatever? At Measuring Worth, you can find out in a few seconds what it would cost you now by using their “Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to 2007” calculator.

Prepare to be amazed by what you’ll learn. My 1969 Opel, $2,300 when new, would have cost almost exactly $10,000 more last year ($12,278.23). Fortunately, my parents could afford to buy it for me more easily than I realized, because their modest annual income (under $20,000) represented more than $100,000 in today’s dollars. Their purchasing power was already on the decline, though; it fell by an average of $5,000 dollars yearly between 1965 and 1970. Even with inflation jolting the budget dramatically, they remained comfortably in the middle class. I was even on the lower rungs of it, when I got my first “real” job in 1975. Pulling in $9,000 a year wasn’t bad then (especially for a young woman); in fact, it represented almost $35,000 in today’s money — and 10 years later, my $25,000 spent like today’s $48,000.

Through the ’70s and 80’s, money kept losing value steeply, but far worse was the fact that pay stagnation set in. And both trends have continued, with all meaningful gains from increased productivity going to the richest for the past 30 years and actual declines in compensation at the lowest end.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you there are plenty of young people (and others) working now for 1985 wages — and that a household with only one earner is barely scraping by — but the picture of what we’ve lost becomes much more vivid than the usual generalities, when you run calculations based on figures from the reality of your own life in the past. I recommend it.

Please Consider the Courts, All Ye Deeply Ticked-Off by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris

Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Feb. 2, 2008

Please Consider the Courts, All Ye Deeply Ticked-Off

I’m as upset as anybody about how corporate money and media have undermined our presidential primary process — I wept, when Edwards gave up — but I’m even more disturbed by the “don’t bother voting” movement that’s developing among some progressives and by the whiff of third-party candidacies that would erode Democratic support.

Mind you, I’ve said for ages that we’d be better off with a multi-party system that fosters alliances and accommodations, instead of winner take all; however, that prospect is so far from viability in this country as to be a pipe dream.

One further proviso should be stated before I get to my main point: I confess to feeling torn between voting for Edwards or Obama on Tuesday, having veered back and forth all week. Fortunately, whether or not to throw away a primary vote as a growl of personal protest doesn’t have to be decided in this moment.

Anyway, it’s November that I want to talk about, and the fact that even Hillary — whose husband brought us the media conglomeration that has so distorted news and political discourse (plus the financial deregulation and trade policies that have wrecked our economy) — wouldn’t turn to the Heritage Foundation for her judicial nominees.

If the Supremes get one more member from the radical right, this country will be screwed for decades — not to mention the evils being done daily in our lower courts now packed with right-wing judges who routinely rule for the powerful over those whom they’ve harmed.

Every few years, we get a crack at choosing a better President and Congress, but the courts roll on largely unchanged until someone dies or resigns. Thus due to duration, every judicial appointment has far greater weight than an elective position, impacting not only us but today’s children and potentially another generation to come.

I’d love to be able to vote in November for Edwards — as many others would love to vote for him, Kucinich, Biden, Dodd or Richardson — but I’ll show up and vote for whichever Dem gets that far, because it’s about a lot more than pleasing me. It’s about rejecting the hold of institutionalized injustice, both now and after I’m gone.

There’s also the possibility that Barack or Hillary could surprise us — and even themselves — by putting the people first and telling their grillionaire sponsors to go jump off something. FDR wasn’t elected on the platform that he subsequently enacted, remember? We face similarly extreme circumstances today and either Democrat might rise sublimely to the occasion. No Republican will, nor can any third-party candidate be elected.

see

Sitting Out the Election By Mary Pitt

The Evolution of Evil By Joel S. Hirschhorn

Seriously, it’s time to not vote in the presidential election by Lo

Much Ado About Ron Paul by Grim

No Debate by Ralph Nader

Nader considers running for president again (videos)

Is Michael Bloomberg pondering White House bid? (video)

How about Bloomberg for president? by Eric Margolis

MoveOn.org Pushes the Worst, Ignoring Gravel for President (video)

Another Lauda in the Court of King George by The Other Katherine Harris + video

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris

Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Jan. 29, 2008

The annual SOTU ritual is always painful to me, since solemnities in the line of Laudes Regiae are so profoundly un-American.  Yes, yes, the prescribed acclamation that accompanies the president’s entry is in tribute to the office, not the individual, but doesn’t it seem berserk to hail any figure whose power derives from the people as if he were an emperor or pope embodying the divine potestas — especially when those who supply his ovation are our representatives, too?  Properly interpreted, it’s a vision of us saying, “Yea, Us!” That would be merely silly, but what we get plays as a Congressional obeisance.

