Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Praying People to Death

This is how badly this nation's political dialogue has been poisoned by the extreme right.

For those of you who didn't click the link, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is saying that the American people "oughta pray that somebody can't make the vote tonight." He has refused to explain what he meant by that comment, and the discussion amongst the blogosphere is that he was insinuating that he hopes the ailing 92-year-old Robert Byrd (D-WV) who has been in and out of the hospital wouldn't be in the Senate chambers to vote on health care reform.

Now, plenty of legislators have missed votes before. Sometimes it's illness, or traffic, or weather. But on a vote of this magnitude, in a bitterly divided Senate, it's highly unlikely any Senator who wants to keep their job would miss out on a vote like this unless it was a serious illness, injury or death. While Coburn didn't directly invoke Byrd's name, his comment was irresponsible at best and incredibly cruel at worst.

Let me just state that again, just so it sinks in.

A United States Senator, representing the state of Oklahoma, is encouraging people to pray for ill will against one of his colleagues.

Now, say what you will about the allegations against Byrd. But you can't ignore this.

CALLER: "Yeah doctor. Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we
got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn’s instructions and prayed
real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn’t show up at the
vote the other night.
How hard did you pray because I see one of
our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our
members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough?"

Whether or not Coburn meant for voters to pray for Byrd's death, this person certainly took it that way. And people are actually now praying for other Senators to die so health care reform won't pass. This is considered acceptable political discourse today, at least according to Sen. John Barasso's (R-WY) complacency upon hearing what the caller said.

The intensity of the venom and vitriol in our political discourse today is astounding. It's getting bad out there, and there's so much hate and fear and misinformation getting out there that people aren't hearing the truth, or willing to hear the other side. This is a plea for all of us to stop, take a deep breath, love each other as American citizens, and pick up our debate and be civil about it.

There, better?

Conservatives can now feel free to flame away at everything I've just said.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why Wingnuts Love Sarah Palin

A lot of my progressive friends convey feelings of confusion to me when the subject of Sarah Palin arises. Why are so many infatuated with a woman whose speech is without substance? Who hints at running for POTUS but can't even finish one term as Governor, or chair of the Alaska oil and gas commission, for that matter? Why are people so willing to fawn over and fork over their money to a woman who clearly lacks leadership and communication abilities?

But I think these progressives are missing the mark in their analysis of both Sarah Palin and her followers. One has to put themselves in the shoes of a Palinite teabagger to really understand her appeal. It is crucial to understand why she appeals to the wingnuts, because the left went through the same questioning phase about why a president who seemed so "stupid" thought he could win another election. What followed was this president's re-election, subsequent wrecking of the economy at the benefit of the top 1%, and a democratic identity crisis that lasted until Obama convinced Hillary supporters to cast their vote for him.

So, understanding Palin is critical. Not because I perceive her as a threat in 2012 (I'll get to that at the end), but so we can understand in the future when people like this present themselves, and frame the debate to the progressive advantage. What people must first understand is that Palin's contrived image is fraudulent at its core.

The Palin Fraud
Palin's book is called "Going Rogue" which implies she is a maverick dedicated to doing things her own way instead of swallowing the party line. And perhaps if you pay attention solely to her talking points and don't look past the veneer, this might work. However, Sarah Palin was actually a huge proponent of Socialism in Alaska before she emerged as a national A-list political celebrity and was forced to swallow McCain's party line.

Alaska is fiercely dependent on federal money, arguably even moreso than Mississippi. She had been lobbying for the "Bridge to Nowhere" project until the media decried it as a national symbol of wasteful pork spending. Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens were notorious for supporting pork projects that brought federal money specifically to Alaska.

But even more than that, Sarah Palin was a huge backer of taxing windfall profits on oil companies operating in her state. By hefting huge tax increases against Big Oil, Palin generated billions in revenue. It was a wonderful symbol of what real bipartisan reform can achieve, and a perfect example of progressive taxation; if you have more than most people, then you better be prepared to pay more than most people. She used the money made from that decision to give to the people of Alaska. According to the story linked above, that amounted to a $3200 check for every person in Alaska, just from surplus dollars. That's the essence of productive government regulation on big business.

However, this didn't mesh well with what McCain was all about, so he and his aides went about telling her to tell the rest of us that she was an anti-Socialism, anti-pork barrel spending crusader.

The Palin Appeal- Framing 101
Palin's followers, mainly neoconservatives, love Palin because she represents one of them. Like Palin, they rally against the "elites."

Neoconservatives believe our country is ran by a cabal of powerful and wealthy liberal "elitists" who use their influence to give opportunity and free stuff to lazy, good-for-nothing moochers. Mainly poor people and foreigners. These neoconservatives believe themselves to be "hard-working" and "normal," but are not reaping what they sowed because the government elite gave those rewards to people who didn't deserve them.

This is why they love Sarah Palin so much. This is why when she stumbles over her words or makes a rhetorical error in a debate with Joe Biden, she is applauded. They see this not as "stupid," but as "normal." Like them.

So when Sarah Palin is mocked in the "liberal media," her cause is actually strengthened; her followers see themselves reflected in a working-class hockey mom who is being harassed by the "liberal elite." When Palin complains about such treatment by the media, what progressives see as complaining is interpreted by her followers as what they believe their experiences to be; a normal blue-collar conservative being sold short on her accomplishments by powerful liberals.

A Walk in the Shoes of a Palinite
Those who support Sarah Palin do not admire or respect politicians with prestigious education or those who have a way with words. Most of these folks see education and glib speech as tools used to victimize and deceive people. Thus, the educated and well-spoken are resented among the far right.

The extreme right is not against intelligence, but simply against education. In their mind, they don't see that attitude as maintaining stupidity, but as rejecting an institution that forces information on children that they know to be wrong. This is why you see the most righteous neocons and libertarians being proponents of home school, so they can shelter their children from the evil "facts" of the liberal "elite," and also so they can inject education with their authoritarian worldview and religious beliefs which are "under attack" by Science. Because critical thinking is demonized by the right, they see those who rely on "facts" as simply catering to an elite power. Environmentalists worship Al Gore, Evolutionists worship Darwin, etc.

When a Palinite sees Barack Obama giving an address, they don't see a well-traveled statesman with decades of diverse education, but rather a foreigner with an unfamiliar name, using his gift of gab with clear intent to manipulate and deceive. He, along with all other well-spoken people, is seen as a trickster, and hearing him speak makes the far right feel judged, rather than informed. It angers them instead of calming them.

When Sarah Palin speaks, these folks feel right at home. Her down-home folksiness gives them a sense of acceptance and assurance that those who speak with authority on issues are frauds. Those who idolize Sarah Palin do not understand nor care for domestic or foreign policy issues, and do not follow nor perceive their complexity. What is important to the Palinite is that the politician doesn't act like they know more or are more worthy than the average Joe. To a Palinite, someone who sounds complicated when explaining complicated issues isn't revealing truths, but hiding them.

Palin's Power Over People
Sarah Palin gives her supporters the impression that she would make decisions for the country the way a mother or father makes decisions for the family--like they do. For wingnuts, Sarah Palin symbolizes the person who overcame the intellectualized, complicated political infrastructure of the "liberal elite." She is often characterized as "truthful," much like those same people refer to Glenn Beck as "truthful."

The truth to this radical fringe group is that the liberal elite is against them, the normal, hard-working Joes and Janes--and are for helping the undeserving do-nothings--foreigners, lazy people, and poor people. Palin often uses the term "common sense" in describing her politics. For Palin's followers, "common sense" is that the hardworking are constantly under attack by the elite establishment.

As I mentioned in the first part of this blog, Bush used this same narrative (perfected by Reagan) to win over the people of Texas, and then to win over the USA. While most every crisis our nation faces today can be traced back to the Bush or Reagan years, those two are still celebrated universally by the right. These people may be full of talking points and no solutions, but they still hold influence over lots of people.

Palin's Political Potential
However, progressives in America can rest assured that Sarah Palin will not be a viable contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. Her record shows overwhelmingly that she is not fit to handle an executive position, whether it's over the oil and gas commission or one of the union's smallest populations. Even Republican mouthpiece Haley Barbour refused to acknowledge her as a political contender in the next presidential race. I personally believe she is currently peaking, and too much media coverage this early will hurt her chances three years down the road.

Besides, just take a look at how quickly fans who waited in the rain all day to meet her turned on her when they learned she wouldn't be signing all of their books. One guy even called her out by saying "She's quittin' on the job right there!"

America is a fickle nation. Sarah Palin will be ultimately forgotten.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Concerning the Stupak Amendment- When Private Insurers Don't Cover Abortions

A friend of mine connected a harrowing personal experience of hers to the attack on and undermining of women's health and free choice in this country through the Stupak/Pitts amendment that just recently passed the House. This is a short and moving piece; anyone interested should read this.

