Thursday, July 31, 2008

Profits Soar and Tax Revnues Sink

I was called a communist at dinner last night. The person who used the word is an investment banker.

I bragged that I am a socialist, and American socialist: I think everyone should have nice things.

My socialism is a cultural socialism. I am not opposed to the free market, and many civilized nations have proven that you can successfully enjoy both a free market and a socially responsible government.

Our government is, of course, socially irresponsible and distributes our tax dollars to privately-held corporations to deliver government services. These corporations' primary responsibility is not to provide the services that a civilized nation requires, but to shareholders who are only interested in increased profits.

If, as Ronald Reagan insisted, our government services could be better and more effectively delivered by private corporations, then the demand of shareholder profits must be addressed after the actual, successful delivery of the social products contracted (roads, transportation, education, security, etc.).

Let's look at education.

We are seeing a drop in the effectiveness of the originally successful charter schools in the Untied States. These schools opened to much fanfare and the corporations contracted to run them spent their budgets building model schools that were wildly successful. There was little profit in this, however, because it costs a lot of money to run a good school.

In order to satisfy shareholder demands for a return on investment, however, these companies began cutting-back on spending and now the wildly successful charter schools are just as mediocre as the public schools they are meant to replace.


Because good education is expensive and private corporations can do no better than public institutions with the budgets we have provided. Simple arithmetic ensures that charter schools will eventually be substandard to public schools because they must factor-in a profit for the shareholders, which is not required in the bottom-line performance of a public institution.

So, charter schools are eventually going to be much worse than public schools.

The privatization of public education is just one of the examples of failure. We could discuss prisons, armies, commuter buses, road repair or any other government service now being contracted to private corporations and the result will be the same: if a profit must be figured into the bottom-line, then there is no way a private corporation can do the work as well, as cheaply, or as effectively as the government agency previously providing the service.

Add to the failure of privatization the conservative movement's success in reducing and eliminating taxes for the wealthiest Americans (those most able to afford to pay taxes). We now have less money to complete more tasks that are contracted out to corporations that must take a slice of our budget as profits. Mathematically, this cannot work.

Of course the rich should be rich and of course they should be allowed to get richer; but, as a society, we must assume responsibility for the social structure and infrastructure that make us a nation.

If the rich are unwilling to carry their fair share of the burden of the cost of society, then the government must take that action for them.

This week, Mobil-Exxon recorded wonderfully amazing profits, record profits, that will make the rich even richer.

The shareholders of Mobil-Exxon will spend those profits to elect government officials who will cut their taxes, privatize social programs, and slash away at our social fabric.

Of course Mobil-Exxon should make huge profits if they can, and those receiving this windfall need to start assuming responsibility for the support of our social and infra- structures.

This conservative movement to use our government as a tool for promoting profits and ignoring social needs is unacceptable. Our Republic can have both a vibrant economy and a vibrant society that are both supported by a democratically elected government.

The conservatives want to keep all the money for a small number of people and dismiss all social responsibility. This is morally repugnant. Huge profits come with huge responsibility.

Come on America, embrace your responsibilities.

Rising Oil Prices Swell Profits at Exxon and Shell

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nice House, Senator Stevens, Musta Cost A Fortune To Decorate

The Justice Department accused [Senator Ted] Stevens of accepting expensive work on his home in Girdwood, Alaska, a ski resort town outside Anchorage, from oil services contractor VECO Corp. and its executives. VECO normally builds oil processing equipment and pipelines, but its employees helped do the work on Stevens' home.
Ted Stevens indicted, longest-serving GOP senator, by Lara Jakes Jordan, AP

I guess the longer a Republican is in office, the more likely he is to be exposed as a criminal. Those, it seems, who are not exposed as criminals are generally exposed as sociopaths, at best. It seems the entire Republican party, for all its so-called "conservatism," is really just a cesspool of lying, cheating, hedonistic, perverted old white guys.

Of course Ted Stevens took the bribes! Only an idiot would think otherwise. The question shouldn't be his guilt or innocence, but "how much other money and graft did he accept?"

By the way, Senator Stevens is the guy who brought us the $400,000,000 bridge to nowhere. Perhaps the voters of Alaska should reconsider the logic they use for electing senators.

New York Times, Senator Charged in Scheme to Hide Oil Firm Gifts

Fox News, Stevens Indictment Puts GOP Back on Defense

The Nation, Alaska Senator Latest Victim of Culture of Corruption

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I used to live in Minnesota, in Minneapolis.

It was the late-1970s and America was moving from its place as the most progressive nation on the planet and digging itself a hole in which it could become the least progressive nation in the world.

There were anti-gay initiatives on the ballots in Florida, California, and Minnesota, the first discussions of corporate deregulation were boiling-up, and the anti-tax movement was gaining remarkable momentum.

Minneapolis in particular, and Minnesota in general, was an amazing place, an anomaly in the otherwise very conservative Midwest. Except for the loud and powerful enclave of Catholicism in St. Paul, most Minnesotans leaned toward a more social approach to government. Charity was rampant, arts and education funding were plentiful, poverty was nominal. I was impressed by the Scandinavian sensibility I encountered.

Later in life, I became a fan of the late Paul Wellstone, junior Senator from Minnesota. Wellstone embodied that Minnesotan sensibility I'd found so encouraging and was sort of the opposite of the self-serving likes of Governor Jesse Venture and Senator Norm Coleman, two of the pop-stars that have recently served the people of that state.

Norm Coleman is a fake conservative who drapes his campaigns in hot-button issues of the day, and then uses his office to denigrate constituents, citizens, and all of humanity, while ensuring that the pockets of his corporate sponsors are well-lined with taxpayer dollars. Norm Coleman is bad for America.

Norm Coleman is also a bad Senator who is in danger of losing his seat because most Americans are sick of these opportunistic politicians who have taken a so-called conservative tack, but are really just corporate apologists digging in for a slice of the pie for themselves.