Even if we had the benefit of widely beloved leaders duly executing our will to good effect — when a “Yea, Us!” wouldn’t stick in the throat — it would still be hard to endorse a ceremony modeled after the British monarch’s Speech from the Throne, aka Gracious Address, which marks the State Opening of Parliament.  Thomas Jefferson thought ill of it, too, and ended the practice.  Its sole basis in law (Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution) is one line — He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient — so Jefferson sent written reports to be read by a clerk, as did his successors for more than a century.  Thus, only George Washington and the first John Adams personally delivered such speeches, until Woodrow Wilson swanned onto the stage in 1913.  Since then, presidents have gone either way, at times varying presentation mode within their terms of office.  Lately it’s become the usual thing to put the final account in writing (as Shrub is expected to do next year), while freshly inaugurated presidents with no SOTU statements to make show up to tout their goals. For anyone not already ejected from the White House, the propaganda value of a televised extravaganza each January is too alluring to resist.

What irks me most about this recurring spectacle is the grandiose protocol that developed around it, reinforcing the illusion of presidential supremacy.  One unfamiliar with the tripartite organization of our government and the history of the event — including, sadly, a huge chunk of our populace — would take away from last night’s rites the confused picture of a chief executive of medieval might, to whom all deference is owed and paid by a subservient legislature and judiciary.

The general willingness of Congress to play the role of loyal (or at least cowed) subjects is astonishing, really.  They’ve imposed upon themselves demands of decorum so extreme as to seem odious in a democratic republic. The lone exception I recall was a 2006 ovation by Democrats, when Shrub cited the failure of his Social Security privatization scheme.

While I don’t suggest that members of the opposition party should throw tomatoes and rotten eggs — or even indulge in Westminster-style heckling, although it would be fun — surely the nation literally ruined by the man addressing them deserved to see some stronger signs of Democratic displeasure than Obama squirming in his chair and the epilogue of a mild Kansas grandmother pitifully begging Shrub to “join us” as they know he and his thugs never will.

Personally, I wish the Democratic contingent had left Shrub to declaim before a half-empty house and then been shown elsewhere, cheering an impassioned response.  But that doesn’t fit with the DLC’s go-along-to-get-along campaign, into which everything Dems do is being forced to fit.  Whether the people like it or not.

UPDATE:
A superb analysis of the content of Shrub’s speech is HERE.  There’s a short video (see below) well worth seeing and the last line on the page is a link (though not underlined) to a 35-page PDF that addresses every single point brilliantly.  These folks must have worked their asses off last night and this morning.

***

Andrea Batista Schlesinger responds to 2008 State of Union

DMIblog

DMI’s Andrea Batista Schlesinger analyzes Bush’s 2008 State of Union address, and says that President Bush’s final State of the Union has failed the American middle class. In a time when virtually all the presidential candidates, regardless of party affiliation, have embraced “change” as a central campaign theme, the President’s 2008 State of the Union offered only more of the same.

see

Bush’s Final State of the Union Speech 01.28.08 (video; transcript)

State of Union Came With a Signing Statement By David Swanson

Biden, Webb, McCain & Obama respond to Bush’s SOTU (vids)

Olbermann: SOTU + The Florida Factor + Worst + Bushed!