When Private Insurance Companies don’t Cover Abortions
by Anonymous

The good news is universal health care is more of a reality, but now, if passed in the senate this legislation will be a major setback for women.

On Nov. 7 the house approved a bill that would severely restrict access to insurance companies for abortions. The house measure would block insurance companies from selling abortion coverage to anyone receiving a federal subsidy and anyone who receives health insurance through a government-run plan. Ironically this restriction would make little impact on the current system.

According to the Guttmacher Institute out of 1.2 million abortions performed each year, only about 13 percent (156,000) are directly billed to their insurers. Many women are unaware that their insurance plans cover abortions or just don’t want their insurance companies to know.

Last year I found myself in the same position and wanted to have the procedure anywhere but the Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Mississippi (The state’s only abortion clinic). Upon calling my insurance company I was met with by the voice of an unsympathetic woman, who told me my plan did not cover abortions. But she did enthusiastically list off all the prenatal services and benefits covered through my employer for having a child.

My only option at that point was to make way through the throngs of protesters and receive care at a clinic with little concern for my prior medical history, a disorganized staff ( my file was lost three times), and lack of thorough explanation for the procedure and the instructions afterwards.

It took two months and eight visits (that’s 16 times I had to walk through protesters yelling “Mommy don’t do this” in baby voices) for the clinic to determine my pregnancy had been terminated. I can’t say if my procedure was unique but the lack of quality care for a sensitive procedure should not be taken lightly, or with a “that’s what she deserves” attitude.

Can you imagine any other medical procedure conducted in this manner?

If my insurance company did cover the procedure would I have been treated more like an actual patient?

I don’t want to blame my experience all on the clinic. It’s the only clinic in the entire state dealing with legislation and opponents trying to shut them down every chance possible. The volume and influx of patients is exceedingly high for the clinic’s capacity and staff.

Women are still going to have abortions whether their insurance companies provide them or not. The real question is how can we make sure these women are safe and receiving the best care possible?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Using Holocaust Victims for Political Gain

I think most sensible people would agree that nothing today should even be remotely compared to the horrific time in human history that was the Holocaust. That was an event that has gone down in history as the most horrible act ever committed by a member of the human race. The cold, calculated genocide of millions of Jews through organized, brutal means should never be invoked in vain, especially for the sake of politics. No matter your party affiliation or ideology, I believe most Americans are united in the belief that the Holocaust was a horrible memory for the world, and that while victims must be remembered and honored, that period in time is best left alone out of respect for the families of those massacred.

However, the teabaggers who stormed Washington yesterday, as well as house Republican leaders, apparently feel different than the rest of us with a sense of decency for our fellow human beings. For those of you unfamiliar with what happened, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) yesterday hosted a Tea Party protest of the House health care bill. As per usual, corporate Astroturf (fake grassroots) groups organized the event and bussed in protesters from all over the East Coast. Americans for Prosperity, an outpost of Dick Armey's FreedomWorks (former Republican leader in the house) was key in organizing the event through their website, Yes, that is a real website. Yes, it is sponsored proudly by current and former Republican leaders.

This is the same group that organized the town hall mobs in August, paid to transport protesters and even wrote a memo instructing attendees how to best disrupt dialogue and meaningful conversation. Right-wing money interests feel very threatened by actually having to compete should health care reform pass, so they've been working hard all year to spread lies and sow the seeds of fear and hate amongst the weak-minded.

Also, people should know that those who attended this protest, who came to speak out against the ineffectiveness of government programs, used public transportation to arrive at the nation's capitol. This protest was also deemed a "press conference," although no such conference took place. It was an event organized by government officials, held on government property, with permission of government entities. There were even five people at the rally who received government-sponsored emergency health care.

People should also know that while crowds chanted "kill the bill," and proudly wasted plenty of paper, not once did anyone offer any valid alternatives to health care reform, despite reluctantly acknowledging that our health care system leaves much to be desired. Once again, this proves without a doubt that today's conservative movement is full of hot air, little organization and poor leadership.

But all hypocrisy, corporate whoring and contrived populism aside, there was one thing yesterday that crossed the line entirely.

Protesters proudly carried posters depicting emaciated bodies of Dachau concentration camp victims during the Holocaust. The words on the poster say "National Socialist Health Care- Dachau, Germany 1945."

The congressmen and congresswomen who organized and spoke at the event, and who did not publicly denounce the heinous, vile use of death camp corpses owe us all an apology for not immediately condemning this behavior. America is waiting for an apology from House Minority Leader John Boehner and Representative Michelle Bachmann for not speaking out against the use of such atrocities for such petty, vain reasons. Speech should remain free, but invoking the Holocaust and trivializing the murder of millions for mere political gain should never be allowed. Congressman Steve Israel has publicly demanded an apology on the behalf of all Americans offended by this display.

So where do teabaggers draw the line at common decency? When will our national political discourse be returned to a sensible, logical dialogue? When will Republican, teabagger, and Astroturf figures apologize for their insensitivity and brutishness?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meeting T-Model Ford

Gritty distortion lingers in the speakers as James Louis Carter Ford politely nods at his cheering fans and briefly puts his guitar in his lap. He produces a flask from his jacket pocket and unscrews the lid.

"What time is it, T?" Asks someone in the audience.

The 89-year-old takes a swig and bares his teeth.

"It's Jack Daniels time!"

The audience laughs and cheers even louder.

T-Model Ford was one of the reasons I was so excited to move to Jackson, Mississippi. I was first introduced to his music while playing in a Blues band in Kentucky when I was in college. The first song of his I heard was called "I'm Insane," where he crows over a guttural guitar riff about how he's been to jail and how his wife, Stella, better not let him catch her messing around. The lyrics are hilarious, but also raw and gritty. We played the song over and over and laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Since then, I've been a huge T-Model fan and he's earned his place on my list of all-time favorite Blues musicians.

After I moved to Jackson, I fantasized about getting to meet T-Model one day. He's from Forest, and I'm a sucker for Delta Blues, so I had it in my mind that I'd track him down at a local Blues festival one day a few months down the road, or whenever he came around to the area.

That was until I casually opened an issue of the Jackson Free Press, and saw his name in bold letters. He was playing on Saturday the 17th at the Ridgeland festival, just a few days away! I wrote it down in my planner and made sure not to miss it.

Saturday was a cold day in Ridgeland; folks were clad in barn coats and hats, and hot chocolate was selling by the ladleful at a local storefront. I rushed around, asking passers by if they knew when T-Model was playing. Most of them shrugged and said they didn't know, but one pointed me in the direction of a festival organizer named Ron Blaylock, who owned a recording studio in town.

"Hey, T-Model hasn't played yet, has he?" I asked frantically.

"No, he doesn't play until 6:45. I don't imagine he'll be here until 5:30 or so. But he'll be by the stage, so just go on and grab him if you see him," Blaylock told me.

After polishing off a heaping pile of ribs from the Parker House people and an Oktoberfest-style beer tasting, I wandered back over to the stage and started up a conversation with the singer of the Common Ground Blues Band, who had just performed. After some conversation about the Jackson Blues scene, I asked him about T-Model.

"T-Model? He's over in that white car over there."

I looked over and saw an old, beat-up Buick idled by the stage. Curiously, I walked around to the passenger's side to get a look at who was in the car. An wizened old black man rolled down his window and flashed a hospitable smile.

"Hey boy, how do?" T-Model Ford extended his hand, and I shook it, unable to suppress a Cheshire Cat grin from spreading across my face.

I told T-Model who I was, that I was a big fan, and that he was the main reason I drove to Ridgeland that day. I asked his driver and bass player, Eric Deaton, if I could interview him after his set.

"Well, we're actually looking to get out of here real soon after the show. But we can do it now, if you like."

"Great! Is there a place we could go that's a little quieter?" I inquired. We were right next to the stage, and Gary Pfaff & the Heartwells were in the middle of their set.

"Actually, since its really cold out here, could we just do the thing in the car here so T can keep his hands warm?" I readily agreed, and helped Eric unload an amp and a mic stand from the back seat. I climbed inside and turned on my recorder to capture living Blues history.

Describing the octogenarian bluesman as a colorful character would be equivalent to describing the Gulf of Mexico as damp. He's living proof that anyone can learn a musical instrument, no matter their age or condition.

"I can't read, I can't write, I can't spell my real name." Ford said. "I didn't put my hand on a guitar until I was 58 years old."

Since that age, Ford said his biggest influences have always been Delta Blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, whom he had been listening to since his teenage years. T-Model still remembers the first song he ever played.

"It was 'How many more years baby you gonna dog me around.' (Howlin' Wolf) And that's what I come out playin' when I picked up a guitar and caught myself tryin' to play," Ford said.

Bassist Eric Deaton has known T-Model for several years. While they don't turn on the radio much on long road trips, he said Ford will always listen to old Delta Blues recordings.

