Posts from — August 2011
There’s so much going on in this wicked world that I don’t know about. I read the news. I watch TV. I browse the internet. And yet every now and then something pops up that reveals how much in the dark I am.
Today’s epiphany came via a news item reporting that 400 “students” employed at a Hershey chocolate factory in Pennsylvania had walked off their jobs to protest low wages and lousy working conditions.
Yes, foreign-exchange students.
They’re involved in a State Department cultural exchange visa program, according to the news item.
I know about the student visa racket. It’s been going on for a long time.
Several of the Nine-Eleven terrorists were in the U.S. on student visas. And federal immigration officials have reported human-trafficking abuse cases made possible by the “student” visas. For example, some foreign students complained that they were forced into sexual slavery when their passports were confiscated by a ring of criminals.
But it hadn’t occurred to me that mainstream corporations were in on the racket.
I should’ve known, of course. Today’s corporations don’t miss a chance to make a few extra bucks, and they can save about 8 percent by using foreign “students” because they don’t have to pay Social Security and other taxes.
So, why hire American workers?
In addition to the savings on Social Security and taxes, Hershey got these “students” at $8.35 an hour – and reportedly treated them like sweat-shop wage slaves.
What does that remind you of?
Thailand, perhaps? China? Indonesia?
Why take the trouble to move your factory to some low-wage, poorly regulated country when you can replicate the same kind of exploitative environment by bringing the workers here as “students”?
Especially when you can get the State Department to give the racket an official stamp of approval?
What beats me is why U.S. authorities allow this racket to persist. Don’t tell me they’re unaware of the abuses. I even saw a movie recently that had some young woman trying to teach English to a batch of foreign “students” who had come to America to fill dangerous jobs in a commercial fishing operation.
If Hollywood knows about the student visa racket, why doesn’t Washington?
I have to wonder whether “the government” – regardless of which party is in power – is in cahoots with the corporate power structure in the relentless exportation of American jobs and the importation of foreign workers to sabotage wages and working conditions in the United States.
August 19, 2011 2 Comments
I blame the media for the mess America finds itself in. Oh, sure, there are a lot of others to point fingers at, but the media was the Great Facilitator.
TV and internet pundits are agog today because a university professor has published a study exposing the Tea Party for what it is – the cranky right wing of the Republican Party. But the pundits can’t pretend they didn’t know all along that the “movement” was nothing more than the same old, same old, collection of racist xenophobes and Bible thumping God botherers that have festered on the fringes of American politics since the demise of the Dixiecrats.
Joan Walsh writes in Salon today that:
It’s great to have data, but this is something a lot of us believed all along — the Tea Party was the Republican base dressed up in silly costumes. Why was the media so quick to declare them a vital new force in politics? Of course there were some innovative twists on the old mix, but those details got less attention than the supposedly spontaneous democratic uprising (against the Democrats, of course). What enlivened the GOP base and made it look brand-new was the cash and savvy of the Koch brothers, Dick Armey and Americans for Prosperity, who quickly noticed small early anti-stimulus rallies and got some of the organizers money and logistical support, so they could spread their Astroturf.
Walsh lays most of the blame at the feet of Fox News:
Most important was the role of Fox News, which did energetic publicity for the early Tea Party rallies. Richard Nixon’s media aide, Roger Ailes, finally figured out how to turn his supposed Silent Majority into a Noisy Minority.
And she’s right, of course.
But, Joan, tell the truth, didn’t you have a hand in it, too? Didn’t you go on MSNBC and talk about this bunch of loonies as if they were a legitimate political factor?
(I can’t recall specific instances of you doing that, Joan, but I’m willing to bet you did.)
I don’t think there’s anyone in the punditry game that can claim to have clean hands in the creation of this monster. Nobody could resist the allure of crowds dressed up in period costumes waving outrageous signs and spouting provocative nonsense.
That’s the kind of thing that builds audiences, and without audiences, you can’t attract advertisers.
That’s why the “Tea Party” was featured so widely on the networks, on all of the cable channels, in the newspapers, and on the internet.
