Wednesday, September 30, 2009

David Bowie & Cher: Young Americans and Other American Hits

by Dick Mac

In the mid-1970s David Bowie conquered America by singing beautiful songs with a hard edge, wearing dresses, pantomiming oral sex on stage, declaring an unorthodox sexual orientation, touring relentlessly, being seen with the most famous of the world's most famous people, associating himself with the best of America's young musical talent, and appearing on American television regularly.

If you're as old as me, you might remember this 1975 gem when Bowie appeared on The Cher Show. It is no easy feat to sing a six-minute medley of American pop hits cobbled together for a television show.

Being ultimate professionals, Bowie and Cher pull it off.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Piet Mondrian, Tableau no. 2 / Composition no. V

by Dick Mac

An early Mondrian from 1914, before he restricted himself to the primary colors. This is one of the paintings in the world that can make my day a better day:

click to enlarge

Piet Mondrian, Tableau no. 2 / Composition no. V at the MoMA site

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's the Profits, Stupid! Part deux

by Al Falafel

Picking up on whatever misguided ideas I may have had about taking the profits out of health insurance in a previous rant, and wondering what the federal government’s role could be in effecting such a thing, the natural thing to do may be to look for precedents and models in our history. Could there be some instance where the feds ever stepped in and authorized the formation of nonprofit consumer-controlled groups to take over the function of out-of-control profit-driven companies, giving us in effect, a “public option?”

I would submit that there is.

On June 26, 1934 U.S. unemployment stood at 22%, the Dust Bowl disaster had ravaged the Central Plains and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law ”An Act to establish a Federal Credit Union System, to establish a further market for securities of the United States, and to make more available to people of small means credit for provident purposes through a national system of cooperative credit, thereby helping to stabilize the credit structure of the United States.”

For anyone seriously worried about what a public option in health insurance might do to our cherished capitalist system, please note that the rise of credit unions in this country did not cause the banking system to collapse and did not lead us right down that slippery slope to socialism. In fact, the credit union movement has quietly flourished for three quarters of a century and manages to thrive even during the ongoing global economic recession - and no taxpayer dollars have ever been used to bail out a credit union.

Credit Union deposits are backed by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) much the same way the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) covers bank deposits. Apparently people have forgotten that the FDIC is a federally sponsored independent insurance company that protects profit-driven financial institutions against loss of profits. I’ve heard no one bother to mention this in any debate over a public option in health care. Rather, we are expected to swallow the lie that any federally sponsored insurance company is an unaffordable and ill-advised step on a slippery slope toward socialism! Apparently, this only applies to one that would protect our health rather than protecting corporate profits.

Congress authorized the NCUSIF in 1970 along with the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the independent management agency created by a law that then-President Richard M. Nixon signed. NCUSIF is a public option insurance resource funded completely by participating credit unions. At the end of 2007 the fund had a balance of $7.3 billion and insured nearly 87 million accounts at 5,036 federal credit unions and 3,065 state-chartered credit unions.

According to
“A credit union is a non-profit, cooperative financial institution owned and operated by its members. Organized to serve and democratically controlled, credit unions provide their members with a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates. Credit unions differ from banks and other for-profit financial institutions in that members of a credit union are also owners. The board of directors are elected in a democratic one person-one vote system regardless of the amount of money invested in the credit union. Not for profit, not for charity, but for service is a credit union motto. Since profit is not a motivation, interest rates have been historically favorable for consumers at credit unions compared to banks."
I do not understand why our esteemed leaders in the federal government are not looking into these established and successful ways that they provided a public option in finance as models for providing a public option in health care. The closest they have come is the lame concept of health insurance “coops” that would still just benefit the for-profit insurance companies. Coops would do little more than allow groups of individuals to band together to purchase coverage from existing companies at group rates comparable to employer provided policies.

If We the People are going to be required to carry health insurance, as proposed in the bills now under consideration, it is only right that we should be able to participate in a plan that differs from commercial insurance companies in that we may join together as plan members who are also owners of the insuring institution. Like credit unions, the board of directors for these institutions should be elected in a democratic one person-one vote system regardless of the amount of money invested in the plan.

Not for profit, not for charity, but for service should also be the motto of our public option health insurance system.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Limiting Pay

by Dick Mac

I am against limiting the pay of bankers, or anybody else.

Everyone should have the opportunity to earn as much as possible.

That said, what the banking industry fails to do is to be honest. Citibank will pay a staff lawyer $75,000, then give her a $250,000 bonus at the end of the year so she earns what she deserves. What Citibank should do is pay her $250,000 and give her a thirty percent bonus at the end of the year.

The pay structure in banks is a scam, and I don't even understand what is being scammed, but I do know that the notion that you pay me a nickle then give me a million dollar bonus is immoral at worst and disingenuous at best.

I do not doubt that there are bankers worth a million bucks a year. I'm sure it's true. So, pay them a million bucks a year. Don't pretend that they earn a hundred grand and then give them a nine hundred thousand dollar bonus, just pay them the million bucks. This is not rocket science!

