Posted on | February 28, 2013 | 3 Comments
According to a notable Post-modern Cassandra, “Nomenclature is destiny.”
That adage proved true once again, this time in the strange case of the four “best-paid” Congressional beneficiaries of the defense industry’s impressive political slush fund.
According to a recent article in AlterNet, four of the six largest recipients of Military-Industrial campaign donations are:
1. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA): $566,100 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
2. CW “Bill” Young (R-FL): $229,760 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
3. Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger III (D-MD): $229,550 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
4. Morris “Mo” Brooks (R-AL): $202,020 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
First of all, they all have nicknames. What are the odds? Is it a requirement to join the club…like a frat house initiation?
Secondly, all those nicknames really “add up,” don’t they?
Finally, they all sit in key positions on the key committees and subcommittees that reallocate taxpayers’ dollars into the hands of defense contractors.
Yup, nomenclature is destiny:
Because the defense industry generously passes out the bucks to “Buck.”
“Bill” never met an authorization he didn’t like, nor has he refused those stacks of bills offered in exchange for his reliable compliance.
Dutch is one guy who never has to “go dutch” when it comes to financing his reelection.
And Mo gets mo’ and mo’ money with each passing election cycle.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the sweethearts of the Military-Industrial Complex: Buck, Bill, Dutch & Mo!
These are the biggest, shiniest stars in the Empire’s greatest hit: Duck and Cover Soup!
After extended runs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, it is opening in new “theaters” around the globe: in Niger, Mali and the Persian Gulf.
Thanks to drones, these may be “limited engagements,” but rest assured that Duck and Cover Soup will open in more theaters, even if it doesn’t turn out to be a big hit in current screenings.
Of course, like any blockbuster franchise, future sequels are already in development. Sure, they just keep remaking the same movie. Just like Hollywood, the Empire’s producers don’t really have any original ideas.
Alas, this is no laughing matter. America is more and more like a Marx Brothers’ movie every day.
Frankly, we’d all be a lot better off with Groucho, Harpo, Chico & Zeppo.
At least we could laugh all the way to The End.Tweet
Posted on | February 26, 2013 | No Comments
When Pat Robertson speaks, people listen.
Sometimes they laugh.
And sometimes they cringe.
Whatever you think of him, Robertson stands alone as Evangelical America’s most reliable quote machine. As the godfather of the Christian Coalition, he also stands atop a pyramid of Protestant power. He’s the highest priest of the political wing of the Evangelical movement over the last three decades.
And so is Pat.
Maybe that’s why he’s been saying some truly crazy things lately.
On November 27, 2012, Pat Robertson told his legion of loyal viewers that radiocarbon dating proves conclusively that dinosaurs were not on Noah’s Ark. In fact, Brother Pat said the dinosaurs lived on the earth “before the time of the Bible.”
Yes. You read that correctly. Pat Robertson acknowledged a “time before the Bible.”
But he wasn’t done. He said the earth is not 6,000 years old and, even more shocking, that Christians should not “cover it up.”
Then Robertson went in for the kill: “If you fight science, you’re going to lose your children, and I believe in telling it the way it was.”
It’s okay. Don’t fret. Mr. 700 Club wasn’t on the verge of admitting to a long-standing man-crush on Richard Dawkins, thus flipping the universe into some Bizarro reality, or finally tearing asunder the fabric of space and time. Just a couple weeks prior to his creationism apostasy, he did rail against “miserable Atheists” and their nefarious plot to “steal Christmas” and purloin the “happiness” it brings to believers.
Now that’s the Pat we all know and…well…not “love,” but that’s the Pat we do rely upon to keep the order of the universe intact and keep us informed about the mind (such as it is) of the Religious Right.
But that mind is changing. Sort of.
His latest, greatest hit came on February 25, 2013. Responding to a viewer’s question about the best way to cleanse troublesome “demonic spirits” from secondhand sweaters, Robertson ruminated on the power of prayer as a stain stick and explained how evil spirits can and do attach themselves to material items. He recalled the story of a bewitched ring in the Philippines and warned of the spiritual danger lurking in undue emotional attachments to demonic material possessions. As to all those secondhand sweaters from Goodwill, Robertson said: “It isn’t going to hurt you any to rebuke any spirits that attach themselves to those clothes.”
Is this just another kooky superstition?