"Anytime we get on the road, T always asks me to put in a Muddy Waters CD," Deaton said.

Before his days as a Blues guitarist, the Forest native lived a life that would make Ernest Hemingway blush. He was once sentenced to ten years on a chain gang for murder, although he only ended up serving two.

"I was the devil when I was a younger man," T-Model said. "I was the type of man who'd walk up to you, laugh at you, and knock the hell outta you."

Ford said his roughest days were more than 30 years ago, when he first started playing out. He recalled a story from playing a club in Greenville, Mississippi.

"I slapped a man, he was six foot tall, workin' for the city. He snatched a cigarette outta my mouth," Ford said. "I took my strap off, set my guitar down...he pulled a pistol out. When he pulled that pistol, I slapped him...Blood went everywhere. He bawled, I looked down, kicked him all upside the head. He didn't get up...I heard he had a stroke after that. I don't think he ever came back to Greenville...I didn't feel sorry for him."

T-Model Ford described his reputation as a "sure enough dangerous man."

"I didn't let nobody whoop me. I didn't argue with you. Like I tell you, me and you get in an argument...I'll done hit you before you know it. I didn't care how big you were...ain't nobody ever whooped me before. Even in the shape I'm in, I don't think anybody could whoop me now."

Nowadays, T-Model is a devout Christian. He said he turned his life around after he was nearly crushed inside of his car.

"A tree fell on me, and the good lord is takin' care of me, cause that tree laid on me thirty minutes before they got it off of me," Ford said. "It broke my arm, broke my hands. I believe it broke my legs, but the doctor said it didn't."

"The good lord kept me livin. So now, I ain't got no dirt in me. I like the white peoples now."

Ford says even in his late eighties, he feels just as spry as he did when he was twenty. He attributes that to his life as a traveling Bluesman.

"I feel just as good as I ever felt in my life right now," he said. "I don't be sick, neither. Anytime anybody calls me to go, I'm ready. I don't turn down nothin'."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way- A speech I'd like to deliver to Republicans in Congress

That's the only advice I can give to the conservative right at this point. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Conservatives have proven for the last 8 years that they are incapable of leading the nation in the direction we need to go. Bull-headed unilateral war efforts on two fronts blew a hole in our budget, and neither nation has any real direction at this point, nor is there any clear way to progress. Republican leadership ensured that Afghanistan and Iraq will be war-torn, desperate nations for decades to come. And they have assured the rest of the Middle East that the United States isn't interested in bringing them peace and prosperity, but death and poverty.

Congressional leadership on the Republican side has shown where the right's priorities lie. They aren't interested in helping the president restore America to greatness, only heckling him during his address to the nation. They've shown their true feelings about domestic violence and bigotry against homosexuals. They have made it clear to us that they put the interests of multinational corporations before the interests of gang rape victims.

Their foreign policy, aside from the "shoot now and ask questions later, because they're probably all terrorists anyway" attitude has consisted of encouraging our allies not to trust us.

On education, they've shown that they prefer instilling our kids with religious dogma and blind nationalism instead of teaching them actual science, history and literature. Apparently they care little that American children of the future will have few skills to offer when it comes time for them to enter the career world.

They've shown that they still hold dear the backwards social traditionalism that we've worked so hard to move away from in the last century. Republicans have also been working so hard to please the Christian Right that they introduced legislation that would make the Bible the word of God for all Americans, despite that going completely against something our founding fathers held most dear.

House Republican leaders have shown Americans that they aim to bully women into accepting their elitist, jingoistic social agenda with fear and deception. They've made clear their feelings about equating anything they don't personally agree with to Socialism, even though the association of such concepts is nonsensical.

Instead of helping the elected leader of our nation work to fix the messes we're in, elected Republican officials have shown that they would rather spend their time insulting the President's wife. They've openly made statements to the press that reek of racism. They've been relying entirely on fear to force their regressive agenda upon us, and even focusing their fear tactics on veterans and parents of disabled children.

Congressional Republicans believe gay equality is allowing homosexuals to exist. They endorse attacks on everything humankind has achieved in science. Their attitude to helping the poor is to encourage them to stop breeding. They see hunger as a non-issue, instead telling us that it can be a great motivator.

Health reform has met Republican obstacle after obstacle since the FDR administration. While our president encourages bipartisanship, and while Democrats have repeatedly made costly compromises to get the support of the right, Republicans continue to offer a resounding "NO" to any measure put forth in fixing our broken health care system.

Neocon hero Rush Limbaugh epitomizes today's conservatives; rooting for our country's failure from his comfy seat and golden microphone. Likewise, conservatives have yet to offer any ideas of their own in solving any of the many crises--domestic and international-- we face today. As President Obama has said, this is equivalent to watching someone mop up a person's mess, and that person sitting on the sidelines instead of grabbing a mop and helping to clean up.

Congressional conservatives, I have only this to say to you now; if you can't lead and refuse to follow, then get out of the way. Let the people who actually care about helping America do their job.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Senate Republicans: Gang Rape is Okay, but Fake ACORN Prostitution Crosses the Line!

So how does everyone here feel about gang rape? Its bad, right? If you agree with me there, I think we'll probably see eye to eye. (And if not, 4chan is right over there.)

Well, apparently there are 30 republicans in the senate who don't see things the way we do. Yes, 30 people voted to support rapists. Yes, they were all republicans. And yes, all of them were men. Let me backtrack.

Four years ago, a Halliburton employee named Jamie Leigh Jones was drugged and gang raped by her coworkers. They locked her in a cell for 24 hours without food or water, and told her if she looked for help after the rape, she'd be fired. However, she wasn't allowed to sue her employer because fine print in her contract forbade her to take legal action against her company, even if she was raped.

Basically, if Halliburton employees under government contract rape someone on the job, they can't be prosecuted.

Halliburton is a defense contractor with a long history of dealing with the US government. So obviously, the government needs to stop doing business with companies who support rapists, yes? So, Al Franken, our newest senator, decided to write an amendment that would do just that. It passed 68-30. Amongst the 68 who supported anti-rape legislation were 10 republicans, each of whom deserve a pat on the back for true bipartisan progress. However, 30 white republican men didn't think the government should have any say in how a government-employed contractor does government business.

"The congress should not be involved in writing or re-writing private contracts. That's just not how we should handle matters in the United States Senate.
-Jeff Sessions, R-ALA

That's right! No government meddling in private organizations that receive government funding!

Well, unless its two people pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute in an ACORN office. Then its totally okay for the government to meddle! Just ask the man who voted for rape from Nebraska, who's behind shutting off ACORN funding-

"This is an organization that just continues to dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole. This group needs to be defunded and investigated."
-Mike Johanns, R-N

You tell 'em, Mike. Any organization that gives advice on tax evasion to a make-believe pimp needs to have all their money taken away, because that's lightyears worse than gang rape!

And Johanns knows what constitutes good business and bad business. That's why he voted to take the side of rapists by saying no to Franken's amendment, and then went and wrote the "Protect Taxpayers from ACORN" act. Taxpayers need to be protected from those community organizers!

Now if a taxpayer is raped by oil company employees? Well, she should've just read the contract before signing. We can't be telling rapists how to do their job or anything. They NEED that government money, right GOP?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Appalachia Can Learn from Afghanistan

I was prompted to write this after seeing the Kentucky premiere of the documentary "Coal Country" in Lexington last night. Even after covering Dave Cooper's Mountaintop Removal Road Show a few years back and doing several reports on energy and the economy, I was still privy to many touching stories and experiences I had yet to hear up to that point. I suggest seeing it whenever you can to learn more about this issue.

Coal Keeps the Lights On
We've all seen that bumper sticker around Kentucky, haven't we? Or West Virginia, or Alabama, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the rest of Appalachia? That's because Big Coal is on a very costly PR campaign to win back public opinion after those nasty "fact" things came back to bite them.

Next to wood, coal is the oldest source of energy humans have used. Since the mid-18th century, we've been burning coal to power our homes and workplaces across the globe. Even today, coal continues to be a staple of Earth's energy. Here in Kentucky, for example, 93% of our energy is coal-powered. The figures are higher in West Virginia and Indiana, but Kentucky ranks a solid #3. Coincidentally, these states are also the places where power is most affordable.

Likewise, looking at that same chart, we see that coal only keeps 14% of the lights on in New York. They also have power costs of up to 15 cents per kilowatt hour (KWH), compared to Kentucky's five cents per KWH. The facts don't lie; coal does keep the lights on, and its less of a burden on our wallet than any other source.

But there's a slight problem; coal is past its peak. Way past. Even with new developments in technology, and the inception of evil practices like Mountaintop Removal Mining that yield the most gain for the least work, we have yet to mine as much coal as we did in 1990. 20 years of advancement, but we're still well past the peak, try as we might to deny it. Coal is almost gone. So what are we to do?

