Thursday, October 30, 2008

Real Women Respond to Palin: Watch the Webathon, LIVE Now

I came across this live program on Twitter. Women are expressing their views, right now on Sarah Palin as Vice President. What do you think?

Women should weigh in on this issue at the source,

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When an Election Jumps the Shark into the Politics of Hate: An Open Letter to the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated

If I started off a joke about someone eating ribs, fried chicken and watermelon, who was on food stamps, you would know that I was about to tell an inappropriate ethnic joke about an African American. If you were a decent person, you might tell me to watch my mouth before I said anything. If you were morally upright and I told the joke anyway, you might knock me on my ass. And if I had a conscience, instead of calling the cops, I'd do what was decent and feel ashamed. While I wouldn't want to admit to full-on bigotry, I would feel compelled to say I was sorry--again, if I had a conscience.

On the other hand if I were a jerk who wanted to insult your intelligence, I would try to tell you that I didn't know that eating fried chicken, watermelon and barbecued ribs were a stereotype for black people, or that being on welfare was an unfair and negative sterotype of black people.

Diane Fedele, president of the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated of Upland, California, is the lowest form of life that has ever existed in our great country: Diane Fedele is a bigot. That's not playing the race card, that is a statement Diane Fedele invited when she composed such an image. This was not "poor judgement," it wasn't innocent, and her garbage apology "to anyone who was offended" is not accepted, because it isn't sincere. She has allowed her enthusiasm in this historic presidential campaign to sour into something so ugly that we have to go back nearly four decades for a reference on such an overt and mainstream display of hate. In an election plagued by members of people yelling "Kill him," in reference to Senator Obama, after being whipped into a violent frenzy by the Republican candidate's running mate, not to mention the Sacramento County Republican's call to "waterboard Obama," there been a clear lack of leadership within the your party, but that does not excuse Diane Fedele's actions. Her portrayal of Barack Obama's face on a food stamp, complete with watermelon, barbecued ribs and KFC fried chicken was a clear and deliberate usage of negative, racist stereotypes directed at African American people. Were there any question that this was anything but a deliberate and vulgar display of ethnic stereotyping, Diane Fedele tipped her hand at symbolism with the Kool-Aid character; your bloggers have stuck to their talking points a little too well.

Drinking the Kool-Aid.

It is a reference to people who followed a white cult leader, Jim Jones, ingesting poisoned punch in Guyana, committing mass suicide. This has been a talking point that Republicans have stuck to religiously, referring to Obama supporters as "drinking the Kool-Aid." Diane Fedele, President of the Chaffey Community Republican Women tipped her hand at symbolism. This was no innocent error. She knowingly and with malice of forethought, in a County that is home over 187,000 African Americans, created such a divisive and hateful image, and in targeting a political campaign, unleashed an unexcuseable attack on, not on 187,000 people, but an entire nation of them.

An entire nation of us--black, brown, red, yellow and white.

Is this who you want leading you, Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated? Are you honestly okay with this? Because it's not Diane Fedele's name on it, it's your name. Do you hate your African American neighbors, as she clearly does? Or your Hispanic neighbors? Or your Asian neighbors? Or your Native American Neighbors? Or your poor, white neighbors? Because this kind of hate rarely stops at one group of people--at least it never has before; not with the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan or the Neo-Nazis or the Aryan Nations. Those groups never stopped at just one group of people, either. And you can say that you're not racists, but you clearly appear willing to tolerate racism when it suits you. Diane Fedele, as your club president, speaks for you, unless you dencounce this disgusting and racist image--unless you denounce her.

Does Diane Fedele speak for you, Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated?

Are you "drinking the Kool-Aid" of hate for her?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday: After the Fall

Someone prayed for Barack Obama to lose. I think the minister, Arnold Conrad said it best:

There are millions of people around this world praying to their god -- whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah -- that his [McCain's] opponent wins, for a variety of reasons . . . And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation because they're going to think that their god is bigger than you if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name in all that happens between now and Election Day.

