Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fifty years ago...



Two of the most jolting experiences in my life came at the opening of the 60s. The first was fifty years ago this week. I was nineteen, 1,500 miles from home, a college freshman. We didn't have TV in my residence, thought radio news was available all day, full of foreboding, frightening stuff: a confrontation between hard-nosed Premier Nikita Khrushchev and and a callow young president of the U.S.    Kennedy was being pushed to "drop the big one" by self-confessed genocidal war criminal, head of the Strategic Air Command, General Curtis LeMay. Kennedy chose to talk, negotiate, agree on mutual stepping back from the precipice.

This album cover was propped up on the hi-fi console in the reading/music room. Black humor, gallows humor, nervous laughter.

Choices made that week led to the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis and--briefly--a conscious stepping back from nuclear Armageddon. Fifty years later, the world has at least seven more nations with nuclear weapons, aggressive talk growing more intense, bigger threats, much more vulnerability to annihilation. Russia and the United States have 19,500 between them; the junior members have barely a thousand among the seven--France, China, United Kingdom, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea.

Another jolt came 13 months later--November 22, 1963. I told that story here a few years ago--nuclear war was still at the heart of the matter on that day.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A close relative is a State Dept. Vice Consul in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, finishing up a yearlong posting there this week.

(here's some spot-on analysis from Anti-War.com):
In Foreign Affairs, Alexander Cooley writes about how ... the American Empire is costing a lot more.
Most dramatically, in 2009, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan, host to the Manas Transit Center, initiated a bidding war between the United States and Russia by threatening to close the base. He extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from both sides, in the form of a Russian assistance package and a renewed lease at a higher rent with the United States....
Comparisons to the Roman Empire and the overextended expansionism that helped lead to its downfall can sometimes get stale, but all of these examples make it clear that maintaining an empire of military bases and client states is getting increasingly unaffordable for a US government $16 trillion in debt.
Incidentally, the late, great Chalmers Johnson predicted the very scenario .... In Baseless Expenditures he wrote:
 “I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the US Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country.”

Monday, August 06, 2012

One big new reason to despise the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"New Berlin school custodial workers swept out in budget move."

The stinking rag that wants us to buy what they are selling chose to put this nifty headline on a suburban edition news story about a group of workers being fired and replaced by low-paid contract workers.

Ok. New Berlin school board members certainly had the go-ahead from Act 10 to do it.  I'm sure many of them are damn proud of it. And it's is done.

But, did the MJS absolutely have to put a smart-ass headline on it. "Sweep 'em out" like so much trash.  Nominate that copy editor for another Pulitzer.

I'm actually surprised that they rejected using a more hard-hitting image of  flushing them out.

The sooner the stinking daily rag goes out of business, the better this community will be.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

So much talk of "Midddle Class". So little agreement on a definition.


Blogger Charles H Smith @ Of Two Minds has dealt with this definitional thing thoughtfully and often.  It is, at the heart of it, a matter of defining one's terms.  Lots of folks who believe themselves to be middle class are, in fact, in an aspirational (dare we say hallucinated) state.  They strive aggressively for middle class appearance, claim that as their status, yet lack so much of the underpinning that realistically defines it.


Five "threshold" characteristics of membership in the middle class:

1. Meaningful healthcare insurance
2. Significant equity (25%-50%) in a home or other real estate
3. Income/expenses that enable the household to save at least 6% of its income
4. Significant retirement funds: 401Ks, IRAs, income property, etc.
5. The ability to service all debt and expenses over the medium-term if one of the primary household wage-earners lose their job
I would now add a sixth:
6. Reliable vehicles for each wage-earner
Author Chris Sullins suggested adding these additional thresholds:
7. If a household requires government assistance to maintain the family lifestyle, their Middle Class status is in doubt.
8. A percentage of non-paper, non-real estate hard assets such as family heirlooms, precious metals, tools, etc. that can be transferred to the next generation, i.e. generational wealth.
9. Ability to invest in offspring (education, extracurricular clubs/training, etc.).
10. Leisure time devoted to the maintenance of physical/spiritual/mental fitness.
Lagniappe attributes:
11. Community altruism (volunteer time and/or money).
12. Pursuit of continuing education (not net surfing, but some exploration and growth in the real world).
The key point of these thresholds is that propping up a precarious illusion of wealth and security does not qualify as middle class. To qualify as middle class (that is, what was considered middle class a generation or two ago), the household must actually own/control wealth that won't vanish if the investment bubble du jour pops, and won't be wiped out by a medical emergency.
In Chris's phrase, "They should be focusing resources on the next generation and passing on Generational Wealth" as opposed to "keeping up appearances" via aspirational consumption financed with debt.