Or is Reverend Robertson finally coming closer to Jesus?
You know…the other Jesus.
Not the money-making venture capitalist and “job creator” of American mythology. No, Brother Pat might be hearing the gentle whispers of the Biblical Jesus…of the Gospels, of the Book of Matthew and the Beatitudes and the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain.
Because that Jesus did believe material possessions—and an obscene, worldly attachment to them—were evil. According to that Jesus, the wealthy and powerful might inherit trust funds, but the meek shall inherit the earth. That Jesus wanted the money-changers out of the temple, full-stop. He even declared that a camel has a far better chance of slipping through the eye of a needle than rich man has of getting into Heaven.
In fact, apostles of the Biblical Jesus warned that love of money is the root of all evil. They preached detachment from the flesh and worldly possessions and many of ‘em practiced it. Perhaps that’s why Jesus and his ardent followers were big on secondhand clothing—sack-cloth, to be precise.
So, technically-speaking, Robertson’s right. Demons can and do “attach themselves” to material goods—in de facto labor camps around Asia, in a network of sweatshops around Latin America and wherever labor and resources are exploited for the high profit margins of fashionistas living in NY, Paris and Milan.
The all-too-real demons of wage slavery, child labor and life-endangering working conditions plague the clothing business—both at the high and low ends. Many of those “in” and “hip” shirts we put on our backs come directly “off the backs” of the meek workers who made ‘em in deplorable conditions.
And proof of hell exists right here on earth—in Bangladesh. That’s where an inferno of flames engulfed a factory where the poor paid for the sins of Disney, Sears, Wal-Mart and the voracious American consumers who feast on an endless banquet of cheap stuff.
If he really wants to come to Jesus, Reverend Robertson should concern himself with rebuking all those firsthand sweaters from sweatshops, all those pants made by cheap child workers and all those other labor-intensive products that feed the beast of American consumerism.
Like Jesus before him, the good reverend could make the ultimate fashion statement and appear on the 700 Club in the latest in sack-cloth—a style revived throughout Christian history. Hey, the Franciscans were really just “going retro.”
For a reverend who has lived a rich man’s life. A professed Christian who has lorded over diamond and gold mines, pressed the flesh of the powerful and positioned himself as a kingmaker in the worldliest of realms, rebuking the demon of possessions could do a lot to help bring him closer to Jesus, and to bring Jesus closer to his self-proclaimed followers.
Embracing the reality of science and rebuking undue attachment to possessions is a good start. Let us pray that Reverend Robertson continues to see the light as he approaches the end of his tunnel.Tweet
Posted on | February 21, 2013 | 7 Comments
And right now, we are in the midst of an epic word game.
The name of this game is “crisis.”
First it was the “Financial Crisis.” Now it is the “Foreclosure Crisis.”
This is not a “crisis.” This is a “scandal.”
Understanding the difference between the two is essential:
- A crisis is organic—a mere byproduct of the business cycle and bad decisions.
- A scandal is man-made—a scheme concocted to produce specific outcomes.
- A crisis is hard to control—a natural process that must be managed as best we can.
- A scandal is hard to cover-up—a game of tactics designed to hide tracks and shirk blame.
- A crisis is just bad fortune.
- A scandal is a criminal act.
This “Great Recession” has been a scandal from day one.
It did not happen organically, nor was it just a matter of circumstance or the business cycle. It was a well-played game of slick mortgage salesmanship, cheap money lent, bad debt sold, insurance bets hedged and the whole system played like a golden harp.
The fact that so many reaped profits by betting against the market and their clients, thus making money on both the blowing and the popping of the bubble, belies the artful framing of the financial crash as a mere “crisis.” Both Wall Street and their cozy compadres in Washington worked hard to minimize the “scandal” and play up the “crisis.” To this day, the “asset hoarding” phase of this epic scandal is widely referred to as the “Foreclosure Crisis.”
This is where we need a stiff dose of American history.
Why? Because it happened before.
The Savings and Loan Crisis (1987-1994) became a “scandal” of epic proportions, ensnaring members of Congress, dropping the country into a nagging recession and leading to a massive bailout that eerily portended the coming of the Great Recession.
Back then, the initial crisis quickly turned into a scandal as the public witnessed scenes of pensioners lined up at rapidly collapsing “thrifts” and S&L “banks” in a mad scramble to withdraw what may or may not have been left of their life savings.