The True Cost of Coal
While we have more advanced fossil fuel sources like oil, even that's close to peaking. And, like oil, the price we pay as consumers is not the true cost of using that fuel. The CBO released a 2006 study that stated the true cost of fuel is around $12 a gallon through taxes, not at gas stations. Basically, if we pay $2.50 a gallon at the pump, we still pay around $9.50 per gallon to fund diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, and to prop up dictatorships like the Saud family so OPEC can sell us cheap oil.

Coal is the same way. When we take into account the destruction and havoc wreaked upon the landscape, reclamation efforts and the surrounding communities' tainted water supplies and depreciation of homes, the true cost of using coal is really much higher than 5 cents per KWH.

So at this point, you might be wondering why I brought Afghanistan into this?

In Afghanistan, Opium Keeps the Lights On
70% of the world's Opium is grown in Afghanistan. For those of you unaware, Opium, extracted from the poppy plant, is the main ingredient in heroin, one of the world's most deadly and addictive narcotics. While it would be nice to torch all of the poppy fields in Afghanistan, that would effectively destroy Afghanistan's economy. As horrible of a drug as Opium is, people in Afghanistan must grow it and sell it, or they can't put food on the table. Their kids will starve without Opium.

Opium is to Afghanistan what Coal is to Appalachia. The consequences of using it are monstrous and destructive, but ceasing production altogether would also render most of the population unemployed. Coal poisons water supplies, covers homes in coal dust and has negative long-term health effects to those exposed to it, but that doesn't stop it from being the only job in the area other than fast food. Would you rather make money and have cancer, or be broke and healthy? That's the conundrum.

The Coal Side of the Economic Crisis
What is a conundrum for everyday Appalachians is a blessing for the coal industry. Coal mining companies like Massey Energy like it that way; when people depend on them for their livelihood, they can treat the environment and their workers however they see fit. Just as the Taliban keep their poppy fields healthy; when the people depend on you for paychecks that pay for food and shelter, they are powerless to fight.

This is why coal is such a touchy and divisive issue for Appalachians; the wedge is created when environmentalists and families with traditions of coal mining dating back several generations clash. When the environmental topic has been discussed, both sides usually stalemate when it comes to jobs. Sure, maybe coal is bad for the environment, but it keeps people working. However, this talking point is void when we take into account the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining.

MTR mining is when the tops of mountains are blasted off, and coal deposits are scooped up while the waste is dumped into nearby streams and rivers. Because mining has peaked long ago, and underground mining is far too dangerous and costly, most companies find this practice yields the most coal with the least work. Coal companies can make more money this way while simultaneously hiring less workers.

This is why there are considerably less coal miners today than there were several years ago. People are losing jobs in coal mining, but it has much more to do with greedy profiteering and wolfish capitalism than with environmental concern.

So, we're still at an impasse. What's the solution to all of this? Is it simply breathe coal dust and work while coal rapes the planet or work in fast food? Or is there another solution?

Land Ownership: The Real Solution
Right now, coal mining is allowed to go on full speed ahead, because the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) can stake out any land they deem to be potentially productive for coal extraction. There are still dozens upon dozens of permits for the ACE, allowing them thousands of acres of land to reserve for future coal mining endeavors. So, the solution is land development.

Think about it logically; if there are only jobs in coal mining or fast food, and if coal mining is destructive and fast food not profitable, then why not use all of that undeveloped land to bring in new industries and jobs? Maybe some of those acres reserved for the ACE can be instead reserved to build a university. There'd be numerous construction jobs, teaching jobs and other staff jobs for people to just pick up and start earning money. Or maybe a hospital, to bring proper medical care to the people who have had their health jeopardized by years of exposure to coal dust and slurry.

The same solution for Appalachia can be the same solution for Afghanistan. The fight there can be won by using all of the land cultivated for poppies to grow something else that's useful and beneficial for the people growing it. Instead of harvesting heroin, people could grow soybeans or wheat for food. Or they could grow industrial hemp for fabrics and paper. And as the Taliban would lose the money they make from Opium sales, Afghanistan's people would gain back their health and livelihoods. Just as Massey would be denied permits from the ACE because of clean water regulation, that land could be developed for things like education, health care and other non-extractive industries.

Instead of agonizing over symptoms, its time we shift our focus to the problem, and all get to work on making this world a better, safer, healthier place to live.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ice, Mud and Blood- Climatologist Chris Turney

Hey readers! Just wanted to pass along a heads up that The Faux Radio Show will be addressing the climate change issue on Thursday night. Its a segment recorded from the IdeaFestival in late September, and I'm speaking with Chris Turney, a professor from the University of Exeter in the UK. He draws upon centuries-old research about carbon capture and how it affects the environment and the atmosphere in the long term. He also has a book, "Ice, Mud and Blood," that discusses the issues in-depth.

If global warming/climate change is a big issue for you, make sure you tune in or check out the archive afterward! The show airs at 10:30 PM EST/9:30 PM CST.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Top 10 Funkiest Songs of All Time

I've been asking all of my friends recently what their top ten funkiest songs are. I've had a multitude of responses, and its interesting to see what different people define to be "funky." A lot of people touch upon Funk legends like George Clinton, James Brown and Dr. John. Some go by the bigger bands with horn sections like Chicago, Tower of Power and Chase.

I define The Funk as anything that makes you move. When you hear music that makes your head move and your body pop and your face turn into a grin, that's The Funk. I find The Funk is primarily carried by the bass drum, bass guitar, falsetto vocals and occasionally the organ.

But The Funk is not an elusive creature; it can be found in genres spanning from Pop to Jazz to Hip Hop. Keep in mind, I can only do ten songs in a top ten, so regretfully, lots of other funky songs will not be mentioned here. And as much as some of the funkiest have ten all on their own that are equally funky, I'll be shedding light on ten different artists here. There are plenty of links to boot, so make sure you check some of these out!

So here is my top ten. If you disagree with any of these, I encourage you to make your own list and send it to me!

10. Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking by Rickie Lee Jones
This is a track featuring one of my favorite drummers, Steve Gadd. Notice how the funky slap bass immediately pulls you right in. The percussion comes in, along with the guitar, slowing building onto the funk. By the time RLJ starts singing, you should be moving your whole upper body forward and backward to the beat. At least that's what I do. Don't judge.

The happiness challenge: Be in a bad mood first. Try and listen to this song all the way through and still be in a bad mood when you're done. You can also do this with Jackie Wilson's Higher and Higher.

9. Groove Tonight by Earth, Wind and Fire
EW&F had The Funk. There's no doubt about that. One of the keys to making great Funk music is having someone sing falsetto. Something about falsetto is funky, but I'm not sure why. And listen to those horn lines. Man! Those trumpets hit those high notes, and they SUSTAIN. We've all heard this at the club or even the high school dance before. And if you didn't get down with your bad self when it came on, shame on you. You know you wanted to.

8. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) by George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic
There's a whole lot of rhythm goin' round. The falsettos really make this song, as does the signature Parliament synthesizer sound. Describing that sound is kind of like describing pornography; I can't really explain it, but I know it when I see it.

I'd say this is P-Funk's most well-known song after Atomic Dog, but its still worth mentioning. This is from the Mothership album, which is full of classic Funkadelic tracks. In particular, check out P-Funk (Get Funked Up) and Mothership Connection/Star Child (If You Hear Any Noise)

George Clinton in concert: If you're into having a lot of fun seeing a show, definitely set some money aside to see these guys. Picture about 30 people onstage, a wide variety of outrageous costumes, and a room full of people on their feet and dancing. When I saw them, they ended their set with this song. George Clinton walked into the audience, slapping hands, with the audience chanting, "We want the funk! Gotta have that funk!"

7. I Like Your Style by Tower of Power
This is a great song by a legendary Funk/R&B group. Some might know them by their equally awesome songs What is Hip and Willin' to Learn. Their sound is incredible, and their horn section was famous for dominating the LA session scene back in the day.

This particular song is short and sweet, with a perfect horn arrangement and a tight pocket in the drums to push everything along. The three horn hits before the chorus really make this piece.

6. Jungle Boogie by Kool and the Gang
Some have told me this particular song is their #1. It was indeed in the golden age of Funk, back when Funk was a mainstream trend. And if you'll notice from the video, this recording is a live performance from an episode of Soul Train.

The rising horns after each verse are what make this song unique. And the guy with the goofy voice makes everyone happy in their pants. Notice how everyone moves and grooves onstage, with everyone else moving and grooving on the dance floor. Afros and bellbottoms abound. Disco balls. Jheri curls. Flamboyant costumes. This is funk at it's best.