Come now, Al Franken, comedian, author, political pundit, and Minnesotan.

Franken, like many Americans, is fed-up with the phony conservatism espoused by the likes of Norm Coleman, and he has decided to do something about it. He is running for Senate.

The established Democratic Farm Labor Party (DFL) in Minnesota did not unanimously embrace Franken's campaign, but they have endorsed his candidacy and he will be running against Coleman in the November elections.

Alexander Zaitchik writes in The Nation:
Both in style and content, Franken's grassroots campaign is inspired by his old friend Paul Wellstone, the latest member of Minnesota's large pantheon of liberal patron saints. Like Wellstone, Franken built support for his candidacy by mounting an aggressive statewide campaign. A full year before the DFL's endorsing convention, Franken began touring the state, including regular trips to the northern mining country called The Range. He attended "bean-feeds" (pot-luck fundraisers) and county fairs where he made the case for a broad progressive agenda based on four pillars: energy and green jobs, universal healthcare, more funding for education, and ending the war in Iraq. Labor groups were among the first to acknowledge that Franken carried Wellstone's mantle.
Dispatch from Minnesota: Al Franken v. Norm Coleman

A liberal friend of mine has expressed concern that, as a comedian, Franken lacks the political savvy to be a good Senator. I believe that since our government is now a joke, perhaps only a comedian can save us!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dreaming The American Dream

The anguish of foreclosure

The woman in the above-linked article found her home in foreclosure and unable to handle the situation she committed suicide.

She made some bad choices. The worst decision she made is that she mismanaged her household finances and allegedly deceived her husband about the status of their mortgage.

Committing suicide did not save her home.

I have seen discussions around the Internet that the woman's choices were her own, and that she made her bed and therefore should sleep in it.

She has. Permanently.

I do not excuse her mismanagement of her money, nor do I excuse the alleged deceit of her family. She made bad choices.

The matter at hand, however, is not her bad choices.

The matter at hand is the fact that the deregulated financial industry has changed the rules of the home-mortgage game, leaving millions of American families in dire financial straits.

America expanded after World War Two because the federal government backed conventional home mortgages, ensuring that American would be able to purchase a home and become part of the American dream and full participants in the American economy.

With those federally guaranteed mortgages came federal regulation of the financial industry to ensure there would be banks making loans that Americans could afford.

Thirty-odd years after the advent of the American suburb and the success of the home-mortgage industry, Ronald Reagan brought forth the notion that a deregulated financial industry would provide a better economic condition, Bill Clinton agreed with him and the two of them gutted the American Dream within twenty years.

Federally-funded mortgages should be conventional thirty year mortgages, not balloon notes or adjustable-rate mortgages. An American family should be able to secure a conventional mortgage without having to worry if their credit rating is a point below some arbitrary number deemed acceptable by a private corporation.

The American Dream is a now a nightmare for most families. I heard a prediction this morning that within two years, five million more homes will be lost to foreclosure because the mortgages are non-conventional, adjustable-rate mortgages.

This makes no sense.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

ARM Twisting

On June 5, 2008, the article Mortgage bankers report hits grim a benchmark in first quarter, showing a record number of homes in jeopardy appeared on the Yahoo! Real Estate pages. The article from discussed the milestone that in the first quarter of 2008, over a million American homes with adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were in foreclosure.

Lest you think the problem in June was related solely to the subprime mortgage scandal (and it is scandalous) where people with shaky credit were sold ARMs they could never afford, it's interesting to note that the same article it is pointed out that
The report showed about 1.2 million prime mortgages are now a month or more past due, a seasonably adjusted rate of 3.7% of those loans. That's up from a rate of 2.6% a year ago.

So, six weeks ago, over a million homes secured with conventional, prime loans were at least one month behind. And, it's no wonder. Three family wood frame homes wrapped in vinyl siding in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, are selling for over $800,000. I wonder how many people with good credit, eligible for conventional mortgages, would choose to live in Sunset Park? Probably not many, so they will extend themselves to $1.5 million to get a grander home in adjacent Park Slope and live with their budgets on the brink.

It used to be that working-class Americans were the only people living a paycheck or two away from disaster, but the artificially-inflated real estate market is forcing upper-middle-class Americans in many cities into the same, or maybe slightly less dramatic, conditions.

Today, an AP business writer reports US foreclosure filings more than double in the second quarter of 2008.
Soft housing sales, declining home values, tighter lending standards and a sluggish U.S. economy have left strapped homeowners with few options to avoid foreclosure. Many can't find buyers or owe more than their home is worth and can't refinance into an affordable loan.

The problem with the above quote is that it fails to mention that the reason so many homes are in foreclosure is that the federal government (under the guises of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) have promoted the sale of ARMs and many Americans, not just those with bad credits, are unable to purchase a home with a conventional, federally-protected mortgage. It was the federally-funded conventional mortgage that built America. Young couples, small families, veterans, immigrants, and average Joes were able, for decades, to get a mortgage if they had a job and had saved a down-payment.

The Reagan and Clinton administrations decided that the American Dream of home ownership was not a worthy part of our civilization, and that it was more important to use federal funds to funnel money to private banks, the bankers who run them, and the shareholders of those private banks. So, Reagan's dream of socialism for the rich and free-enterprise for the poor began to take shape in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac policies that no real economist could ever condone. Profits have been privatized and losses have been socialized. If Fannie and Freddie make a profit, those profits are given to the shareholders, and if they lose money, those losses are absorbed by the taxpayers.

George HW Bush had referred to these notions as voodoo economics, and was silenced with the Vice-Presidency. Bill Clinton, whose administration couldn't find an anti-consumer bill it didn't adore, helped stabilize these polices as the norm. And today, we have a nation and a government so deeply in debt and so financially sick that only real, old-fashioned government regulation can save us.