In contrast, the recent anti-war protests all over the country have attracted zero media attention. They’re just not “colorful” enough.
Michele Bachmann is “colorful.” That’s why MSNBC;s Chris Matthews dug her out from under her rock and paraded her before his viewers. He thought they would laugh her out of existence. Instead, he set her on the path to becoming a presidential contender.
And it’s the media that built up the menace of the Tea Party, spotlighting their triumphs in Republican primaries and exaggerating their appeal to the American public.
Now, a recent New York Times/CBS survey shows the Tea Party is much less “grassroots” than the media would have you believe.
As another Salon writer, Alex Pareene, points out:
This tiny band of fanatics is largely distrusted and despised by regular Americans, but a terrified media coddles them and pretends they’re harmless. I am speaking, of course, of the Tea Parties, a group now officially less popular among Americans than Muslims.
Life imitates art. So, as the pundits pretended, the Tea Party has become a real power in Washington. And look at the horrors they’ve wrought!
It just goes to show that the loss of a responsible “press” has caused irreparable damage to American democracy. It’s something the Founding Fathers never could have anticipated.
Thomas Jefferson must be turning over in his grave.
August 18, 2011 1 Comment
Listening to TV pundits sigh and moan about America’s dire lack of funds, and pondering the politicians’ gloom-and-doom predictions for Social Security and Medicare, you might think that there’s a shortage of ready cash in this country. And to hear Republican candidate Rick Perry denounce Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for “treasonously” printing more, you might suppose conservatives like him favor some kind of national belt tightening.
You would be wrong on both counts.
Republicans don’t mind spending America’s money. But they do mind spending it to make poor Americans’ lives less wretched.
When it comes to blowing up buildings in far-off places and raining bombs on people with dark complexions, they can find unlimited amounts of cash.
An article today by Nancy A. Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers quotes a recent Brown University study that finds the current U.S.wars and their ripple effects are costing Americans $3.7 trillion through fiscal year 2011.
And it doesn’t seem to bother conservatives that a lot of military dollars end up in the pockets of crooks and drug dealers – and even the insurgents that America is supposedly fighting against. A Huffington Post report today reveals that:
After examining hundreds of combat support and reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, the U.S military estimates $360 million in U.S. tax dollars has ended up in the hands of people the American-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling: the Taliban, criminals, and power brokers with ties to both.
But I doubt that’s news to you.
What you might not have thought about is the lavish spending on political causes.
The billionaire Koch brothers, for example, are pouring truckloads of cash into elections around the country in an effort to drive the dreaded liberals out of office. They’re not only funding federal and state campaigns but also contributing millions to try and oust school board members who support public education.
I realize it’s their money and they can spend it any way they want – especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has removed restraints on corporate contributions to political campaigns. But it goes to show they – and people like them – wouldn’t feel any pain if Uncle Sam raised their taxes by a buck or two.
The Kochs are not the only people throwing billions at political campaigns in America.
Everyone’s crying poor these days but they always seem to find money for their favorite candidates and causes.
Those recalls in Wisconsin, for example, cost more than $40 million, with national unions and out-of-state conservative groups providing the bulk of it.
And you may have heard that U.S.-based corporations are sitting on about two trillion dollars in uninvested cash while they lay off workers and fight any attempt to close tax loopholes or reduce tax subsidies.
The rich don’t mind spending billions lobbying Congress to retain their privileged status, but they fight tooth and nail when they’re asked to contribute a few more tax dollars to alleviate the government’s deficit problem.
What ails America is not a shortage of money but a lack of true patriotism.
To hear them talk you might think Republicans share a deep love of their country, but what they really love is their privileged lifestyle and their ability to send other people’s children to die for them and their money.
August 17, 2011 4 Comments
It’s tempting to compare the new darling of the Republican Party with former U.S. president George W. Bush. After all, aren’t they both from Texas? Both governors of the Lone Star State? And wasn’t Rick Perry Bush’s lieutenant governor? And doesn’t the cattle ranching fifth-generation Texan match the “cowboy” image that W projected?