Only after finishing this did it occur to me that this is Bastille Day.  A day on which class conflict rose to new heights (or. was it a descent to new depths?) Out of the French Revolution came a far-reaching sense that revolt against the hereditary nobility and the stinking monarchy, abetted by the fawning clerical estate would bring about an independent class of citizens, defined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. 

And, ultimately, a middle class.  

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Let me recommend the best medicine in the world: a long journey, at a mild Season, thro' a pleasant Country, in easy stages. -- James Madison, 1794

Exactly what we've been thinking...about our coming travel through India.  That it came from the pen of Madison recalls his real-life journey as a founding father of the United States.

Madison, one of the 3 or 4 key actors in the drafting of the US Constitution. 

In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, he kept the minutes of that long hot summer of debate.  He crafted the myriad nuanced drafts on which the founders would continue the discussion (an euphemism; it was often enough an eye-gouging brawl) in search of elusive consensus. As is the custom--if not the prerogative--of the one chosen to keep the minutes, the description of what they said was shaded a bit in the direction of what Jemmy would have liked that they said.

Without compromise there would never have been a Constitution, no United States of America.  So, the odious Three-fifths Compromise was agreed to.  And it set us on a course through a long journey, in seasons of rancor, through a divided country, toward the bloody stages of Civil War.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Criminal complicity by US Government in Honduran killings and repression...

    ...impunity, corruption and violence that have contributed to Honduras being designated the most violent country in the world by the United Nations.  Since the coup there have been hundreds of murders thought to be politically motivated. This includes 70 members of the GBLT community; at least 50 campesinos; many well known trade unionists; teachers; indigenous activists; and LIBRE members. In addition more than 20 journalists have been assassinated.   

    Just this year at least 14 people from these groups have been murdered. The Honduran government has not carried out serious investigations of the crimes.  Despite all this and in spite of 3 Congressional letters calling for an end to US military/security aid to Honduras because of the human rights emergency; in May, the U.S. authorized an additional 50 million dollars of security aid for 2012. Click for moree

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Cuban-American community: Its future and relations with Cuba

The grip on Florida politics is slipping away from the right wing of Cuban emigres.  And they don't like it.  Their entrenched members in the leadership of Congress are struggling to maintain their hold on US foreign policy vis a vis Cuba. That privileged position is threatened; they'll try anything to prevent its loss. 
Read Progreso Seminal, simply the best on-going analysis of Cuba and the US.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Global Reality: Surplus of Labor, Scarcity of Paid Work

Charles H Smith publishes a  blog of uncommonly thoughtful and candid analysis -- contrary thinking vis a vis the likelihood of economic "recovery".....

The industries that are increasing productivity do so by eliminating entire industries and entire job categories.

The global economy is facing a structural surplus of labor and a scarcity of paid work.Here is the critical backdrop for the global recession that is unfolding and the stated desire of central banks and states everywhere for "economic growth": most of the so-called "growth" since the 2008 global financial meltdown was funded by sovereign debt and "free money" spun by central banks, not organic growth based on rising earned incomes.
Take away the speculation dependent on "free money" and the global stimulus dependent on massive quantities of fresh debt, and how much "growth" would be left?

What policy makers and pundits dare not admit is that the global economy is entering the "end of paid work" foreseen by Jeremy Rifkin.....     Read the rest at  Of Two Minds

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Brigadier General John Adams calls for Cuba to be taken off the list of countries sponsoring terrorism