Reagan and Clinton, however, convinced working Americans that regulation hurts them (which is a lie), and Barack Obama has the same position (as does Hillary Clinton, so there was no loss with her departure from the election).

So-called "conservatives" will tell you that our banks are faltering because the industry was not deregulated enough, that only further deregulation will save us. It has been an entire generation of this deregulation plan and deregulation of the financial industry has proven to be an unmitigated (and unmitigatable?) disaster.

Not one elected official has stood and said: "We need to finance and guarantee conventional mortgages for America's workers." Not one. Or, if one has said this, I have not heard it, yet.

We cannot look to the Democrats to help us. My senators are Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, who are as pro-business as Barack Obama and George W Bush. Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi are interested only in increasing their own personal wealth, and the last bastion of liberalism, Ted Kennedy, is the man who started the entire deregulation movement in our government by working to deregulate the airlines during the Carter administration. So, the Democrats are unable to help us.

These leaves one obvious course of action: a failed economy. Think Zimbabwe with one million percent inflation, or Germany in 1929.

We are propping-up Fannie and Freddie, whose failures are inevitable, because you can't privatize profit and socialize loss; and once they fail, our nation's bond rating will slip below AAA, hyperinflation will cause the dollar to lose what's left of it's value, the petro-dollar will be replaced with the petro-euro, there will be a very tiny percent of wealthy Americans, and the rest of us will be at our local church soup kitchens with kids and elderly parents in tow.

Sounds dramatic, I know, but with Congress giving corporations everything they want (including the right to invade our privacy) and future-President McCain speaking directly about invading another oil-producing nation, what are the chances of our economy ever rebounding?

I do believe we will be better-off with a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress. Even if we are looking at the dismal prospects of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, we will still be better off than more of the same being delivered by the Bush administration.

I would say to withdraw all your money form all financial institutions and hide the cash, but chances are things won't be as good as they were during the Great Depression, because that cash will be valueless.

If we do not work to remove the current politicians destroying our government, our nation will be left a mere shadow of its former greatness.

If you live in a voting area where a Republican can be replaced by a Democrat, then you owe it to your children, neighbors, and friends, to put a Democrat in office. If you have a chance to vote in a Democratic primary against the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Evan Bayh, Tom Carper, Bob Casey, Kent Conrad, Dianne Feinstein, Daniel Inouye, Amy Klobuchar, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Claire McCaskill, Barbara Mikulski, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, Ken Salazar, Jim Webb, or any other anti-progress Democrat, then you should vote for the opposition Democrat. We need to replace our currently seated elected government officials with some progressives.

How about we start by electing Al Franken, in Minnesota. After all, if our government is going to be a joke, perhaps it is only comedians who can save us.

Think progress, not profits. If we rebuild a strong nation with a strong government, there will be plenty for everyone. Perhaps a restored government can provide something better than ARMs for the poor.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guitarist Riddle

What's the difference between a rock guitarist and a jazz guitarist?

A rock guitarist gets to play three chords in front of thousands of people.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our Infrastructure Is Valuable As Scrap

Since the advent of Reaganomics, the gutting of our governments and the rise of conservatism in our country, one noticeable fact is scariest: our country is falling apart. There is no longer any money to fix roads and bridges, nor are there any regulatory agencies left to inspect what roads and bridges remain.

A newer trend, more insidious than the deterioration of our bridges, tunnels, and roadways, is the disappearance of pieces of our infrastructure that retain a modicum of value: the metal.

Since our money is worth less and less every day, the value of the metal that forms our infrastructure is worth a lot of money.

In the late 1970s, I was partners with a friend in a recycling business. The economy was slowly recovering from the Vietnam War, the dollar was weak, inflation was increasing and scrap metal prices were at the highest they had ever been.

We would make deals with developers to remove old heating systems and plumbing, and scrap ferrous and non-ferrous metals from their renovation sites. We'd store and process non-ferrous metals (copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, etc.) to increase its value, and the ferrous metals (iron, steel, cast iron, etc.) would be sold to a wholesaler forthwith and would only be processed by us if the work could be done at the site of pick-up. We benefited as the price of prepared #1 steel rose sharply from $40 a ton to $110 a ton, and the price of aluminum rose from .19 a pound to as much as sixty cents a pound. It was a good time to be in the scrap metal business.

Eventually the economy stabilized and so did the price of scrap metal.

Now that the economy is in the shitter again, the value of scrap has increased, and this is wrecking havoc on our neglected infrastructure.

Not only are vandals stripping foreclosed homes of their copper plumbing and aluminum windows, they have started removing manhole covers and grates from the city streets!

Philadelphia Streets Unsafe for Manhole Covers

They used to say the streets around here will swallow you up, but they were talking about drugs and guns," said Keith Thomas, 32, as he hoisted a radiator he collected onto a scale at a junkyard in a drug-ravaged section of the Kensington neighborhood on the city’s north side.

Now the streets' missing manhole covers are literally swallowing up citizens!

Well, at least there is value somewhere in our once-great nation!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Don't Be A Retard"

It was a popular phrase of my childhood: "You retard." "That's so retarded." "Don't be a retard."

Of course, on the streets of the Mission Hill projects, in Boston, it sounded like this: "Don't be a reetahd," or "That's retahdid."

It was a horrible phrase about which we never thought twice. There was even a mentally handicapped kid in our crowd who was "retarded" and we never thought twice about using the phrase around him. I have a cousin with cerebral palsy and it never occurred to me that I might be denigrating her when I used the term.

Over time, as Americans became more educated and more socially aware (that is, before the socially-retarded Republicans took over) mental retardation began to be defined in more polite terms. This discussion of the causes of mental retardation is from


Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and Fragile X syndrome are the three most common inborn causes. However, doctors have found many other causes. The most common are:

Genetic conditions. Sometimes disability is caused by abnormal genes inherited from parents, errors when genes combine, or other reasons. Examples of genetic conditions include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome (22q13del), Mowat-Wilson syndrome, genetic ciliopathy and phenylketonuria (PKU).