Bush’s last State of the Union speech overshadowed by deepening crisis By Bill Van Auken

One Bush Left Behind by Greg Palast

State of the Union Reaction from Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) (vid link)

SOTU: Impeach/Remove/Jail by Davis Fleetwood (video)

Dream versus Nightmare: Pick One – An Open Letter to Barack Obama by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris

Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Jan. 19, 2008

If an eloquent speaker speak not the truth, is there a more horrid kind of object in creation?
~ Thomas Carlyle

During a week punctuated by due tribute for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the incongruity was more flagrant than it might’ve been, but I’d be shuddering at your recent paeans to Ronald Reagan, even if the week had contained nothing more notable than a day in praise of egg whisks.

This is no small thing, Senator Obama. Compared to aiding the radical right by raising alarms about a false Social Security crisis, calling unions “special interests” and decrying health care as a moral peril if Americans are “forced” to have it, your apologia for Reagan is worse. Because his was the smiley face painted on their whole poison pill.

It’s still serving that function today. Your supposed rivals, whose debates are All-the-Reagan-You-Can-Gag-Down buffets, are invoking his ghost in hope that voters will share the same lapse of memory and discernment you displayed on Monday in Reno, telling the Journal Gazette that Ronald Reagan “put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” (Video and an excellent precis are HERE.)

While I can’t fault your saying, “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America,” that trajectory — which sadly we’ll remain on, until the last neocon policy bites the dust — has been, for most, a path to ruin. As for his encouraging entrepreneurship, small businesses ranked among the first victims of his presidency, along with the poor. Throughout the 30+ years of his abiding revolution, everything has been rigged to profit large corporations and the ultra-rich.

This reality is glibly glossed over in your book, where another defense of Reagan appears: “That Reagan’s message found such a receptive audience … spoke to the failures of liberal government, during a period of economic stagnation, to give middle-class voters any sense that it was fighting for them. For the fact was government at every level had become too cavalier about spending taxpayer money. Too often bureaucracies were oblivious to the cost of their mandates. A lot of liberal rhetoric did seem to value rights and entitlements over duties and responsibilities. Reagan may have exaggerated the sins of the welfare state, and certainly liberals were right to complain that his domestic policies tilted heavily toward elites, with corporate raiders making tidy profits throughout the eighties while unions were busted and the income for the average working stiff flatlined. Nevertheless, by promising to side with those who worked hard, obeyed the law, cared for their families, loved their country, Reagan offered Americans a sense of common purpose that liberals seemed no longer able to muster.” (Page 31)

Senator Obama, are you tragically uninformed, trying to contrive “unity” by pandering to right-wingers or legitimizing their idol from conviction? Surely we can rule out option one, because you’re entirely too smart to speak and write about matters you haven’t studied seriously. Yes, when Reagan started spouting his political vitriol, you were a child. So was I, a somewhat bigger kid, but his words and deeds are well-documented from the mid-1960s onward. Thus, everything I know about him, you must also know.

For instance, while governor of California, he dehumanized welfare recipients, calling the needy “bums”, “cheats” and “a faceless mass waiting for a handout.” He’d campaigned on cutting funds for the poor, saying, “The time has come to stop being our brother’s keeper”. (Some “Christian” sentiment from one who soon styled himself a righteous Bible-thumper, huh?)

Condemning help for working people who lost their jobs, he sneered, “Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders,” and he dismissed upholding minority rights with this argument: “It doesn’t do good to open doors for someone who doesn’t have the price to get in. If he has the price, he may not need the laws. There is no law saying the Negro has to live in Harlem or Watts.”

Our environment meant no more to him than marginalized citizens did. In opposing expanded protection of his state’s majestic redwoods, unique in all the world, he shrugged, “A tree’s a tree. How many do you need to look at?” Given that attitude, it’s fair to say he never really saw one. Something else he never saw was military action. During World War II, Reagan served in an Army film studio — but, with bring-’em-on bravado, he blustered in 1966: “We should declare war on North Vietnam. We could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it, and still be home by Christmas.”

Consigned to a special hell of hatred in his heart were the young. Of students who dared protest the war, he said they didn’t deserve an education and added, “I’d like to harness their youthful energy with a strap.” His later words were more violent: “If it’s a bloodbath they want, let’s get it over with.” He meant it. Let’s not forget he imposed martial law on the Berkeley campus and endorsed shootings there. As for experimentation with drugs, he deemed it “a repudiation of everything America is” — never mind that no national drug laws existed in this country until after his own birth.