But Perry is not Bush.
He is much worse. Frighteningly worse.
This is a career politician who is totally loyal to Big Business, who does not even pretend to have compassion for the poor, who seethes at the tax code not because it favors the rich so blatantly but because it does not penalize the working poor as much as he would like. He has written that Social Security is unconstitutional and he would eliminate Medicare in a heartbeat.
As governor of Texas, Perry claims to have wrought a miracle by bringing jobs to the state. The jobs? Mostly minimum-wage positions created by the oil companies’ prosperity and by spending on America’s pernicious wars. Texas is home to a nest of “merchants of death” who grow fat by building bombs and bullets and sending young Americans to die or be maimed in futile wars.
Naturally, the former U.S. Air Force captain is aggressively in favor of more – not less – military spending.
Despite the oil companies and the military-industrial complex, Texas has an unemployment rate above 8 percent. And, not surprisingly, it boasts one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the nation.
In short, Perry would be the type of president that gives people like me nightmares.
And you haven’t heard the most frightening stuff yet.
This pistol-packing yokel proclaims himself a prophet chosen by God to save America!
His candidacy was prompted by the right-wing-crazy New Apostolic Reformation movement, which claims to be a forerunner to the Rapture prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
I know it’s hard to believe, but in the United States of America, in the year 2011, in the great state of Texas, there is a significant political force based on absurdly misunderstood prophesies of the End Times. And these “new apostles” have picked Perry as their man.
Now, I would think him more fitting in the role of Revelation’s Beast (illustration above,left) but – like Michele Bachmann – he appears convinced that he’s been chosen to do God’s work.
Could these two be running mates in 2012 (photos above, right)? Could they win the White House back for Republicans?
God protect us from such a terrifying fate.
August 16, 2011 9 Comments
I am old enough to remember the Democratic convention in Chicago 43 years ago, when protesters fought a pitched battle with police. As I recall, Democrats were divided between anti-war activists and don’t-rock-the-boat types, and when the shouting and the tumult died, Hubert Humphrey emerged as their presidential candidate.
Humphrey was defeated by Richard Nixon in the ensuing presidential election.
I don’t see the 2012 Democratic convention erupting in violent conflict, but I do see a possible split in the party’s “base.”
A report by Tim Funk and Kirsten Valle Pittman in the Charlotte Observer provides a glimpse of the divisiveness threatening Democrats as the 2012 election approaches. According to the Observer report:
Casting North Carolina as an anti-union bastion with “regressive policies aimed at diluting the power of workers,” more than a dozen trade unions affiliated with the national AFL-CIO have told the Democratic National Committee that they will sit out the 2012 convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Coming on the heels of some liberals’ complaints that President Barack Obama is giving in to Republicans, the unions’ decision is another sign that key Democratic allies are unhappy with Obama and other party leaders as they gear up for a difficult election season.
You may recall that labor leaders earlier threatened to withhold support from the Democrats because of the Obama administration’s tepid support for unions.
If the unions sit on their wallets in the coming election campaign, Democrats will have to rely on corporations for funds. That would mean both major parties in America would be beholden to Big Business.
Of course, there’s the Tea Party. On the face of it, they represent some kind of grassroots revolt, driven by the religious right and various fringe groups. But they talk and act like a bunch of gibbering idiots, and their funding comes from corporate manipulators.
If they get their way, America would have some false prophet like Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry as president. And the corporations would be let loose to ravage the country.
Increasingly, this is shaping up as an election that “we the people” cannot win.
August 15, 2011 1 Comment
In Jamaica even the donkeys know the truth. As the old saying in the headline above reminds us, there’s no justice. There was no justice under the British colonial system, and I bet there’s no justice there today.
In America, where I live now, the idea that justice could prevail is ludicrous.
This is a society where cheating on taxes is routine, where the national sport – baseball – includes “stealing” bases, where D.B. Cooper, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde and a slew of other crooks are folk heroes.