Problems during pregnancy. Mental disability can result when the fetus does not develop inside the mother properly. For example, there may be a problem with the way the fetus's cells divide as it grows. A woman who drinks alcohol (see fetal alcohol syndrome) or gets an infection like rubella during pregnancy may also have a baby with mental disability.

Problems at birth. If a baby has problems during labor and birth, such as not getting enough oxygen, he or she may have developmental disability due to brain damage.

Health problems. Diseases like whooping cough, measles, or meningitis can cause mental disability. It can also be caused by not getting enough medical care, or by being exposed to poisons like lead or mercury.

Iodine deficiency, affecting approximately 2 billion people worldwide, is the leading preventable cause of mental disability in areas of the developing world where iodine deficiency is endemic. Iodine deficiency also causes goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland. More common than full-fledged cretinism, as retardation caused by severe iodine deficiency is called, is mild impairment of intelligence. Certain areas of the world due to natural deficiency and governmental inaction are severely affected. India is the most outstanding, with 500 million suffering from deficiency, 54 million from goiter, and 2 million from cretinism. Among other nations affected by iodine deficiency, China and Kazakhstan have begun taking action, whereas Russia has not.

Malnutrition is a common cause of reduced intelligence in parts of the world affected by famine, such as Ethiopia.

Very rare conditions that are X/Y linked. In girls it can be 48, XXXX (only affecting 100 women worldwide), 49, XXXXX (only affecting 25 women worldwide) syndrome's. In boys it can be 46, XYY, 49, XXXXY, or 49, XYYYY.

You see, there is more to mental retardation than we might think.

And as time has passed, we as a civilization (and I am talking about Western Civilization here) have worked hard to understand the mentally handicapped and the causes of what was once called only "retardation."

As a teenager, I met a family with a daughter who suffered from Down's Syndrome. She was severely retarded and would require care for her entire life.

During the Reagan Administration, funding was eliminated for programs benefiting the mentally retarded. Group homes that had been established as assisted living for the retarded were shuttered and the mildly retarded became today's homeless while the severely retarded were locked away in municipal wards and prisons with little or no care. Reagan's policies for the mentally retarded catapulted us from being a progressive society to being a Dickensian society.

And from the Reagan Reaction came the lie of Compassionate Conservatism; the notion that we could be selfish, heartless pricks and still care about those in need. It has been a popular movement that has allowed people of privilege to rationalize their greed and hatred of those different from them while giving lip-service to the notion that they care about the world. Every compassionate conservative is a liar, and that is all they are. Well, perhaps there are some thieves thrown in there, too; but, certainly they are all liars.

A mouthpiece for the compassionate conservative movement shared his compassionate enlightenment about autistic Americans recently on his nationally syndicated radio show:

I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot.' "

That compassionate conservative is Michael Savage, and his compassionate conservative vitriol is broadcast coast-to-coast.

Media Matters is promoting a campaign for people to let his broadcast outlets know what we think of his remarks. Click here to go to Media Matters and get the contact information of the radio station in your area that broadcasts this crap. Let your local broadcast outlet know that people like Savage have no place on the American airwaves.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

"Private Spies"

Jerermy Scahill writes in his article Blackwater's Private Spies, in The Nation:
As the United States finds itself in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in its history, few areas have seen as dramatic a transformation to privatized services as the world of intelligence. "This is the magnet now. Everything is being attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community," says former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman. "My major concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The entire industry is essentially out of control. It's outrageous."

Privatization is often thought about in terms of snow removal, road repair, litter abatement, shipping services, and transportation, because those are the former government services that affect each of us, each and every day.

The privatization of our intelligence services (the CIA) has far-reaching ramifications that when said aloud sound extremely paranoid and far-fetched. Sadly, though, company's like Blackwater are using our tax dollars to undermine America's standing in the global arena, spending our money to benefit a very small group of powerful people (not all of whom are even US citizens), and hiring former government officials who parlay their diplomatic connections here and abroad into massive profits funded from by money we all think is supposed to be used to maintain our national infrastructure.

Blackwater isn't renting bodyguards to Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Helen Walton. They are undermining our national security by hiring-out armed forced of former US soldiers, consultants who used to be our CIA agents, and negotiators who used to be American ambassadors, to any government or regime who can afford their services. These clients include Arab states and sheikdoms that would be thrilled to see the United States crumble and fall.

Blackwater then supports Republican candidates for public office who run on a platform of "conservatism" and "patriotism" who tell us that private companies can run our country better than we can ourselves. All the while, these private corporations are undermining our national security by inflaming insurgencies or propping-up bad governments on the one hand while raping us of our tax dollars for services poorly, or never, provided.

If John McCain is elected president, this will get worse. I am not saying that Barack Obama will stop this dangerous trend; but I believe he will not accelerate the machinations of war machines like Blackwater to the degree any "conservative" would.

Blackwater's growth in the past eight years is a frightening in a very big brother way. I don't know if we can reverse this situation, but somebody has to try and that will only happen if we all talk about it.

If someone you know thinks privatization of the subway is a good idea, ask how they feel abut the CIA being privatized, because that is the logical end of privatization. So-called conservatives don't really give a crap about trash removal and public transit, they want to get their hands on the big money items: our army and our foreign affairs. They want to re-write our laws to allow them to capitalize on every diplomatic relationship formed by Americans from Thomas Jefferson to Madeleine Albright. They want to rape, pillage and steal in our name.

Please do read Jerermy Scahill's article here.

If you think this issue is important, The Nation magazine has been covering issues like this since 1865 (yes EIGHTEEN sixty-five), so consider subscribing.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Privatize The Government - Everything Will Be Better

Ronald Reagan promised us that private corporations could run our government better than we could.