Perhaps prayed isn't the right word for it. Pastor Conrad challenged God to prove Himself. Let me give the right-wingnuts here a little refresher course on their favorite book, The Holy Bible, when their so-called "Lord and Saviour" was told the same thing by the Devil himself. His response--since so many of the right-wing "Christians" are loathe to look such things up for themselves--can be found in both Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12. His response was to remind Lucifer of the passage in Deuteronomy 6--"Thou shalt not tempt the lord thy God."

Hence, Pastor Conrad commits blasphemy in the name of politics. Does he think he's the Prophet Elijah? And what will he say if, in a moment, reminiscent of the Priests of Baal, he's had Christians running around the alter, mutilating themselves in the vain hope of provoking their god to action, and fire descends from on high and strikes the other guy's alter (i.e. Obama wins)? Does this mean that Allah is superior to God? Hardly.

I despise ignorance, but I am disgusted by the kind of cynicism shown by the Religious Right. Like me, they know that the God of Abraham from the Torah is also "the Father" of Jesus Christ. They also know enough about Islam to know that Allah and God are one and the same. It breaks down something like this: God has his chosen people--the Hebrews. Later, he sent Jesus for all mankind. In Islamic theology, Jesus isn't the son of God, he's God's prophet--the last prophet before the Prophet Mohammed. And the Jews believe that Jesus was a real person, too, they just don't believe he was the Messiah; I dunno, maybe they think he was a nutty, rogue rabbi--which he might have been. It doesn't weaken his whole "good neighbor" schtick as far as I'm concerned. The point is that every monotheist, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian, prays to the same god.

So whose prayers does God answer?

It's that kind of question that leads me to tell Christians I'm an atheist, which is mostly true: I don't believe in God and I've become increasingly ambivalent toward religion in the recent past; as a person of reason and science, however, God and religion are not associated with empirical evidence, whereby can neither be proven true or false, so I am an agnostic. But from my perspective, the Religious Right is filled with the same kind of nutcases as extreme Islam. They have a thirst for blood, as evidenced by the fact that most so-called "Christians" favor the death penalty--even though Christ's own execution was a stark indictment of such a barbaric practice. Islamic theocracies, such as Iran, also favor the death penalty. And the Religious Right's defiance of laws against using tax-exempt funds for furthing a political agenda shows a clear intent on the part of the Christian Right to convert America into a theocracy. Further, the type of outbursts we've seen from audiences at McCain-Palin rallies, many indicative of a tendency violent behavior, show minds which are both angry and malleable--a lethal combination when it is directed by a toxic message. What little difference that existed between the consequences of Christianity and those of Islam is rapidly eroding.

The Religious Right has a vision of America that is dark, dangerous and none too Christian.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Germany, 1933: How to Survive Madness and Remain Human

It's Sunday afternoon. I've dusted off my recession skills today and baked my own bread. Not that bread machine crap that's roughly the consistency of half-dried cement and tastes like hungarian hogwash; the kind your mother or grandmother used to bake. It had a smell that could drag you in from outside, even when you were having fun, for a slice of that fresh, home-baked lovin' from the oven. It was so tender that you had to cut it with an electric knife. Peanut butter and Jelly? Not on your life. That's for day-old balloon bread made in a factory. To paraphrase Steinbeck, uniform loaves--and uniformly tasteless. Spread it with butter that's been sitting out ever since this morning to make it soft, so it wouldn't tear the bread. Then watch it melt and fill the sponge-like interior.

Yes. Home-baked perfection.

Here's the recipe. In fact, here's two of them--depending on how big your mixer or your oven is.

* * *

Once there was a man who ran for President. Things were going well. He was ahead in the polls and by all appearances, he was going to win. He had served his country in the armed forces and won distinction for his services. His choice of running mate was a little hasty, but he was a gambler.

At some point he started falling behind. The economy soured and he, being a member of the incumbent party, had some of the blame land on him. Realizing that he couldn't win by discussing how he planned to fix the economy, the Presidential candidate began raising questions about his opponent's character. This was not abnormal: it had been done many times successfully. It had been done once to the Presidential candidate during his party's primaries by the current President; the President had sandbagged the candidate by convincing people that he'd fathered an illigitimate black daughter. The truth was that he had adopted a daughter who was black, but the lie worked.