Banks have failed to grasp the idea that their pay structure is offensive to most Americans, who earn about $45,000 and get a couple of grand (if anything) as a bonus.

Dear Bankers: we are not stupid. We may not understand WHY you pay your staff like this, but we know it isn't kosher. So, why don't you just bend to public pressure and pay your staff their salaries and limit bonuses to, say, 30%. We regular people can relate to that, even support it, even if the base salary is ten million and the bonus is two and a half million.

It's insulting to us that you use this phony pay structure, and it makes us mistrust you more than you would expect. So you should stop it. Just make the change. You all know math, you can figure it out.

If you won't stop it, the government will do it for you, and that will be bad.

Wise up! Take responsibility for this mess and put your houses in order.

Jeez, are bankers really this stupid?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's the Profits, Stupid!

by Al Falafel

Let's go back to square one.

Everyone agrees that the problem with health care in this country, If nothing else, is that health care distribution is way too expensive. Of anyone in this country who has no health insurance - or anyone who pays for their own private insurance - does anyone feel that we are all not paying too much for what we get? And what we are denied even after having paid into the insurance pool for however long?

So what is it that makes the current profit-driven health care distribution system so expensive?

To me, it's easy: profits.

Take out the profits and the obscenely high executive salaries and what have you got? An affordable health care distribution system? Why, yes, as a matter of fact. And a very good one at that.

To the folks who scream that a government run insurance program would not only foretell a socialist takeover but would, in the short term, mean unfair competition with the private insurance industry, President Obama made a very good point in his health care speech before Congress. Good, as far as it went.

He compared state-run universities who do a very good job of educating us to private universities that generally acknowledged as doing a better over all. The state-run schools do not threaten private universities in any way. And no one is calling American state colleges part of a scary socialist system.

But Obama's comparison of universities to insurance companies did not go far enough. It has to be noted that private universities exist almost exclusively nonprofit organizations. They do not produce profits, they do not enrich shareholders. They do accumulate endowments. University endowments can grow quite huge but they are not disbursed to shareholders who are already filthy rich. Rather, university endowments are used as investments to sustain those institutions.

This is not what happens with insurance companies. Instead of building endowments they pay out big dividends to their shareholders. And when their coffers run dry they end up blackmailing the government for taxpayer bailouts.

Insurance company executives make outlandishly huge salaries with very generous perques. Professors and top level administrators in nonprofit, private universities make nothing like the ridiculous money that insurance execs make. But they do make very handsome salaries.

Believe me. I have worked for years among many professors and college administrators in one of the top private universities in the country. I have been a relatively low-level administrator earning a totally livable salary myself and with access to the details of the professors' salary & benefits information. If you check the statistics you will find that "college professors," especially in medical schools (who are often physicians as well as professors) are listed among the highest paid professions you'll find.

Public & private universities alike get lots of money from the government in subsidies and research funding - especially medical research. But these institutions are required to be 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in order to qualify for that government funding.

The current Senate bill voted out of committee requires everyone to carry health insurance. It may provide subsidies from the government - tax money - to pay for insurance for those who cannot afford it. That money will go to insurance companies.

There is nothing in the bill that requires those insurance companies to be nonprofit organizations even though they stand to receive millions in subsidies paid from our taxes. The Senate bill merely creates more customers for profit making companies who will then further enrich their shareholders and executives with our tax money.

If universities and research institutions are required to have 501(c)(3) status in order to qualify for government subsidies and research grants, why should insurance companies not be required to be 501(c)(3) organizations?

This may not necessarily be the silver bullet that cures all our health care woes, but it would be fair and reasonable.

As part of our health care system, private and State Universities are where a great deal of the research, testing and development of new drugs, technologies and treatments is conducted. This is an essential component of health care in this country and is what gives it the real value it has. This is as it should be.

The research that goes on in universities as well as in drug company laboratories is very heavily regulated by the government at both private and state run institutions as well as industry laboratories. It is regulated for the safety of subjects who take part in clinical trials and to make sure everything at this stage is done ethically and soundly according to the highest scientific standards. And so that any drugs, treatments, or devices that come onto the market after this rigorous testing are safe for general use. This is all done largely within an environment where profits are not part of the picture while costs and methodologies are strictly controlled.

Profit-driven drug companies are part of the health care system in this country too. But they are forced to submit to government regulation in the development and pre-market testing of those basic instruments - drugs, devices and all essential elements of medical practice.

Drug companies are, in fact, essential parts of our health care system. They pour large amounts of money into research and development of medical products and are therefore entitled to profit from their efforts. No one believes that medicinal drugs should be allowed to be sold on the open market before undergoing rigorous scientific testing for safety and efficacy. So testing of manufactured drugs is strictly regulated by the government and conducted largely in nonprofit university and other research environments. It is only after those drugs and devices have been put through rigorous testing that the idea of profit comes in.

