Friday, July 29, 2011

T-4 days and counting...

Well, I kinda feel like I should consult my Bucket List for some crazy shit to fill these next four spontaneous travel? tango lessons? eating monkey brains...well, maybe not that last one. But I do hear they're quite good chilled.
Regardless, the final countdown is upon us. And judging by the news blasts I get from various sources, we're full steam ahead towards a default and every damn politician's too proud to reach for the break or cut the wheel.
As it stands right now, the Senate has rejected Boehner's debt plan and Obama is pleading with everyone to move forward with a plan.
The way I see it: the right, who's stance has become hardened and far more immovable by extremist Tea Partiers is going to force the left to cede on several points, making the eventual deal absolute dog shit. If that doesn't happen, we'll default. And you know what, why not?
Maybe we need it. Maybe as a country we need to fall on the cold, hard surface of concrete failure to wake up and fucking give a shit! To demand that this ridiculous juvenile banter NOT be a part of democratic governance. To become engaged, or at the very least, have the slightest fucking clue as to what's going on. Maybe it will take a massive default to make that happen. Because the way I see it, either way, things will get worse.
I really hate to be so pessimistic but let's look at the options. As I suggested, new taxes won't be on there in any useful form. Loopholes for the rich and greedy will remain in tact, because both sides are up to their necks in corporate shit. Government spending will be annihilated. In fact, anything remotely "Keynesian" will be flushed.
Keynes, as you may know, was the British economist who among other things, founded the IMF (the original one, not the debt hauling colonialists of today) and built up an economic theory based on choice government spending to bolster a sagging economy. It was this mentality that the New Deal was founded upon. Even Nixon once said, "We're all Keynesians now." Well Dick, not so much anymore.
Nope, now we're Freidman fostered, free market corporate junkies, and anything government can do, big business can do better. Cut government spending, cut taxes and hope by pulling the regulation rug out from under the market, it'll be stable enough to find footing. Well, it's not! For fuck's sake, look at the facts: for example (again, I urge you to do research as well - not hard facts to find), according to JPMorgan Chase - a corporate heavyweight - U.S salaries are at a 50-year low relative to the GDP and company sales. Simultaneously, profit margins of big corporations have soared to almost 13%, the highest since the 60s. And why are profit margins so damn high? Well, at least 75% of the reason, is because wages are low. In a nutshell, pay people less, keep more. Makes sense. Is that any way to boost an economy? Fuck no! Does anyone give a shit? Apparently not.
As Harold Myerson says in the Washington Post, "Where's the rage?"
I'm with you Harold, where the hell is it?
We may not have the ability to pull out a New Deal, but we certainly have the ability to cut tax loopholes for the rich and raise taxes to boost revenue, WHILST boosting government funded infrastructure projects. That in turn would provide jobs for the now 9.2% of Americans out of work, who would then be taxed according to their wages, and in tiny steps, the economy would pick itself up off the floor, begin to lick it's wounds and maybe, just maybe sneak out of the House before right wing Tea Partiers beat the ever loving shit out of it.
But I fear that view is too Utopian. At least for where we stand right now. And that is why I play with the idea of a default, play with the positive aspect of giving every single American a kick in the ass. Because that's who's gonna get it. You don't think the pansy political players in Washington are gonna feel a pinch. No, no. They're career politicians, pockets deeper than pre-historic caves. They'll be fine. It'll be you, and it'll be me. The ones who have up till now, paid for it, and due to our laissez-faire response, will continue to, because we make no motion to object.
So for the next four days, enjoy apathy, enjoy the nonchalant carefree attitude of a citizen with no woes. Because the gigantic cloud of woes hanging above us, will drop. If not on August 2nd, at some point in the future. We will be forced to care. Unless by some miracle, we wake up before we are woken...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ja, vi elsker dette landet...