5. Holy Calamity (Bear Witness pt.2) by Handsome Boy Modeling School/DJ Shadow
Funk isn't all about platform shoes and horn sections. I give homage to the contemporary funksmen and take pride in including the second Bear Witness installment to this list.

If you haven't acquainted yourself with Handsome Boy Modeling School, you should do so. Its a collaboration project between legendary Hip Hop producers Dan Nakamura (Dan the Automator) and Prince Paul. Dan is famous for masterminding such concept albums like Dr. Octagon (the first Bear Witness was on his album), Deltron, and has also been known for first shining the spotlight on Blur and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. Prince Paul is a widely-acclaimed producer, and his best work is definitely the concept album Prince Among Thieves.

This track, however, features DJ Shadow scratching up samples. Listen in particular to the drumbeats, and how he mixes those samples so fluidly. The funky bridge is also a great feature, as is the beatbox section. And Shadow's scratching skills are unparalleled in this track. This is definitely top ten worthy, as far as I'm concerned.

4. Pick up the Pieces by Average White Band
This is one of the few songs that define Funk. The horn chorus is familiar in everyone's mind, as this was and is an FM radio favorite either back in the day or on the oldies stations today. I've seen it covered by a great many bands that didn't even have horn sections, nor consider themselves Funk. This is a universally-celebrated and recognized song.

Average White Band's playing on this recording is as tight as it ever was. The solos are outstanding. The guitars and drums carry this while the horn players have their fun. Even if you don't consider yourself a Funk fan, how could you hear this come on the radio and change the station? Even if you don't know the AWB, most still know this song, and most still like it. Kind of like The Weight, by The Band. Or Pudd'n Pops. Even if you've never heard of it or had one, you still like 'em just fine.

3. Superfly by Curtis Mayfield
Just as the '60s had love, the '80s had greed, the '90s had grunge, and the '00s had hate, the '70s had Blaxploitation. Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to the genre with his movie Jackie Brown, which features some more great music by Bobby Womack and The Delfonics. While this decade was rife with classics like Shaft and The Mack, the epitome of Blaxploitation was the movie Superfly, with a score arranged by Curtis Mayfield.

Whenever I put on a suit, this song always pops into my head. And when anyone is looking fly or walking with their chest out, chances are, this song is playing in their head too. The simple three note bassline is timeless, and Mayfield's falsetto singing fits the genre and the times so well. This song is already a classic, and will likely be remembered by future generations many years down the road.

2. Super Bad by James Brown
Early James Brown was known by hits like Papa's Got a Brand New Bag and I Feel Good. James in the middle part of his career was known for hits like Sex Machine and Get Up Offa That Thang. Late in his career he kind of sold out with songs like Living in America. But at the peak of his career there were songs like Super Bad.

At the pinnacle of James' musical career, he was known as The Godfather of Soul. His band was funky, but he made every track with his raw energy and dancing. Super Bad is a simple groove with horn hits, straight beats and funky bass, but James is the star. Listen for the scream around the 3 minute mark. Nobody alive can do that and still be so funky. Rest in peace, James.

Well, guess you're anxious to see my number one? It may surprise you. And if you're like me or if you personally know me, it may not surprise you one bit.

1. Chameleon by Herbie Hancock
This is a Funk symphony. This is what all Funk aspires to be. I submit that it is an impossible to make a song more perfectly funky than Chameleon. If Funk was a literal object that one could heft in hand, then Chameleon would be Excalibur. But first, let me give you some background on the song's creator.

Most would consider Herbie Hancock to be a Jazz artist, not a Funksman. But those who followed Herbie's career know that he got bored with Jazz a long time ago. He started out as Miles Davis' protege, and was most famous for the song Maiden Voyage. The song is pretty, and Herbie shows his skill, but when you account for the evolution from Maiden Voyage to the Headhunters era to the also funky Hang Up Your Hang Ups, and finally to his Hip Hop experimentation with Rockit, you'd see Herbie is anything but a strict Jazz musician. Rather, Herbie will come to be known as a versatile musical genius, albeit a bit eclectic and unconventional.

Chameleon is a funk symphony. It is literally a funky masterpiece. And the best part about it is it's re-listenability. Each time you listen with a finely-tuned ear, you hear the subtleties that hold the piece together. In the first movement, pay attention to the bass drum. As that movement progresses, listen to how the bass drum keeps everything right in the pocket. Listen for the drummer's gracenotes on the snare in between the beats. The second movement first features the bass guitar, and then the organ. The third movement features a string pad and more of the funky bass guitar and organ. Finally, it comes back to a coda as the first movement repeats itself, albeit more steady and driven.

Every bass player who doesn't know anything about bass guitar can still likely play the opening bit for Chameleon. Even drummers can play it on a bass guitar. Six notes. One series is low, one is high. then it repeats, over and over again. By the time you're 7 minutes into the first movement and Herbie is slamming his fingers discordantly all over the keyboard, most people would think, "This is obnoxious," and they would be right. That's what I thought too, until I gave into patience and let the song continue on.

Once the repetitive first movement finally comes to a stop around 7:40, the chorus breaks down and the drummer fills in the space with some sick, wicked beats. The song then morphs into something else like an actual chameleon does. The bass guitar comes in, and the drums fade back to complement the bass. The organ comes into supplement the bass, and then the song comes together really tight, and you don't want it to stop grooving. The drummer lets himself get a little carried away, and then it goes into a third movement.

This movement begins with a string pad chord progression, then goes right back into the bass/organ funk. It's almost Jazz, but the drums keep it funky. And right when the third movement has completed it's run, the song morphs back into the simple bass groove. And it just rides on until the fade out. This is the perfect Funk song in terms of stellar musicianship, although it is entirely instrumental.

So there you have it. My top ten funkiest songs of all time. What do you think?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Progress Through Reflection: A speech I'd deliver to Obama and congress

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for progress in society, and for always looking into the future in what we do. And now more than ever, its obvious that if human beings are going to survive into the 22nd century, we need to find our way. The path can be blazed through several factors; renewable production, transportation and consumption through sustainable means, and gradual population control. Before we do that, we must devise a way out of our current economic morass and evolve as not just a nation, but as a global society.

If you ask anyone from the Baby Boomer generation when the nation's economy was at it's best, they'd tell you it was the post-WWII days, just after Roosevelt's New Deal finally began to be accepted by both sides as necessary and effective means to an end. Even Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president in decades, recognized the importance of the New Deal in a 1954 letter to his brother, Edgar-

"Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Some folks on the right would tell you it wasn't government intervention in our economy that brought us out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, but rather what they call "free market solutions." However, It is noted by most honest historians that the Depression was the inevitable cause of free market plunder and abuse by the robber barons of the late 19th century, combined with their brutally ferocious suppression of workers' unions by hired goons and even military force. Indeed, reckless capitalism and irresponsible corruption among the banking elite was the poison in the 1920s, and government proved to be the cure in the 1940s. And as we continue to reward the bankers for their greed at the expense of the American people in the 2000s, that popular quote from George Santayana comes to mind.

In the 1920s, economic inequality had polarized the American people. A great portion of wealth was concentrated among the top 1% income earners, while those who sweated in their factories could barely afford running water and electricity, such luxuries back then we take for granted today. While the railroad owners and oilmen basked in mounting wealth and soft tax rates, blue collar employees lived in run-down shacks and tenements they shared with dozens of others. The Wall Street panics of 1921 and 1929 were engineered and executed by the financial string-pullers of the day, and the disenfranchised working class was further sequestered into crippling poverty and debt. While failed banks were bought for pennies on the dollar, most investors lost everything they had. Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw this injustice, and set about fixing it by going after the problem rather than the symptoms.

As is seen now in the late 2000s, the president in the late '30s was viciously assaulted by the money interests through yellow journalism from the corporately-owned media. As he raised corporate tax rates and income tax rates for the very top up to as much as 80 to even 90%, he was vilified in the papers as a traitor to capitalism. His fabulously wealthy enemies portrayed themselves through nefarious doublespeak in the press as saints, the so-called results of hard work and free market success, the "hardest working American people."

The truth was that America's most truly dedicated laborers waited hours in lines just for a piece of bread or a bowl of soup. As most everyday Joes and Janes know through personal experience, hard work and perseverance does not automatically mean making millions of dollars. Sometimes it barely pays the rent. Sometimes hard work can still end in foreclosure and unemployment, as we've seen all too often today.

On the eve of the 1936 election, Roosevelt addressed a Madison Square Garden crowd on a tenacious political environment and economic climate eerily similar to our current one--

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace; business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all of history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred."

With the controversial New Deal came a lofty tax on the richest of the rich. It also came with a government-funded safety net. This net also was made of Social Security and unemployment insurance. Regular folks all over had jobs that paid far more than they used to. American families now had the wherewithal to own personal vehicles and move into larger houses. They could afford luxury and had the financial confidence necessary to invest in the market again. And the rich were still rich, just perhaps with less influence over domestic affairs than they used to have. While national health insurance was a staple of this safety net, that was rejected by the right but Medicare came as a compromise in the 1960s.