Drug & device manufacturers do not profit from their efforts until they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and only then may be justified in pricing their goods to produce profits for their invention and work. Still, access to the most sensitive and dangerous drugs on the market is controlled by the government through requirements of prescription.

This heavy-handed application of government control is deemed appropriate by necessity. It is the role of the government to exercise this kind of control because no one would trust a profit-driven enterprise with such authority.

Manufacturers' profits are justified in the end because they have actually produced something of value and spent millions of dollars in research and development, complying with a barrage of government regulations. I hear no one arguing that drug companies who bring goods to the market should not profit from them.

But the most outrageous profits in our health care system are made by the middle men, the distributors of health care, insurance companies and their investors, who add nothing of value to the product or system but only step in after all the work is done. They step in and totally queer the system. They do nothing but reap the benefits of production, testing and labor done in industry and in the nonprofit sector, after the fact.

The astounding profits insurance companies make come without their doing anything more than gambling with the money we must pay to them for coverage. It is literally legalized gambling. The games of chance they play and force us into are carried out through strategic decision-making in matters of how health care products and services will be distributed in the market. Their decisions are necessarily based on what it takes to return the highest profit to their shareholders.

Given the fact that healthcare is by no means a luxury, what they do is way way above and beyond unfairness. It is unspeakably immoral.

It is immoral for profit-driven health insurance companies to jump in after all the work is done and take control of how much we have to pay and who will get access to treatment - life and death decisions - while taking huge obscene profits and salaries just because they can.

Insurance companies are only incidentally a part of our health care system. And they are the part that adds nothing of value to health care itself.

The only thing they do is make it expensive.

Under the current system, health insurance companies are nothing more than virtual casinos where we the people are forced to place high stakes bets against the odds that we will not stay healthy. As long as we are playing the game and not losing - that is, not getting sick - we just keep ponying up, because it is the only thing that makes us feel at all secure against the knowledge that without insurance we could lose everything. We pony up hoping for a big payoff when we need it.

But as with all casinos (suspiciously also prime attractions for organized crime) the house always wins.

That is the ultimate function of for-profit insurance companies - to make sure the house always wins.

They assure this by controlling the distribution of health care among the losers and infrequent winners who have no choice but to gamble with them - to pay into their schemes. Because there is no alternative. There is no not-for-profit choice. No government control over access and distribution in the market as there is in every other area of health care right here in America.

For those who fear that a government health care system will take away your freedom of choice, listen up! You have NO CHOICE now but to gamble with your health. Call it public option or socialized medicine if you want. We do not have it. And we are the worse off without it. The only ones who are guaranteed a benefit in the current system are those who run the system and profit from all the money you pay into it. The house always wins.

Is this practice really what the tea baggers are so up in arms about defending?

If Health Insurance companies were mostly nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations - that is, if profits were taken out of health care distribution - then politics would also be taken out of health care to a very great extent.

Just as Universities and all other 501(c)(3) organizations are barred from participating in electoral politics and lobbying, so would health insurance organizations be barred from trying to influence legislation. This may be the biggest fear of the health insurance industry - the loss of their ability to influence legislators with campaign contributions and the loss of their ability to use propaganda targeted at ignorant angry insecure crowds to motivate them to lean on their elected representatives to keep their profits rolling in.

Americans are right to feel insecure about the health insurance system as it is and how it may be changed without giving us a not-for-profit alternative. If the tea bagging crowd is concerned about the government taking over health care in this country and forcing us into a socialist dictatorship, it's too bad they do not understand that the government already has control of healthcare in this country, as it should. The government controls every area of health care except where it comes into our lives in a meaningful way and is most needed.

And as it has had this kind of control for more than a half a century.

In the screaming matches over the politics of health care there is never any mention of the DHHS: Department of Health and Human Services - a department of the federal government that has been around since Dwight Eisenhower signed it into existence as the Dept. of Education & Welfare in 1953. It became Health & Human Services in 1979 and incorporated the National Institutes of Health beginning in 1979. DHHS includes the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the 27 agencies that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today. After the enormous Department of Defense the DHHS represents the largest government endeavor measured in spending. This dedication of government resources is what gives us the claim to having the best health care system in the world, which we do have -- in every respect except in benefit distributions. And this is due to the lack of a governmental health distribution system.

After more than 50 years of government control of our health care system only now are we being sold the absurd idea that government involvement in health care is a socialist idea.

Clinging to power in the federal government, Repugnicans who defend the status quo profit-driven health care distribution system are the most hypocritical and immoral people in public life today. They may not be totally evil monsters driven by a desire to deprive anyone of access to health care but they are clearly driven by political lust for the power they have lost. They are, then, totally evil monsters because they are intent on reinforcing the ignorance that their tea bagger base brings to the table - by repeating debunked misconceptions, lying and crying about being shut out of the process - only as a calculated strategy to regain power. They are not interested in reforming health care distribution at this time. They only care about making the Democrats fail at the expense of the country.