This was a man born in 1911, who was past 50 when he began his life in politics. On generational grounds, the merciful might excuse his weirding-out about the Berkeley scene (short of the shootings), but would any halfway decent human being slash funds to feed low-income and retarded children on the very day when he, freshly made a multi-millionaire via a shady land deal, budgeted a hike in his own salary?

While age alone can’t be fairly be held against anyone, Reagan absolutely represented an Old Guard oligarchy bent on crushing the emerging power of a new, well-educated and open-minded middle class. Between 1964 — when he made his first entrance on the Republican national stage by endorsing Barry Goldwater and was talent-spotted for a gubernatorial run — and his 1980 election as president, he was carefully groomed to sell the corporatist agenda to the masses, while his backers were also spending billions on “think tanks” and hired-gun academics to distort public discourse.

It would be an insult to suggest that you know less than I do about the genesis and development of their colossal Noise Machine — devised in the early Nixon years, when the most powerful gathered to script their reversal of all middle class gains since the New Deal — so how, Senator Obama, can you possibly state that people were “ready for” Reagan with no reference to how they were MADE ready by a constant barrage of deceptions calculated to overwhelm objective journalism and scholarship?

And how can you couch Reagan’s victory in terms of liberal shortcomings, without recognizing that lies were spread daily to mask Jimmy Carter’s real successes? Those were good times. The war, Watergate and the Ford recession were past, unemployment was falling dramatically, real GDP was growing at five percent yearly, the national debt relative to GDP was lower than in 50 years, the inflation rate was reasonable and, on average, we brought home twice the real income that our parents earned. International diplomacy was paying off, too; we had détente with the USSR, troop reductions in Korea, even the Camp David Mideast Peace Accords. A funny thing happened on the way to national satisfaction, though: The better things got, the more the Noise Machine told us to see Carter as incompetent and ourselves as in Big Trouble. For no legitimate reason, the number of Americans who believed we were on the brink of disaster jumped from 41 percent to 64 between 1978 and 1979 and Carter’s approval dropped from 65 percent to 39. The right-wing freakazoids even got the media to question his sanity!

In fact, they were out to drive the citizenry nuts and they succeeded. Fanning fears of runaway inflation and impending economic collapse, they drove Americans to spend now — which people did so madly in 1979 that inflation spiked briefly to 14 percent. Analysts blamed this on Carter — having formed the habit of blaming him for everything that couldn’t be pinned on unions, “bureaucrats” or “entitlements”, but they couldn’t name any particular policy as responsible.

Likewise, the radical right targeted Carter’s sensible energy program aimed at curtailing oil imports and fostering extensive use of solar power. We’d be sitting pretty now, if the neocons hadn’t assured us there was no energy problem and gone back to business as usual under Reagan, who had solar collectors ripped off the White House roof as soon as he moved in.

They further roused the populace to scream for war on Iran. The whole hostage crisis was needless. None would have been taken, had Carter not been endlessly pressured to bring the Shah here. He cared about human life, you see — unlike those who merely prate about the unborn — and it took a bare-faced lie about the Shah’s urgent need for medical treatment obtainable only in this country for Carter to admit him. Then our Embassy people were grabbed, as predictably as after-party cleanup, and Carter turned his attention to preserving their lives. He wouldn’t bomb or invade and Reagan’s backers made dead-certain his diplomacy could never work. Thanks to an underhanded arms deal, the hostages wouldn’t be freed until the neocons’ grandfatherly poster child was sworn in.