People running the government from the White House to state houses, counties, municipalities, towns and villages, were in the dough! Now they could fire their staffs, bid out the contracts for government work to their friends whose companies would provide seats on boards of directors to family and friends, the government budget would swell and the cash would flow directly, not to the people doing the work to make our country run, but to well-connected businessmen who would increase their profits by eliminating worker benefits, cutting salaries, and defunding internal oversight. The result has been a sicker, underemployed nation, working for less money, receiving scant medical benefits, and paying higher taxes for fewer services.

We've come to accept this philosophy and the resulting disaster and failure that is our government for and by the People. Our infrastructure is a mess, public transportation is a laugh, and profits for government contractors are sky-rocketing. Yes, we've come to accept Ronald Reagan's dream for gutting our government.

Government contractors have existed longer than Reaganomics, of course, and the government should contract to have certain work done by experts outside our employ.

To what standards, though, should we hold these contractors?

Should a military contractor hired to torture prisoners of war have certain qualifications?

Should a truck driver under government contract be licensed to drive big rigs on public roads?

Should an electrician wiring new bases in the desert possess an electrician's license from a United States authority?

Or, do we just bid out this work and trust that the contracting companies have our nation's interest in mind when they make choices?

Reaganomics, and the privatization it brings, has been a failure for everyone but the shareholders of the companies that are collecting our money. The shoddiness of the work by private contractors is obvious throughout the country. Just look at the bridges in Minneapolis and the filthy subways in New York City as two examples of failure.

Now we learn that military contractors in Iraq are responsible for the death of some of our soldiers! This from the New York Times:

Electrical Risks at Bases in Iraq Worse Than Previously Said
July 18, 2008
WASHINGTON — Shoddy electrical work by private contractors on United States military bases in Iraq is widespread and dangerous, causing more deaths and injuries from fires and shocks than the Pentagon has acknowledged, according to internal Army documents.

During just one six-month period — August 2006 through January 2007 — at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military's largest dining hall in the country, documents obtained by The New York Times show. Two soldiers died in an electrical fire at their base near Tikrit in 2006, the records note, while another was injured while jumping from a burning guard tower in May 2007.

And while the Pentagon has previously reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq, many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to the documents. A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis. Read more . . .

I wonder why the military can't employ electricians of their own? There must be electrical apprentices in the National Guard who could work under an enlisted master electrician. If privatization isn't working, then why are we using it in the most volatile and difficult project on our agenda: war?

Privatization is a complete and utter failure and will cause more disasters and lead to more deaths than government incompetence ever could.

Another news item of interest today:

On NPR this morning, someone finally said out loud what Reagan apologists refuse to admit about privatization. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac replaced standard governmental procedures of providing money for mortgages through the FHA. They are privately held companies distributing public money. What this has created is not really privatization, because the companies are only privatized for distributing profits; and losses are absorbed by the government -- you. So, like all of the Republican scams, we have privatization of gains and socialization of losses. Nice.

Listen to the NPR story here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Now That's Patriotism!

Since September 11, 2001, American citizens have been bludgeoned with demands to be Patriotic.

The crimes at the World Trade Canter and The Pentagon were called attacks on our freedom.

Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan was turned into a shrine to patriotism.

We were told to stand behind our President and do the patriotic thing: shop.

If we disagreed with anything, our patriotism was questioned.

The architectural plans for Ground Zero became a battleground to determine whose freedom was bigger than somebody else's freedom.

The buildings planned to replace the World Trade Center will surround a single building dubbed "Freedom Tower."

Billions of tax dollars are promised to private corporations who will restore our global power and might by erecting the structure.

Freedom Tower is a terrible plan, companies stopped moving to high floors of buildings in the early 1990s to save costs. Clients aren't interested in paying multi-million dollar rents for their lawyers, accountants, bankers and consultants. There is no demand in New York City for a hundred story building.

Of course, this huge useless building is supposed to represent our "freedom" and the taxpayers are expected to foot the bill, and some landlord will make the profits.

Still, if we are to be patriotic, then we must support this ridiculously wasteful building. To oppose the plans for Ground Zero would be unpatriotic. There is money to be made there, and a patriot exploits his freedom for profit!

So . . . we bumble along with a slimy landlord and a couple of quasi-governmental agencies all vying to be the ones to make the decision, get the glory, and snatch the money for themselves. They negotiate leases with huge corporations they would like to have as tenants.

These corporations are big patriots, of course! They support the president and they "support the troops" and they think the government should stay out of the way of patriots who are trying to earn a buck, and they think social welfare programs are unpatriotic, and they believe that a patriot would privatize his government, and they think government subsidies should be provided only to them.

So, most big corporations support the idea of the stupid "Freedom Tower" and watch as government funds are funnelled to private companies. They look on with approval because they know that they will get a slice of the pie, too. Eventually.

In order for our freedom to succeed and our patriotism to shine in Lower Manhattan, there will have to be tenants in the Freedom Tower. It's not very impressive if our "freedom" is represented by a big empty building. That might imply that all this freedom talk is hollow, like an empty building.

The World Trade Centers that stood at Ground Zero were filled with less-than-luxurious tenants. Most of the floors were rented, at amazingly low rents, for back-office operations. There just isn't demand for luxury offices at high prices, fifty stories in the air. People don't want to ride two or three elevators up to work or to see their attorney, and as I mentioned before, clients aren't interested in hiring a professional services company that wastes its money on rent for such ridiculous offices.

It's sad, but, there really isn't anyone interested in renting space in a huge tower in Lower Manhattan.

But, this is the Freedom Tower! Companies, like working-class stiffs who shopped to support the war, should put their bottom-line aside and be patriotic and support he Freedom Tower! Right?