Based on current and recent experience, there is no reason to trust that any Repugnicans will vote for whatever watered-down bill that comes out of this Administration. Not even the sickeningly weak bill the Senate Committee has produced that gives the profit-driven insurance companies nearly everything they want: most of all millions more unwilling profit-generating customers.

All that Repugnicans want out of the whole flim flam show is to make the Democrats look stupid or weak so that voters will go back to the Repugnican Party next election by default - in order to teach the Democrats a lesson. As usual, the Democrats are feeding right into their stupid game. But the Repugnicans are playing the dirtiest form of power politics at the expense of our lives and well being - and they know it. And it all seems to be working. In the end they are all evil monsters and we are all screwed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Waldorf

by Dick Mac

As a boy in the mid-1960s, I occasionally patronized a cafeteria on Huntington Avenue, in Boston, near the YMCA where I learned to swim. It was the most modern restaurant I had ever seen, and I was fascinated by the self-service method. Walking along towards the register, sliding a plastic tray on the three metal bars that made-up the counter, and gazing at the rows and rows of food and snacks: meatloaf with mashed potatoes, salad with fruit and nuts in it (whoever heard of such a thing), diet plates of a plain hamburger patty with iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato alongside a scoop of cottage cheese), I imagined that I would eat an entire meal in this wondrous place one day.

Instead, with a quarter or a dime in my pocket, I would make my way to the desserts at the end of the line and take a cup of pudding or a slice of pie. I would ask if it was OK to take a glass of water, and I would eat as quickly as I could and rush out of there with the sense that this was a place I did not belong; that this was a place for people with more money than me, a place for grown-ups.

I was eventually introduced to other cafeterias. Some in the basement level of department stores, Hayes-Bickford, Waldorf, hospitals, museums, and other public buildings. Then I found an automat at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital! Oh, the ways that food could be bought and sold!

And then, the New York City-style delicatessen with a turnstile and a cardboard strip that would be punched as you selected each item. You couldn't get out of those delis without a punched card! Though I never saw it myself, I was told that you needed to pay a dime to get out if you didn't have a card and you didn't eat anything: no free ride here.

I have always been a fan of restaurants.

Always, though, the Waldorf was the restaurant I thought of as the quintessential modern restaurant.

Later in life, I learned about the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and was confused about the connection between the restaurant and the hotel. I learned that the Waldorf-Astoria was a very nice hotel and that many famous people stayed there, and some even lived there. I always thought of Buffy and Jody and Uncle Bill and Mr. French living in the Waldorf.

It's a hotel that's always been mysterious to me. I still have never stayed there, and although I have been in the cocktail lounge and in some of the rooms.

Today I work three short blocks from the Waldorf and I often pass by. Working in Midtown Manhattan will always continue to amaze me. Commuting is sort of like being in a constant television show. Each block feels like, looks like, and in many cases really is the set of a sit-com, drama, news program, or movie.

The downside to this fascinating dynamic of being a New Yorker is that these blocks often ARE being used to film sit-coms, dramas, news programs, and movies! Then there is the United Nations. God bless the United Nations. This venerable institution invites all the world's leaders to New York City each autumn for a big meeting.

Of course, they choose New York City! It looks like every TV show and movie these world leaders have ever seen! Who doesn't want to be in New York City for awhile?

Especially if you can stay at the Waldorf-Astoria!

The popularity of Midtown Manhattan, including (especially) The Waldorf, raises security concerns, and many blocks are often closed to all traffic (vehicular and pedestrian), and those of us trying to get along in life are required to find another way from Point A to Point B.

This is one of those weeks.

I needed to get from 53rd and Lexington to 50th and Sixth. I make this walk pretty regularly, and I often choose the route that brings me past The Waldorf (the back of which is at 50th and Lex), across Madison Avenue, towards Saks and St. Patrick's Cathedral, and into Rockefeller Center. This is a quintessential New York walk. There is nowhere else where the world looks like this, passing so many landmarks in such a short distance. If I am in a hurry, of course, I do not take this route.

This week, however, it is a walk to avoid! Why? Because of The Waldorf. The esteemed hotel, with its address on the East Side, is the residence of choice for the sitting American President. During the week of the UN's General Assembly to which all sitting world leaders are invited, the area is cordoned off differently (it seems) each day (hour?).

I found myself being herded into a runway and across Lexington, downtown on the wrong side of the avenue, past 50th Street. As I saw this developing, I attempted to turn around to go back the way I came, but alas, the crowd was being funneled in so quickly that the police were not allowing anyone to turn back.

Instead of being a care-free, sophisticated New Yorker, I was now part of the unwashed masses, a nobody who was inconveniencing the police and the President and my neighbors. I was in the way, and puny. I was an irritant.

And is there anything more irritating than to be thought of as an irritant?

Well, no. Still, I made my way south to 48th Street, and west to Sixth Avenue and decided to make the best of my detour and walk to Bryant Park before getting on the F train towards Brooklyn.