Again, I’m not stating anything you don’t know, Senator Obama. Both of us are old enough to remember that period. You were in college in the late 70s and I was a young woman in my 20s. So, in response to your saying Reagan offered “clarity” and “optimism,” I invite you to recall the murky and frightening key words tossed around at the 1980 nominating convention. Kissinger emphasized “weakness … impotent … upheavals … disaster … painful… fear … chaos … feeble … paralysis… humiliation … slipping … crash … whipsawed … unraveling … despair… crushing … turmoil … lost … war … dark forces” — and then the winning candidate’s acceptance speech featured “destroy … disintegrating … weakened … calamity … sacrifice … eaten away… wasted away … harm … injure … turned the national stomach … freeze … exhaustion … destruction … disasters … war…”

None of this strikes me as laissez le bon temps rouler stuff, Senator. Nor did it at the time. But the media lapped it up on toast and Reagan took office amid his wholly manufactured crisis, availing himself of the collective nightmare to implement a radical agenda that combined wanton military overspending with lavish indulgence of corporations and the rich and austerity for everybody else (including increased taxation of the poorest). Assuming office, he said he felt like a captain of a ”ship about to go over the falls,” asserted we were ”in greater danger … than … the day after Pearl Harbor” and told his budget-cutters to be “meaner than junkyard dogs.”

Now let’s recall the editorial cartoons that accompanied his rise: a huge number of them playing on his promise of “bloody cuts” by picturing him with an executioner’s axe. This he wielded supposedly on our behalf, to punish the unworthy, but eventually it fell on almost all of us. Morning in America should have been spelled “mourning”.

The phrase “victims of Reaganomics” isn’t literary. As early as 1984, 150,000 lost lives were quantified by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, based on average mortality increases during recessions for suicide, homicide, cardiovascular fatalities and other indices of death linked to economic activity. We can double that figure to cover his second four years and still fall far short of the total. We haven’t counted those who died because budgets were cut for child and maternal nutrition programs and for disability benefits –- nor those who died here due to families’ losing health insurance along with a parent’s job — nor the mentally ill, who died after release to “community care” (aka homelessness) when state hospitals were closed –- nor the poor children who could longer receive care in community health centers that closed — nor the children battered to death because support for the formerly successful National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect received almost nothing – nor those killed gradually by reduced environmental protection. And let’s also spare a thought for those who died elsewhere because of reduced foreign aid and Reagan’s support of tyrannical regimes that slaughtered their people.

“The Reagan safety net is a myth. People are dying as the result of these cuts,” reported the honorable journalist Bill Moyers during the winter of 1981-82, when the media — not yet unregulated and conglomerated — retained enough independence to air occasional footage of families sleeping on snowy nights under bridges. Reagan flatly denied it. “My program hasn’t resulted in anyone getting thrown out in the snow or dying,” he said. And the public, by then warped by a decade of right-wing spin, approved. In an opening monologue, Johnny Carson remarked, “The Senate cut one million people off the food stamp rolls yesterday,” and wild cheering, applause and laughter ensued. “Let’s hear it from the truly mean,” he continued.

During Christmas week that winter, 30 million pounds of stockpiled cheese were released as a gift to the hungry Americans Reagan liked to pretend didn’t exist. We were paying $1 million a day to store surplus cheese, milk and butter and another $6 million a day to buy more, but Reagan preferred to let all this food go rancid than distribute it regularly. All who had the will to see the truth could see it, but most chose to deny it, with considerable help from the media. As 10,000 visibly middle class protesters turned out in objection to Reagan’s receiving a “humanitarian” award, TV commentator Gabe Pressman told us, “They clearly are militant radicals.”

As their pain grew more severe, the deceived public endorsed Reagan’s drive for additional scapegoats. Serious crimes weren’t increasing, but the Noise Machine spread the lie that they were and we climbed aboard his lunatic “war on crime” bandwagon. While more prisons were built and harsher sentences imposed, Reagan cut funds for law enforcement in order to keep demand up. We incarcerate far more citizens per capita than any other nation, most for nonviolent offenses, all to satisfy private prison industry profiteers and punish Reagan’s old enemies: minorities and the young.

Similarly, the public bought into his privatization of a host of government functions, although the slightest appeal to reason should have told us that placing a profit-collecting entity between the provider and the recipient of any service means its cost will go up, not down.