Roosevelt's New Deal was instrumental in stopping the abuse of workers by their employers. Through unions, the proletariat now had a powerful voice that could not be ignored. They used their freedoms to demand fair pay and hours and an end to child labor, among other things. Grassroots coalitions also formed to demand equal rights for black laborers, and this evolved into the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. LBJ's democratic party became the party of civil rights, just as it had become the party of the union man in previous decades. Just as it has been the party of equal rights for homosexuals. Just as it was elected last fall to be the party of access to medical care for all, regardless of their income.

And even in the political strife of the 1960s, the New Deal's economic safety net was just about the only thing going correctly in the midst of an unjust war in a foreign nation. The backlash from that war resulted in high crime rates and increased violence and public outrage. Still, work was plentiful and people still had their homes and careers.

The parallels are overwhelming as we are yet again faced with an economy and health care system in shambles and the only real solution staring us in the face. Wealthy private sector elites have once again been proven to be held accountable only to money, while government has always been held accountable by the people and the democratic process. Yet the private sector is still succeeding in shielding our eyes from historical basis for an effective government solution.

Ronald Reagan once quipped, "Government isn't the solution to the problem. Government is the problem." He validated this claim as he clandestinely filled the war chest of our eventual Taliban and Al-Qaeda enemies. To really drive home the point of his statement, Reagan also famously helped suppress Latin American populist movements against the brutal right wing dictatorships we put into power. Government by Ronald Reagan's value system is very much a problem, for all of us. But a democratic government in FDR's vision, as a solution to real crises, has proven throughout our history to be the saving grace of a democratic people.

This really only leaves one to confront the statement that's been present the entire time, even after 70 years. Government really can be used for good. The war effort of the late 1930s and early '40s was different from today's, because our government, businesses and populace were united in a common cause. The government had a plan for success and put it to action.

The government nationalized industries all over; Ford factories were used to make tanks. And the face of Rosie the Riveter symbolizes my grandmother's spirit for cooperation as she helped build fighter planes with other young women, while the young men were overseas, perilously fighting evil. Many American families similarly share such proud stories of selflessness in their ancestry.

America, for a few years, took one for the team. We contributed in a national effort in a cause we all knew to be noble. Sure, we rationed our goods, gave up a few luxuries, and worked harder than we ever had. But in the end it all paid off. I'm not saying we have to resort to such drastic measures today, but that we simply unite once more and work toward a common goal.

Today's goal is not to defeat a military empire abroad, but to defeat a financial empire that reigns within our own borders.

Yesterday's American Dream was one of tall buildings, rabid and wasteful energy consumption, and more cars on the road than there are stars in the sky. This dream has come true. Now we see, through the receding of the ice sheets and extinction of species, through reckless banking just as prevalent today as in the 1930s, that the things we venerated have broken us. Now is the time to live up to a new dream.

We mus dream a dream of a population sustainable for planet Earth, cultivated through a united effort to stop oppressive regimes and genocide. Through reproductive education and prevention of disease. Through smart ways to produce just as much as we consume. Through a cooperative spirit made possible only through peace and solidarity.

Mr. President and congress, let's make this dream a reality, and work to give our posterity the greatest of gift of all-- a world which they can appreciate and enjoy for millenia to come.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

IdeaFestival 2009: Growing Our Way out of World Hunger

This past week, I got to attend a unique gathering of today's greatest minds and innovators as a member of the press. Even cooler than that, I got to talk with lots of these people, who treated me as a colleague rather than just another student.

One of these folks was Paul Osterlund, an Intel retiree-turned social entrepreneur. He's a guy from Portland, OR, who devised a fantastic new way to harvest water. It's called Zeba, and his presentation was about the Abundance Farming Project, which involves getting Zeba to people who can really make a use of it.

Zeba is a corn-starch based granule that can store 500 times it's mass in water. A teaspoon of the stuff can start a garden, as it uses and re-uses a liter of water over and over again. A 15-lb box of it can feed a family of 5 for $185. More than that, this means that third world countries racked by poverty and lack of rainfall in a dry climate can grow food again. It means the climate could even possibly be changed for the better in the future, as Zeba could be used to plant trees that absorb CO2 and generate rainfall of their own. In short, thanks to Zeba, third world farmers can now grow their way out of hunger.

I got 45 minutes with Paul at the IdeaFestival earlier this week, and I'll be playing that interview on the Faux Radio Show. You can hear it next Thursday at 8 PM, or anytime after that on the show archive. This sounds like a really revolutionary new thing, and more people should get on board and try and get involved, because Paul needs all the help he can get.

If ending world hunger and growing food sustainably is your thing, you won't want to miss this!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Treason and FOX News

Treason- the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Treason is a dangerous word, and not to be used lightly. Indeed, betraying the trust of someone, or in FOX news' case, millions of viewers, has disastrous consequences. But when treason applies to the #1 most watched "news" channel, this means tens of millions of people are subjected daily to propaganda masquerading as "fair and balanced" journalism. If you're reading this critically, as I hope most of you are, I suspect you'll be wanting a few examples of the treason to which I refer. First, allow me to illustrate treason through a familiar frame.

Schoolyard Bullying
Bullies are known to push you around for having no reason to do so, other than to make a scene for those watching. While bullying is looked upon with disdain, nobody wants to challenge the bully, lest the bully start to focus his aggression towards you.

But when bullying happens outside of the schoolyard, is exacted unreasonably upon a multitude of victims, and happens on a "news" channel (referring to FOX as an actual news channel would be equivalent to putting a candle in a pile of excrement and passing it off as chocolate cake) it turns into treasonous propaganda.

Take a look at the FOX Nation homepage on 9/11. That was indeed a black day in our nation's history, where around 3,000 people died in NYC, Washington and Pennsylvania. It is remembered somberly as "Patriot Day," where flags go up in towns nationwide to memorialize those who were killed. Indeed, 9/11 is seen as off-limits, and using such an event to gain political advantage should rightly be looked at as tasteless and appalling. But those two words seem to be a mantra for those in FOX's newsroom.

Notice the graphic of President Obama's face next to a picture of a plane slamming into the twin towers on 9/11. Now notice the caption. "Administration moves to downplay 9/11." Even before clicking on the story to read it, one who isn't viewing critically would already have established animosity toward the president. I'll explain this more bluntly to let how offensive and wrong this is sink in.

FOX Nation is using a picture where Americans are literally dying in a fiery plane crash to directly antagonize the president. FOX is directly capitalizing off of the murder of Americans to inflict political harm. This is the epitome of patriotism corrupted.

After the president has been effectively antagonized, the graphic then shifts to Obama's face next to the Trojan Horse with the words "Trigger Option" between the two. The frame is then evoked of Homer's Iliad, where the Greeks pretend to surrender to Troy, but instead hide soldiers inside a wooden horse to wreak havoc on the city once the horse is inside.

Readers with any literary knowledge to draw upon would see that FOX Nation is deliberately framing the president's health care proposal as a ploy on the American people, poised to attack when they least expect it. Those not viewing the page with a critical eye accept that frame unconsciously, especially after Obama was antagonized in the previous graphic, using a sensitive issue as a political weapon.

An ACORN story also tops the headlines on 9/11. The focus on ACORN has always been a central point for FOX, aiming to tie the president to the organization even though his association with them was years ago and has no relevance to the activities of a few members of the group.

They report, they decide. The American people already have their minds made up for them by FOX.

Bullies don't stop picking on their targets until they get their nose bloodied. The Obama administration dismisses FOX news at their own peril; millions are privy to FOX's 24/7 bullying of the president and the progressive electorate. Until Obama rolls up his sleeves and lobs some shots back at his aggressors, he will be remembered as Jimmy Carter was, when he failed to stand up to the emergence of the neoconservative movement in the 1970s. He will be remembered as John Kerry was in 2004; a veteran of the Vietnam war was called unpatriotic by draft dodgers in the White House, who actually got people to go along with them.

Both of those men were too gentlemanly and polite to engage the neoconservatives on their own turf, and they suffered permanently because of it. FOX will get away with their bullying until progressives in this administration refuse to tolerate it any longer.

FOX's Love Affair with Deception
Deliberate deception is nothing new to the FOX network and it's affiliates.

In the link above, investigative reporters with a FOX affiliate in Florida went after Monsanto after it was discovered that the agribusiness giant was putting harmful chemicals in school milk along with milk that went into grocery stores. Monsanto, one of FOX's biggest advertisers, told the affiliate to silence its reporters. When the reporters refused at the insistence of the sales department, they offered a compromise.