The economy continued to get worse, and the candidate slipped farther in the polls. He became desperate--so desperate that he began accusing his opponent of things that he knew were false. Again, this was nothing new. But his rallies took on a mob environment. People yelled epithets at members of the press who shared the opponent's ethnicity. As his running mate spoke about the opponent's questionable associations, they yelled, "Terrorist," and "Treason," and someone even yelled "Kill him!"

Things had gone too far, and a responsible candidate would have reigned the crowd in. And the Presidential candidate appeared to be trying. At a rally, a man told him that he was afraid of what his opponenet might do to the country. The candidate assurred them that they had nothing to fear from his oppenent. A woman referred to his opponent as an "Arab terrorist." He corrected her and said his opponent was a decent family man. The woman seemed confused. Everyone was.

They were confused because they were repeating what the candidate's campaign had been telling them. These were not random strangers, but people who had volunteered for his campaign. Furthermore, the candidate was continuing the tactics that had whipped his crowds into a violent frenzy. A tracking poll showed that his mob was growing; he gained three percent, even after his running mate was found guilty of ethics violations. . . .

* * *

Bad things happen to great nations. Germany was in the beginning stages of democracy when National Socialism used an underlying German ambivalence toward Jews and Bolshevism to gain undisputed power in the Reichstag. The Reichstag fire of 1933, blamed on the communists, and which resulted in the outlawing of all parties, except National Socialism gave way to the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, in which the Nazi Party purged the S.A. of its homosexuals, which gave way to the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, in which an entire nation of Germans on the Jewish population. It took a five years for Germany to fully embrace the National Socialist's agenda of hate, but the people were completely against the Jews before the war started, before the death camps, before genocide.

I keep repeating Germany's story because they have proven to be an innovative, intelligent, thoughtful, and conscientious people, who had their worst instincts brought out by people willing to take advantage of their weaknesses, their ignorance and their underlying ambivalence toward a group of people they had marginalized. The right has been openly scapegoating, "Minorities and risky folks," as the cause of the mortgage meltdown. McCain's campaign has distributed fliers which refer to Senator Obama as a Muslim terrorist. This is a deliberate play on their ignorance and underlying racism, since many of McCain's supporters do not distinguish between "Arab" or "Muslim." His campaign is aware, as I am, that many evangelicals are (falsely) told by their ministers that the Q'uran has commanded the Muslims to kill for Allah. And his campaign uses this with the knowledge that Senator Obama is neither "Arab" nor "Muslim," and certainly not a terrorist. Somewhere between their attempts at forcing an association with Barack Obama and William Ayers, added to constant references to "Hussein" Obama by uniformed peace officers (which is illegal), and finally, asking the question, "Who is this guy?" implying that he is a dubious character, what conclusions are faithful conservatives supposed to come to?

McCain has placed a powder keg of fear, hate and ignorance at the feet of his opponent, and has done little to discourage the disturbing outbursts by his followers. Ideas have consequences, said Richard M. Weaver. And so, McCain's ideas or Steve Schmidts ideas, or whoever decided that they would take this next step in lowering the polticial bar, has set something in motion that they cannot hope to control.

The last eight years have already taken us places that we never dreamed we would go; who would have dreamed that our President would ever think of trying to justify torture? The dangers inherent in the precedent set by giving one's political campaign over to mob rage, ethnic and religious prejudice have well documented historic consequences: innocent people get killed.

The Presidential candidate who said he would rather lose an election than lose a war, has decided he would rather win an election than lose with honor. I hope--for Senator McCain's sake--that the American people reject these ideas, reject this campaign and reject him. The Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis and Aryan Nations had been relegated to the farthest fringes and we are a better society for it. A victory for McCain, won on his present platform, would only serve to embolden such people.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Is this What a Stock Market Crash Looks Like?