Other lies pretended both a rise in teen pregnancy (steadily declining since the late ’50s) and an alleged “baby boom” (although the birth rate per potential mother was dropping). These were ruses to focus attention on reproductive issues and give the Noise Machine a chance to trumpet its case for “family values” and puritanism — against what you defer to them by calling “excesses” of a tolerant time.

After union-bashing began in 1981 and unemployment rose to 9 percent in early 1982, Wall Street pronounced itself delighted by the sudden docility of remaining workers. The plutocrats grew even happier as unemployment soared to nearly 11 percent. It took Reagan less than two years to have more than 12 million Americans out of work, most without unemployment benefits and more than two million of them homeless. More than 40 million of us had lost health benefits, infant mortality was rising and more than 20 percent of our children lived in poverty. GDP dropped by two percent yearly, while the trade deficit climbed past $4 million monthly and every year the government borrowed about $200 billion — set to triple the national debt before the ’80s ended.

Maggie Thatcher was practicing the same tricks across the Pond, privatizing like crazy and doubling unemployment within three years of taking office. The prosperity of the ’60s and ’70s simply had to go, because employees had gotten altogether too uppity. As conservative economist Bill Bonner, who publishes The Daily Reckoning, wrote about a month ago, “The Reagan/Thatcher revolutions … had little to do with conservatism or free market principles. What they … brought was … a way of harnessing market forces for the benefit of the state and the elites who control it.”

When Brits began to see through Maggie — I was living there at the time — she proceeded to wrap them around her pinky finger again by stirring up a wee war in the Falklands. Inspired by her example, we took to shooting down planes in Libya, launching a stupid kerfuffle in Grenada, threatening Castro, messing Nicaragua around in full earnest and playing nuclear war games for the first time in decades. The trans-Atlantic press found it all great fun.

I could keep elaborating the Reagan story for hours, Senator Obama.. I haven’t even touched on the corrupt S&L debacle, the HUD scandal, the Iran-Contra affair that should have brought impeachment, Reagan’s smarmy wooing of social reactionaries into the plutocrats’ club, his opposition (with Jesse Helms) to the MLK holiday, crazy poison scares whipped up as distractions, the devaluation of the dollar, the wasteful military spending, the squeezing out of local businesses by giant chains and the continuous offshoring of American manufacturing jobs that were replaced by ill-paying service work.

When the money supply loosened and growth was allowed to resume, there was no “recovery” for many. The great majority of Americans had lost ground and we’ve continued losing it as Reagan’s policies were extended through the Bush, Clinton and Shrub years. We’re working harder and longer for less, in real terms, than we or our parents did in 1970; in fact, families now earn only 8 percent more with two parents working than one breadwinner made in 1905. And the gap between haves and have-nots has widened famously. We often see it likened to the 1920s; however, the disparity is actually worse than that. Even our society’s traditional promise of upward mobility for the deserving has been broken. Thus, Reaganomics created a new aristrocracy that, as Bill Moyers pointed out, now possesses as much of our nation’s wealth as their counterparts did when our country was a British colony. The American Revolution has been essentially nullified!

Again I ask how you can offer any mild words for Ronald Reagan and his legacy. I ask, too, how you can reasonably believe that bipartisan unity should be the Democratic Party’s goal. Now that we wage-slaves are finally wising up, why should our urgent need to revive social and economic justice be made contingent on what the Masters of Universe may kindly concede?

The facts and statistics cited here are readily available to anyone, so they can’t be new-news to you. This, however, may be. Because you didn’t live in mainland America until 1979, the eve of the Reagan era, let me tell you what things were like before your college days in California and New York. This is meant equally for others unable due to age or geography to remember what we once had –before, by careful plan, it was taken away:

Picture a nation in which every city and town was different. Wherever you traveled, there was a “there” there: local foods and other products to be discovered, along with homes, shops and offices that expressed local tastes and suited the climate. Residents took pride in their community’s uniqueness and were dedicated to improving its schools, libraries, cultural offerings, health resources and recreational opportunities. Locally-owned newspapers and broadcast stations brought word from near and far, usually with no agenda apart from providing an honest service to their audiences and advertisers. Although there were a few large employers and chain stores, small businesses provided about 80 percent of all jobs, so most people were on very friendly terms with their colleagues and even their competitors. Of course some families had more money than others, but seldom enough that they looked down on anyone. We all had much more in common than not and it didn’t take a lot, to feel secure. Nobody feared being bankrupted by illness or injury, because medical costs were reasonable. Even those earning minimum wage had more spending power than they do today. Kids could easily work their way through college, because tuition was cheap (in some states free). Overall, there was a feeling of calm about having what you needed — maybe not all you wanted, but enough — and in that calm were dignity and purpose. We felt confidence in government, too. It kept up the infrastructure nicely, when corporations were paying about half of all income tax (now six or seven percent) and federal agencies existed to do their jobs, not to pretend or refuse to do them. Pollution was on the wane and the rights of minorities and women were increasingly respected, in large part because principled journalists stayed on the watch. It was a lot harder to be shameless while the media still reported events objectively.

Yep, that was America as limned by Rockwell, rather than Rockefellers. It would be a good place to bring up your daughters and it was good enough for us — but not for the grillionaires. As their Noise Machine began to roar, spin and opinion supplanted news and lies could no longer be effectively challenged. Truth was rendered irrelevant, as was the welfare of people, communities and nations. Individually we’ve been reduced to consumers; collectively we’re workforces, troops, markets. Sheep to be fleeced and sheep for the slaughter.

Please, Senator Obama, rethink your charitable analysis of Ronald Reagan and call this lingering reign of horrors what it is. All over the world, people continue to suffer and die under his rusty old corporatist axe every day, just to make the richest richer.

***

I added the pic. ~ Lo

reagan and ron paul

see

Obama’s Dubious Praise for Reagan By Robert Parry

“Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)”

How the private equity buyout industry works (videos)

Balkanizing Reagan by Will Durst

How Any Further Estate Tax Cuts Will Pay Plutocrats TWICE by The Other Katherine Harris

The Other Katherine Harris

by The Other Katherine Harris

Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Jan. 1, 2008

Next time the vampire of estate tax “reform” rises, threatening to drain us of billions to satisfy the three families in a thousand who have to pay any, here’s a chunk of garlic that might help drive it underground:  A secondary market in large life insurance policies has developed — which means any coverage not needed to cover tax liability can be offloaded now.  At a huge profit.

While I was researching something else this morning, a fortuitous path opened to this little-known fact. As detailed HERE, an 83-year-old widow recently sold a $20 million policy on which she’d so far paid about $1.7 million. Its cash surrender value would have been less than half a million, but an investor coughed up $4.3 million and almost surely won’t have to wait long to collect nearly five times as much.

Both buyer and seller made out like bandits in the deal — and imagine how this newly contrived marketplace will sizzle, if more estate tax cuts are enacted, too.  We might as well make that “if” a “when”, as far as the firm behind the press release is concerned (specialists in bringing such parties together).  The Ashton Group predicts Congress will raise exemptions and slash rates sufficiently for “billions of dollars’ worth of existing life insurance policies to be sold over the next several years.”

Obviously, as with all these devious schemes that financialize paper, only the filthy rich can play (unless mutual funds start buying into them).   Also pretty obviously, life insurance companies will soon wise up and stop selling gargantuan policies based on old statistics that show five of every six life insurance policies lapse before any payout is due.  They’re on the hook for all extant policies, though — and bound to raise everybody’s premiums.  Depending on how badly they’re stung, we could get stuck with the tab for another bailout to benefit the ultra-wealthy, too.

Adds extra dimension to the cause of opposing estate tax reduction, doesn’t it?

There’s also the niggling notion that this ghoulish market could expand, as tapped-out folks formerly on the upper end of middle class look to their life insurance as a life-raft for coping with debt they can no longer bankrupt out of.  Not a pretty picture.  Except of course to the blood-suckers.  What do you bet they’d be pleased to buy it, never mind the prospect of destitute kiddies and widows?  Death is something investors can bank on a lot more securely than subprime mortgage payments, particularly if the seller is getting on in years or suffering health problems.