Back then, those scandalous S&Ls were not too big to fail or jail.
In 1982, he signed the Garn-St. Germain Act, which further removed the wall separating risk-taking S&Ls and traditional banking. At the signing ceremony Reagan even remarked, “All in all, I think we’ve hit the jackpot.”
Did they ever!
It stoked a go-go building boom, bad investments and wild speculation. During Clinton and then Bush, the end of Glass-Steagall, artificially low interest rates, artificially high returns and lax enforcement improved upon that model.
Then as now, the financial class targeted the wealth of the middle and working classes.
In the 1980s, people poured money into Certificates of Deposits, drawn in by interest rates that seem outlandish by today’s standards. From 1981 through to the beginning of the crisis, rates even spiked to over 17%. Mostly they fluctuated between 6% and 10%. The promise of big returns gave newly deregulated institutions tons of cash to play with. Like kids rolling the dice in Monopoly, they invested it wildly—houses, office buildings and office parks. Later, financiers used the 401k frenzy, reckless mortgage lending, another go-go housing boom and a massive flood of consumerized credit to separate middle and working class folks from their wealth.
Ultimately, it all crashes. All that speculation is inherently unsustainable. They learned that during the ’80s and leveraged it in the ’00s. As the market hits the ceiling, gamblers start hedging their bets and cashing in their chips. But they know the game is rigged. Political allies quickly plan easy escapes, funding bailouts that set the scene for the real killing—taking cash on hand, or put in their hands by bailouts, to go on a spending spree, buying up the assets they initially helped to build up, but at a massive, post-crash discount.
Back then, the government sold off “toxic” assets through the Resolution Trust Corporation. Sometimes the very people who issued the risky loans at the S&Ls simply turned around and gorged themselves in the post-crash feeding frenzy, buying up those defaulted-upon buildings, office parks and even office furniture for pennies on the dollar.
In some ways, the “asset hoarding” phase is the whole point.
Perhaps that’s why this time they’ve avoided the scandals, even as the “asset hoarding” phase continues unabated. Right now, private equity firms, investment funds, big bankers and speculators of all stripes are using the “Foreclosure Crisis” to gobble up cheap, vacant homes around the country. While Wall Street and corporate profits climb ever higher, a new class of mega-landlords is emerging from the rubble of the so-called crisis.
This Leona Helmsley Clone Army is on the march, often populated by the very people who made the “lending mistakes” in the first place. And why not? They made the money on the upside. Cashed in their hedge bets on the downside. And then got the poor sods known collectively as “the American Taxpayer” to lend them the cash they needed to speculate and merge like mad during the hyped-up misdirection of the “crisis.”
And the fact that they’ve successfully socialized the costs of this scheme by framing it as a collective “crisis” is the biggest scandal of all.Tweet
Posted on | February 18, 2013 | 6 Comments
If he was, there is a good chance he had his heart broken.
Because February 14th, 2012 was the day CNN, the once-venerable and omnipresent newsgathering machine, officially kicked off the Jeff Zucker Era by dropping its anchors in the salty brine around the Poop Ship—the disabled, infamously sewage-laden Carnival Triumph cruise liner. And they left their flagship “news personalities”—along those lethargic, easily-entertained viewers willing to endure them—locked down on the long, drawn-out towing of the Triumph back to port…for nearly 12 hours! Even worse, they touted this sad attempt to squeeze blood from a turnip as a “CNN Exclusive” and “Breaking News.”
To be fair, watching the wall-to-wall coverage of this mostly-irrelevant story did give viewers a sense of what it must’ve felt like to be trapped in a confined space, dodging streams of sewage and completely shut off from the rest of the world. Because that is what the post-AOL/TimeWarner Era has been like at CNN—a slow, steady decline into the equivalent of a bad cruise, featuring subpar entertainment, self-promoting cruise directors and a steady diet of empty calories that fatten both the belly and the mind.
That’s what we got from CNN. In fact, that’s all we got.
CNN’s “hosts” filled the relentless emptiness with repetitive blather under a mind-numbing wide shot of the slow-moving ship. The process began with Ashleigh Banfield and Brooke Baldwin, through the “shows” of Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett, and then onto a painful-to-watch finale “anchored” by Chris Cuomo in which he conducted a series of stilted phone interviews with people clamoring to disembark from the Triumph.
