Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Your Dreams

"Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering..
and it's all over much too soon."

Woody Allen

A Populist Allegory

In 1900, Frank Baum authored a book called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Born near Syracuse, NY in 1856, he spent the years 1887 through 1891 in Aberdeen, South Dakota working as an editor for the local weekly newspaper. His brief stay in South Dakota spanned the period of the formation of the Populist Party, an attempt by midwestern farmers to use the ballot to restrain the power of the banks, railroads, and other economic interests that had been squeezing farmers through a combination of low prices, high freight rates, and continued indebtedness. The Populists, an alliance of farmers and some urban workers, advocated government ownership and operation of the railroads, telephone and telegraph industries, and graduated income tax, postal savings banks, secret ballot elections, direct election of senators, and silver coinage. Although the populist candidate James B. Weaver lost the presidential election of 1892, several states including Kansas voted for him.

When Baum moved to Chicago in 1891, the country was about to plunge into the greatest depression in it's history. Farm prices sunk to new lows. Unemployment caused havoc, desperation and union militancy among the urban working class. In 1896, Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan won 47 percent of the vote, mostly from the Midwest, but lost the election to William McKinley. He ran and lost again in 1900. Bryan was an anti-Darwinist who believed in Divine Creation and may be best known for his role in The Scopes Trial where he went up against Clarence Darrow.

It is apparent that Frank Baum used many of the lessons that he learned from the Populist Movement in the writing of his book. It is widely believed that Baum portrayed The Scarecrow as the midwestern farmers, The Tin Man as the urban industrial workers, The Cowardly Lion as Bryan himself whose "bark was bigger than his bite!" They all followed the Yellow Brick Road (the gold standard) to the Emerald City (Washington) in order to see the Wizard (the President who used deception to control the people). Dorothy is portrayed as the symbol of Everyman who was innocent enough to see the truth before the others. The Munchkins were the little people whom the Wicked Witch of the East (large corporations and banks of the East) kept enslaved.

And so, with the Wizard finally exposed, the Scarecrow (the farmer) rules Emerald City, the Tin Woodman (the industrial worker) rules in the West and the Lion (Bryan) protects smaller beasts in "a small old forest." In Baum's vision, farm interests gain political power, industry moves West, and Bryan, perhaps, returns to Congress.

"Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake."
Henry David Thoreau

Monday, December 24, 2007

To Have or to Have Not

"No matter how rich you become, how famous or powerful, when you die the size of your funeral will still pretty much depend on the weather."
Michael Pritchard

The income gap disparity in the United States has widened dramatically in the last 7 years particularly between the top 1 percent and all the rest. Americans earning more than $348,000 in 2005, received their largest share of yearly income since 1928. Those incomes rose to an average of $1.1 million each. New data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap since 1980. Wall Street bonuses are up by an average 14 percent over their record year in 2006. The Bush tax cuts target these top percenters particularly the top .1 percent, the 140,000 households of the extremely rich. This trillion dollar give-a-way comes at the expense of all the rest. Needless to say, high-end goods like luxury yachts and Ferraris are flying off the lots while sales of mid-level products are static.

Buy For Me

We are no longer citizens, but a nation of consumers. We are buying things that we don't need with money that we don't have. Consumer spending now accounts for nearly 70 percent of our GDP. As if taking the lead from a government gone wild and fighting a trillion dollar war with borrowed money, the average Joe is spending his children's future on the narcotic of credit card debt.

Credit Card Crunch is On

Partly a Byproduct of The Subprime Mortgage Crisis, This Development Could Spell more Trouble Ahead

Associated Press, December 24, 2007

Americans are falling behind on their credit card payments at an alarming rate, sending delinquencies and defaults surging by double-digit percentages in the last year and prompting warnings of worse to come. An Associated Press analysis of financial data from the country's largest card issuers also found that the greatest rise was among accounts more than 90 days in arrears. Experts say these signs of the deterioration of finances of many households are partly a byproduct of the subprime mortgage crisis and could spell more trouble ahead for an already sputtering economy.... Many personal financial coaches expect this trend to accelerate in 2008, particularly among people who took out nontraditional loans whose interest rate has risen, requiring owners to pay mortgages several hundred dollars more than just a year ago. "You're looking at more and more distress, consumers desperately trying to preserve their credit lines, but there's nowhere else to go," said Robert Manning, director of the Center for Consumer Financial Services at Rochester Institute of Technology. "It's like a game of dominoes."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh Founding Fathers, Where Art Thou?

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it."

The response is attributed to BENJAMIN FRANKLIN—at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation—in the notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention.