Scandinavians aren't terrorists. Scandinavians aren't terrorists. Scandinavians aren't terrorists...
I can recall hearing about a Bush visit to Denmark a few years ago. Apparently, there was to be heightened security after "Danish Terrorists" threatened violence against the unpopular W. I remember chuckling to myself. Danish Terrorists? Oh for fuck's sake.
Scandinavians aren't terrorists. Scandinavians aren't terrorists. Scandinavians aren't terrorists...
Think about it. When someone says terrorist, your mind immediately shifts to men draped in bullets and automatic rifles, dark eyes and black hair peering out from behind militant head scarves. You don't think of a blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian.
Is that wrong? You tell me.
Whether we like to admit it or not, our brains categorize information. If you've gotten stung by a jelly fish twice, you're more likely to think of one when you feel a sharp pain in your hand as you splash around.
Of course, unlike with jelly-fish, our media and mass produced fear over-exaggerate the threat of masked Muslim gunmen overtaking our city upon a hill. The graver threat is with the deliberately downtrodden international masses we mine for money...but that's another story.
In terms of our highly organized minds, it is interesting to ponder the pathways, the apparent roadways our thoughts like to take. When hit with certain information, most of us like the well-lit paths that we've walked before. Abstract thinking is of course something entirely different, where cobwebbed corners are most inviting - if you're into that sort of thing. Many aren't.
But this smacked of something straightforward - evil acts. Something bad happened. It looked like this. It happened like this. Bomb. Shooting. Innocents killed. Extremist.
What's the image in your head right now?
Well, maybe now it is the clean face of Anders Breivik, about as Aryan as they come. But maybe it's not...maybe it wasn't...
Yesterday I posted a question on my facebook page asking people to comment on the events in Norway. Interestingly enough, not many commented on Norway. There was almost an immediate shift to the Middle East. Even my comment as to the relevance of that connection did not stifle the commentary that ensued: Mossad is involved, it's Israel and Palestine, the Saudis, the Arabs, and on and on. Meanwhile CNN is posting excerpts from the perp's right wing extremist "manifesto" foretelling a European civil war and an end to "cultural Marxists" and Muslims.
News outlets from around the world say with solemn tones that Norwegians are racking their minds to understand how one of their own, a Norwegian could do this, why?
Can you blame them? What happened...Oklahoma City, Columbine, Waco, and more recently, Tuscon? One of our own...Americans. They didn't fit the profile of scapegoat. They were in our midst - in hindsight, they showed signs, but come on, they were one of us, how are we supposed to know?
Is this argument bullshit? Can we sit here and say that had he been our neighbour, we would have singled him out as someone capable of this - as opposed to a rather vehemently patriotic odd ball?
Unless you're overly paranoid, probably not. For those of you who haven't been to Norway, this shit just doesn't happen. Being from Sweden, I can tell you that a man attempting to rob a bank with a wood splint constitutes news (true story). But in that same breath, does that allow us to ignore the unthinkable when it becomes the unavoidable reality?
Why is it when our own do it, they're ill and when Muslims do it, it's their nature? I'm of the mind that anyone who kills innocent people, detonates bombs in highly trafficked civilian areas and clings to ideals like white on rice is absolutely stone cold fucking nuts.
So what now - if we can allow ourselves to accept it, what does that mean for the future? Anyone can be a murderer? Anyone is capable of the most atrocious acts in the name of bigotry and extremism?
Call me romantic, but I still have a little faith in mankind. This will only push us to paranoia if we allow it to. This is not the norm. The banter has begun, and will continue. But it is up to us to control the knee jerk reactions of those well lit pathways in the mind. Paradigms shift. In the complexities of our thoughts, we can reign in the fly aways and focus on the issues at hand.
As of now, that is bringing to justice the man (or men, however this unfolds) responsible for this.
From there, I think it would behoove all of us, to use those cobwebbed corners a little more frequently. Not just to allow for broader horizons in respect to "othering" and projection of faults, but to actually search for those faults, to find where hate is bred, where acts like these are born. And not only where but why...
Let us learn from this. My hear goes out to all those involved in these tragic events.
Hårde tider har vi døyet...Ja, vi elsker dette landet.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's my party...

Have you ever been to a party where the hosts are arguing? Or just finished arguing and the tension could tear through those cute little puff pastries? A snide comment here, a stubborn refusal there - It's pretty damn awkward.
Now magnify that times a billion and throw in a sagging infrastructure, a bankrupt economy, faltering credit score, arrogance, ignorance, not to mention, the lives of 300 million Americans, including ones with M-16s and tanks in the sweeping desert sands of foreign quagmires-oh and take away the puff pastries.