If you just started following this blog, go back a couple of entries to October 8, 2008, and read them in chronological order.

It's 8:09 AM and the stockmarket continues its downward trend. The Dow Jones Industrial Averages have lost 3.4% of their value since opening this morning.

Once, there was an honest man. I know what you're thinking--yeah, right; once, there was SANTA CLAUSE!--but it's a true story. This man grew up amid the dark, despair of the Great Depression, started a family in the dawning hours of the Big War, served his country in the United States Navy and operated a farming/ranching business in the sunshine years that followed his honorable discharge. He was the poster-boy of American conservatism, with strong ties to his church and community, never taking a dime of government subsidies, avoiding debt whenever possible, working hard, paying his bills on time, providing for his family, helping his friends and being an all-around decent human being. He was well-respected in his community--so well-respected that he was asked to be on an FHA board. But being an intelligent, as well as an honorable man, he knew they were using him to gain the confidence of his friends and neighbors, on whom they intended to foreclose, so he turned this prestigious offer down.

There were hard times. There were the years of drought and the continuous struggle over water rights. He went head-to-head with Father Time: elevation and Northern latitude made for a short growing season. His son, who was preparing to take over the ranch, lost a daughter in a tragic accident. The hope had been that the Big War vet and his wife might be able to retire once Junior was able to take control of the operation. But Junior and his wife were, understandably, stricken with grief, and staying on the land that had claimed their daughter's life was simply not an option for them. The Big War vet suffered multiple injuries to his knees and back, his eye was damaged by a small piece of metal and he was continuously dogged by a hearing loss, caused by the Naval guns. His wife nearly died while giving birth to a daughter, who also nearly died; the doctors had, in fact, declared her "stillborn"--until she started breathing. A cloudburst in 1977 washed out an irrigation system that had been in use since the 1910s. And the market was none too kind, either: after buying seed for $8 per bushel, diesel fuel, tractor and equipment parts, paying for labor, not to mention all of his own hard work, he hoped for $6 per bushel, and needed $5 just to break even; he managed to get $4. But through it all, he never gave up, never lost faith, never felt sorry for himself. . . .

It's 9:00 AM PST, and the Dow has lost 4.5% of its value today. . . .

* * *

It's 1:00 PM, PST, and the market will close in half an hour. The market has gained half a percent since opening.

The Big War vet had many sons, but none that took over the operation. So, he and his wife struggled through the years, surviving the cyclical drought, raising their children, paying their bills and helping their kids through college. They both turned 65, and since they had never paid much into Social Security, they didn't get much out. They were both too old to work the land, and finally, they managed to sell the farm and the cattle. Half a century of honest, hard work had yielded them $440,000 ($672,702, adjusted for inflation), and though they had already paid income and property taxes their entire lives, the sale of the farm was also taxed. But he and his wife were able to retire in relative comfort. They invested wisely and lived frugally to ensure that their money would last.

His wife suffered a stroke and died. He was lonely, so he remarried. His second wife was not so frugal or wise as he had been. She liked to travel and had expensive tastes. Before long, he found himself needing to make riskier investments in the hope of higher returns. . . .

The market is closed at 8,451.19 with the Dow losing another 128 points today, about 1 1/2 percent of its remaining value. It was a 1,803 point loss for this week, shaving away 17.58% of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages. It is the lowest the market has been since November, 2002.

* * *

The Big War vet didn't call his stock broker screaming at him/her to sell on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, yesterday, or today. He stays in his investments, hoping they will rebound someday. His children love him very much, and won't let their father--their hero--do without. But this hurts him more than losing the fruits of his years of hard work in the stock market: he's never taken a handout in his life. He's one of the good guys, like the ones our grandparents used to tell us about--the ones we thought only existed in stories. You know the stories I'm talking about: work hard, play by the rules and you, too, will prosper.

You know, the American dream.