It's good to be a New Yorker, even when the President is in town, because I get to walk from once famous location to another, and escape into the urban (and urbane) beauty that is Midtown Manhattan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Favorite Of All Unlikely Pop Stars: Susan Boyle

by Dick Mac

Susan Boyle sings "Wild Horses":

She's changed the lyrics around a bit, in an unimpressive manner, but still she dazzles me with her voice and simple style.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Define "Win"

Map Source: University of Texasby Dick Mac

Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it, Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in a five-page Commander's Summary.

The enemy we are fighting in Afghanistan is not the Afghan people, nor is it really al-qaeda; the enemy we are fighting is the people of the Middle East who fund Islamic jihad that results in terrorism (crime).

We are not fighting a military, we are fighting a notion, an idea. If we want to squash that idea (an idea I believe is worth squashing), we have to go to war with the nations that fund, support, and promote that notion: Saudi Arabia and the other sheikdoms that Texas oilmen consider their closest allies.

If we funded the overthrow of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we would further the cause of peace, further women's rights by nearly a millennium, and help sensitize the world to the plight of homosexuals whose lives are criminalized by theocratic rule.

Sure, sending more troops to Afghanistan will result in more dead people and more conquered regions that can be displayed as "victories"; but, until the sheikdoms of the Middle East are forced into the 20th Century, and their theocratic rulers dethroned, killed or imprisoned, there is no "win" possible in Afghanistan.

See you at the gas pumps!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Military Industrial Complexities

by Al Falafel

Hard to believe but there actually was a time when the National Republican Party had not completely sold its soul to the extreme Right Wing Repugnicans who own it lock, stock & barrel today. Ah... those were the days! For a little perspective on what we are dealing with today, let's go back now to those heady days of 1961, shall we?

There was this guy named Eisenhower...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers, 1936 - 2007

by Dick Mac

Mary Travers, one-third of the sixties folk trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, died yesterday. She was 72. Travers developed leukemia and her death was the result of complications of chemotherapy for a bone-marrow transplant she received several years ago.

Just like the other members of Peter, Paul & Mary, she was politically active outside of her singing career, and spoke openly in support of civil rights.

The trio sang songs as varied as the very political "Blowin' In The Wind" and the fairy-tale-ish "Puff, The Magic Dragon." Their three-part harmonies were beautiful and Travers was an image of beauty and sex appeal in a musical genre that was not known for pop culture successes.

Raised in Greenwich Village, she started her career in 1955 as a back-up singer for Pete Seeger in. She then formed the famous trio with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey in 1961.

After the group disbanded in 1970, Travers embarked on a solo career that produced five albums.

Peter, Paul & Mary reunited in 1978 for a show to benefit the movement against nuclear power. They continued to perform around the world; and many of their concerts were political benefit performances.

Mary Travers was a true hero. A major talent whose shyness kept her humble, whose beautiful voice entertained three generations, and whose political beliefs and activism helped to make the world a better place. We have all lost a special person.

She is survived by a husband, Ethan Robbins; two daughters, Erika Marshall of Naples, Fla., and Alicia Travers of Greenwich, Conn.; a sister, Ann Gordon of Oakland, Calif.; and two grandchildren.

Mary Travers Wikipedia entry

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72 - an in-depth obit at the NY Times

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Senate Victory for the GOP

by Dick Mac

Again, the Democrats compromise with the Republicans and get nothing.

First, the Republicans claimed that providing health care to the uninsured was socialism, and the media got on board with it. The three major networks and almost every newspaper in the land have given the argument credence by reporting over and over again that it is socialism. If American media outlets wanted health care reform (which they do not), they would have ignored that grandstanding and kept the discourse in the arena of reality. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is controlled by people who oppose health care reform, and they will ensure it doesn't get done.

Instead, the Republicans have led the debate and turned it from a discussion of health care to an absurdist circus of uninformed Americans blathering on about socialism. As if they have any idea at all about socialism. Anyone with half a brain knows that a public health care system has nothing to do with socialism; it has to do with civilization.

Next, the Democrats decide to play along with the media circus and change the plan from a proposal to provide health care to the uninsured into a bill about nothing: no change, no protection, and no regulation

Now, Senator Max Baucus, of Montana, is presenting a watered-down health care bill with almost no changes to the current system and no public option to guarantee health care coverage for uninsured Americans. I can only assume that Baucus wants Obama out of the White House and the Democrats out of their majorities, because presenting this bill is absurd.

Knowing that the GOP has no intention to vote for any bill, the Democrats need to craft legislation that will provide health care for all Americans. Ignore the GOP the way they are ignoring reality.

Let's pray that someone in the House has the testicular fortitude to write an actual bill about health care, and just ignore the GOP.

The Senate is lost, and it's time to focus on the House. If you haven't contacted your Representative, please do so now. The only voices they are hearing are the voices of opposition. They need to hear from those of us who want real health care reform with a safety net for uninsured Americans.