It is important to remember that these people are hosts, not journalists. They host shows, much like cruise directors host cruises. At one point, Erin Burnett teased a segment featuring the well-coifed and perpetually-tanned Donny Deutsch leading an “All-Star Panel” ready to “weigh-in” on the Poop Ship.
That’s right, America. The self-described “Most Trusted Name in News” tossed to a panel of blatherati filling an echo chamber with “insights” and opinions about a disabled cruise ship.
This is not a joke. But their coverage is.
This cable news emperor has been parading around for some time without much clothing. And their hind-quarters are not the only thing lacking coverage. Here are just a few stories CNN could’ve covered that day by deploying real journalists out in the real world digging up real news:
- How private investors exploit the foreclosure crisis to become mega-landlords
- Ongoing carnage in Iraq as the “post-war” death toll mounts and civil war looms
- On the scene reporting and footage of a NATO airstrike that killed ten Afghan civilians (incl. five children) within hours of Obama’s State of the Union speech
- A much-needed report on America’s newest ally—Burma—and its violent crackdowns that may include white phosphorous weapons
- The use of fracking to extract uranium in Texas and widespread use of injection wells to pump toxic and radioactive waste into aquifers around North America
- Exposés on revolving doors at the SEC and the EPA and how federal agencies investigating corporate crime often climb in bed with those they once investigated
- And many, many, many more…
Instead, CNN gave us Martin Savidge comparing the travails of the Poop Ship’s passengers to those suffered by the victims of Katrina. Savidge is a veteran reporter, but years inside the news bubble have taken a toll. Both his network and the news business have totally lost touch with the reality of real news as they’ve devolved into a pale reflection of reality television—one that people don’t really trust or watch in significant numbers.
The painful fact is that CNN, and the rest of the American broadcast news business, covers less and less news with each passing year. Less actual reporters and less working bureaus equal less actual reporting on fewer stories from fewer places around the globe.
Instead, we’ve gotten more and more personality-driven drivel. The transition from reporters in the field to hosts in the studio began with OJ and ended when Monica-gate finalized the Clinton Era shift from the costly enterprise of original reporting to the cheap and profitable business of letting “personalities” and pundits in the studio simply bloviate about re-hashed wire reports on sensationalized scandals, titillating tragedies, political ping-pong, major weather events and tiresome celebrity blah-blah.
The AOL/TimeWarner merger enshrined in perpetuity the gassy news bubble that surrounds America. Bureaus in Europe, Asia, South America and various notable capitals around the world—all were lost as the talking windbags took over at the 24-hour news networks.
Wars get covered, so long as the shocking, awe-inspiring pictures keep coming. Once those initial explosions give way to complicated gray areas, civilian deaths and troubling blowback, the wars suddenly become too costly to cover and too complicated to explain to “Joe Six-Pack.”
Although natural disasters remain a mainstay of cable news coverage, the deeper stories of environmental degradation and looming crisis require actual knowledge on actual science and the willingness to go to places and talk to people in ways that cannot be easily explained by an “All-Star Panel” of blatherati.
And now that Jeff Zucker is on board, expect more of this incredibly cheap to produce, reality-styled programming from the network formerly known for news. The man who had a knack for “failing upwards” and gave us the Katie Couric’s self-titled talk show is likely to go full steam ahead into the iceberg of irrelevance Paddy Chayefsky warned us of back in 1976.
In Network, Faye Dunaway plays Diana Christensen, a voracious programming executive who lusts after the control of the news division. She gets her wish, transforming news into the sort of infotainment becoming so commonplace today. Now life imitates art, with Zucker, the programming executive as news ratings savior, “re-booting” the Love Boat franchise in real time. With a “newsy,” scatological twist!
Perhaps that day Ted Turner was out where his buffalo roam and didn’t see his once-grand experiment go down with that ship. However, Ted, like us all, should be mad as hell about it. Democracy simply can’t take it anymore.Tweet
Posted on | February 12, 2013 | 12 Comments
Also once again this year, millions of discarded and unwanted dogs will be executed in overcrowded shelters, far away from the glaring lights of cable television.