In the video I linked to, you can see just how thoroughly their story was censored by the corporate lawyers that ran the station (and their news coverage). After 83 revisions that took away words like "cancer" and "health risk," Monsanto still wasn't satisfied. FOX even offered to buy the reporters' silence in exchange for killing their story. This was a news organization that sought to suppress the news 83 different times in exchange for corporate profit and ad dollars from their sponsors. For most commercial TV news organizations, reporting the news is secondary to making money.

Long story short, the reporters took FOX news to court on the grounds that they were deliberately manipulating the news and information that people depend on daily. The courts ruled in FOX's favor, because it isn't technically against the law to lie to people in the news.

FOX news censored the truth and suppressed the truth from getting out, because their bottom line was Monsanto's money, not journalistic integrity. This is but one example of FOX's allegiance to the corporate elite as they antagonize the truth with lies.

Bush's White House and FOX News: Partners in Crime
FOX has been recently accusing media outlets for being buddy-buddy with the President, due to all the press coverage he gets. This is particularly ironic, because FOX news gave Bush all the friendly coverage he could handle while he was in office.

But FOX's support of the Bush administration is no longer privileged knowledge, thanks to former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan's book. While on Hardball, McClellan openly admitted to the Bush White House feeding FOX news their agenda and talking points, then having commentators like Hannity and O'Reilly air them as their own opinion. The White House would then congratulate FOX on a job well-done.

MATTHEWS: Did you see FOX television as a tool when you were in the White House, as a useful avenue for getting your message out?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I make a distinction between the journalists and between the commentators. Certainly, there were commentators and others, pundits, at FOX News that were helpful to the White House...It wasn‘t necessarily something I was doing, but it was something that we at the White House, yes, were doing and getting them talking points and making sure they knew where we were coming from...

MATTHEWS: ...You were using these commentators as your spokespeople?

MCCLELLAN: Well, certainly. I mean, certainly.

The "Fair and Balanced" Illusion
It should be obvious to any media consumer that FOX news is simply a mouthpiece for the right. They have been proven to lie, manipulate and distort the truth, as seen in just this particular analysis alone. But it would be easier to dismiss the FNC as just another madhouse full of loons were they not taken so seriously by the American public. They insist on calling themselves "Fair and Balanced" while proving themselves time and again to be anything but.

If there need be another example of FOX's blatant lying, bullying and hypocrisy, look no further than the ad they took out in newspapers recently, that attacked major media outlets for not covering the Saturday tea party march in Washington. They even went so far as to say they expect an apology. As you can see via the link above, even MSNBC sent reporters and film crews to the gathering of 50,000 who marched against their own self-interests last weekend. CNN's Rick Sanchez went out of his way to lambast FOX for taking out a full-page ad to blatantly lie to the people.

The difference, Sanchez says, is that while other media outlets indeed covered the event, FNC was the only "news" organization that promoted the event, as they did with the Tax Day Tea Parties. FOX even had the audacity to put their name behind the event.

This is the part where my critical readers say, "Wait a minute, Carl. MSNBC and CNN lie just like FOX does! Why aren't you attacking them!"

Indeed, CNN has it's own share of lying pundits like Lou Dobbs, and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC focuses intently on attacking the conservative movement. But the difference between places like MSNBC/CNN and FOX is that while Dobbs and Maddow make it clear that their shows are commentary and opinion, FOX slides opinion into coverage that they insist is "Fair and Balanced."

If FOX can get away with calling their treasonous coverage "Fair and Balanced," reckon I can logically call Free Chicken and Beer "Scripture" without suffering any consequences?


Nah, probably not.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The US Corporatocracy Pt. 3 (A Massive Mexican Standoff)

Intro/Spoiler Alert
Because of actions of the United States government in the past few decades and their consequences, planet Earth has turned into a Quentin Tarantino movie cliche on a global scale.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the phrase, a Mexican Standoff is a commonly-used plot device in Spaghetti Westerns where three separate parties have the jump on one another simultaneously. All three are in a precarious position, and all three are capable of taking the life of another. However, in doing so, one party squeezing the trigger effectively means everyone dies all at once.

Tarantino uses them in almost all of his movies: Samuel L. Jackson draws on Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction as Amanda Plummer points her own piece at Jackson's head. Later in that scene, John Travolta appears brandishing a gun at Plummer. While everyone escapes alive from that scene, those of you who have seen Inglourious Basterds know that the standoff in the rendezvous scene ends in a bloody blaze of gunfire.

All movie analogies aside, the world is now in a stand-off that is looking to end like the basement rendezvous in IB. But instead of merely three parties, this particular stand-off could effectively plunge most of the developed world into chaos in the next few years unless things change soon.

The Saudi Arabian Money Laundering Affair (SAMA)
In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, one particular incident John Perkins looks back upon with even more regret than usual is the SAMA. One one hand, it secured the dollar as the world's dominant currency, backed by an even more precious resource than gold. On the other hand, Perkins also played a key role in ensuring the Corporatocracy's reign would extend through the 21st century. On Perkins' MAIN resume, it can be seen on the last line of the last column as "U.S. Treasury Dept., Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

After the gold standard was revoked, the US dollar was regarded simply as legal tender, backed by little more than faith. In Confessions, Perkins remembers a conversation with a colleague, where he speculated that the dollar would soon be backed by an oil standard, instead of gold. His colleague's prediction came true after the famous Saudi oil embargo imposed upon us in 1973.

As history has shown, the US's insatiable addiction to oil made us highly reliant upon Saudi Arabia. Without their oil, the American economy was brought to its knees that year and into the next for several months by the OPEC leader, simply because Nixon supported Israel. Thus, his administration took action that reversed the situation in our favor. However, the SAMA was an exception to our standard way of doing business.

While the previous two pieces in this series discuss the process in detail, I should hope by now that my readers are familiar with the nefarious process in which we secretly conquer the globe financially. First, Economic Hit Men like John Perkins are sent in to make inflated economic forecasts for infrastructure projects meant only to benefit the top income earners of a country. Assuming the leaders are corrupt, they allow the projects to commence with huge loans from the World Bank and IMF, justified by the initial forecasting.

If leaders prove to be incorruptible (Jacobo Arbenz, Salvador Allende, Omar Torrijos, Jaime Roldos, Mohammed Mossadegh, etc.) then the CIA goes about instigating military coups, where a corrupt right wing dictator subservient to the US is put in power. (Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Roberto D'Aubisson, etc.) If the CIA fails, we send in the military to turn that country into a smooth piece of glass (Panama in 1989, Iraq in 2003). Point being, the projects always get built, and the rich corporate executives in the US (Bechtel, Stone and Webster, Halliburton, etc.) and corrupt heads of state elsewhere profit at the expense of the environment and indigenous people.

While our old way of business was intended as a way to subjugate countries with debt after defaulting on their World Bank loans, oil-rich Saudi Arabia had the resources necessary to finance the loans. Our companies quickly went to work in the mid-1970s "westernizing" Saudi Arabia. We gave the Saudis everything from garbage trucks to power plants to industrial parks, complete with neighborhoods, airstrips, and mini-malls. We marketed the affair as a bold step forward for democracy and capitalism in a region that typically favored neither. The international banks, private contractors, elected officials and their media aimed to use Saudi Arabia's example as enticement for other countries to follow suit. Saudi Arabia was now not only a key player in the Middle East, but in world affairs as well. You may ask what the United States got in return for bestowing such wealth and power upon a nation known for harboring terror cells and international fugitives.

Oil: The New Gold Standard
The United States had a quid-pro-quo system with the Saudi Royal Family in the 1970s, and it is still very much present today. SA's westernization was set into motion after we guaranteed ourselves an unlimited supply of Saudi oil through a clandestine agreement.

The Saudi leaders of OPEC had to promise not to ever place the US under a trading embargo ever again- our bargain was that we would guarantee political support for the Saud family, and keep them in power as long as OPEC's chief trading currency was the US dollar. In effect, the dollar was now backed by an even stronger and infinitely more valuable resource than even gold. Even if other currencies rose in influence and were valued more than the dollar, we would still have the coveted Oil Standard. The Fed can still be free to print all of the paper it wants, because as much as inflation rates will rise, we still have Saudi Arabia's oil backing up our currency.

As we can see, this has already happened in the global market; the Euro has now become the most valuable currency, beating the dollar into submission as the exchange rate grows wider and wider between the two. As powerful and vast as the US Corporatocracy is, it still depends entirely on the dollar's OPEC oil standard. The Corporatocracy is also well-aware that the Iraq war started the United States' rapidly expanding debt, which continues to plummet further into a hole to which we cannot foresee an end.

Without OPEC's support of our money, the Corporatocracy and the foundations of the modern US economy will crumble.