Write Your Representative

Baucus unveiling health bill without GOP on board

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Does The Public Hate The Public?

by Dick Mac

I would like to remind so-called "conservatives" that it is not the role of the United States government to prop-up free-enterprise; but it is the role of the government to protect the citizenry (even from itself). Provision of health care is not an act of socialism anymore than bank bailouts or other corporate subsidies. Provision of health care in a public forum is called civilization (not that so-called "conservatives" care about civilization since it gets in the way of the Rapture). A civilized people cares for its people. Give a hemophiliac a band-aid he stops bleeding for a moment, give him health care and he might not get blood everywhere.

Here is a study from that bastion of socialism, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that finds even doctors support a public option:

Physician Views on the Public Health Insurance Option and Medicare Expansions

There are almost 50,000,000 (that's fifty million to those who don't know math/counting) Americans without proper access to health care. There are stupid people who think provision of health care is socialism. Those people are lost souls with small minds and need to be ignored. Real Americans support the notion of a healthy nation and understand that we only have socialism for the rich in America. We don't want socialism for all: we want health care. A public health care system will guarantee that we might become the greatest nation in the world again, as it will be the first step away from the absurdity of supply-side economic theory. Let's take care of all Americans and let the rich fend for themselves!

Sign the petition

Monday, September 14, 2009


by Al Falafel

"The Cajun Boy" Posted an article on Cornholing Today at

I had almost forgotten about my own cornholing experience -- as pertains to the game.

A few years ago I made a rare visit back to the natural habitat of that clan that spawned me many years before - Northern Kentucky. I was talked into making the long grueling drive south in a regrettable moment of weakness by a relative who had planned a sort of outdoor family reunion. At the time Anthony and I had only been together for a year or so and his curiosity about the environment I had escaped only added to the pressure to make the trip together. My first partner had flown the same coop as I had and we spent the rest of his life sharing an equal disdain for all that crap we left behind. Our trips back "home" were so blessedly rare that we missed more than a whole generation of drama and growing pains inflicted on scores of nieces & nephews we'd never know.

The last trip I made, for all its unmemorable qualities was almost made worth it by my discovery that the whole lot of them were totally into this hot new game they called "Cornhole." I can't tell you how giddy it made me to indulge my inner smartass by throwing out every outrageous but obvious joke and irreverent remark that came to mind whenever the subject came up in conversation. What did they expect? Do they know not what they do when they indulge in cornholing?

When I arrived at my brother's house the night before the party they were cornholing right out on the front lawn! In front of God and everybody! No shame at all. They went right on cornholing all evening, in turns, watching each other as they got their own turn to cornhole. Changing partners! My own drunken siblings trading off their wives as cornhole partners - Lord Almighty I have arrived in the land of Sodomites & GaMorons!

All these things I said loud and clear and they laughed along while the night was young. Of course, my brothers grew annoyed at me later - the way straight guys often feel after getting drunk past their limits or when sobering up from a good cornholing.

When we arrived the next day at the outdoor family reunion, what was the first thing I see? "Oh my god!" I had to cry out, "They've got the children cornholing! Have these people no shame at all? What are they doing to these precious children!"

They laughed at my fake admonishments when I huffily condemned them for making a game out of what I call "love!" Ha ha ha... More than once after sensing some confusion I had to ask the particular relative in front of me, whoever it was, "Do you understand what cornholing is? You know it has another, older definition than your little game here." My favorite response was "Yup, I know it something guys in prison do..." To which I obliged the obvious comeback, "Yeah. If they're lucky!"

It was all just too easy. Just like the morons who want to teabag the President, these people have no sense of the irony in their word choices. To them words and phrases are things you find in books and reading leads to socialism so screw it.

I'm sure there was a cornhole tournament somewhere on the DC mall today. It was probably one of the attractions that Ace Cornholer Glenn Beck used to lure the teabaggers there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eighth Anniversary

by Dick Mac

I was thinking about the World Trade Center last night.

I was at a parish council meeting, and local firefighters were setting-up for the 9/11 memorial to be held at 11:00 A.M. My parish was deeply affected by the collapse of the towers.

I thought about the firefighters who gave their lives tyring to save those trapped inside the building, and I wept.

I don't think I will ever get over that tragedy. The images will not go away.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

. . . and where were the Spiders?

Well-hung, with a snow-white tan . . . by Dick Mac

As human beings continue to destroy the planet, spiders have less and less habitat in which to live

Spiders are marginalized because they are not a popular species. They are neither cuddly nor human like, and it is difficult to get environmental authorities to include spiders on lists of endangered animals.

Many spiders are, however, endangered; so, it is a surprise when a new spider is discovered.

According to Peter J├Ąger, a German spider expert, who recently discovered a new spider: naming a new spider after a celebrity helps draw attention to the problem of spider endangerment. With that said, he has named his new spider after a rock star. Heteropoda davidbowie is distinguished by its large size and yellow hair, and is only found in parts of Malaysia.

I wonder if it's loaded, well-hung, and tanned snow-white.