Merrill Lynch has withdrawn from negotiations to relocate to the Freedom Tower.
After bargaining for months over tens of millions of dollars in concessions and tax breaks for a 71-story tower, Merrill said that it and its negotiation partners were "too far apart to continue the process," according to the Times.

Merrill Lynch ends World Trade Center talks-report

So, it's patriotic to support the stupid Freedom Tower only if you get tens of millions of dollars in concessions and tax breaks! But, if it's going to be good for American AND cost money, then Merrill Lynch can't be bothered!

Now that's patriotic!

In the end, perhaps Merrill's pull-out will be a wake-up call. The World Trade Centers that were taken down in the crimes of September 11, 2001, were albatrosses. They were relics of a past age when energy was cheap, and time and money were more plentiful.

Nobody in America is building like this anymore because there is no demand and it is grossly wasteful.

Perhaps we could go back to the drawing-board and design some buildings based on need and economy and environment and cost; buildings that are needed and can be afforded.

Don't hold your breath!

What? Aren't you a patriot?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gay Marriage In Massachusetts

In the mid-1970s I was active in the gay liberation movement (the gay rights movement had not yet formed). The issues of the day were much more frightening than whether or not homosexuals were allowed to marry. There were evenings spent at police stations bailing-out men who had been swept-up in a sting in a public restroom or a public park, threatened with charges of sodomy, whether they were passing through the park, using the rest room, or actually having sex.

Some of these men were not homosexuals, or participating in homosexual sex; they were just taking a leak or using a short-cut home. The men would usually be convinced to plead guilty to the lesser L&L charge to avoid a public trial. They would pay a fine, the district attorney would get his headlines and the world would continue to turn.

As a liberationist, I saw this, as did many other radicals, as a critical issue. We never discussed "equality" or "rights"; we were trying to stop the police from harassing, frightening and blackmailing homosexuals for political gain.

At the time I believed we needed the legislature to repeal antiquated and draconian sex laws, especially the sodomy laws, that were used exclusively to harass homosexual men. Sodomy laws were never used to prosecute heterosexuals.

I never believed that we needed new laws passed until the old laws were repealed.

Fast-forward thirty-plus years, and gay liberation is long gone, replaced by the much cleaner, whiter, straighter notion of gay rights.

Homosexuals no longer want to make the world a better place, they want to be able to behave, and be treated, just like straight people. A rather dull goal, if you ask me. But it's the goal of the gay rights movement, nonetheless.

Gay marriage is the lynch pin issue for gay rights. Gay rights activists have stopped working on protecting people with AIDS, their jobs, their rights to health care. The gay rights movement isn't a movement at all, it's stagnant, it is a nice middle-class community looking after itself. Which I guess is fine. It's what the blacks did, and the women did, and why would I expect homosexuals to be any more creative then any other dull American middle-class suburbanites?

No, gay liberation is long dead and the issues of class, gender, race, economic unfairness, etc., that were part of the gay liberation movement are pretty much ignored so we can focus on the issue of gay marriage.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law legalizing gay marriage, and I say good for Massachusetts!

Even though I have been in New York for a while now, and my little girl is Brooklyn through and through, Massachusetts is where I was born and raised and I will always consider it the place "where I am from." I am proud that Massachusetts passed its gay marriage law.

In the big picture, however, I would have preferred that Massachusetts repeal its existing marriage laws altogether, because marriage is a religious institution. The government shouldn't be participating in religion, we should be protecting the rights of religious organizations to perform marriages, but not sanctioning, licensing or approving the marriages.

We can get into long discussions about bastard children, and spousal support, and death benefits; but that's really only so much mental masturbation. The government shouldn't be in the marriage business and that's that.

Should we as a government promote monogamy and partnership by recognizing a union between two people who are assuming the responsibility of forming a family, paying their taxes, and building our nation? Sure, why not. But that isn't marriage. God has nothing to do with those notions.

Be that as it may . . .

As a government we are in the marriage business, and if we are in the marriage business, then all taxpayers are entitled to the benefits (and penalties) of marriage. Heterosexual and homosexual couples should be treated equally by those laws.

Massachusetts (God bless them) recognizes this and issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, who then they get married. It's nice.

Massachusetts then found out that a 1913 law prevents the Commonwealth from marrying out-of-state couples if their marriages would not be legal in their home states. I do not know the origin of the law, but I suspect it had something to do with minors and/or "white slavery."

So, another intelligent being appeared in the Massachusetts legislature (which is hard to believe, I know), and Massachusetts repealed the law.

So, my gay and lesbian friends, you can now go to Massachusetts to get married, even if you are a resident of another state!

Good job, Massachusetts! Now get to work repealing some more antiquated laws before you start passing new laws!

A 1913 Law Dies to Better Serve Gay Marriages

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reyna Follow-up

To follow-up this morning's article about the Red Bulls, Claudio Reyna today announced his retirement from MLS:

Reyna to retire from MLS

Although I know this brings joy to many Red Bull New York supporters, and although I knew it was inevitable (and overdue), Reyna's retirement is tinged with sadness for me.

Farewell Captain America!

Don't be a stranger!

David Beckham Is Coming To Town

David Beckham is coming to New York, well New Jersey.

David Beckham as he will look in the Men's Room at Giants Stadium

Beckham's team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, will play Red Bull New York on Saturday night, at Giants Stadium. I will be in attendance.

Last year's match was a spectacular display of athletic prowess and sports excitement that ended with the Red Bulls beating the Gals 5-4. This year's match-up is receiving almost no attention. Odd.

My Red Bulls are struggling.

Star striker Juan Pablo Angel missed a number of matches with lower back pain that is exacerbated by playing on concrete covered in artificial turf. Sadly, most MLS teams play on concrete, instead of grass.

Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore

Phenom Jozy Altidore, who was instrumental in last year's victory over the Gals, was sold to Villareal, in Spain, and has not yet been replaced by anyone who can fill his shoes. The team has slid to the bottom of the standings.