Beating the system is the name of the game.
So why would we expect Congress to be any different?
The Founding Fathers recognized this and set up America’s political system as a self-correcting mechanism based on a delicate balancing act between conflicting interests.
But I don’t think the Founding Fathers realized how cunning special interests would be in rigging the system.
And I don’t think they foresaw a population of more than 300 million people competing for “an edge.”
They certainly did not see that the Supreme Court could be perverted by political appointments, effectually sabotaging one of the Constitution’s key “checks and balances.”
And they never imagined that the justices would claim corporations are “people” entitled to spend unlimited amounts of money to get their stooges elected.
Which brings me to the composition of the “super committee” charged with solving America’s debt crisis.
An Associated Press analysis shows that the 12 members of the committee – six Republicans and six Democrats – are all heavily obligated to special interests.
According to AP:
The committee’s co-chairs — Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas — each received support from lobbyists and political committees, including those with ties to defense contractors and health care lobbyists. Hensarling’s re-election committee, for instance, received about $11,000 from Lockheed Martin and $8,500 from Northrop Grumman.
Companies like Lockheed rely heavily on government contracts: More than 80 percent of Lockheed’s net sales during the first six months of 2011 came from the U.S. government, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records. And in SEC filings two weeks ago, Northrop expressed concern of a “material adverse effect” on its finances had the debt ceiling not been raised.
To get details on special-interest contributions to committee members, click here.
So don’t look for any useful recommendations for solving the country’s budget woes.
Come to think of it, I wasn’t expecting much from that committee, anyhow. All of the Republican members have signed a pledge never to raise taxes under any conditions. And I can’t see the Democrats meekly allowing Medicare and Social Security to be dismantled.
And now that we know defense spending is being protected because of the industry’s political contributions, I ask you, where will the ax fall?
Probably on the the poor and the sick – especially on poor children. They have no one to defend their not-so-special interests.
August 12, 2011 No Comments
A recent letter to the Jamaica Daily Gleaner got me thinking about the wider implications of the UK riots. Written by Rosemarie Greene of Spanish Town Citizens Against Gun Violence, the letter was short but powerful. Here it is in its entirety:
The violence in England is a clear indication of the simmering resentment of people in the underclass, along with other factors.
I, therefore, caution Jamaica not to ask for whom the bells toll, but to move swiftly to look into our urban areas where major pockets of decay and social toxins abound. These inequities did not happen overnight; they took a very long time to develop, and are triggered by lack of infrastructure, lack of education and a lack of family life. There are a host of situations that contribute to this.
We must move away from the political divisions and join hands right now and see how we can stem the tide.
I invite Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, individuals whom I know love this country, to discuss how they can come together and immediately act. Together they must speak from Jamaica House and encourage the people of Jamaica and be on one page, one nation under God.
Ms. Greene could just as reasonably be talking about the United States.
The UK riots were ostensibly triggered by the fatal police shooting in London of an alleged cocaine dealer, who was apparently unarmed. But the roots of the conflict go far deeper and the repercussions have spread far wider.
I found various explanations I browsed the web – including some gun nut’s claim that the riots resulted from disarming British property owners – but I like Ms. Greene’s analysis best.
Take away hope and you take away everything.
So what else is there to lose? Might as well burn, baby, burn.
And whether by accident or design, the leaders of the United States are taking away the hope Americans have traditionally enjoyed of rising from the underclass through hard work, resourcefulness – and a little bit of luck.
Slashing education funds, for example, reduces one means of self-improvement. Shredding the social safety net adds to the hopelessness of the unfortunate. Laying off public workers and depriving them of their union rights swells the ranks of the unemployed, diminishes tax revenue and stirs hostility against “the government.”
And by accelerating the growth of a super-rich upper class, Washington is providing an image of conspicuous consumption that cannot fail to ignite envy and resentment.
By pursuing the path of budget cuts and “austerity,” and by adopting tax policies that line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor, American politicians are setting the stage for massive protests.