The Worldwide Mexican Standoff
We're currently in an multi-trillion debt with China largely because of the War on Terror and the Fed's budget for fiscal year 2009. Should OPEC decide to start using the Euro as their standard currency instead of the dollar, China would then have an excuse to come knocking on our door, demanding we immediately pay our $11 trillion in debt with Euros. The exchange rate would be astronomical. The United States would have to liquidate every single asset. We would be immediately brought to our knees. Even if were to wage a war with China if they proceeded with such an action, the Department of Defense would be bankrupt. A war would be waged and lost in an instant; not with guns, but with checkbooks.

However, OPEC and Saudi Arabia know that if they were to convert to trading in Euros rather than dollars, the United States, foreseeing the financial backlash, would immediately go about turning the majority of the Persian Gulf into a sea of glass. Saudi Arabia foresees the destruction we are capable of wreaking, and would immediately hesitate considering such an action.

So there you have it; China has the jump on the US, the US has the jump on Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia has the jump on all of those who depend on their oil. The first person to squeeze the trigger in this Mexican Standoff will likely spark the next World War, which would span from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All Mayan predictions aside, a likely date for such an event were it to occur could very well be December of 2012. Three years from now we will have possibly just elected a new president, and China has a tendency of testing our newly-elected leaders, as does the Middle East.

So how do we possibly avoid such a dreadful and catastrophic situation?

The Venus Project: Financial Panacea on a Global Scale
In early 2009, I wrote in-depth about about a proposed overhaul of a money-based economy for a resource-based one. The heart of The Venus Project is a global society that lives entirely sustainably, produces as much as it consumes, and no longer has to work tirelessly for a living. In this system, all methods of distribution, production and inventory would be fully automated. Indeed, we already have the technology to automate most jobs done by humans. Crops could be grown, irrigated and harvested by machines; factories could operate independent of human hands, simply with a renewable energy supply. It would be as the ancient Greek societies were, where slaves did the menial labor while man was free to create, read, write, learn, and communicate meaningfully with their fellow man. Except this time, instead of slaves, we would have science hard at work for us.

If the world converted to such a system, all money-based jobs would become obsolete. Political and financial decisions could be made in an instant by a digital system not capable of being bought off by special interests. This system wouldn't have to raise money for election campaigns, squabble in a Capitol building with other politicians, work against progress in exchange for material gifts, or work seasonally. It would be put in place by leaders from all sides of the world, and it's bottom line would be progress, growth and equality instead of more votes in the next election cycle.

Resources could be shared globally, and all global citizens could enjoy vast amounts of wealth; plenty of food to eat, shelter for themselves and their families, water to drink, and unlimited electricity powered by renewable energy. There would no longer need to be a Corporatocracy to ensure cheap cars, cellphones, computers, petroleum, gold, diamonds, shoes and clothes for Americans at the expense of Third World peoples or their land. It would be a truly ideal egalitarian society free from political or religious dogma and human error. It would be a united society that fosters virtue and innovation, rather than greed and corruption. New human beings would be born into a system that venerates creativity over material wealth.

There you have it. We are faced with a crisis- we can either watch the horror unfold before our very eyes, or unite and work together to stop it from ever taking place. As wiser men have said before, we must be the change we want to see in the world.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The War on Terror: Missing the Mark

A family member of mine summarized the Afghanistan war with a creative analogy-

Imagine you're in a grocery store. Your kid gets away from you for a few seconds and goes to the candy aisle. When you get there, the candy aisle is a mess. There are bags of sweets all over the floor, strewn about across the aisle, and everyone around you is looking at your son in disgust. Its obvious that what he did was wrong, but you can't just walk away. Its your responsibility to clean it up. And people are watching to make sure you do it all the way and not make a half-ass job out of it.

According to a story today published on Politico, the Obama administration is worried that "Liberal, anti-war democrats will try to end the war in Afghanistan before progress is made."

This first implies that what we've been doing there for 8 years has been working. It implies that success in the "War on Terror" is made through aggressive troop deployment and ever-increasing defense spending. It also implies that we can defeat radical Islamic terrorism, an ideology, with guns and bombs alone. This is faulty reasoning, and will only make the situation more dire. Below is a three-step solution to permanently end the War on Terror with nonviolence.

A Three-Step Solution to Eradicating Terrorism
To eradicate an idea, guns and bombs alone will never work. They only solve the effects of a situation, and completely ignore the roots. For example, no matter how many time you trim the weeds, they always grow back a week later. The more you let them sit there, the worse they get. But imagine if you uprooted the weeds and made it so the weeds could never grow back in the first place? You could move on to other more important matters.

Terrorism is the same idea; it is a weed that shows it's ugly face every few years and we respond by spending a bunch of money, deploying thousands of troops, and suffering casualties and debt only to deal with more terror attacks a year or two down the road. But if you took out the root causes and the enabling factors of terrorism, then it would have nowhere to grow. There are three roots to terrorism; the desperate social conditions and oppressive regimes people are forced to tolerate abroad, radical religious fundamentalism, and finally, the terror networks themselves. Here is how to uproot these problems.

1. Apologize for and actively work to rectify past mistakes of foreign policy.
TIME Magazine's Person of the Year in 1951 was Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran's populist, democratically-elected prime minister. Mossadegh refused to cower to imperial wishes, and sought to nationalize all of his country's oil resources to insure his people saw the profits. In the first part of the Corporatocracy series, I mentioned the clandestine ways we financed CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt to stage false rallies and violent protests to stir civil unrest in Iran and make it look like Mossadegh was corrupt and not in control of his populace. After we successfully helped the Premier's son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, become the Shah of Iran in a violent coup, we secured oil resources for the United States. However, this had a devastating side effect.

As we proudly tout our founding values of democracy, equality, liberty, and reject oppression and tyranny here in the States, hypocritical Washington administrations propped up and financed ruthless and brutal regimes that promised to be a puppet for US interests. The Middle Easterners saw this in 1951, and became incensed at our doublespeak. Political scholars have theorized that had we instead decided to support Mossadegh's regime instead of overthrow it, Iran could have served as an example for the Middle East. Arabs throughout the Gulf might have been inspired to try democracy in favor of despotism, and we could build allies and forge friendships with Middle Eastern countries other than Israel.

Instead, we indirectly fostered a culture that wields religious extremism as a fierce weapon, who praises their dead as "martyrs" willing to die in order to stop what they see as US imperialism. The rampant anti-US stances harbored by many in the Middle East are a direct result of our interference in Middle Eastern affairs for our own selfish gain.

I propose that we rather than defense, we focus our Middle Eastern spending on honest-to-goodness foreign aid projects. Rather than costly infrastructure that only benefits the top 1%, we could instead turn the slums and ghettos of Jordan, Syria, Iran, Kuwait, and so many other exploited nations into places where everyone has access to clean water, public education, basic health services and electricity. We could do all this and more with a fraction of the money we spend on bombing cities in Afghanistan and Iraq. We would also show the Middle Eastern people that we want to genuinely help them out of poverty and allow everyone the opportunity to succeed and prosper.

2. Fund and support peaceful Islamic clerics, political campaigns, and social reform movements.
The militant form of Islam championed by Al-Qaeda is far from an adequate representation of Muslims in the rest of the world. Benazir Bhutto dedicated her life to advocating for peaceful Islamic movements and reforms. She was violently assassinated in December of 2007 after working overtime to eradicate Islamic terrorists from Pakistan. Her book, "Reconciliation," talks about the tremendous possibilities of progress when peacefully-motivated Islamic movements are supported by the international community.

If the US worked to eradicate poverty and desperate social conditions along with propping up peaceful Islamic politicians and clerics, we would demonstrate our commitment to peace and nonviolent diplomacy. As the image of the United States would be shown in a much more positive light, one would simultaneously find people less willing to preach and act against the United States. By apologizing for our actions and working to rectify them, radical Islamic clerics would find their audiences and followers dwindle in their numbers, and those movements would eventually cease to exist.

3. Forge military alliances with our newfound Muslim allies.
Only after apologizing for and working to fix past mistakes, as well as supporting peaceful Islamic movements and candidates, can we proceed with using military force against radical extremists. We must root out those who work to stir up chaos and who live to kill and oppress. But we must do this with multi-lateral support from cooperating Middle Eastern and other Islamic governments. With Muslims dedicated to open-mindedness and tolerance on our side, the international community would simultaneously rally against the fundamentalist Muslims who actively seek to harm others.

These military alliances would be long-lasting, and would be the best way to insure that the Islamic faith is equated with peace and understanding, as was originally intended before the corruption of the Qu'ran by the extremists.

Muslims in the Middle East are still largely against us due to our hypocrisy in preaching democracy but supporting tyrannical dictators. With this three-step solution to ending the War on Terror, we would eradicate both terrorists but also root out the initial causes of terrorism both in the Middle East and elsewhere. By bolstering our international image in this way across the globe, the international community will start to see our nation in the positive light in which we do. Only through smart solutions and creative, nonviolent diplomacy can we eradicate ideologies like religious extremism.