From Granma,

WASHINGTON, March 22.—Influential U.S. Brigadier General John Adams has publicly stated that his country should remove Cuba from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and end its counterproductive and hypocritical policy toward the island, PL reports.
"Cuban presence on the list damages U.S. credibility with almost all of our key allies and puts us at odds with every country in Latin America, who view the listing as capricious and politically motivated," Adams noted in an article also signed by Capitol Counsel David W. Jones, published in The Hill, a U.S. Congress publication.
Retired from active service since 2007 and with much influence in the upper echelons of the Pentagon, Adams accumulated more than 35 years of experience in military missions.
The former U.S. military representative to NATO added that U.S. policy is damaging the interests of businesses and workers by justifying an economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba, which is preventing the creation of new jobs.
He confirmed that after the Cold War, many people in the intelligence services came to the conclusion that Cuba was not a threat to U.S. national security.
Adams recalled State Department pronouncements in its 2009 and 2010 reports acknowledging that there is no evidence of financial support for terrorist organizations in Cuba and that the national government has publicly condemned acts of terrorism.
He argued, "U.S. policy cripples efforts to cooperate with Cuba on important American national security issues, including transnational human, drug and weapons smuggling, as well as environmental disasters."

Monday, March 26, 2012

'The Pope will visit Cuba - so what?' - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

  Make no mistake: Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ortega are trying to gain new spaces for the Catholic Church, not for the Cuban people.  Of course, that raises new questions, such as why the Cuban government would cooperate with their agenda. It also raises even more worrying questions about the extent to which this Catholic recovery may have a negative impact on some of the most important milestones achieved by Cuba in the past years, especially a well-defined secular system of education, and ever more progressive policies on abortion, gay and lesbian rights, et cetera.
Ultimately, we will have to wait and see what transpires during and after the visit. In the meantime, one can only agree with Cuban writer Abel German, who recently put it better than anyone else when he said: "The Pope will visit Cuba - so what?"

Read the full article at Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"If President Obama really can arrange for, as he says, the “tides of war” to recede...

...he is still left with a big task, of seeing to it that the veterans and their families are better served in the treatment of the less visible wounds they carry. While the Veterans Administration has improved in the past decade on these issues, mental health and brain injury treatment are still inadequate, both for service people and Vets.
Americans in general should rethink our policy of perpetual war and constant foreign intervention, of war as a standing industry with lobbies and paid-for TV spokesmen, purveyed by all the US news networks to keep us hooked on foreign deployments. War should be rare and a last resort. One thing Panetta got right is that the UN Charter should govern it, so that we can finally put the crimes of the Axis behind us as we move into the 21st century. War should either be for self-defense after an attack, or it should be to preserve dire threats to international order as deemed by the UN Security Council. Otherwise, it is not just a problem of a rogue sergeant, or of a rogue base. It will increasingly be a problem of a rogue nation.

Juan Cole @  Informed Comment, thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Petition:

Push the Swedes to Start Thinking About the 
Banality of the Nobel Peace Prize


Dear Members of Stockholm’s County Administrative Board:
The signers of this petition ... understand your Board has formally asked the Nobel Foundation to respond to allegations that the peace prize no longer reflects Nobel’s will that the purpose of the prize was to diminish the role of military power in international relations... “Nobel called it a prize for the champions of peace,…and it’s indisputable that (Nobel) had in mind the peace movement, the movement which is actively pursuing a new global order … where nations safely can drop national armaments.”

The undersigned non-profit peace organizations and activists base their endorsement of your inquiry on the following facts:

Alfred Nobel’s will, written in 1895, left funding for a prize to be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

After only a few years, however, a disastrous trend was begun of awarding the prize to government officials and political figures who had done more to promote war than peace. For instance in 1919, the Nobel “prize for peace” went to Woodrow Wilson who had needlessly dragged his own nation into the worst war yet seen; who had developed innovative war propaganda techniques, conscription techniques, and tools for suppressing dissent; who had used the U.S. military to brutal effect in the Caribbean and Latin America; who had agreed to a war-promoting settlement to the Great War; but who, in the war’s aftermath, promoted a “League of Nations” in the hopes of resolving disputes peacefully.

Although the Nobel peace prize came to be heavily, but by no means entirely, dominated by elected officials, yet some excellent award choices occurred in the ensuing years: that of Jane Addams as co-recipient in 1931, Norman Angell in 1933, and organizations, such as the Red Cross in 1944 (and again in 1963) and the American Friends Service Committee in 1947. It’s worth asking, however, why even more principled war opponents including Gandhi were never deemed worthy.