Softened, palatable euphemisms like “put down” and “euthanized” serve only to assuage our guilt and placate our vanity. Even the term “destroyed” offers a clean escape. It depersonalizes the “destroyed” by implying it is just a thing, and not a being.
When we are talking about the staggering numbers killed annually, perhaps we must concoct semantic exit clauses, or else we risk facing the stark reality of our own complicity.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates 4 million dogs and cats are executed each year. It has to be an estimate because the numbers are so large, the process so widespread and the reporting so minimal. That works out to a dog or cat killed every 8 seconds. Of the approximately 6 million dogs and cats that enter shelters yearly, 60% of dogs and 70% of cats will be killed.
This is the dark side of animal breeding.
Meanwhile, the lights shine on breeders parading their prized “stock and trade” around the floor of Madison Square Garden. The eye is fooled, heart strings tugged and our vanity caressed. But complicity is the problem. The grinding machinery of death found at shelters around the country is inexorably linked to the vainglorious displays at the Westminster Dog Show, and at hundreds of lesser dog and cat shows held nationwide.
Those shows, and the breeders they help to sustain, condemn millions of unwanted dogs and cats to a short, distressed and ignominious stay in a crowed county or municipal lock-up before the gas or needle is finally administered.
For each specially bred dog and cat, sold for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, another dog and cat is condemned. For each time a pet is purchased from the dog and cat breeding industries, that is a shelter pet’s hope quickly dashed—hope for a rescue and a family and, at long last, a home.
It is easy to point the finger at the breeders. Particularly vile are those callow profiteers running the gulag-like puppy mills that feed consumers’ insatiable desire for animal accessories, fad breeds and future drop-offs at the local pound. According to a startling exposé by the New York Times, the venerable American Kennel Club often sells off its “A.K.C.” seal of approval without much in the way of oversight or concern for the welfare of dogs. Their primary concern is the business of breeding, which is not surprising. Dogs are often kept in horrific conditions, stuck in small cages and never allowed to run, their sicknesses untreated and their lives reminiscent of livestock at factory farms. There is a reason they are called “puppy mills.”
Of course these are the horror stories and some A.K.C.-certified breeders work hard to be known as “responsible breeders.” But the question remains: Is it possible to be a “responsible” breeder when millions of unwanted dogs are killed each and every year?
The small, caring breeder is, just like the “high-volume breeder,” plying his or her trade to meet growing demand and, despite periodic stories of shocking mistreatment and abuse, that market grows and grows as dog shows and celebrities parade around the latest in “cute” and “cool” and cuddly. A dog carried by a celeb or a touted at Westminster is little more than a consumer product meant to appease the stylistic preferences of the impulse buyer.
Breeders and buyers must face facts. Simply put: each dog purchased is taking the place of a dog that can be rescued. It is a one-for-one proposition. A dog bred and sold condemns another dog to death.
The same applies to cats, their breeders and the shows they also indulge in. Feral cat populations swell each mating cycle and, because many cats are free to roam their neighborhoods without being spayed or neutered, millions of unwanted kittens and cats are also executed, their short, brutal lives often punctuated with a sad disposal at a landfill. There are cats languishing at your local Pet Smart right now. But still people breed and inbreed hairless cats because they are “cool” and quirky.
If, indeed, the desire is to acquire a companion, is there any justification possible for buying a bred animal? A strong case can be made for “working dogs,” those breeds best suited to herding, guiding the blind, police and rescue work. However, beyond that specialized need, there is no good, ethically-sound reason for buying a dog or cat when so many are about to die. Right now. Today.
All else is mere vanity.
A dog or cat acquired for some ephemeral, esoteric or stylistic reason is nothing more than a vanity plate for a car, the latest handbag or some other banal consumer expression of “who I am as a person.” Chihuahuas, bulldogs and pit-bulls all sit atop the list of the latest “in” things. But down at your local shelter there are dozens upon dozens of dogs who also sit atop a list—a list of those about to be killed and discarded with no one to mourn their passing. Some are from the very “in” breeds that saw their “novelty” quickly wear off as the realities of upkeep and responsibility rendered them unwanted and disposable.
Once again this year millions will cheer on the latest “champion” of Westminster, its owner and breeder ready to reap the rewards of a dog well-bred. But there will be no reward for those dogs without “papers” or hope. They will wait in vain for a home until the inevitable arrival of the reaper.Tweet « go back — keep looking »