As much as I hate to admit it, comparing our political stage to at-odds party hosts isn't much of a stretch. For a start, there are only two sides. In political systems with only two parties, progress must come from the center - there must be a constant compromise and debate, ideologies can not be ultimatums but instead starting points from which to move towards the middle. If you've been paying attention at all, it's pretty clear - that's not the case here. Ours is a classic example of two pulling poles - the grey area squashed by the extreme black and white - right and wrong, my side and your side. I've mentioned this before but in truth, there is no compromise between good and evil. When your platform is your ideology, your faith - God help the guy on the other end.

And that is the birth place for these juvenile dealings. Why the fuck have we not reached a decision on the debt crisis? Because the no-man's land center is entirely void of political dealings. Agendas cling to their far left and right platforms and ideas are shot down by the other side before they can even leave the trench.
Now, I do have to hand it to Obama - at least from what I've heard, he seems to be far more interested in negotiating than the Republicans, who simply can't imagine raising taxes or closing loopholes for the wealthiest in the nation.
In fact, if you take a look at the contenders for Republican nominee, you'll find a streamlined group of conservatives, more or less, seemingly allergic to anything not stated in their far right tenets of government.

For example, on Ron Paul's "Debt Ceiling Betrayal Petition," he writes that Boehner will only cave to Obama's wishes to raise taxes and the debt ceiling: " long as Speaker Boehner refuses to take a clear stand in support of only passing a debt ceiling if a strict 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' plan is also enacted, then he's just playing 'Let's make a Deal' with America's future."
Cute names - reminds me of kindergarten when you'd learn little sayings to remember the planets and presidents. And by the way Ron, I'm not sure where you studied politics, but making a deal is WHAT GOVERNANCE IS ALL ABOUT! You make deals to move forward - ummmm....heard of the New Deal by chance? Heard of compromise and debate? Probably not - he'd have been too busy scribbling 'End the Fed' on his notebook to notice the keystone of successful governance is DEALing with the wants and needs of your constituents, DEALing with the opposition, not just clapping together a cute saying, plastering it over an extreme platform of free markets, no regulations and itsy bitsy government.

And how about Mitt Romney...oh boy. He must've really liked see-saws as a kid. After his comment that Obama has only made the recession much worse, when faced with the facts that he indeed hadn't made it worse, Romney jumped to the other side of the see-saw, hoping to rise back up saying that's not in fact what he had said, he said it hadn't gotten better...somewhere, a comedian is very happy...his platform is similar to Paul's: small government, free trade, lax regulations, kill the federally funded programs, yet contrary to Paul's anti-war stance, Romney supports an even stronger military, saying "The best ally world peace has ever known is a strong America." Good Christ, I wish these people would read a fucking history book!

And then there's Michele Bachmann - I don't think I have enough space on the world wide web for this one. It actually says on her website, as a top priority: "Rebuild respect for America as the shining city upon a hill." This kind of idealistic, Utopian psychotic behaviour is what pushes the US to lose all semblance of respect overseas. We're not a fucking city upon a hill, and with platforms such as Bachmann's tiny government, cuts to federally funded programs, "strengthen the family and defend marriage," spending more on military and defense, and opening up the environment to our out-of-control fossil fuel addiction, we're not inching too close to gaining respect any time soon. Again, the steadfast ideological stance is clear. There will be no compromise - you can not compromise with policy based on faith, based on intangible beliefs in our superiority, our arrogant greatness. The dirty truths slide off your mind like water off a duck.