At the age of 86, the Big War vet just woke up from that dream. He's not bitter or angry, even though he knows how the crooks at AIG panhandled Uncle Sam for $82 billion, then blew as much money as he had to work for half a century to see on a weekend retreat. He's not even outraged that, only days after AIG was exposed misusing half a million of taxpayer dollars, the Fed was fool enough to lend them another $38 billion. Why? because he's one of the good guys.

What happens in the corporate world where CEOs draw nine-figure salaries isn't capitalism, it's kleptocracy. No one who who cares about their company--much less their investors--puts that kind of financial strain on them in the good times, and certainly not in bad times. And it's somehow become unpatriotic to attack these robber barons for their greed and selfishness; somehow, being angered when you see this kind of injustice perpetrated against someone like our Big War vet attracts the label of "commy."

Well, the real patriots aren't the ones with their hands out in the hard times, but those with their fists up. If we weren't sure that class warfare was upon us, the first shots rang out this week when the Fed loaned AIG another $38 billion, knowing they would likely spend more taxpayer money on another "retreat." It is time to break the mental shackles that bind us to a definition of what it means to be "American," which serves only the opulent minority. It was they who avoided service and conscription when their country needed soldiers. It was they who sent American jobs overseas to fund their overly generous salaries and golden parachutes. And it was they who eased credit terms to cook the books so that quarterly reports would yield the bonuses they hadn't earned.

There is capitalism and then there is thievery. When people don't go to jail for the latter, it is because the law no longer distinguishes between the two. And when that happens, this is no longer America.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In Case you Missed it, the Rules have Changed

I begin at 7:27 AM Pacific Standard Time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up nearly 6/10% from yesterday's close. Ye-haw. Can't wait for that quarterly report on my 401K to see how much retirement I don't have anymore. "Comrade" Paulson defended this week's continuous losses, with nearly 1,000 additional points shaved from the Dow's average, arguing that it's, "too early to look for encouraging signs." He might consider having the new temporary head of his bailout, a 35-year old from--you guessed it--Goldman Sachs, to look into getting some of that $85 billion back from AIG. Oh wait, the Fed's lending them another $38 billion.

It's 8:15 PST and the Dow is down over half a percent. . . .

I'm halfway through my lunch and the Dow has slid almost 3% since opening today. The Senate sweetened up the bailout (AKA "rescue") bill with tax cuts to get the House Republicans on board. How do they think we're going to pay for all of this? The "debt clock" near Times Square in New York had the dollar sign removed from it as another digit was added to our National debt--now over $10 trillion. The debt clock was first installed in 1987 when the debt was still just $2.7 trillion and when Reagan was still in office. Ah, the good old days of "don't tax and spend anyway" Republicanism.

In an oft quoted statement by Michael Hudson, Adam Smith said that no government had ever repaid its debts, and the same can be said of the private sector." For many, the free market system is more than just an economic strategy: it is the American ideal. The idea of the public seizing ownership of these banks which managed to fail--in spite of the hallowed doctrine of Milton Friedman, as espoused by Reagan, Bush and Bush--has the free market purists going insane right now. Most of them would like to let the market select which companies survive and which ones die out. The only problem is that, through a protracted war of attrition by the deregulationists, they managed to get what they wanted. And so, anti-trust violations went uninvestigated. Banks grew in size and dwindled in number. Suddenly we were faced with an ultimatum: rescue the banks--the ones that were allegedly too big to fail--or face a catastrophic economic collapse, the likes of which have not been seen for almost 80 years.

My lunchbreak is over. The market has fallen by nearly seven percent since this morning. My folks lived through the Great Depression. From the way the stock market keeps falling, it looks their kids get to live through one, too. I sure am glad we managed to save the banks though. . . .

It's 5:17 PM PST and I just finished working. The market dropped another 678.91 points (7.3%) today, closing at 8,579.19. An economist who was a clerk/pickup driver for the rental car agency told me that the market doesn't fall usually below the peak of the previous boom. I'm not sure, but I think the rules may have changed. The Dow last peaked at 11,723 in January of 2000 just before the Dot-Com bubble burst. Maybe I misunderstood him and he meant that it never dropped below the previous trough; if that's the case, we've still got another 344 points to go.