Especially since the burden is so unfairly distributed.
Unemployment in America is more than twice as severe among minorities, for example. And far too many police officers persist in racial profiling, filling the prisons with a suspiciously disproportionate number of minority inmates.
Look around you, Americans. See the cities aflame in other parts of the world.
Ask yourselves why the downtrodden in so many other countries are mad as hell and refuse to take it any more.
And realize – before it is too late – that it could happen here.
August 11, 2011 3 Comments
Sitting at my computer, in semi-darkness, watching roly poly raindrops meander down the window pane, my mind as murky as the sky, I am trying with all my might to grasp what went on in Wisconsin yesterday…
And I just don’t get it.
Both the Democrats who launched recall elections against six Republican senators and the Republicans who fought off four of the six recalls have declared victory.
But I don’t see any winners. I see only losers – the people of America.
If you don’t know by now that Republicans won control of the Wisconsin state legislature in the 2010 elections and that they immediately set out to emasculate the unions representing teachers, firemen, law enforcement officers and other public workers,and if you haven’t been following the protests that ensued, you probably won’t find this blog interesting.
But just in case you want to catch up on the background, click here.
I’m assuming that if you’re still with me, you are familiar with the situation. So tell me, what the hell went on?
On the face of it, a lot of people who live in Wisconsin, mostly rural residents apparently, decided that they like the union busting, education slashing assault on the state’s middle class that provoked the recall movement.
I don’t care how you “spin” last night’s results, the bottom line is that Republicans retained four of the six senate seats that the Democrats challenged. To me, that means the Democrats were beaten 4-2.
What I can’t figure out is why?
Yes, I know that out-of-state money poured in to Wisconsin to support the Republicans, and that the airwaves were deluged with the usual conservative claptrap. And I realize organized labor couldn’t match the deep pockets of people like the Koch brothers. But, surely, the voters of Wisconsin are smart enough to see through the propaganda and make up their own minds?
Surely, there must be more logical reasons for the heavy Republican turn-out.
Voters must believe in their hearts that after all is said and done, there is merit to busting unions, laying off teachers, law officers and firefighters, and slashing education budgets. They must believe – against all the available evidence – that tax breaks for the rich are good for the economy, that further enriching the already rich will somehow create employment for the underclasses.
And those family farmers fighting for survival in a world dominated by giant agricultural complexes must have been persuaded that their interests are best served by electing politicians who are bought and paid for by their corporate competitors.
I don’t believe I can dismiss the Republican voters as brainwashed imbeciles. There’s more to it than that, I’m sure.
August 10, 2011 3 Comments
I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. And I’ll vote for him again in 2012. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he does. Far from it.
I am an Independent who usually votes Democrat because I find Republican policies often incomprehensible and nearly always reprehensible.
You could call me a Bernie Sanders Independent. Or a Dennis Kucinich Democrat.
Which apparently makes me part of a minuscule minority in America.
And yet I have lots of company when I complain about American trade policies.
I bet you will agree that these policies have destroyed the country’s industrial base, causing the wholesale flight of manufacturing to other countries. And you will probably agree that this single factor has done more to rob America of jobs than anything else you can think of.
I saw a feature on TV recently about the last major athletic shoe factory being threatened by trade treaties now before Congress. And I thought oh well it’s just a matter of time before it goes. The Obama administration is urging passage of the agreements, continuing the free-trade policies of past administrations.
What does that make President Obama? He could just as easily be a Republican as a Democrat. America’s two major parties disagree on just about everything, but they seem to agree on the merits of “globalization.”
I don’t want to sound cynical but I can’t help feeling the main reason for this surprising unanimity is the fact that politicians of every stripe depend on campaign contributions from Big Business to fund their re-election campaigns.
Obviously, their primary concern is not the welfare of America’s workers.