Read more at the Telegraph website: Rare yellow spider named after David Bowie

Thanks to Kate for the tip!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Van Jones Resigns

Van Jones' abrupt resignation this weekend is the most disturbing development in Obama's young administration since the announcement of the President's ill-advised surge of troops in Afghanistan. It stinks of typical Democratic Party back-room deals, throwing one of their most expendable associates under the bus in a bargain for some political leverage with the Repugnicans.

Is this the Democrats' idea of a sacrificial offering to the bloodthirsty Repugnicans to win their votes for a watered-down health care reform bill?

Who even heard of Van Jones before now? What was his crime? Calling the Repugnicans by a name they clearly deserve: Assholes? That's even being polite, if you ask me.

Jones once signed a petition calling for an investigation into possible US government collusion in the 9/11 attacks.

This is reason enough for him to resign? More than that - is this reason enough for Obama to accept his resignation?

Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face and did far worse things we'll never hear about. He survived the entire two terms of Bush. And he is still on a mission of unapologetic disinformation, fear and lie-spreading about Obama. There's even talk of drafting him for a run at the presidency.

An article from sheds some light on the forces taking credit for the sacking of Jones

A very powerful alliance, designed to motivate various iterations of the grass roots of the right wing, is taking shape, and its players are determined to win by any means necessary -- be they racism, red-baiting, violence or lies. Americans for Prosperity, Grassfire, Freedom Works (the Astroturf group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey) and the Murdoch empire -- especially as represented by Glenn Beck -- have teamed up to keep the air dirty, the poor in their place and more people dying every day for lack of health care. But more than anything, they've joined hands to keep the preponderance of the earth's riches in the hands of a very few -- the rest of us be damned. They're determined to die with the most toys, leaving a poisoned and impoverished planet as their legacy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Photographs by Photographers

by Dick Mac  

Recently, I discovered that a photo album into which I had inserted pictures was likely damaging the prints. The pages of the album had sticky glue onto which the photographs were rested, and then a clear cellophane page folded over. Many of the photographs were very old and irreplaceable, so I decided to disassemble the album and scan all the pictures before the glue ate them alive from the back. Since there were over 200 pictures, I had undertaken quite a task. Sadly, photos on thinner stock had to be cut out with the sticky cardboard page still attached. Happily, they were scanned.

The photographs ranged from a picture of my paternal grandmother as a teenager in County Galway, to photographs of my last ex-girlfriend in 1997.The two photographs posted here really stood out to me during the process.

The photographer really captured the silent chaos of my life in 1981, the emotional and spiritual bankruptcy that was invisible to me then, and is crystal clear almost thirty years later.

I lost contact with the photographer about fifteen years ago, and a passing effort to reconnect ten years ago fell short of the mark.

Yesterday I was "reading" the latest issue of Time Out New York, which featured a cover story of Drew Barrymore and 83 other photographers, artists and personalities, shooting photographs of New York with a disposable camera.

I encountered a picture by the photographer who took the two pictures above. Imagine my surprise! So, I looked online and there are ten shots: NYC in pictures - They shoot New York - Heidi Marben, psychologist. I've been unable to find more of her photography online, but if you do, please let me know.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Josh Wicks Stomps Fredy Montero

by Dick Mac

Josh Wicks, goalkeeper for D.C. United, shows (again) that he is unfit for employment.

During the 2009 U.S. Open final between D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders the other night, Wicks stomped on Fredy Montero.

Montero had just scored a goal off a rebound, tumbled over onto the turf and before he could get to his feet, . . . well . . . you watch what happens and you decide for yourself if you think this is an issue.

This video is short, but it shows the incident:

Montero is one of the world's most exciting, up-and-coming stars. He has garnered a lot of well-deserved attention, and it is likely he will move to a European club in the coming two years.

For a player to endanger the future of any young player, with such utter disregard for sportsmanship, rules, and decency is unfathomable. Only a sociopath accepts this behavior.

Come now, D.C. United management. The team released this statement:

D.C. United team executives and technical staff met today with Josh Wicks. During the meeting, it was expressed that his behavior in last night's U.S. Open Cup final was unacceptable and that he will be subject to internal discipline.

I find it hard to believe that anyone can watch that video and allow this player to appear on the field ever again.

And this is not Wicks' first violent outburst in the last week! I am still searching for video of a match last weekend when Wicks attacked a teammate during their match against the Chicago Fire.

In that match, Wicks was displeased with the performance of his defenders and attacked Marc Burch. When an employee physically attacks another employee, in an industry where pugilism is not part of the employment agreement, management must take action. Instead, management excused it:

The last several minutes of the game were particularly intense. At the end of the day, you want your keeper to step up and take a leadership role. Can he learn to do it a little bit differently? Probably. But he's got the right stuff and that's what we want. We want someone to lead and organize in difficult times during the game. I'm not bothered by it. Everything is fine. We move on.

Management was not bothered with the behavior of an employee who attacks a co-worker.