There are other contenders for Republican nominee but I'm too angry and exhausted to share those with you. I will tell you to check out for a complete list. I do recommend that you nap in between, maybe have a punching bag nearby. All joking aside, these politicians are serious choices for many Americans. And what about Obama? Is he doing a good job? Is he representing us to the best of his ability? These aren't rhetorical questions. I want to know what you think.
This party is out of control. I know it's uncomfortable to step into the fray, to stand up and get involved. But unlike most parties, this one has our future on the line. This one has our livelihood on the line, and for many, their lives.
Put the puff pastry down. Think. React. Do Something.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I leave the philosophical musings for a moment, to bring you...our impending doom.
August 2nd marks the date the Treasury has set for a likely default if a decision is not reached on what to do about the behemoth deficit.
Obama has met with congressional leaders all throughout the week, and plans to meet again on Sunday to try and close the gap that is keeping the ideological right and left "far apart." Still, he expressed confidence that they would reach a decision before that looming deadline.
Well, at least he can still play the calm, collected leader in times of economic mayhem.
In the proverbial nutshell, here's the rundown: the right wants to slice and dice government funded programs while extending tax cuts, and keeping loopholes. Meanwhile, the left is against any government funded cuts and wants to raise taxes for the upper echelons and in general, increase taxes across the board.
Result: gridlock.
While reading through various news reports on these meetings, I am unbelievably irritated at how many mention what political gains are at stake and how the negotiations are centered on party platforms more than on the key issues at hand. Now, I'm not mad that they mention this - it's true and should be mentioned. I'm just mad that they don't note that this is really fucked up!
The issues lie squashed under a colossal mound of party ideologies, fluff and empty promises - politicians literally sit, hovering over the economic quagmire like Aladdin on his carpet - the detachment is clear. You can bet if they were sinking into it, these meetings would be a helluva lot more productive. But again, we're the ones sinking - quietly. As I often like to point out, we have that lid somewhere, we have that lid that can close that atrocious abyss and we have the tools to close the gap - we just haven't used 'em since the days of yore. They're dusty and rusty, sitting in a closet, along with our dwindling rights, boarded up with apathy and ignorance.
Back to the halls of the mighty - this gridlock is nothing new. Right and left have been bickering non stop about the economy since the beginning of the year. The splintered body politic just can't seem to find a way to put left and right foot forward. We just keep pushing further outward into an ever more uncomfortable split.
As I noted, Democrats worry that cuts to federally funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would not look good on that report card at the polls. Republicans worry that any tax increases would tarnish their shining star of no taxation.
Still, at the meeting on Thursday 6 out of 8 voted in favor of the most ambitious deal - equal to $4 trillion in savings.
This of course would mean that all is on the table: government funded programs, the tax code, maybe even corporate loopholes, but that last one's a tricky beast.
However you see our political system, there is no angle nice enough to obscure the tremendous impact big business has on our government. Like politicians, they talk a good game, about wanting to ease the swelling deficit, fiscal responsibilities, and overall economic growth. But as David Leonhardt points out in his NY Times article, "the [business] roundtable is actually part of the problem." He's talking about the lobbying group, The Business Roundtable, as the name suggests, a corporate roundtable of who's who constructed to lobby in the interest of their corporations. Allow me to be more crass: a roundtable of America's top 1% with hands deep in political pockets steering a country supposedly of the people, for the people and by the people - forgive my poetic musings.
Never mind the gridlock on Capitol Hill, the contradictory rhetoric in the corporate boardroom is ever compounding this incessant economic headache. Corporate lobbying accounts for huge additions to the deficit. They want to of course keep the corporate loopholes, hell, add more, and at the same time, bolster the sagging infrastructure, building new roads, bridges, tunnels, etc. Where they think that money will come from is a massive mystery...
So, let's do some quick math here for a second: we're reaching for $4 trillion in savings. If we add up the corporate lobbying, the extreme right and left rift, the narcissistic concern with party platforms and ideologies and our ignorant apathy...does that put a divisive dent in the lofty $4 trillion savings plan?
Calling on depressive realism, I feel that if that $4 trillion in savings does come to fruition, it won't be on the backs of corporate kings or the politicians they lobby to, but on the backs of the apathetic masses, the people, we the people.
Hmmmm...maybe time to find that dusty rusty closet...I'll give you a hint, it's not to your left or right, it's center, forward.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Today is...

...a lot of things. It marks the 235th birthday of our nation. It marks the birth of an experiment, a manifestation of ideas. It marks a day for sun, fireworks, hot dogs, burgers and flag waving. It marks the day Abraham Lincoln asked for 500,000 troops as the South demanded secession. It marks the day Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died in 1826, Thoreau moved into his shack on Walden Pond in 1845, the Statue of Liberty was presented in Paris in 1884, Lou Gehrig made his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939, and tonight I'm going to see the Mets play at Dodger Stadium...

So what? Not just to the Mets and Dodgers, but so what to any of it?
What does it mean? What is the significance of declaring independence? One can speculate as to what it meant as the founding fathers stood in what must have been an atrociously warm Philadelphia, a year of war with Britain under their belts, finalizing what would become a beacon, a cornerstone for this American experiment. But today, what does it mean? Polls suggest that 1 in 4 Americans don't even know who we declared independence from. A mere 58% know it took place in 1776. The poll also suggests that the younger the person was, the less likely they were to know the correct answer.