For decades, American politicians have sold out their country’s industrial birthright to enrich the corporations, while promising that the American economy will benefit – some day, somehow – from the exchange. Here’s what a web site called “Business Insider” has to say about that:
It was America that showed the world how to mass produce everything from automobiles to televisions to airplanes. It was the great American manufacturing base that crushed Germany and Japan in World War II. But now we are witnessing the deindustrialization of America. Tens of thousands of factories have left the United States in the past decade alone. Millions upon millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the same time period. The United States has become a nation that consumes everything in sight and yet produces increasingly little. Do you know what our biggest export is today?
Waste paper. Yes, trash is the number one thing that we ship out to the rest of the world as we voraciously blow our money on whatever the rest of the world wants to sell to us. The United States has become bloated and spoiled and our economy is now just a shadow of what it once was. Once upon a time America could literally outproduce the rest of the world combined. Today that is no longer true, but Americans sure do consume more than anyone else in the world. If the deindustrialization of America continues at this current pace, what possible kind of a future are we going to be leaving to our children?
As far as I could determine the sages at “Business Insider” subscribe to the view that the answer to America’s economic crisis is slashing government spending. It’s an idea that’s extremely popular today.
Driven by the Tea Party fanatics, the Republican Party is aggressively pursuing that goal. And the President seems to think he has no choice but to follow meekly.
But to me, it’s just plain wrong.
Cutting back – which seems to be code for shredding Social Security, Medicare and the rest of the social safety net – can produce only one thing: an endless downward spiral into poverty and misery. The bottom of the spiral would come when American wages sink to the level of those in “emerging” countries. Wages would gradually even out around the globe as capital continuously flees to a more profitable location whenever labor costs rise in the country they’re currently exploiting.
That’s an inevitable consequence of “free-market” economics.
The path to restoring U.S. prosperity lies in an entirely different direction. The only way to turn the economy around is for America to undertake a massive rewrite of its trade treaties.
China, for example, cannot continue to export goods to America virtually duty-free, while charging a 25 percent tariff on U.S. imports.
And in the short term, the government has to spend more, not less, to stimulate the economy and put Americans back to work.
Until someone turns up with the guts to bell that cat, I will continue to vote for Obama and the Democrats. But I will know in my heart that I am probably taking part in an empty ritual.
August 9, 2011 2 Comments
It was a sad day yesterday as I watched those stricken families mourn the loss of the American servicemen who were killed when an Afghan fighter with a simple grenade launcher shot down that military helicopter.
I wept as the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters – and above all widows and children – talked about their tragedy. As I watched and listened to the grief stricken adults and weeping children being interviewed on my TV screen, it was almost as if the loss was mine as well as theirs.
Was President Obama watching, I wondered. And if he was, how did he feel?
As Sandra observed, he seems so fond of his own daughters.
How does he have the heart to keep sending the sons and daughters of other Americans to risk death in Afghanistan?
Is it that important to keep the war industry going? Is the military-industrial lobby that powerful?
Are the Democratic members of Congress who have defense plants in their districts that persuasive?
I find it hard to believe. But what else can it be?
Obviously, the president sees no sense in the endless occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. He keeps promising to “draw down” the troops.
So why can’t they just come home without further ado?
America has more important battles to fight back home. And better ways to spend the money that’s wasted on war.
There’s the deadlocked government and the dwindling economy, for instance.
As I write this, stocks continue to tumble around the world as a result of the S&P downgrade of U.S. bonds.
Meanwhile, both parties continue to point fingers at each other, trying to make political capital out of a potentially catastrophic situation.
Yes, I agree with those who blame the obnoxious Tea Party. But what good does it do to keep yapping about it?
The question is now: What can America do to stop the rot?
Perhaps it’s time to get Congress out of the picture and call on the country’s brightest and best to chart a path forward. Perhaps it’s time to abandon ideology and embark on a clear-headed approach to problems so deep that neither political party has the answer.
For starters, how about excluding members of Congress from the super-committee that’s called for in that debt ceiling “deal”?
In Canada they would call it a Royal Commission.
I would appoint academics, business executives and trade union leaders instead.
But that’s just me. You might be able to come up with a better mix.
August 8, 2011 2 Comments