Perhaps the problem is not with Wicks, perhaps the problem is with team management and ownership. What kind of people allow an employee to attack a co-worker, then endanger the future of one of the world's most promising players, and not express complete anger, disdain, and dissatisfaction?

If the club will not take action, MLS should step forward and issue a ban of at least 35 games. This way he will miss the rest of this season and all of next. Then perhaps he will vanish from the sport altogether.

Then, when MLS finishes with Wicks, they should fine and penalize D.C. United for their failure to control their employees.

Some disciplinary action must be taken by the team and league.

Here is another video of the Montero incident that is clearer and longer, but has music over the footage:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

No One Does It Like You

by Al Falafel

Department of Eagles' new (official) video directed by Patrick Daughters and Marcel Dzama for the single "No One Does It Like You" premiered at MoMA on September 1, 2009. Deceptively simple imagery/haunting music, recommended by my good friend Judith so you know it is going to be disturbing in the end.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Flash Mobs Do Michael Jackson

by Dick Mac

During the month of July 2009, flash mobs around the world, inspried by BOUNCE Stockholm, performed Michael Jackson songs in public places. Out of the blue, the song "Beat It" would start playing and, it seemed, groups of strangers would begin performing the dance from Jackson's famous music video. Then, just as quickly as the groups formed and performed, they dispersed.

Here are some of the results . . .





Hong Kong:

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Messengers Of Hate Are Never Cool

Buju Bantonby Dick Mac

Buju Banton (Mark Myrie) is one of a number of Jamaican musicians who advocate the murder of GLBT people. Along with Capelton (Clifton George), Beenie Man (Anthony Moses Davis), Bounty Killer (Rodney Price), Elephant Man (O'Neil Bryan), Sizzla (Miguel Orlando Collins), T.O.K. (Alistaire McCalla, Roshaun Clarke, Craig Patrick, Anthony Thompson, Xavier Davidson), Vybz Kartel (Adidja Palmer), and others, Banton writes and performs songs that advocate killing sexual minorities and trans-people.

I know that many people, including some of my friends, admire Jamaican culture and music because Jamaicans are people of a poverty-stricken nation whose music has a jamming rhythm, and they promote the consumption of marijuana, which everybody considers harmless, cool and progressive.

When this hip sound and cool culture hides deep homophobia, it must be exposed.

In 2004, I wrote to B.B. Kings music club in New York City, asking them to cancel a performance by Capelton, because of his violent homophobic songs. They had no use for my discussion but pointed out that people who come to their club enjoy popular music, great service, and good food! So, come on down and listen to the black guy sing about killing queers and smoking ganja!

There has been international pressure on this klan of Jamaican homophobes, and some of them have attempted to repackage and re-market themselves as voices of freedom and equality.

According to the New York Times
Mr. Banton signed a "reggae compassionate act" in 2007, saying that he would not make homophobic statements in public, release new homophobic songs or authorize the re-release of previous homophobic songs.

It's lovely that Banton and others of his klan have signed a non-binding non-legal document saying they will promote peace; but, that is crap! Sorry, it's just crap!

In fact, Banton has sung violently homophobic songs live in concert, in the United States, since signing that "pledge." The compassion act is meaningless.

To put this in a historical context: When Disney eventually agreed that the movie "Song Of The South" portrayed African Americans in a less-than-favorable light, they pulled the movie from the shelves. You can't buy it, and you can't see it on television or in the theaters. This is what you do when you realize something you've created is bad, wrong, morally repugnant, and offensive: you disown it and remove it from distribution, you apologize and hope that your future actions can help undo the harm you've already done.

This klan of Jamaican homophobes have signed a document that nobody really cares about, but their records calling for the killing and maiming of homosexuals are still for sale, and they continue singing the songs in concert! They are still profiteering from their message of hate and violence.

Enough already! These people need to be stopped. They need to lose their stage. They need to be kept out of the United States. They need to be marginalized. These are dangerous, hateful people.

Banton begins a tour of the United States during the month of September, and has called for action against the promoter. After an email campaign to Live Nation, the promoter has cancelled four shows at House of Blues venues, and individual venues in LA and San Francisco. In reality, the venues have cancelled the shows, but Live Nation is cooperating with the cancellations and responding positively to the campaign.

There are still many shows being sold on Ticketmaster, and the only way the shows will be stopped is if you write to the venues and tell them that Banton is bad for business. it's OK to boycott a venue that promotes hate. Boycotts and threats of boycott work! Boycott is an effective tool to make your point.

Find the venue closest to you and send them an email about Banton's message of hate and express your concern that the venue is promoting such hate.

Ticketmaster list of Bujo Banton shows for sale

More links:

My article about Capelton and this hateful klan of musicians, originally published in 2004: A Jamaican Message of Hate

The article about HoB cancellations at Live Nation Cancels Concerts with Artist Who Sings About Killing LGBT People

A brief report of the controversy in the New York Times arts section:
Arts Briefly

Images of the so-called "compassion act" signed by these hateful homophobes in an effort to deflect bad publicity: Reggae Compassion Act images