In 1953 the Nobel went to General George Marshall. In 1973 a co-laureate was none other than Henry Kissinger[*] and whatever their merits, these were major makers of war who would almost certainly have also won the Nobel War Prize, were there such a thing. This insanity competed, however, with the bestowing in other years of the prize on leaders who were not holders of high office, not necessarily born to wealth, and not only opponents of war but also advocates of the use of nonviolent resistance to violence and injustice. Thus the peace prize went in 1964 to Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1976 to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, in 1980 to Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, in 1983 to Lech Walesa, in 1984 to Desmond Tutu, in 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1992 to Rigoberta Menchú Tum, etc.

The Kissinger style “peace” laureate, and the MLK type differed in that one was the path of peace activists who dedicated their careers to international fraternity and demilitarization and the other was the path of powerful figures and makers of war who had either shown some restraint in a particular instance or had appeared (accurately or not) to have acted on behalf of peace in a particular situation. Honoring both nonviolent human rights advocates and mass murderers has moved the prize away from advocacy for the elimination of standing armies and is at odds with the words in Nobel’s will as well as the early tradition of awarding the prize to true advocates of peace.

In 2006 and 2007, Muhammad Yunus and Al Gore took home peace prizes for work that, at best, bears only an indirect connection to peace.

Despite these previous examples of falling short of Nobel’s original intent in establishing the Peace Prize, at least from 1901 to 2008, no peace prize was given to anyone who had neither done nor even pretended to do anything significant for peace nor done any other good and significant thing that some people might believe would indirectly contribute to peace. That all changed in 2009 when US President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama had just been placed in a position of great power promising to expand the world’s largest military, to escalate a war, and to launch strikes into other nations without any war declarations. He showed up to collect his winnings and gave a speech justifying and praising war. His acceptance speech rejected a previous laureate’s (MLK’s) speech as too peaceful.

The 2009 Nobel Prize recipient, President Barack Obama, did not even attempt to earn his award as some had hoped but has instead followed through on his speech justifying and praising war. This hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed by many other people in the world, prompting 1980 Peace Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel’s recent letter to the 2009 peace laureate bemoaning the fact that Obama is waging wars on behalf of the military industrial complex and “burying himself more and more in violence and devoured by the domination of power”. In addition to directly contradicting the terms of Alfred Nobel’s last will, the awarding of the world’s foremost peace prize to a militarist who states his intent to wage war, perniciously serves the opposite purpose.

We therefore commend your investigation of the betrayal of the award in order to re-establish criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize that is aligned with Nobel’s original intent. We also suggest your Board communicate with the Nobel Foundation urging them to rescind Obama’s award so that the Nobel Peace Prize does not serve to sugarcoat, obfuscate and enable more use of violence and military force, the exact opposite purpose for which it was created.

http://warisacrime.org/nobel
By davidswanson – Posted on 29 February 2012
Endorse as an organization.
Endorse as an individual.


*  Tom Lehrer, born April, 8, 1928.  American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician.   He had the last word on the Nobel Peace Prize way back in 1973:   "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No Embarrassment
by David Atkins

George Clooney, speaking about marriage equality gets what bothers the most about social conservatives: 

It's always been this albatross that stood out to me as the final leg of the civil rights movement,  Well before Prop. 8, I've made the point that every time we’ve stood against equality, we’ve been on the wrong side of history. It’s the same kind of argument they made when they didn’t want blacks to serve in the military, or when they didn’t want blacks to marry whites. One day the marriage equality fight will look as archaic as George Wallace standing on the University of Alabama steps keeping James Hood from attending college because he was black. People will be embarrassed to have been on the wrong side.

Opponents of  progressivism are almost always wrong on scientific and social issues. They were wrong on burning people at the stake to preserve theocratic geocentrism, wrong on opposing the renaissance to preserve the primacy of the Church, wrong on opposing democratic/republican government to preserve the nobility and divine right of kings, wrong on opposing the abolition of slavery to defend their feudal racist system, wrong on opposing women's suffrage and liberation to preserve the patriarchy, wrong on opposing the creation of the welfare state to preserve social darwinism, wrong on opposing the labor movement to preserve the power of robber baron capital, wrong on opposing desegregation to preserve white privilege. The list goes on and on and on and on.

And they're demonstrably wrong on opposing marriage equality, action in the face of climate change, and universal healthcare today.

Demonstrably wrong. Just as wrong as they've ever been, and always are.... [read the rest at Digby]

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About Me

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.