The Founders risked torture and hanging by speaking out against an abusive and mentally ill King George. For those who signed the Declaration of Independence, execution was assured. They had read with passion about the early attempts at democracy; about Greece, Rome, The Ottoman Empire and how easily a tyrant could come to power. They realized how religion could easily trump an independant body of government as it had done throughout Europe. In fact, there were so many ways for this experiment to fail, that it was tantamout to insanity for anyone to pursue democracy in the first place. Never the less, the Founding Fathers chose to confront the world's greatest superpower with nothing more than a ragtag coalition of militias and virtually no money to do it with. Their key to success would be, simply put, audience participation. Without the sacrifice of the majority, active and selfless dedication from the populus, this great endeavor would surely fail; then as it will now.
But the real issue was not about the outside threat or the preceived threat from beyond. That is, after all, what gives the tyrants, the despots their blood of life. So The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to reassure the public that a delicate system of checks and balances would be put in place to prevent any one group or individual from depriving others of their rights. The Founders rightly saw all persons as corruptible and sought to deprive any single person or group of unrestricted power.

As the years went by, the incredible risk taking, sacrifice and astounding predictions of the Fathers were forgotten. Democracy was taken for granted as a lasting, continuous, self-motivating mechanism when in fact it is tyranny that is limitless, undying and unremitting. Democracy is but fragile. It seems to me that once power is granted to the few, it will not be relinguished by any party or individual. There have been times of great awakenings when the world view has shifted. These times are usually precipitated by great disasters either natural or man-made. The American People still have the ability to shift this paradigm. Whether we do it the hard way and just let it happen or do it the right way and bring change while we can is really the essential point of contention.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

You're Killing Me

"A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five."
Groucho Marx

The Torture Tapes. The smoking gun in the form of a water board. We hanged them at Nurenberg for this. We stand agast at the torture practices of the Spanish Inquistion. Before the world, in plain sight, this is now the official policy of the US government. These high crimes against humanity lead directly to the front door of the White House. It is time for the Democrats to remove getting elected as priority one and to bring criminal charges against this administration, unless they are complicit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Shell Game

After numerous rounds of "We don't even know if Osama is still alive," Osama himself decided to send George Bush a letter in his own handwriting to let him know he was still in the game.

Bush opened the letter and it contained a single line of coded message: 370H-SSV-0773H Bush was baffled, so he e-mailed it to Condoleezza Rice. Condi and her aides had not a clue either, so they sent it to the FBI. No one could solve it at the FBI so it went to the CIA, then to MI6 and Mossad. Eventually they asked Australian Intelligence (ASIO) for help. Within a minute ASIO emailed the White House with this reply:

"Tell the President he's holding the message upside down"

The "long delayed" National Intelligence Estimate was, in truth, not delayed at all but was finished and given to the Bush Administration back in January of 2007. If there was any delay it was to keep it from the public while Cheney and his cohorts desperately tried to change it in order to match their own vision concerning Iran. The newly released NIE findings included a report that Iran had suspended it's nuclear weapons program in 2003 probably to avoid sanctions by the UN. As late as 6 weeks ago you may remember the president was again going public with his extreme fear tactics and relating the Iranian nuclear weapons program to a possible World War Three which now we know to be false.
Once again the clown (Bush) and the grim reaper (Cheney) have their way with the sheep (American Public), are exposed, and continue down their merry path of destruction of the Republic and the Empire.
I have often said that it would make great comedy if it were not so sad, so much worse than Nixon, so much deadlier than anything we have seen since. Most tragic comedy has some redeeming characteristic. This certainly does not.

Monday, November 12, 2007

When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Pete Seeger

It's Veterans Day, 2007. As of this afternoon 3860 members of the US military have given their lives in Iraq. At least 30,000 have been wounded and countless more have returned with PTSD. Up to 1 million Iraqi civilians are dead and as many as 4 million Iraqis have left their homes.
All at the hands of the money changers in the name of the empire.
For My Country
I met a young man with a hook for a hand
and only one eye from which he could see.
To him I said with a feeling of dread,
“How did your hook come to be?”
Then came his reply with a pained look in his eye,
“My hand was lost for my country.”
And I knew very well that he’d been through hell
in a land far across the sea.
For there were more who returned from that war
in no better shape than he.
But then I thought of the reason he fought
so far from you and me. I asked,
“What country’s so grand as an eye and a hand?
What nation my friend can it be?”
And then he cried from his only eye,
“No nation, no nation is worth it to me.”
Greg Banks 1971