The oft-injured Claudio Reyna has not played in some time, has not been announced fit for action, and is rumored to be considering retirement.

Angel is back, however, and could be joined on the squad by at least two newcomers. Venezuelan national team midfielder Jorge Rojas and Argentinean midfielder Juan Pietravallo have been signed by the Red Bulls and will perhaps provide some strength in the back, where our porous defense is allowing far too many shots on beleaguered goalkeeper Jon Conway.

Rojas and Pietravallo are eligible to start playing today, and should be on the game day roster Saturday if their work visas are sorted out. They are complete unknowns to us. There is no way of knowing if they will help the team, but they certainly cannot hurt, given rapid drop to the bottom.

Defenders Diego Jimenez and Gabriel Chichero are also supposed to join the team, but the front office has made no announcement. We need some new defenders. I am happy with Andrew Boyens, who receives much more fan criticism than he deserves; but our defense is really our biggest problem.

If Rojas and Pietravallo are not eligible to play on Saturday, then I fear a very difficult evening for my team. If Rojas and Pietravallo are eligible to play, then any outcome will be tempered by the excitement of their arrivals.

The Red Bulls have not replaced Jozy Altidore. There is no viable striker playing next to Angel. When Angel plays as the lone striker, he is triple-teamed by the opposing defense and unable to do much of anything. Coach Juan Carlos Osario has been experimenting with midfielder Dane Richards playing alongside Angel, but it has only been marginally successful. Oscar Etcheverry is on the roster as a forward, and should be able to work alongside Angel as a striker but has been unable to produce anything, and seems wholly uninterested in earning the money he is paid. Etcheverry should not appear on the field again.

Youngster Rickey Schramm is also on the roster. He is a developmental player, a forward, who has not been given any opportunity to play at the highest level. The 22-year-old should be out on the field getting experience and I think this match is the right time. Put Schramm up top next to Angel and give him an opportunity to play.

And we cannot forget John Wolyniec. Woly has been a stalwart for the team, and is perfect as a late-game sub. His unconventional style and his enthusiasm are uniquely suited to wrecking havoc on an opponent's back line.

The Red Bulls' midfield is our strength. Dane Richards and Danleigh Borman have proven to be excellent wingers, and Dave Van den Bergh has been the team's only anchor during this troublesome season. With Seth Stammler emerging as the midfield general and able captain, the addition of Rojas and Pietravallo make a crowded midfield.

But it's the defense that's the problem.

Goalkeeper Jon Conway does a perfectly good job in the net, and needs to have a more solid defense in front of him. Boyens, whom I mentioned earlier, has been a good addition to the team; but the rest of the defensive line is really a revolving door.

For some unknown reason, Coach Osario will not give Hunter Freeman a permanent position in the back. Freeman deserves to be starting every match, until such time as the team employs more talented defenders.

With Freeman and Boyens in the back, one more defender is needed to start.

Reading off a piece of paper, one sees that Jeff Parke and Kevin Goldthwaite have the experience needed to play on the back line. Parke has not been given ample opportunity to prove himself, and Goldthwaite has been given ample opportunity to make everyone raise their eyebrows and scratch their heads wondering what he is doing in the starting line-up.

If no new defenders arrive this week to train with the team, then I think Parke should be considered for a start against the Galaxy.

To make things more exciting, however, Osario should be playing developmental player Johnny Gilkerson, who has had two starts, with mixed results. He is young and should be played more regularly.

Sadly, most of the people in the stands at Giants Stadium will know little about Angel, Schramm, Richards, and van den Bergh. They won't be able to distinguish Stammler from Parke from Freeman from Boyens. They will know nothing about our frustration with Goldthwaite, Etcheverry, Reyna, Mike Magee and Chris Leitch. They'll care little for the progress of Schramm, Gilkerson, Borman, Luke Sassano, and Chris Megaloudis. Most of the people in the stands will be from the Metropolitan New York area, but will know little and care less about the Red Bulls.

Most of them will be wearing L.A. Galaxy jerseys with "Herbalife" emblazoned across the front and "Beckham" emblazoned across the back. They aren't there to see their local team, they are there to consume David Beckham.

And this is sad. Those New Yorkers and New Jerseyites who love David Beckham, but know nothing of their local team, are doing themselves a disservice. Juan Pablo Angel is a world-class player who is a joy to watch. Local soccer fans should be coming to the stadium to watch him, even when David Beckham isn't in town.

Major League Soccer is the best deal in town. Most families can’t afford to attend a baseball, NBA, NHL, or NFL game. The cost is prohibitive. MLS is not. The play is fast and furious, the players are strong and play hard, and the matches are exciting.

MLS is the best deal in town.

Come out and watch a match or two!

Monday, July 14, 2008

I Have An Idea: Let's Deregulate The Banks!

"Deregulate business and industry," Ronald Regan proclaimed. He promised greater competition, lower prices, less conglomeration, more jobs, and a robust economy that would eliminate the need for any and all social welfare programs.

IndyMac, one of the nation's largest independent mortgage banks, was seized by Federal regulators on on Friday. It is the single largest bank failure in United States history.

Crisis Deepens as Big Bank Fails, Wall Street Journal

We are lucky that there were any federal regulators left to seize the bank; because, if Reagan and his apologists (so-called conservatives) had their way there would have been no regulators left in the federal government.

The conservative movement in the United States has robbed us of a robust economy that had its ups and downs, was brilliantly regulated to prevent industry-wide failures, and managed to make America the most powerful nation on the planet. We are no longer the most powerful nation on the planet,or the richest, or the most advance, or the most progressive. Conservatives have gutted our government, stolen our economy, crippled our media, sold our military to the lowest bidder, and left us fighting about abortion, homosexuality, and race relations.