In the prologue to one of my fathers books he notes, if one does not know one's past, one can not hope to understand the future.
In my experience, Americans walk blindly into the future, clutching to ideals they don't even fully understand, using them as a crutch against the weight of our own issues and realities, hoping all will be well because of the flags they fly and the big guy in the sky.
They wander into political parties because of friends or loose affiliations. They push to an extreme simply because the rhetoric sounds cool. Solid issues and stances take a back seat to pandering and bantering. Intelligence and familiarity with key issues pales in comparison to the importance of party loyalty and ideological faith.

As an activist growing up, I pushed my truths and opinions on others. I wanted them to see that I was right, that my point of view was the start of enlightenment, the beginning of finding more information, more knowledge, because for me, it of course was.
Now, I just want people to see. I don't want people to know exactly what I know. I want them to research, think, dig, and find other truths, other buried aspects and dirty secrets of this city upon a hill. I do not wish to preach, I wish to teach.

Like Thomas Jefferson wrote (granted, many Americans might not even know who he is):

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

Ergo, if a people is not informed, they can not be trusted with their own government. They will hold no sway over this sagging republic, this corporatized state...sound familiar?
Because that's where we are today.
Our government is a corporate entity wholly outside our jurisdiction. It is a free floating society, the medium between the top 1% and the bottom 99%.
It is a constant banter between left and right, the center being all but erased, considered "wishy-washy," unpatriotic, indecisive and well, just un-American.
It's ironic to think so when if one looks at history, the bulk of all forward moving legislation was done from the center, from a place of debate and compromise.
But who bothers with history anymore? My twitter feed is updating and True Blood is on in half an hour.

James Palombo, a professor, lecturer and author (and dare I say activist) has been through the system. With an undergraduate degree and three graduate degrees, he's seen and knows a few things about education. Being that he earned his undergraduate degree in prison, he has a pretty good grip on the justice system as well. In his book, Criminal To Critic, he chronicles his own life as well opens up a dialog for some major hypocrisies and pit falls of this American experiment. The interesting thing is how he comes to know them, to share them. He explains in detail his education, from inside the cell to outside - indeed, the theme of education is a red thread throughout the book. It is constantly in the back of your head, creeping forward and touching on various points of your mind as you read.
It brings to light the very basic fact that a country of the people, for the people and by the people will create a political system in direct parallel of the people. That those in power will write laws, will create legislation based on the position of the people. If they can get away with building a government around capitalist and corporate ideals, well shit, why not? More dough for the top and fuck the bottom, they don't care anyway.
If we are apathetic, lazy and disengaged from the issues at hand, how can we possibly expect the government to pull our weight, to push our needs and wants forward?
If we pull left and right, pushing the envelope to ever more remote extremes, how can we blame the government for reaching no agreements or conclusions? If we do not act, do not stand up, how can we complain over the things that come to pass?
And how can you act if you have no knowledge of the issues needing your attention? And at this point, how can you educate yourself if you don't know to?
A tricky conundrum. One that I myself try to constantly hurdle, using the medium of music to transport a message. It is a problem James Palombo, along with CIC (Campaign for Informed Citizenry: attempts to tackle - promoting an engaged and educated dialog on current issues and concerns.

Point being, it's not enough to say that shit is wrong - that's blatantly obvious even to someone just crawling out from under a rock. Citizens, and as we have seen, particularly youth, need to be more conscious of their role in a republic. We have to constantly stay up on happenings, here and all over the world, as our scope of greed and arrogant power is clearly borderless.
And from that education, that knowledge, we must push forward for change. We must Think. React. Do Something.

This is our country, our experiment, our choices - and yes, not making a choice is still a choice.

So, on this 4th of July, while you're kicking back a brew, enjoying a burger under a perfect blue sky, a proud flag waving in the soft breeze...let these thoughts, these questions cross your mind:

If we are to celebrate independence, let us think what independence means.
Do we have it?
If so, do we care for it? How?
If not, how the hell and why did we lose it?
And how do we get it back?

Happy Independence Day.