I'm optimistic. Those 344 points might just last me through lunch tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Bailout: Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

I'm sitting at work right now. I have a meeting in two minutes. I've been watching the stock market since 7:15 AM Pacific Standard Time. The ticker tape on the lower right tray on my computer screen was up over a percent when I arrived; now it's down over 3/10%. Monday, the Dow declined over 300 points from Friday's close; yesterday it slid another 508.

When I started this blog, I named it according to where it looked like our country was going - long term. But here it is. Last Tuesday, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, published an article about the United States, entitled "The End of Arrogance: America Loses its Dominant Economic Role. In it, George W. Bush is described as a mere shell of his former self.

The ticker tape shows the Dow is down over half of a percent as I leave for my meeting. . . .

The meeting is in recess, and I'm taking a break. The ticker tape has the market down 1.6% for the day. My bank was seized and a quick sale was arranged to keep it from failing. I should breathe easy and go back to having my paycheck direct deposited, but there's really no barometer for knowing if or when your bank will fail like going in on Friday to deposit your check. Sometimes, when it looks unusually busy, I leave and go to a check-cashing place, where I forfeit a huge chunk of my earnings for the security of knowing I have access to my own money - unless someone steals it. The teller is safe behind the bullet-proof glass. The sun penetrates the plate glass windows, making the air stale in a place that already smells of cigarette ash. She counts out the bills so that the person in line behind me, who's fidgeting because he can't smoke indoors, knows how much money I'm leaving with. I put the cash in my wallet, slide the wallet into my hip pocket and walk swiftly out the door. I wait to unlock the door of my car until I'm just a few feet away, get in and immediately lock the door.

My meeting starts in two minutes. The Dow is up 3/10% so far for the day. . . .

It's lunchtime on the West Coast and the Dow is up over a percent. The debate last night was a poor showing for both candidates, though you wouldn't have known by its appearance on the front page. The big news of the day was in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times, "AIG Fiddles while Wall Street Burns." I understand that Nicholas II and Alexandra were similarly clueless as to the plight of the starving minions outside the Palace in the last days of the Romanov dynasty. Their opulent lifestyle, paid for by the struggle, sweat, blood and starvation of the many must have seemed outrageous to the people who saw them from afar. A failed insurance company that went panhandling to the people to the tune of, "Brother can you spare 82 billion dollars," may have a slightly different perspective of a $440,000 expenditure on such frivolity that those of us whose labors never yield the kind of posh lifestyle these folks appear to take for granted. Then again, when your salary is 300 times that of the average laborer - regardless of whether you win or lose - there would be a bit of a disconnect. What AIG's mishandling of nearly half a million dollars in taxpayer money shows, however, is perhaps the most salient factor in this culture of opulence: their appetite for luxury is not mitigated by their personal finances; rather, it is only constrained by their ability to acquire and dispense with, other people's money. When your accountant does that, s/he goes to jail for embezzlement. It was upon Milton Friedman's ideology of unfettered capitalism that such neoliberal kleptocracy was born.

My lunch is over. According to the ticker tape, the Dow down over 3/10% from yesterday's close. . . .

It's my afternoon break, and the Big Board closed an hour ago, with the Dow having lost another 2%, or 189 points, closing at 9,258.1 for the day. Our retirement plans have lost two trillion dollars over the last 15 months. It's okay. I've been steeling myself against this for years: there's no way a generation of 40 million can support one of 70 million in retirement - not when that generation hopes to retire at 65 and live until they're 110. Social Security, the promise made by FDR in the 1930s and kept by Tip O'Neil for the WWII generation, appears elusive. Perhaps the first wave of Baby-Boomers will get it, maybe even the second; anyone who can claim to have worn bell-bottoms in Junior High or earlier may want to consult their 401K.

Oh, wait. We lost our 401Ks in the stock market. The same stock market the free market fundamentalists wanted us to put our Social Security into. . . .

It's 5:01 PM, Pacific Standard Time, and my workday has ended. For now, at least, I'm one of the lucky ones: I still have a job and a home.