My elected Senators (Clinton and Schumer) are Democratic apologists for Reganomics and conservative economic policy. They pass themselves off as liberals, but their business policies are as anti-consumer and as pro-business as almost any Republican Senator. Neither has ever met an anti-consumer bill they couldn't love, or at least care for fondly.

The "Democratic Congress" that was elected in 2006 has had two years to make some change, and they have done nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and they plan on doing more of the same -- even if they control the White House and Congress.

The scorecard for conservatism and the current Bush Presidency reads pretty poorly. They've lost:

Two trade centers
Four commercial airliners
A piece of the Pentagon
An army in the desert
An American city
The respect of the entire world, including our allies

The score card for the Democratic Congress isn't much better:

A dying economy
An increased war budget for Iraq
Gutting personal freedom by passing FISA
The failure of IndyMac
The impending failure of FannieMae and FreddieMac

So, George Bush fiddles, Ronald Reagan laughs in his grave, Nancy Pelosi has lunch, Clinton and Schumer point fingers at everyone else, Barack Obama share his vision for change, and America watches reality television, all while Rome burns!

Hello! In case you aren't paying attention: BANKS ARE FAILING! Call your congressional delegation and tell them to put down the gin and tonic and get back to work.

As George Herbert Walker Bush offered during the 1988 Presidential Campaign: "It's the economy, stupid!" And it's going down the toilet faster than you can say "he's half-black!"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Enacted

In a Rose Garden ceremony to enact the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that allows the Federal government (as well as telecommunication companies and corporate security agencies) ridiculous freedom to spy domestically on American citizens, President Bush said:

One of the important lessons learned after 9/11 was that America's intelligence professionals lacked some of the tools they needed to monitor the communications of terrorists abroad. It is essential that our intelligence community know who our enemies are talking to, what they're saying, and what they're planning. . . . Protecting America from another attack is the most important responsibility of the federal government -- the most solemn obligation that a President undertakes."

As usual, he is wrong!

The important lesson to be learned from 9/11 is that the Clinton Administration had all the information needed to protect us from those attacks and that the Bush Administration ignored all the very important data that had been handed to them, with warnings from their own security agencies about the danger.

The Bush Administration has been a disaster, has destroyed our economy, our reputation around the world, our prospects for a prosperous future, and our ability to protect ourselves effectively from all dangers, including terror and weather.

The Democratic Senators who have passed this law need to be held accountable:

Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Conrad (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

This Act is a terrible law and we should all seek to replace the Senators who voted for it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama Shows He Is As Right-Wing As Most Of The Country

The Senate approved Goerge W Bush's surveillance bill (69-28).

Twenty-three Democrats in the Senate, including Obama, gave Bush what he wanted. Here is the list of Democrats who voted to strip you of your right to privacy:

Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Conrad (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

If your Senator is on that list, please do not vote for him or her again, and let them know your position.

Perhaps I won't vote for the Democratic nominee in November, after all. If Obama is going to pass laws like this, then we might as well have McCain! At least with McCain we know we're lost; why pretend Obama won't pull the same crap?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Public Transportation

Two articles in Tuesday's online edition of the New York Times discuss the cost of riding New York's public transit system. A single ride currently costs $2.00, and the cost can be reduced with the purchase of MetroCards, in both discounted or unlimited ride formats.

The articles discussed (1) the increased fine (from $60 to $100) for evading fare payment, and (2) the inability of the indigent residents of homeless shelters on Wards Island to pay the fare on the M35 bus that takes them to and from the shelters.

This issue resonates with me, because I can't imagine being unable to pay the fare and get around town. I use a monthly pass, which costs $82.00 and allows me to travel on all subways and any non-Express bus lines as many times and as often as I like. What would happen if I lost my job, could not afford the unlimited pass, and needed to travel into Manhattan everyday for job interviews? How long would it be before I couldn't afford to travel on the subway?

I think about the indigent residents of the Wards Island shelters. Their only hope to get out of the cycle of poverty is to get a job. Their hope of getting a job is intrinsically rooted in their ability to get off Wards Island and into the business district where they might apply for work. The only way off and back on the island is a $2.00 bus.

If they board the M35 bus without paying, they are subject to arrest and a $100 fine. If they don't board the M35 bus, they cannot seek employment. It's a real problem.

Should that M35 bus be free?

If it is not free, should the residents of the homeless shelters be fined $100 for failing to pay the fare?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Race Continues

I have begun to have feelings of hope about the Presidential election.

The most important thing that will happen in November is that a Democrat will be elected President and that Congress will retain a Democratic majority.

I am no fan of Barack Obama, but I will vote for whomever is nominated as the Democratic candidate. And this is the last election in which the Democrats will get a freebie from me. From 2008 forward, the Democrats have to prove they are something more than GOP-lite, pro-business, pretend-civil libertarians. I want to see some change, and not some of Obama's rhetoric -- I want to see communications and banking regulated, transportation solutions put forth, education and health care discussed outside fora sponsored by industry market-makers and corporate apologists.

I hold out little hope that anything will change, but I will continue to wish for it.

The most encouraging thing I've witnessed recently is Hillary Clinton making peace with Obama, traveling with him, stumping with him. I believe that the only way Obama can win is if Clinton convinces her base: over-40, white, working-class and middle-class mothers, para-professional, and professional women to support him.

I know people who will not vote for Obama because he is black. They say it's because he has no plan, but I know them well enough to know they will not vote for him because he is black. These are people who generally support Democrats, lean towards the liberal end of the spectrum, and care about things like schools and jobs and health care. Clinton has to reach-out to these people, these people who heard her campaign's not-so-subtle messages about Obama's race, and she has to tell them: race does not matter. Putting a Democrat in the White House is what matters.

Clinton can do this. Clinton can make the next president.

Here's to hoping she takes the high road, that she takes the ball and runs with it.